The Girls

Warning: Skip this post if you’re looking for a book for anyone younger than age eighteen. This one is for adult readers.

Earlier today, I finished reading The Girls by Emma Cline. I began reading the book about three weeks ago, and it definitely took me longer to get into it than most other books.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. The subject matter–basically a fictional version of the Manson family–should have gripped me from the start, but I failed to connect with the main character, Evie. Maybe it had something to do with the narrative, which felt almost like stream of consciousness to me. (That could have reflected the staggering amount of drug use depicted in the book.) Or maybe it was the flipping back and forth between 1969 Evie and present-day Evie. (Neither version is particularly sympathetic, in my opinion.) For whatever reason, I’m happy to move on to something else.

Even though The Girls wasn’t what I would call a favorite read, it is interesting at points. Seeing into the mind of a girl taken in by enthralling figures who give her a place to belong is eye-opening. Evie, on some level, knew there was something wrong with what was happening, but she was mesmerized by those around her. She did things that may have been unthinkable to her former self, and she narrowly escaped becoming involved in something truly heinous. Even so, these people gave her attention, negative as it was, when no one else really cared about her. It’s not so difficult to see how a vulnerable person could be susceptible to a group that was essentially a cult.

In case you didn’t heed my warning at the beginning of this post, I’ll say it again. This is a book for adults. The book includes sexual situations, flagrant drug use, child neglect, profanity, violence, and more. I would not recommend The Girls to anyone under eighteen.

Some may think I’m too harsh on this book, and maybe I am. Perhaps my years of reading children’s and young adult books have made me more sensitive, but is that really a bad thing? I know what I think, but I’ll leave you to your own opinions.

For more information on The Girls, visit author Emma Cline’s website.

See How They Run

Possible spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read All Fall Down, book one in Ally Carter’s Embassy Row series, you might want to take care of that before reading this post.

This week, I finally made time to read See How They Run, the second book in the Embassy Row series. This sequel picks up pretty soon after the first book concludes. I’m not going to rehash everything that happened in All Fall Down, but I will say that our protagonist, Grace Blakely, has uncovered some shocking truths about what really happened to her mother…and her own part in those events. Now, Grace is dealing with the fallout of what she’s discovered as well as attempting to handle a whole new set of problems. Of course, problems seem to be par for the course when a person’s every move has the potential to cause an international incident. Such is life on Embassy Row.

As the granddaughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Adria, Grace should be used to a certain amount of political intrigue. But nothing could really prepare her for what’s being revealed to her. It’s not enough that she’s just realized that she’s largely responsible for her own mother’s death. No, now she’s learning that her mother was part of some secret society charged with manipulating events for the supposed protection of Adria and the small country’s history, secrets, and continued welfare. Grace is supposed to continue the society’s work, but she’s not sure if she can trust this shadowy organization. After all, how can she trust others when she doesn’t even trust herself?

While Grace is processing this new information–while trying to get a handle on her PTSD–she’s also dealing with new arrivals on Embassy Row. Her brother, Jamie, is visiting from West Point, and he’s brought a friend with him. Jamie is worried about Grace, but his friend, Spence, seems interested in her. Why, she wonders? What could Spence possibly see in the crazy girl that everyone else tiptoes around?

To further complicate matters, Alexei, her brother’s former best friend and son of the Russian Ambassador, is back in town, and he’s not thrilled about the new guy sniffing around Grace. Alexei and Spence come to blows, but surely a simple fight over a girl couldn’t lead to an international fiasco, right? Yeah…think again.

When Spence’s body washes up on the Adrian coast, fingers immediately begin pointing Alexei’s way. Grace is certain Alexei did nothing wrong, and she becomes determined to prove that her friend is being framed. Her friends agree to help her, but how can they possibly prove Alexei’s innocence when all evidence seems to point his way? And who could possibly want to kill Spence anyway? Surely a simple fight isn’t enough to lead to murder. Could Spence have been involved in something else that none of them knew about? Could that have been what led to his demise?

Grace is determined to find the answers she seeks, but she may not be ready for what those answers ultimately mean…for Alexei, her past, her family, or herself. What could her discovery mean for her future in Adria? Time will tell…


Before I give too much more away, I’m going to start wrapping things up. I will say, however, that See How They Run ends on a cliffhanger, and there are huge implications for the third (and final?) book, Take the Key and Lock Her Up. Book three is supposed to be released on December 27th of this year.

If you enjoyed All Fall Down, I think you’ll appreciate See How They Run as well. It shines a light on the darkness within Grace’s mind, and readers get a glimpse at what it might be like for someone who suffers with PTSD. (Although, can we really call it post-traumatic stress when the trauma is ongoing?)

If you like mysteries and political thrillers with a YA twist, this is definitely the series for you. To learn more about the Embassy Row series and other books by the fabulous Ally Carter, check out the author’s website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

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.

Halflings

In less than two weeks, I’ll be attending the annual conference of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians.  At this gathering of librarians, I’ll be leading a couple of sessions.  One is on blogging in the elementary school library, and the other is a question and answer session with a few YA authors:  Sophie Jordan (Firelight, Vanish, and Hidden), Julie Halpern (Into the Wild Nerd Yonder), and Heather Burch, author of the Halflings series.

I’ll be perfectly honest with you.  Heather Burch wasn’t even on my radar until I heard that she would be attending this year’s SCASL Conference.  When I was asked to facilitate this author panel, I knew, however, that I would need to read at least one of her books to be really effective.  I finally did that this week.  In fact, I finished the first book in her Halflings series about an hour ago.  It was good, but, in a lot of ways, it left more questions unanswered than not.  I guess this is a sure way to get readers to check out the next book.

Nikki Youngblood is in danger, but even she is unsure of just what is after her.  When she’s nearly killed by what can only be described as hellhounds–and she’s rescued by beings she believes to be angels–she comes to realize that the dangers she’s facing are more horrible–and unearthly–than she could have ever imagined.

Nikki wasn’t exactly rescued by angels, however.  The three “boys” she came into contact with are known as Halflings.  They are half-human, half-angel and are considered outcasts in Heaven and on Earth.  These Lost Boys do have a purpose, though.  Mace, Raven, and Vine are on a heavenly journey to protect Nikki–or someone close to her.  But why?  What is so special about this teenage girl?  Why is she now a target of the enemy?  And how can these supernatural beings protect someone who clouds their feelings and has the power to impact their futures?  Mace and Raven, especially, are drawn to Nikki (and Nikki to them), but divine mandate prevents any of them from being together…without truly hellacious results.

As Nikki, Mace, and Raven battle their desires, an unknown evil is penetrating everything around them.  No one is really sure who is behind the terror that is brewing, but Nikki, her Lost Boys, and several other heavenly beings will do everything they can to uncover the truth and fight in the war that’s coming.  What will be lost in the battles ahead?  What will be sacrificed?  And will Nikki and company be able to handle the choices that must be made…and their inevitable consequences?  Begin to unravel the mystery when you read Halflings, the first book in an exciting series by Heather Burch.

If I had to classify this book, it would be young adult Christian fantasy with a bit of mystery and romance thrown in for good measure.  It’s a decent read for those in middle school and beyond who like “angelic” fiction.  As for me, the book was a little frustrating because it left me with so many questions.  I didn’t really have a sense of closure at the end of the book, so I’m hoping that the question and answer session at the SCASL Conference will tie things up a little better for me.

The second book in the Halflings series, Guardian, is already out, and I hope to get around to it soon.  (This probably won’t happen before my conference, though.  I’m being realistic here.)  The third book, Avenger, is due out this April.  For more information about the author and this series, click here.

That’s all for now.  I may edit this post a bit after my conference in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned.  Until then, do you have any burning questions you’d like to ask the YA authors attending this conference?  Let me know in the comments, and I’ll try to get a few answers for you!

If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince?

The title and cover sort of say it all, don’t they? If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince? is definitely a “chick” book. It might as well have a pink cover.  (It’s lavender.  Close enough.)  If you’re looking for a quick, extremely light, somewhat predictable read, this is the book for you.  It’s a nice bit of brain candy after you’ve read something really heavy.  (Think of it as the dessert after a huge meal.) 

Lucy Norton’s life is a lot like Cinderella’s.  Her father’s remarriage has uprooted her from everything she’s ever known.  She has a new home where she feels like a guest…if not the hired help.  She has a stepmother and two stepsisters who only acknowledge her to criticize something.  Her father is largely absent from her life.  She has no friends.  (At least Cinderella had some furry woodland creatures to keep her company.)  And she’s got a crush on the most popular guy in school (the handsome prince, if you will).  How can her fairy tale ever become reality when her life sucks so much?

As you’ve probably guessed, things turn around for Lucy pretty quickly.  Two girls befriend her after it becomes obvious that Lucy’s dream guy might just see her as his dream girl.  All of a sudden, Lucy is the popular girl she’s always wanted to be.  Sure, her life at home is still total crap, but at least her social life is booming, right?  Right?  She’ll just ignore the little voices in her head that tell her that the perfect guy may not be the perfect guy for her.  Join Lucy as she learns that the fairy tale isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  After all, what would Cinderella have done if Prince Charming turned out to be kind of a butthead?

If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince? may not be the greatest thing to hit YA literature, but female readers, particularly those in grades 7 to 10, will enjoy this light read.  The book was released in 2005, so I’m betting that a lot of teen girls have already picked this one up.  If not…well, maybe I’ve done a little to get one or two people to escape into this story. 

If you’d like more information about this book or others by author Melissa Kantor, you can visit her website at http://www.melissakantor.com/.

The Goddess Test

Girl moves to a new town.  Girl meets boy.  Boy is brooding and mysterious.  Girl falls for boy.  Boy has deep, dark secret.  Girl must decide if boy is worth giving up everything.  Does this sound familiar to anyone else?  I will admit that this setup has become a bit of a formula for a lot of young adult fiction, but do you want to know a secret?  It works.  And when you throw in a hefty dose of Greek mythology into the mix, like Aimee Carter does in The Goddess Test, it works even better.  (As we all know, I love me some Greek mythology.)  The Goddess Test gives new life to an often misunderstood Greek deity and shows how far one girl will go to save herself and those she loves.

Kate Winters’ mother is dying, and it’s up to Kate to make one last wish come true.  Her mother wants to move back to her childhood home in Eden, Michigan, so Kate uproots her entire life and moves to a place she’s never seen.  She’ll have no friends, no ties, and she’ll slowly watch the only family she’s ever known fade away.  But the small town of Eden may have more in store for Kate than she ever dared to expect…

On a night full of fear and hopelessness, Kate meets Henry.  She is entranced by him, but she’s not really sure why…until he brings a young girl back from the dead.  It seems that Henry is really Hades, Greek god of the Underworld, and, in exchange for this girl’s life and more time with her mother, he wants Kate to accept a proposal that could change her world forever.  (And by “forever,” I really mean forever.  We’re talking eternity here.)

Kate agrees to Henry’s terms, but she must first pass a series of tests.  She won’t know what the tests are or when they are coming.  All she does know is that eleven girls have attempted these tests before her, and all eleven have died.  Kate is Henry’s last chance.  If she fails, she’ll lose Henry, her mother, and everything she’s ever known.  If Kate passes, she’ll become Henry’s wife and goddess of the Underworld.  But does Henry even care if she passes or not, or is he still pining for Persephone, the wife who left him behind?  Is passing even possible when so many before her have failed?

Kate isn’t always sure what is going on around her, but she knows that she must pass the tests before her, for Henry’s sake as well as her own.  Even though someone seems determined that she fail, Kate will do everything in her power to become a goddess or die trying.  Will she succeed?  Find out when you read The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter.

The Goddess Test isn’t incredibly deep, but it is a fun, quick read that puts a different spin on the Greek myths that we know and love.  And there’s more!  The sequel, Goddess Interrupted will be released in April of 2012.  Judging by the synopsis on the author’s webpage (http://www.aimeecarter.com/About_the_Books.html), this sequel will be made of awesome!  The cover alone is enough to get me to read it.  Check it out below:

If you enjoyed Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series or Oh. My. Gods. and Goddess Boot Camp by Tera Lynn Childs, you should give The Goddess Test a try.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

(By the way, I apologize if this post is less than my best.  Today was my first day back at school after summer break, and I’m a little wiped out.  I’ll do better next time.)

Secrets and Shadows

Spoiler alert!  If you haven’t read 13 to Life by Shannon Delany, proceed with caution!

If you follow this blog at all, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a fan of the supernatural–vampires, werewolves, fairies, unicorns, etc.  It should come as no surprise, then, that I love Shannon Delany’s 13 to Life series which features a family of Russian werewolves.  Earlier today, I finished reading the second book in this series, Secrets and Shadows.  (I would have finished it earlier, but I was at a librarian conference for the past three days where, oddly enough, I didn’t have any time to read.)  Secrets and Shadows, like many second books in series, was frustrating and even infuriating at times, and it ended with such a shocker that I can’t wait to see how the series proceeds.

Not too long ago, Jessie Gillmansen’s eyes were opened.  She discovered not only that the boy she loved was a werewolf but also that her town is overrun with the Russian Mafia and the CIA.  Not so normal for a teenager, right?  Well, things are about to get even more abnormal for Jessie.  After a dangerous encounter with some unsavory types, Pietr, Jessie’s sort-of boyfriend (even though he’s actually dating Jessie’s often-psycho friend Sarah), begins to pull away from Jessie.  He makes it clear that he no longer wants to be around her.  He doesn’t want her involved in his life or the lives of his family.  Jessie doesn’t know what’s going on, but she’s not going to let Pietr push her away that easily.  She still cares for him despite his insistence on being a jerk.

Jessie is also dealing with another boy–Derek, the popular football star, who Jessie had a major crush on before Pietr entered the picture.  Suddenly, Derek is always around and makes it clear that he’s very interested in Jessie.  But there’s something not-quite-right about Derek.  Why the sudden interest?  What is he really after?  And what could he possibly be hiding?

Jessie doesn’t know who to trust anymore.  Should she stick with the struggling Rusakovas, a family of werewolves who are trying to remain strong while searching for their mother and dealing with startlingly short life spans?  Or should she follow the path that everyone seems to be pushing her toward–a “normal” life with the popular Derek?  Is normal even possible for Jessie anymore now that she’s glimpsed the darkness that lives in the hearts of monsters and men?  Join Jessie on her journey, and find out who she can truly trust in Secrets and Shadows by Shannon Delany.

Even though this book was frustrating at times, I really enjoyed it.  It reminded me a little of Stephenie Meyer’s New Moon, especially the push-pull relationship between Jessie and Pietr.  It definitely mirrored the struggles that Bella and Edward endured in New Moon–but with a little less whining.  I think Jessie is a strong character who wants to protect those she loves and will do everything she can to make sure they’re safe, even if the cost is her own happiness.

Secrets and Shadows definitely ended on a cliffhanger, so I’m eager to see where the story will go from here.  The next book, Bargains and Betrayals, is scheduled for release this August, and I am definitely eager to get my hands on it!

For more information about the 13 to Life series and author Shannon Delany, visit http://shannondelany.com/joomla/.  I hope you enjoy this new series as much as I do!

13 to Life

I am happy to say that I am ending the year much like I began it–reading great YA books.  I spent much of today reading, so I will have one final post before 2010 draws to a close.  My final book of the year is Shannon Delaney’s 13 to Life, a wonderful first book in what is sure to be a gripping new series.  This is paranormal YA fiction at its finest, and, in my opinion, this book will appeal to middle school, high school, and adult readers alike.  (I’m sure the same will be true of upcoming books in this series.)  The main character, Jessica, was relatable (if a bit frustrating at times), and I think many readers, male and female, may identify with her a bit.

Jessica Gillmansen doesn’t have the easiest life.  After the death of her mother, she’s doing all she can to hold everything together while convincing those around her she’s not a danger to herself.  She’s trying her best to keep everything on an even keel, but that may not be entirely possible.  Strange things are happening around her town, and Jessica’s reporter instincts tell her that there is a mysterious story unfolding around her.

How right she is.  Things get even stranger when Jessica becomes the guide for a new student at school.  He’s tall, dark, handsome, mysterious–all the things most teenage girls go nuts over–but Jessica is largely unimpressed and just wants to escape from showing the new kid, Pietr Rusakova, the ropes at school.  Pietr, however, may have other ideas.  He makes his interest in Jessica crystal clear, and, hard as it may be to admit it, Jessica finds herself drawing closer to this enigmatic guy with secrets in his eyes.

As is so often the case when it comes to teens and romance, things do not proceed smoothly for Pietr and Jessica.  See, Jessica also has the hots for popular jock Derek, Pietr is reluctantly dating Jessica’s friend Sarah (who is not exactly who she seems to be, in my opinion), Pietr’s family is wary of Pietr’s involvement with Jessica, and there’s just some weird stuff going on that the two are hard-pressed to explain to anyone else or each other.  Throw in some werewolves and some bad guys who may or may not be connected to the Russian Mafia, and you’ve got quite the mess.  It’s really a lot for a couple of almost-seventeen-year-olds to take.  But try they must.  What will happen with Jessica and Pietr?  Will they reveal their secrets to each other?  Can they really be together with so much stacked against them?  I’ll let you decide when you read 13 to Life by Shannon Delaney.

I really did enjoy this book, especially the connections made to classic literature.  13 to Life made references to several works, including Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina, and The Merchant of Venice.  I just love it when that happens.  I think it arouses curiosity and may lead readers to revisit these great masterpieces of literature.  I can hardly wait to see where Shannon Delaney takes us in the next book, especially since 13 to Life ended on a bit of a cliffhanger.  The next book, Secrets and Shadows is due out in February of 2011, so at least I won’t have to wait long to find out more.

To learn more about the 13 to Life series and author Shannon Delaney, visit http://www.13tolifeseries.com/.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe New Year, and I’ll see you in 2011!