Goodbye Days

There are some books that should really be packaged with a box of Kleenex. Goodbye Days is one of those books. From Jeff Zentner, author of the William C. Morris Award-winning The Serpent King, comes another novel that absolutely rips your heart out. Goodbye Days isn’t one of those books that makes you cry only at the end. No, this one elicits full-on sobbing most of the way through. This novel is at once tragic, poignant, and cathartic, and I adored every last bit of it…even though I was often reading through a veil of tears.

Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read Goodbye Days a little early, but it’s available for the masses on March 7th. If you’re wondering if you should buy this book, you absolutely should.

Carver Briggs should be getting ready to enjoy his last year of high school with his three best friends, Mars, Blake, and Eli. Instead, he’s attending their funerals and dealing with the knowledge that he played a role in the deaths of those closest to him. How was he supposed to know that sending them a text message–like so many they’ve sent in the past–would somehow lead to the accident that destroyed everything?

Now, Carver’s life without his friends is almost more than he can bear. He’s a mess of grief, guilt, and fear. Grief over the loss of his friends; guilt over his role in this tragedy; and fear of what may happen to him if the authorities decide to bring criminal charges against him. Carver doesn’t know how to cope with everything, and he’s experiencing panic attacks for the first time in his life. Something’s got to give.

Thankfully, Carver isn’t completely alone. He’s supported by his parents (even though he doesn’t really confide in them), his wonderful sister, Georgia, and Jesmyn, Eli’s girlfriend, who shares her grief with Carver. He’s also started seeing a therapist–at his sister’s urging–and that’s helping him to explore his feelings about everything that’s happening.

Then there’s Blake’s grandmother. She, unlike some of his other friends’ family members, doesn’t blame Blake for what happened. She comes up with the idea of having a “goodbye day” for Blake, and she wants Carver to share one final day saying goodbye to her grandson. They’ll tell stories about Blake, visit his favorite spots, eat his favorite foods…basically, spend one day devoted to Blake’s memory.

At first, Carver is apprehensive about this, but he finds the experience somehow cleansing, and he wonders if it’s a good idea to have “goodbye days” with the families of his other friends. Some are willing; others are not. Not everyone forgives as readily as Blake’s grandmother. Even Carver feels that he’s somehow deserving of everything being heaped on him: the criminal investigation, the panic attacks, being a pariah at school, and the thoughts that plague him on a daily basis.

Will Carver ever be able to forgive himself for his role in this horrible tragedy? Will others be able to forgive him? Can a series of “goodbye days” help Carver and his friends’ families make some sort of peace with their loss? Will a cloud of grief hover over Carver forever, or will he be able to find a “new normal” with a little help?


I don’t know what more I can say about this book without telling everything that happens. It wrecked me, maybe more than The Serpent King did…and that’s saying a lot.

I think Goodbye Days is a great read for fans of John Green, Rainbow Rowell, and Gayle Forman. Basically, if you like books that tear your heart out, this is the book for you.

In my opinion, Goodbye Days is more suited to a YA audience than a tween crowd. If you plan to market this book to a middle grade audience, read it first. The book is written from a teen guy’s perspective, so there is some language and frank talk of “personal growth.” (I don’t think I need to explain that, do I?) Know your readers, and plan accordingly.

For more information on Goodbye Days and Jeff Zentner (who is now one of my go-to authors for contemporary YA), visit the author’s website. You can also connect with Jeff Zentner on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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.

An Ember in the Ashes

Brutal. That word sums up Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes better than a long blog post ever could. Is that going to stop me from giving you more words? No, but be prepared. This book is no happy-go-lucky stroll through a meadow. It’s dark, savage, and, at times, difficult to read.

An Ember in the Ashes–the first book in the series–is loosely based on ancient Rome, but it’s also extremely relevant to the sometimes terrifying world we live in today. When you read it, I’m confident you’ll see the parallels.

Laia lives under the thumb of the Martial Empire. Born a Scholar, Laia and her family are treated as less than human. They live in constant fear of the Masks, deadly soldiers who seek out and eliminate those who would defy the Empire.

One night, the Empire’s minions come for Laia’s brother. A vicious Mask kills Laia’s grandparents and takes her brother prisoner. Laia’s only salvation is running and hiding in the city’s catacombs. It is here that she meets up with the Resistance.

These rebels seek to end the Empire’s reign of terror, and Laia hopes that they will help to free her brother. They agree, but Laia must do something for them first–something that could put her life in more peril than ever. She must become a spy and live as the Commandant’s slave at the Blackcliff Academy, the training ground for Masks.

Elias is in his final year of Mask training. He is one step away from becoming one of the Empire’s most savage weapons…and he wants no part of it. He can’t stand everything he’s forced to do, and he hates the brutality that surrounds him. Elias has plans to desert, but those plans are put on hold when he learns that he’s meant to go along a different path, one that could lead to the freedom he’s wanted for so long. Freedom from both the Empire and his mother, the cruel Commandant of Blackcliff.

As Laia looks for a way to save her brother, Elias is attempting to find his own way to escape his destiny. The two young people meet and are immediately drawn to each other, even though they appear to be at odds. They may seem to be working at cross-purposes, but they do not yet realize just how similar their goals are.

Both Laia and Elias, in their own way, seek to thwart the Empire, and, in the end, they may just have to join forces to realize their desires…and save their own lives.


There is nothing light-hearted about An Ember in the Ashes, but I loved it just the same. It is an uncomfortable, nightmarish read, but it definitely makes a reader think. It made me reflect on the rise and fall of empires throughout history, rebellions in both reality and fiction, and what it takes to overthrow what seems to be an all-powerful regime. (Pretty easy to see how this connects to what’s happening right now, yes?)

I would recommend An Ember in the Ashes to young adult and adult audiences. In my opinion, some of the imagery is simply too brutal for younger readers. The somewhat lackadaisical reactions to rape and torture, for example, make this book (and probably the others in the series) more suited to mature readers.

Speaking of the rest of the series, book two, A Torch Against the Night, is already out. From what I understand, there will be a third book and maybe a fourth book, but I don’t know titles or release dates yet.

To learn more about An Ember in the Ashes and Sabaa Tahir, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the completely unspoilery book trailer below.

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.

Zero Hour

If you haven’t read the following books in the Lorien Legacies (I Am Number Four) series, go no further. You will be all kinds of lost if you haven’t read the entire series up to this point.

So…I guess it’s fairly obvious that I’ve been catching up on the Lorien Legacies series. The series as a whole is now complete, but I had to read the last collection of novellas before moving on to the seventh and final full-length novel, United As One. I’m hoping to conclude this series sometime in January, but let’s turn our attention to Zero Hour for now.

Zero Hour, like the collections before it, is comprised of three novellas that provide a little more insight into the Loric Garde, their allies, and the Mogadorians that seek to take over Earth. In this particular collection, we see things from the perspectives of several characters we’ve met before–some friendly, others not so much.

The first story in Zero Hour is Legacies Reborn, and readers are reintroduced to a character we met in The Fate of Ten. Dani Morales is a girl living in New York City. Her biggest concern is dealing with her horrible stepdad…until she realizes that aliens have invaded her city and seem determined to wipe out all traces of resistance. Separated from her mom, Dani tries to get across the city and reunite with the only person that really matters to her. She soon learns that this task won’t be easy, but she may get some help from some allies…and from some newfound powers of her own.

Next up, we have Last Defense. In this story, we learn a bit more about Malcolm Goode, otherwise known as Sam’s dad. Malcolm is still dealing with being held captive by the Mogadorians for years, reuniting with his son, and doing whatever he can to help in fighting this alien invasion. Malcolm has information that very few people on Earth are privy to, and that inside look at how the Mogadorians operate makes him valuable to those looking to combat this threat, particularly the President and his closest advisers. But how does Malcolm reconcile assisting the President with his need to keep his son safe?

Finally, there’s Hunt for the Garde. This novella is actually three stories in one, all from the perspectives of Mogadorians (or bad guys).

  • First, we hear from Phiri Dun-Ra, a loyal Mog officer who has messed up in the past and is looking to make up for it in the eyes of the Beloved Leader, Setrákus Ra. She now has her chance.
  • Second, we see Vintaro Üshaba, another loyal Mog who delights in war, inflicting pain, and furthering Mog Progress. Vintaro is merciless, and he will do whatever is necessary to bring in anyone believed to be a threat to Setrákus Ra’s plans. He thinks little of his targets, and that may be his ultimate undoing.
  • Third, we are reintroduced to Rexicus Saturnus. This young Mog, who grew up on Earth and once helped Adam escape from a Mog stronghold, is having doubts about everything happening around him. (Note: Read the other books if you don’t know who Adam is. He’s pretty important.) Maybe Adam was right about everything, including fighting against the Mogadorians. Maybe Setrákus Ra isn’t as all-powerful as he claims. Rex isn’t sure which way to turn, but he’ll have to decide which side he’s on very soon.

So, that’s Zero Hour. It definitely whets my appetite for United As One, and it hints that things are going to get much worse before they get better. I guess we’ll just have to see. At the very least, it should be interesting to see how the characters and storylines from Zero Hour play into the final chapter of this exciting series.

For much more information on the Lorien Legacies series, go to the I Am Number Four Fans website. Enjoy, and I’ll be back for my 2016 wrap-up in a couple of days.

Happy New Year!

The Sky Is Everywhere

I became a Jandy Nelson fan about two years ago when I read the unbelievably moving I’ll Give You the Sun. (Read it. Seriously. And have lots of tissues at the ready.) I was in a weird mood this week, so I looked to one of her other books, The Sky Is Everywhere, to get me through. It worked.

I guess I needed a good cry–without resorting to cheesy holiday Hallmark movies–and The Sky Is Everywhere definitely delivered. It explored concepts like loss, grief, love, family, hope, and the power of words and music in a way that really resonated with me. I hope it will do the same for you.

Lennie Walker is going through the worst time of her life. Following the death of her older sister, Bailey, Lennie is completely adrift. She doesn’t know which way to turn, and she doesn’t know how to go on without the most important person in her world. She’s lost interest in almost everything. Her only solace comes in the form of poems she leaves on the walls, on scrap pieces of paper, all over town.

While Lennie struggles to reconnect to her life, she looks for comfort in the arms of Toby, her sister’s boyfriend. He seems to be the only person who truly understands her grief, and maybe both of them are seeking a piece of Bailey in each other. Lennie knows it’s wrong to be so wrapped up in Toby, but she can’t seem to help herself. (To be fair, neither can he.)

When a new guy enters the picture, though, Lennie’s world is once again thrown into chaos. Joe Fontaine brings sunshine into Lennie’s life for the first time in a while, and he seems to bring her back into the world of words, music, and living. She begins playing her clarinet again, talking to friends and family, and contemplating a future of her own. It’s both exhilarating and, on some level, agonizing.

A big part of Lennie feels guilty for feeling any kind of happiness when her sister is gone, and an even bigger part of her is guilty over her continued connection with Toby when she’s falling for Joe. She knows she must end whatever is happening with Toby before it destroys her relationship with Joe…but that may not be up to her.

As her romantic life flounders, Lennie must also deal with secrets her sister was keeping, her feelings on her absent mother, how she relates to her family, and even how she views herself. Who is she without Bailey? Can she find the girl she is now before she loses Joe, the boy who may just be the love of her life? It’s time for Lennie to find out.


The band geek and word nerd in me really loved the character of Lennie (even though I wanted to shake her a few times). I have a feeling a lot of readers out there may feel the same way. If nothing else, maybe Lennie’s taste in music and literature could inspire readers to explore–or at least revisit–the classics.

While I think The Sky Is Everywhere is an excellent book for teens and adults–especially music and book lovers or those who’ve ever been in love or experienced loss (doesn’t narrow it down much, does it?)–I do think it’s geared toward more mature readers. This book doesn’t shy away from what may be deemed “salty language” or frank talk of sexuality. Yes, I know that’s reality for many tweens and teens. Some mature middle grade readers may be okay with this book, but others may not. As usual, know your readers and recommend books accordingly.

If you’d like to know more about The Sky Is Everywhere and other books by Jandy Nelson, I encourage you to visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

With that, I’m going to wrap things up…which is the only wrapping I’ve managed to do. It’s Christmas Eve, and I haven’t wrapped a single gift, so I guess I’ve got work to do. So long for now, and I’ll be back in a few days. Happy holidays to you all!