Girl, Stolen

Yesterday, I finished reading Girl, Stolen by April Henry. This book has been out since 2010, but I didn’t make time to read it until recently. Why, you ask? Well, there’s now a sequel, Count All Her Bones, and I couldn’t read that one until I finished the first book, so there you go.

Now, it’s time for a quick look at Girl, Stolen. This will be a short post because I feel like crap and want to go back to sleep, so let’s get started.

It was supposed to be a quick stop at the pharmacy for antibiotics. Who could have predicted that it would turn into a nightmare for Cheyenne Wilder? Lying in the backseat, blind and sick with pneumonia, Cheyenne thought her stepmom was getting into the driver’s seat, ready to take them both home. She soon realizes, however, that something is wrong. Her stepmom is not driving. Someone is stealing the car, and she’s along for the ride.

It doesn’t take long for Griffin to grasp that he’s just screwed up royally. He thought he’d stumbled upon a perfect score–and Escalade with keys in the ignition. He didn’t think to look in the backseat. Now, he’s got to figure out what to do…with both the car and the girl. His only saving grace may be that this girl is blind and can’t identify him. Maybe he can get out of this without too much trouble.

When Griffin delivers both car and girl to his father, the situation gets even more complicated. It seems that Cheyenne’s father is a big-wig at Nike, and Griffin’s dad wants to take advantage of that. He thinks this could turn into a huge payday. Griffin isn’t so sure about this plan, and he grows even more reluctant to participate when he realizes that his father (and his cronies) have no plans to keep Cheyenne alive.

Even though she’s blind, Cheyenne never stops trying to find a way out of this mess. She knows that Griffin is protecting her from the other men and what they plan to do with her, but surely he won’t think of aiding her escape. He’s the one who kidnapped her in the first place. Or would he consider helping her? Maybe he’s just as eager to end this fiasco as she is. Whatever the case, Cheyenne is determined to survive, and she’ll do whatever she must–even perhaps trust her abductor–to make it back home.


If you’ve read any of April Henry’s books, you know that she’s known for good, engrossing mysteries suitable for middle grade and young adult readers. This book is no different. It’s a quick read, perfect for reluctant readers, and it definitely keeps one’s interest from page to page.

Count All Her Bones, the sequel to Girl, Stolen, was released in May. As you may have guessed, given that there is a sequel in the first place, Cheyenne does survive in book one. From what I understand, though, her troubles are far from over. As soon as I finish a few other books, I’ll see just how much trouble she finds in book two.

For more information on Girl, Stolen and other mysteries by April Henry, check out the author’s websiteTwitter, and Facebook.

Bang

Every once in a while, I come across a book that I know is going to wreck me. Sometimes, all it takes is a look at the cover or a glance at the description to realize that I better get the Kleenex ready. That’s what happened with Bang by Barry Lyga.

When Sebastian Cody was four years old, he did the unthinkable. He shot and killed his baby sister. It was an accident, but that event changed everything. It broke up his family, and it made Sebastian into a pariah. Everyone knows him as the kid who shot his sister.

It’s now ten years later, and Sebastian has nearly reached his breaking point. He’s certain it’s almost time for him to end his pain. He can’t escape what he did to his sister, but he can escape this life. He’s almost ready. Almost.

When his best friend, Evan, goes away for the summer, Sebastian is sure that he won’t see his friend again. He’s going to end his life, and nothing is going to stop him. His plans begin to change, however, when he meets Aneesa.

Aneesa is unlike anyone Sebastian has ever met. For one thing, she’s Muslim, which already makes her unique in his extremely white bread town. For another, she doesn’t know anything about Sebastian’s past. To her, he’s just Sebastian, awkwardly funny guy who charms her parents and makes delicious pizza.

Sebastian and Aneesa become fast friends–and partners in a pizza-making YouTube venture–and it’s almost enough to make Sebastian forget his plans. Could he possibly move past what happened to him all those years ago? Does he deserve friends and a future after what he did? He’s starting to think it’s possible.

But maybe all of the positive stuff in Sebastian’s life is too good to be true. After all, no one will ever let him forget his past. Even Aneesa’s friendship isn’t enough to blot out the pain. Can anything help him to move on, or is Sebastian fated to end his life the same way he ended his sister’s?


Like I said, this book wrecked me…so much so that I’m finding it difficult to write as much as I typically do. It is an outstanding piece of realistic fiction, and it’s sure to keep readers eager to turn the page. Yes, some of that enthusiasm could be morbid curiosity–will Sebastian end his life or not? But I’m hopeful that most people will want to keep reading to see if Sebastian finds his way through the darkness. Maybe they need to see him find a glimmer of hope so that they can seek their own measure of peace.

Aside from the deep stuff in Bang–and it does get pretty intense–I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it made me hungry. Not something you expected in a book like this one, right? Well, when you read about Sebastian’s epic pizza creations, you’ll probably feel the same way. After reading the descriptions of his pizzas, Papa John’s just won’t cut it anymore. I’m not inspired to make my own pizzas or anything–I hate to cook–but I may have to venture beyond the traditional after this book. When I wasn’t using tissues to dry my tears, I’m pretty sure I was using them to wipe away drool. (Can you tell I’m on a diet? Is it too obvious?)

I’m not sure if Bang is a good fit for a middle school audience, but I definitely recommend it to YA readers. It’s a powerful book, a quick read, and it makes readers think about differences, friendship, forgiveness, and redemption.

To learn more about Bang, visit author Barry Lyga’s website or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

Three Dark Crowns

I don’t know quite where to begin. I finished reading Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake a few hours ago, and I’m still processing what happened in this book, particularly the batcrap crazy ending. (I mean that in the best way.) This book is convoluted and vicious–perfect for fans of Kiersten White’s And I Darken and Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes–and I can hardly wait for more.

On the mysterious island of Fennbirn, three sisters–triplets–vie to be the last queen standing. Separated at an early age, the girls grow up knowing that they may one day have to kill their sisters in order to claim the crown. Each queen is supposed to be endowed with her own special brand of magic, and the strength of that magic could lead one of the young women to rule.

Katharine is a poisoner. She should be able to ingest even the most dangerous poison with no consequences. She can craft poisons with the best of them, but she cannot yet consume toxins without being violently ill. If her gift does not arrive soon–before Beltane–she fears that her quest for the throne will be short-lived.

Arsinoe is in a similar situation. She is a naturalist, but she cannot yet control even the smallest portion of the natural world around her, and there is no sign of her animal familiar on the horizon. Her companion, Jules, a powerful naturalist in her own right, has been trying to coax Arsinoe’s gift out of hiding, but the only magic Arsinoe experiences–dangerous spells performed with her own blood–may come with a cost more dire than she realizes.

Mirabella is widely considered to be the front-runner for the crown. She is a powerful elemental, and she has been controlling wind, fire, water, and earth for years. But Mirabella wonders if she’s truly capable of killing her sisters when the time comes. She remembers with fondness their lives before they were separated, and her unwillingness to do her sisters harm is viewed as weakness by those in power. Her path to the throne may seem clear, but her own feelings may cloud the way.

Each of these three sisters are attempting to figure out where they stand in Fennbirn, but they are running out of time to come to terms with their destinies. Their quests for the crown truly begin at the upcoming Beltane celebration. After that, two of them must die so that one can be queen. Add in questions about their gifts, power struggles from without and within, suitors vying for their hands, betrayal, and their own often conflicted feelings, and something has to give.

Will Katharine and Arsinoe receive their gifts before Beltane? If not, can they make others believe they are fit to be queen? Is Mirabella truly the most powerful of the three and destined to be the sole queen? Or does fate have something else in store for these sisters and those who would see them killed or crowned?


I’ve left out A LOT here, but I didn’t want to give too much away. I will say, however, that it’s difficult to determine which of the sisters–if any–should truly be queen. I felt sympathy with each of them at different points, but I can’t say that I was really rooting for any of them. As a matter of fact, I didn’t really like the sisters throughout much of the book. Jules, Arsinoe’s companion, was probably the only character in the book that I 100% liked. That’s okay, though. I think my conflicted feelings on these characters are exactly what the author intended. Nothing is clear cut in this book, and that makes things very intriguing.

For those wondering if Three Dark Crowns is a good fit for middle grade readers, I have to say…I’m not sure. It is brutal, and there are some sexy times (which are kind of understated). Some middle grade readers may be able to handle it; others won’t. I would probably recommend this book to grades 8 and up, but I urge you to read the book for yourself if you work with tweens and young teens. You know your readers better than I do.

The next book in this series, One Dark Throne, comes out on September 19th. There will also be a prequel novella, The Young Queens, released on December 26th. Lots to look forward to in this exciting series!

For more information on Three Dark Crowns, visit author Kendare Blake’s website or connect with her on Twitter. You may also want to check out the awesome book trailer from Epic Reads below. Enjoy!

Kill the Boy Band

I am a fangirl. I probably always have been, but we didn’t call ourselves that until recently. In my early years, I was crazy about the Smurfs, Rainbow Brite, She-Ra, and Barbara Mandrell (don’t ask). In my tween days, it was New Kids on the Block. (To be fair, I still like NKOTB. I’ve seen them in concert three times, and I’ll see them for the fourth time next month.) As a teenager, my Star Wars obsession really took off, and I now get all giddy about Harry Potter, Sherlock, Doctor Who, superheroes, and all sorts of other things. I totally own my fangirl ways. It makes me happy, and I’m not hurting anyone. And I guess that’s where I differ from the characters in my latest read, Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky.

In this book, told from the perspective of one girl (whose real name is never revealed), we are introduced to four superfans of the Ruperts, a British boy band in which every guy’s first name is–you guessed it–Rupert. These girls essentially became friends because of their mutual obsession with the Ruperts, and, so far, they’ve seen their beloved boy band in concert, gotten a few selfies, engaged in some light stalking, and one has devoted her life to creating a website all about the band. Now, though, they’re taking their fandom to a whole new level. They’re booking a room in the same New York hotel where the boys are staying. If only it ended there…

They really didn’t mean to kidnap one of the Ruperts. Granted, they got the worst one (every boy band has one), but still. They have a Rupert in their hotel room. But what should they do with him? Get him to reveal the band’s deep, dark secrets? Make him pose for some rather embarrassing photos? Let him go, no harm, no foul? (Yeah…that last one is not going to happen.)

With each passing minute, these fangirls get ever deeper into a mess of their own making. At any point, they could call a halt to what’s going on–and the narrator wants to on several occasions–but group dynamics are a tricky thing, and this whole situation quickly takes on a life of its own. Also, a couple of our girls may have their own reasons for wanting to cause as much chaos for their so-called favorite boy band as possible. They may not be ready, however, for just how much chaos is coming.

When the unthinkable happens, these fangirls find themselves in the midst of more trouble than they ever bargained for. How can they possibly get out of it? Will their friendships–and the Ruperts–survive this fiasco? There’s only one way to find out…


Never underestimate the power of teenage girls in large groups. Many celebrities know that girls can make or destroy a career in an instant. In this book, they do much more than that. Kill the Boy Band is a dark, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, look at fandom and just how much it can take over a person’s life. Most fangirls (and fanboys) don’t cross certain lines, but one need only look at Twitter, Snapchat, or any other social media platform to see the dark side of things–stalking, threats, etc. It happens. Yes, the girls in this book take things to the extreme and allow things to get away from them, but they also kind of serve as a cautionary tale on not allowing something to completely take over your life, especially at the expense of something as basic as morality.

I did like–and relate to–parts of this book, but one big thing ruined it for me. The narrator. She threatened to bow out of the whole situation multiple times. She told her friends what they were doing was wrong. She even left their hotel room. But she. Kept. Coming. Back. If she found everything to be so horrible, she had options. Walk away. Call her mom. Notify the police. Do something other than complain and fold under peer pressure. I realize that’s easy for me to say as an adult, but her actions–and inactions–really bothered me, maybe even more than some of the more heinous action in the book.

If you decide to recommend Kill the Boy Band to readers, it’s probably not a good fit for middle grade readers. It contains profanity, some sexual situations, conversations, and innuendo, and a fair amount law-breaking. I’d probably give this book to mature teen and adult readers who’ll realize that this is not a how-to manual on getting way too close to their favorite celebrities…or getting away with murder. (Did I mean that last bit literally or figuratively? I’ll leave that for you to discover.)

Scarlett Undercover

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham, another nominee for the 17-18 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, is advertised as being perfect for fans of Veronica Mars. Well, I don’t know about that–given that I’ve never seen Veronica Mars–but it is an entertaining YA mystery which features an intelligent, brave, and snarky Muslim American heroine. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Scarlett, a brilliant teen who graduated early from high school, is a private detective in Las Almas. Following the deaths of both of her parents, Scarlett lives with her sister, Reem, a dedicated medical student. Both young women are trying to do right by their parents’ memories. For Reem, that means becoming a doctor. For Scarlett, that means helping others and trying to figure out who may have killed her father.

When young Gemma Archer seeks out Scarlett’s help, Scarlett is a little reluctant to take the case. How could she possibly prove that Gemma’s older brother, Oliver, was somehow involved in his friend’s suicide? But there’s something about Gemma’s concerns that draw Scarlett in, so she decides to investigate. She couldn’t possibly know that she would uncover a possible cult or a weird connection to her own family.

As Scarlett’s investigation continues, she realizes she’s close to uncovering some pretty dangerous secrets–secrets that people are willing to kill for. She’s being followed, and this case could be putting the people Scarlett cares about in harm’s way. So what does she do? Does she cut and run, or does she follow wherever the clues lead her? Well, Scarlett’s been accused of being stubborn in the past, and that hasn’t changed, so she’s in this for the long haul.

Scarlett is growing closer to solving this whole sordid mess, but what could it mean for her faith and her future? What ancient evil could be unleashed if she doesn’t succeed? Will she be able to solve this mystery and keep her loved ones safe? Answer these questions and many more when you read Scarlett Undercover.


While Scarlett Undercover kept my interest, this book was not without its flaws. Allow me to highlight just a couple.

The book didn’t provide a ton of background information before jumping right into the action. I actually wondered if the copy of the book I was reading was missing a prologue or something. I’m not a fan of books that begin in medias res, and that’s what this book felt like. It would have been nice, in my opinion, to get the full story of how Scarlett came to be a teenage private detective before the major part of the story started.

Another issue I have with Scarlett Undercover is the lack of character development. We know a fair amount about Scarlett since she’s the protagonist, but what about all of the secondary characters? Scarlett has a sister, a love interest, a helpful cop, a guardian angel, and so many other people in her life. I’d like more information on all of these people, but I especially want to know more about Scarlett’s relationship with her sister, how she met Decker and how their feelings for each other grew over time, and even her early family life with her parents. And that’s not touching on a lot of the other players in this mystery. We don’t even get to know a ton about the villains, and that is a tragedy.

Even with those faults (and a few others that I haven’t addressed), I do love that this book features a Muslim American heroine. I think readers of all faiths (or no faith) will find they have a lot in common with Scarlett, whether or not they happen to be Muslim…or a teenage girl who solves crimes. Maybe those commonalities could be starting points for finding common ground in areas other than YA literature. One can hope.

To learn more about Scarlett Undercover, visit author Jennifer Latham’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter and Facebook.

Denton Little’s Deathdate

What would you do if you knew the exact date of your death? I like to think I’d do all the stuff I was too scared, inhibited, or lazy to do normally, but I know myself well enough to realize that’s probably not how things would play out. The more likely scenario is that I would read as much as possible and take lots of naps. Know thyself, my friends.

I say all that to introduce my latest read, Denton Little’s Deathdate. In this morbidly funny book, our title character ponders what to do before he kicks the bucket. As a matter of fact, most people in the world deal with this big question. Thanks to an “advance” in medical technology, everyone knows his/her deathdate. They don’t know the exact minute or how they’re going to die, but the date appears to be set in stone. For seventeen-year-old Denton Little, that date is just a couple days away, and he’s got a lot to process before the big day.

Two days before his deathdate, Denton Little wakes up in a strange bed with his very first (and possibly last) hangover. Why is he in his best friend’s sister’s bed? He remembers flashes of the previous night, but most of it is a blur. Did something awesome happen with Veronica, or did he embarrass himself completely…or both?

Eventually, Denton Little manages to piece together some semblance of last night’s events, but he’s got other things to worry about today. For one thing, he has to get ready for his funeral. Oh joy. A night for everyone to say how sorry they are that he’ll no longer be with them. A night in which he has to make a speech and dole out hugs to relatives, friends, and treasured acquaintances. Denton can hardly wait.

Another thing worrying Denton in his last hours is the weird purple rash that is spreading all over his body. Did his activities with Veronica give him some sort of disease, or is it something else? Whatever it is, his entire body is turning purple, and it seems that he’s spreading this unknown virus to anyone he–ahem–shares saliva with. (There are a couple more people on that list than there should be, especially considering that Denton has a girlfriend whose name is most definitely not Veronica.)

To make things even more confusing for Denton, a weird guy shows up at his funeral, claims to have information about Denton’s mother, a woman who died shortly after giving birth to Denton, and warns Denton to beware of government officials. What could this guy want now, and how could this make any difference to Denton when he’s only got hours to live? And what could the government have to do with Denton or his mother? It’s quite the puzzle, and Denton’s running out of time to solve it.

Join Denton as he and his friends try to piece together what’s going on around them. What’s up with the weird purple rash? What does Denton’s mom have to do with his deathdate? And is there a way for Denton to cheat death when no one else has managed to? It’s a mystery…


Here’s a major spoiler if you’re still reading this post: Denton lives. I don’t feel too bad about revealing that since there is a second book to look forward to. The title itself could be considered spoilery to those who haven’t done their homework. It’s Denton Little’s Still Not Dead, and it was released in February. Given that book one ended on a pretty large cliffhanger, I’m hoping to make time to read book two as soon as possible.

Denton Little’s Deathdate is a nominee for the 2017-18 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. Often, titles on this list are appropriate for middle grade readers. In my opinion, this is not one of those titles. Denton Little’s Deathdate is an awesome book, but I don’t think it’s a good fit for tweens and younger teens. It has a fair amount of sexy times and innuendo, alcohol and drug use, and irreverent humor (which is my favorite part of the book), and all of those things combined make it more suited to a mature teen audience. Before you recommend this book to younger teens, read it for yourself. You likely know best which of your readers are ready for a book like this and which aren’t.

To learn more about Denton Little’s Deathdate, visit author Lance Rubin’s cool, fun website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter and Instagram. For an extra bit of fun, check out the video below featuring Lance Rubin singing a lovely song about Denton Little’s Deathdate. The song alone makes me want to read everything this guy cares to write. Enjoy!

Now I Rise

Notice: You MUST read And I Darken, the first book in Kiersten White’s Conqueror’s Saga, before proceeding with this post. You’ve been warned.

If it’s not readily apparent, I recently finished reading Now I Rise, the sequel to And I Darken. This series focuses on Lada and Radu Dracul, the children of Vlad Dracul, the inspiration for Dracula. Like I mentioned in the post on book one, this series presents an alternate history of this family. Vlad is not the brutal leader of legend here…but his daughter is.

In And I Darken, Lada and Radu were dealing with their complicated feelings for each other, their circumstances, and the new sultan, Mehmed. In Now I Rise, the complications continue. Lada has left Mehmed’s side to reclaim the throne of Wallachia. Radu, on the other hand, has stayed with Mehmed, and that presents its own set of difficulties.

Lada Dracul is determined to be Prince of Wallachia. It does not matter that she is a woman. She’s the rightful ruler, and she will take what’s hers, by force if necessary. And it looks like force–and lots of it–are necessary. In her quest to rule, she strikes down anyone who gets in her way. She forges alliances that make her sick. She betrays those close to her. All of this to get her closer to the Wallachian throne. Yet even as she is on the cusp of achieving her goal, she misses her brother, Radu, and even Mehmed.

Lada knows that Radu’s silver tongue and gift of diplomacy would get her closer to the throne. As for Mehmed, her feelings for him are a bit more complex. She misses how he makes her feel, but, at the same time, she refuses to place her future in a man’s hands. Also, she doesn’t fully trust Mehmed. He has seemingly thwarted her grab for power, and Lada knows he will do anything–including betray her–to further his own ends. She both loathes and respects that about him. After all, has she not done the same?

As for Radu, he remains completely loyal to Mehmed and the sultan’s desire to conquer Constantinople. Radu does whatever he can to further the Ottoman cause, and, when Mehmed asks Radu to become a spy within Constantinople’s walls, he reluctantly agrees. While Radu does not wish to be parted from Mehmed, he will do as Mehmed asks even as he ignores his sister’s plea for help in her endeavors. Radu knows his feelings for Mehmed will likely never be returned, but he will continue to prove his love and loyalty to Mehmed…no matter what it costs.

While in Constantinople, Radu becomes more and more conflicted. Even as he’s relaying information to the Ottomans, he’s growing closer to those fighting for Emperor Constantine. How can he betray these people who have taken him in, shown him kindness, and trusted him? But how can he turn his back on Mehmed, who he loves more than all others? He’s given up nearly everything for Mehmed, but is he willing to give up his very soul so that Mehmed can conquer a city that seems to be dying anyway?

Both Radu and Lada Dracul are wrestling with questions of loyalty, love, faith, and sacrifice. What are each of them willing to do to achieve their goals? What will they find themselves capable of? Betrayal? Murder? And what will be lost along the way?


Everything I said about And I Darken also applies to Now I Rise. I don’t feel like writing all that again, so read the end of my post on And I Darken to get my full take on both of these books. In short, though, these books raise all sorts of questions on what a person is willing to do to serve their own ends, how love makes a person both strong and weak, what it means to be feminine, and how women who do not subscribe to societal expectations are viewed. And that barely even touches on the religious and historical aspects of the book. It’s a lot to take in, and all of this stuff makes both And I Darken and Now I Rise as sumptuous as two decadent pieces of dark chocolate.

So…how does Now I Rise differ from And I Darken? Well, we get to know both Lada and Radu a bit more. These two characters get more complex with each page, and I’m sure that will continue in the next book. The biggest difference, though, is the elevated brutality. Radu is in the middle of a war zone, and he both witnesses and commits atrocities true to what is happening around him. Lada, in her quest for power, cuts down anyone in her path and leaves a trail of bodies behind her. There’s nothing pretty, delicate, or civilized about her path to the Wallachian throne. She’s vicious, brutal, and without mercy. She has to demonstrate to all that she is no pushover, and she’s not shy about shedding blood to prove her point.

In case you’re wondering, I would recommend both And I Darken and Now I Rise to a mature teen or adult audience. I doubt most middle grade readers are developmentally ready for books like these. They deal with political maneuvering, sexuality, betrayal, and the horrors of war, and I think reading and discussing these issues require a certain level of maturity. You may have a different take, but I urge you to read the books yourself before you make that determination.

Now I Rise will be released on June 27th. The third book in The Conqueror’s Saga should be out next summer. To learn more about And I Darken and Now I Rise, visit the series’ official website.