Review: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Open Road SummerTitle: Open Road Summer

Author: Emery Lord

Publisher: Walker Childrens

Release Date: April 15th, 2014

Interest: Contemporary / Debut Author

Source: Finished copy received from the author

Summary (From Goodreads):

After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

I originally received a copy of Open Road Summer when I was at NCTE in Boston. I added it to my classroom library before I read it because I knew my girls in class would probably love it, so I figured I’d read it over the summer. Sadly my ARC went missing during the school year and I never found it. After tweeting about this, Emery Lord saw my tweet and offered to be a “book fairy” and replace my missing copy. I’m thankful she did for multiple reasons, one of them being because it gave me the opportunity to read a truly enjoyable book!

I have absolutely nothing against reading edgy YA, but sometimes it’s nice to read something light and sweet. Open Road Summer isn’t without its true to life conflicts, but it’s not a book that kept me on edge. Lord has written a book that I’ll feel very comfortable offering to both my incoming freshmen *and* my seniors; it will easily appeal to both grade levels. It’s not uncommon to start a school year with “young” freshmen who may not be ready for a heavy romance filled with conflict. Open Road Summer will work well for those students who want to read about love and summer and friendship. My seniors are a different story. They also like to read about love and summer and friendship, but they generally have more life experience and will appreciate Reagan’s history. (Please keep in mind that these are generalizations and don’t apply to all freshmen or all seniors.)

Speaking of Reagan, I’m glad Emery Lord chose to write this from her point of view. I love how protective and loyal she is to Dee (only people who know Lilah really well call her that) and how much she’s trying to move on from her past. Another thing I enjoyed about her character is that she reminded me of some of my friends, but I could also see myself in her. She’s a well-rounded character. On the outside Reagan is fierce and protective of those she loves, but underneath it all she’s vulnerable and hesitant to let anyone in. She makes mistakes and learns from them. I would, for the record, absolutely love to read stories from Dee’s and Matt’s points of view because they are both genuine and fun characters with interesting lives.

Once I finished reading this and gave it my rating on Goodreads, one of my followers on the site asked me if it’s really worth reading and how the music scene was portrayed. First of all, I absolutely think it’s worth reading. Emery Lord is an author that I’ll be keeping an eye on so I can read more of her books. I thought the question about the music scene was an interesting one because I honestly hadn’t considered it. Dee works hard to maintain a wholesome image because that’s who she really is and she wants to be a positive role model. She faces unfortunate drama and rumors because of the paparazzi, but other than that the drama she deals with mostly has to do with her personal relationships. It’s another reason why I think my more innocent readers will appreciate Emery Lord’s debut.

Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and the Happily Ever AfterTitle: Isla and the Happily Ever After

Author: Stephanie Perkins

Publisher: Dutton

Release Date: August 14th, 2014

Interest: Series / Author

Source: ARC received from a friend (Thank you, Lea!)

Summary (From Goodreads):

From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins is going to receive a ton of well-deserved hype, so I’m going to try and keep this review simple. Basically, I LOVED it. I felt like I was waiting forever to finally read it and it was worth the wait.

I adore Stephanie Perkins’s writing and how she crafts stories that combine romance and self-discovery. Isla and the Happily Ever After balanced this perfectly. I really liked reading about Isla and Josh’s budding relationship and about Isla trying to learn what she wants to do with her life after high school. Like so many high school students, Isla doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do with her life. Trying to decide which college to attend and what to do after high school are major conflicts for plenty of high school students whether they’re in a relationship or not. Stephanie Perkins wrote a real love story with real conflicts.

In high school I felt pretty confident about what I wanted to do as a career and where I wanted to attend college, but I really connected with Isla in other ways. As I was reading I could identify with how she felt about relationships and the ways she reacted to things. Her character really came alive on the page for me. I let one of my former students borrow my ARC before she leaves for college for the school year and she told me she felt really similar to Isla as well. I have a feeling I’ll have quite a few “Islas” in my classroom this year and beyond.

If you haven’t read any of Stephanie Perkins’s books, I highly recommend that you do. You don’t necessarily have to read them in order, but it helps if you do simply because you’ll avoid tiny spoilers. Or in Isla and the Happily Ever After’s case, kind of a big and ohsocool spoiler. And that’s all I’ll say about that :)

Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeTitle: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Author: Jenny Han

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Release Date: April 15th, 2014

Interest: Contemp

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control in this heartfelt novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer I Turned Pretty series.

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them… all at once?

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

I love it when I find the right book for the right moment. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han was that book. I’m not sure what it is right now, but lately I’ve only been interested in reading contemps that are on the lighter side. Lara Jean’s story couldn’t have fit any better.

I’ve never read any of Jenny Han’s books, but after reading this I’ll be sure to get my hands on the rest of her books. I really enjoyed Lara Jean’s story because her voice is very much that of a junior in high school. She’s a little on the innocent side of the spectrum, which I found to be a breath of a fresh air. That innocence fits her character perfectly because she’s basically been raised by her older sister since her mother died. Lara Jean is very much a middle child who works hard to be responsible like her father and older sister want her to be and her younger sister needs her to be. She also spends a great deal of time thinking about Margot (her older sister), focusing on two of the guys in her life Josh and Peter, and taking care of her little sister Kitty and her dad.

Lara Jean’s focus on everyone else added well to the conflicts of the story, but it also drew away from her character. By the end of the story I knew I really liked the book and want to read the second one, but I don’t feel like I know Lara Jean as well as I think I should. I know that she is devoted to her family. I know that she’s a romantic at heart. I also know that she wants to take risks. But I don’t know as much about her personal interests and passions besides her family and close friends. I really hope to learn more about her in the second book which is currently titled P.S. I Still Love You.

While I wanted to know Lara Jean a little better, I did love the cast of characters in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Kitty is absolutely adorable and a great addition to the story. She’s one of the reasons why Lara Jean’s family works so hard to keep their Korean traditions alive despite the fact that their father isn’t Korean and that their mother has passed away. I liked both Peter and Josh, but I think I enjoyed Peter’s character just a little bit more. He along with Kitty added a nice amount of humor to the story.

I do have to admit that I’m not wholly satisfied with the ending, and I know I’m supposed to feel that way. Sure, it fits with the story, but it left so much unanswered! Some pieces of the conflict are resolved at least. I’m really happy there’s a sequel, but I really wish I didn’t have to wait until 2015 for it!

I’m not sure how many of my students will be able to read my copy of Jenny Han’s latest before the school year ends, but I know it will be a big hit next school year.

Student Book Reviews: The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner

Since bringing my ARC of The Summer of Letting Go into my classroom, my senior girls have been passing it around quite a bit. It’s been such a favorite this year that three of my students wrote mini book reviews for Gae Polisner’s sophomore release.

Title: The Summer of Letting Go

Author: Gae Polisner

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

The Summer of Letting GoSummary (From Goodreads):

Just when everything seems to be going wrong, hope and love can appear in the most unexpected places.

Summer has begun, the beach beckons and Francesca Schnell is going nowhere. Four years ago, Francesca’s little brother, Simon, drowned, and Francesca is the one who should have been watching. Now Francesca is about to turn sixteen, but guilt keeps her stuck in the past. Meanwhile, her best friend, Lisette, is moving on most recently with the boy Francesca wants but can’t have. At loose ends, Francesca trails her father, who may be having an affair, to the local country club. There she meets four-year-old Frankie Sky, a little boy who bears an almost eerie resemblance to Simon, and Francesca begins to wonder if it’s possible Frankie could be his reincarnation. Knowing Frankie leads Francesca to places she thought she’d never dare to go and it begins to seem possible to forgive herself, grow up, and even fall in love, whether or not she solves the riddle of Frankie Sky.

Student Reviewer: Alyssa

Student Review:

This book may turn some people away by the love story and what not, but what makes this story so interesting is the aspect nobody tends to think or talk about. The idea of reincarnation.

Francesca Schnell’s story of her brothers passing is absolutely heart breaking. Definitely not something you’d ever wish upon someone, especially a child. Her struggle through getting over it is never ending. Once Frankie Sky, a boy she babysits, comes into her life, everything changes. The fact that her brother could have reincarnated into Frankie Sky is something so unbelievable and makes you wish it could happen in your life. This books pursues a different way of making people knowledgable on the topic of reincarnation. The ups and downs and the adventure of finding this all out is a journey worth reading about. The love aspect of this book is just the cherry on top of it all for me. I give this five stars!

Student Reviewer: Morgan

Student Review:

The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner ws not only a story of moving forward from the past, but also a story of love and friendship. I loved every part of this book, from the cute and daring personality of Frankie Sky, to the conflict Francesca faces in leaving behind the guilt of her brother’s death. I enjoyed the way the story would tie into other parts of the book with Francesca’s past and her younger brother Simon. Every page was entertaining and kept me hoping for more. When it came to tense parts, my heart would start racing as if the story were my own life. I consider this book the best that I have read so far and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in stories of friendship or stories about moving on from the past.

Student Reviewer: Kayla

Student Review:

I absolutely loved this book. It’s 316 pages long and I read it in two days, which never happens. The book takes you to multiple places, from a love story to a story about religion and different beliefs. As cliche as it sounds, I honestly believe this book changed the way I think. I grew up believing that heaven was the only way after death. This book opened my eyes to a whole new world. While I know The Summer of Letting Go is fiction, I connected with it it because I’ve been questioning things. It is a very insightful book that I would recommend to those who enjoy impossible love stories.

Book Trailer Thursday (148)–If I Stay Movie Trailer

Book Trailer Thursday

Huh. I guess I gave If I Stay five stars on Goodreads, but when I think about it now (four years after reading it) I don’t think of it as a five-star book. Has anyone else experienced this?

Anyway, regardless of my feelings about Gayle Forman’s debut, I’m really excited to see this book turn into a movie this August. I know without a doubt that I LOVED the sequel Where She Went. Although right now I’m a little less than thrilled with the actor they chose to play Adam. Do you think they’ll make Where She Went into a movie??

What do you think of the trailer? I’d love to know your thoughts!

If I Stay paperbackSummary (From Goodreads):

Just listen, Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel.

I open my eyes wide now.
I sit up as much as I can.
And I listen.

Stay, he says.

Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind?

Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it’s the only one that matters.

If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.

Review: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

The Sea of TranquilityTitle: The Sea of Tranquility

Author: Katja Millay

Publisher: Atria Books

Release Date: June 4th, 2013 (paperback)

Interest: ALA Alex Award Winner / Contemp

Source: Publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.

Full of rage and without a purpose, former pianist Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone discovering her past and to make the boy who took everything from her pay.

All 17 year-old Josh Bennett wants is to build furniture and be left alone, and everyone allows it because it’s easier to pretend he doesn’t exist. When your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, a hot mess of a girl who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. The more he gets to know her, the more of a mystery she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he may ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a slow-building, character-driven romance about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.

OhMyGosh. I’m sorry (well, not sorry) that I’m going to gush all over this review because this book is absolutely fantastic. The publisher approved The Sea of Tranquility for me over the summer via NetGalley and for some reason I started it but didn’t finish it. I’m so glad the librarian in my building asked me to read some of the Alex Award winners to help her decide which ones to add to the library. I was in one of my moody reader moods on Friday and decided to pick up Katja Millay’s debut again to see if it would perk me up and also to help out our librarian. It did that and more.

Since I found out I was pregnant in January, I haven’t been able to read a book in one sitting without falling asleep. The Sea of Tranquility is 448 pages long and I read the entire book in almost one sitting without falling asleep. It’s incredibly engaging and engrossing. I can hardly explain how attached I am to the characters in this book. I woke up in the morning thinking about Josh and Nastya wondering how their story would end. Some reviewers say that the story starts out slow, but I disagree. I really can’t remember why I set it down over the summer, but I know it wasn’t because it’s slow.

But speaking of slow, Josh and Nastya’s relationship grows slowly–there’s no insta-love. Instead we really get to know Josh and Nastya as they get to know each other. I loved watching them navigate their feelings for each other since they’re both very guarded and hesitant to let anyone into their lives. I don’t know if this is weird to say, but I felt myself falling in love with them as I read their story. We get to read from both of their point of views, but I still wanted to know more about Nastya just like Josh did. Katja Millay wrote such real characters that I felt their emotions with them. She gave them depth and emotion and so much heart that I teared up multiple times while reading.

I do want to mention a warning that’s placed at the end of the Goodreads summary that I chose to eliminate from my review. It warns the reader about the mature content in the story. I know that’s one of the reasons why my librarian asked me to read The Sea of Tranquility before she added it to the circulation. I really don’t think the warning is necessary. Yes, there’s profanity, but I don’t think there’s an excess of it. There’s a lot of sexual innuendo and joking, but there isn’t anything graphic included in terms of sex. There’s a scene which includes drugs, but again, it’s nothing that really shocked or alarmed me. All of it fit the characters and the situations in the novel. I always recommend reading a novel before handing it to students and this is no different. I did, however, order myself a copy for my students when I was only 40% through because I felt that confident about it.

I really hope Katja Millay writes another book soon. I’d even be happy if she chose to write a sequel. ;) I’m so impressed with her debut that I’ll automatically add her next book to my TBR list. The Sea of Tranquility is a new favorite and has been added to my limited list of books that I would happily read more than once.

The Sea of Tranquility read alikes (titles & authors): Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Fall for Anything & Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers, Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Cover & Excerpt: Empower by Jessica Shirvington

My students and I can’t get enough of Jessica Shirvington’s Embrace series, so I’m very excited to share the cover and first chapter of Empower, the upcoming release in the series (book five). Thank you, Sourcebooks Fire, for the opportunity to share this! Empower by Jessica Shirvington releases on May 6th, 2014.

EmpowerSummary (From Goodreads):

It has been two years since Violet Eden walked away from the city, her friends, her future and – most importantly – her soulmate, Lincoln. Part angel, part human, Violet is determined to stand by the promises she made to save the one she loves.

Living in the perpetual coldness of a broken soul she survives day to day as a Rogue Grigori in London.

But when an unexpected visitor shows up at her door, the news he bears about someone she swore to protect leaves Violet with no choice.

Even worse, she fears that this might all lead back to the night she tries hardest to forget. And what was taken without her permission.

Violet is going back to New York … and she knows exactly who is going to be there.

With Phoenix in her dreams and Lincoln in her heart she knows it is only a matter of time before the final choice must be made.

Chapter One Excerpt:

“But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
ROBERT FROST

My sweater was coated in a layer of mist—-again—-a by–product of life in London. I barely noticed the constant drizzle anymore. It’s not as if the cold bothered me, not when I was the very definition of cold.
What was bothering me was the smell. There is something rank about a meat market at night—-especially when you’re wedged into the eaves wondering what, over the years, has been sprayed about and never cleaned away. I shuddered.
The Smithfield Market was currently in vogue, but a gritty sense of history thickened the air, giving it a density that made me sure this wasn’t the first time the site had been used for wicked intent. And right now, it was hunting hour.
At least I was the hunter.
I watched quietly as the exiles came into the center of the massive terminal–style space, vaguely interested to note that there were six of them, instead of the four I’d expected. No bother, I suppose. I still had the element of surprise on my side.
The past two years had taught me not to let the everyday hiccups get to me. Sure, the additional muscle would hurt, but only in the physical sense, and I could cope with that. Rolling with the punches is necessary when you are a Grigori—-a human–angel hybrid—-a weapon against the ever–increasing numbers of exiled angels on earth. For me even more so, since they gave me such a colorful nickname. I’m the Keshet—-the rainbow. I didn’t ask to be, but I made my choices and I stand by them.
So, there I was. Although I was still trying to figure out exactly what being the rainbow meant, mostly I found that the desire to know conflicted with my continuing need not to think about it at all. One thing I did know was that somehow I could create space with the angels—-an unknown place where we were able to take form and communicate. My angel maker—-whose name I still didn’t know—-said it was a place of new possibilities. For what, I was not sure.
But I know this is what I am. It is what I will be.
The final two exiles sauntered up to the four already waiting. It used to be impossible for me to be this close to exiles without them going into a frenzy, sensing my presence. But I’d learned many lessons over the past year, the most useful of which had been how to keep my guards up and locked so tight that even exiles couldn’t sense me when I was truly concentrating.
Which—-judging by the thin film of sweat on my forehead—-is now.
The exiles dumped the huge calico sack they had been dragging along the floor and pulled it open, revealing three mutilated bodies to join the two maimed ones already on display.
From my position it was difficult to tell how old the corpses were, and if the smell was able to give a clue, I wouldn’t have known, the stink of death and flesh being an overall theme of the place.
It was no wonder the exiles liked it so much.
Normally, exiles wouldn’t bother with the cleanup—-leaving evidence was of no concern. Normally, the exiles enjoyed the mess and despair they left behind. But not these exiles. These dark exiles were working for someone else. They’d been following a plan, using a hit list, and it was all too well constructed for any one of them to mastermind. Our intel told us they’d been hired. Such behavior would usually be considered beneath them, but apparently this group of exiles had decided the job was thrilling enough to suffer the humiliation of working for the highest bidder—-even if that was a human.
As for the billionaire businessman, well, that’s not my department, but someone will pay him a visit. Right after all the evidence of his wrongdoing—-minus the exile activity—-is handed over to the authorities and his bank accounts are heavily siphoned to pay for the futures of his victims’ families. And our fee, of course.
Which, thanks to certain people, is exorbitant.
Two of the exiles were dressed impeccably: one in a steel–gray suit and sporting villain–typical slicked–back hair; the other wore a slim–collared black suit that hugged his tall figure and set off his of–the–moment tousled, light brown hair. The remaining four were less striking in casual wear, though nonetheless picture perfect. All six looked over the bodies like fishermen comparing the size and quality of their haul. My hand grazed my dagger, the blade that had been given to me after I first embraced my powers and became a Grigori warrior three years ago. I was never without it. I even had a sheath attached to my bed for a quick draw if needed.
I’d learned the hard way—-through the death and suffering of people I loved and, strangely enough, through my own death and suffering—-exiles stop at nothing. Their insanity and misguided missions know no bounds, and they take pleasure in causing great pain and suffering to humankind.
At least tonight I would only face exiles of dark. A couple of years ago, the two opposing sides, light and dark, had called a truce. Of course, I tried not to think back to that time.
I tried constantly.
The discovery of the scripture that could end all Grigori had found its way into my hands. That in itself was part of the reason the Assembly had rejected me. They blamed me for trading with the dark exile, Phoenix. My decision had allowed him to resurrect Lilith—-his mother, the first dark exile—-from the dead, and she had taken control of the Grigori Scripture. But at the time, my choice had been a simple one. Phoenix had Steph, my best friend, and I wasn’t about to take any chances with her life. I’ve never regretted that choice.
Not like so many others I’ve made.
In the end, that made it easier to walk away from a place in the Academy when Josephine decided to change her mind. Of course, that was after I’d given my life, Lincoln’s soul had shattered, and Phoenix had died—-proving that not only was he the son of Lilith, but he was also the human son of the first man, Adam—-all so that I could kill Lilith. And those reasons weren’t even the ones I tried not to think about.
But I can’t go there right now.
I caught myself. I was working and the last thing I could afford to do was acknowledge that I was thinking about him.
The six exiles started to shift the remains of the bodies toward the incinerator, tossing them with supernatural strength and no care. I half expected them to try and mince the meat and load it onto trays for sale tomorrow. I wouldn’t put anything past them.
“Make sure you take the index fingers,” one of the suited exiles instructed. “Mr. George is expecting me to deliver them to him tonight.”
That’s a shame. Though I’m sure Mr. George will receive a knock at his door nonetheless.
“I still don’t understand why we don’t just kill him too,” another said.
“Are you challenging me?” The exile who had spoken first stepped forward.
His questioner mirrored his actions.
Here we go.
“If I must.”
Exiles never back down. Their pride and egotism combined with their unique brand of insanity is just too much to ignore. Angels were not created to take corporeal forms on earth. Though they have existed for eternity, in human bodies, they manifest emotions in ways their innate nature can never process. It makes them unstable. And almost unstoppable.
I wriggled into a better position and waited patiently, knowing that this would work in my favor.
Sure enough, the exile who had spoken out first also struck out first, engaging with the suited exile. It didn’t last long. The suit, clearly the older of the two and a true fighter—-my guess was he had once been either a Domination or a Power—-overpowered his opponent, snapping his neck and making quick work of removing his heart.
We had our methods of ending their immortal existence; they had theirs.
Happy days. I now have one less exile to take care of.
I checked the time and sighed. If I didn’t get this show on the road, I’d lose my window. And fighting alone was always my preference.
The drop to the ground was at least two stories high, but I landed behind the group of exiles lightly, thanks to my angelic enhancements.
Breathing calmly, I let go of the power I was holding tightly within, just enough to lower my shields.
The exiles, who had been preoccupied with their boasting, stiffened instantly and spun around to face the new threat. It was almost comical, the look of surprise on their faces. I guess a Grigori had never snuck up on them before.
Responding quickly, the suited exile stepped forward, shoving two of them to the side, the five of them quickly forming a semicircle around me.
So nice of them to stand in single file.
But the way he studied me—-with trademark exile insanity and undisguised raw desire—-made me think that this one recognized me. It happened from time to time.
I wanted to sit around and chew the fat. Really. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do with my time than hear about how they intended to rip me limb from limb and how that would make them as great as gods and me the most pathetic of humans. But when you’ve heard it all before and always walked away—-or, at the very least, been carried—-while they were returned for their ultimate judgment, it gets old. So, I cut to the chase.
“You have a choice. Make it or I will make it for you,” I said, knowing that of all Grigori, I alone had the right to put it like that. “Consider wisely,” I reinforced. After all, I could return them like any other Grigori with one of our blades, but if I willed it, I could also strip them of their angelic strengths and leave them human—-a fate exiles considered worse than an eternity in the pits of Hell. As far as I was aware, I was the only Grigori who could do this without requiring the exile in question to first choose such a fate. Which, of course, never happened.
“You brought Lilith to her end,” the suit said, his head tilted to the side, as if confused.
Yeah, that’s right, little ol’ me.
And it only cost me everything that mattered.
I raised my eyebrows. “Time’s almost up,” I said, refraining from closing my eyes briefly as I felt a surge of power within, something that had been happening increasingly. I was getting stronger, and exactly what that meant and how to harness it wasn’t the kind of knowledge I was excited to discover.
I could strip them all, make their choice for them, and be done with it, but I’d only done it twice. Onyx had been my first, and I’d seen the pain it caused him. I didn’t like knowing I was the one who took away his choice. Who was I to do such a thing? The second had been a demonstration, and had resulted in the exile in question meeting a quick death. I can’t say I regretted it—-he’d been one of the exiles so happy to see me strapped to a crucifix and tortured for hours—-but still…
Anyway, tonight was more like training, and I’d been taught to be thorough. So, when the suit threw the first exile at me—-knowing he’d be nothing more than a momentary distraction while I took him down and he lined up the next one—-I got to work.
I braced, grabbing my dagger and moving into position. By the time the exile came within range, my dagger had sliced through his heart and he was no longer there. Simply gone. Where did their physical forms go? Beats me.
I was already spinning by the time the second one was sent flying through the air toward me. My foot stopped his momentum and threw him back. I was on him in an instant, my dagger going straight to his heart. It didn’t need to be the heart to return them, just a killing blow inflicted by a Grigori weapon. You could slice into exiles all day long with your garden–variety knife or shoot them with a gun, but neither option worked. I’d never seen a Grigori manage to rip out an exile’s heart barehanded, and even though the trick worked for exiles taking out other exiles, something told me that it did not alter our rules. Permanent results for Grigori over exiles only came via the blades of angels.
Or my blood.
The third exile went much the same way, and soon enough I was left being circled by the two suits. To my surprise, they actually worked together—-exiles aren’t good at that—-boxing me into a corner. The brown–haired exile in the black suit moved in on me when the other one feigned a move to my right. I took a closed fist across the face and a foot to the stomach.
I heard a crack—-broken rib—-but I didn’t register the pain. That kind of pain was barely a tickle compared to the agony I carried inside, every moment of every day.
My pause gave the other exile the chance to take a swing. His foot collided with my hand so hard that my dagger went flying across the room. I kept my eyes on my attackers but my ear on my weapon, listening to the reverberations as it slid along the concrete floor and eventually hit the far wall with a clang.
The exiles smiled.
I sighed.
Then I leapt into the air, gaining enough height to grip the brown–haired exile’s throat between my knees. Twisting my body as I fell through the air, I dragged the exile down with me, his neck breaking with a loud crunch.
It wouldn’t keep him down for good, but a broken neck buys time.
The exile in the gray suit grabbed me roughly from behind and threw me into the wall.
I groaned as I slid down the metal piping my back had hit. It was the opposite wall to my dagger.
Damn it.
It wasn’t an ideal situation. And I wasn’t fool enough to delude myself into thinking I could make it to my dagger. I was regretting my decision not to wear any other weapons tonight, but my dagger was the only weapon that, when sheathed, was invisible to human eyes.
Think, Vi.
I’d come down behind a wall of old crates. I was considering how I could use them to my advantage when I spotted a piece of the slim metal piping I’d broken in my fall. It lay by my foot.
I could hear the exiles moving toward me. They were cackling.
“We should take her body with us to the tournament tonight,” one said.
The other one laughed. “That would definitely put dark in the lead.”
“And everyone would know that we were the ones who killed her.”
Can anyone say “premature victory”?
Without stopping to think, I pulled off the bracelet from my left wrist, using the specially designed clasp to cut open the flesh around my silver marking, currently swirling in the presence of exiles, and let it spill onto the end of the metal bar.
It took just a few seconds, and as soon as I palmed the pipe, the exiles started to throw the crates aside then came into view, their smiles wide with anticipation.
I stood. I didn’t return their smiles. I didn’t bother to do anything other than what needed to be done.
I lunged, raising my elbow into the face of the black–haired exile as I spun, the metal pipe striking his companion through the heart. He was gone. I turned back to the first exile and, hoping that there was still enough of my blood on the pipe to do the trick and using my supernatural speed for all it was worth, I jammed the pipe straight into his neck.
His face wore an expression of pure surprise.
I’d seen that look before.
I sighed and my shoulders slumped forward, unfulfilled. This was my job, one that I would do for as long as I existed, which could be a significantly long time. But two years ago, I’d accepted that there was no longer any satisfaction to be had in my world.
No fairytales.
Only the cold.
Turning toward where I thought my dagger had landed, my surroundings suddenly changed.
I was no longer seeing the warehouse. There were flashes of white, moving fast, pounding hooves. Horses. Silver streaked through the air like a dance. Swords. Slashes of red painted the sky. Something sharp and deadly ripping through flesh—-wet and gruesome. Claws. Thousands and thousands of beings as far as I could see fought ruthlessly, with no sign of tiring. In the center, two warriors battled beneath a blinding light. I could not make out their faces.
I blinked hard.
The image was gone, and in its place Gray stood against the wall of Lincoln’s warehouse, casually flipping my dagger in the air. “Would you like me to applaud?” he asked.
Leaning against a metal support pole, he had that midtwenties look I’d come to associate with the older Grigori—-though I had no idea how old he really was—-and was dressed in his usual black jeans, black T–shirt, and black leather jacket. Black really was the only color worth investing in—-blood stains everything else. He sported about a week’s worth of growth on his face, though his head was shaved, the scars that ran over the top of his skull telling of a history both terrible and secret. Grigori did not generally scar, so I knew that whatever had caused these had occurred before Gray had turned seventeen.
I swallowed over the lump in my throat and glanced around as I composed myself. The whole…hallucination…had lasted only a couple of seconds. I clenched my jaw.
Christ. It was nothing. I’m just imagining things.
I snapped my bracelet back in place over my marking and shot him a dry look. “Should I be charging a spectator fee?”
My voice sounded normal but my ears felt like they were still ringing with the echoes of battle.
“Not if the show is going to be over so fast, princess.”
I glared at him for persisting with the stupid nickname. “You know, you could’ve stepped in and given me a hand.”
“Sure,” he said with a solemn nod. “And you could’ve waited until the meet time we’d all agreed on too.”
I looked away briefly. “So, why are you here early?” I asked, hoping to divert the conversation.
Gray tilted his head. “Because I know you.”
I shrugged off the veiled accusation, even though it was true. To a degree.
“It was easier this way.”
He threw my dagger into the air, and I caught it by the hilt and slipped it back into its sheath.
“Well you can explain that to the others, since they just arrived.”

Review: The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine

The Promise of AmazingTitle: The Promise of Amazing

Author: Robin Constantine

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: December 31st, 2013

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Wren Caswell is average. Ranked in the middle of her class at Sacred Heart, she’s not popular, but not a social misfit. Wren is the quiet, “good” girl who’s always done what she’s supposed to—only now in her junior year, this passive strategy is backfiring. She wants to change, but doesn’t know how.

Grayson Barrett was the king of St. Gabe’s. Star of the lacrosse team, top of his class, on a fast track to a brilliant future—until he was expelled for being a “term paper pimp.” Now Gray is in a downward spiral and needs to change, but doesn’t know how.

One fateful night their paths cross when Wren, working at her family’s Arthurian-themed catering hall, performs the Heimlich on Gray as he chokes on a cocktail weenie, saving his life literally and figuratively. What follows is the complicated, awkward, hilarious, and tender tale of two teens shedding their pasts, figuring out who they are—and falling in love.

I loved The Promise of Amazing and want to read Robin Constantine’s next book right now. Unfortunately, I’ll be waiting for at least a year to read that next book since The Promise of Amazing is her debut novel. And what a fun debut it is!

Sometimes I need something sweet and romantic to read. The story of Wren and Grayson is exactly what I needed this week. I loved reading from both of their perspectives and getting a well-rounded view of who they are as characters and what they were each going through during the story. Just like Wren and Grayson were instantly attracted to each other, I was instantly hooked to their story.

I’ll admit, insta-love usually doesn’t work for me, but it works in this book. I bought into their attraction to each other. It’s honest and very much what I remember feeling like when I fell hard for guys in high school. I’ve read some criticism about this part of the story, but I think many of the adult reviewers forget what it’s like in high school. I don’t remember everything from high school (thank goodness!), but since I’m a high school teacher I see this happening ALL THE TIME. It’s one of the reasons I loved reading this book so much. It took me back to high school/early college. It made me think of the students that I should hand this to next. It’s become one of my favorite contemporary realistic fiction romances and I know many of my students will consider this a favorite as well.

Since I’m bringing up the topic of romance, I know some of you will want to know just how romantic this is. There’s plenty of kissing and some references to sex. Wren and Grayson are older high school students so this makes sense, however there’s really never anything explicit described. Grayson is/was a player so that’s when most of the references to sex come into play. I appreciate that Robin Constantine wrote such a stellar teenage romance without getting too detailed. I don’t have freshmen this year, but I’d feel more than comfortable handing this to a freshman reader.

I really like that while this is very much a romance, it’s also about Wren and Grayson wanting to change. Wren doesn’t like being described as “quiet” because she associates that with boring. Grayson has gotten into trouble at school and is ready to change his ways. These two characters crossing paths makes sense because they help each other change. More importantly, neither characters forces the other to change. Simply meeting is what really drives each of them to put their desire to be different into action.

If you’re looking for book pairings, I think readers who enjoy Simone Elkeles, Kody Keplinger, and Stephanie Perkins will enjoy The Promise of Amazing.

Review: Golden by Jessi Kirby

GoldenTitle: Golden

Author: Jessi Kirby

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Release Date: May 14th, 2013

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.

Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.

Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.

Jessi Kirby’s books keep getting better and better. I bought my copy of Golden over the summer and am now angry with myself for not reading it right away; it’s that good. I’m not sure how to put words to all of my thoughts about this book, so this review is going to be written as a list.

1. Julianna’s journal. I love that Jessi Kirby added Julianna’s journal entries to the story. It takes the story to a whole new level because of the romance and mystery it adds.

2. Mr. Kinney’s journal assignment. I love the quote he had students respond to: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –Mary Oliver. He gives his seniors notebooks and says, “Fill it up with words that make a picture of who they are, things they may forget later on, after so many years, and want to look back on” (11). I love the idea and want to find a way to mimic this assignment with my seniors.

3. The cover. This book cover is gorgeous! Besides my raving about it, the cover will draw my students to this book.

4. The relationships. Parker deals with a strained relationship with her mother, the threat of losing her best friend when she leaves for college, deciding if she should give her long-time crush a chance, and of course Julianna and Shane’s relationship. They’re blended together and balanced perfectly so it never feels like one part of the story outweighs another.

5. Parker’s growth as a character. Parker’s character is one of the many reasons I love contemporary realistic fiction. She’s afraid to let anyone down and that fear has held her back. She discovers a lot about herself through Julianna’s journal. I know a lot of students who are very similar to Parker. Senior year is often scary for students which is one of the reasons why I appreciate Jessi Kirby writing Parker’s story.

Book Trailer Thursday (130)–My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody

Book Trailer Thursday

After reading 52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody I went right out to buy more of her books. My Life Undecided released in paperback last fall so I bought a copy as soon as I found one. I haven’t taken the time to book talk either book yet this school year. I think this book trailer will help with that book talk :)

My Life UndecidedSummary (From Goodreads):

PLEASE READ THIS! MY LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!

Okay, maybe that was a bit melodramatic, but I’m sorry, I’m feeling a bit melodramatic at the moment.

Here’s the deal. My name is Brooklyn Pierce, I’m fifteen years old, and I am decisionally challenged. Seriously, I can’t remember the last good decision I made. I can remember plenty of crappy ones though. Including that party I threw when my parents were out of town that accidentally burned down a model home. Yeah, not my finest moment, for sure.

But see, that’s why I started a blog. To enlist readers to make my decisions for me. That’s right. I gave up. Threw in the towel. I let someone else decide which book I read for English. And whether or not I accepted an invitation to join the debate team from that cute-in-a-dorky-sort-of-way guy who gave me the Heimlich maneuver in the cafeteria. (Note to self: chew the melon before swallowing it.) I even let them decide who I dated!

Well, it turns out there are some things in life you simply can’t choose or have chosen for you—like who you fall in love with. And now everything’s more screwed up than ever.

But don’t take my word for it. Read the book and decide for yourself.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scream in frustration. Or maybe that’s just me. After all, it’s my life.

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