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Book: Leverage
Author: Joshua C. Cohen
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release date: February 17, 2011
Source: ARC received from The Unread Reader

Summary: (from Goodreads) Thereâ??s an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid onâ??and offâ??the football field. And it claims its victims without mercyâ??including the most innocent bystanders.

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a schoolâ??s salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.

First impressions: Danny and Kurt are terrific narrators. Danny is sure of himself without being overly cocky. He’s small and a gymnast, and his bravado seems to cover a bit of insecurity about his stature. Kurt is lumbering and quiet, caught behind a painful stutter. He’s had a hard life, but is quick to see the good in others and is at heart a sweet kid with a terrible past. I just loved these two.

Lasting impressions: A powerful book that will challenge the way you think about bullying.

Conflicting impressions: I felt like the antagonists in this book were one-note villains juiced up on steroids and terrorizing the school with no consequences. This seemed a bit unrealistic to me, and thought the story would have been even more powerful if their brutality was a bit more subtle.

Overall impressions: Every once in a while, a book will come along and punch you in the gut. When I first read Missie’s review I knew I had to read this book. I was bracing for the inevitable throughout the entire thing, which meant a lot of clenched jaws and fists as I battled through the pages.

Joshua Cohen does not hold back here. From the first few scenes, we know that the football jocks are playing for keeps. They are mean, terrifying, and disgusting. They rule the school as well as the gym. Their coach does nothing to keep them in check. In fact, the adults in this book are pretty much nonexistent. The boys in this story know they have to fend for themselves, and sometimes at the expense of their fellow classmates. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, for sure.

Too often I think adults turn a blind eye to the concerns of kids. What can seem overdramatic or inconsequential to us can often seem truly frightening and devastating to kids. Granted, in this scenario I think anyone would have been fearful, but Cohen captures that fear in a very honest way. I understood why Danny was so on edge. My heart pounded every time he had to report for practice and step a foot into that locker room. Cohen brilliantly nailed that adolescent mix of isolation and disappointment that threatens to swallow you whole when the adults in your life ignore your fears, or worse, don’t even realize the threat to your safety exists. It just broke my heart.

Although this book has a dark stain on it from the jocks’ bullying, the true heart of the novel comes from how Kurt and Danny deal with it. Kurt, a new and gifted member of the football team, struggles with how to fit in, keep a low profile, but stand up for what is right. He was a victim of horrible child abuse growing up, and can’t stand the thought of others being hurt. He forms a friendship with Danny after seeing a spectacular performance by Danny at a gymnastics meet, and Danny welcomes Kurt as a potential shield from the rest of the football team’s bullying. Together they are able to find redemption after an intensely brutal attack by the football jocks on one of Danny’s teammates.

That attack is the defining moment for our protagonists. They are completely changed by what they witness, and they realize that how they choose to proceed after the attack will stay with them the rest of their lives. In the face of even more tragedy, and the deep shame that beckons for them to cover up their emotional wounds and just move on, our heroes must make a decision. It’s a decision none of us would ever hope to have to make, but it hangs there nonetheless. My stomach felt like a rock as I sped through the final chapters, desperate to find out whether Kurt and Danny would meet the challenge or hide from it.

This book is an important reminder that bullying exists, sometimes further under the surface than we like to admit. I highly recommend this book to everyone, and hope its poignant tale of courage and redemption speaks to your hearts as powerfully as it spoke to mine.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Are you looking for something to read for the All Male Review Challenge? This is a book with both a male protagonist and a male author! Score!



I think this is such an important book to read, so I am giving away a finished copy to one lucky winner!

This contest is open to ages 13 and up with a U.S. mailing address. To enter, leave a comment on this post, along with an email address where I can contact you. The contest will close on May 27, 2011 and the winner will be announced on the 28th. Good luck!

P.S.

Missie was nice enough to send me her ARC of Leverage because I was so enamored with her review. If you are a reviewer interested in posting your own review of this book, I’d be happy to spread the love and pass along the ARC I received. Email me if you want it. *Update* Sorry folks! The ARC has been claimed!



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Book: Happy Birthday to Me
Author: Brian Rowe
Publisher: CreateSpace/Self-published
Release date: April 5, 2011
Source: Free ebook from author for review
Series: Birthday Trilogy #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) Seventeen-year-old Cameron Martin has a huge problem: heâ??s aging a whole year of his life with each passing day!

High school is hard enough; imagine rapidly aging from seventeen to seventy in a matter of weeks, with no logical explanation, and with prom, graduation, and the state championship basketball game all on the horizon. Thatâ??s what happens to Cameron, a popular pretty boy who’s never had to face a day looking anything but perfect.

All Cameron wants to do is go back to normal, but no one, not even the best doctors, can diagnose his condition. When he finds love with a mysterious young woman, however, he realizes his only hope for survival might be with the one person who started his condition in the first place.

First impressions: Cameron is really engaging with a powerful voice. I felt like I knew him right away. The book opens with Cameron on death’s door, rapidly aging on the outside despite being only 17 on the inside. I just had to know more!

Lasting impressions: Not enough conflict for my tastes and the supporting characters seemed not to serve much purpose. But I loved Cameron’s voice and I thought the prose was well written.

Conflicting impressions: I wanted there to be some kind of external conflict. This book was all about Cameron’s struggle with this aging process, and for too long we don’t have any idea how he can overcome it. I ended up just assuming he couldn’t, so there wasn’t a whole lot driving me through the pages. We don’t find out what’s going on until the very end of the book, which ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied.

Overall impressions: The beginning and end of this book really pulled me in. Cameron is a cocky athlete with a pretty girlfriend who doesn’t seem to care about him all that much. His best friend, Wesley, is a wannabe film auteur – he reminded me of a hippie grunge Dawson, but in a good way. Cameron is a basketball star, and the son of a successful plastic surgeon. He’s got pretty much everything going for him.

Then Cameron starts to age rapidly, and the stage is set for this ticking time bomb of a deadline. Cameron is aging one whole year per day, and soon his time will be up. As he gets older, his friends and family go through various stages of shock, and life gets pretty lonely. His mom is weepy, his dad is horrified and distant, his sister keeps bugging him to come to her music recital, and his friend Wesley wants to make a film about him. His girlfriend flakes, the weird girl from the pizza parlor keeps showing up, and the librarian incessantly harasses him. Oh, and the basketball team wants him to quit pretending his aging body can keep up.

Somewhere in the jumble of all of these extraneous characters, the story got lost for me. I didn’t know what Cameron was supposed to be learning. Cameron has no idea what’s happening, there’s no medical explanation, and so ultimately he just keeps living his life, one miserable day after another. I was dying for him to figure out who was holding all of the secrets, and wished that had happened way before it did. My focus was too scattered between the relationship with his dad, the upcoming state basketball championship, the film Wesley is directing, the girlfriend who leaves him, and the librarian who ends up in the most bizarre scenario with him that really left me confused.

I think the main reason I didn’t enjoy this as much as I could have is that the motivations of the characters seemed off somehow, and the story didn’t seem to go anywhere for long chunks of time. Still, I have to say again that Cameron has a really great voice and it’s fun to be in his head. The story is unique and interesting, and I think Brian Rowe is a gifted writer. I found this book to be a breath of fresh air in a market flooded with paranormal romances; I just wish it had kept my interest a little better.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Are you looking for something to read for the All Male Review Challenge? This is a book with both a male protagonist and a male author! Score!



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Review: Angel Burn by L. A. Weatherly

May
10
10 COMMENTS • This post is filed under: 4 stars, Paranormal Romance

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Book: Angel Burn
Author: L. A. Weatherly
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release date: May 24, 2011
Source: Banned Book Tours
Series: Angel Trilogy #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) Willow knows sheâ??s different from other girls, and not just because she loves tinkering with cars. Willow has a gift. She can look into the future and know peopleâ??s dreams and hopes, their sorrows and regrets, just by touching them. She has no idea where this power comes from. But the assassin, Alex, does. Gorgeous, mysterious Alex knows more about Willow than Willow herself. He knows that her powers link to dark and dangerous forces, and that heâ??s one of the few humans left who can fight them. When Alex finds himself falling in love with his sworn enemy, he discovers that nothing is as it seems, least of all good and evil. In the first book in an action-packed, romantic trilogy, L.A. Weatherly sends readers on a thrill-ride of a road trip â?? and depicts the human race at the brink of a future as catastrophic as it is deceptively beautiful.

First impressions: I love tough girls, and this one opens with our young heroine working on her friend’s car. Yes! Hooray for female empowerment. Girls can be car mechanics too! Willow is immediately likable as a smart and bold psychic who wears and does what she likes, as long as it makes her happy. I’m ready for her to be my best friend now.

Lasting impressions: The angels as soul-sucking fiends who want to take over our world and usurp our resources? I’m totally on board with that.

Conflicting impressions: While I understand that Willow needed to struggle with her identity, the number of times she questioned Alex’s feelings for her was a bit eyeroll-inducing. Willow. He likes you. Enough already.

Overall impressions: There were times I absolutely could not put this book down. Willow is a unique girl with a gift for seeing the future, and when during a reading she discovers the existence of angels on Earth, she winds up running for her life with a mysterious assassin named Alex.

Who happens to be gorgeous, of course. I mean, really. Why wouldn’t he be?

I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to divulge that Willow learns she is a half-angel hybrid, since this is learned early on. This causes a lot of tension with Alex, who has been trained to hunt and kill angels since he was a child. We get a lot of sexual tension and frustrated/awkward fights between these two as they flee Willow’s hometown, which I found to be a lot of fun.

The middle section is where things really slowed down. When Willow and Alex go into hiding, there are extended scenes where they do a whole lot of nothing, when I really just wanted them to go out and fight instead of hide. It was at this point that I started to get annoyed with the shifts between first-person Willow and third-person Alex. I’m not sure why a lot of books are approaching things like this, with dual perspectives but different points of view. There were times the switch wasn’t clear enough and I would forget which one we were following at that moment.

Once they approached the climax of the story, however, things picked back up. I felt the big confrontation could have used a bit more explanation as to what had happened, or even if the plan had worked, because when it was all over I felt like I was missing something. I definitely liked where the story ended up despite any flaws with the ending scenes, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one to YA paranormal fans.

I can’t say enough about how much I loved the angels-as-enemies plot. They were scary without being brutal and dark without being evil. When they came to Earth, they quickly started taking over, starting up a new church and setting up cult-like compounds across the country. Weatherly does a nice job of creating this believable progression in American culture without it coming across as critical of fundamentalism or religion in general. In fact, religion is left out of it entirely.

If you like strong girls, cute boys, fast cars, and gunfights, you’ll want to give this one a try!

Rating: 4/5 stars

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A fan of historical, dystopian, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, mystery, steampunk, and young adult fiction, as well as any book that thinks smartly and imaginatively.

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