The Final Four by Paul Volponi

The Trojan War has come to the Final Four: the Michigan State Spartans are set to take on the Cinderella-underdog Trojans from Troy University. For the first time in the small school's history, they've not only won a game in the tournament, but nearly made it to the final game!

The Spartans aren't planning on going home early, however, and their hot-shot freshman Malcolm "One and Done" McBride is there to impress NBA scouts for the upcoming draft. He's made no secret of his disdain for the NCAA experience, but it's all about the game right now. Can he pull his team to victory?

Michael "MJ" Jordan, as his name suggests, grew up in the shadow of a living legend. Never quite able to live up to his namesake, he still made it to MSU on scholarship, and he's here at the tournament to make his mark. His true hero? Barack Obama: a man who overcame all the odds, and keeps going anyway. Can he come off the bench and make a difference tonight?

Croatian-native Roco "Red Bull" Bacic leads the Trojans, and they aren't backing down. With a group firmly rooted in teamwork, they have an answer for the Spartans nearly every time down the court. He's playing for his uncle who first turned him onto basketball, and taught him the importance of working hard. The score stays close throughout the game, and as the clock ticks down, it's all tied up with two minutes to go.

Crispin, the Trojans' big man, is playing for more than just a win. Earlier in the tournament, he proposed to his girlfriend, varsity cheerleader Hope, now dubbed 'Hope of Troy,' the modern-day equivalent of Helen. The two are the good luck charm for the team, and they haven't lost a game since the announcement, but are they as solid as they seem?

As the last seconds count down, it looks like they're going into overtime. Neither team is ready to quit yet!

What a fun ride. Volponi weaves a great basketball story with the backgrounds of four of the essential players, two very different coaching styles, and a thought provoking discussion on amateurism, without ever losing site of the adrenaline ride of the game. Highly recommended for sports fans.

*Library Link*
"'I wish the NCAA could make allowances for low-income families. After all, let's be honest, this is a business,' said a parent who wished to remain anonymous. 'Maybe years ago when the dollar figures were much less, a free college education was an equal trade-off. But nowadays, with the money the schools and the NCAA are making on the talents of our kids, it's a rip-off. They shine that light o being an amateur on you; meanwhile the professionals who run the behind-the-scenes of college basketball are in the dark somewhere counting their money,' (Volponi pg. 94, 2012).
If you liked this, check out:
Rucker Park Setup by Paul Volponi
True Legend by Mike Lupica
Night Hoops by Carl Deuker

Volponi, Paul. (2012). The Final Four. New York: Viking.

Croak by Gina Damico

Lex has a violence problem. In the last few years, she has gone from a straight A student with little to no behavioral issues to the town menace.  She pulls no punches (pun intended) regardless of social status: nerds, jocks, gays, goths, even the kid int the wheelchair isn't safe! Teetering on expulsion, her parents agree to send her to her uncle's for the summer. Her twin Cordy, her best (and only) friend, is truly upset. Her parents are too, but they are at their wits' end.

Arriving in Croak, Lex is in for a serious surprise. Far from the farming town she expected, her uncle informs her about the true purpose of the town. They are, essentially, reaping souls and sending them to the afterlife. She's being recruited. Her reaction? "You Kill people? What's that supposed to mean?" (Damico pg. 37)

There isn't really a good way to ease into it, so the next day, she's thrown into the melee. Separating souls from their bodies, while bizarre, actually does curb her violent tendencies. Lex is matched with another junior partner, who also (annoyingly) happens to have sexy brown eyes that she hardly even notices. She gets her very own scythe, and loves her trips through the ether. The act of actually taking a soul is painful for her, something that seems unique to her, so she keeps it to herself mostly.

There's a whole group of juniors that she falls in with quickly, and it's legal to drink in Croak. This town is really starting to look amazing. There's one big issue: on their shifts, she and her partner Driggs start noticing unexplained deaths. Even the Smacks don't know why these people are dying. They start to suspect that there's a rogue Grim on the loose. Since this all started around the same time that Lex showed up, a lot of people think she has something to do with it. Can they get to the bottom of the white eyed mystery deaths?

This was a light-hearted look at what could have been a really morbid book. I enjoyed the fun little touches, and the imagination was apparent. I didn't guess the ending, which is always a plus.

*Library Link*
"'What is this? A knife?'
'Nope,' Uncle Mort said, his eye glinting. 'A scythe.'
Lex just stared.
'Allow me to explain.' Uncle Mort sat on the ground and leaned against the Ghost Gum. 'The nothingness - or rather, everythingness - from which we just returned is called the ether,' he said as the two girls joined him on the grass. 'It is the method of transportation that we use to transfer souls from this life to the next.'
Lex listened, engrossed. She hadn't blinked in minutes.
Uncle Mort was pleased with her reaction, as it was finally not one of disgust or outrage or both. 'We always work in pairs, because there are two types of Field jobs - Killers and Cullers. You and I are Killers,' he said plainly. 'With a single touch, a Killer officially ends the life of a human being by releasing the Gamma or soul, from the body.'
'That was a soul?' Lex said in awe, (Damico pg. 58, 2012). 
If you liked this, check out:
Scorch by Gina Damico (Croak, Book 2)
Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin by Robin LaFevers
Crewel by Jennifer Albin

Damico, Gina. (2012). Croak. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando

Mary has one last shot to make some high school memories with her best friends. She wants it to be special, she wants it to be different than everything else. She wants to be daring and even reckless. She wants to break out of her underdog "also-ran" stereotype, and walk away with the Yeti as the victors of the unofficial Senior Scavenger Hunt. This is their last chance to shove something in that jerk Barbone's face, and to prove to herself that she is more than just the girl who almost won class VP, who almost got into Georgetown...this isn't just a dumb scavenger hunt, ok? This is her legacy. Hell, she snuck out for this!

Teaming up with her best friends Patrick, Dez, and Winter, they get the list from last year's winners, headed up by the enviable Leticia: former class prez. Some of the stuff on list will be easy, but others? "Put your name in lights - 150, A scratch 'n' sniff that smells like piƱa colada - 35, A stone-cold lady near the lake in the sky will amaze you with a clue - 1" They aren't even sure what some of these mean...time is ticking away, so they are off. First stop: Home Depot. Dez's dad hooks them up, and even runs some interference after they leave. "Shuck a Mary on the half shell - 100," Mary not only knows what that means, but she knows where to find one. The question is, should she take a family heirloom? Tonight is about being reckless and living a little, right? It's not like she won't bring it back.

They're doing pretty well until a confrontation with Team Idiot leaves Dez in need of a trip to the hospital. After ensuring that he is okay, and getting his blessing to continue, they are more determined than ever to stick it to Barbone and his team of apes. Round one complete, it's on to Round two. They think they're on to one of the big clues which could mean serious points in the end, or it could mean nothing if they can't figure it out. Not to mention the serious drama going on between her crush Carson, and her best friend Winter. After breaking up with his girlfriend between rounds, Carson joined their team. At first, Mary thought there might be sparks between them, but as the night wears on, it soon becomes clear that things are much more complicated.

There are moments when it seems the entire group is just going to split up and never talk to each other again. Why doesn't anyone else think this is as important as she does? Don't they realize that this is their last shot at making memories and changing people's opinions of them? Why is Patrick being so weird!? Can they really pull this off, and stick it to Barbone and his crew? One last blast of high school before the summer begins in earnest. Will they walk away with the Yeti? I guess they'll find out soon enough.

This is a fun read, and really made me want to throw a scavenger hunt. There's some coming of age, along with some life lessons, but nothing too overwhelming. This is the last blast of high school in book form. Remember the good, let go of the bad, and accept the things you are never going to change.

*Library Link*
"And then I wondered what sort of stuff I didn't want to forget, then I wondered how much of any of this I would remember in the end. Like if I lived to be as old as Eleanor. I sort of hoped that I'd forget most of what I'd already experienced of life. Not because it was so bad, but because it was so ordinary. I hadn't ever left the country, or made love, or gotten married, or skydived. Not that I was sure I ever would skydive but if I did - if life presented the opportunity and motivation - I hoped I'd remember that when I was old - the feeling of flying, of free-falling, of total liberation - and not this awkward conversation with a boy who was once my best friend. I wanted to remember Italy and Paris, rip cords and parachutes. Love, too. Even loss.
But not this," (Altebrando pg. 62, 2012).
If you liked this, check out:

Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando
From What I Remember by Valerie Thomas and Stacy Kramer
Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham

Altebrando, Tara. (2012). The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life. New York: Dutton Books.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Rory is over the moon for her year at an elite boarding school in London. Born and raised in Louisiana, she knows she's in for some culture shock. What she didn't anticipate was a Jack the Ripper copycat murder practically the same day she arrives! It has all of London in the grips of "Rippermania," especially when the police can't see the killer on security cameras. It almost seems like a doctored video, with the victim's body being pulled into the air seemingly by magic.

Her boarding school, Wexford, is a pretty insular community, and for a while Rory is able to avoid all the Ripper drama. Her crush, however, is both a Ripper fan, and an aspiring reporter. He convinces her to sneak out on the anniversary of the night of the final attack. To date, the copycat killer has followed the Ripper's original pattern. Sneaking back into her dorm with her roommate, she sees someone. Rory can't explain what it is about him that unnerves her, but he is definitely giving off the "creepy vibe." The weird part comes in when her roomie Jazza says she can't see him.

After a body is found on campus the next day, both Rory and Jazza realize how close they came to real danger. Rory decides she has to tell the police what she saw, even if it means getting in trouble for breaking curfew. Initially she answers their questions, and nothing comes of it, but another officer follows up. This officer strikes Rory as someone wearing a costume. There's something about him that tells her he just isn't a real cop. He's asking weird questions too...questions the other cops didn't ask. He even seems to believe that Jazza didn't see the strange man. What does it all mean?

Soon the twosome becomes a threesome when Jazza and Rory get another roommate. Boo almost follows her around! It's Boo that first alerts her to the idea that she may have an ability that allows her to see something others can't...but just what does that mean? There's something really weird going on... Does Rory have a way to help catch the Ripper killer?

It starts slow, and focuses a lot on Rory's personal life. If you are hoping for a fast-paced thriller, you'll have to get through half the book first. It's a fun read, but it struggles to fit into a specific genre. There's a lot of school, and some romance before you move into the paranormal thriller.

*Library Link*

“Fear can't hurt you," she said. "When it washes over you, give it no power. It's a snake with no venom. Remember that. That knowledge can save you,” Maureen Johnson, 2011.
If you liked this, check out:

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson (The Shades of London, Book 2)
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (Anna Dressed in Blood, Book 1)
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle, Book 1)

Johnson, Maureen. (2011). The Name of the Star. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan and Wendy...but what about Peter's first love: Tiger Lily? Told from the perspective of Tinkerbell, the otherwise mute pixie, the author weaves a story of magic, mystery, legend, and fear.

Tiger Lily is the adopted daughter of the Shaman, Tik Tok. She has always run wild, but she is allowed her freedom in large part because of who her father is, and because she can take care of herself. She can hunt as well as any boy, and fight too. She falls short of the expectation of a tribal girl, however, and she knows it.

A fateful rescue has far-reaching consequences. A human ship crashes against the rocks, but Tiger Lily is unable to let him die. Her people fear humans for their "aging disease," but Tiger Lily's kind heart won't let her abandon him. His miraculous recovery becomes a double edged sword, however, when his conservative Christian god threatens her own father's authority.

Meeting Peter in the woods after all the warnings scares her, but it fascinates her too. There is something about him that makes her think they are equals in a way. He skirts her boundaries, but he doesn't cross them...and he's the only one who's ever been able to sneak up on her. Slowly, Tiger Lily becomes a part of the Lost Boys' universe. She is stealing away in the night to see them and go on adventures. During the day, she attempts to maintain her outwardly appearance of tribal princess. All the while, Tink watches on.

Meanwhile, Captain Hook is on a relentless quest to find the boys. Rather than the polished gentleman pirate we know from Barry's tale, this Hook is a broken drunk. His obsession with Peter borders on mania, and his abuse doesn't stop with the boys. His crew know to give him a wide berth, or be caught in the crossfire.

We know the story doesn't end with the two together forever. The journey is soul-searching, and insightful. Their love is intense and passionate in a way that cannot be sustained. Tink's narration is a stroke of genius, and it paints the tale of Peter and Wendy in a whole new light. As a die hard Tinkerbell fan, I really enjoyed this book. The plot is secondary to the characters, but not in a way that is overbearing. If you are looking for a light-hearted tale, this is not for you. If you want a book that will explain the bittersweet joy and heartbreak of first love, this could be right up your alley.

*Library Link*
"A faerie heart is different from a human heart. Human hearts are elastic. They have room for all sorts of passions, and they can break and heal and love again and again. Faerie hearts are evolutionarily less sophisticated. They are small and hard, like tiny grains of sand. Our hearts are too small to love more than one person in a lifetime. Aside from rare instances, like in the case of my father, we are built to mate for life. I went back to the burrow many nights, and watched Peter. I tried to talk sense into my hard little heart. But it had landed on Peter, a creature two hundred times my size and barely aware of me, and there was no prying it loose," (Anderson pg. 105, 2012).
If you liked this, check out:

Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry
Hook by Terry Brooks

Anderson, J. L., & Barrie, J. M. (2012). Tiger Lily. New York: HarperTeen.

Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon

Noa's always been a loner, least since the day her parents were killed. In and out of the foster system, she took the smart way out at 15, and created a "family" for herself. She was tired of being abused, neglected, and ignored. When she wakes up on a silver operating table though...that's a whole 'nother story. It's clear someone has cut her open, but the cause is still a mystery. Her natural distrust for authority comes in handy, because she doesn't buy their b.s. story that she was in an accident. With some quick thinking, and a little luck, she finds her way out...but then what?

Jason's biggest accomplishment in life is his hacktivist group, Alliance. They've helped bring down guys like a social worker with kiddie porn on his computer. Or a shampoo company that was testing on animals. He's not afraid to say he has some skill. Snooping around on his dad's computer is just a routine matter, or so he thinks. He starts hacking into a file called AMRF, and suddenly goons in black show up, bust in the door, take his computer, and give him a message for his parents. "Tell them Mr. Mason said hi, and we'll be back to fix the door before morning." What kind of thief repairs the evidence of their presence? Confronting his parents doesn't bring any answers either, and actually leads to more questions. What are they involved in?

Jason naturally turns to Alliance for help. He reaches out to one of the best hackers on the site, Rain. Noa (Rain) just happens to be in need of some fast cash; thus their fateful meeting. Noa gets more than she bargained for when she hacks into the site and finds Project Persephone. One of the files she uncovers is labeled with her name. Jason does too, when his entire site (including the domain name) disappear overnight. Someone is serious. Things escalate as guys in black come after Noa as well, and Jason gets kicked out of the house.

With no one left to turn to, the two meet up and swap information. It seems they are unwittingly entangled in the same story: the company who runs AMRF is using kids to find a cure for PETA, an epidemic killing teenagers. Whoever is responsible is smart enough to find them through pretty tech savvy means, and has the money and clout to back it up. They are going to need some help. Do two hacker kids really have a chance?

*Library Link*
“For most people, home was represented by four walls and a roof. Not for Noa. She preferred a motherboard to a mother, a keyboard to house keys. Nothing was more comforting than the hum of a spinning hard drive,” (Gagnon, 2012). 
If you liked this, check out:

Don't Look Now by Michelle Gagnon (Don't Turn Around, Book 2)
Starters by Lissa Price (Starters, Book 1)
Insignia by S.J. Kincaid (Insignia, Book 1)

Gagnon, Michelle. (2012). Don't Turn Around. New York: Harper.