Lynch’s Hit Count is a cautionary tale of the damaging side of America’s favorite game

Hit Count is a bit like a great football game with an amazing first half that peters out after half-time only to regain some momentum in the fourth quarter.

I liked Arlo in the beginning. Young, determined, driven and smart and somewhat sympathetic to the plight of his football-loving bigger bro Lloyd, who played with such intensity that one-too-many concussions renders him off the team and stumbling through life without any direction and without a fully functioning brain. Addiction and anger root and fester in a life that is now empty without football.HC

One would think, having such a tragic example living under the same roof, that Arlo would learn from not only his brother but also from his mother and The File. The File is a group of articles collected by the boys’ mom that researches the effects of concussions and subconcussions on the still developing brains of high school football players. It details articles on NFL players who have long-term brain damage from their chosen careers. But it almost seems to have the opposite effect on Arlo. Instead of seeing all of this as a cautionary tale, he seems determined to prove that he is better and tougher than anyone. He takes hits and doles them out. He takes pride in how hard he can hit a player and how many hits he can withstand in a single game, how many hits he can punish the opposing team with in each quarter. He trains harder than anyone and earns the nickname Starlo.

And that’s where the story fumbled a bit for me. Arlo becomes a self-centered jerk with few to no redeeming qualities. I got a little tired of reading about his obsession with The Hit, of his constant self-image of greatness. I became frustrated with the length of time he ignored all the symptoms of his concussion damaged brain. How many signs does one person need before he sees the light? Frankly, by the end, it was amazing he could see anything at all.

So, yes, I thought his denial went on for a bit longer than necessary, but I also think the book is important. The NFL has finally acknowledged that the game and its almost unavoidable concussions do cause permanent damage. Studies are now being done (as Arlo’s mother tries to prove with The File) about how dangerous physical impacts are on still-developing brains. It’s very much a hot issue right now and a touchy subject for a country that loves its pigskin. Lynch’s work can serve as an eye-opener for youth who participate in high impact sports. The reader gets a front row seat to the slow but steady destruction of a once promising athlete and formerly smart student. I would encourage young footballers and their parents to give this book a read.

Stiefvater keeps readers guessing in Blue Lily, Lily Blue

BLLBOh my! Piper, you are a very selfish, stupid woman.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, the third book in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series, is quite the whirlwind of plot twists, surprises, deaths, and intrigue.

So much was going on in this third installment that I am not even sure where or how to begin this review, so I’ll start with my favorite part: Malory’s abhorrence of American-made tea. It’s true that Americans cannot make a proper cup of tea. In fact, the way we make tea is absolutely criminal. Heating a mug of water in the microwave and then dropping a tea bag into it is not in any way, shape, or form an acceptable means of making tea. It’s no wonder Malory was so appalled.

Kind of how I am appalled by Steifvater’s English use of Glendower. Owain Glyndwr was a Welsh prince, a man who spent his life fighting the English. He’s probably turning over in his sleepy grave at every use of the English spelling of his name. Seriously, use the Welsh and correct spelling. Anything else is just disrespectful!

In BLLB, the characters find themselves questioning who they are, how well they really know themselves, and how well they know their friends. It’s an interesting study on how Cabeswater has changed them all into someone they don’t recognize while simultaneously coming to better understand the persons they have morphed into. This is especially true of Adam, who can feel the ley line thrumming through his veins. He’s coming to understand the power and the danger of the deal he made with Cabeswater, and he’s discovered a part of himself that is dark and cunning and ruthless. He has a moment where he finally comprehends that he is not the poor boy from the wrong side of the trailer park. It was a moment that I’ve been waiting for it, and in typical Stiefvater fashion, it was succinct and perfect:

For so long he’d wanted Gansey to see him as an equal, but it was possible that all this time, the only person who needed to see that was Adam. Now he could see that it wasn’t charity Gansey was offering. It was just truth.

There were so many personal discoveries like that throughout the book (don’t worry, I won’t spoil any more of them), which is what I loved so much about this book. While the whole group is on a journey to discover Glydwr (see, proper name usage), each individual is on a journey to discover him or herself, and Stiefvater fed us these little clues and tidbits throughout, but never gave away the whole person. I can honestly say that after finishing BLLB, I still have absolutely no idea what to expect in the next book, and I am rather glad because I enjoy being completely gobsmacked at developments I never saw coming!

The only thing I can say is that I will be surprised if this story can be finished in a mere four books, and if it takes more than that I will be delighted because I’m not ready to let go of these incredible characters or Cabeswater or Henrietta.

Zadoff’s The Hit is like Jason Bourne, the teen years!

(Bohitok 1 in The Unknown Assassin series by Allen Zadoff; originally published under the titles I am the Weapon and Boy Nobody)

You know what I love about this book? The chapters. They are so short. Seriously, these are possibly the shortest chapters ever written. You can read an entire chapter between the natural blinks of your eyes. You never have to worry about starting a new chapter and having to stop in the middle of it because you will reach the chapter’s end in the time it takes to sneeze.

Okay, a little more seriously now. Ben, as we know him for most of the story, is a trained assassin. By the time we meet him, he is 16 and has been training and killing for The Program since the death of his parents four years ago. Ben feels nothing, wants nothing. He has no emotions, no aspirations, and no attachments to anyone.

Until he meets Sam, the daughter of his new target and a huge problem for Ben because now he’s feeling things he shouldn’t, emotions he thought were no longer part of his repertoire. His conscience is waking up and interfering with his mission. Ben lives in a kill or be killed world. The problem is, who is going to kill him? The strange presence that’s been following him? An enemy from his past? The Program itself? Or something else entirely? Ben is running out of time to complete his mission, choose his path, and decide if he should do what he is told or what he thinks is right.

Zadoff keeps the action and twists coming as the story plays out. I wondered up until the end if Ben would go through with his assignment. I enjoyed not being sure about the character’s intentions. While I thought the ending was bit abrupt, I look forward to learning more about Ben as the series continues. A twist at the end of this book ensures that Ben will have an extremely important mission in book two, and this time it’s personal.