Book Review: Nora Sakavic’s “All For The Game” Series

Don’t look back, don’t slow down, and don’t trust anyone. Those are the words that Neil Josten lived his life by for so long.

That is, until he came to Palmetto State.

The “All For The Game” series consists of three books written by Nora Sakavic, all of which can be found online or can be purchased on Amazon. The first novel is “The Foxhole Court,” followed by “The Raven King,” and ending with “The King’s Men.”

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The novels follow the story of Neil, a runaway with a dark past who gets recruited to play for the Class-I Exy team at Palmetto State University. For everyone who hasn’t read the books, Exy is a made up sport that can be best described as lacrosse (and maybe even tennis) mixed with the violence of hockey. When the AFTG fandom makes graphics and pictures for the series, a lot of the time they put pictures of tennis courts, but I’m pretty sure the game actually has nothing to do with tennis. Really, it’s more like lacrosse than anything. 

At first Neil resists joining the team, but he eventually signs the contract that’s offered to him. When he gets to campus for summer training, he meets the four members of the team that are referred to as “The Monsters.” This group consists of Andrew Minyard, Aaron Minyard, Nicky Hemmick, and Kevin Day. You can probably tell from the fact that they’re referred to as “The Monsters,” but they’re really not a good group of guys. All the members of the group, except for Nicky, are generally cold and untrustworthy towards Neil as well as most of the other members of the team. There are a number of reasons for this, one of them being that they all had rough upbringings.

Later in the summer Neil meets the rest of the team, and he’s hesitant to get close to any of them because of his background. By the end of the third novel, Neil finally comes to see them all as his friends and even his family.

As the story progresses, you find out why Neil is running away, and the risk that he’s taking in signing the contract to play with the PSU Foxes. You also see him growing as a collegiate athlete, making friends, and coming to terms with his past.

Something you learn early on in the novels is that Neil’s father is a mob boss who’s looking for his wife and son after they stole a large sum of money and ran away from him because he was, well, god awful. Neil has spent the majority of his life on the run from his dead, constantly changing his name and appearance and never being able to interact with kids his own age. Eventually, the running gets the best of his mom and she dies. Neil, although a teenager who’s already pretty independent, has to learn to survive on his own. Before joining the team, he went to a high school in the middle of nowhere and played Exy to pass the time. He never thought anything would come of it and he would be able to just up and leave once he graduated. He never counted on the Foxes wanting to recruit him for the team. 

By joining the Foxes, he’s risking being caught by his father, but his love of Exy outweighs his fear of being caught by his father.

Honestly, I found the plot of the books to be a little weird and hard to believe in some parts. I’m not sure if some of it is supposed to be realistic, but some parts feel like they would never happen in real life.

For example, the coach of the Foxes, Wymack, only recruits players who come from troubled or criminal backgrounds. In real life, I doubt this would ever be able to happen. No college sports league would allow that kind of recruiting style. Not only that, but the amount of rules that Wymack allows the kids on the team to break is incredible. 

That being said, I think the characters and their dynamic makeup for the slightly lackluster plot. I enjoyed seeing Neil grow and bond with the people around him who he was so hesitant to trust in the beginning. 

The characters are really what saves the story for me. My favorite character in the whole series probably has to be Kevin Day. My boy Kevin has a whole backstory full of sadness and drama, so much like Neil, he’s really hesitant to get close to his teammates. He’s definitely the member of the Foxes that takes Exy seriously (although both Neil and Dan are probably a close second), which makes it interesting that he’s such good friends with Andrew, who doesn’t care for the sport (or much of anything) at all.

At times Kevin can seem standoff-ish or cold. That’s because he is, but I love him anyway. He’s dubbed “the son of Exy” because his mother, Kayleigh Day, was one of the two original creators of the sport, which kind of means Kevin’s also a big deal, since he grew up playing the sport and is the best player in the league. Also, before he joined the Foxes, he played for the most successful team in the league, The Ravens. But an accident that resulted in his dominant hand being broken lead him to lead the Ravens and join the Foxes. There’s a lot more story behind it, but that’s all I can say for now without spoiling one of the biggest secrets of the series. Regardless, all of this adds up to him taking Exy super seriously and being incredibly standoff-ish about it.

The coolest thing about this series is that the author keeps a blog and answered a lot of fan-asked questions about different characters and different scenes, so it gives even more background to the story than before. I have a bunch of them bookmarked on my computer just in case I ever want to go back and read more about certain characters. Since Kevin is my favorite, the ones that talk about him or give more backstory to him are the ones I like to read the most.

If you like made-up sports, romance, and incredibly self-destructive-but-lovable characters, the “All For The Game” series is the one for you. Sometimes it might be hard to get through, but the characters and their relationships really make it worth it in the end. 

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Music Review: Remo Drive’s “Greatest Hits”

The album that I want to talk about in this post is Remo Drive’s “Greatest Hits,” which came out this year.

I only discovered this band a few months ago, but I’ve been in love with them ever since. I had the pleasure of seeing them in concert back in late November, when they came to Mr. Smalls in Pittsburgh with the band Hippo Campus.

You can read my review of all the songs on the album below.

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Book Review: Maggie Stiefvater’s “The Raven Cycle” Series

So, I’m going to preface this post by saying that I’m writing my capstone (basically my undergrad thesis) on this series, and it has a very special place in my heart. Basically, besides Harry Potter, it’s one of my favorite series of all time. There’s so much to love about it that I could honestly talk about it forever (which, technically, I kind of did. My capstone is 37 pages long and talks about the interactions between the characters based on their class and gender and how those interactions reinforce stereotypes. Yes, it’s a pretty riveting read.)

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Today I’m here to talk about The Raven Cycle book series written by Maggie Stiefvater.

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Book Review: Leigh Bardugo’s “The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic”

Leigh Bardugo’s fairy tales are, much like the Grimm Brother’s, not as cheery and happy as Disney would have you believe they are. These tales are, simply put, beautifully terrifying. There’s something dark and twisted about many of them that keeps you turning the pages.

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The Language of Thorns is a collection of short stories from Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Her Grishaverse is seen in the Grisha trilogy as well as the Six of Crows duology. All the stories are fairy tales from the universe.

The following short stories are included in the book:

  • Ayama and the Thorn Wood
  • Little Knife
  • The Too-Clever Fox
  • The Witch of Duva
  • The Solider Prince
  • When Water Sang Fire

Some of the stories were written specifically for the collection, but a few of them were written (and released) in copies of her books. Throughout the book, there are also breathtaking illustrations from Sara Kipin to go with each story. Like, legitimately breathtaking. I’m absolutely in love with every single drawing. As the stories go on, more and more drawings are added to the border of the page, and there’s one big picture at the end of each story.

Below, I give a brief overview of what happens in each story and then talk about what I liked/didn’t like about them.

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Music Review: “Going Grey” by The Front Bottoms

Here’s one thing you should know about me: besides Fall Out Boy, The Front Bottoms top of my list of favorite bands. I’ve liked them for a couple years now, ever since someone I knew got me into them.

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In mid-October, the group released their latest studio album, Going Grey. Since they’re one of my favorite groups, I was incredibly hype for the album. I was also hype because I knew they’d be going on tour soon, and I wasn’t wrong. They went on tour immediately after the album was released, and I have the privilege of seeing them (for the second time in my life) at the Fillmore in Philadelphia over my Thanksgiving break.

It was, hands down, the best damn concert I’ve ever been to. I’ve never had so much fun in my life.

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I talked a little bit about each track off the new album below, as well as a few things from when I saw them.

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Music Review: “Burst & Decay” by The Wonder Years

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If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of punk, indie, and pop punk. You might not know that I’m also a huge fan of acoustic music. So when the two combine, I instantly love it.

Burst & Decay is the most recent release from one of my favorite bands, indie/pop punk group The Wonder Years. Instead of being an EP full of new songs, the album features 7 acoustic songs from all of their previous albums. The songs included are: “A Song For Ernest Hemingway,” “There, There,” “Coffee Eyes,” “Cardinals,” “Don’t Let Me Cave In,” “Dismantling Summer,” and “You in January.” It was released back in September of this year.

Even though the EP is only 25 minutes of old songs, it’s 25 beautiful minutes. The Wonder Years did everything correctly in releasing acoustic versions of some of their songs.

I talked about the 7 songs below.

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Book Review: “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab

“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.” – V.E. Schwab, Vicious

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of reading the book Vicious by V.E. Schwab, which is where the above quote is from. It’s the first book in the Villains series, although the other books have not come out yet.

I’m shocked at myself. This book came out back in 2013 and I only learned about it now. I could have read this wonderful masterpiece years ago. But, if I had done that, I would still be waiting for the second book in the series. I’m not sure if I would have survived that.

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Music Review: My Chemical Romance’s “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys”

Instead of reviewing a newer album, I decided today that I wanted to write about an older album that I’m incredibly fond of.

On my drive back to school from Thanksgiving break, I got stuck in heavy traffic. I have a 3+ hour drive and most of it is on the turnpike. I was in the car for about 4 1/2 hours the day I drove back, and the only thing that kept me sane was this album, which I listened to a whole 3 times (along with some other music).

The album that I’m talking about is Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, the last album from My Chemical Romance before they broke up. It’s hard for me to decide whether or not this album or The Black Parade is my favorite from them, but this is for sure up there.

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Anyway, I’ve been listening to a lot of MCR these days. It reminds me of my younger middle school days, and I kind of miss the music I listened to back then. I listened to a lot of Panic! At the Disco and Fall Out Boy, which I still listen to today. I mean, for Pete’s sake (haha, get it? Pete? Pete Wentz? No? Okay.), Fall Out Boy is still my favorite band (I saw them in concert at the end of October and it was great). Back in the day I was also a huge fan of MCR, and I’m just bringing it back now.

Maybe I’m regressing back into my old emo phase. Or maybe I just miss the music. Either way, who cares? Danger Days is a fucking great album. It’s absolutely magnificent.

Now let’s talk shop.

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Music Review: Greta Van Fleet’s “From the Fires”

I have no problems saying that Greta Van Fleet has the chance to be the second coming of Led Zeppelin.

The band is made up of three brothers – Josh, Jake, and Sam Kiszka – and their friend Danny Wagner. Josh’s killer Robert Plant-esque vocals and the Jimmy Page-esque guitar riffs make it hard not to compare them to Zeppelin. It’s apparent in every single rock-and-blues-filled song that Zeppelin has had a huge influence on these boys.

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Greta Van Fleet. Picture via Universal Music Canada.

Recently, on Nov. 10, the band released their second EP called From the Fires.

When I heard that GVF was releasing a new EP with eight songs, I was stocked. I’ve been a fan for a couple months now, ever since my dad showed me the music video for their song “Highway Tune” when we were in the car one day. He was going to see them in Lancaster the next month and I was curious as to who they were. Obviously I was sucked in right away, but sad about the fact that they only had four songs on Spotify. I’ve been waiting patiently for new music for what feels like forever, but in reality, has only been a few months. 

I was a little disappointed to learn that the EP only included four new songs in addition to their four songs of their first EP Black Smoke Rising. I was ready for eight brand new songs. And even out of the four new songs, two of them – “Meet on the Ledge” and “A Change is Gonna Come” – are covers.

But my disappointed ended the minute I started listening to the EP.

Despite only having four new songs, From the Fires brings the same 70’s style rock that the band perfected in their first EP. It’s nostalgic and hard, and I love it. I might not have been alive in the 70’s, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know good classic rock when I hear it, and what Greta does is beyond good classic rock. 

I’ll be honest with you guys. Every single song of this EP is a highlight for me, from the new “Talk On The Street” to the old “Flower Power,” I’m mesmerized and impressed. So, for the sake of this blog post, I’m going to review what I think about each song. I’ll be going in order of how they appear on the EP. 

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