Saturday, December 31, 2011

Audrey, Wait!

Audrey, Wait!
Break-ups are hard enough. Filled with cliches, hurt feelings, and resentment, they never turn out well. Now imagine your break-up becoming the source of a world-wide musical phenomenon where everyone knows what happens... from your ex-boyfriend's point of view- Ouch! That is exactly what happens to Audrey in Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway.

Audrey is your average girl. She had a crush, dated a guy who was all wrong for her (but was a musician, so it is forgivable), and broke up with him when it was clear it wasn't going to work. He was a nice enough guy, and she liked his band, but he just wasn't the right guy for her. What she didn't expect was that he would write a song about their break-up and that single song would get the band discovered. Almost overnight, the song was all over the radio and the internet and the band was leaving town to tour. In one brief moment, Audrey went from being a normal girl to being in the spotlight of a global musical sensation. It wasn't pretty.

It also didn't help that she was secretly video-taped making out with another musician from a different band backstage at their concert. Audrey was swept up in the fun of being backstage and being the focus of a pretty well-known music star, but she didn't expect his manager to photograph her from the bushes and sell the tape. Next thing she knows, paparazzi are following her to school and taking pictures of her sleeping in class, her principal keeps her in the main office "for her protection", and the ice cream shop where she works is flooded with people who want her autograph and pictures with the Audrey they listen about on the radio. All Audrey really wants to do, though, is go on a normal date with the guy she works with at the ice cream shop who is very different from any musician she has ever met. But it isn't easy when her past follows her everywhere she goes, in the form of screaming fans and crazy photographers!

It is hard to peg an age group for this book because while the dialogue was sometimes really "pre-teen" and hokey, it also was full of choice language and many sexual references. I think many high school students might think the book corny, but it might be too mature for the age group who the actual plot would appeal the most to. I suppose it would be best for those older girls who just want a fun, easy read, or that girl who is just a little too immature for her age. 

The story does have some mature material, but it is actually a fun story. At times I wanted to strangle the main character because she just sounded too ridiculous (like straight off of one of those teen movies trying too hard to be more than a teen movie) and I couldn't imagine teenagers really talking like that or being that witty (and I am around a lot of teenagers, trust me!). But on the other hand, I thought her wittiness and spunk was pretty funny. The book left me unsure on a number of realms, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. I thought it was a lot of fun, actually, and even though some of it is pretty campy, it still has a place in your reading list if you are like me and sometimes just need a little camp and cheese! 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Like Clockwork

Clockwork Prince (Infernal Devices)
A world filled with Nephilim and warlocks and vampires and werewolves and demons may be old hat by now, but one filled with creepy clockwork armies certainly isn't. Cassandra Clare continues her Infernal Devices series, a prequel series to the Mortal Instruments series with the second book, Clockwork Prince

Tessa knows she has lost her brother to the dark side, but she still doesn't know who she is. As the London Clave Institute fights Mortmain, a mundane with ties to black magic, she finds herself constantly confronted with the fact that she truly has no idea who she is- Shadowhunter? Mundane? Downworlder? Tessa is intent upon helping Henry and Charlotte remain in control of the Institute, as they are the only family she has left with her blood family all dead or gone. In their fight to keep the institute, they continue to investigate Mortmain. It leads them to find Will's family being held in one of Mortmain's home. While he knows Clave law prevents him from contacting them, he can't help but worry himself to death about them. It also forces him to acknowledge the curse he is burdened with that foretells everyone he grows to love dying a horrible death.

But there is a deeper problem in the London Institute. They have a mole. Someone has been funneling information to Mortmain about the investigation and where they are searching, which gives him the jump on them each and every time. When they find out who has been giving him the information, it is a  betrayal like they can't believe. The only thing that may repair their damaged family is that Jem, dying from an addiction to a demonic drug that was forced upon him, finally finds the love he never let himself hope for.

Oh. This book ended and I didn't know whether to cry or jump for joy. Talk about bittersweet! It was a typical Clare book full of action and cryptic back story that leaves you satisfied yet still wanting more, but somehow, the way she ended this was just too much! There is this heartbreaking love triangle between Jem, Tessa, and Will that will wrench your heart straight from your chest! It makes you unsure who you want Tessa to finally be with, kind, dying Jem or scampish, brooding Will. I love them both so much! I still can't decide! But the beautiful thing about this story is that the supporting characters are just as lovely as the main characters. You will find yourself loving everyone in the London Institute- even some warlocks and werewolves!

This is a very interesting series, but the books are long and dense. I often save them for a holiday when I have the time to sit down and just read the books with no interruptions. I think there are students out there who would love these books, but they look a little intimidating. I wonder how they would be as audiobooks. I imagine the story is even more magical, and that might be the key to sucking a struggling reader into the large but fantastic series. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Becoming of an Interesting Series

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Imagine surviving a horrible accident that left your boyfriend, his sister, and your best friend dead? Now what if you woke up with no memory of what happened? The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin isn't just a beautifully haunting cover, it is a beautifully haunting book as well. 

Mara wakes up in the hospital and can't remember what happened to her. After she recovers from the accident that crushed the asylum they were in, killing her boyfriend and two friends, she can't seem to move on from what happened. In fact, she can't stop seeing them even though they are dead. Even seeing a therapist hasn't helped, but when her family talks of committing her, she begs to relocate the family and start fresh. They move to Florida for a new start, but what Mara finds is those that haunt her have no problem relocating too. 

In the new school, Mara manages to make one friend, Jamie, who warns her to stay away from the one guy in school who can break a girl with just a withering look- Noah. He is notorious for using and discarding girls with no conscience about what happens to those girls later. The problem? Mara feels drawn to Noah. When strange things start happening, like an abusive dog owner dies the exact same way Mara imagined him dying, and her Spanish teacher dies choking at the very moment Mara loses her temper and wishes she would choke to death, Mara becomes scared not only of her past, but also of what she seems to have the power to do. Noah is persistent, and when it becomes clear he has a secret he is hiding too, they find they are somehow linked by the special abilities they never understood until now. but can they figure these abilities out before Mara kills someone else?

I always try to write reviews without giving too much of the story away. I want you to be intrigued, but I don't want to ruin the experience of reading the story for you. In writing this review, I realized, with a little chuckle, that I honestly couldn't give you any spoilers because I am still not terribly sure what the book was about! I can tell you what happened, how it happened, but I still have no idea what is going on with mara and Noah, what these mysterious abilities are, and how on earth this story is going to play out in the next book. 

This book was designed very similarly to both Fallen and Hush, Hush. You had a lot of background, some strange scenes you couldn't make heads or tails of, and then in the last 50 pages, the author tried to wrap it up. The only difference is that at the end of those books you actually learned the whole secret, but at the end of this book, you really don't understand the whole dynamic between the characters still. I assume the next book will delve more into the secrets and the abilities, but who knows?! Still, I can't say I disliked this book. It was really interesting, haunting, and really quote beautifully written. I am incredibly confused, but I am not sure I am bothered by it. I know that doesn't make sense, but I think the author's writing was so funny and haunting at the same time it kept my rapt attention. So I would say this is a good book for anyone who has enjoyed Becca Fitzpatrick or Lauren Kate, but that the abundance of loose ends at the end of the book would drive any struggling reader (and many strong readers) bonkers. Therefore, save this book for yourself or someone you know can get through a story with many loose ends and lots of confusing twists and turns. Honestly, it will make you laugh as much as it creeps you out!

Dystopia Crossed with Love Story

A utopia is always hiding a dystopia. Beneath all that perfect living and niceness is corruption and evil like you have never known before. Sadly, a utopia is just a pipe dream. In the Matched trilogy, Ally Condie started with a Giver-esque utopia that gave way to the dystopia hiding beneath. Now, with Crossed, you see what was really going on behind the scenes in the Society's utopia.

Cassia was matched to Xander, but she fell in love with Ky. Sent to a work camp in the edge of the provinces, she could only think of escaping to find Ky. As an Aberration, an outcast of the Society, Ky was sent to act as a decoy for the enemy in one of the outermost villages. That way the Enemy only killed outcasts, not real citizens of the Society. When Ky gets the chance to run, he takes a young boy and the only friend he has made at the village and heads for the canyons. When Cassia sees an opportunity to get out of the camp where she is held, she takes it and ends up at one of the outer villages used as decoys. Once there, she and Indie, another girl from the camp, pick up and head the direction of the canyons where they assume Ky will be.

Along the way through the canyon, both groups make a lot of mistakes and realizations. It is clear there are things even their cynicism wouldn't lead them to have believed the Society was capable of. When Cassia, poisoned by the tablet the Society makes as a "lifesaver", refuses to stop moving, her determination not only saves her life from the poison, but also leads her straight to Ky. What she doesn't expect when she finds him is for the two of them to have hugely different paths to take for the future. Cassia is drawn to the resistance, in the hopes of stopping the Society, but Ky knows how damaging the resistance can be for those who are involved in it. They have finally found each other, but will they be able to stay together?

This was not your average sequel because the story has taken such an enormous turn from the original novel. While the original novel was much more a fallen utopia, the dystopia in this book rings loud and clear. It is hard to miss, actually! The Society is such an evil, oppressive society and all you want is to see them taken down. In fact, while I can see Ky's side of things, I have to agree with Indie and Cassia- I would totally want to join the resistance. Although this sequel was a complete turn-around from the original novel, it still felt like a set-up for the final story. The action isn't enthralling, but it is certainly interesting. I think the final novel in the trilogy will be the best story yet. 

This is a great story for anyone who liked the Giver or any other young adult dystopia. It isn't too graphic or harsh, as are frequently the complaints about dystopias and post-apocalyptic stories in the YA genre. Instead, Condie prefers to let the grim future speak for itself and the oppressive government's actions leave much to the imagination. This is a great trilogy, but I am anxious to see how it ends now. The drastic switch in direction will surely make you feel the same way!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Living in Space

Across the Universe
How far will the world go to save humanity? Will the financial crisis make us go where we have never gone before? Beth Revis's Across the Universe explores just how far our world, in all its messes and disasters, is willing to go to ensure humanity has a second chance at life.

Godspeed is the ship designed to take humanity to the outer reaches of the universe. It will take 300 years for the ship to reach its destination- the new Earth. In order to ensure people with special abilities make it to the new planet, they are frozen cryogenically and another crew of people lives and survives on the ship. It is big enough to be like a speeding city in the sky, but over the course of centuries, a lot can go wrong. When Amy is woken up on the ship before she is supposed to be, her awakening becomes the catalyst that exposes everything wrong with life on the Godspeed.

Amy was awakened accidentally, or so Eldest and Elder and Doc thought. Eldest is the leader of the ship and Elder, 17 years old, is his replacement. Elder learns everything Eldest teaches him, but he knows there are things the old man is keeping from him. As Amy, a girl who remembers her time on Earth so many centuries ago, starts to question the strange, zombie like people that live on the ship. As she becomes the insight of discord, she finds herself on the wrong side of Eldest. But her questioning leads Elder to find out just what it is Eldest has kept from him. As more bodies are thawed from the cryogenic freeze, and a few are murdered, they all suspect Eldest. However, the problems with the ship and the people living on it go deeper than any of them could have imagined. 

I know this book has been out for a while, but I just never picked it up until now, despite the recommendation from multiple trustworthy sources. There it sat on my "to be read" shelf, staring at me for months. I wanted to read it at a time when I could sit down and really plow through the story in one fell swoop. What I didn't expect was a gripping story I would finish in essentially one sitting! It was SO exciting and interesting. I could NOT put it down! The idea of being frozen for over 300 years and waking up to a whole new social dynamic is both terrifying and exciting! And the way Eldest and the Eldests that came before him twisted Earth's history to appease the masses and control them was masterful. They actually twisted Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address to illustrate Lincoln's support of separating the races to eliminate the races (difference was the first cause of discord) and send anyone of African heritage back to the African Continent. Amy was the catalyst that blew the top off all their lies and deceit, and boy did it get ugly!

This is a great Science Fiction/Dystopia cross-over that gave the space junkies enough to sink their spaceship teeth into but still enough corruption to make the dystopia addicts happy. It was a great balance of the two and could interest any type of student. The language is fairly simple, and most of the scenes are scary, but pretty mild. There is one near rape scene that was scary, but not particularly graphic. I would suggest this series for a wide range of students, and the great news? The sequel is out in a couple of weeks! Yeah!

A Dragon Who Can't Leave Her Hunter

Vanish: A Firelight Novel
Dragons are real, but they aren't the same dragons of medieval times. They are Draki. Draki are dragons who can manifest and demanifest- turn into dragons or turn into their human forms. Jacinda has always been happy being a draki, but when her mother and sister took her away from the pride to the desert where her inner dragon started to wither, she fell in love with the one person she shouldn't have- a hunter. In Vanish, by Sophie Jordan, we see how that love led Jacinda down a path she never thought she'd find herself.

Jacinda committed the worst crime a draki could commit- she manifested into a dragon in front of a pack of hunters. Now they know the secret of the draki- that they can disguise themselves as humans. Jacinda's twin sister saves them though. Tamra had never manifested as a dragon, but when her family was in trouble she finally found her inner dragon- a shader no less. There is only one more important dragon than a fire-breather like Jacinda, and that is the shader. Shaders have the ability to confuse people and make them forget they saw a dragon. Now that the danger is temporarily over, Jacinda, Tamra and their mother must return to the pride where they are likely to be in a lot of trouble.

When they return to the pride, Tamra becomes the focus of everyone's positive attention. Jacinda and her mother become the focus of everyone's negative attention. They are being punished for running away and almost exposing the draki's secret. But Jacinda still can't forget her hunter, Will. When he stumbles into the pride's land, Jacinda decides to run away with him where she can finally be free of the pride's control. What she doesn't expect is for Will's family, a family of hunters, to be waiting for her. Can she escape the hunters? Or will Jacinda become an experiment like so many butchered draki before her?

This was a fun follow up to the first book and definitely took the story in a good direction. You saw more of the pride and the dragons, which was an interesting addition. The social situation in the pride is very feudal and is interesting to learn more about. I was also happy to see Tamra finally manifest and find her inner dragon. She was so sad in the first book that it was nice to finally see her come into her own! I think this is a good middle reader/YA series for any student who is breaking out of the middle reader books that are still rather immature but hasn't completely moved onto the more mature young adult novels. The language is simple and clean, but the story is fun and exciting. 

A Race Like No Other

The Scorpio Races
Maggie Stiefvater is the author who gave us the Shiver trilogy. You often wonder how an author will follow up a bestselling story, and hopefully it will live up to the reason you liked them in the first place. Since I had a tumultuous relationship with Shiver, I was anxious to read something else she had written. I needed to know if my love and dislike for the series was just that series, or something about the way Stiefvater writes. So, with a little skepticism rolling around, I picked up The Scorpio Races, unsure of how I was going to like it.

Puck grew up on Thisby, an island where no one really lives, people just survive. Thisby is special, though. Once a year, the mythical, murderous creatures called water horses climb out of the sea. While everyone should and is scared of the water horses, which live off blood and fresh meat, the entire island becomes alive with excitement when they bound from the sea because of the Scorpio Races. Each year, the island men capture and train water horses for two weeks before riding them in the most exciting and dangerous race anyone has ever seen. The tourism for this event is the only thing keeping Thisby alive at this point. When Puck's brother threatens to move to the mainland and Puck and her other brother will be left on Thisby with no house and no way to support themselves, Puck does the only thing she can to keep her older brother on the island just a little longer- she announces she is going to enter in the races.

Sean Kendrick is a gentle soul who loves and fears the water horses. He has won the race four years in a row, but since his beloved water horse, Corr, is owned by his boss, most of the winnings aren't his to keep. He is the only man who can control the water horses, but his only reason for staying at the horse farm and competing in the races is to stay closer to Corr. When Puck enters her regular pony, not a water horse, into the race, Sean is sure she is going to get herself and her pony killed. He reluctantly agrees to help train her, mostly because he can't stop thinking about her. As the race grows nearer, it becomes clear that both Puck and Sean need to win this race- Puck in order to live and have a roof over her head, and Sean in order to be able to buy Corr from the owner of the stables. Both want the other to win, but neither can imagine losing. The Scorpio Races this year on Thisby are not only groundbreaking because it is the first time a girl or a regular pony has ridden, but because of how much everyone has riding on the outcome. 

So my skepticism aside, I have to say this was a really beautiful book. Stiefvater has a poetic, magical way of describing the world she has created that keeps you turning the pages. However, I remember feeling the same way when I finished Shiver. The problem only came about with her second and third books where there wasn't enough story to keep the trilogy going and the beautiful language wasn't enough to hold it all together. I hope she will leave this book as a stand-alone story, because it really is quite nice and quite beautiful. Any additional books would only ruin the effect of this story.

Because the language isn't terribly direct or always very clear, I would suggest this book for an older, stronger reader, or a student who has read and like Stiefvater's books already. It would clearly bog down a less skilled reader and might frustrate them into putting the book down. It is a beautiful story for any adult who enjoys mythology, especially repurposed mythology. These aren't your typical water horses, sometimes called kelpie, but they are beautiful versions of the old myths. I have to say I loved this story, and it made for a beautiful magical read, but let's just hope Stiefvater leaves this to its own devices and moves on to another project. I would hate to feel about the Scorpio Races like I eventually felt about Shiver.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

To Slay a Dragon, or Not to Slay a Dragon

We live our lives not really knowing what our legacy is. Who were our ancestors? What features have we inherited from them? What kind of lives did they live? C.J. Hill's book Slayers illustrates those questions as they are asked by a group of teenagers who find out their legacy is that they were born as dragon slayers and must save the world from an ancient menace that is about to be returned to the world.

Tori is a senator's daughter, which is about all the attention she can handle. But what she can't get out of her mind is this attraction to everything dragon she can find. Unfortunately, it isn't a fondness for dragons, but rather a deep-seeded need to kill them. When she finds Dragon Camp, she is sure it will be some silly camp where they run around with foam swords and learn about the dragon mythology she has read for years. What she isn't prepared for is a secret part of the camp reserved for the few kids just like her- the slayers. 

Tori learns she is a descendent of the ancient slayers and while her mother was pregnant, she came within miles of a dragon egg. That triggered something in Tori's, and the other slayers', DNA and gave them powers. Those powers only activate when in the vicinity of a dragon, so at the camp they have a simulator to practice with and train for the inevitable battle. With the descendent of an ancient Dragon Lord nearby, they know the dragon eggs are being cared for until they hatch. When they finally hatch, the Dragon Lord will use them to take over the country. Dragon Lords have a mental connection to their dragons and can control one at a time. With a dragon in their control, and the EMP burst dragon roar's emit, they can easily convince the world to obey them by taking out a few key cities. When the slayers find the place the eggs have been stored, they decide to take a chance on destroying the eggs and ending the threat forever. What they aren't prepared for is the live dragons... or the fact that someone has been telling the Dragon Lord about the slayers and their training. With a mole in their midst, the slayers must find a way to save the world... but can they do it without paying with the biggest cost- their lives?

I like dragon stories; I am not going to lie. I don't obsess over dragon mythology. but it is fun when you come across a dragon centered book. I was wasting time in Oblong when I found this gem and was excited to start it. The story is a different take on most dragon mythology, especially with the difference between the dragon slayers and and lords. The most interesting part was how the dragons can incubate their eggs for either 20 years or 150 years, depending on what they foresee in their future. If they are threatened by something, their eggs can go into hibernation for 150 years until times are safe for them to be born. Overall, this was a really interesting twist on the old dragon myths we are used to. It seems like this is a start of a series, so I am looking forward to the rest of the slayer's adventures.

C.J. Hill is apparently the pseudonym of YA romance novelist who wanted a new name for the new genre. Her publicist suggested it might get her more of a chance of breaking out into a new genre, but it didn't take a very long internet search to find out who C.J. Hill really was (*cough* Janette Rallison *cough*). Personally, I think the story of the book will appeal to whoever it appeals to, regardless of what the author has written before. It seems like a silly publicity stunt when the book really can handle itself. Young Adult readers (and those of us who shamelessly still read young adult lit even though we are so far from being young adults it makes us hang our heads in shame!) don't need to be tricked. Just write a good book and if they are interested in the topic, they will read it! This book is great for any middle reader through middle aged dragon lover! It is a fun story everyone will enjoy... especially when you spot something peculiar flying over your house one night!

Monday, December 19, 2011

To Hell and Back

Lost In Time (A Blue Bloods Novel)
The second to last Blue Bloods story by Melissa de la Cruz, Lost in Time, is a story told in three parts: Jack and Schuyler, Mimi and Oliver, and Allegra and Ben. The stories intertwine and play off one another, but all three alternating story lines are leading to the final clash between the Blue Bloods and the evil Silver Bloods (pawns of Lucifer and creators of Nephilim) at which point one race may be eradicated for good.

Jack gave up everything to be with Schuyler. He abandoned Mimi, his bondmate, he and Schuyler are now on the run, and if Mimi catches him, he will face a blood trial for leaving her. They have traveled all over the world in search of the Gates of Paradise and the gatekeeper. They hope their efforts will save the Blue Bloods, and keep Jack out of Mimi's grasp, but they can't believe what they find. Human women are being snatched all around the world to breed Nephilim by the Silver Bloods as evil soldiers in Lucifer's fight against the heavens. And the covens aren't just in danger, they are being annihilated one by one.

Mimi wants to end Jack's life for leaving her, but she is heartbroken that Kingsley Martin, the man she loves, was swept into hell while trying to protect her. She and Oliver, Schuyler's former best friend, conduit, and familiar, rush to find a way to bring him back from the seventh layer of hell. Mimi knows she must barter  with a soul in order to pull Kingsley from Hell, and she plans to use Oliver for everything he is worth. What she doesn't expect is to find Kingsley fairly content as the Duke of Hell.

Allegra, Schuyler's mother, has awoken from her coma, and you finally see the events that put her in that very coma. In her attempts to stay away from Ben, Schuyler's human father, she finds herself drawn to him despite her visions of her in a coma and Ben lost. Allegra knows her choice is killing both her and Charles, the bondmate she abandoned, but she can't help but be drawn to the man she loves.

This was an interesting twist to the story, and I have to say I enjoyed the three separate parts of the story. Each chapter alternated between the three stories, and it was done well. I can imagine it is hard not to make it seem choppy or inconsistent, but de la Cruz did a good job with it. My only issue was how important everything was to the ultimate story. The only subplot of the three that really makes a huge difference in the entire series is Jack and Schuyler. Mimi spends a month in hell flirting with and being ignored by Kingsley. I wanted to tell her to grow up and get back up to the surface where her people needed her. And the Allegra story, while interesting background and relevant to what is happening between Jack and Schuyler, seemed more like filler than necessary plot advancement this late in the series. Overall, if you have stayed with the series this long, you will appreciate this book, but it wasn't enough to tide me over until January 2013 when the final book is going to be released. I know de la Cruz is plucking away at two more series' (Beauchamps and Wolf Pact), but I wish she would just shore this one up before moving on. It seems silly to make people wait almost 18 months between books while you work on other projects, but then again, I am sure her publishers had something to do with that decision (and who am I to judge- I guess they know their business). And so here I wait for book #7, very (im)patiently!

It's OK.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wonderstruck and Wonderful

With all the attention Brian Selznick is getting with the movie version of Hugo Cabret out in theaters, I imagine his books are going to be flying off the shelves. His combination of beautiful stories and amazing illustrations leaves plowing through the huge tomes and still wanting more once you have finished. In Wonderstruck, Selznick has done it again. He has created a masterpiece.

Ben has lost his mother. He is living with his aunt and uncle, but he can still see the house he shared with his mother. When he wanders over there one night, he find something in his mother's belongings that might be the name and number of the father he never knew. While trying to dial the number, Ben is struck by lightning that puts him in the hospital and leaves him deaf. He runs away from the hospital and goes to New York City to find the man who might be his father.  

Fifty years earlier, Rose runs away to New York City. She is deaf, and it is dangerous for her to travel alone, but she is determined to see her mother, a famous actress. She is rescued by her brother and stays with him in the city. Her life changes when she learns to sign and meets a deaf man who she can't help but fall in love with. Growing up deaf is hard, but the biggest struggle is that people don't think you are capable of being independent. As Rose grows up, gets married, and has a child, she also shows the world that being deaf won't stop you from being happy. When Ben and Rose finally cross paths, they realize there is more that connects them than just being deaf. Their connection is one that will warm even the coldest of hearts.

This was an absolutely beautiful story of two lives, lived so far apart, yet connected through one person. With over 400 pages of incredible illustrations, this book is yet another wonder of the genius that is Brian Selznick. Ben's story is told entirely in text. Rose's story is told entirely in illustrations. No words, just feeling, emotions, and imagination. Then, when the characters come together, the stories are told in a combination of illustrations and text. It is such a beautiful way to tell the two stories. The use of the illustrations for Rose's story makes you actually live through it with her. There is so much power and impact in the delivery of this story, you won't stop thinking about it.

This is a great middle reader story, but would be a great book to use for an emergent older reader. Since  the story is mostly told in images, it would be a great book to give an emergent reader a sense of accomplishment and still practice reading. Like Selznick's first book, this story opens up possibilities for these emergent older readers that no other book could- a book they can read and still be proud of reading. I hope Selznick continues with these stories. They are simply breathtaking. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

You Will Fall for the Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next Door
Every teenage girl is drawn to the bad boy, right? The boy who plays in the band and is covered in tattoos. The boy with spiky bed head and always looks like he just rolled out of bed. But what about the boy next door? What is a girl to do when caught between the rocker guy and the adorable boy next door? Stephanie Perkins answers that very question in Lola and the Boy Next Door.

Lola Nolan was born to a woman who could never get her act together, but raised by her uncle and his husband. Her two fathers are super strict and definitely don't approve of her 22 year old boyfriend who is in a band. Lola loves to wear crazy, kooky, funky outfits and never looks the same twice 9complete with wigs and false eyelashes). Everything in Lola's life is as fine as it could be until the Bell's return to town. The house next door, to be exact. Calliope Bell is Lola's former friend turned figure skating champion and her twin brother Cricket was Lola's first love and first heartbreak.

At first, Lola thinks she is impervious to all that makes Cricket Bell, but pretty soon, she can't stop thinking about him. She looks for him outside her window every night and thinks about him when he is at Berkeley for classes. When Cricket announces his feelings for her right in front of her boyfriend, Max, Lola still can't admit her feelings for Cricket. When Lola's mom returns in all her messed up, sickly thin, drug abusing glory, Lola just can't take it anymore. What she does not only makes her look deeply at her relationship with Max, but also the entire life she chooses to live from crazy beehive wigs down to the Marie Antoinette prom dress. 

Another fun story from Perkins that is just as good as the best Sarah Dessen book. She knows how to create spunky heroines and boys you can't wait to see them with. I loved Lola's kooky outfits and love for fashion, and there was an interesting part where she was called out as being fake and hiding behind her costumes. It was a real eye-opener for her and questioned everything she loved and lived for. I also really loved that Lola had two dads. Lola was part of a happy, healthy family that wasn't glorified or overdone. It was just a normal, happy family. It is nice to see same-sex parenting in young adult novels and treated as it should be- like any other normal, happy family. 

This is a good young adult novel for your typical young adult ages. It is perfect for those girls who love a good romantic comedy and just want a happy ending. If anyone read Anna and the French Kiss, they will be happy to find Anna and Entienne in this story as supporting characters. it is nice to see some friendly faces in the new book, but this is definitely a companion book, not a sequel. Anyone could read this book without having read the first one and understand everything just fine. But don't forgo Anna for very long if you haven't read her yet. Both Anna and Lola are perfect for that warm, fuzzy read we all need in our lives!

Incredibly Beautiful Story

Inside Out and Back Again
Every now and then a story comes along that leaves you breathless. It is so beautiful you think about it more and more. Finishing the book doesn't stop you from thinking about it. You tell people about the book, pass it on to others, and think about it some more. This is how I felt about Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. I couldn't get it out of my mind.

Ha's family is from North Vietnam, but her parents made the decision to leave the north and move south to escape the Communists. Ha's father has been missing for years, but they all hope he will return home one day. Ha knows she should be a good girl, but she can't help it sometimes. During the New Year, she knows her brother is supposed to be the first out of bed in the morning because boys are good luck. That doesn't stop her from putting her big toe on the ground before he gets out of bed. She doesn't like being told girls aren't good luck too. When Ha's uncle tells them they must escape Vietnam as the war comes their way, they reluctantly leave the only home they have ever known. 

The journey from Vietnam is very scary and involves a ship and the hope of rescue. When they see the American ship, they know they are saved, but their future is uncertain. They wait for a long time to be chosen by an American host family. When they are chosen by a Cowboy, they begin their new life in Alabama. There Ha experiences prejudices and alienation by people who just see her as Vietnamese. As different. She and her brothers struggle to learn English and fit in in this scary new land. Most of all, she misses her father. Ha lives more "life" in her few short years than most people live in a lifetime. 

Inside Out and Back Again is a book written in verse. While the writing reads a lot like prose, enough so for someone to understand it easily, it is still incredibly beautiful and melodious. As you read each short chapter, you find yourself amazed by how powerful each bit is. As with most poetry, each word is carefully chosen for maximum power and effect. No emotion is wasted, no word is unnecessary. The book left me reeling from philosophical statements that force you to examine the world and life as a whole. This is a powerful book that you won't forget for a long time.

I would suggest this book for any class or tutoring situation where you will have the opportunity to read it aloud with a child. It is so beautiful and full of discussion-worthy content, you will be happy to spend time picking your way through it. The language is not complex, but the meaning behind it is. The story of a young child leaving a war-stricken land is so foreign to our students it would make a good learning experience as well. They will learn a lot from Ha and her family. In fact, I guarantee they will think about Ha for long after you finish the final stanza. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

How Far Would You Go?

Flush, by Carl Hiaasen
Guest Reviewer, John Joseph 

This story starts off from the beginning with Noah and his sister Abbey trying to get Dusty Muleman back for their dad who was in prison because he sank Dusty’s boat. Their dad sank Dusty’s boat because he knew that Dusty was dumping his sewage into the water, and that is bad for the environment. The two kids tried to catch Dusty in the act of dumping his sewage tanks. They got some help from Shelly, a woman who used to work for Dusty.  Noah convinced her to get her job back so she could spy on Dusty for them. At the end, they got a great idea to sabotage Dusty by sneaking onto his boat and putting fuchsia food coloring in his sewage tanks.  When Dusty dumped them, the sewage showed up in the water.  Because of what they did, their dad got out of jail.       

I liked the story overall because it had some action and scary moments.  Another thing I liked was the kids trying to get back at Dusty for their dad. My favorite character was Noah because he was trying to help his dad.  I like this author because he makes such exciting and good books. I had also read another one of his books, Hoot, and I recommend this book if you like funny and scary moments.

Love, Stargirl

Love, Stargirl
A Guest Review, by Emily S.

Love, Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli is about a unique teenager’s life. Stargirl is a kind, helpful person who likes to make everyone happy. She writes the longest letter in the world in a diary format to her good friend, Leo. The book's themes are the longest letter in the world and the winter solstice. I think the author’s purpose was to teach people about dedication like how Stargirl had dedicated her Thursday mornings to waking up before dawn and going to Calendar Hill and to educate people about new events and new words. This book is written from Stargirl's perspective. There are a lot of different moods and tones in this book. On one page she is sad and the next page she is jumping for joy. Stargirl starts writing the letter on January second, and the events take place all over town. This is Jerry Spinelli's second book of the Stargirl series. His first book was called Stargirl. The main character in this book is Stargirl. Anyone can read this book and like it. The book conveys its main points by building up to the point with lots of detail. The book fulfills its purpose quite well by showing Stargirl’s urge to go to Calendar Hill when she is hurt. Over all I liked the moods and actions that take place in the book. Another thing I really liked about the book was when Stargirl’s old friend, Archie, came to Stargirl’s winter solstice celebration. I thought that was really nice, but I did not like the way Avina, a young friend of Stargirl’s, acted. I think Jerry Spinelli did a good job writing the story. I think he could use a little more drama in the book so you couldn’t put the book down. I recommend this book to young teenagers because of the random acts of kindness, the purpose and the nice twists and turns spread throughout the book.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Philosophical Graphic Diary

Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary
I teach Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi in my senior literature class, so I was excited to find this book being compared to that book. While I think the comparison is too loose to be of any use to readers (like everything even remotely dystopian being called "the next Hunger Games"), I don't think this is a story to be discounted. Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap may not be the next Persepolis, but that doesn't mean it isn't an interesting story!

Tina is Indian American. She isn't religious and her family has not arranged a marriage for her. She is a pretty normal American teenager living in California, in fact. When her teacher gives them year long project on existentialism and encourages them to find out who they really are, she decides to keep a diary devoted to the project (which the teacher will mail back to them after 3 years). Along her journey, and dialogue with John Paul Sartre, Tina uncovers some universal truths about herself and about adolescence. 

The story follows Tina as she takes the opportunity an decides to get more involved by joining the school play. She makes friends, loses friends, is heartbroken by friends. She sees her family for who they really are, including one very lonely and confused brother. She has a crush, has her first (and miserable) first kiss, her first love, and her first heartbreak. Tina lives the same life we all have lived, but she does so with the added challenge of examining her choices and the world around her for this project. The result is a realization that some of us still haven't made!

I struggled to like this book at first because I kept comparing it to Persepolis (thank you marketing department). Once I stopped thinking of this as a comparison to the other graphic novel, I was able to really enjoy the story. It is a bizarre mix of truly deep philosophical theories with "trivial" (although they never are when you are living through them) trials and tribulations of typical adolescence. But it works. Teens, after all, are in the midst of trying to find who they are, so why not dig into the philosophical theories that do just that?! I liked the main character, Tina. She was a little quirky, a little snarky, and, like most of us, just wanted something to make her happy. Funny enough, what made her happy wasn't what she expected it to be.

This graphic novel is probably best for an older student. I would give it to a kid in 10-12th grade. In fact, at first I thought this would be best for those uber-deep students who always seem more mature than their peers (and let's face it, more mature than some of us), but the philosophy is accessible enough and the trials and tribulations are ubiquitous enough to make this good for a number of types of readers. When you really dig down deep into the meaning of life, you find out we all just want to be happy. How we get there, however, is a bigger question than anyone can answer! Even John Paul Sartre!

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Gonna Be Legendary!

A story as old as time. Two people, from opposite sides of town, who were never meant to know each other, let alone care about each other. And when they can't bare to let the other one go, they have to experience great sacrifice in order to be together. We have heard the story before, but that doesn't mean we don't want to hear it again in Marie Lu's Legend.

June is a prodigy. She is years younger than her classmates because she was moved forward so many times in school. Her perfect score on the Trial's is unheard of, and the Republic wants her to be their model soldier. Day is a criminal, according to the Republic. To the people he helps, he is a modern day Robin Hood. He steals from the evil, corrupt government and gives to the poor people caught in the crossfire of a war that would have been considered a civil war in times when the United States was one whole country. But Day is careful. No one knows what he looks like or who Day really is, including his family who thinks he is dead, and he never hurts anyone. All he wants is to level the playing field. When a desperate attempt to get plague cure from a heavily guarded hospital goes awry, he has to break his one rule- he has to wound a soldier to get away, but he makes sure not to kill him.

That soldier was June's brother Metias. He died that night. June has been enlisted to go under cover in the poor districts and see if she can find the elusive Day. She is all too happy to find the man who killed her brother. What she doesn't expect is to get caught in a paid fight, stabbed, and need to be saved by a mysterious but alluring boy. Day had no intention of saving her, but he couldn't help himself. Eventually June realizes who her saviour is, but not before he shares some very dangerous theories about what the Republic is really doing in the poor sectors, especially about the spread of each year's new plague. When Day is taken into custody, June can't help but think her brother must have known about this all. She begins digging through his journals, but she isn't ready for what she finds. June's whole world is turned upside down, but she can think of only one thing- saving Day.

Lu created a really interesting dystopia where the country we know has split in two. In that fight for land and power, they have made their citizens pawns. The Trials were a way to separate the weak from the strong. All kids have to go through the trials and their scores determine where they go from there- either to the labor camps if they fail, or to be a Republic officer if they do well. In fact, reading about the trials made me think about the SATs. The SATs have the ability to make or break a student's college applications. One test, one very biased, convoluted test can determine their futures. I have seen incredibly smart, intuitive, creative thinkers bomb that horrible test. Hopefully there is a college out there willing to "take a chance" on them despite those SAT scores, but you never know. Why do we use the SATs and GREs to measure people's worth and potential? Every person even remotely involved in education knows there are smart kids who don't test well and anyone who preps kids for the SAT hates the test with unbridled passion, so why is it still being used? Unfortunately I think it has something with our need to fit everyone into neat, predictable categories. But what do we know about neat, predictable categories when it comes to people? They don't exist! But I digress. I will continue to hate the SATs, but I will still administer it as I am supposed to, secretly hoping colleges will ban together to boycott its use. Hopefully it will happen someday!

So Lu's world, while fictionalized and exaggerated, isn't far from our own. Control and power are slippery slopes to terrifying times, as history has shown us time and time again. This would be a good book for any student who enjoys dystopias and other cautionary tales of what can happen when people are given too much power. It is appropriate for any middle school through high school student and uses average young adult caliber language. But remember something when you read it- if we all strive for conformity, we lose those amazing individuals who have given us all those comforts and toys we love so much!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Glimpse into Her Future

A Year Without Autumn
Have you ever wondered what you were do if given the opportunity to view a glimpse of your future? How far would you go? How long would you stay? Liz Kessler's novel A Year Without Autumn shows the life of a girl as she skips through her future.

Jenni's family goes to the condo for one week out of every summer. The best thing about the family trip, besides the fact that she loves her family, is that her best friend Autumn's family comes too. Jenni and Autumn are the kind of friends who can barely go 2 hours without seeing each other or talking to each other, so being on vacation together is a must. But this summer is different. Jenni is supposed to go horseback riding with Autumn, but when she decides to take the old elevator in Autumn's building, something crazy happens- she is transported a year in the future.

In that year, she missed a lot. While she tries to figure out what happened, she realizes something horrible happened to Autumn's family that day they were supposed to go horseback riding. When Jenni didn't show up for riding, Autumn's little brother Mikey went. The horse was spooked on the ride and Mikey was thrown, but the ambulance took over two hours to get to him. Mikey slipped into a coma and never came out. Now everything has changed. Autumn's lively, vibrant family has fallen apart. Even Jenni's own family has been rocked by the accident to the point of being totally unrecognizable. Jenni knows the only way to fix things is to go back in time and stop the accident, but first she must go forward. But how far forward can she stand to go? And if she goes forward, is there a chance she can never go back?

This was a heartwarming story about a little girl who just loved her family and friend so much, she knew she needed to help them. In fact, the friendship between Jenni and Autumn made me nostalgic for those friendships we had when we were kids. Remember those? Where you talk on the phone for hours every night even though you saw each other all day in school? Those friendships defined us as adults too, helping us to open up and love our friends unconditionally and whole-heartedly. Kessler really knew how to tug the heart strings with their friendship. Also, the idea that one event, Mikey's accident, could ripple through everyone's lives is both scary and very realistic. Who wouldn't be affected by the loss of such a young little boy? 

This is a great story for middle readers through young adults. The story is very clean and will appeal to a wide range of ages due to the serious nature of the plot. It can be the food of much discussion with a student about how events connect to one another and whether or not we should know what happens in our future. For young people who have a very hard time seeing past their own immediate lives, it might be nice to take some real-life situation and see how the ripples of that event have influenced everything around it. Getting children to think outside their immediate lives is a difficult but worthwhile venture. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Laws to Control Your Whole Life

Article 5
A dystopia these days is nothing out of the ordinary. A superb dystopia? Now that is something truly special. Article 5 may be Kristen Simmons' first novel, but she wasn't kidding around. The world she created will make your hair stand on end and make you grateful for all the freedoms you have living in these United States instead of the ones Ember Miller lives in.

Ember lives in a United States that is much different from the one you may be used to. The Bill of Rights is gone, freedoms no longer exist, and a moral code has been inflicted upon the country that gives the government freedom to arrest you for things like skipping school for a religious holiday or having a child out of wedlock. When Ember and her mother are arrested until Article 5 because Ember's mother never married Ember's father, they thought things couldn't get any worse. That is, until they see who is arresting them. Chase. Ember's childhood sweetheart- the very same one she wrote letters to and missed so much when he was recruited and taken by the government to enforce the compliance of their rules. 

Ember feels betrayed by the boy she once loved, but when she is separated from her mother and thrown in a rehabilitation center, she truly begins to realize the trouble she is really in. She tries to escape but is caught and thrown into solitary confinement. She is about to be "disciplined" but the orders come in for her to be transferred to her trial about the Article 5 noncompliance. Imagine her surprise when Chase, the very same one who arrested her, has come to transport her. Imagine her even bigger surprise when they leave the rehab and Chase reveals he has gone AWOL and is taking her to a safe house to find her mother. Ember is nervous about trusting him, but with the lawlessness of starving civilians and terrifying constriction of the government officials (and those who follow them), she knows she has no choice. The only thing she can think about is getting back to her mother. Can she make it through parts of the country that have been either abandoned to starve or taken over by an overzealous government? Will she ever see her mother again? Can she trust Chase?

I simply couldn't put this book down. I read it in two big chunks and had I not been working and forced to leave the house, I would have finished it in one sitting. The story is very well paced and exciting to read. You never know what is going to happen in each and every place Ember and Chase have to stop for gas or supplies. I also liked that Ember embodied a girl who grew up in a fairly comfortable home with her mother, oblivious to the true nature of the world around her, but still she was one tough cookie. She was terrified but didn't hesitate to react when the proverbial feces hit the fan. It made the story very realistic and made me think about what I would be doing in a situation like hers. Would I fight back and try to get to my mom? I certainly hope I would be as brave as Ember was!

The story is appropriate for any high skilled middle school student through high school student. It is an average reading level for a young adult story with no real sex or violence. There is a hint of guards and officers taking "girlfriends", but it isn't handled in any great detail. The discussion possibilities of this story are tremendous. Our children assume their freedoms are a given, take them for granted, but how would they feel if they had to live in Ember's United States? Which rights would they defend the most? How would they survive? Who would they become in the story? The best stories are those that force us to transport ourselves into the world the author created and make us live the story with the characters. Simmons and Article 5 did just that. Excellent breakout novel. Can't wait for the next book in the trilogy!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Jessica Got a Little Darker

Jessica Rules the Dark Side
The first book in Fantaskey's series had a ridiculous title and an awful cover. So why did I read it? Not quite sure, but I am glad I did. It was hilarious. It was a serious story peppered with the rantings of a persnickety vampire prince who just wanted his betrothed to come back to Romania with him and rule. What he didn't expect before he came for her was a vegan who worked on her family's small town farm and only dreamed of going to college- not becoming a vampire princess and settling a centuries old feud. After absolutely adoring Lucius' hilarious ramblings about lentils in the first book, I was looking for more of the same from Jessica Rules the Dark Side.

Jessica, who is known as Anastasia now that she is a vampire princess, loves Lucius, but hates Romania. The other vampires think she is weak, she only has one friend, and she can't even order food from the kitchen because she can't speak Romanian. To top off the horrible experience, she knows her inability to be the ruthless princess makes her husband vulnerable with the rest of the vampires he is trying to rule. When one of the vampire elders is murdered, Anastasia takes the advice of her friend and suggests all the vampires produce their stakes to catch the murderer. What she doesn't expect is that Lucius' stake is covered in the murdered vampires blood, but he swears he did not kill the man. Anastasia believes him, but the Elders insist he is locked in the dungeon until he can go to trial... without the blood he needs to survive. Now Anastasia must solve the murder to exonerate her husband, but with the return of old friends and the revelations of many secrets, she isn't sure she can be the princess (soon to be queen) Lucius wants her to be. If she can't, her husband's life ill be over.

I was a little surprised when I first read this book and saw just how dark it was. Don't get me wrong, it was a really good story, but compared to the light-hearted wit from Lucius in the first book, this one was much more serious. There were occasional moments of levity, but I definitely missed the Lucius you fell in love with in the first book. This story dealt much more with Jessica/Anastasia and her crippling fear of being the princess she needed to be. In fact, I was a little annoyed with her at times. At one point, her husband is locked, starving, down in the dungeon and she is lying in her bed feeling sorry for herself. I wanted to scream: "Get out of bed you twit! Take care of business!" Eventually she did rise to the occasion and take charge, but it was frustrating to watch her flounder so much.

While the main characters were the focus in the first book, they faded into the background with this one. The supporting characters, like Lucius' childhood friend and Anastasia's friend Mindy from home, made up a lot of the meat of the story. Luckily, it was an interesting part of the story, and Mindy's fun take on the situation was a welcomed touch. This story is appropriate for a wide range of ages and will still hold the attention of anyone who liked the first story (as long as they could ignore the silly title). It is a good, easy read for any struggling reader to be successful with. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Best in the Series So Far!

Silence (Hush, Hush Saga)
I read the first book because of al the hype, I read the second book because I figured it had to be better than the first book (350 pages of nothing and 50 pages of action at the end), and I read the third book because I had already invested two books into the series and might as well finish it. Imagine my surprise when Silence was actually the best in Becca Fitzpatrick's series!

Nora has been kidnapped. When she wakes up in a graveyard, she doesn't realize how long she has been gone or what has happened to her. She was kidnapped in June, but she has lost everything that happened from April to September when she was found. When she returns home, she finds her mother is now dating Hank Millar- Nora's archenemy Marcie's father. She also gets the feeling people are keeping things from her. Her mother and best friend aren't telling her the entire truth about her life before the kidnapping, but she doesn't know who to trust until Scott Parnell returns. The Nephilim fills her in on the fallen angels and the war with the Nephilim whom the angels possess two weeks out of every year. Nora knows she is somehow involved in the situation, but she isn't sure how.

She also know the stranger Jev is someone she has met in the past, but she can't place him. As she and Scott uncover more and more about Hank Millar, Jev keeps pulling her out of sticky situations. She feels drawn to him, even though she suspects he may be dangerous and is definitely on the opposite side of her friend, Scott. When Jev pulls her from a warehouse where hundreds of Nephilim soldiers are sleeping and would kill her for trespassing, he takes her to his home in the tunnels and reveals who he truly is to Nora- he is really Patch, the one man/angel Nora has loved. Now they must find out what Hank Millar is doing and save Nora's family in the meantime. Hank Millar may have nothing to lose, but Nora has everything in the world to lose now that she has fallen in love with Patch all over again.

This was undoubtedly the best story in the series. many people complain Nora is as whiny and spineless as Bella in Twilight, so it was nice to see her in a whole new light. She is more assertive in this book and gets herself into a lot of trouble because she won't just move on after the kidnapping and forget everything that happened to her. She is determined to get to the bottom of it all. I also, after the last ridiculous book, needed to see her and Patch really fall in love. Her amnesia really made that possible. She was drawn to him, couldn't resist him, and that was the Nora and Patch I originally loved and wanted to see more of!

Finally, Fitzpatrick solved her biggest problem from both original books in the series- she didn't give you 90% filler and 10% action at the very end. The last two books I hated until the very end and then I was left liking the book but still feeling duped or cheated. This book was interesting the whole way through. from start to finish, it was interesting and there was a lot going on. I am surprised how it ended, but now I am actually looking forward to the next installment instead of feeling obligated to read the silly thing! I am glad to see this book redeemed the series, but I still probably wouldn't give this series to a struggling reader. It isn't exciting enough to hold their attention and help them be successful in finishing a whole book. I would leave this for adults (just for sheer boredom's sake- not content) or stronger readers who could make it through the whole thing without giving up because clearly Fitzpatrick saved the best for last!

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Love that Spans Lifetimes

The Eternal Ones
Have you ever felt like you knew someone all your life even though you just met them? Do you believe in love at first sight? Do you know things you don't understand how you could know? Then maybe you are remembering a past life, the same way Haven Moore did all her life. In The Eternal Ones, by Kirsten Miller, you will be witness to generations of love, hate, and obsession. 

Haven grew up in Snope City, Tennessee with her crazy, religious grandmother who is convinced Haven is possessed by a demon the same way Haven's father was before he died in a car crash with his mistress. Haven has always planned to escape Snope City as soon as possible with her best friend, Beau, but she is haunted by memories of a life she hasn't lived. When she faints in and has another vision, her grandmother refuses to let her go to college in the fall. After their house burns to the ground, everyone is convinced Haven was the culprit. No one wants to listen haven when she tells them she saw a strange man set her room on fire just before he lit her bedroom on fire. She knows she has to get to the bottom of the visions, and the only place to do that is New York City where the Ouroboros Society is- the same group that her father researched when he believed his daughter's talk of a former live and love was proof of reincarnation.

As soon as Haven gets to NYC, she realizes the Ouroboros Society (OS) is more than just a safe place for people who remember past lives- it is a complex, corrupt group that control people through debts and loans of more than just money. When she finds Ethan- now Iain Morrow- she knows she was meant to be with him. This life, last life, scores of lives before, they have belonged together. But the OS and the people involved in it want to come between Haven and Iain in any way possible, including convincing Haven that Iain murdered her in a previous life. Can she trust the man she loves unconditionally? Are these people really trying to protect her or exploit her? Who really did murder her in her most recent past life? 

Reincarnation is a topic rarely discussed in YA stories. It was in Lauren Kate's Fallen series and a few others, but only as a side note to bigger themes. This is the first book I have read where it plays the signature role in the plot. I was a little worried it wouldn't be enough to sustain a full-length novel, but Miller has made enough twists and turns, such as the Ouroboros Society, where the story was full and interesting and captivating. My one complaint would be the main character, Haven. At first, I loved Haven, but she quickly became annoying once she went to New York. She seemed too gullible to me, especially considering the strong character she was at home. When she was battling her uber-religious grandmother, she was hilarious. But in NY she believed everything everyone told her. First she believed Iain loved her, then she believed he was a murderer because someone she had never met told her so. Then she loved him again, then someone told her he was a bad man and she was cleaning the toilet with his toothbrush. Forgive him, hate him, forgive him, hate him. I hated how gullible and back and forth she was. I wanted her to really love and trust him or be completely skeptical- not change her mind on an hourly basis. 

Otherwise, this was a very interesting book. There was, clearly, a lot of history and the OS was an interesting twist. In fact, it was pretty cult-like. I imagine this would be a good book for a strong middle-school reader through high school readers. The love story started out as the premise for the entire book, but it was actually not as central to the story as they made it out to be. I think it might take a bigger role in the next book, so I am anxious to see where Miller goes with it!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Beautifully Engrossing

Beautiful Chaos (Beautiful Creatures, Book 3)
Lena broke the world on her seventeenth moon. Instead of choosing Light or Dark, which would have resulted in the death of any family members who belonged to the side she didn't choose, Lena chose both. By embracing both Light and Dark, she has thrown the natural order of things out of sync. Not only are her creepy Incubus ancestors trying to take advantage of the chaos and create their own ideal world, but the town of Gatlin and everyone she loves in it is in danger.

The Linkubus isn't the only thing Gatlin has to fear... Abraham Ravenwood has joined with Lena's evil Caster mother to find John Breed- the hybrid Incubus who can walk in the sunlight and is the future for Abraham and the other evil creatures. They know Lena, Ethan, and Macon are somehow involved in hiding him, but they have no idea where he is. Add to that newly-mortal Ridley's craziness now that she is no longer a Siren and you have quite the disaster. Then Abraham lets loose the Vexes who take down the Sisters' (Ethan's ancient aunts) house with a tornado and puts Aunt Prue in a coma, he knows something has to be done. But the snippets of the song about "The Eighteenth Moon" are not only terrifying, they are incredibly cryptic.

Meanwhile, they find Ridley has been holding John Breed prisoner in her room and using him to Cast. While Ethan wants to kill him for turning Link and almost destroying Lena, he realizes John is as innocent as they all are in the mess that has become Gatlin. Abraham has abused and controlled John since he was a child and John doesn't even remember hurting Link. Together, they all struggle to make sense of what is happened and how to change it back. Unfortunately, the sacrifice that must be paid is one no one is ready for.

This was the best installment of this series so far. I like the other two books as well, but this one was really good. I couldn't put it down, all 500 pages of it. Since we saw Ethan and Lena so separated last book, it was nice to see them back together. But the supporting characters were better, as seems to be fairly standard with this series. Link was a riot as usual, and it was funny watching him try to deal with his new found powers. Ridley has a lot of trouble coping with her new standing as a mortal, but I love her relationship with Link (as tumultuous as it is). But Amma and John Breed were really interesting here. Amma, always protective of Ethan, will go to any lengths to protect him- even if it means a sacrifice Ethan would never let her pay. And John, who you hated in the last book, you find yourself sympathizing with. He really never experienced any childhood or family; you really find yourself wanting to like him. This was a great follow up story and makes me anxious for the final book in the series next fall. I can't imagine where everything is going to go with the final story, but I know I can't wait to read it! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Love Paris All the Time!

Anna and the French Kiss
Paris. Beautiful, foreign, historic, romantic Paris. It's been at almost 15 years since I was in Paris, but I haven't forgotten such an amazing city. And the food... mmmm... the food! So imagine a story about young love in Paris, and Stephanie Perkins has hit the literary jackpot with Anna and the French Kiss

Anna's annoying father decided she needed to experience a new culture... for her senior year! The last thing Anna wants is to leave her friends, her school, her little brother, and her new possibly-future boyfriend for a country where she doesn't even speak the language. When she is dropped off at SOAP (School of America at Paris), she realizes just how alone she is. Luckily, she isn't alone for long. Quickly she meets a group of friends who includes a very cute, and very unavailable guy named Etienne St. Clair. Anna knows St. Clair is dating someone, but she can't help but stare at him with those dreamy eyes and think about him every time he is gone. She knows Toph is home, hopefully waiting for her, but she can't stop thinking about St. Clair.

As the months pass, Anna realizes just St. Clair is, but he seems to be miserable in his relationship. When they spend Thanksgiving break together, just the two of them, Anna realizes she feels more for St. Clair than she ever did for Toph. When she finally goes home to see her family for Christmas, she has a rude awakening waiting for her. While she was in Paris, life went on without her, including Toph. The only thing that holds her together for the 2 weeks she is home is St. Clair's emails and phone calls. When she returns to Paris, she realizes true feelings for St. Clair, but he is still dating another girl. Can Anna bring herself to just be friends with him? Can she forgive the people who all but forgot about her when she moved to Paris? How far will she go to be with St. Clair?

Oh, Sarah Dessen fans of the world! I introduce you to the author who is just as amazing as Sarah Dessen- Stephanie Perkins! Oh, Perkins creates the same amazing characters that you can't get enough of and the most amazing stories you will want to read again and again. In fact, you will become just as obsessed with Perkins as you have with Dessen- I know I have! Oh Anna was every bit as confused young woman as I wanted her to be (and remember being when I was her age). And all that swoony, wonderful young love? You will fall right into it with this book, just like Anna and St. Clair.

This is a great book for those young women who like to read romantic books full of stolen glances, hoped-for kisses, and fiery contact of a leg brushed up against another leg in the movie theater or a hand brushed against another hand at a cafe. This will appeal to a wide range of girls, from older middle school student through high school students. It is a fairly clean story, perfect for the young adult circuit. I don't imagine many boys being interested in it purely for superficial reasons, but you never know! Oh Stephanie Perkins! Thank God(dess) you decided to start writing!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is There Dark Inside All of Us?

Dark Inside
Have you ever thought about the evil that lives inside you? Do you have a dark side? What about your friends, family, and neighbors? Now imagine that evil was let loose upon the world. Which side would you be on? The hunted Light or the hunter Dark? In Jeyn Roberts' Dark Inside you will find yourself asking those very questions.

Mason's mother's fatal car accident saved him. He ran to the hospital the minute he heard and shortly after a group of people walked into his high school with bombs, killing almost everyone. Aries survived the earthquake that toppled her bus and killed almost everyone inside, but she doesn't know if she will survive the night with the crazy people on the street trying to murder everyone they come into contact with. Clementine runs from the church where her parents and the entire town is murdered by men they grew up with, but they are still hunting her. All she can think about is her brother Heath in college on the West Coast- the same West Coast that was wiped off the map by the super earthquakes. Michael was just out for a joyride when the people in town went crazy. He barely made it off the streets alive, but the world he knew is now gone.

When massive earthquakes change the shape of the continent, people think it is the worst disaster to hit the world. What they don't know is an evil lies just under the surface of too many people and something has released it. People have turned into crazy murderers overnight, dragging survivors from their homes, hunting them at night. The hunters or Baggers aren't as crazy as they might seem- they are smart. Too smart. No place is safe from them, but the survivors need some place to live. Clementine, Michael, Mason, and Aries might never have met before the world came crashing to an end, but their new lives will bring them together. The question is, will it be in tragedy or survival?

What seemed like your standard disaster story took a whole new turn. Sure the earthquakes were destructive in a predictable way, but when people became crazed murderers, there was no answer for what happened to them. Sometimes they seemed to come out of the darkness that made them commit unspeakable acts, but others were too far gone to connect with humanity anymore. These monsters weren't "zombies" but instead a scarier type of monster- thinking, breathing, feeling monsters who had one purpose- murder those not like them. Truthfully, this was crazier and scarier than any zombie story you have ever read because these murderers can plan and scheme in order to kill you. Not a world I want to find myself in!

The story was rather violent, but it wasn't overdone. I was confused by the very open plot holes, such as what happened to make people crazy, why this coincided with the earthquakes, and why some people were "immune". There were a lot of questions unanswered that might annoy readers who need a solid plot line to follow, but if your reader just likes an exciting story, this is a good one to pass one. The four separate stories that eventually come together are interesting and a great way to show wide-spread destruction. It can be a little confusing at first when you are trying to figure out which character is which, but eventually you get the hang of it. Pretty good book in my opinion, but I am still left scratching my head over all those unanswered questions!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Not As Alone As You Think You Are

A parent should be a constant in any child's life. Parents should care for and love their children above all else. When a parent fails to do so, the repercussions on the child are lifelong. In Helen Landalf's breakout YA novel Flyaway, she explores the difficult world of a parent who chooses drugs over their child.

Stevie makes do. Her mother isn't always home, there is never food in the fridge, and she is creeped out by her mother's boyfriend, but she loves her mother. Even though her mother's job as a stripper in a local bar has made high school a nightmare, she still waits anxiously for her to come home every night. When she doesn't come home for a long time, Stevie is worried something happened to her. When her Aunt Mindy, her mom's sister, whisks in, Stevie knows Mindy is about to ruin everything she has with her mother.

Mindy takes Stevie in, buys her new clothes, and even arranges for her to have a math tutor to catch up in school. All Stevie can think about is her mother. But Mindy is more concerned with acknowledging the fact that Stevie's mom is a meth addict. They send her to rehab, but Stevie is dealing with her own demons. She struggles with both wanting her mother to get better and wanting her mother back in her life. When her mother decides to leave rehab early, Stevie hopes everything can be different. What she doesn't realize is the first step to recovery is admitting the problem.

I wanted to love this book, and it was certainly interesting. It is an incredibly short book, so I was wondering how the author planned to tackle the tough subjects thoroughly in such a brief time. Therein lay the problem with this novel. It wasn't poorly written, it wasn't uninteresting, but its brevity kept the characters from fully developing throughout the story. There were parts of the background that were glossed over or mentioned, but not fully explained. For instance, there is the mother's boyfriend who Stevie won't even go near, but the reason why wasn't fully developed. Stevie's friend has done some bad things to her, but they aren't hashed out, so they felt like an unnecessary part of the story. I didn't dislike this book, I just wanted more of it.

This book is short, so it can be deceptive. I wouldn't give this book to an immature student as it deals with some serious behavior like drug abuse, sexual assault, etc. The writing level is fairly average for a young adult novel, so it might be best for an older, more mature student with a short attention span. The shortness could work in your favor if a student tends to lose interest in a book quickly. For instance, I have a student who I have taught for two years now. She has started about 30 books in that time and never finished a single one. She finds another that interests her and abandons the last about 1/4 of the way through. A book this size might actually be something she would finish!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The ReInvention of a Picture Book

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
As a teacher of dyslexic students, I appreciate just how hard it is to find a book for a low-skilled older student. Virtually impossible. You don't want to insult the student, but you don't want to frustrate them with a book that is entirely too difficult. And what about your emergent readers? Older students who are just learning to read. Do you give them picture books and chapter books? What if you had a really beautiful story, full of gorgeous illustrations disguised as usual middle reader book (except much bigger and much heavier)? Brian Selznick created a masterpiece with The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but when he did, I am sure he didn't realize he was creating a bridge for emergent readers into the world of book lovers.
Hugo was orphaned twice. When his father was killed in a fire in his workshop working on a device Hugo wanted him to fix, Hugo was sent to live with his uncle. Hugo's uncle lived in the train station and was responsible for winding all the clocks twice a day. It wasn't the hardest job in the world, but it took a lot of responsibility so the clocks didn't fall behind and break down. When Hugo's uncle disappears, Hugo takes over the clocks and keeps up the ruse his uncle is still there because he has no other place to go.
Unable to cash his uncle's checks, Hugo is forced to steal his food. He only steals out of necessity, except for toys. Hugo can't resist the toy booth run by the old man, but when he is caught stealing a toy mouse, the old man forces him to fix it. He takes Hugo's notebook- the last thing Hugo has from his father that holds the secrets to fixing the device his father died trying to fix for Hugo- the automaton. Hugo salvaged the automaton from the building where his father was killed, but without the notebook, he will never get the figure to work. When the old man sees Hugo's ability to fix the toy, he puts him to work fixing toys in the shop. By day Hugo works in the shop, but night he works on the automaton. It is a busy life, but Hugo just wants his notebook back. When the old man's goddaughter promises to get it back for him, he doesn't realize the secrets they will uncover together. There is more to the old man than Hugo ever realized, but then again, the old man didn't know Hugo was an orphan living in the train station either.
The beauty of this book, besides the pages and pages of beautiful illustrations, was the ability of those illustrations to tell huge parts of the story. An emergent reader must look at a book and be completely overwhelmed by all those words. Pages and pages of words. So what if half the story was told by a series of illustrations that wordlessly told a beautiful story of a sad boy who finds people who care about him? I love this book for many reasons, but the biggest reason is that I can just see a student who is just starting to read being able to successfully wade through this book in all its bulk (500+ pages) and know they have read a book. Imagine the pride that would come from that student?
So I have to say, I think Selznick is a genius. He created a book that is not only beautiful, but one that can appeal to even the most low-skilled students. I think it is an important book for any children's library or classroom, especially for students with learning disabilities. The illustrations can emote with little effort and will provide tons of material for discussions. You can have students write the dialogue or describe the illustrations as an activity. If a student is creative, you can have them illustrate the portions of the book that aren't already illustrated. The opportunities are limitless.