Sunday, March 20, 2011

When All the Water is Gone...

The Water Wars
With such a haunting and beautiful cover, this post-apocalyptic story by Cameron Stracher had a lot to live up to. How do you take a scary scenario and breathe some life into a hopeless world? The Water Wars does it with strong characters who keep you rooting for them through every obstacle and struggle.

Vera and Will live in a world where the water is gone, and with it, life as we know it has gone as well. People survive on genetically modified foods, are given water rations that barely keep them alive, and dream of the days with grass, animals, and rain. When Vera sees the new boy, who rides in a limo and has a bodyguard, pour a cup of water out onto the road, she knows there is something different about Kai. No one wastes water anymore, not when there isn't enough to keep the world alive.

Kai tells Vera and Will about a hidden river, and they can't stop thinking about it. One day, Kai takes Vera to an old abandoned mill where he shows her the water in a hidden aquifer below the surface. Later, when she and Will go to find Kai, they discover his body guard shot and his apartment trashed. Kai is nowhere to be found. Worried about their friend, they take off after him, using his father's notebook they found in the apartment. From the minute they leave their small, dehydrated town, they find themselves on a whirlwind journey that they just barely survive.

Kidnapped by pirates, they are taken out of Illinowa and to Minnestoa. There, environmental terrorists blow a dam that almost kills Vera and Will. Now they find themselves in the hands of the most brutal and greedy group- the environmentalists who destroy the earth just as quickly as the others, if they can make a profit doing so. Just when they think all hope is lost, Ulysses, the pirate leader, comes to their rescue. They continue on their journey to find Kai, but in the meantime, they realize all they knew about their government, the water, and the world is wrong. Now they must rely on the help of outlaws and pirates to get to Kai in time. Can they do it?

This was a really interesting post-apocalyptic tale. Since it was a shorter novel, it would be a good start for a student who is interested in this kind of topic but hasn't read much yet. The writing is fairly simple, and the horror of the story isn't in the language or the gruesomeness, but rather in the sheer possibility of something like this being possible. It would be a good story for any age group, from late elementary students through high school. It is particularly good for older students with lower reading abilities who want a mature subject. The action is non-stop and will keep the attention of any reader.

The beauty of this story is that even when the worst thing possible happens, there is still a way to survive it all and come out on top. Even when Vera or Will were ready to give up, the other one kept them both going, refusing to give up on their friend Kai. Nothing was going to stop these two kids. I also liked the idea that things are not always as they seem. With the pirates and the other outlaws, the ones who you would assume are good people turn out to be horrible and greedy, and the pirates turn out to be pretty good people- Ulysses even risks his life to save the kids. This story will defy all your assumptions and keep you reading until the very end. There is never a dull moment in a world where there isn't enough water.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Supernatural Murder Mystery

A breakout author is a wonderful thing. They are excited, they have years of pent-up writer emotions built up inside, and they have nothing to lose. Once they have a book that sells decently, they feel an obligation to their readers, to their characters, and of course, to their publishers. But there is this brief and solitary moment when they write a book just because they want to, with nothing else factoring in. I often see that breakout novel as the best work they ever did! Kim Harrington did just that with her supernatural murder mystery called Clarity. She put it all out there, with no fears and no holds barred.

Clarity Fern, who goes by Clare, is not your average high school student. She doesn't have any friends besides her brother Periwinkle (Perry) and his best friend, Nate. She is an outsider in school, but not for the usual reasons. Clare can see past events by touching objects. Her mother, Starla, can read people's minds, and her brother can speak to dead people (if they are hanging around, of course). Together, they are the "local psychics" of a small beach town. The tourists love them, the locals hate them or ignore them. When a dead girl's body is found, there is more to worry about than the new psychic in town.

Clare's ex-boyfriend, Justin, comes to ask for her help on behalf of his father, the mayor. Both Justin and his father have always believed in Clare, and now they need her help to solve this crime and settle the town back into their sleepy summer. When she starts getting involved, she realizes the hot new guy in her school is essentially her new "partner" on this investigation, despite his rather large objections and obvious distaste for psychics. This new guy, Gabriel Toscano, is the son of the new detective in town- a man rumored to have been fired from NYPD for a suspicious killing of a man in the line of duty. He is brooding and mysterious. Gabriel may be working with Clare reluctantly, but there is no denying their chemistry!

When the tables turn and it turns out Perry took the girl back to her hotel room the night she was murdered, Clare knows she must do everything and anything to prove Perry is innocent. The problem is, he isn't exactly acting very innocent as he sneaks around and goes missing for long periods of time. Solving this murder is the only thing that can save the town, the summer, and everyone in Clare's life. When the new psychic in town warns Clare and her family to get out of town, Clare ironically discounts her warnings and assumes she is a fraud. What Clare doesn't realize is the new psychic might be right- Clare might be in a lot more danger with this investigation than she realizes. Can she solve the murder before anyone else gets hurt?

This is a fun novel with a sassy main character. Clare is not a girl who sits back and takes what life throws at her. She refuses to let her family fall apart and will do anything she can to solve the murder- even put her own life in danger. She is also strong when it comes to her relationship with the mayor's son. When she finds out he cheated on her, she dumps him immediately. Her pain and hurt are clear, but in the end, she knows she must forgive him. She can't bring herself to be with him, but forgiveness is the only thing that will help her heal. What I really liked about this story was how some people in the town didn't ostracize Clare in her family. The mayor always believed in what they did and sought their help with the murder. It showed a nice sense of trust and acceptance for differences amongst neighbors.

The reading level on this book is fairly simple, but there are some choice phrases and scenarios that might not be appropriate for younger students. It is a fairly brief story, and the plot is fun and suspenseful without being too cheesy or predictable. This combination makes it a good story for low skilled to high skilled teens. I would give this to a wide range of my students. While the cover would probably discourage male readers, the story itself is not overly feminine. This was a strong debut by Harrington, and I am looking forward to the sequel which is due out next year!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Who Knew Demonglass Could Be So Exciting?!

Demonglass (A Hex Hall Novel)
It is so much fun to watch a fun, young series grow up as you read it. It happened with Harry Potter, Twilight, and so many more. Now it is happening to the Hex Hall series by Rachel Hawkins. The first book was a great, fun beginning, but now with the second installment, Demonglass, the series gets much, much darker.

Sophie Mercer found out she was not a witch, but actually a demon. She also watched her classmates raise a demon (her grandmother) who went all dark and scary and killed a couple of students at Hecate Hall (most commonly called Hex Hall). Even her crush turned out to be part of The Eye, a group of assassins hell bent on killing all Prodigum (magical folks). Needless to say, it was not a great year for Sophie. Now her father is back and is trying to stop her from going through the Removal- a process that strips her powers and could kill her in the process. What Sophie doesn't know is his reasons for wanting her to keep her powers are much different than she expected.

To try and get Sophie to embrace her powers, her father takes her back to Thorne Abbey which has been the Council Headquarters since their other headquarters was destroyed by the Eye. There she is introduced to Nick and Daisy- two other demon teenagers (isn't that redundant!). Since Sophie was under the impression that she and her father were the only living demons, it becomes clear someone is creating demons (which didn't go so well for Sophie's grandmother). Now, while Nick and Daisy try to introduce Sophie to the world of underage demons, such as Prodigum nightclubs, she and her father are trying to figure out who is creating demons and what army they want them fighting for.

As this is all going down, Sophie's crush, Archer Cross, (the very same one who works for the Eye and tried to kill her) comes back into the picture and even saves her. Her father forbids Sophie to see Archer, but she knows he has information the Council needs... and she can't stop thinking about the kiss they shared right before he tried to kill her. Can Sophie, Archer, and her father get to the bottom of who is making demons before it's too late? How far does the treachery run? Is anyone really thinking about how all this will really effect both the Prodigum and the innocent humans?

This was a great follow-up to a bang up debut novel. The series has gotten a smidge darker with this installment, and judging by the cliffhanger ending, it will just continue to get darker and more serious. Fortunately, though, Hawkins keeps her sense of humor when appropriate and Sophie Mercer continues to be funny, klutzy, loud, and a great character to love and laugh with. I loved this book and simply cannot wait for the next installment. Sadly we may have at least a year to wait.

The writing is fairly clean and simple. This is a great book for middle school through high school students because although the writing is simplistic and the plot is understandable, it is in no way childish. Everything about this book makes it a must have for parents and teachers alike. So go out and pick up a copy for your shelves and make sure to recommend it to everyone you know!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What More Do you Desire?

Desires of the Dead (Body Finder)
When last we left Violet after Kimberley Derting's breakout novel, The Body Finder, she had foiled the plots of two serial killers working together to terrify her small town and infiltrate the police department. Violet can do this with her amazing and terrifying ability to see death echoes- the imprints a violent death leaves on both the body that wishes to be laid to rest and the person who ended their life. Violet see these echoes on all people, including police officers, doctors, nurses, and murderers. Unfortunately, the person responsible for ending the life of another isn't always who you would think it would be.

Violet survived the serial killers, but just barely. These days she prefers to take it easy and enjoy her life with her incredible and supportive parents and her attentive boyfriend, Jay. When a new family moves back into town, the brother Mike instantly becomes Jay's best friend and Violet starts to get jealous of all the time they spend together. Mike's sister Megan, however, is a different story. A couple of years younger than them, she is a quiet mousy girl who never seems to open up. When Violet finds out their mother disappeared and has possibly been murdered, she wonders if she can help.

Then an FBI agent named Sara Priest shows up and throws Violet's world upside down. Priest knows Violet is connected to the anonymous phone call that led them to finding a murdered boy, but she doesn't quite know how. When Sara introduces Violet to Rafe, a young man not much older than Violet, it becomes clear that Sara runs things a little differently- she uses "special" people like Violet to solve crimes like murder. When someone starts leaving creepy messages, calling and hanging up, and leaves a dead cat by Violet's car, she suspects Megan is the culprit. When she confides in Jay, however, he refuses to believe it and sends Violet off a cliff she might not be ready to take. While Violet explores the possibility of going public with her ability, she must also get to the bottom of Mike and Megan's mother's disappearance and find out who is stalking her. Can she do it all before it is too late?

This was a great follow up to an excellent debut novel. I was worried the story was going to get hokey after a while- I mean how many serial killers can a sleepy little town have before the national press starts sniffing around? But this story isn't cheesy and delves even further into Violet's powers. They are really advancing, whether she likes it or not. I also loved the addition of Sarah Priest, which opens up a place for Violet to grow in possible future novels and continue the series without getting ridiculous. Now she can go to work for Sara Priest and use her powers more. It gives the characters and the plot room to grow and mature.

The writing is average difficulty and would be appropriate for a range of students. The material can be dark at times, but isn't too dark- there is still a good message, supportive friends and family, and a good ending. This is a great supernatural story that will keep you enthralled from start to finish. Now I just can't wait to see what happens to Violet next!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Avi for Reading Rockets

Watch dyslexic author Avi talk about writing, dyslexia, historical fiction, and writing instruction.