Monday, May 30, 2011

Things are Not Always as They Seem

Misguided Angel (Blue Bloods, Book 5)
When we last left the Blue Bloods, Schuyler had left Oliver, Jack had left Mimi, and Bliss had left altogether (after Lucifer inside her had failed to open the gate to hell under Jack and Mimi's bonding ceremony). Now the Coven is in complete disarray, Mimi plans to kill Jack as soon as she can find him, for refusing their bond, and Jack and Schuyler are trying to find the remaining Gates to Hell in order to secure them against the Silver Bloods.

Schuyler and Jack found themselves being hidden by the European Coven. At first, the safety was welcomed, but when it became clear they were being held against their will, they knew they had to get free. Unfortunately, they aren't just fleeing their captors, they are also fleeing the bounty hunters Mimi sent after Jack. When they are rescued by a strange Somali priest, it becomes clear there is much more going on in the world than they thought. When young girls begin disappearing from villages, there is more to the story than they are ready to hear.

While Mimi was still ready to kill Jack for his betrayal, she hadn't forgotten what was happening at home. In NYC, with Forsythe gone (for harboring Lucifer), the Coven was without a Regis (Coven leader). When they nominate Mimi for the job, she reluctantly accepts the new found power. Soon, though, the situation begins to deteriorate when a young Blue Blood is kidnapped and a video hits the internet. The video not only displays vampires showing off and exposing their powers, it also shows the kidnapped girl being threatened by hellfire- one thing that can kill the very essence of a vampire. Now she must find a way to save the teen (and soon another one) without putting the entire coven in danger.

Deming is a Venator who is known for her skills. She is known for her ability to solve problems for her Chinese Coven, and now she has been brought to New York to help find the missing girls. She infiltrates Duchesne and gets to know the top suspects in the investigation. What she finds out quickly, though, is the person she least expects is responsible for the kidnapping. Deming manages to uncover the same terrifying news Schuyler and Jack have stumbled upon: Lucifer has found a way to attack the Blue Bloods without them even knowing it was coming. Now they are all in danger, and what comes next we must wait to see.

As this series grows up, its readers do too. It went from "Gossip Girl" meets to "Twilight" to a truly dark tale. With the entrance of this new threat, the Nephilim, the story has a number of places to go. I am really interested to see where De La Cruz plans to go with this series. She has already developed a rich story line that has plenty of room to grow. The introduction of new characters definitely breathed a bit of life into the story as well. Deming and the story of her life spiced this story up. Now all I can wonder is what the Blue Bloods are going to do next!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

OOps! She Did it Again!

What Happened to Goodbye
Bless you, Sarah Dessen. I read a lot of paranormal, science fiction, etc., but sometimes I need something of this world. Something without werewolves, faeries, vampires, or fallen angels. Sometimes I need real people with real problems. Something without centuries old vendettas or grudges between Greek, Roman, or Norse Gods and Goddesses. And certainly, sometimes I just need a sweet story, full of love, mistakes, life, and people. Real people. People people. And when I feel this urge, I know Sarah Dessen is waiting for me like a best friend after a catastrophe. She always makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and What Happened to Goodbye is no exception!

Mclean is the daughter of a basketball fanatic. A Defriese U basketball fanatic to be entirely accurate. Her parents lives consisted of running their restaurant and their favorite team's stats. When the longtime coach retired, a new, younger coach takes over... both the team and Mclean's life. Her mother eventually leaves her father for the new coach, sending Mclean's life into a tailspin. Now she lives with her father, but where they live is constantly changing.

After the divorce he accepted a job traveling to different restaurants and bringing them back to life. This means Mclean Elizabeth Sweet gets to reinvent herself every few months. She has been Liz, Eliza, Beth, Lizbet... everyone except Mclean. But something happens in this new town. In Lakeview, she accidentally lets Mclean out of the box and can't seem to put her away. She makes an odd group of misfit friends, meets a boy she can't quite peg (which is intriguing), and even begins to like the people at the restaurant her father is supposed to either save or abandon. When things start to fall apart and her father is preparing to move on again, Mclean realizes she has been hiding from who she really is since the divorce. Can Mclean really become Mclean again? If she becomes who she once was, will all the pain and betrayal come back too?

I like this story, because it really examines the consequences of divorce. I happen to be the child of two happily married parents, but that isn't terribly common these days. In fact, I am never surprised to hear a student's parents are in the process of or already divorced. But even with the high divorce rate in this country, the act of a kids parents splitting up is still traumatizing. Sometimes I think we even trivialize it if we aren't in the middle of it, and that just makes me sad. What we forget is how many kids are out there who are suffering from divorce and how that affects them in every aspect of their life. This book really shows how one young woman, despite two parents who love her deeply, can be damaged by their separation. It doesn't beat around the bush, or soften the blow; instead it just gives you a peak at her life, for good or for bad. You won't be able to forget Mclean or what has happened to her.

As is typical of Dessen, this book has very clean language and scenarios. Dessen doesn't need harsh language or adult situations to make you feel for her characters. All she needs is the Dessen touch to help you get to know them. This book would be good for any young woman or young man (although probably more likely a young woman), middle school through high school, depending on the reading level. I think it might be particularly helpful for any child who has recently gone through a parents' divorce and is still feeling the consequences of the divorce. Sometimes, kids just need to know there is someone else out there who has been through the same tough times and come out on the other end just fine.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vampires can be Dark?

The Van Alen Legacy (Blue Bloods, Book 4)
After the debacle in South America, Schuyler's grandfather was killed by Leviathan, Lucifer's brother, and Leviathan killed Lawrence. The conclave doesn't believe Leviathan killed Lawrence, so Schuyler and her best friend Oliver have to go on the run to escape punishment for a murder she didn't commit. Back home, the Conclave is in complete disarray, and Bliss is being overcome by the demon inside her- Lucifer. Mimi has joined Kingsley Martin and the other Venators trying to locate the Watcher (formerly hidden as Bliss's sister Jordan) to help them locate Lucifer. The Van Alan Legacy, by Melissa De La Cruz, is the darkest and most mature story in the series so far, and it will keep you wanting more.

Schuyler and Oliver barely stay in one place for longer than a day or two. After a year of hiding, they are worn out and seek the help of the European coven- the same coven that has been estranged from the New York coven for generations. In doing so, they are almost captured by
Leviathan. When Jack Force comes to their rescue, it brings up more than concerns about the Conclave wanting to punish them- it brings back all the feelings Schuyler has for Jack- feelings she can't have since he is to be bonded to Mimi.

Meanwhile, Bliss has lost a year of her life to Lucifer, who she acknowledges as The Visitor. Finally, after losing a full year, she learns to suppress the Visitor, and she can even control him or see through him when he is controlling her. It is this control that gives her an idea of what Lucifer has planned- using Schuyler to break open the gates of hell. Now the Blue Bloods teens must come together to stop Lucifer, but can they do it in time? Will the Conclave and the rest of the 400 finally believe them that Lucifer and the Silver Bloods are stronger than they thought?

This story is growing up with each installment, which I really like to see. I struggle with a series that stays at one level or meaning and understanding. It seems to keep the readers in a stationary spot for a while, especially students like mine who only read 2-3 books a year. Therefore, a series that grows with the reader is a big hit in my eyes- both for the reading ability and the maturation of the reader.

This story does get a lot darker than the rest of the series. The clothes, shoes, and designer handbags fall to the wayside as plots, plans, murders, and Lucifer himself take the foreground. In a way, I like this progression. This is the fourth book, so it wasn't sudden, but it wasn't too slow, either. My only problem with this series is that each installment ends on a cliffhanger. I am glad the first 5 books were out before I got into this series- I never could have waited a whole year to read the next book! Unfortunately, now I have to wait for #6!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Trapped at School!

There is nothing worse than high school... except being trapped at high school with six other students, no power, no heat, and a roof that is about to collapse under 18+ feet of snow, of course. Michael Northrop's Trapped is a story about seven unfortunate teenagers caught in the craziest snowstorm the Northeast has ever seen, and you won't be able to put it down!

Scotty Weems just wants to play in his basketball game, but when the worst blizzard (Nor'easter) the east coast has seen in over half a century, his game gets canceled, along with the rest of school. Scotty and his friends Pete and Jason decide to stay to work in the shop for a while, assuming parents could come and get them with no problem. When they look out the window, they realize the weather has gotten really bad and they should get moving. They go to the gym to find one teacher and four other kids stuck at the school: the hot girl, her follower, the junior criminal, and the creepy, quiet weirdo. After waiting for a few hours with all hope of rescue slowly getting covered by feet of snow, they see headlights. The coach goes out to investigate, but never returns, leaving seven teenagers to survive the storm by themselves.

The kids fare well for a while. They have a tiny bit of heat, running water, and plenty of canned peaches and chocolate pudding from the cafeteria, although there is no electricity and no cell service. They raid lockers and the nurses office for blankets and extra clothes. When the pipes freeze, they build a small fire pit for any warmth they can get. They also figure out a way to melt snow for water and devise a latrine system since the toilets are now useless. They don't have much to do, but Jason's shop project- a go-cart- turns into a snowmobile. It becomes their only hope of escape. When the roof on the second floor collapses, they know they have to try anything to get out of the school, especially since no one knows they are there and the school will be the last priority to rescue teams. By that point, it could be too late for the seven kids who are slowly freezing to death under a crumbling roof in the middle of the worst blizzard they have ever seen.

Trapped, while not the most creative title, was a really fast, interesting read. The language was simple and the story was easy to follow, but it made you think about what it would be like to be stuck in a blizzard like that when no one knew you were there. It would be a great book for discussions like "What would you do if..." or "Who would you be"? I think it might be a great book for boys who aren't too keen on reading. The female roles in the book are almost after thoughts, but the book would still appeal to girls as well. Over all, this was a fun, fast read that would be great for any middle reader to older struggling reader. Not to mention it will make you think about moving south the next time you see a snow flake!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Long, Difficult Road

Blood Red Road (Dustlands)
Sometimes I wonder if authors forget that writing a young adult novel means they are writing for... young adults. Young Adults are not always the strongest readers. They aren't adults. In fact, for young adults, reading for pleasure is a huge part in developing their language skills, such as vocabulary, comprehension, and decoding. Therefore, I have no idea why authors would choose to write a YA novel and make it impossible for young adults to read... but sadly, that is exactly what Moira Young has done with Blood Red Road. She created an awesome story that I would never give to my students.

Saba lives in Silverlake with her family and not much more. There is almost nothing left in Silverlake besides her father's grieving misery for his dead wife. Saba and her twin brother, Lugh, are inseparable, but Saba has a tough time dealing with her younger sister Emmi. When riders come to their home, kill their father, and take Lugh away, Saba knows she will go to the ends of the earth to find her brother. She sets off to leave Emmi with an old family friend and find where the riders took her brother.

As soon as she deposits Emmi with the family friend, she realizes Emmi has followed her (and stolen the friend's horse). She agrees to let Emmi come along, and when they bump into a kooky old couple, the Pinches, they are grateful for the food and water the couple shares with them. As they finish their food, it becomes quickly apparent the old couple has drugged them and intends to kidnap them. The Pinches take them to Hopetown, the city filled with drugged maniacs, thieves, and crazy people. They intend to make Saba fight in the gladiator ring while keeping Emmi hostage to ensure Saba does as she's told.

In Hopetown, Saba starts to learn about this side of the world. The people of Hopetown are kept under control by the King and his drug, chaal. Enough chaal will keep anyone under control, but too much makes them crazy. The King harvests the chaal in the Freedom Fields and distributes it to keep his subjects coming back for more. Even his slaves are under the spell of the chaal. Hopetown is the worst, a place where drugged out lunatics pay to watch children battle and if someone loses three times, they run the gauntlet. The gauntlet is a narrow path surrounded by the citizens of Hopetown who literally rip the loser to pieces.

From Hopetown, Saba becomes an unbeatable gladiator nicknamed the Angel of Death, manages to team up with the Freehawks- a group of touch girls who want to tear Hopetown down from the inside out, and meets a guy named Jack who makes her forget everything she is supposed to be doing. Together, the group head off to the Freedom Fields to get back Lugh and make sure the King doesn't hurt anyone ever again. But can they make it in time?

The story is great. Honestly. It is exciting, well-paced, great characters, and there was a solid ending that can lead to a sequel but isn't a cliffhanger. I loved this story. The writing on the other hand? Hated it. With a passion. The story is written in Saba's point of view and told completely in her dialect, which reminds me of hillbilly slang. I could have tolerated this if it was only the dialogue in this dialect, but the entire 500 pages is written like this. And sometimes, the spelling changes have absolutely no effect on the pronunciation ("wurm" for "worm"), so it seems Ms. Young just wanted to make the book difficult to read. Once I had suffered through 20 or so pages, I got used to the writing, but every time I put the book down, when I picked it up again I had to fight for another 20 pages to get used to it again- it was frustrating. Add to that the complete lack of dialogue punctuation (quotation marks), and you have one big hot mess on your hands.

The result of this writing style means I have a fantastic, exciting YA novel I would never give to a Young Adult. Young Adults are still familiarizing themselves with spelling, grammar, mechanics, etc. Why would I give them a book that completely destroyed all the rules I have spent so long teaching them? As a little experiment, I brought the book to work and asked one of my strong readers to read the first few pages aloud to me (we read aloud every day). After five pages he gave up. He stumbled over every other word and could barely understand what he was reading because he spent so much time decoding ("pratikally" for practically). Those five pages effectively made this young man feel like he couldn't read again. What purpose did this language serve if it alienates the target audience?

So my advice for Ms. Young is to stop trying to ride the wave of YA dystopia and make a choice: you either write a YA book that young adults can read, or you keep the book as is and sell it to the adult post-apocalyptic/dystopia junkies. You can't have both. What you get is a book teachers and parents simply won't give their kids. And honestly, that is just plain sad because it was a really great story!

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Former Life Reveals...

Revelations (Blue Blood, Book 3) (Blue Bloods Novel)
Now that a Silver Blood has been released in the safe Repository, the Conclave can't ignore the fact that the abominations that feed off the Blue Blood vampires are back and they are hunting. Bliss was almost killed and a member of the Conclave was killed. Now they must get to the bottom of the threat, even if it involves trusting Blue Bloods they aren't sure they can trust.

Nothing is as it seems in New York for the young Blue Bloods. Bliss is thrown for a loop when her missing boyfriend, presumed dead by Silver Blood, returns. But something is wrong with Dylan. Bliss and her friends suspect he has been corrupted, but they can't bring themselves to report him to the Conclave for fear of what could happen to him.

Schuyler has problems of her own. By taking her best friend and Conduit, Oliver, as her familiar, she has blurred the lines between friend and lover/light snack. When she starts seeing Jack Force for discreet (or so they think) make-out sessions, she feels torn between the two boys she loves, but in two very different ways. Add to that the fact that Jack is bound to Mimi Force and the breaking of a bond is exactly what put Schuyler's mother into a decades long coma, and you have quite a pickle on your hands.

But trouble with the Conclave makes the teenage drama pale in comparison. Schuyler's grandfather has gone to South America to investigate a possible Silver Blood uprising. When he doesn't return or get in contact with anyone, the entire Conclave, including Bliss, Schuyler, Mimi, Jack, and Oliver travel down to investigate. What they find in the city where Lucifer's second-in-command is imprisoned is a betrayal that goes to the very core of the mighty 400 Blue Bloods. Someone within the 400 has betrayed the group, but will they learn of the betrayal in time?

This was another great installment of a great series. Sometimes I feel like they end on too much of a cliff-hanger, but with the other books stacked on my nightstand, I can survive! If I had to wait a year for the next book, however, I might be a little more irritated. This book certainly upped the ante in terms of vampire politics and crazy plots and plans. The teen drama, high fashion, and crazy New York nights are still there, but the series has taken a deep dive into the dark and scary world of Fallen angels and creeper demons.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Can a Mask Hide a Vampire?

Masquerade (Blue Bloods, Book 2)
When we last left the Blue Bloods in Melissa De la Cruz's first book, the Blue Blood teens had determined that Silver Bloods (vampires who feed on other vampires for super power) were behind the recent rash of deaths. Unfortunately, they couldn't get anyone to listen to them. When Schuyler Van Allen's grandmother is attacked by a Silver Blood and almost destroyed completely (if you save enough blood the soul can reincarnate), she tells Schuyler to go to Venice and find her exiled grandfather. He was the only one who could help them.

Masquerade starts with Schuyler, new Blue Blood/ half blood, in Venice with her best friend and human Conduit, Oliver, (vampires use Conduits to help them in the human world) trying to find Lawrence Van Allen, Schuyler's grandfather. Just when they think they have failed, they locate him and warn him of the Silver Blood threat. Lawrence tells them he won't come back to New York, so Schuyler and Oliver return disappointed.

When they get back, though, they find the other Blue Bloods getting ready for the big 400 Ball- where all 400 Blue Bloods gather each year to induct the newest members. With preparations in full swing, Schuyler is still trying to get to the bottom of the Silver Bloods when her grandfather returns. He plans to help both his family and the rest of the Blue Bloods stay safe against these abominations. Unfortunately, something keeps happening to Schuyler's friend Bliss- she starts to black out and wake up in strange places, and her dreams have become monster filled nightmares. Even Schuyler can't seem to take to the vampire transition as she starts to get weak and pass out often. When her grandfather tells her to take a human familiar (someone the Blue Bloods feed off of, but never kill), she decides to use Oliver, further complicating their relationship.

When the 400 Ball kicks off, Schuyler shows up in her mother's gown, setting the guests at the party into an tizzy as she blows away even the most high-powered Mimi Force. When Mimi and her twin brother Jack are recognized as bonded angels, the Angel of Death and the Angel of Destruction, Schuyler learns they are a reincarnated pair that comes together every cycle out of love and devotion (although being born as siblings in this cycle complicates things in the human world). Now Schuyler's crush on Jack seems futile, but Jack hasn't stopped noticing Schuyler, much to Mimi's horror. When Mimi decides to protect her eternal love and bond, she decides to unleash an evil that will rock the Blue Bloods like nothing ever has before.

I read the first book of this series many months ago, and I got distracted by other books before reading the rest of the series. When I got an advanced copy of De la Cruz's new book (adult fiction) I started to read it and realized there are connections to the Blue Blood's series. So I decided to delve back into the series so I didn't miss anything in the new book. I always worry about waiting too long for a sequel, because with as many books as I read, I tend to forget much of the book. Sometimes an author does a good job of briefly catching you up on the story, but sometimes they write a sequel as if no time has passed since the end of the last book. De la Cruz was part of the former- choosing not to leave her readers grasping to remember what had already happened. It was done briefly and well detailed so someone reading the series straight through wouldn't feel it was too repetitive. I definitely appreciated her efforts with this.

The book itself was fun and exciting. The series is a bit younger than some other YA out there, and would be good for most middle school through high school students. The language and subject matter are fairly tame. The only weird thing I had trouble digesting was that Mimi and jack, who are born as brother and sister in this cycle, will be bonded and essentially made husband and wife. It is explained well in the book, and I understood it, but the pair seems unnecessarily complicated. The bonded pair could have easily been two unrelated people. I guess I am just having trouble getting over the ick factor with this relationship! Maybe more will come out in the later novels in the series. All in all, this was a great follow-up and I am already knees deep in book #3!