Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Short Story from Forest of Hands and Teeth

Hare Moon: An Original Forest of Hands and Teeth Story
Hare Moon by Carrie Ryan is a small novella that is part of the Forest of Hands and Teeth series. It takes place before the first book, giving fans of the series a little insight into one of the supporting characters, Sister Tabitha. In the previous book, Sister Tabitha was a stern woman who tried to stifle Mary's desire to live outside the small village surrounded by fences and the Unconsecrated (zombies). Now we know why she was so hard on Mary.

Tabitha didn't marry, so she was sent o spend her life with the sisters in Sanctuary, taking over the responsibility of running the village and keeping everyone safe. She doesn't mind because she spends her days dreaming of life outside the fences. She starts slipping out the first gate and wandering into the fenced paths when the daydreams are no longer enough. After a few excursions, she finds a second gate a ways down the path. At the gate, she hears someone call to her and meets Patrick, a man from another village. Tabitha, like the rest of her village, has been brought up believing there were no other villages, so Patrick is a surprise, to say the least.

Patrick and Tabitha meet once a month on the path. Slowly they begin to fall in love. When Patrick doesn't meet her on the designated day, she worries something is wrong. The whole next month she spends exploring the Sanctuary until she finds a hidden tunnel in the basement. It leads her to a room and a book. The book gives her the history of the village, and it shows why the village decided to cut themselves off from the rest of the world- to protect themselves from infect refugees, raiders, and a host of other problems. When Tabitha goes back to meet Patrick, she is surprised when he shows up with his little brother claiming his village fell to the infection. Now she must decide between her true love and protecting the village. Which is more important? Life or living?

This was a really interesting little story that explains so much about Sister Tabitha. It won't make much sense to someone who hasn't read the other stories, as it doesn't spend a lot of time on background knowledge, but it would be good for someone who loved the trilogy. My biggest concern is that it is only available as an ebook. I don't like this trend. I have a Kindle, which I love, but some people I share YA books with don't, and that makes it hard to share this story with them. While I understand the reason so many authors publish electronically these days, I wish authors with previously paper published books would also publish this type of thing with paper and binding. Still, if you have and e-reader, you will enjoy this little tale!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Ashes, Ashes, It All Falls Down"

Ashes, Ashes
A raging small pox virus changes the face of the planet. 99.99% of the population is dead. Those who survived the virus are horribly scarred and the rumor is they are crazy and ruthless, driven mad by the virus. Then there are the Sweepers, men in masks who kidnap people and take them back to the last working lab, still trying to find a cure to the mutated virus. Those who are left are scavengers. They survive off what they can find and what meager amount they can grow, but the tsunamis, earthquakes and horrible flood/drought seasons have made any kind of farming almost impossible. New York City has become a nightmare for all those who live there.

Lucy outlived her entire family. When the virus was first starting to rampage through her hometown in New Jersey, she was called to the nurse a lot, and they drew a lot of blood, even though Lucy never showed any symptoms. She thought it was routine until her father stormed in and took her home. She never returned to school after that, but there wasn't a school to return to before long. When she outlived her family and most of the world, she wondered if her parents' decision not to vaccinate her as a child was the reason the doctors were so interested in her blood.

Now, Lucy survives alone in the Wilds of NYC, a patch of land between the swollen Hudson River and the destroyed and flooded landscape. She kills and snares her food and lives off the few safe plants she can scrounge. When she is chased by a pack of dogs one day, she is sure she is going to be ripped apart, until a young man pulls her into a tree. At first Aidan seems like a fool hellbent on getting them killed, but when he leads the dogs away and gives her a chance to escape, she can't stop thinking about him. She returns to her lean-to, but when she sees the water recede from the shore, she knows she has a precious few minutes to escape a tsunami. Fleeing up the slope to higher land leads Lucy straight to Aidan's settlement.

Once she arrives, she spies a Sweeper van headed straight to the settlement. She knows she can't let them come unnoticed, so she alerts the people with a wolf whistle, saving many people. Unfortunately, the Sweepers nab two kids and two adults, despite Aidan and the others trying to protect everyone. When they leave, Lucy runs straight to Aidan, thrilled he wasn't hurt. He convinces her to stay with the group, and she grudgingly does, mostly to be with Aidan. Her interest in Aidan becomes a sore spot with a young woman named Del who staked her claim to Aidan years ago, but when Del and a man named Leo are taken by Sweepers int he middle of the night, Lucy wants to go get them. No one has ever returned once they had been taken by the Sweepers.

When Leo arrives dying of the plague and days later Del wanders back after having escaped, they tell everyone what is going on in the hospital and where they are keeping the kids. With first hand knowledge of the hospital, Del, Aidan, and Lucy set off to save the kids. What they don't know is the people inside the compound will be waiting for them. For Lucy in particular. Her blood may be the key to the stopping the virus, and Dr. Lessing, the woman in charge, will stop at nothing to get it.

This book hooked me right from the start, but by the time it wound down to the storming of the hospital, it lost me. When they get in there, nothing is clear. Some people are against Lessing, but then they support her again, but then they try to help the kids escape again, but then they try to stop them. The kids want to escape, then they consider staying, then they don't trust Lessing again and try to escape. You don't know if you are supposed to hate Lessing (which it seems you should) because the character is so odd and her motives- curing the disease- aren't altogether bad. The real problem I had with this final sequence was the unfolding of all the action. It was very confusing and almost seemed to be written by an entirely different author since the first 2/3 of the book was so well written. I am not sure what happened to this part of Jo Treggiari's story, but it made Ashes, Ashes tough for me by the end. And I was left so confused, it ruined the rest of a really good book for me.

The reading level is moderate and the content is mild considering the post-apocalyptic nature of the book. The most gory parts of the story are when Lucy is hunting and cleaning her meat, which is told in pretty serious detail. (You will never look at a turtle the same again). I love this genre, so I have a lot to compare it to, and I probably wouldn't use this book as one of my first recommendations for a kid, unless they had read a great deal of PA before and were whittling down the genre (as I have). I wish it had ended better, because if it had, this would be one seriously great novel! Oh well... maybe next time?

Friday, June 24, 2011

I was Dying to Read this One!

The Dead: An Enemy Novel
There is nothing more terrifying than every adult turning into a flesh-eating zombie-like creature who likes to munch on kids, right?! With his first book, The Enemy, Charlie Higson told the story of kids trying to survive a year after a plague ripped through England and left all adults gross, hungry beasts. Now, with the prequel The Dead, he has gone back to the beginning of the plague and told the story of another group of boys making their way to London.

When a YouTube video shows a boy terrified and filming a bunch of adults attacking and eating a kid in the streets, everyone thinks it is a joke. But a couple of weeks later, it becomes clear that was the first recorded outbreak of the virus that turns anyone 16 or older into zombies (sort of). They can still think in a way, and aren't technically dead, but they are creepy and want to eat little kids. A group of boys had been holed up in their prep school dorm, but when the adults threaten their stronghold, they know they must leave the school. Along the way, they pick up more kids, lose some kids, and eventually, just before a group of teen zombies wipes them out, they are saved by a man driving a bus. Greg and his son Liam have survived the plague so far, and Greg keeps driving, trying to find a safe place and saving kids on the way. What they don't know is the virus is slowing breaking Greg down until he becomes one of them.

Alex and Ed are the closest thing to leaders the motley crew of kids has, and they are reluctant to assume the roles. Ed can't bring himself to kill the adults, even when they are trying to rip his friends apart, and Alex just wants to go home. The boys finally arrive at the Imperial War Museum, but it is already being held by a group of boys who has no intention of giving up their stash. They agree to let the group stay, but only if they forage for their own food. In the meantime, a blazing fire is working its way up the south end of London, straight to the museum. The boys know they need to leave the only safe place they have found in weeks, but they are reluctant to do it, until they find the fire and a swarm of adults rushing towards them. Now it is a race against time, an inferno, and flesh eating zombies to get across the river. Can they make it?

This was an awesome prequel. Even though the first book did a good job with explanation, this book clears up some confusion, especially about the state of the virus and what it does to people. There are some chapters where the zombies are actually thinking/talking/planning, and you get to see how the virus affects them and creates the flesh eating monsters. It made the clear distinction clear between a traditional zombie and the virus that changed these people. While the story had the chance to be very bloody and gory, it really isn't. Of course their is violence, but it is tame compared to what it could have been.

Instead the focus of the book is primarily on character development. You see certain types of kids, like the dumb (but sweet and heroic) jock, the nerd, the brain they nickname Wiki, the natural leaders, and the power hungry bullies. The stereotypes are certainly there, but the characters don't really fit into these preordained molds. They tend to surprise you time and time again, giving real life to the kids in the book. This book, like the first, had a certain Lord of the Flies quality to it that is hard to miss. The language is very tame, but the content can be a little serious in terms of death and violence. I would say this book is good for most middle school through high school students. It might not be for the more delicate souls, but a feisty kid who needs a thrill-filled book would love this one! I think you can understand the story in either order, since this is a prequel, so don't be afraid to try this one even if you haven't read The Enemy. And remember... don't let the zombies bite!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Made me Passionate for this Series!

Passion ((Fallen))
This series has really grown on me. From a lackluster first book, to a pretty good second book, this third book delivers everything I wanted: adventure, excitement, Luce's previous lives, and background knowledge. Passion is Lauren Kate's third book in the Fallen series, to be followed by the final book, Rapture.

When we last left Luce and Daniel, they had fought a battle with the evil Outcasts in her parents' backyard. Luce has found herself conflicted by her love and lives with Daniel. Needing proof of why they live the nightmare of her flaming death over and over again, she steps into an Announcer (smoky little portals that can be used to see or go to a person's former lives) to find out what all these former lives are about. She starts off in Russia during WWII where she sees how painful her death is for Daniel each and every time he loses her. She goes to Italy during WWI, England, Egypt, China, and many more. Each time, Luce learns a little more about herself and her love for Daniel.

Along the way, she picks up an odd little helper in the Announcer named Bill. He is a small little gargoyle thing that proves to be helpful in finding both her way and the meaning she has been searching for. He helps her blend in with the time period, guides her into meeting her former selves, and even helps her "cleave" with her former body, becoming that person through the last moments of their life. All of this helps Luce realize everything Daniel has done is because of his undying love for her. What she doesn't know, is he is following her through the Announcers, trying to find her. At her first life, Bill convinces her it would be best to release her soul from the curse, thereby releasing her love of infinite lives from the curse that destroys him with every reincarnation. What she doesn't realize at first is Bill might have his own agenda that might not be as genuine as Luce thinks. Can Daniel find her in time? Can they break the curse after all?

Oh this was such an interesting book! Every pair of chapters was a new place. The first chapter would be Luce arriving in the former life, and then the second would be Daniel's arrival. Seeing the lives from two different perspectives really explained the whole story in a way the reader can appreciate. Then their two journeys differ a bit, and you see how their two lives are entwined, but also how much they need each other. The love between Luce and Daniel is epic, and nothing, including a bratty 12-year old French king, a huge class discrepancy, or a Mayan sacrifice, can keep them apart. At different points in the last two books, I became annoyed with either Luce, for being too petulant or Daniel, for being too vague, but this book made me love both of them at the same time. This was the perfect lay-up for the final book, and I simply cannot wait to read it!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Speaking to the Dragons

Voices of Dragons
Alternate histories are tricky. You want it to be close enough to the original history, but different enough to bother changing things. It is a fine line to walk, and if you fail, you fail miserably. Fortunately, Carrie Vaughn can weave fantasy with reality like a master. Voices of Dragons is an interesting take on a world where dragons are very real and people are very scared of them.

Kay is a normal teenage girl in a not-so-normal world. During WWII, the detonation of atomic bombs awakened creatures that had been mythology, until they started flying through the skies and terrifying the "townsfolk": dragons. After a brutal war with the dragons, that if continued, would spell destruction for both sides, they came to a treaty that gave the dragons their own territory. Kay's parents work to protect the border, respectful of Dragon territory, but scared of how fragile it is. Kay is fascinated by Dragon and its inhabitants, so much so that she often hikes right by Silver River, the border, all the time. On one of her forbidden hikes, she falls into the river and is swept away. Just before she drowns, she is plucked from the river by a dragon.

Despite romanticizing these creatures for years, Kay's first instinct is to be terrified of the dragon. When he speaks to her, though, it becomes clear he is just like her- young and curious. He tells her to call him Artegal, and tells her he just wants to learn how to speak better. They agree to meet up once a week or so, and develop a great friendship. He shows her an ancient book with paintings of life between humans and dragons that shows a cooperative relationship with humans riding dragons all the way to virgin sacrifices. Kay and Artegal decide to try flying together, and it is a thrill like Kay has never known. During one of their flights, a military plane, which is forbidden on the Dragon side of the river, crashes. The pilot sees her, but scrambles for the border. A few weeks later, another plane catches them flying, but this one gets pictures of Kay and Artegal. While the downed plane was excused by the dragon elders as an accident, this second plane is considered an act of war. Once the dragons retaliate, burning down government buildings, it becomes clear that Kay and Artegal are the key to preserving the world, as well as the humans and dragons that call it home. But are they enough to stop the war and restore the fragile peace between humans and dragons?

This was a really fun book with a great new future woven into our current past. The idea of sharing the world with dragons is so interesting, and Vaughn really delves into why people are so afraid of dragons. Is it their size? Are they scary because they are as smart as humans and can talk, making them essentially our equals, something we have never experienced before? This fear and desire of some people to eradicate them can easily be translated to current political affairs like immigration reform. This opens a world of discussions about borders, nationalism, and xenophobia that could really inspire and open up any student.

The language and content is age appropriate for any middle school student through high school. The multiple layers to the book can make it a fun fantasy for younger students to one with serious current political implications for an older student, making it incredibly versatile. It certainly falls into the fantasy realm, but it is realistic enough to reach kids who don't like serious fantasy. Overall, this was a very interesting book, and I am looking forward to what Vaughn comes out with next!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Beautifully Dark

Beautiful Darkness (Beautiful Creatures, Book 2)
When we last left Ethan and Lena in Beautiful Creatures, they had survived what no other couple could- Dark Casters trying to kill Ethan, and Lena making a horrible choice that resulted in her uncle Macon, the only parent she knew, being killed. Now, in Beautiful Darkness, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the lives of the supernatural and the mortal in Gatlin continue...

Lena has changed. As someone who lost his own mother, Ethan understands what that loss can do, but she won't open up to him at all. With Macon gone, she is floundering. As a Caster, she was supposed to choose light or dark with her sixteenth birthday, but that didn't happen. Lena knows her Claiming is coming up soon, but she is terrified by making the choice, because it means if she chooses Light, all the dark Casters in her family will die, and vice versa. The choice is an impossible one, and Lena is crumbling under the pressure. Who she chooses to help her through it are her Dark caster cousin Ridley (a siren) and someone named John Breed who is dangerous, but Ethan can't figure out what exactly he is- Caster, Incubus, etc.

As Lena pulls farther and farther away, Ethan tried harder and harder to find a way to bring her back. Armed with his aunts' stalker cat, Lucille Ball, his best friend, goofy Link, and the new Keeper-in-training, Liv, they enter the Caster world to help Lena. They aren't ready for the dangers that lurk there, though, and are saved by Amma, (Ethan's Caribbean housekeeper who is more warden and mother than housekeeper) and Lena's family, Dark and Light on more than one occasion. When it becomes clear Ethan's mother was tied closer to Macon than any of them had suspected, she starts speaking to him through visions. She helps lead Ethan to the redemption both he and Lena need. But will he get there in time to save the girl he loves even though he can never truly be with her? Is there more to Ethan and his destiny than anyone could have expected?

This was an excellent follow-up to the first book. My initial trouble was how long of a gap it was for me between the two books. I had trouble remembering what had happened already, and the author's don't really catch you up. While that is fine if you are reading the books back to back, it would be difficult for anyone waiting for the obligatory year before the next is published. Some information is slowly revealed, but it was too scattered and too vague to truly help. The best solution would have been for me to reread the first book, but with an ever present stack of books staring at me, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

I also struggled with Lena's character in this book. She was always conflicted, and Ethan and her together made a doomed, but perfect couple, but I had trouble with how quickly she abandoned him and started using her powers for mischief without thought to the consequences. Ethan had lost his mother, and he was always supportive of Lena. I understood the added pressure she felt, but it was tough to read this book and not dislike her by the end. The bonus, however, was the supporting characters like Ethan's Great Aunts, Amma, and Link. They really broke out in this story and made it not only enjoyable, but fun even! As Amma threatens Link and Ethan, smacks Ethan, and keeps Lena in control, you can't help but adore her. Link is so ridiculous he makes the story lively and will have you giggling. And the Aunts simply speak for themselves! I loved these characters, and truthfully, they made a very long book fly for me.

This is a very large book, about 500 pages, similar to the first book. That means, while it is an interesting and fun story, I probably wouldn't suggest it for anyone but a strong reader with a real interest in the supernatural. Otherwise, you might find a student really bogged down by the sheer length of it. The language and content is very mild, with nothing that would make it inappropriate for a student middle school and up. But again, the length would stop me from giving this to many kids. As an adult, though, I really love this story! It might be a good series to give to an adult you know to break them into the YA genre!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gothic Hoodoo Debutantes

The Magnolia League
I have a problem. If there is a secret society or group who keep their business very private, I become obsessed with it. I have a friend whose boyfriend is a Mason, and I am dying to know what goes on in those highly secretive meetings (but he won't tell!). I am fascinated by Voodoo, Hoodoo, Obeah, and anything from the Louisiana Cajun culture- its so cool and creepy at the same time! Bohemian Grove? I would totally break into that place if I had a chance. And the strange Southern Gothic nature of Savannah has always made me wish I could go down there and not automatically be an "outsider" (aka be let in on all the bizarre stuff that goes on). So naturally, The Magnolia League by Katie Crouch was right up my alley! Who wouldn't love a story about debutantes dabbling in hoodoo, right?!

Alexandria Lee grew up on a communal farm in California where here mother made and sold tinctures to help people. Sure the farm might have grown a little pot, but mostly they were about communal living, organic produce, and "sticking it to the man". When Alex's mom is suddenly killed in a horrific car accident, she is forced to leave the commune- the only home she ever knew. Now she has to move to Savannah, Georgia to live with her grandmother, the leader of the Magnolia League. The Magnolia League is a group of old high society women who run the town. They also run the Debutante ball, something Alex, dreadlocks, 70's band T-shirts, and all, has no plans of participating in.

What Alex isn't aware of is that the Magnolia League has secrets- dark ones- dark magic ones. The Magnolia League, since Alex's grandmother created it, has been the biggest customer of the Buzzard family- the local hoodoo practitioners. They get all their magic, love potions, appearance spells, and hexes, from the Buzzards. At first, Alex is intrigued by the hoodoo, but still wants to be herself, pudgy and all. But slowly the Magnolias wear her down, and then she quickly begins to enjoy the perks. Her dreads are gone and instantly replaced with beautiful new hair, and her body changes, losing weight while her appetite is insatiable. She even starts dating the brother of a fellow young Magnolia, the hottest guy in school. Alex should be happy, but there is the nagging feeling that since everything happened because of magic, it can't be real. Soon, she starts to see the bad side of using so much magic- especially since it might have been the reason her mother died.

My biggest problem with this novel is that it was so great for the first 3/4 of the story- I was hooked, couldn't put it down. Then it just seemed to become an information dump to wrap some stuff up and open up the rest for the sequel. I really loved how this story was developed, loved the characters and liked both sides of the magic, from the Magnolias and the Buzzards. Then it just crashed at the very end for me. Maybe it was because I wasn't expecting where it ended up? Usually I appreciate twists in a plot, but this twist seemed rushed and undeveloped. I wish it had been explained more. I would have sacrificed some of Alex's transformation for a more thorough ending. Instead it just ENDED... I mean literally got you on the edge of your seat and done.

The language was fairly tame. The content wasn't overwhelmingly mature, although there was a great deal of talk about smoking pot (not glorifying it, but definitely there). Drinking is common, but more of a backdrop to the social engagements than the focus. The hoodoo is incredibly interesting, but nothing is graphic or overly violent. To be honest, I would love to give this book to a kid, probably junior high and up, but I would make sure the sequel was out before I suggested it to anyone- otherwise you are going to have a pretty angry reader when they finish the book! I know I was fairly peeved!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A New Definition to the Word "Starvation"

Hunger (Riders of the Apocalypse)
After that blasted Wall Street Journal article, I was still left bristling at its attack on Young Adult literature. Then I went back to the article and realized I (like a young adult told I couldn't/shouldn't read a particular book) wanted to read the books she said were so harmful. I had already read a bunch of them, but there were a couple I hadn't gotten to. One was Jackie Morse Kessler's Rage from her Horsemen of the Apocalypse series. But first, I needed to read Hunger, the first in the series. So thank you, Wall Street Journal, for making some very good reading suggestions, whether you meant to or not!

Lisabeth is anorexic and she's good at it. Her parents are too wrapped up in their own lives and miseries to notice how thin she has become. Her boyfriend notices something is up, and her best friend confronts her about it, but Lisa just cuts Suzanne out of her life. Tammy has become Lisa's best friend, because she understands the need for control. Tammy is bulimic. Together, they count calories, binge, purge, control, and keep hearing that voice: the Thin voice. The voice that tells them they are too fat. They need to lose more weight.

When Lisa is visited by death just before she ends her own life with a handful of her mother's pills, she is offered a compromise. If she chooses to become Famine, a Horseman of the Apocalypse, he won't take her. When Lisa wakes up the next day, she thinks it was all just a weird dream, and she goes about her life, counting calories, hiding her eating habits, and making excuses to the people in her life about her body. That night, however, there is a black horse waiting for her, and Death is back to encourage her to ride and do her job. She follows orders, but she doesn't know what is in store for her. At first, the spread of Famine is almost cathartic- a way for her to make others suffer the way she suffers every day (like spreading Famine through a rich, calorie-laden restaurant full of gluttons), but then she sees the unforeseen consequences of her actions: a little girl trampled in the panic and anger caused by hunger.

After a horrific incident with her mother, she realizes she can not only cause Famine, she can also take it away and restore people. She then decides to go out and do just that: stop Famine's torture around the world. She starts small, with a young boy starving, but then she goes bigger, ending the starvation of an entire village. This catches the immediate attention of War, a huge, scary woman who has no qualms about taking care of the mousy Famine. But Lisa has realized she isn't ready to die. She certainly isn't ready to let herself starve when there are too many people in the world who would do anything for a full stomach.

When I first read the description of this book, I thought it was ironic and not just a little morbid to make the new Famine from an anorexic girl- who better to know and love hunger than a girl who lives in a perpetual state of hunger on purpose? But the beauty of the story is that by seeing hunger- real, uncontrollable hunger- Lisa knows she needs help. She learns from the hunger of others and sees how her eating disorder is killing her. The lesson is handled well, and it isn't preachy or heavy handed, which is good because teens can smell a moral lesson from a mile away! The most special part of this story was the Author's Note at the end, where the author shared her inspiration for Lisa- a former friend who was bulimic, started Kessler's bulimia, and eventually died from her eating disorder. It is here that Kessler encourages girls who are suffering from eating disorders to use this book as a stepping stone to get help, that they are not alone in the world.

While the story clearly deals with heavy content material, from eating disorders to the Horsemen, but it isn't done with any gratuitous violence or carnage. Instead, the graphic descriptions of Lisa's anorexia and Tammy's bulimia are done with the ability to make you want to help someone who is experiencing this scary disease, not become sick yourself, as some critics of this short novel might want you to think. A story like this doesn't make kids bulimic, it gives hope to friends, family and the sick kids themselves. I wish eating disorders weren't so common, but can any of us say we don't know someone with an eating disorder or who has recovered? This is a relevant story that will leave you reeling from its implications, and applauding Kessler for having the courage to write it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dystopic Romance

The cover on this book is simply stunning. Simple, elegant, and beautiful. Interestingly enough, the story is also about all the beauty and nature this society has lost. With a need for technology that borders on the pathological, and a complete abandonment of anything natural for that which is safe, controlled, and digital, this cover is a natural fit (pun intended) for Katie Kacvinsky's Awaken.

Maddie's father is the created of Digital School (DS), a new education system designed to keep kids safe. Slowly, violence in schools grew until schools became actual terrorist targets. When 10 years ago, 17 elementary schools were bombed and thousands of young children had been killed, Maddie's dad developed a system that provide equal education for everyone without them ever having to leave the house. Slowly, with the help of DS, the world has become completely anti-social. No one interacts, computer profiles are considered the best way to "meet" people, and society has become so detached they can't even remember what they lost.

Maddie, 17, has spent the better part of the last two years on "lockdown". When she was 15, she broke into her father's files and gave information to DS protesters. She thought the information was going to be used for protests, but instead it was used to blow up transmitting stations for DS. She wasn't arrested because of who her father was, but she was forbidden to leave the house for almost anything until she was 18 and all her digital time was carefully blocked and monitored. Still, she craves human interaction (although at times she can't admit it to herself). When she meets a boy online who encourages her to meet him in person, she can't resist. He turns out to be quite the mysterious young man who always talks about the way society is falling apart thanks to DS and the virtual world.

At first she is drawn to Justin and his world of experiences, life, and human contact. Quickly, however, she realizes this was no random meeting- Justin had been looking for her. He and his group knew about her previous attack on DS and want to use her to get information from her father. At first Maddie is furious, but she quickly realizes the protesters might be right when her father lets her be taken away to a detention center for breaking her probation. When Justin's group saves her, they take her to a safe house in a town like she had never seen before: real trees, a bonfire (when her society screams how dangerous fire is), good food (as opposed to prepackaged, vitamin enhanced garbage everyone eats now), and most importantly, people. Here she begins to see the error of her father's ways and the lengths he will go to protect his creation, no matter how obviously flawed it has become.

This story has very mild language and is of a moderate reading level. There are some slow spots, so the book might be better for a stronger reader who can wade through them. While the content could have been rather violent, it is actually very tame. The protests aren't particularly violent, and even the police don't carry real guns- just a sedative dart to stop who they are chasing. Therefore, this might be good for a strong skilled yet immature student who isn't ready for more mature content.

I have to say, I thought this was going to be a fairly straight-forward dystopia, but it turned out to be more of a romance. I found myself at times wishing we could get past Maddie's pining for Justin and learn more about the world and the resistance. Even though the romance overshadowed the world-building a bit too much, the book was still an interesting read. I think the romance might be a good bridge for a student who really doesn't read the PA/dystopia genre to read something new, since it isn't too far from reality. The overuse of technology is a really interesting angle, especially with more and more schools offering online programs. With violence and huge discrepancies in education today, the idea of Digital School isn't completely ridiculous. The repercussions, however, are clearly too great to consider it. As kids these days become more and more glued to their game stations, computers, mobile devices, and technology in general, it is hard not to forget what we lose- do kids choose to go outside or choose to turn on their game console? The ideas behind this story provide a great backdrop for conversations about technology and the difference between using it and falling slave to it. So, are you ready to break away from the computer and give it a try?!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Baby, Your Throne is on FIRE

The Kane Chronicles, Book Two: The Throne of Fire
"I named my camel Katrina. She was a natural disaster. She slobbered everywhere and seemed to think the purple streak in my hair was some kind of exotic fruit. She was obsessed with trying to eat my head. I named Walt's camel Hindenburg. He was almost as large as a zeppelin and definitely full of gas." When I read Kane Chronicles: The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan, I found myself giggle with each page. The spunky and sassy Kane kids, Sadie and Carter, bring more fun adventure with this second installment to the Egyptian mythology-laced story.

Carter and Sadie barely made it through the last scuffle where the Red Pyramid was almost constructed. Instead, they bartered with evil God Set, their dad agreed to host the god of the underworld, Osiris, and they put a call out to all magical children. The Brooklyn house became a training ground for young magicians and godlings, but they had barely recovered from their last heroic adventure. They certainly weren't ready for the next one to start so quickly. Carter was still obsessing about Zia, the girl he fell in love with until he realized she was a shabti of the real Zia- a clay figurine transformed to look and act like a real person (most aren't as lifelike as Zia's was). Sadie was still crushing on Anubis, the dog headed god of the dead who looked a lot hotter in person (and much less dog headed).

When the Kane's learn the world is going to end (again), they only have five days to awake an elderly god, Ra, who has been asleep for thousands of years. Hopefully he can restore Ma'at (peace) and keep Chaos from overtaking the world, particularly in the form of a serpentine god named Apophis, who has been imprisoned since Ra retired. To do this, they must find all three scrolls of the Book of Ra, travel to the Duat (limbo/underworld), find Ra, and convince him to take his throne again. All this combined with cackling vulture Gods and angry, dumb ape gods taking over their grandparents, a leader of the House of Life who wants to take the Kanes down, a crazy Russian consorting with Set, a loony Dwarf God who squeezes into a speedo and a Hawaiian shirt, and no adults to help them makes for a very crazy few days for Sadie and Carter Kane. But will rising Ra be the answer? Can they save the world?

One thing that I realized about this series was how Riordan writes Sadie's character. She is a 13 year old girl, and a sassy and spunky young woman. You wouldn't want to cross Sadie Kane! I remember reading James Patterson's Witch and Wizard and being thoroughly annoyed how he portrayed Whisty, his young female character. I thought it was a clear example of how a middle aged man shouldn't try to write as though he was a 13 year old female narrator, but that isn't the case with Riordan. He writes Sadie like many of the 13 year old girls I know. Perhaps Mr. Patterson should contact Mr. Riordan for a little help in understanding his characters!

This was such a fun follow-up to to the first book in Riordan's Egyptian series. I am not as familiar with Egyptian mythology as I am Greek or Roman mythology, so I was exciting to have this series to learn a little more. Some of the names and terms can be difficult to pronounce or understand, but there is a glossary at the end of the book of terms and hieroglyphs. It is really helpful if you have trouble with these strange names (I know I did!). Other than the Egyptian terms, this is a very clean, wholesome story. There is plenty of adventure, but the content is appropriate for any age group. I would give this to any high skilled elementary student to a high school student. It has enough excitement and adventure to keep anyone intrigued.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Things They Shouldn't Have Done (But Learned From)

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have)
I'm not going to lie. There are kids I know who would be immediately drawn to this title and cover, and there are also parents who would refuse to buy it. It is definitely provocative, but is that a bad thing? The story itself can be provocative, but the moral behind the surface content is important. Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski is an interesting and sometimes sad story about young women who find themselves parent-less, by choice and as a result of poor parenting.

April is surviving her parents' divorce, their new relationships, and her mother's relocation to Paris only because she got to stay with her father in Westport. In Westport are her friends, her school, and most importantly, her boyfriend Noah. When her father springs on her that they are relocating to Ohio, she is devastated. Then her friend Vi has a brilliant idea. Vi's mom is leaving town for 6 months to travel with the latest play she is a part of, so why don't Vi and April live by themselves, alone, without parents?! April knows her father will never go for it, but after a few fake email accounts (representing both Vi's mom and April's dad) and Vi occasionally using her "mom voice", the two are able to pull it off.

Now the two girls have the house to themselves, April has $1,000 a month for "rent" and expenses, and a newly acquired cat (named Donut) and hot tub (named Hula). Now, all they have to worry about is losing their virginity. April and Noah can't seem to find the right time, and Vi, a girl with clear abandonment issues, wants to make sure it is with someone with whom she has no attachments, so it doesn't get "messy" later. Unfortunately, it gets messy for both of them. April begins to see changes in Noah- he is jealous and distant at the same time, always sending her mixed signals. Vi seduces Dean, but neither can detach their feelings from one another, even when Vi encourages a freshman to go after him and pretends like she doesn't care when he starts dating the girl. While their time in the parent-less house was supposed to be fun, boys, and parties (and there are a lot of those), it also becomes a time of realization, especially painful realizations.

I think the thing I had the hardest time with the book wasn't the intimacy or the language (relatively tame), but how much I wanted to wring the necks of the parents. Vi's mom simply doesn't care about her daughter and has no problem leaving her alone for months at a time to fend for herself. April's mom is too consumed with her own life to care, and she even knows about the parent-less living situation! If my mom had found out about something like this when I was 17 years old, I wouldn't have seen the light of day until I was 30! And April's dad turns out to be the worst. While at first he seems to be caring and worries about the situation, he still lets her stay... and without ever meeting Vi's mom who he thinks is still living at home with the girls. Then when things start to fall apart, and April tells him she wants to come to Ohio, he actually tells her no! He makes up all kinds of excuses, one being the two extra bedrooms in the three bedroom house are being used for exercise equipment and as stepmom's studio. Seriously?! First of all, my parents would never have let me get into this situation, but if I had, one teary phone call and plane tickets would be booked.

This parental absence and self-absorbed ridiculousness actually makes this a very strong story. As teenagers, we always felt smothered by our parents. It felt like a police state when they wanted to know where we were, gave us curfews, and made us promise never to get in the car with anyone else. But eventually we learned this was all because they loved us and wanted to keep us safe. I think the strength of this book lies in a reader's ability to care for their parents protectiveness. I had a student recently tell me she finally realized her mom and dad didn't give her so many rules to smother her- they did it because they loved her and wanted the best for her. This realization only came after spending time with a friend whose mother never set boundaries or forced the friend to do anything. I think this book would carry the same message. I really think it would make the reader stop and think about why parents do and say what they do.

The language is average for this book, with some swearing, etc. The content can be quite mature at times, making this a better book for older high school students only. It deals a lot with intimacy, birth control, and STD's- all valuable lessons for young adults to read about, but it would be best for an older student. There is also a lot of partying, but drinking seems to be the only substance use (although they question whether one classmate is a drug dealer because he always has a lot of cash- his real job is a lot more innocuous and kind of cute). Due to the sometimes mature content, I would suggest you read this book before passing it along, unless you are sure of the maturity of the reader. It was a really good story (even though I still hate all the parents), and shouldn't be ignored just because of the maturity!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Made My Heart Beat

My Heartbeat
Every now and then comes along a book that is so beautifully simplistic and complex at the same time. The story might seem simple at first, but the layers and layers of emotion and consequences make you feel as though you have been bulldozed. My Heartbeat by Garret Freyman-Weyr has a way of grabbing you by the heart and not letting you go.

Ellen loves her brother Link and his best friend James. She is only 14, but she knows she loves James. The three of them are always together, watching old movies, arguing, playing games, you name it. When she moves up to the high school, she gets to see how they are in the world outside their own little bubble. At first she sees them eating lunch on the fire escape and knows how special they are to each other and to her. Then, a classmate asks if they are a couple, and her entire perception of them changes. Are they a couple? What does it mean to her if they are?

After talking to her mother about James and Link's relationship (mom, by the way, was amazing), Ellen took her mother's advice and decided to ask Link and James herself. The answer she got was complicated, messy, and became the downfall of the life together the three of the shared. James answered that yes, they were in fact a couple, but Link immediately disagreed. He proclaimed he was not gay, like James, who had slept with men in the past. When Link left James' house, Ellen knew her question had opened a can of worms that would never be closed again.

Now Link refuses to see or even speak to James, and he starts acting very strange. He lies to his parents about going to Math camp, and instead takes up the piano (James' former piano instruction). He also gets a girlfriend named Polly. Ellen isn't sure what is happening to Link, but she knows she doesn't want to lose James because of it. Since Link starts avoiding her as well, she starts spending more and more time with James until they are finally dating. The relationship between Ellen and James is almost a way to compensate for the fact that they feel they have both lost Link and can fill the void with each other.

James is honest with Ellen about his mixed feelings toward men and women, and he explains he likes the person, not the gender. For Ellen, this time is confusing, and her way to compensate is to read everything she can find on what is confusing her- like what it means to be gay in today's society (all this mixed in with her reading classics her father keeps giving her). While she can't see it, her approach, the logical research, is very much like her father's approach to the possibility Link might be gay. Instead of understanding the emotions (although Ellen does experience those too), both choose to approach the topic with pragmatism. In the end, Ellen's life, as well as the lives of her parents, Link and James, have all been changed, for better or for worse.

This small novella (150 pages) was the most touching and heartbreaking story. Ellen loves her brother and James, and them being gay or not would never change that. Very often siblings are the ones people struggle to come out to (second only to parents) because they are afraid to lose their family, but very often siblings are the ones who would be most fine with the news. Being a sibling is all about unconditional love, and this story illustrates that beautifully. It also shows how two parents can struggle with differing philosophies. Ellen's mom would be fine with Link coming out, but she doesn't encourage it because she knows how her husband feels. Ellen's father is a stereotype-breaker. He is a well-educated and well-traveled man who may suspect his son is gay, but chooses to ignore it or influence him to be straight. He doesn't view "gay" as "normal" which is heartbreaking to bear witness to, especially when he essentially pays Link to date Polly (or at least encourages it monetarily). He loves his son, but if his son were to be gay, Link would somehow be "broken" to him.

The relationship between Ellen and James is the hardest to understand. Through her innocent questions and observation, she clearly knows James and Link love one another as more than friends. But somehow she is still able to have a romantic, and eventually intimate, relationship with James. She isn't even jealous of James' feelings for Link, just accepting. At times, especially in terms of intimacy, it seems as though James feels guilty about his relationship with Ellen, as though he knows he is almost using her as a substitute for Link. But it isn't even as simple as Ellen being a substitute for Link, because James truly seems to love her unconditionally.

This is a fast and short story, but it will leave a piece of itself in your heart by the time you reach the last page. It is written in language that makes it perfect for a low-skilled student. While the language is simple, the content is anything but. This story will give you hours of discussion time because it brings about so many questions with so many possible answers. I was blown away by this book and can't wait to share it with as many people as possible.

Monday, June 6, 2011

You Won't Abandon This Book!

I know a lot of people discount Meg Cabot as writing girlie books like the Princess Diaries series, but she's got a lot more going for her (and there was nothing wrong with the Princess Diaries!). While she still has a plucky sense of humor, she can tackle a more serious story with style and flair. I picked up Abandon after a cousin and fellow YA enthusiast recommended it, and I am glad I listened to her! I read it in one day and didn't want to do anything until I finally finished.

When Pierce's grandfather died, she found a bird that was hurt, and in trying to save it, she scared it and it flew into a crypt and died. A strange man appeared in the cemetery and brought the bird back to life. She was seven. At the age of 15, she tried to save another bird in her pool, but instead she tripped over her own scarf, bonked her head, and fell into the pool int he middle of winter. Tangled in the pool cover, she sunk to the bottom of the pool and drowned. Next thing she knew, she was being shuffled into one of two lines, waiting for a boat. She didn't understand what was happening to her, and neither did the other people around her. When a man rode in on a terrifying horse, she instantly recognized him as the man from the cemetery who brought the bird back to life. Comforted by the sight of him, she got his attention. When he asked if she wanted to escape the terrifying place and dry off, she eagerly agreed. What she didn't realize was she had just agreed to spend eternity with a Death Deity.

While John wasn't quite Hades, he served the same purpose. He was like a captain to Hades, ushering people to their final resting (or not so resting) place at one of the many Gates to the Underworld. When Pierce realizes he means for her to be trapped there (as his Persephone), she throws her tea in his face and takes off. She manages to escape the underworld, but not without the incredible necklace John gave her. She is revived and wakes up from her "Near Death Experience"(NDE), but Pierce will never be the same.

After the NDE, Pierce's parents divorced, she continued to draw away from everyone, and after almost killing her teacher (well in all fairness he was a creeper and it was John who tried to kill him), her mother decides to leave Connecticut and take her to the Florida Keys where she grew up. Life on the island is no easier, because now Pierce sees John everywhere. She also suspects something strange is going on about the island. Pierce is determined to protect the people she loves, but the problem is, she may be wrong in her assumptions about who is really after her.

I love, love, love stories about or connected to mythology. I loved Rick Riordan's series' about Greek, Roman, and Egyptian Gods, and I loved this story. I think the thing that makes me love it even more than the interesting Hades and Persephone connection might be the main character, Pierce. She is totally my kind of girl. She doesn't always get things right, is fiercely loyal without really thinking things through, and has kind of a big mouth (she actually yells at a Death Deity!). I love a girl who ends up in the Underworld but is only concerned with how the other people around her feel.

The writing is simple with very mild content and language. Besides creepy Furies, this book is very tame. I think it would be a great book for any middle school through low-skilled or short-attention span high school student. It's brevity will help a student get through the story in a decent time period, but still feel like they just finished a fun book. There is a second to Pierce and John's story heading out soon, so don't forget about the Underworld too quickly!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Safety vs. Freedom: Which Would You Choose?

A dystopia leaves us faced with some big choices, but a fairly common decision is that of safety vs. freedom. Would you be willing to be subservient and blindly follow orders if it meant your community was safe? Even if it meant you had to deal with murder, sacrifice, and other impossible choices? Or would you rather take your chances in the ugly world if it meant your decisions were your own? Even if it meant survival was less than likely and surely not to last terribly long? These are the questions you will find yourself asking while reading the first book in the Razorland series, Enclave by Ann Aguirre.

All Deuce ever wanted was to make it to age 15 where she got her name and her new job: Huntress. Living in the subway tunnels underneath the city, the College Enclave has a very strict way of doing things, and this is what has kept them alive. Children die so often they remain unnamed until they are 15. Then they are named and given their job, Hunter, Breeder, or Builder. The Hunters are responsible for going out into the tunnels to gather food for the Enclave, as well as keeping the Freaks at bay.

The Freaks are weird monsters that are human/zombie type creatures. They are constantly looking for meat (fresh or rotten) to eat, have sharp teeth and hideous claws. They will even resort to eating each other, but they aren't particularly bright and don't work together, or so the Enclave thought. When Deuce and her new partner, Fade (not born in the Enclave) come across a blind boy from another Enclave, they are sent to on a suicide mission to see if the boy's Enclave really did fall to the Freaks. When they surprisingly make it back to their own Enclave with scary news of Freaks working together, the Elders refuse to believe it. Instead, they seem to be determined to live in ignorance of the inevitable threat that will destroy the Enclave and every person in it. They even go so far as to plant banned artifacts in people's rooms and sacrifice them as examples. When Deuce's best friend is accused of hoarding artifacts, Fade and Deuce take the blame and are exiled from the Enclave.

Deuce assumes going Topside (above ground) is a death sentence, but Fade tells her he used to live there and he thinks they can make it. He warns her about gangers- gangs of men who only use women as breeders and hunt other men for sport if they won't join their gang. Unfortunately, the warning isn't enough, and they are captured by a gang called the Wolves. Stalker, head Wolf, claims Deuce for his own. He has plans for her once he finishes hunting Fade (think "The Most Dangerous Game") and he sends her with another young woman name Tegan to get cleaned up. What he doesn't expect is that Deuce isn't about to go down without a fight, and she is taking Tegan with her. Together, they free Fade and manage to dismantle the Wolves' hunting party one by one.

Once they are free of the Wolves, they continue on their journey north, where Fade's father always told him life would be safer. Along the way, however, it becomes clear the Freaks aren't just in the tunnels anymore. They are Topside and they are hungry. When the Wolves find Fade, Deuce, and Tegan, the Freaks attack, leaving Stalker as the lone Wolf surviving. He decides to stick with them and head north, seeing the futility of returning to the city if these creatures are coming up to the surface. Can they find the land to the north where life continues as it did before the world came crashing down? Will Deuce lose Fade to more tragedy and loss than he can handle? Can Tegan, the weakest of the group, survive the journey, especially alongside her former captor who she wants to see dead and bloody?

Now, clearly you know by now I have a dystopic/post-apocalyptic "soft-side". I love 'em! Call me dark, weird, creepy, whatever, but I can't help it... I love reading about The End of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI). Some are good, some are bad, but occasionally you find the ones that are phenomenal. Welcome to Enclave. Simply addictive. My only complaint about this book? The next book is over a YEAR away! The world Aguirre weaves is so intricate and believable. The creepy Freaks gave me nightmares last night and were way too zombie-like not to make me barricade the door (but they aren't quite zombies). The characters are interesting and have layers you end up peeling back layer by layer. Finally, the journey is one you would be terrified to take, but can't resist tagging along on. This was an amazing story of epic proportions that will keep you angry at Aguirre for not pumping out the next book faster!

The language is very tame, and the content is typical for this genre, but not overly gory or bloody. There are life and death scenes of course, but they aren't terribly graphic. In light of the recent Wall Street Journal article knocking the current climate of YA lit (real, gritty, graphic, and true), I can't help but chuckle that this is the book I happened to be reading as this article dropped. This is the exact kind of book that is charged with "darkening" our the lives of our children. And you know what I have to say to that? Wall Street Journal, if you think YA lit, which delivers strong morals and survivor stories, are hurting our children, you clearly haven't been to high school lately. Sadly, our kids HAVE to be survivors to make it today, and I am not afraid to let them read books about other survivors. In those books, kids survive the apocalypse, oppressive governments, rape, torture, bullying, gay bashing, abuse, eating disorders, and so much more. Until you can keep our children from having to be survivors, you need to dismount from your ignorant moral high horse and accept the fact that survivor stories, of all kinds, are reality. You don't scare me, Wall Street Journal, but now we know we scare you!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Witches, Potions, Spells and so Much More!

Witches of East End (The Beauchamp Family)
Melissa De La Cruz's new series was written as adult fiction, but it is a great way to get fans of the Blue Blood's series to start reading more advanced books. Witches of East End is the first book in the Beauchamp series. While it is a separate series from the Blue Bloods, a few of our friendly vampires and their human companions make an appearance in this story. I really like the connection to the former series, especially since you don't have to know about the Blue Bloods... you will just enjoy the connection if you have read the former series.

Joanna and her daughters, Ingrid and Freya, are witches. Unfortunately, they are restricted witches. After Salem, the Council has had them on restriction; now they not allowed to perform magic. Joanna is a conjurer, and she can bring people back from the dead. Ingrid can predict the future and her charms can help a variety of issues. Freya is a potion maker working as a bartender; her specialty is romance and relationships. They live in the sleepy town of North Hampton as average women, but their true nature lies right beneath the surface. Slowly they become more and more bold with their magic, tired of the Council's restrictions.

For a while, the magic works fine. The townsfolk know the Beauchamps are different, but they don't question how different until things start going wrong. When a young girl goes missing, Freya and her potions are blamed. When the mayor hangs himself with a knot eerily similar to one of Ingrid's charms, his wife blames Ingrid. And when a friend Joanna saved from the afterlife comes back strange and different, it is clear Joanna may have done something wrong in saving him. These instances combined with mysterious illnesses in town and a deadly substance poisoning the water just offshore make the people of North Hampton turn to the witches with fingers pointed. Now the women must get to the bottom of the mysterious evil that is haunting their sleepy home... before something like Salem happens again.

This was a really great new start for De La Cruz. The book was written for adult audiences, but it is written in much of the same language as the author's YA series. There are a few intimate scenes that some might be concerned about giving to a younger student, but there are only a couple, and they are relatively mild. For an adult book, they are completely tame, but it might be a tad more intimate than some would feel comfortable giving to a young adult. I would have no qualms about giving this book to anyone in upper high school. Besides the occasional intimate scene, the language and content is very approachable for a younger reader.

The beauty of this story is not only the fact that it can appeal to a wide range of readers, but its complex story telling. While it seems to be a simple story about witches, there is so much more tied into it. Norse mythology makes an appearance, along with Norse God Odin, his wife Frigg, and their sons, Balder and Loki. The connection is surprising, but done with style and grace. This story has a multiple levels that will keep the readers enticed and never bored. There is too much going on to put the book down! My favorite part is that all these worlds, the worlds of witches, Gods, vampires, and much more, all come together just outside our own world of realization. All this time, just under our noses, are these amazing, and sometimes scary, creatures and beings! This was an amazing start to a new series, and I can't wait for the next installment.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Beauty Queens with Attitude!

Beauty Queens
When satire is done well, I mean really well, there is nothing like it. The subtle (or not so subtle) poking of fun at society is so skillful, you almost don't recognize it at first. I love to teach Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five to my senior literature classes because satire is such an interesting literary tool for inward self-realization. But Young Adult literature doesn't often touch satire; I guess because it is a sophisticated method of writing? But Libba Bray wasn't afraid to break down the boundaries for YA lit with Beauty Queens. She wrote a hilarious, scathing, and eerily familiar satire that will have you laughing and reflecting the whole time you plow through this "beauty"!

When 50 girls, one from each state, fly to the Miss Teen Dream contest, they didn't expect a plane crash on a deserted island. They especially didn't expect to have to learn to survive on their own. Only a handful of girls survive the crash, and all the adults are killed. The girls that do survive are a motley crew, full of a transgender former boy band singer, an anti-pageant feminist who plans to take Miss Teen Dream down from the outside, a die-hard Texan beauty queen, a budding young lesbian, and a girl with a severe hearing impairment, among others. The minorities are of course represented, as they should always be, with an Indian girl who touts her immigrant success story, but is really just a valley girl, and a black girl from Colorado who everyone notices doesn't "talk black". That's right, all your cliches and stereotypes are present and accounted for!

The Corporation runs the pageant, as well as most of the world. They create/control most TV, products, and even the secret (or not-so-secret) arms deals. The Corporation has become a huge monster that hides behind silly reality TV and cosmetics. Its connections with Ladybird Hope, former Miss Teen Dream and presidential hopeful, are disturbing at best. But the Corporation doesn't want the beauty queens found- if they are, the islands dirty little secrets will be revealed. In particular, their arms deal with MoMo B. ChaCha, dictator of the Republic of ChaCha (ROC) where they plan to sell him weaponized Lady 'Stache Off against the sanctions on his country. They hope the beauty queens will just die off, but what they aren't prepared for are some seriously butt-kickin' ladies who have developed some serious survival skills amongst their baton twirling and Sparkle Pony dances! These girls aren't going down without a fight! Now add into the mix some fake reality TV pirates (one of which is a cross-dresser and is very excited the girls have recovered some of their high-heels) and you've got yourself quite an island.

Sadly, I just don't think my description does this story justice- it was absolutely hilarious! I loved the snark filled satire, complete with descriptions of a Scottish spy character who prefers his "haggis boiled, not fried". Bray did a marvelous job of slipping into a world of complete buffoons and social commentary cleverly disguised as a simple "survival on a deserted island" story. Truthfully, you won't be able to put this beauty down, even if the bathing suit portion of the show is coming up!

With the presence of satire, I would say this would be a great book for that child or student who really gets subtle humor or is fairly sarcastic themselves. This story is going to seem silly and vapid if the reader isn't able to understand the undertones of the story. I can think of a handful of snarky (I love snark!) students who would absolutely love this story. The cover might turn off a couple of boys (or make them more interested), but this story would work well for either male or female readers- it is snarky fun for any gender! It really reminded me of "Lost" coupled with "Miss Congeniality" and a healthy dose of Lord of the Flies thrown in for good measure. I absolutely loved this story, and it certainly appealed to my own snarky side!