Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Conclusion of Mercy Falls Wolves

Forever (Wolves of Mercy Falls, Book 3)
It is hard seeing the final book of a beloved series be released, knowing it means that is it for your favorite characters. And the worst is if your started the series with the first book, waiting a year or more for each installment. After a few years, you look forward to that last book with as much anticipation as dread. That is how I felt about Forever, by Maggie Stiefvater, the conclusion of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy.

Grace saved Sam from becoming a wolf forever by injecting him with meningitis, which fought off the wolf. Bought what neither of them expected, was that Grace was becoming a wolf. The horrible fever she had as a child that stopped her from shifting wasn't permanent. Just as Sam is cured, Grace is lost. Without Grace, Sam is completely lost. it doesn't help that Grace is officially missing and the entire town, Grace's dad and the police included, think Sam killed her. But there are bigger problems in Mercy Falls than Grace and Sam. Isabel's father, seeking revenge on the wolves he thinks killed his son, has finally won his petition to remove the Mercy Falls pack from the protected list and organize a hunt via helicopter- one where the wolves will have no chance of survival.

With Grace, Beck, and the others out in the pack, Isabel, Sam and Cole are desperate to find a way to stop the hunt. Cole takes a different means of attack by trying to simultaneously find a way to catch a wolf (Grace in particular) and cure them or turn them human again (even if only briefly). While Cole's ego is tough to take at times, his devotion to Grace and Sam leads him to practice his concoctions on himself. Even Isabel, who can't admit she loves him, thinks he has lost it. What they don't understand is that Cole has never really had family before, and he considers them family and will do anything to save them. When the hunt is moved up, they must do anything to get the wolves to safety, even if it means trusting people they never thought they could trust. The fate of the Mercy Falls wolves are in the hands (or paws) of a few teenagers. Can they pull it off?

I hate to say it, but I was underwhelmed by this story. The excitement of saving the wolves was basically ignored (with the exception of Cole) until the last quarter of the book. Most of the book was Sam pining for Grace and Grace unable to control her shifting. It left me a little annoyed with the main characters and more interested in the chapters about Cole and Isabel. Cole's character is the most interesting, with his crusty exterior and complete, surprising devotion to the people he now calls family. Otherwise, the story was very slow until the very end. I was surprised and expected more from the final installment of this series.

The story is appropriate for any middle school through high school student. As the last piece of a trilogy, it won't make much sense without having read the first two books. I am sure anyone who got this far will want to read the book to finish out the series. I was, however, very happy with the ending. It was bittersweet, but I think it ended well. Now I will be waiting impatiently for Stiefvater's new series to be released!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can Supernatural be "Normal"?

Supernaturally (Paranormalcy)
When we last saw Evie, she had been released from the International Paranormal Containment Agency (IPCA). Assumed dead thanks to the woman who raised her who works for IPCA, Evie was free to live the normal life she always dreamed about. The problem? Normal is pretty boring. In Supernaturally, by Kiersten White, we see how Evie is drawn to the paranormal world, whether she wants to admit it or not.

While Lend is in college, Evie has moved in with a cantankerous vampire, works in a paranormal-friendly diner run by a tree sprite and a gnome, but high school is her biggest challenge. Try as she might, she just can't bring herself to care about the mundane nonsense everyone in high school seems to obsess about. When she is contacted by IPCA to take occasional jobs and help them out on the understanding that she can pick and choose what jobs she wants, Evie jumps at the idea. Even though Lend doesn't want her to. Her first few jobs go awry, especially as Evie is trying to reconcile herself with IPCA's motives. They swear to have stopped their more controversial practices, like neutering werewolves, and convince Evie they are only trying to protect innocent people from harmful paranormals. But when one of her jobs leads her to a group of trolls assumed to be keeping humans as slaves, instead she finds kind trolls who bought their land themselves and live peacefully- except for the horrid vampire who has been feeding on their children.

Since Evie refused to use any fey on her jobs (thanks to being kidnapped by Reth, her faerie former boyfriend), she is given Jack as a paranormal taxi. Jack is a human who can travel the faerie paths without getting lost for all of eternity- not something humans are supposed to be able to do. Despite Lend's irritation with IPCA and Jack, Evie finally starts to feel useful with her new job. She even starts to spend more time with Jack and ventures into the faerie world with him. Unfortunately, there is something brewing among faeries and she keeps finding herself in strange and dangerous situations. Is someone trying to hurt Evie? Can she figure out who before they succeed?

I was surprisingly underwhelmed by this sequel, which was incredibly disappointing since i loved the first book so much. The book jacket described some faerie war where both the good (Seelie) and bad (Unseelie) courts of fey were fighting over her, but there was almost nothing in this book about that war. I kept thinking it was building up to it and it would be along shortly, but once I was done with 3/4 of the book, I realized it wasn't coming! There was a slight mention of the fey wanting her, but no war like the jacket and book descriptions all mentioned. Instead, the story was kind of slow and much more teenage angst than paranormal story. I have no problem with teenage angst, but with a title like Supernaturally, I was left wondering where the heck the supernatural stuff really was! It was there, but more as an after thought than the focus of the story. It also pained me to see Evie portrayed more as a whiny teen girl when she was so saucy and snarky in the last book, which I loved.

The writing and content for this book is appropriate for any kid in middle school through high school. The plot wouldn't be understandable without first reading Paranormalcy, but I would rather give a student who liked the first book a different title than this sequel. Some might like it, but there is more out there that is much more exciting. I have to say I am sadly disappointed by this book. I expected so much more after such an amazing first book!

Monday, August 22, 2011

What if Someone Stepped into Your Dreams?

Wake (Wake Series, Book 1)
Can you imagine if someone could literally step into your dreams? What would you be embarrassed by? Horrified by? Now imagine every time someone fell asleep next to you and started to dream, you were thrown violently into their dream while your body convulsed on the floor like you were having a seizure. Could happen in study hall, at work, even while you were driving. Sound creepy? Then pick up Wake by Lisa McMann and learn how Janie handles her unwanted gift.

Janie realized at a young age she had to avoid people who were sleeping. She manages to do so pretty well at home since her mother is usually passed out drunk. Janie is generally avoided at school since her clothes are too small or grungy or not the current fad, but when Carrie moves in next door, she doesn't let prejudice and gossip dictate who she will be friends with. Unfortunately, that means she is also friends with Melinda, the Queen Bee who hates Janie with a passion. When Carrie invites them both over for a sleepover, Janie's journey into Carrie and Melinda's dreams are too much information. She realizes sleepovers are just not a good idea.

Janie works hard, saving money for college, since their mother drinks any money that didn't go to pay the rent. When Cabel, another kid who was generally ignored through high school, shows up at school with a new haircut, a new wardrobe, and has all the other girls drooling, Janie is shocked when he pays attention to her. Their budding relationship is rocky at best, especially since they both seem to be hiding something. When Janie admits her ability, she expects Cabel to share his secrets too, but instead he sends her mixed messages. When he starts hanging out and partying with the popular crowd and rumors start floating that he is a drug dealer, Janie refuses to speak to him. But what she doesn't realize is there is much more to Cabel's life than he is allowed to tell her. So much, it makes her dream walking seem pretty tame!

Wake was a fun little book, only topping out at 200 pages. It is broken up really well with chapters broken up in chunks of time according to what Janie is doing at the time. This makes it a good book for oral reading in one-on-one tutoring or to be read in short chunks. Because it is so broken up, you have frequent places to stop without breaking up the action. The story is very tame and appropriate for younger students. The writing level is fairly low, but it deals with serious topics such as alcoholism and drugs, so it would also be appropriate for an older student with low reading skills.

The story itself is interesting, but not terribly complicated. I will admit I didn't see the truth behind Cabel's life coming, but once it was explained, I could see how McMann was setting it up (I was just dense- a more savvy reader might figure it out earlier). That makes this a bad book for any of those kids who can analyze and dissect a movie plot 10 minutes into it (I am not one of those people- Usual Suspects and Sixth Sense were made for people like me). Those kinds of kids might get bored by this story. Even so, it is a good middle reader-ish story and I enjoyed it. I also plan to pick up the other two books in the trilogy because it ended with tons of potential for Janie and Cabel's future! So stay tuned for those reviews to come!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Good Guys are Never Who they Seem

Wolfsbane (Nightshade, Book 2)
When we last left Calla, she was trying to save Shay from being sacrificed at her bonding to Ren. In their attempt to escape, they were trapped in his house by Incubi, Succubi, and a whole other host of creepy creepers. Just before they were about to be overcome, the Searchers, the very group Calla was raised to fear, fight, and kill, comes to their rescue and take Calla and Shay back to their base. In Wolfsbane, Andrea Cremer gives a whole new meaning to plot twist.

Just when you thought you knew who the bad guys were, you find out you were wrong. The Searchers tell Calla and Shay they are really the good guys who have been fighting the evil Keepers all their lives. The Searchers respect magic and the natural way, when the Keepers defy nature every day. In particular, by creating the Guardians. They want to gain the trust of Calla's pack because having the Guardians on their side is the only way they can stop the evil of the Keepers. But when Calla travels back to Vail, the group is attacked and she quickly realizes the packs have been changed. Nightshades are following the Bane alpha, Ren's father, and her pack is nowhere to be found.

When Calla's brother Ansel arrives after being accidentally shot by Searchers, Calla manages to heal him with her pack blood. Unfortunately, Ansel is more damaged than she originally thought- as punishment, his wolf was permanently removed, stripping him of being a Guardian. Ansel is inconsolable and Calla doesn't know how to help him. When he tells her of the horrors her pack has suffered since she ran away, Calla is determined to help him. A group of Searchers volunteer to come along to help, but what they find is not a full and willing pack awaiting them. Now Calla must find a way to reconcile with losing half her pack, her feelings for both Ren and Shay, and how they all plan to work together to save the world from the Keepers.

This was an excellent follow up novel and sets you right up for the final book in the trilogy. The Searchers added a great group of supporting characters, both with their own problems, love triangles, and reasons for being involved in the supernatural war. Some are serious, some hilarious, but they really added to the story. One really amazing thing I noticed in this story and the first book were the abundance of positive gay characters. In the first book, two young male wolves are in love, but they know their keeper has the ultimate say in mating and would never pair to male wolves. In this book, two female Searchers are a couple and when one is lost on a mission, you see the real grief experienced in losing the person you love. These characters were so positive and just a natural part of the story instead of being forced in for a specific objective. It made me so happy! These healthy, loving relationships are great for young adults to read about. While the stories about the negative end of being a gay teen are so vitally important to our young readers for empathy, I really like seeing happy couples who love each other. Cremer did a beautiful job with them in her story, and I think it is an invaluable exposure for young adults.

The reading and age level for this book is similar to the first book. There is a little more intimacy in this story, as Calla is no longer bound by the Keepers' rules, but it still isn't overdone or gratuitous. The story is exciting enough to keep any reader engaged and make them crave the next book. I know I am!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Packed with Supernatural Greatness

Nightshade: Book 1
When you think of "werewolves" I am sure you think of those creepy man/wolf concoctions that run around on two legs and are entirely too disturbing to really like much (unless it is Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer" of course!). But with the Shiver series, we found ourselves loving the kind of werewolves who are really shape shifters- they go between fully human and fully wolf, depending on the circumstances. In Nightshade, by Andrea Cremer, we see this type of wolf. A shifter who can change when the situation calls for it, but who pulls off a relatively normal life considering they are half pooch!

A long time ago, a Witches War was fought and two types of witches emerged: Keepers and Searchers. Keepers try to protect the sacred places of power that tie this world and the nether world together while Searchers try to steal that power. It is a constant struggle that never ends. That's where the Guardians (werewolves) come in. They are the obedient soldiers who help the Keepers protect the powerful places and in return the Keepers give them the best homes, educations, and everything they need to live. The price? Guardians live under the direct orders of the Keepers and they can't even choose their own mates- the Keepers choose who they mate with.

Calla and Ren are the upcoming alphas of two rival packs: the Nightshades and the Banes. They are to be married in order to merge the young wolves of both packs together and create a third pack. While Calla would never think of disobeying an order, she resents the fact that she will never be able to marry for love. When a human boy named Shay comes to the school, he sends her world into a tailspin. He seems to be connected to the Keepers, but still doesn't understand the world around him. When she saves him after a fatal bear attack by giving him her blood, enchanted pack blood, her secret is out. Now Shay will do anything to get to know Calla more, even irritate Ren, the pack alpha who could rip Shay to pieces.

When Calla is ordered by her Keeper to keep an eye on Shay, she reluctantly starts spending time with him. He comes across a forbidden book that the Guardians will only read under the punishment of death. Even though she is scared of the book at first, she lets him convince her to translate and research the book, which turns out to be a history of the Witches War through a prophecy that seems to have something to do with Shay. Unsure of Shay's role in her marriage and the Guardian world, Calla begins to have feelings for Shay, even though she knows it is completely forbidden. What she doesn't know is Shay's role in her world is very dangerous, so dangerous it may put her entire pack and the only life she's ever known in jeopardy. Is Shay worth the risk to Calla's entire world?

The pack dynamic and obedience vs. dominance in this story is very interesting. It transcends through to the Keepers who claim the wolves are their soldiers while Shay claims they are nothing more than slaves. The huge amount of control they have over the wolves is clear, but at first it seems to be an understandable arrangement. It becomes quickly clear, however, that the Keepers take too many liberties with the wolves, including their romantic interests in the young wolves (who have to obey the Keeper's wishes). This is a hard dynamic to deal with and understand, and makes the book very interesting.

The writing for this story is average skill level for junior high to high school students and the content is appropriate for a wide range of ages. The story is gripping right from the first chapter, so despite its length, there is no trouble convincing yourself to stay with the book. There is a pretty standard love triangle, but I am not going to lie, I am a total sucker for a love triangle! And this one is tough because you like and dislike both guys enough that you find it hard to pick a side: Team Shay or Team Ren! I guess for now I will hold off picking a side until I read the next book- maybe that will sway my decision more!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Please Don't Ignore Vera Dietz

Please Ignore Vera Dietz
What happens when we put our heads down and ignore all the bad things around us? Do they just go away, or do they come back to haunt us? Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King is a phenomenal story that shows the life of an average girl who struggled to ignore what was happening around her and prayed everyone ignored her very existence. Fortunately and unfortunately, that was impossible.

Vera has been friends with Charlie since they were in elementary school. They have suffered through his abusive father, her mother leaving when she was 12, and deep dark secrets they only shared with one another. But when Charlie starts hanging out with a bad group of kids, drugs ad alcohol aren't the only changes to his life. The girl he starts dating, Jenny, is manipulative, a liar, and hates Vera's relationship with Charlie. When she tells Charlie things she swears Vera has been spreading around school about Charlie, he believes Jenny instead of Vera, who would never say such things. He finally joins the rank of the others and starts torturing Vera in every way possible, from throwing dog poo at her to telling the school how her mother was a stripper when Vera was a baby. Charlie's betrayal is more than even when her mother abandoned her.

Now, almost a year later, Charlie is dead and blamed of a heinous crime. Vera deals with her emotionally unavailable father and works a full time job in addition to going to school, just like he tells her to do. Of course, the vodka bottle beneath her car seat she uses just to get through the day and numb the pain is nothing her father would understand- especially since he has always warned her about their "alcoholic genes" they must be careful of. As Vera's destructive behavior continues, her father is desperate to save her, even if it means accepting the pain he still suffers and would prefer to ignore. What he doesn't expect to uncover is the truth behind Charlie's death.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a story you simply cannot ignore. Told in a series of flashbacks to the times when Vera and Charlie were young as well as snapshots of Vera's life now, it slowly gives you snapshots that add up together into a story you can't ignore. The story isn't revealed immediately, and you truly don't know everything until the very end, but you won't want to stop until you find out exactly what happened. It is one of those stories that pulls you into the whirlwind and won't let you go until it spits you out all disheveled and discombobulated.

The story has some mature content and language, but it is handled beautifully and in a way that opens up so many important discussions between you and the reader. Charlie starts selling his underwear to a perv he met on the street, but when things escalate, he doesn't know what to do. Vera knows her family's history, but can't break out of her inevitable future. Perhaps she feels she deserves to suffer like her whole family did because they had her so young. It also raises the question of when you should step in and do something when you know your neighbor is terrorizing and beating his wife and child. At what point do we need to become involved. Although this book has some mature language and content, it is just too important to censor from kids. I would suggest this story for mature middle school students through high school students, but be prepared to talk about it. Not only will your student want to talk about it, you will need to talk about it too.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dark, Disturbing, and Magnificent

I'm not even sure how to review this book. It was so dark and terrifying, yet so enthralling, I can't even bring myself to talk about it. I know it was written as a young adult novel, but it defies all boundaries and rules the genre set down. Rotters by Daniel Kraus defies all boundaries, adult, young adult, and everything in between. If you go into this book thinking you know what is going to happen, you are going to be sadly mistaken!

Joey's mother dies in a freak accident and he is shipped off to live with his father who he never met. When he gets to the filthy hovel his father calls a cabin, Joey knows live has changed forever. His father disappears for days, and with no food in the cabin and no money, Joey is literally starving. When he is caught trying to steal money out of a locker to buy lunch after days without a meal (or seeing his father), he confesses his living situation to the principal. They put him on free lunches and summon his father to come to the school as soon as he returns. When his father finally comes back home and goes to the school, it is clear they forced him not to leave Joey alone, and Ken Harnett is not happy about it.

Harnett starts getting anxious and slips out at night occasionally. After snooping around the cabin, Joey assumes his father robs recently deceased people's homes. He follows Harnett one night and discovers something so gruesome he can barely process it: Harnett is a grave robber. He digs up graves and steals the valuables, expertly replacing every piece of dirt or tuft of sod so no one knew he was there. Joey is oddly interested and insists (blackmails) Harnett into taking him on the next dig. On his rookie run, Joey is in for the lesson of his life that changes his very sense of being.

After working for a time with Harnett, they head off to witness the relocation of an entire cemetery: an event that brings all the Diggers together, despite their strictly observed territories. It is here that Joey meets the other Diggers and starts to learn about the mysterious culture and rules surrounding them. The Diggers are a mix of strange men, some who take solace in books, one looks like a deranged Santa Claus, but they all have something in common... they are all loners. For Harnett to not only have an apprentice, but for that apprentice to be a son is a defiance of all Digger rules. The superstitious group grudgingly accepts Joey, but one Digger is feared and avoided by all: Baby. Raised as brothers, Baby and Harnett have a tumultuous history, but Baby's rapid downward spiral into drugs, delusions, and a deranged psychosis makes everyone nervous about his presence. When Baby takes an interest in Joey (and even thinks Joey is his son at times), things begin to get dangerous. But nothing can compare to biggest desecration of the most important grave in Joey and Harnett's life. Can Baby be stopped? How far will he go in his madness? Do the Diggers deserve redemption?

This book will not only break down every boundary of humanity and society you think you know, it will also take twists and turns you didn't think possible. Joey is your normal, average kid who ended up in a crappy situation, but his move changes his very being, making the Digger in him seep deep into his bones. He becomes a different person, not just one who is bullied in high school and has a crush on the Queen Bee, but one who sees people at their most vulnerable- their final resting place. It makes him more of a loner, willing to acknowledge that the Digger's solitary life doesn't just protect the Digger, but also the people around them.

I don't know how to describe my feelings for this book because I almost feel dirty or embarrassed to have liked it! It was one of those creepy stories that you can't help but get sucked into, but can you really admit you liked it? It was so morbid and disturbing that I really don't think I have every read another book like it. This book is a true original, and you won't be the same after the first pages you flip through. Just like Digger life changed Joey, it will change you too.

For the sole reason of content, I would save this book for an older reader, maybe 11th grade and up. It is very mature and deals with some really heavy ideas and societal norms. Discussions about desecration of graves and eternal resting places are sure to come up, but the problem is this book precludes those discussions from being black and white. It will change every way you think about things you always thought were clearly right or wrong. There is some mature language, but that isn't the reason to save this book for a more mature reader, it is the shear morbid content that requires it. I suggest reading this book before you share it with a student so you know who is up for the strange and disturbing ride. You will love this book, but you won't know how to feel about the fact that you love this book!

Monday, August 15, 2011

More Blue Bloods Filler

Bloody Valentine (A Blue Bloods Book) (Blue Bloods Novel)
If you are really into the Blue Bloods series, I am sure you have wondered about the two companion books to the series: Bloody Valentine and Keys to the Repository. I was told Keys was unnecessary, and it really was- it was just filler to take the place of too much time between books. Bloody Valentine really was new material, but it might have been better as chapters within individual books than separated out into 3 short stories.

In the first story, we see Oliver pining away for Schuyler. Like most forgotten familiars, he is stuck with a love for her that she hasn't returned. But for Oliver, who grew up with Schuyler as his best friend, the loss is even more unbearable. He even considers going to a blood house to let another vampire feed from him to feel the blood ceremony once more. Luckily, a bartender (Freya from the Beauchamps series) notices what is going on with him and leads him to safety.

In the next story, we see how Allegra, Schuyler's mother, met her father. Even though she knew she was supposed to bond with Charles, her brother in this cycle, she can't bring herself to love him the way he loves her. Instead, she desperately wants a normal life, which seems to include Bendix, a Red Blood who makes her happy. Until, that is, she foresees his death and their half-blooded baby being born.

Finally, we get to see Schuyler and Jack's bonding. Against the very nature of pairs and bonding, these two Blue Bloods love each other and want to make it official before jack must return to face the woman he should have bonded with- Mimi- from which he might never return. Unfortuantely, the Venetors have found them and force Schuyler to trick Jack into wearing a ring that will harness all his power as the Angel of Destruction. Can they find a way to finish their bonding with half the world trying to kill them?

As I said, these were interesting stories, but they would have been better as chapters in previous books. Some things about the story were inconsistent with the regular series (like Schulyer's dad's name) which is confusing since they are by the same author (she really couldn't double check on that before publishing the book?). It made me a little annoyed, like perhaps Cruz is not just an author who loves her trade, but rather one who enjoys bilking her readers for all they've got. Especially when considering Keys to the Repository. Ugh. I hope that's not the case Ms. Cruz!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Underwater Mystery

Rip Tide (Dark Life, Book 2)
Imagining life under the surface of the ocean is an interesting activity. Personally, I would love to live in a sub-surface community. My soon-to-be husband Kevin? Won't even put his little pinky toe into water! Terrified of the ocean and everything that might be lurking right under the surface. Of course, I like to tease him about this, but in reality I imagine there are many people who would be terrified to live under the water. Rip Tide, Kat Fall's sequel to Dark Life, has all those scary elements like sharks, saltwater crocodiles, giant squid, and murderous outlaws, but there is something so nice about the communities themselves, you will find yourself dreaming of the ocean!

Although Ty and his parents took Gemma in, she can't bring herself to live underwater. Something about living sub-sea terrifies her. But life in the underwater settlements has improved since Gemma first came along. The government has recognized the settlements as territories and now allows them to sell their farmed and caught food on the open market (instead of using the food as taxes and letting the government keep the profit). Ty's parents are eager to prove to the rest of the community that the trade between the underwater settlers and the "serfs" will be safe and profitable for everyone. Settlers fear the serfs who live on floating cities called townships, and serfs hate the settlers for pushing a new law that prevents them from fishing anywhere on the continental shelf. It is hard enough for them to get enough food to survive, and with government rations cut in half, the new law means they are barely surviving. Ty's parents go on their first trade, but something goes wrong. Someone interrupts the trade and kidnaps his parents, while Ty and Gemma barely get away.

Now Gemma and Ty must find a way to get his parents back, but no one seems to be able to help them. With the incompetence of the Seaguard (police), they decide to do some investigating themselves, fearing the worst for Ty's parents. As they go deeper into the world of reconditioned oil rigs, extreme boxing matches, and the horrible people who run them, they realize just how bad life is for the serfs. When they come upon a terrifying gladiator-esque game where serfs choose to battle enormous saltwater crocodiles for a little extra food for their townships, Ty and Gemma realize something has to change for the serfs. With the weight of the world's problems on their shoulders, they refuse to stop searching for his parents. But will they make it in time?

I was wondering how this sequel was going to follow-up on the previous story, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was a mature but accessible route that really let the story grow up but still work for younger students. I loved the politics of the division between the serfs and the settlers, and how the government was so easily corruptible with no regard to the people it is affecting. It will open up great discussions, but isn't to abstract or mature to miss that "middle reader" crowd. The writing and content is perfect for a wide range of students from middle readers to upper high school. It dances around the fringe of science-fiction or supernatural fiction, but it isn't too far from reality. Therefore I think these two stories would really be great for a huge array of readers. I am interested to see if Kat Falls stops here, or keeps the story going!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Who Says Picture Books are for Little Kids?!

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
We all love(d) picture books, right? The pictures were what lured us in and started us reading. So wouldn't it be ingenious to create an amazing story full of quirky old photographs that pulled a struggling reader in with the images and held them with the rocking story? Well, Ransom Riggs did just that with Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

Jacob grew up listening to his grandfather's wild stories about girls who floated, an invisible boy, a fire starter, and the orphanage they all lived in run by "a bird who smoked a pipe". When he was young, these stories were addictive, along with the photos that accompanied them. Once he got older, though, he became skeptical and eventually confronted his grandfather about their authenticity. When Jacob's grandfather is found brutally murdered, Jacob loses it. He pulls away from everyone and everything, and his parents make him see a therapist. With the therapist's encouragement, Jacob and his father finally set off to find the orphanage his grandfather escaped to as his Jewish family was being herded into concentration camps.

Once they arrive on the remote island in Wales, they realize it is a strange place- almost stuck in time. When Jacob finds the orphanage, his dreams are immediately destroyed with the rotting corpse of the building. But then he spies some kids- the same kids from his grandfather's photos. They take him back to the orphanage- or at least exactly how it was in 1940. The orphanage they live in is in a time loop created by Miss Peregrine, the head lady of the orphanage who can shift into a bird and protects the "peculiar" children. The children have been living for decades in the loop, and Jacob's arrival is very exciting. But when it becomes clear the peculiars are in trouble, Jacob is will to risk everything to protect them, especially Emma, the girl who once loved her grandfather. But how can a normal, boring human help the peculiars? Maybe he isn't so "normal"!

The best way to describe this book is "peculiar". It is comforting, yet strange and different. The photos aren't the only oddities of this story, the characters, concept, and execution are strange too, but strange in an amazing, whirlwind way. Without the photos, the story still wouldn't be your average "supernatural" or "paranormal" story we see so much of today. It is a truly novel concept and execution and I couldn't get enough of it.

The writing, story, and characters are all appropriate for a wide range of students. The photos will captivate a younger or lower-skilled student and keep them turning the pages, but the story is sophisticated enough to keep a stronger or older reader hooked as well. I can see the quirky students loving this book, but the less "peculiar" students also being sucked into the interesting story. Truly, this is one of those magical books that might end up as my "go to" independent reading story for most kids. I have a few of them, my reliable all stars that work for so many students. I predict this book will soon be added to this illustrious list! Add it to your libraries and classroom shelves... you won't be sorry!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Caster Novella

Dream Dark: A Beautiful Creatures Story
When we last left the Caster series, poor Link had been bitten by a half-blood Incubus. Link, the bumbling but devoted friend to the Casters and Sirens, now finds himself in a difficult predicament. Link is shifting. He is changing. He is becoming an Incubus. If Link is confused by the change, then his uber-religious mother is downright beside herself. Link is getting larger. His muscles are bulging, as opposed to being barely visible, and now he is an opposing figure. Once his mother drags him to the doctor to test for drugs and steroids, he knows he has to go to Lena and Ethan for help with what is happening to him.

They take Link to Macon Ravenwood, Lena's uncle she thought had died. Macon helps Link understand the changes that are happening to him and explains the life of an Incubus. He calms Link down when he worries about having to eat blood to survive and what kind of monster he could become. But then Macon gives Link a task. He must deliver a message through the Caster tunnels. What Link finds, though, is that the message was really for him...

This was a really short little blurb that would have been better as a chapter in the next book than a whole "novella" sold separately. I haven't read the next book in the series, so I am not sure how necessary this information will be, but since this is only available as an ebook, I hope they include it in the next book if it is vital to the story. Although I have to say, seeing goofy Link referred to as "Linkubus" was hilarious! Basically, this is just to tide the Caster fans over until October when the new book drops, and won't mean much to anyone who hasn't read the rest of the series.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Whole New Orbit

Glow (Sky Chasers)
Ever imagine what life would be life in a space shuttle, hurtling through space, living in a tin can... for decades? Well, if you aren't too sure what that would be like, you shouldn't miss Glow, the new book out by Amy Kathleen Ryan. But be prepared to get sucked in!

Waverly grew up on the shuttle. She doesn't remember earth, and the adults who left aren't too keen on talking about it. Probably because it was rapidly falling apart and their mission to find New Earth was the only hope they had of continuing their lives. On their ship Empyrean, they have full ecosystems, animals, and plenty to self-subsist for decades in order to reach their destination. But when New Horizons, the other ship that left much earlier, turns up on their radar, people get nervous. When the New Horizons adults break into Empyrean and steal all the girls, a deep and dark truth is revealed about both ships. The people on New Horizon are sterile, and they blame the captain of Empyrean. Now they must find a way to have babies and their only way is the girls from the other ship.

Kieran was in line to be the next captain. He was always a careful and good young man, but when Waverly and the other girls are taken, life on the Empyrean falls apart. Most of the adults were killed in the attack or left to chase New Horizons. The remaining adults sealed themselves in the engine room to prevent a nuclear meltdown, but sadly it means exposing themselves to deadly radiation in order to save their sons. Now Kieran and the other boys must run the Empyrean all by themselves, but a boy named Seth has other plans. Seth convinces the boys Kieran is to blame for all their loss. Now he wants to be the leader of the ship himself, but in order to do that, he must get rid of Kieran. Can Kieran get hold of the mess around him? What does the other ship have in store for the girls? Will they ever see each other again?

This was a really interesting deep space Sci-Fi story. It had multiple themes running, including the dystopia angle, the fertility issues and the lack of adults. The book alternates between parts, one sticking with Waverly on New Horizons and the other with Kieran on Empyrean. I really liked think alternation, giving the reader a chance to see both sides. The characters were so complex, you never knew whether you should trust them or hate them. This made the story enthralling. I couldn't put it down! The story is clearly setting up for a new series, but it didn't end on a cliffhanger. Much of the current issue was resolved, but there was enough room left at the end to continue easily. I liked the way the story played out, giving the reader mixed messages and keeping them hanging. Even the ships themselves were intriguing. They were so perfectly constructed and planned, yet they never thought to plan for sabotage. It is an interesting idea that someone would try to sabotage Earth's last hope of survival, but what would you do if faced with certain extinction?

The writing level is best for high skilled middle school through high school. The content is appropriate for a wide range of ages, and the story is exciting enough to keep just about any student connected. The ambiguity in the characters and the story will make for great discussion, not to mention all the talks you could have about what you would want on your own shuttle! Overall, this was a really interesting book with lots to talk about and lots to think about. There is an interesting religion element between the two ships and the people on the ships, bouncing between the strengths of spirituality and its faults, in particular the flaws and corruption of its leaders. I thought this was an interesting addition to the story, and certainly made the story more realistic. Even though this is technically science fiction, it won't bog down those kids who prefer realistic stories because it is really quite realistic. A diverse group of kids would be interested in this story. Not to mention adults! It's really that exciting!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Unicorn Hunter History

Errant (Killer Unicorns)
Well, I see there is a new pattern emerging. YA authors have been releasing novellas that tie into their currently running and recently finished series. I love this idea, but they seemed to be doing it exclusively by ebook, which I think is a shame because it excludes a significant population who don't have e-readers. Hopefully these short stories will be published as well, but for now at least I can enjoy them on my Kindle. Diana Peterfruend's Errant is a prequel of her Killer Unicorns series that gives another view of the life of the Unicorn Hunters in the Order of the Lioness.

Gitta is a nun with the Order of the Lioness- a unicorn hunter. Sadly, her duties have been dwindled, along with the unicorn population, to putting on slayings for ceremonies of their beloved zhi- trained, tiny unicorns that are devoted to hunters. She has had three zhi slain for these absurd ceremonies and weddings, and now she lose another. When she gets to the estate, she finds the bride to be, Elise, ready to perform her ritual slaying duties before she weds. Unfortunately, she isn't prepared for what she feels for Enyo, the little zhi.

At first Elise is annoyed by both the unicorn and the hunter, but she realizes her hunter magic is calling to her, brought out by her proximity to the unicorn. She knows her life will not be happy in her arranged marriage, but it will be better than dealing with her murderous cousin who would stop at nothing to get her money and land. When Elise realizes she can no longer deny the hunter inside of her, and cannot imagine killing the little unicorn, she and Gitta decide to take matters into their own hands. But will they be able to survive the schemes and plots all around them?

This was a fun little novella, but I don't think it would make much sense to someone who hadn't already read the rest of the series. It can stand alone, but it would make more sense (especially the background on the unicorns and the hunters) if someone had already read the other books. It is, though, a really great little insight into the world just before unicorns went "extinct".

Many Wounds Never Heal

Blood Wounds
Susan Beth Pfeffer has proved with this book that she is a skilled author. I read her post-apocalyptic series a while ago, and it was a character driven, thoughtful, realistic series. I am surprised she can bring that same thoughtfulness into a very, very different kind of story- one about a young girl struggle with her own demons, both internal demons and very tangible demons. This story made me think about Pfeffer in a whole new light.

Willa and her mother escaped an abusive father and ended up with a very kind man named Jack who only wanted the best for them. Jack and Willa's mothers life is a financial struggle, but Val, Jack's ex-wife, pays for her daughters to do anything they want. While Willa loves her two sisters, it is very clear there is a discrepancy between what they get to do thanks to their mother, and what Willa gets to do because her mom can't afford it. Willa barely remembers her biological father, except his temper. When frantic phone calls followed by a police visit reveal her father, Budge, may have murdered his new wife and children and is on the run, Willa feels she is living in a surreal world.

Budge was spotted outside Ohio, and is on his way towards Willa and her mother. For their own safety, they are moved to a hotel. When Budge arrives at their house, he attacks a police officer and is killed on Willa's front lawn. In a few short hours, Willa's entire life is turned upside down when she learns about his brutal murders, 4 other children, 3 of which he murdered, and the life she and her mother left behind when they ran from Texas. She decides to go back to the town to pay her respects to the family she never knew she had. It is there she learns a lot about her life, both before and after she left Texas. What Willa uncovers will change everything about the way she sees the people around her.

This is a beautiful and terrifying story all in one. The characters are unconventional, and they have very real problems. I had a lot of trouble digesting Willa's mother through most of the story, especially how she literally tread on eggshells around Jack so as to "not ruin anything". But when they stopped acting like a Stepford family and faced the troubles their family was having, I understood why she was the way she was (although I still didn't really like it). The strange relationship between Willa and her sisters was also confusing at first until it became clear they were just as confused and unhappy as she was. These characters really grew and developed as the story went along.

The story is really very deep and dark. It deals with some very heavy material that might be too much for a more sensitive reader. It isn't overly bloody or gory, but the murder is particularly brutal. The toughest part is seeing Willa suffer through so much and internalize her pain so much she turns to cutting in order to make it through each day. You just want to save Willa. You want to slap her parents and make them realize how hurt she is, even before her father came back into her life. Some of the emotions are difficult to decipher at first, but I think that is what makes the story so realistic. Although the reading level of this story would make it suitable for a younger reader, its subject matter might make it better for a more mature reader. And be prepared to have some discussions with your child or student after they are finished. This isn't a book to be taken lightly, and it proves Pfeffer is quite an adaptable author.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ghost Story Dressed in Thrills

Anna Dressed in Blood
I love the television show "Supernatural", with all their ghost hunting and crazy experiences. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake is like Supernatural's little brother trying to make his place in a world of creepy ghouls and murderous ghosts.

Theseus Cassio chooses to be called Cas. His father not only left him with an odd name when he died a few years ago, he also left Cas with the legacy of ghost hunting. Cas, using his father's athame, continue the work his father started, ridding the world of murderous ghosts across the country. But he can't stop remembering how his father died, eaten in hunks by the very ghost he was trying to kill. When Cas heads off to Canada on a tip of Anna Dressed in Blood who likes to rip innocent passersby into pieces, he is in for the surprise of his life.

Anna is as lethal as the rumors claim she is, and when a group of boys drags Cas into her house, she splits one in half. Then the remaining boys and Carmel, the school's queen bee, are involved in the vanquish. Cas also has to trust the son of the local witch, Thomas, who helps him create the spells and get the ingredients to weaken Anna. But when they do, they are able to see the horrible story of how she was murdered. On an impulse, they were able to release her from the curse that made her murder. No longer bound by the house, Anna is still haunted, but at least no longer a threat to the public- or at least it seemed that way until a hiker is found ripped into 6 pieces in the woods. One of the boys threatens to kill Anna with Cas's own athame, but Cas is convinced she's innocent. Unfortunately, the ghost responsible might be one Cas isn't ready to deal with, both as a hunter and as boy who lost his father brutally and viciously.

This was a very interesting story that poked a little fun at supernatural stories. For instance, when Cas gets a tip of a rampant wendigo (werewolf), he mocks the tip, claiming people shouldn't believe in silly stories. His hunting is very serious, as well as dangerous, and these ghosts are not the kind who just close doors and make the room go cold- they are stuck on this plane and filled with anger and revenge, which they take out on innocent people. The hunting isn't gratuitously violent, but the very nature of hunting murderers is bound to get pretty bloody. The material isn't too mature, and would be appropriate for more mature middle school students through high school. The language can be a little "colorful" however, and might not appeal to some people for younger students. The language isn't overdone or out of context, but rather a pretty logical response to some of the stressful situations these kids find themselves in. Nevertheless, some people are uncomfortable giving a young kid a book with a lot of adult language, so that should be considered.

The story is really well done. It is realistic with strong, deep characters, and the story ends well. It keeps you wanting more, but it doesn't end with a cliff-hanger. Cas's history is very interesting, as is his self-imposed loner style. In this story, you see him struggle with the idea that anyone he gets close to will either be left behind once the job is done or be in grave danger. He really wants to be a normal kid, but the legacy of being a hunter weighs him down and makes his decisions for him. I really loved this story and hope Blake continues Cas's story. It could very easily be an exciting series with Cas traveling and make friends like Thomas and Carmel in each of his hunts!