Sunday, November 27, 2011

Best in the Series So Far!

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Love that Spans Lifetimes

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Beautifully Engrossing

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Love Paris All the Time!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is There Dark Inside All of Us?

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Not As Alone As You Think You Are

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The ReInvention of a Picture Book

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

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Star-Crossed Angels and Chimaera

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
I don't know about you, but I have no idea what a chimera/chimaera was. So I had to look it up. At first, I was like, "Hey. Why is that goat riding atop that silly lion?" Then I realized the goat was part of the lion. Interesting. Creepy, but still interesting. A little more time spent on Google Images, and I found a number of different creature cross/mutations that were just the right amount of neat (yep, sometimes I regress to the adjectives of a 12 year old girl from the 1980's) and creeper. So who wouldn't want to read a book about them, right? Oh yeah. Especially when it is a book that has gotten as much hype as Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone has.
Karou is human, but she wasn't raised by humans. She attends art school in Prague and lives like a regular student/starving artist, but she was raised by Brimstone and a few other chimaera in Brimstone's shop. As she got older, Brimstone trusted her with his errands... going through his magical portals all over the world to gather the teeth he traded for wishes. The type and amount of teeth traded gave the bearer different strengths of wishes. Scuppies, tiny little wishes, are all Karou really gets to use, but the consequences for strong wishes are more than most can handle. Karou knows she is safe with Brimstone, but she has no idea what the teeth are for and her curiosity eats away at her.
On one of Karou's routine errands for Brimstone, she realizes something has happened when there is a scorched hand print on the door back to the portal. When she is attacked by an angel (something she never knew existed), she fights for her life and through a previously unknown power that shoots out of her hands like burning white fire, is abel to escape. She gets back to Brimstone's shop, and when everyone thinks she is recovering, she finally succumbs to the years of curiosity and enters the door she has never seen opened. Inside she finds something so fantastic and surprising she forgets to be scared- she has entered a whole different world, complete with two moons instead of one- a world where the chimaera live. What she doesn't expect to uncover are years of secrets, long-lost, star-crossed loves, and a deadly vendetta that spans centuries. Now Karou and the angel are drawn together to learn about their connection and the role they play in the greatest war not of this world. The war where angels and chimaera have fought and died for as long as anyone can remember. But is there a life beyond the war?
Oh holy fantasy land! Taylor came up with a new world full of beasts, wars, mythology, and whole new worlds. And it is amazing! The whole ancient feud wrapped up in angels and mythological beasts was phenomenal. I couldn't stop reading this book. No wonder it was the only YA book on the Amazon Best of 2011 list! But the interesting thing I couldn't stop thinking about was the Romeo and Juliet connection. Karou and the angel were from two different warring worlds, but they couldn't stop thinking about one another. Their love was so great it moved past the battlefields, usurped death, and helped them find each other even after an execution. I was dying for them to be together!
This is a pretty beautiful fantasy, but I suspect it might be too intricate and abstract for your typical concrete thinker. In fact, I can see many of my students enjoying certain parts, but getting lost in the language and strange names and losing sight of the beauty of this story. I would save this story for a strong reader with a love for fantasy and other worlds. And don't hesitate to pass this on to adults you know, even if they don't regularly read YA novels. This is a pretty intricate fantasy that will appeal to readers of all ages. But only one question remains... What would you wish for?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Old Mythology with a New Twist

Sweet Venom (Sweet Venom (Hardcover - Trilogy))
Thought you knew Medusa? Mean, old hag who wanted to turn people out of stone out of anger for being romantically spurned? Not so much. As Tera Lynn Childs has done in the past, Sweet Venom takes an old story and makes it exciting again. You won't want to miss the new take on Medusa and her gorgon offspring!

Gretchen accepts her fate in life. She is a huntress, descendant of Medusa, the first huntress. Mythology was tainted by vengeful Gods and Goddesses who wanted the history books to portray Medusa as an evil monster, but in reality she hunted monsters, keeping mortals safe. And her legacy lives on through her generations long after her death. Medusa and her two sisters' children carried their talents and their need to kill monsters. And so Gretchen kills monsters. But when her mentor, Ursula, goes missing, and Gretchen bumps into a girl who could be her twin, she knows something is up... that is besides the fact that all of a sudden there are a lot more monsters on the street.

When Gretchen sees Grace, she is taken aback. But when Grace reacts to the monster Gretchen is trying to finish, she knows Grace is a huntress as well. She takes off with Grace, saving her from the venomous claws or fangs it is trying to sink into the unsuspecting new huntress. At first Gretchen just wants Grace to go away, but when it becomes clear the monsters are not going to stop chasing Grace, Gretchen agrees to train her. In the midst of their training, they realize they are part of something bigger than they both could have imagined- even bigger than all of newly realized Greek Mythology. And the scariest part is they aren't twins... they are triplets.

Tera Lynn Childs usually writes fun, witty, silly books that make you giggle and you enjoy just because they are so fun to read. They aren't the deepest stories in the world, but they certainly entertain. But this book is different. Interesting and exciting, yes, trivial and silly, no. I was surprised by the new tone Childs wrote in, but I liked it! I liked it a lot! And the story was really interesting with the three girls separated at birth to protect their legacy from being destroyed by their deaths. Plus, who could possibly dislike the kooky monsters skulking about the city?

The story is a little darker than her previous novels, but this could be a good transition from the obvious middle reader books into more young adult titles. If readers liked Childs' previous books, but they are growing a little immature for them, pass this on! Plus it is clearly going to be a series (Thanks, by the way Tera Lynn, for leaving me TOTALLY hanging!), and can keep them hooked for much more reading to come!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Solution to the Maze

The Death Cure (Maze Runner Trilogy)
There is something so bittersweet about the final book in a series you loved so much. When the final Harry Potter book came out, I was thrilled and heart-broken at the same time! With The Death Cure, James Dashner's final book in the Maze Runner trilogy, I am sad to see the series end, but I started it hopeful the ending would be as I had hoped- finally a little peace for the kids who had been at the mercy of the evil corporation WICKED.

Thomas and his friends survived the Maze (an experiment to judge their responses and hopefully find a cure to the Flare) and the Scorch (the terrifying desert filled with sick crazies). But now that they are back in the hands of WICKED, the company using them as lab rats to find the cure to the Flare, they know nothing good is going to happen to them. Held hostage and isolated for weeks, they finally find a way to escape, but to do so they have to trust Brenda and Jorge- WICKED employees planted in the Scorch to keep an eye on them. But with no other options, they find Brenda and Jorge hate WICKED as much as they do. Unfortunately, the world is a cold, dangerous place for Munies- those immune to the Flare.

Once they manage to escape, they make there way to Denver which has become a walled, protected city free from the sickness. Unfortunately, the safety in Denver is all an illusion. The sickness is slowly starting to take over. When Thomas is contacted by the Right Arm, an organization devoted to take down WICKED, he knows they have to risk their lives and go back to the lab to destroy the evil people who test kids and have no qualms about watching them die. But can Thomas and his friends, the kids who lived through so much, make it through this final trial? Can they get rid of WICKED once and for all? And even if they do, what will be waiting for them on the other side?

Oh Dashner, you rapscallion! You had me hanging through the whole book PRAYING you didn't leave those poor kids in a worse situation (and me totally ticked off) by the end of the story. Thank goodness you took it easy on those kids (and me!). We needed a good ending! This book was a great culmination in the trilogy we spent so much time waiting for (im)patiently and while I am sad to have it end, I am glad it ended the way it did.

This series is phenomenal for any student, but I think it will be particularly successful with male struggling readers. The excitement and commitment to the young characters makes the story more than just plot twists and action. The kids I know who have started this series haven't been able to put it down. In fact, the adults I know who read these books couldn't put them down either! Dashner is an evil genius, but the ending of this series proved he wasn't as evil as I originally thought- he loved his characters as much as I did!

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Sometimes the smallest books pack such a punch. When you least expect it, a book can really get under your skin. Tony Abbot's Firegirl had me thinking about it for a long time after I turned the final page. For such a short book, there is a lot to think about.

Tom, like most boys, just wants the prettiest girl in his class to notice him. He thinks about her all the time, but can't bring himself to talk to her. This is the most confusing thing he has had to deal with, until Jessica arrives at school, that is. Before Jessica arrives, the teacher explains they should be prepared for what she looks like. Jessica was badly burned and is coming to the school to be close to a hospital that will be conducting reconstructive surgeries. This is all the teacher tells them. Nothing more, nothing less. When Jessica arrives and they all see her burned and grafted face, the kids can't stop talking about her.

With no information about how she was burned, the rumors start flying. Kids come up with all kinds of crazy theories about her accident, but none take the time to get to know Jessica. When the teacher asks Tom to bring Jessica her homework after a few days of her being absent, his curiosity leads him to her house. What he doesn't expect is that getting to Jessica will change his life forever. Jessica will change everything Tom thought he knew about his friends and who he really is.

In the book world, 150 pages is nothing. I have read books where the first 400 pages are just background information. To fit in a purpose, an execution, and make it mean something into 150 pages is talent, pure and simple. I didn't know what to think of this book at first. Then, I couldn't stop thinking about it. What stayed with me the most was that in an effort to protect Jessica, the teachers didn't tell the kids about her accident. This was understandable of course- you wouldn't want that information out unless she told people. But the consequences, especially when you are dealing with children was that if someone doesn't know the real story, they tend to speculate. The more time that passes without the real story, the wilder the stories become. Then I began to think about this in adult terms, and it isn't all that different. In fact, isn't this the origin of most rumors- a lack of knowledge that leads to speculation?

Being an adolescent is difficult enough, but being so when you are "different" in anyway is near impossible. Sure kids live through it every day, but how much does it change them in the end? Why don't we share the whole, real truth with people? Adults and children alike succumb to speculation when curious, so why not stop the rumors with the truth. Granted, the truth can be scary at times, but it has to be better than rumors!

This is a powerful story, written in language meant for middle readers but with content that had my 30 year old adult self swimming in my own thoughts for a long time. It is a book that you could think about, write about, and talk about for hours and never truly feel satisfied. And at 150 pages, it is a manageable size that can build the self-esteem of any struggling reader while still challenging them to think, explore, and examine the world they live in.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Two God-Filled Worlds Collide

Heroes of Olympus, The, Book Two: The Son of Neptune
What do you get when you mix Greek Gods with Roman Gods? One big, fantabulous mess of mythological fun! When you pick up the Heroes of Olympus: Son of Neptune, by Rick Riordan, you will expect to hear about the characters from the first book in the series. But Riordan has a plan... a plan that will make you obsess about the next book a whole year! Riordan is a masterful, evil genius who keeps us engrossed and makes us love his characters like they are our own friends and relatives.

Juno (Roman Hera) had an interesting plan- put a Roman demigod in the Greek camp (Jason) and a Greek demigod in the Roman camp (Percy). What she did next was mean, but it served its purpose- she wiped their memories. In The Lost Hero, we watched Jason find his purpose. In this book, we see Percy meet up with two Roman demigods, Frank and Hazel, to start their part of the quest to stop Gaia from rising. Gaia, the oldest mother goddess of the earth is one mean cookie who will send everything to stop the demigods from foiling her plan to return- mean cyclops, basilisks, even creepy little grain gods. (Imagine being stalked by the God of Wheat?!)

While they know they have a greater purpose, both Hazel, a daughter of Pluto and the underworld, and Frank, a reluctant son of Mars (Ares) still have their own demons to deal with. They embark upon a quest to stop Gaia's first giant son from returning, but they know the Roman camp is still in danger. along their quest, they learn just how dangerous things have gotten out in the mythological and the modern worlds. With monsters and beast roaming around searching for them, they aren't sure they will get their quest finished, let alone get back in time to stop the raid on the camp. But what Gaia and the monsters failed to realize is that Percy and the demigods have friends, lots and lots of friends. Will they defeat the monsters this time? Will it stop Gaia's plot to destroy the Greek and Roman gods forever?

I picked up this book expecting to see Jason, Piper, and Leo, and I was surprised (although not unpleasantly) that this book was not about them. With this new trio, I expect the six will come together with another demigod (Annabeth?) to create the seven from the prophecy that save the world from Gaia. The worst thing about these stories is that a year in between each installment is literally painful. They are so tied to one another that it is awful to wait that long to find out what happens next. I have a feeling I know where Riordan is going with this, but you never know! Ole Ricky is a tricky duck!

Like the other Riordan books, these are phenomenal for all ages. Perfect for middle readers, funny enough for older readers, even my grandmother loves these books! Everything written by this man should be on the selves of every library and classroom in the country. They are so accessible, exciting, and hilarious, they make the perfect go-to book for any struggling or strong reader. Not to mention, it makes everyone wish they were a demigod. Who would you want to be related to? Neptune? Pluto? Hera? Aphrodite? I simply can't decide!