Friday, March 30, 2012

Fast Paced Action Will Seize You

Seizure: A Virals Novel
When we think of "accidentally walked into an experiment and was infected" we think of Peter Parker and crazy Spidey Senses, right? Well what if they were just kids who wanted to save some animals who ended up becoming part animal themselves? When Tory and her friends were infected in Kathy Reichs first novel in the series, Virals, they gained wolf senses. Now they have super hearing, sight, smell, taste, and sometimes even telepathy. But that doesn't keep them out of trouble in Seizure.

Tory and the other three in the "pack" get to live in island paradise of the Carolinas because their parents all work at the laboratory on one of the islands. Thanks to the bad press surrounding the animal testing a crazy scientist was conducting that the wolf pack unearthed (and subsequently gained their wolf-ish-ness), the lab is closing and the island is being sold. The three boys are ready to give up, but Tory won't let the pack get broken up, especially if selling the island endangers the wolves and monkeys and other animals on the island. She has a plan to save the island but no one, not even the rest of the pack, can really imagine it working out.

The plan involves Anne Bonney, the famous female pirate who was supposed to have buried her treasure in Charleston. Tory is convinced they, especially with their super super senses, can find the treasure and have enough money to buy the island and keep them all together. Whether it be stealing a treasured map from a local museum, swindling a pawn broker, escaping thugs, discovering centuries-old pirate booby traps, breaking out their crazy former classmate from the loony bin, or deciphering clues left by shifty pirates, the pack can't seem to give up with Tory at the helm. She just knows the treasure is still out there and nothing will stop her from saving the island... not even endangering the lives of the entire pack!

This was a really fun story with a lot of action to keep you hooked. I am not sure how we went from science experiments to pirates in this series, but I didn't mind! It was something like Pirates of the Caribbean meets National Treasure, complete with deadly booby traps and tricky clues. But Tory is a fun, headstrong character who won't give up when she sets her mind to something. The boys in the pack don't really know what they get themselves into until it is too late, and they make hilarious supporting characters.

The story is long but fast-paced and clean enough for any middle school through high school student. Anyone who is a fan of the Bones series would most likely enjoy this series (and Temperance Brennan even makes a couple of brief appearances). They are kind of goofy at times, but there is nothing wrong with that! I couldn't put the book down! The action was a lot of fun and kept you wondering what was around the next corner. And trust me... you won't see anything coming!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Magical Fantasy Series

A fantasy world is new, interesting, and magical. There are places you can never go to, evils that you never want to encounter, and wonders you can only dream of. A good fantasy can transport us to an entirely new realm. In Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realms series, she starts the journey for us with The Demon King to a land we can't help but get sucked into.

Raisa is the princess heir of the Queendom, the next in line for the throne. In a land where queens and wizards are bound to one another but forbidden to marry to avoid the power corruption that happened with the Demon King, Raisa knows the seriousness of her post. At the same time, she can't help but feel suffocated by the yoke of her destiny. Han is a reformed thief who gave up easy money and his gang in order to protect and care for his mother and sister. Now he scrounges for work wherever he can, but it is harder to make money the honest way. Both live in the same realm, but they couldn't live more different lives if they tries. 

Raisa is plagued with suitors and princess from other realms vying for her hand in marriage, but she is content flirting and kissing with no thoughts of the future. When she learns of the corruption on the streets at the hands of the queen's guards in the name of the Queendom, she has to see for herself. In disguise, she becomes the brief hostage of Han who is wanted for multiple gang murders he did not commit. Meanwhile, the wizards continue to test their boundaries and the High Wizard has clearly corrupted the Queen, Raisa's mother. While Han doesn't hurt Raisa, he releases her quickly and inspires her to see the true nature of the streets of her queendom. Her discoveries not only lead her to the corruption lying beneath, but also the danger she herself seems to be in. Raisa and Han might live completely different lives, but they are fighting against the same evils in order to protect the one thing that truly matters: the realm and the line of queens that protect its people.

I really love fantasy, but sometimes it takes me a while to get into the new world which is so foreign and unknown. Once I do, though, I can't pry myself from the story. The Seven Realms have an amazing backdrop in a magical but almost medieval land full of wizards, amulets, ancient feuds, and destinies. Not only is the world building by Chima pretty amazing, we finally find ourselves with an awesome, strong, willful princess and, by golly, a matriarchy! I love the Queendom! And Raisa is the strong woman you want her to be. I loved how she dresses in disguise and goes to investigate the rumors that their guards are horrible and corrupt by herself. She doesn't send someone to do it for her, she goes on her own! And when her childhood friend, a new guard, protests, she tells him if he doesn't escort her, then she is going with or without him! When Han lets her go and she learns of his former gang members being held prisoner for crimes they didn't commit, she marches right into the guardhouse as a vagrant child and takes hold of the guardhouse from the inside with the evil guards as her prisoners! Even better is when she takes all the jewelry her suitors lavish on her and donates it to the Speaker (priest) to feed and clothe the starving people of the realm! I loved this princess and can't wait to see her assume more of her role as a queen. At the end of the story, we are left with the Queendom uncertain, but if this book says anything about Raisa, she is going to prevail (and kick some serious butt in the process!). 

I think this is a magnificent series for any person, adult, young adult, or middle reader, who likes fantasy, but it would also appeal to people who don't often read fantasy novels. I think it is similar to the world building in the Graceling series, where it feels like medieval Europe, but has a wonderful fanciful, magical element as well. Enough "normalcy" exists to appeal to both the hard-core fantasy readers and those who like realistic fiction as well. There is no real violence or sexual content to speak of, so this book is great for any kid who can handle the reading level (probably 5-6 grade strong reader and up). The beauty of the story is the strong female role and the matriarch. In world full of patriarchy and a country that has never had a female president, I love the idea of a world for our students to read about that has strong women at the helm! (Too bad it is in the "fantasy" section!). I can't wait to carry on with this story and hope you will check it out too. It is a magnificent start to what looks to be a fantastic series!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Monstrumologists are Back in Town

Will Henry has lost his family, but the Monstrumologist, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop took him in. Will Henry's father was Warthrop's assistant, and after his death the doctor kept Will Henry on as his assistant. While it might not seem like a young teen would be the best assistant, Will Henry is the only person in Warthrop's life who truly cares about him... even if he isn't thrilled about all the monsters. In Rick Yancey's sequel to The Monstrumlogist, The Curse of the Wendigo, Will Henry and Warthrop aren't trying to find a monster. They are trying to convince everyone it doesn't exist...

When Warthrop's best friend and arch nemesis goes missing, Warthrop agrees to go to Canada to find John Chanler. Chanler was sent by the head of the Monstrumology Society, Dr. von Helrung, to find tangible proof that the Wendigo truly did exist and have it entered into the list of existing monsters. Warthrop knows the Wendigo is just a myth, but nonetheless, Chanler has still gone missing. He and Will Henry set off to find the missing scientist only to find themselves lost in the wilderness and being hunted by something that neither of them can explain. They find Chanler, but returning to civilization is no easy feat. 

When they finally find their way back to the town, Warthrop refuses to admit anything was hunting them. He convinces Will Henry it was all dehydration and exhaustion playing tricks on their minds, but Will Henry can't forget those yellow eyes. Chanler is returned to his wife in New York City and Warthrop and Will Henry head to the same city for the annual Monstrumologist convention. But went they find Chanler being kept under guard in von Helrung's house, not a hospital, Warthrop accuses the old scientist of losing his mind and endangering Chanler's life. What they don't expect is for Chanler to quickly devolve into more beast than man. Can you still question the existence of a Wendigo when it is rampaging through the city and hunting your own apprentice? Dr. Pellinore Warthrop can!

When I try to describe Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, I always find myself claiming him to be a male Temperance Brennan, from the television show "Bones". He isn't heartless, he is just very scientific and logical, to the point of seeming to be without emotion. In the first book, however, it became very clear that he cared very much for the orphan boy he took in. In this book, that fatherly devotion grows to the point where Warthrop even considers sending Will Henry away to protect him from the dangerous profession of Monstrumology. In fact, the relationship between the young apprentice and the doctor is what makes me love this series so much. Warthrop doesn't care much about the lives of other people, but he would do anything to keep Will Henry safe- even send away the only person he actually cares about. And sometimes, when Warthrop is describing something very clinically, and Will Henry is struggling to maintain his composure and not laugh out loud in front of the doctor, I found myself cracking up! The very dynamic between the two is hilarious.

I think this is a good series for most junior high through high school students. It is set at the turn of the century, so the historical aspects of New York City at that time are very interesting (giant piles of horse poo from the carriages!). There is certainly some violence with the rescue and escape of John Chanler and Will Henry always seems to find himself in grave danger, much to the irritation of Dr. Warthrop. There are some times when the story slows a little bit, so a stronger reader with a little stamina might be necessary. Still, these are great books that have a subtle humor that will keep you sniggering and giggling right along with Will Henry!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Definition of Pure

Do we truly know the effects of something as catastrophic as nuclear war? What happens to people 2 years later, 10 years later, 50 years later? Now imagine the power of nuclear catastrophe in the hands of madmen with a mission- save the elite population, erase the rest of the population, and start over. In Julianna Baggott's Pure, the world has been irrevocably changed, but only a handful of people know the real story behind its destruction. Everyone else is just trying to survive.

When the Detonations occurred, many people were lucky enough to be touring the Domes, which were created as a prototype to protect the population from nuclear war. But only a small amount of the population survived the Detonations in the Dome. Everyone else was left outside to fend for themselves. While most people died, something strange happened to the ones who actually survived the blast- they fused to things around them. Pressia's hand fused to the doll she was holding. Some people fused to other people, and many mothers fused to their own children. People fused to animals, creating strange mutations, some more human than others, but all called Beasts by the people outside the Dome. Other people fused to trees, building rubble, and even the earth, becoming Dusts, the dangerous mutations that stalk people as they walk across the ground. Survivors of the Detonations wear their scars with pride, but for Pressia, her doll's head hand has always been a reminder of everything she lost.

Now Pressia is trying to escape the OSR, a radical group that hunts the weak and gathers the strong at age 16 to become soldiers to fill their ranks. She has managed to escape them so far, but the appearance of a Pure, a boy from inside the Dome, has her risking her life to save both of them. Partridge escaped the monotonous life in the Dome on the wisp of a hope his mother was still alive after growing up and being told she died in the Detonations. His father, leader of the Dome, was about to put him under to try recoding (genetic alterations done to improve people in the Dome), but Partridge escaped before the surgery can be done. When he comes across Pressia, he is willing to risk everything, even his life, to find his mother. Pressia takes him to Bradwell to help him find his mother.

Bradwell is the son of two people who knew the real intentions of the Domes. He holds meetings and tries to educate the wretches outside the Domes about the "cleansing" the elite in the Dome accomplished with the Detonations, but his efforts don't get him very far. When Pressia comes to him with a Pure, he isn't interested in risking his life for some unscarred kid who knows nothing about true suffering. What he doesn't expect is to care about Pressia more than anyone can afford to care about another person in such a cruel, harsh world. When Pressia is snatched by OSR soldiers, Bradwell agrees to help Partridge find his mother only if they find Pressia first. Together they set off through a new world full of mutations and abominations in order to find people who may already be lost. But the one thing they have not lost is hope that Pressia and Partridge's mother are not lost. Hope is all they have left.

Wow! Julianna Baggott really let the creative juices flow with this one! There are so many dystopias and post-apocalyptic stories out there these days that it is hard for books to not feel somewhat derivative of what came before them, but Baggott wrote a truly original, unique, innovative story that kept my interest from the first page to the last. It felt like some kind of macabre, nuclear, Island of Dr. Moreau with all the creepy combinations that happened when people fused after the Detonations! I admit I was a little confused by everything at the very beginning of the story, but as the explanations quickly unfolded, I couldn't tear myself away from the story. And the deep corruption that ran through the society is simply fascinating. But the best part of the story was the three main characters: Pressia, Partridge, and Bradwell. There is so much going on with these three kids from totally different backgrounds, but somehow they are all connected. They were dynamic characters who you can't help but find yourself invested in. I loved how this story unfolded and revealed more and more depth with each passing page without feeling as though there were huge information dumps or too much held back- it was the perfect blend of contextual understanding and suspense. 

I would probably give this story to any mature young adult through adult who is interested in science fiction or post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories. I wouldn't give this to an immature or weak reader, not because the content is overly sexual or violent (because it isn't), but because the story is very complex and intricate. It would most likely lose a person who wasn't a strong reader with enough stamina to get to the heart of the story and work everything out. And it would be a shame to ruin this book for them by giving it to them before they are ready for it because this really is an amazing story! I have no idea where the series plans to go with the next book, but if this book is any indicator, it is going to be amazing. Honestly, that unpredictable nature of the story is what makes it so unique! And I have this sick, twisted, morbid fascination with seeing what kinds of strange mutations we will run into next! This first book has the potential to be the beginning of a legendary series.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Most Forbidden Love

When you think "forbidden love", I am sure you think of Romeo and Juliet. A love forbidden by others, but beautiful in reality. I have been a witness of beautiful love with large age differences, including an aunt who married a man 20+ years her senior. Looking back at those pictures, despite their age difference, my aunt and uncle were never happier than when they were together. We have seen love forbidden by religious lines, ethnic boundaries, and racial separation. So is there a love that is truly forbidden? The love Tabitha Suzuma writes about in Forbidden is not only "forbidden", it is downright taboo... so why do you feel your heart wrench for these two young adults who seem so in love?

Lochan, called Lochie by his family, is painfully shy and quiet. A brilliant young man, he is stunted in school by his almost physical inability to speak to anyone other than his own family. Maya is his younger sister. Separated by only a year, they are completely different people. Maya is more social, has friends, and even a possible interest in boys. But together, Lochie and Maya are thrust into the most difficult of childhoods you could imagine- they basically have to raise their younger siblings with little to no help from their parents. Their father left them years ago for his new family and their mother is more concerned with getting her party on and keeping her new boyfriend happy. She comes around less and less, including ignoring all the responsibilities that come with having five children. 

So Lochie and Maya must, in order to keep their family together and out of the foster system, become the parents of their younger brothers and sister. Willa and Tiffin are young enough to accept this arrangement, but Kit is old enough and angry enough to fight what little authority Maya and Lochie have over him. Life as high school students and the virtual parents of three is not only taxing on Maya and Lochie physically, it creates an emotional bond that is much, much different than how a brother and sister are supposed to see each other. Alone in their roles as parents, they find themselves drawn to each other even though they know it is wrong. They emotions for one another have never exactly been "sibling-like", but now they start to see each other in a way they know is wrong- the way a husband and a wife would see each other. Their love and desire grows with each passing day, but they know the risks of giving into their desires. They know their love is not only socially unacceptable, they know it is illegal and if they are caught, they will lose their family. And there is nothing more important to them than keeping Kit, Willa, and Tiffin together. But their desperate situation brings them closer and closer. So close, in fact, that there is no going back. Their love may be the ultimate societal taboo, a brother and sister loving each other in a way that should never happen, but to Maya and Lochie, it couldn't be more pure or devoted. Is it their fault they had the horrible luck to be born to the same neglectful mother? You can't help who you fall in love with, right?

Oh boy. I don't know how to really write this review. I actually finished this book 2 days ago, but had to step away from it and think about it before sitting down to write about it. I will admit, at first I had absolutely no interest in reading a love story about a brother and sister. I did read Flowers in the Attic like most junior high kids did in my time, but even though we knew that situation was wrong, and we found ourselves blaming it on the situation- kids locked in the attic with nothing else to do for years. But this relationship didn't have that sense of hopelessness. They went to school, had friends, and while they were trapped by their horrible circumstances, it still seemed unnecessary. But my cousin, who always gives me great book advice, suggested I had to read this book. I trust her judgment, so despite my "ick-factor" presumptions about this book, I bought it...

Now I don't know how to explain it. Actually, I wish I could convince someone else to read it because I REALLY need to talk to someone about it. Incest is nothing romantic or beautiful like other romantic tragedies we find ourselves loving, but this isn't the dirty incest you usually imagine. In fact, at one point, Lochie even researches incest by two consenting adults, and there really is none. Their situation is so rare and unheard of, they can't find any traces of other people suffering the same forbidden love. In fact, Lochie even explains to Maya that it would be considered a love of the abuse and neglect they have suffered at the hands of their parents. They know how bad their situation is, but that doesn't mean they can stop loving one another they way they do. You can't simply shut off the feelings Maya and Lochie are experiencing. In fact, you find yourself WISHING they weren't related because their love really does seem pure and unadulterated.

Then you find yourself questioning the very horror of that wish! How could you, a reader, think this love is ok? Well, you don't. Not exactly. But god, you sure are confused by everything about these two kids. This was how I felt as I finished this tragic, sad, heartbreaking story. I was so confused. I loved Maya and Lochie, and I just wanted to save them or desperately find out they really weren't related. I wanted it to be all a mistake- maybe they were switched at birth or something and Lochie really isn't her brother. Well, that wasn't the case, so I found myself even more confused. 

This book is taboo. It is hard to read, emotionally, but beautifully written. The author really crossed a boundary with her topic, but she did so in a way that will leave you both breathless and terrified at the same time. But at the same time, you have to read it. This isn't the same cheesy graphic shock-value V.C. Andrews piled into Flowers in the Attic. It is something different entirely. but at the same time, I can't think of a single student I would give this book to. Not because it is poorly written or I think it will influence our students in any way (because that is just ludicrous, to be very honest), but because the subject matter seems so black and white at the beginning and leaves you as confused as you could ever be at the end. I think it might be too heavy for a teenager who, like an teenager, has trouble defining themselves, let alone the very fabric of societal, ethical, and moral boundaries. This book will have you question everything you know to be right or wrong, and it does so in one seriously ground-shaking way. I commend Suzuma for having the guts to write about the most truly forbidden love, and to do so with such grace and beauty. If that isn't the work of a literary magician, I am not sure what is. 

City of Magic and Conspiracy

Clary has never been more confused. The man who threatens all the Shadowhunters is actually her father, Valentine, the boy she couldn't stop thinking about is actually her brother, and there is a whole world her mother kept from her that is full of warlocks, vampires, demons, and werewolves, among other creepy beasties. Having been brought up as a mundane, Clary must find her way in the Shadowhunter world or quickly be devoured by it in City of Ashes: Mortal Instruments, Book Two by Cassandra Clare.

Clary doesn't know what to do about Jace now that they recently found out they share a father, and an evil father no less. She has trouble reconciling her feelings for Jace, but she knows her friend Simon, a simple mundane, is the less creepy option. Meanwhile, Jace has been thrown out of the only home he ever knew with the adoptive Lightwood family. Lost and alone, Jace is being punished for the sins of the father he never knew or had allegiance to. But now a war is brewing between Downworlders. A werewolf child and a warlock child were found dead, bled to death, and there is no one more logical to blame than the vampires. 

The vampires swear they had nothing to do with the deaths, but everyone suspects them. When Jace is investigated by the Clave and held prisoner in the Silent City, his father breaks in. He comes to see Jace and ask for Jace's help, but his own son was not his purpose for visiting the city and killing all the Silent Brothers. He was after the Mortal Sword. With or without Jace's help, Valentine plans to reverse the allegiance of the sword from good to bad so he can control the demons and finally fulfill his purpose- the extermination of the Downworlders who threaten the lives of humans and Shadowhunters alike. Even if the Clave doesn't believe in Jace's innocence, Clary and his adoptive siblings refuse to let him suffer for the evils Valentine has acted on. But will they make it in time to stop the conversion of the Mortal Sword?

These books sometimes seem overwhelming because they are quite large, but whenever I read one of Clare's books, I am immediately dragged right into it. I regret to admit I started this series almost 2 years ago and haven't kept up with it since. However, I have been keeping up with the Infernal Devices series, which renewed my interest in this series. Clare does a good job of giving you enough background that you can pick up a book even if you haven't read the one before it in a long while, and for that I was grateful (lately my ever-growing pile of books prevents me from much rereading). And after a few brief pages of catch-up, I was thrown right back into this story with a vengeance. The story was interesting and exciting, and as with all her books, she ends it with a satisfactory conclusion (no real huge cliffhangers) but still keeps you wanting more and leaves the end open for the next installment.

The stories are perfect for anyone who likes supernatural or paranormal stories. They are full of mysterious creatures, many of whom balance between their true evil nature and the life the Clave forces them into. There is a god deal of death and violence, but it is mostly of the supernatural type and isn't particularly gory. I love the excitement and in particular, the characters. Jace is that typical bad boy who really has a heart of gold despite his crusty, snarky exterior and you can't help but love him. My one icky-factor is the weirdness between him and Clary, who now appears to be his sister. So we have a Luke and Leia moment, but why is it continuing? And why aren't they grossed out now that they are brother and sister? I can only imagine this will resolve itself eventually and Clare won't have a Flowers in the Attic moment, but who knows where this plans to go... just please make them not be brother and sister because I am all in on team Jace!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Are a Million Suns Enough?

A Million Suns: An Across the Universe Novel
Life is about perspective. The idea of spending your entire life stuck in a spaceship (granted a really really big one) can be either a life doomed to claustrophobia and dreams of the outside, or it can feel safe, like the only home you have ever known. Perspective can mean the difference between contentment and a desire to find anyway to change. In Across the Universe, Elder and Amy couldn't be more different if they tried: one born on the ship and meant to lead, and one born centuries earlier on earth and just included to pacify her important parents. But Amy's removal from the frozen state sent everything on ship Godspeed hurtling down a new path. Now, in Beth Revis' sequel A Million Suns, we find out just how far off the beaten path the ship has gone.

After learning about the problems with the ship and the decades of lies that have been passed around, Elder is determined to fin out just how far off course the ship has been blown from finding their new planet. He isn't prepared to learn the ship actually hasn't moved for years. Now that he has removed the sedative from the ship's system, all the citizens of Godspeed are less like zombies, able to think for themselves, and ready to stage a mutiny. Elder wasn't ready to take the leader's position in the first place, but he certainly wasn't ready to be tested so quickly. Now he must find a way to keep the ship together and still find the planet they were supposed to reach decades ago.

Amy knows she may never see her parents again since she was unfrozen and they must stay frozen until the ship lands. She barely survived Orion's crazed attacks, but with him safely frozen, she doesn't have to worry about him anymore... until she finds the messages he left for her that hold the secrets about the layers of deceit and mystery that have seeped into every part of the ship. Now she knows she has to follow Orion's clues and messages to find the truth behind the Godspeed. Unfortunately, even though Orion is safely frozen, that doesn't mean Amy is safe. On a ship where everyone is the same, there is nothing normal about her and thousands of people blame her for everything that has gone wrong since she was unfrozen. Can Amy get to the truth behind the lies before the ship is torn apart one piece at a time?

When I started this book, I knew a major part of the story was going to be the people, now out of their drug-induced haze, and how they needed to be controlled or reasoned with. But I really didn't want this to be the whole book. Fortunately, Amy's part of the story gave that nice touch of newness and excitement to the story that made Elder's part, controlling the ship's people, still interesting. I liked the fact that the chapters alternated between the two characters as well. Sometimes you finished an Elder chapter and were like, "What? What happened?" and had to rush through an Amy chapter to find out, and vice versa. This made the story really interesting and made me plow through it quickly! It also keeps the story from getting monotonous, especially since each character was dealing with their own situations. The mystery behind the ship is like an onion. Every chapter peels back a layer of lies only to expose another layer beneath. You think you know what is going on with the ship only to find out it was just another web of lies! And when you finally, after so many lies, get to the truth, you won't believe your eyes!

This was a wonderful follow up to the great first book. It ends in a way that will make you furious you have to wait until next January to read the final piece of the trilogy. The ending opens up a third book that is going to be just as exciting, maybe even more so, than the first two. The writing is clear and easy to read, but there are some situations like rape and murder occurring on the ship. The descriptions aren't gratuitous, but the situations are there. I think this was a great second book and am happy a friend recommended this series! Literally Can. Not. Wait. until the third book- it's gonna be legendary!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wracked with Fury

Have you ever hurt someone? Have you ever caused someone pain, whether you meant to or not? Do you think sorry was enough to make up for what you did? You better hope it was or you could be the next victim of punishment in Elizabeth Miles' Fury series. 

Em is Gabby's best friend, but Em can't stop thinking about Gabby's boyfriend Zach. When Gabby goes away for the holidays, she feels guilty about the fact that she is looking forward to spending time with Zach and no Gabby. What she isn't expecting is that he might feel the same way about her. She knows it is wrong, but she can't help the way she feels, right? 

Chase has scraped and climbed his way to the top of the social pyramid with careful execution, but he stil lives in a trailer, a fact that he never forgets. His inspiration was a childhood friend named Sasha whose mother remarried and with the help of her stepfather's money, was flung to the head of the social staircase. But when Sasha throws herself from an overpass and is in a coma in the hospital, Chase struggles with the fact that he may have been involved in her decision to commit suicide.

Both have made mistakes. All their mistakes had reasons and regrets behind them, but they still chose to do what they did. Now things keep going wrong. Chase is haunted by a beautiful girl who he can't stop thinking about. No matter what she does to hurt him or humiliate him, he can't say no to her. When Em starts seeing a similar girl, she feels like she is being stalked. But what they don't know is that the girls following them are much more dangerous than they look...

Fury was an interesting book, but I found myself really confused in the beginning. Actually, I found myself really confused for about 2/3 of the story. I suspected the book was about Furies getting vengeance on bad people and when the couple of kids in the book were doing fairly bad things, I realized my suspicions were right. But I didn't really understand the connection between Em and Chase. It turns out there really wasn't much of a connection other than the fact that they went to school together and kind of knew each other. My other small qualm about this book was their "crimes" for which the Furies were after them. Once you get to the heart of what Chase did, you will agree that the jerk deserves to be punished, but Em's crime, while despicable, isn't exactly death-worthy. I mean, cheating with your best friend's boyfriend is beyond crappy, and you deserve to come back as a dung beetle in a future life, but to die for that? As a teenager (who are notorious for stupid decisions when it comes to hormones and emotions)? It seemed a little harsh. Not sure if I totally agree with that decision on the part of the author. In fact, I might have either had the second story more serious or eliminated it altogether. 

The writing was nice and clear, and the characters were multidimensional, which I appreciate. I loved the fact that the Furies' victims were not just pure evil- they were normal people, not all good, not all bad, who made bad decisions. I think it brought the human quality into the story where you almost felt bad for them by the time the Furies caught up with them, which made you feel confused as a reader because you knew they did crappy stuff. It was a great moral paradox to grapple with as a reader and made the stories less black and white. The way the story ended left me excited to see where the story will go in the next two books and opened the possibilities up tenfold. There is so much Miles can do from here! On a whole, great breakout series and look forward to more from this author.

Women Rule and Men Drool

Prized (The Birthmarked Trilogy)
When we last saw Gaia, the midwife from the Enclave, she had been held prisoner inside the walled city and found her mother, who she feared had died. Her mother was pregnant and Gaia was forced to serve as her midwife. After losing her mother in childbirth, she is determined to save her sister. Aided by the guard she cared more about than she cares to admit, Leon, Gaia escapes into the Wasteland. At the beginning of the sequel Prized, Caragh O'Brien, we find Gaia and her sister Maya barely alive in the Wasteland... but still free of the Enclave.

Maya has stopped crying and Gaia knows the end is near. They won't last much longer. Just as she is about to give up, a rider on horseback finds her. She thought horses were extinct! Peter takes her back to Sylum, the community where women are dying out and the ones left control the community. Unlike the Enclave, in Sylum, women are the only citizens who matter and the only ones to vote. Matrarc, the "matriarch" of the community, takes Maya from Gaia to be placed with another family and warns Gaia about the unfortunate reality of Sylum: if you stay, you will have to go through the "entry sickness". Once your body acclimates to Sylum, you will never be able to leave. People have tried and always end up dying in the Wasteland. No one knows what happens to your body in Sylum to keep you from leaving, but they do know that once you make the choice to stay, you have to accept your life will remain in Sylum forever.

Gaia stays, but only for her sister. She fills the space of the long-gone midwife, but butts heads with Matrarc for assisting in a miscarriage. In a society where only 1 in 10 babies is a girl, they realize every baby is precious, but the way to maintain order is to ensure families remain together and the women have strict rules to protect them. Therefore, no man can touch a woman and a kiss is considered attempted rape. As Gaia gets to know Peter, who saved her form the Wasteland, and Will, Peter's brother, she realizes how restricting life must be for people who can't even hug or hold hands unless they are getting married. When Leon shows up from the Wasteland, Gaia knows she must save him from the prison. What she doesn't expect is Leon's bitterness about how well she has finally acclimated to a society where Gaia and the rest of the women are in charge. Now she must find a way to get her sister back and to prove to Leon how sorry she is. Not an easy thing to do when he is in jail and her every move is watched carefully.

It is no secret that I loved Birthmarked, but Prized was a brilliant sequel. It gave us two totally different dystopic worlds within the same series and with the same characters. It would make sense that in Gaia's world, there are entire civilizations completed separated by the Wastelands and other geographic obstacles, and it would only make sense that they would be totally and completely different. This brilliant move made this book just as exciting as the first book in the series. And the idea of a community where women's numbers are dwindling and women are in complete control is fascinating. There was a logical reason for it- men outnumbering women and all trapped there might endanger the women- but it had gone too far to a point where men were little more than slaves. It was an interesting flip flop to something our students are used to learning about and would spark some interesting discussions.

My one very, very tiny pet peeve was some of the jargon or terms used in Sylum. Cuzines were the governing body of women, all married women in proper standing were referred to as Mlady and single women in proper standing were Mlass. Women who were disgraced and refused to marry were called libbies and their prefix was Mx. It was a little confusing at first, but luckily the terminology was limited and didn't overpower the story. I think a nice addition to the book would have been a short glossary for people getting adjusted to the language used in the community. Otherwise, this was a brilliant sequel. The characters continue to be deep and realistic. The story is intricate and beautiful, and the reader, though O'Brien's wonderful prose, finds themselves immersed into the world along with Gaia, tough choices and all. I promise, you are going to go into this book thinking you know where you stand on things and end up questioning everything you thought you understood! 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Oh My God! It's Us at 14!

The Queen of Kentucky

What were you like at 14? Did you try hard to be popular and fit in with the popular crowd? Did you lose friends in the process or forget your way as you tried desperately for the cool kids to notice you? Did labels and name brands mean a lot to you as you navigated your first year of high school? If so, whether you are a city girl or a country girl, you can all relate to Ericka (previously known as Ricky Jo when she was in 8th grade) in The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker.

Ericka made sure no one called her Ricky Jo. She was starting 9th grade and had no intention of being known as poor farm girl Ricky Jo anymore. it was time to reinvent herself. She had a new wardrobe, she had tried out for cheerleading, and she was on the track of a new group of friends. Even though at home she still had to work in the tobacco fields, getting the crop ready, in school she was Ericka. She lucks out in home room by not only getting to hang out with the Fabulous Four (hoping to change it to the Fabulous Five), but she also sits right next to David Wolfbaker... the boy known as Wolf for more than just his name.

With a rampaging crush on Wolf, Ericka manages to carry on as cool as she can. She and the Fabulous Four have some fun together, but she never finds a way to get herself on the inside of the group. The girls always seem to have an inside joke she doesn't understand or an impromptu sleep over she wasn't invited to. The hardest part s how Ericka's transition has started to affect her best fried Luke and her friends from middle school. She wants to be a good friend, but her attempts to fit in are alienating everyone she originally cared for... and for what? Friends who usually don't seem to care about her as much as they say they do? And Wolf is the worst. She has a crush on a boy who insults her and humiliates her more than he flirts with her, but of course, he is always sweet and adorable the minute no one else is around. She has some big decisions to make: is she sweet farm girl Ricky Jo or cut-throat popular girl Ericka?

I am going to premise this by saying this girl was SO ME when I was in junior high. Everything Whitaker describes about trying to fit in, always finding yourself just outside the popular group, and always feeling sad or disappointed when they didn't include you is an exact description of most of my adolescent years. I look back to those years and cringe, which is why I struggled a little with this story at first. Not because it wasn't well-written, because it was, but because it was SO REAL! I found myself thinking, "Crap?! Did I know this author growing up?" No, but I am sure this story is a lot more common than uncommon. And the beauty of its realistic descriptions is that you feel every single emotion with Ericka. You want to tell her to tell those frenemies to go stuff it. You want her to tell Wolf that he is a total jerk. You want her to kiss Luke. You want her to play basketball which she rocks at instead of wasting her time with cheerleading. And most importantly, you want to tell her she isn't alone, that you know how she feels because you lived through the exact same childhood (possibly minus the tobacco drying in the barn). 

I think this is a great book for any girl, but the important thing to remember is that the main character is only 14. Therefore, she acts, speaks, and thinks like a 14 year old, which if you remember correctly, is a pretty bratty and immature time. So while 14 year olds would really relate to Ericka, I worry older girls might find her too bratty and annoying to give the book a chance, despite the fact that they would love it if they did. (Of course that might be because it hits too close to home about how bratty THEY were at 14!). There is a little talk of making out, but nothing too bad (the main character is mostly worried about getting her first kiss), one scene of silly slumber party streaking that showed girls more embarrassed than proud to take their clothes off, and an ugly bout of drinking that had the cautionary hangover scenes to follow. I think this is a great story for any young girl, whether she is strong and determined (even though we know that s usually a facade), or she is unsure of herself and trying to find her way. As an adult woman, if you read this story, you are bound to see a little of yourself in Ericka, whether you like it or not! And since we all remember what a nightmare it was to be 14, proceed at your own risk! But Alecia Whitaker is definitely an author to be watched! She has a fresh voice and wonderful characters and knows how to take a coming of age story and make it more... so much more!

Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky
Great title, great cover, terrifying world. A world divided between people who live in automated domes where their whole lives are spent in virtual realities, never experiencing true emotions, connections, or human interactions. The rest of the world are Savages who live outside the domes and live in tribes and civilizations that barely scrape by through hunting and gathering. A world torn between two societies that have nothing in common but need each other in ways they never could have imagined. That is what Veronica Rossi's Under the Never Sky promises and delivers. 

Aria grew up in the domes where life is simple and enjoyable. Work is done through automated machines so people have all the time in the world to enjoy themselves in the virtual Realms where they can be in Medieval Europe in one moment and on the moon the next. Her mother is a scientist and was working at another dome when communication was lost, and Aria will do anything to get news about her, even cozy up to the Consul's son. When a harmless flirtation and teenaged prank goes awry, Aria is blamed for the Consul's son's break with reality where he almost burned down the dome and quietly exiled from the domes. She is sure she won't survive the night, but she didn't expect to come across Perry, the very Savage who saved her from the fire. 

Perry has never gotten along with his brother, the Blood Lord of their tribe, but he sticks around for his nephew, Talon, who grows sicker every day. Perry thinks the tribe is in danger of starvation and the ever-growing Aether storms that threaten total destruction each and every day, but his brother refuses to consider moving. When a hover craft from the Domes attacks Perry and kidnaps Talon, he will do anything to get him back, including taking Aria to the domes to trade her digital eyepiece with the evidence that will vindicate her of the fire. Two people who grew up in totally different worlds developmentally but geographically near find themselves thrust together in a harsh world full of angry wolves, terrifying storms, cannibals, and two societies that hate them. But they won't give up until they save their families: Aria's mother and Perry's nephew are the only things that matter now.

This was such an amazing dystopia I want to pick it up and read it all over again (but plan to wait until the second book Through the Ever Night comes out!). This world was a crazy dichotomy between technology-gone-too-far and civilization-thrown-into-the-stone-age. How can you possibly put those two worlds together, you ask? How can you do it and not see ridiculous or utilize time travel? Well Rossi has the secret and it lies within sealed, domed cities! The domed cities are a brilliant way to show the difference between the two societies and still remain realistic that these two societies could exist so close to one another and still never cross paths. 

The characters, from Perry and Aria to all the supporting characters throughout the story, are phenomenal. They are deep, dynamic, and realistic with flaws and heroism rolled into one. They don't trust one another at first, obviously, but their circumstances mean they have to figure it out. Life and death situations can do a lot to bring two people together, no matter how different their childhoods were! The supporting characters are not just static caricatures that plague many books. You will find yourself loving them as much as you love the main characters (or hating the bad ones with an equal amount of intensity). Not only did Rossi build an incredible new world, she also nailed the characters better than most books I have read!

I would say this is a good book for any strong middle school student through any adult interested in the genre. The story is so interesting and exciting, you won't be able to put the book down. There is a little mild, vague sexual content, but it is nowhere near graphic or explicit. There is violence, but that is a given when you deal with most dystopias. Over all, I have to say I am dying to read the second book and will be suggesting this book to everyone I can! Brava, Ms. Rossi! You nailed it!

Monday, March 5, 2012

A World Without Pain... Or Love

Delirium (Delirium (Quality))
A world without pain can't be bad, right? But if you don't feel any pain, grief, or loss, how can you truly understand love, passion, or desire? In Lauren Oliver's new trilogy, Delirium, you become a witness to a world where a mandatory surgery "fixes" people to prevent them from contracting a dreaded disease: love.

Lena (short for Magdalena) was named for the first woman to ever be cured of love, mary Magdalene. She suffered all her life because of love and started the movement that create a society free of the disease that will cause you to act impulsively, make you crazy, and will undoubtedly end in death if you contract it. Lena's surgery is only a few short months away, but she is desperate for the big day to be here so she doesn't have to live in fear of the dreaded disease. When she goes for her evaluation, something goes horribly awry and the Invalids (people who aren't cured and live outside the protected communities) or their sympathizers stage a demonstration that sends cows through the evaluation building and ends her interview. Since she found herself answering the questions in a way that would surely cause her to fail, she is almost grateful for the interruption. She saw a boy during the cow stampede and now she can't stop thinking about him. Hopefully she hasn't already caught the disease...

Lena's friend Hana has been toying with the boundaries of what is allowed and what will get you branded a sympathizer. Lena tries to get her friend to stop this dangerous behavior, but still she feels compelled to follow her to a party at an abandoned farm. There Lena experiences more emotion and overwhelming stimulation than she has ever experienced, and she flees almost as soon as she gets there. On her way out, she bumps into the same boy from the evaluation, Alex. As the days pass, she keeps bumping into Alex until she starts spending time with him. After all, he is cured, so it is both legal and safe for her to spend time with him. But when Alex admits to her that he isn't cured and is actually an Invalid, Lena can't believe her ears. She can't ignore her heart, either, and finds herself drawn to Alex and happily suffering from the very disease she was so afraid of just a few short weeks ago. What she doesn't expect is how quick her surgery date is approaching and how far everyone will go to "cure" her of the best feeling she has every experienced in her life: love. But is love enough to keep Lena and Alex together?

In the wide world of dystopias, there are the soft dystopian worlds like in Matched or The Giver where you can see how the world went to hell on a road paved with good intentions. Then there are the hard dystopias like Birthmarked and Forest of Hands and Teeth where the world was corrupted by greed and power. This world is more like the first category, giving the world an almost acceptable premise, but we still realize how it has been twisted and warped to create a society that has taken the protection of its citizens too far. You read the book and can't imagine how the people don't see where everything went wrong, but then you think about everything people get used to and can see how people would hold onto this broken world so fiercely- it is all they know. The idea of cutting out love is so hard to imagine, but what about the elimination of pain or grief. To anyone who has lost a loved one or watched a great love end, it doesn't sound like a bad option, does it?!

That is the beauty of this book. The discussion possibilities are simply endless. I went to the reading Lauren Oliver did at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck this weekend and was absolutely in love with her! She was a really normal, cool lady with lots to talk about, in particular, just how hard it is to write a book! I wish my students had more opportunities to meet the authors of the books they love because it is an experience that nothing can compare to. I would recommend this book for a wide range of students from strong middle readers through to young adults. It is a good clean, not-too-harsh dystopia that will be great for any fan of The Giver. The sequel is out and I have it staring at me right now, but I am going to wait a little while to read it. I want all the ideas from Delirium to ruminate and not be clouded by the second book! And if you get a chance to see Lauren Oliver, make sure you do! She is a cool, cool lady who will reinforce your love of her books (not that you need anything but the books themselves, but it can't hurt!).