Friday, June 29, 2012

Soul Sharing

Shattered Souls
Do you believe in ghosts? Are they good ghosts, stuck to earth by unfinished business, or are they mean ghosts, there to haunt and hurt people? Do you believe people can talk to ghosts? In Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey, Lenzi reluctantly realizes she "can see dead people". 

Lenzi hears voices and is terrified she is going to end up like her father who committed suicide as a result of his schizophrenia. She avoids the voices, but they grow more and more persistent. When a strange young man named Alden arrives and claims he is her Protector and she is a Speaker, she thinks he might be crazy too... until he helps her realizes the voices aren't in her head, they are ghosts who need help resolving issues before moving on. But allowing Alden to help her requires something Lenzi might not be ready for: trust.

In order for Alden to help Lenzi, he has to take his own soul out of his body and put it into hers to remove the Hindered soul that used her body as a vessel. But Lenzi is barely tolerating the fact that she might be a Speaker without having to share her body with other souls. Then she learns that she and Alden have been reincarnated generation after generation and always emerge again with all their memories in tact in order to continue the job easily, but Lenzi's memories are gone and the IC (strange, controlling, government-like board that oversees Protectors and Speakers) claims to have no knowledge of such a thing. But their generational history isn't the only thing Alden has kept from Lenzi. Will she learn the truth before its too late?

So, I really enjoyed the whole Speaker/Protector aspect of this book. I had a few icky moments involved in the soul sharing thing (not a pleasant experience for the Speaker as the new soul enters and exits), but I got over it. But there were a few things I wasn't overly fond of. First, the IC was mostly a horrible, relentless, heartless group that controlled the Speakers and Protectors with little concern for the fact that they were actual people. That bugged me. Then there was Lenzi's dad. It seemed like his hearing voices was going to be a huge part of the story at first, tied to her own voices, but then the resolution went something like: "Nevermind. He was just crazy. But you aren't Lenzi, so forget about mental illness and your father." It was so important one moment then disgracefully ignored the next! I think if you are going to introduce an important element like that, you have to at least give it a solid resolution.

As for characters, I liked Lenzi, but Alden seemed a little wishy washy for me. He was so concerned with Protecting Lenzi, he wouldn't even think of doing anything the IC wouldn't approve of. He was a real "by the books" kind of guy. She was clearly expressing an interest in him that was beyond just business, but he wouldn't hear of it. I think showing a little more interest and desire on his part would have invested my interest in the two of them as an item. But still, I did like them together. And this is yet another novel where you will most likely love the supporting characters more than the main characters. Why can't we have leading characters who are funny, snarky, witty, and harmless pranksters? Why do the main characters pull the broody weight while the supporting characters get to have all the fun? All in all, this is an interesting book that has a new take on souls moving on and the help they need. Not the best, but more than mediocre. I enjoyed it, but there could have been more!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Pretty Girl with a License to Kill

Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilogy)
Who doesn't love a girl with deadly talents? A girl who can take down a grown man in a variety of ways and properly dispose of the body? Well... I guess the men whose bodies she disposes of, of course!! In Robin LaFever's Grave Mercy, Ismae is a young woman you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley, and if you did, you had better hope you didn't bear the mark of St. Mortain, death himself!

After being sold by her father to a filthy old man at the age of 14, Ismae had very little trust in men. She barely made it through her wedding night unscathed, but her determination preserved her while others saved her and sent her to the convent where the nuns raise young women who are the daughters of St. Mortain. These girls are impervious to poison and survive death in many ways, and so they must follow the word of Mortain and do his bidding. Angry and bitter at her lot in life, Ismae is all to happy to serve Mortain as one of his "Handmaidens" or assassins. When she finally gets her first huge assignment, her excitement is clouded by the arrogant man who comes with it named Gavriel Duval.

Duval has the same purpose in life as Ismae, to protect the young duchess and secure the crown of Brittany for her, but they have different ways of accomplishing that goal. When Ismae's first two assassinations ruin Duval's chance of getting information out of her victims, he goes straight to the convent. There, the nuns decide Ismae must accompany him to court to protect the duchess, but neither Duval nor Ismae are thrilled by the idea of spending so much time together. They know their duties lie with the protection of the duchess, but with all the political backstabbing and treachery in the court, it is hard to know who is on their side. Ismae realizes her studies at the convent were a lifetime of knowledge about ending a person's life but were sorely lacking in how to live her own life. 

Oh, Mercy, Mercy! There is something about historical fiction that, if done well, is so much fun! And Mercy Me! Robin LaFevers (pen name?) is executed brilliantly. There is the perfect amount of old world language (breaking the fast vs. breakfast), period continuity (being married off without your consent at age 14), and medieval issues and politics to keep you believing the time period, but the way it is told makes an "old" story accessible to today's readers. This is a hard line to walk without falling to one side or the other, but I believe LaFever's did a great job with it. I loved the execution of Ismae, a girl who hates men and only wants vengeance learning that there are good men out there, not only as love interests, but as friends as well. It was a wonderful transformation when coupled with her struggle between duty to her saint and her calling and knowing what is right and wrong. And Duval? You want an upstanding, strong leading man to fall in love with? Well look no further! In the movie version I picture him played by Chris Hemsworth and I swoon a little bit ;-). Duval's loyalty is questioned for much of the book by pretty much every character, but you just know he is loyal to his sister, the duchess. And combine Ismae and Duval and you have the ultimate power couple (with knives and poisons and crossbows, of course). 

Due to the setting of this book, it might be a little advanced for your typical middle readers through budding young adult readers. I would save this book for more advanced students who can handle a historical novel and a rather large novel. Younger students might get lost in the period consistencies and bogged down by the political situations and treachery, so save this for a stronger reader who will enjoy those aspects. Also, there are a few intimate scenes between Ismae and Duval and a few near rape scenes, but all are handled gracefully and aren't terribly graphic (although if the reader has a strong imagination, they can quickly become pretty graphic!). These scenes wouldn't prevent me from recommending this book to any teen, but they are there. My one issue with this book is that I wanted to see more of Beast and de Lornay, the only men Duval trusts and the same men Ismae eventually admits are her friends. They were awesome characters and I just didn't see as much of them as I wanted! I guess that isn't as much an issue with the book but a greediness for more of such great characters! This was a phenomenal book, and I suspect the next book in the series will be more of a companion than a sequel due to the blurb in the back of this book, but I can tell you I plan to read it as soon as it is released!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Supernatural Hitmen

White Cat (Curse Workers)
Have you ever felt like you were the one unimportant, ordinary person out of the entire group of extraordinary people? In a world where curse workers are feared and "working" (curses) are illegal, imagine being born into a family of curse workers but being the only one not to be a worker. In Holly Black's White Cat, Cassel has the unfortunate life of being born into a family filled with criminals who just happen to be curse workers, but his only talent is being a pretty good con artist.

People are so scared about being worked by a curse worker they all wear gloves and won't touch bare hands. Because curse work is illegal, most workers are criminals and get absorbed by the local crime families to do their dirty work. Since he isn't a worker in a family of thugs and workers, Cassel just wants a normal life away from the business. He sees his normal prep school as salvation from the family business. But when he is found on the roof in the middle of the night after having sleepwalked out of his bedroom window, the school won't let him return. Forced to return home to his crazy hitman grandfather, his two shifty brothers, and with his mother currently doing time in prison, Cassel tries to live life as normally as possible.

That might be possible if he could get it out of his head how he murdered the girl he loved, Lila, daughter and heir to the rival crime family. His memory is spotty on exactly what happened and why he did it, but all he can remember is all that blood and his family helping him hide the crime and the body. As he spends more time with his family, it becomes clear that something strange is happening. His brother Barron seems to be losing his memory and someone has clearly worked his brother Phillip's wife. As Cassel digs a little deeper, he discovers his memory of the night he killed Lila might not be so clear after all. Fearing he has been worked, Cassel takes steps to assure he can't be worked anymore. In doing so, he might discover the truth about his family that he never, ever wanted to know. But you know what they say? The truth will set you free!

The idea of a supernatural mafia is a pretty cool concept! This is like "Sopranos" meets "X-Men"! And the government's move to make curse working illegal has only made them all flee to illegal venues for their craft where mob families collect them like tchotchkes. Cassel's character was a perfect mix of a product of a family full of criminals (he ran book at his prep school) and wanting a normal life (desperate to return to his life away from his worker family). He was clearly torn between his two worlds, a feeling I am sure many teens can relate to (although probably not in the supernatural killer way, of course). I would love to see the parallels our kids could find between their own lives and Cassel's life. 

This was an intriguing start to a series that would appeal to any fan of supernatural/paranormal stories. There isn't much romance, although the hint of its possibility to come is out there. The story ends well, but clearly continues in the remainder of the trilogy, so you can read the one book or continue on if you wish. It is also relatively clean for a variety of ages, although it might appeal to a middle school/junior high group rather than much older students. I am interested to see where the rest of the series goes!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Team Fight the Cheese!

Team Human
Imagine a world with humans and vampires living side by side. The vampires aren't allowed to turn people without a consensual license, they aren't allowed to eat people, but they still have the potential to do all the things that made them feared throughout history. In that world, where does one passionate, meddling teen find herself? Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan tell you in Team Human.

The city of New Whitby was created as a haven for vampires who may have been persecuted elsewhere, but that doesn't mean everyone is happy to have the vampires nearby. For the most part they stick to the Shade, the vampire part of town, but when a vampire comes to Mel's high school, he brings mixed opinions. Some kids are obsessed with Francis, others hate him with a passion, but the scariest reaction is Mel's best friend Cathy who falls madly in love with him.

Mel takes it upon herself to blackmail Francis into leaving Cathy alone, but there was a misunderstanding about her source of blackmail. When Cathy runs away to the Shade to find Francis, Mel figures it out and tracks her down, but not before she breaks into a vampires lair (properly called a shade in such politically correct vampire times!). While there, they meet Francis's "nephew", a human named Kit who was raised by a group of vampires. Kit's "mother" is a vampire cop who isn't too thrilled about their entry into her house, but once Mel takes a minute to get to know them all, she may realize the vampires in the equation aren't always the bad guys.

So, let's get this out in the open. This looks like a ChhEEEsy book, right?! Well, yeah, sort of. But it is also surprisingly good with some strong allusions to racism and Civil Rights in our own not-alternate history. Mel's emphatic dislike for vampires is said to be based on her friend Anna's father's abandonment of his family for a vampire patient, but that kind of hatred and prejudice doesn't happen easily. It was something that was clearly societal and ran much deeper than just one or two instances. And Mel wasn't afraid to show it. When Francis arrived, despite being totally polite (albeit a bit of a stuffy pants), Mel made comments that were considered highly insulting in the vampire world. Her friends even called her on it on more than one occasion. The other interesting thing about Mel is how darn much that girl meddles into other people's business. At first you think she is being protective, but there are points where you want to tell her to just back off and let people make their own decisions. In fact, a couple of characters flat out tell her to lay off. In the end, of course, she ended up helping some of her friends and learning valuable lessons from the others. It was a nice transition and it made me like her more even though she had moments of supreme grating and annoying-ness.

So, my advice is don't let the Cheese factor keep you from reading this one of many vampire books- it was actually a pretty good one. If for no other reason than the fact that when a person undergoes a "turning" into a vampire, they have a 1/10 chance of dying, and worse, a 1/10 chance of becoming a zombie! And the Zombie Disposal Units can tell you the horrors of those transformations gone wrong! Oh, I almost forgot. Another reason to really like this story was Kit. Oh, laughing, fun, adorable, sometimes snarky Kit. FINALLY! A main character and/or love interest with a little bit of fight in him! I love it! I am going to vote here and now that we shall no longer have lead men who always wear the "broody face". I hate broody face. I want snarky guys with some saucy retorts that keep me laughing!

This is a very clean book for a variety of ages. It might look too young for older students, but the cover doesn't do the story justice. If you have read it and can speak from experience to recommend it to otherwise skeptical teens, you might find they will really enjoy it. I know I enjoyed it once I got past the cheese-tastic title and cover!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The List Changes Everything

The List
In high school there are the "hot" girls and the "not-so-hot" girls, but no one writes it down on paper. It is not something out in the open for everyone to see. In Siobhan Vivian's The List, those girls are labeled ugliest and hottest girl for each class, and the label will change them forever.

Every year the List comes out. There is an ugliest girl and a hottest girl in each grade. No one knows who makes the lists or how the official (stolen) school seal that marks the official list gets passed down from year to year, but they accept the list as a part of their high school lives. This year is no different from previous years for most people, but it is a life-changer for the 8 girls on the list. One has been on the list all 4 years of her high school career... as the ugliest girl in her grade. One only makes the list after her anorexia slims her down. One embraces her Ugly status by writing UGLY across her forehead and refusing to shower for the whole week leading up to the Homecoming game.

But one thing is for certain: the list affects every single girl it names. And while you might think it would help the lives of the Hottest girls, you would be miserably wrong. Being named Hottest only makes your friends jealous and guys think they have a right to hit on you or think you are a trophy to be won. Being on the list tests every relationship you have ever had, your values, and worst of all, what you think of yourself. The List has changed these girls... but you won't believe how.

This was a deceptively awesome book, I must say. I assumed it would be rife with cliches and stereotypes and full of pink plush morals and "typical", but it really wasn't. Instead, it surprised me. Time and time again, what happened to these girls REALLY surprised me. I thought I knew what was going to happen to the Ugly girls vs. the Hot girls, but I found myself flipping the pages time and time again with that "What the heck?!" shocked look on my face. It was a really refreshing read! But at the same time, it was a frighteningly accurate reveal into the world of high school culture. We, as adults, sit on the outside of the true happenings of our schools, and although we have lived through it, we have also outgrown it, making our opinions jaded. I mean, can you honestly remember what it felt like to live through high school? I can honestly say I have tried somewhat (un)successfully to block it from my mind, but every now and then I see something going on where I teach and all those memories come rushing back. 

This would be an excellent book for any high school aged girl through adult trying to understand the lives and roles of teenagers these days. And to try and pretend judgment and criticism are not a part of adolescence is simply ridiculous. Sometimes we, as adults, just need to immerse ourselves in their world, even through a story like this one, to see the truth of what they live through every day. It might make you a little more sympathetic as you give them detention or scold them for not finishing their work. We see the world through our adult eyes, but we forget that as teenagers, we didn't even know who we were at that point. Vivian did a great job with this story explaining the lives of teenagers and I am sure all adolescents would find at least one character to relate to. Even if they don't want to admit it!

New Perspective on Nightshade

Treachery: A Nightshade Novella (A Penguin eSpecial from Philomel Books)
If you loved the Nightshade series as much as I did, you are also probably just as anxious for the prequel series to be released in August. I know this little eBook came out before the final book in the series, Bloodrose, but it can really be read anywhere after the first book, Nightshade. However, it gives vital information about the second book, Wolfsbane, making it best read after the second book. Still, having finished the final book in the original series, it wasn't a waste for me. It gave a different perspective to a part of the story that was hard to read about and hard to accept.

When Callie runs away with Shay, she knows she has left behind. What she doesn't know is she has abandoned her brother to a fate worse than any of them could imagine- a life without his wolf half. Captured by the Keepers and the other pack, Ansel is left to suffer both his own grief and the torture at the hands of the Keepers and wraiths. But they have a solution for him that might return everything he lost. The only catch is he has to betray the one person he loves unconditionally.

This bridge story from Ansel's perspective really illuminated things for me. I remember this part of the series when Ansel betrayed Callie, but seeing it from his perspective makes you pity him, not want to smack him silly like I did when his motives were first exposed. I liked this little novella a lot and was happy Cremer put it out there. It satisfied my need for Nightshade at least for a few moments! Now I REALLY need the next series to start!

Monday, June 18, 2012

How Near are Your Fears?

The Near Witch
You read all these modern witch stories and it makes you miss the old-fashioned, witch hiding in plain sight from the superstitious villagers, type of witch story. There was something magical (pun intended) about those stories and that time that is pure fiction to us just because it is so far away from our current world. But Victoria Schwab brings us back there in The Near Witch, to a place with villagers with pitchforks and witches who can control the elements.

Lexi lives in the town of Near where the stories of the Near Witch, driven from town hundreds of years ago, are enough to give the town kids nightmares and make a good threat for their parents when kids get out of line. But Near is an isolated and superstitious town where strangers are neither frequent nor welcomed. When a strange young man appears in Near, his appearance coincides with the disappearance of a young kid each night from a closed up house with no evidence or signs of where they went.

Lexi finds the stranger, Cole (or at least that's what she names him), and can tell instantly that while there is something clearly mysterious about him, he is not the one who took the children. Unfortunately, the townsfolk don't agree and want to run him out of town. But Cole is the only one who has helped Lexi hunt for the culprit in the dead of night, and she is afraid that without him, she may not find the kidnapper. When the trail towards the kids gets more and more supernatural, Lexi knows she and Cole are the only ones open-minded enough to search for the truth... the real truth.

I really enjoyed the old-fashioned, on-the-moor feel to this book, but sometimes it seemed like the plot was a smidge too thin for my reading tastes. It was a relatively short book, so there needed to be a quick call to action, but things tarried a bit in the middle. The presence of Cole and the "sisters" in the town (basically witches) were a cool addition to the story and I enjoyed their characters. I also liked how Lexi was relentless in her pursuit of the culprit. She wasn't going to stay inside just because the men in town told her to do so, she was going to solve the mystery herself. She was plucky and I enjoyed that!

This is a good book for a middle school through high school student. The writing is quite lyrical, so it might be a little too sophisticated for a younger or weaker reader. Also, the lag time you occasionally encounter in the story might distract or cause them to lose interest. Still, I found it to be a lovely story and the writing felt magical... almost like a song across the moor grass.

A Need to Help People

A Need So Beautiful
We all want to help people in one way or another. We want to help a little old lady cross the road, donate to charities, save abandoned dogs, and Adopt families during the holidays. But how far would we go to give to someone or help them in a time of need? In Suzanne Young's A Need So Beautiful, Charlotte must ask herself that question on a whole new level.

Charlotte has always experienced the Need. When she feels the Need, she has to follow it to whomever is in need of the knowledge she has, whether it be to warn a pregnant woman that something is wrong with her baby or to guide a criminal to the right path. In the past, the Need only came once in a while, but the crippling need to answer the Need is becoming more and more frequent. So frequent in fact that her adoptive mother, best friend, and boyfriend are starting to notice that it isn't just asthma (which she uses to explain the loss of breath when she feels the Need). She just can't hide her secret anymore

But something else is wrong. Charlotte is starting to get scared and seeks out the help of her family doctor, the man who runs the local free clinic. She shows him that something strange is happening to her skin, almost like it is peeling away, but she isn't ready for the answer he has for her. Trapped in an impossible decision with catastrophic consequences on either end, Charlotte comes to a crossroads that will ruin her. The question is, will she help herself or help others?

This story was a strange and unique angle on the whole angel genre that has flooded YA novels in the past few years. I had never thought of this type of angel and was really interested in the impossible decision Charlotte had to make. The worst part about it is that she is a good person who just wants a little happiness for herself after being abandoned at the age of 6. Luckily, she was adopted by a wonderful woman and had a supportive best friend and loving boyfriend. Her life wasn't perfect, but it wasn't bad, either. But this choice... this choice is horrible to ask of anyone, but particularly horrible to ask of Charlotte. If you ever needed to see a main character pushed to the brink, this is the book for you.

On a whole, though, there were times this book was a little slow for me. The unraveling of the true nature of the Need was paced well, but I still found myself wanting it to just move along. But overall, it wasn't a bad book and I intend to check out A Want So Wicked when it comes out. This is a good book for a middle school through emergent older reader as it is interesting, but has fairly simple language. It isn't a book I would throw at everyone who came by, but it was a fun and decent read. You will enjoy it!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Holy Fantasy, Batman!

Shadow and Bone (Grisha Trilogy)
Did you ever read a book, see the launch of a new gadget, or watch a new movie and think to yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?! It's Brilliant!" That is how I felt after reading Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. It was such a phenomenal fantasy that I am going to take a virtual bow to Bardugo and her brilliance and wonder (not so) silently why I can't write like this!

Alina Starkov is a mapmaker's apprentice, and not a very good one. Before that she was an orphan. The only person who ever mattered to her was her fellow orphan and lifelong friend, Mal, but in the harsh world where the supernatural Shadow Fold has bisected the country of Ravka, nothing is safe. The Shadow Fold is a huge swath of land that has been plunged into darkness by a powerful Grisha. Since then, the Fold is almost impassable and hunted by the terrifying Volcra beasts. The military escorts people across the Fold, but they are no safer than anyone else in the No Man's Land of the Fold. Mal is in the military, but the King has two armies. The first army is made up of your standard soldiers, people willing to die for their country or at least to get a few warm meals before they die. The second army is a class of people unto themselves called Grisha. The Grisha are magical folk who all have gifts that support the King's campaign. They are broken up into three types of Grisha, but one stands along: The Darkling.

The Darkling is the most powerful Grisha in Ravka. When Alina and Mal get to the Fold for their first crossing, the Darkling is there. As they cross, the Grisha move the land boat across the sand and try to protect the skiff, but more volcra than ever appear and attack the group. When Alina and Mal are attacked, something unheard of happens: Alina begins to radiate sunlight. The sunlight repels the volcra, saving the crew, but it also means Alina is a Grisha. When the Darkling hears about her feat, he whisks her off to the castle to be trained. With her power to summon the sun, Alina and the Darkling could rid Ravka of the Shadow Fold together. Unfortunately, there are people out there who don't want to destroy the Shadow Fold and even more who want to destroy Alina. She knows the responsibility her power brings, but that doesn't mean she isn't still just an orphan girl, in love with a boy who may never speak to her again. But will Mal come back to Alina?

Oh holy fantasy, Batman! Shadow and Bone is a fantasy land that will make you want to finish the final page and start all over again immediately. Bardugo created a world that is both terrifying and magical. The characters are complex and deep to the point that you aren't always sure their intentions or motives, but you know you want to learn more about them. And the bad guys? Oh Boy! From the Volcra to the bad Grisha to the incompetent king, this is a story with layers and layers of evil that will make your head spin. But Alina is a great heroine. Caught up in the whirlwind f the Grisha world, she misses the simplicity of her former self but knows she can never go back again. She knows she has a responsibility to use her powers for good, but she is skeptical of those who wish to control her and enslave her. Alina faces insurmountable challenges, but deep within a poor orphan body is a strong woman willing to sacrifice everything for what is right.

And this is only the beginning. The Grisha Trilogy has more to come and after Shadow and Bone you will be more than just anxious for Bardugo to get the next book out there. This is your next big trilogy to watch out for, everyone! It's out there and it is going to be unstoppable! Keep this book on your shelves for all manner of students because it is an accessible fantasy with great characters and an amazing world that will appeal to all kinds of people, young adult to adults. And don't forget to keep a copy for yourselves because this is one you are going to want to reread!

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Monument to Apocalyptic Fiction

Monument 14
You know what you would say to your loved ones if it was the last time you were going to see them, but what if you didn't know that time was the last time? In Monument 14, Emmy Laybourne takes a group of kids from a school bus (or two), throws them into a new, very dangerous world, and hopes they can survive.

Dean boards the high school bus and his younger brother, Alex, gets on the elementary and middle school bus. They head off on just another day of school and routine, but this isn't just another day. On their way to school a freak hailstorm takes out Dean's bus. The driver is dead, as are some kids who were trapped and beaten to death by hail, but the remaining kids know they have to get out. Through the heroics of an ancient bus driver, the surviving kids find themselves trapped in the Greenway department store. When the bus driver heads off to find help, she leaves the kids behind, not knowing just how alone they will soon be. 

The hail storm was just the beginning of the after effects of a giant tsunami. When a major earthquake hits, the kids assume they made it through until a chemical spill from NORAD. The chemical reacts differently in people with different blood types, killing some, sterilizing others, and making another percent of the population go stark raving mad and murderous. The kids are lucky enough that the emergency gates on the store closed, sealing them inside, but what is on the outside wants to come in. While the kids have enough supplies to survive in the department store, there are scarier things out there than they can imagine safe inside the store. 

First, let me just assure you that there are no zombies going on here. Homicidal psychopaths, yes. Zombies? No. I wanted to get that out in the open, because the description of the people affected by the chemical sounded to me a lot like zombies, but they aren't. They are alive, reasoning, thinking loons who want to tear everyone and everything apart they can get their hands on. Scarier than the zombies if you ask me! But nevertheless, no zombies here. 

The story is quite interesting story, especially on the heels of a similar story I just read called No Safety in Numbers. They are very different books as this is apocalyptic and that was a terrorist plot that led to a quarantine, but there are still some similarities, like being trapped in a mall/department store. The thing that sets this story apart is the lack of adults. The older kids try to hold things together, but since they are children themselves, it doesn't always work. Some kids started dipping into the pharmacy, others gorged themselves on candy and ice cream. A couple of the older kids paired off, little kids wanted their mommies, and all of them grew more and more scared. It actually felt very real in regards to how the kids all reacted to the situation. 

My one skepticism surrounded the chemical agent released from NORAD during the quake. I am not sure how a chemical could react so differently based on blood type, but I have learned not to question these things too much and to give fiction a little wiggle room for creative license. So I let that go and just enjoyed the story. It was written in first person narrative and sometimes the story felt very much like it was slipping out of the mouth of a young adult... perhaps a little too much at times? With this writing style comes a few choppy sentences or disjointed thoughts where I had to go back and reread to get the full gist of what was happening. But all in all, it wasn't distracting most of the time, so I was able to really enjoy the story. I found the story exciting and engaging and really want to know what happens next. I desperately hope this is the beginning of a series because otherwise Laybourne's "Got some 'splainin' to do!" The ending had a feeling of finality while still being abrupt and leaving you hanging. I don't know how she concluded the story that way, but she did, and it left me dying to know more!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Angelini is a Goddess

Dreamless (Starcrossed)
When we read Starcrossed, we knew Josephine Angelini was a Goddess. Everyone I have convinced to read that first book of this trilogy was a) totally in love with the story and characters and b) totally devastated they needed to wait a whole year for the next book! Now that the second book, Dreamless, is here, you are going to feel the same way. Dreamless will leave you breathless, leave your heart pounding and leave you wanting MORE!

Helen is the Descender. She can go into the Underworld and is the only hope for the Scions to find a way to defeat the Furies. The Furies' curse leaves all Scions with an uncontrollable rage to murder anyone with a blood debt, even if their blood debt was protecting the very family member who is now overcome by the Furies and wants to kill them. It is a never-ending cycle that keeps the houses divided and families torn apart. Helen is the only hope, but every night as she descends, she loses a little bit of herself in the Underworld.

As Helen wanders around aimlessly, she feels her mission is hopeless, but when she encounters Orion, everything changes. Orion is another Scion, one she should be trying to kill, thanks to the Furies, but in the Underworld, all Scion curses and powers are suspended. Orion is undoubtedly an attractive young Scion, but Helen still can't get Lucas out of her mind. After she found out she and Lucas were cousins, she has tried to move on, but she just can't stop the feeling of happiness and joy when she is with him. But with her mission at hand, Helen puts aside her own desires to stop the Furies, with Orion at her side. Night after night, they descend and get a little bit closer to the solution, but their time is running out. Helen is dying as a result of her descending and she is caught between two impossible and beautiful loves: one who is a cousin and is forbidden to her despite her love for him, and one who she can only be with in the Underworld without wanting to kill. Can she stop the Furies AND sort out the terror in her heart?

Oh this was SUCH a good follow up to SUCH a good first novel that Josephine Angelini is my new favorite author. There are a lot of authors I love and follow, but Angelini will now be one of the select few I use to define my favorite reading experiences (and that is a limited crowd!). She has a way of spinning a masterful web of a story and leaving you to crave more and more and more. Her characters are amazing and so real and complicated you will find yourself wanting to know them for real (despite fully acknowledging that they are fictional and that would of course make you a crazy person). Sometimes I think it is easier to write an amazing break out novel than it is to write a follow up novel that lives up to the greatness of the first. But Angelini has accomplished that goal in spades. She will leave you remembering the greatness of Starcrossed while loving Dreamless even more!

The best part of this series is there is one more book to go (but maybe if we beg and plead there will be more than just one more to go!). This is an amazing series for anyone, adult or young adult, who loves Greek mythology or just needs some epic storytelling in their lives. It is one of the best trilogies I have found in a LONG time and I am so glad I found this author and this trilogy. If you need some summer reading to keep you going out on that beach or anywhere, for that matter, pick up this series. You will be thanking me later!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

No Safety in Malls

No Safety In Numbers
As a person who hates malls with every ounce of her being, I can honestly say the idea of being trapped in a mall with tons of other people and no way out might be my idea of the seventh layer of hell! Now add a possible biochemical weapon, and I am terrified by Dayna Lorentz's No Safety in Numbers!

As Marco was running for his life in the mall parking garage from the beefy jerk from school, he had no idea his hiding spot was also the hiding spot of something a lot more sinister. A bomb. Lexi's mom, The Senator, thought a family outing was going to make up for all the time she has to work, but she couldn't have predicted how wrong she would be as the mall had to be quarantined. Now tons of people are locked down in the mall with no idea what is happening.

At first it seems like a slight inconvenience for most, and maybe even a fun sleepover for others, but the novelty of being held captive in a mall wears off quickly. The bathrooms quickly become filthy, food starts to run out, and riots break out when people realize just how trapped they really are. When people start getting sick and the government agencies require everyone to submit to a blood test, people begin to realize there is something even scarier than being trapped in a mall- being trapped in a mall with a deadly virus rampaging through its halls.

This was an interesting story and one a lot of kids would not be able to stop thinking about. The mall is a place of fun, a haven for kids to shop and goof around and just be kids. So when it becomes a nightmare, it makes everyone reevaluate their previous beliefs. The story also does a good job of showing the progression of such a situation. People aren't panicked at first. They are bored and making the best of the situation. But when things go south, they really get ugly. Looting, violence, and every other manner of human nature when people are scared and determined. 

Although the story was good, it had some huge holes. First, I can't imagine it would take people 6 whole days to panic. I think a day, maybe two, and everything would just implode. People don't just accept a quarantine, and especially not when there is the threat of a deadly virus. I know FEMA and the other government agencies would be relatively good about locking things down, but no force could control tat many scared people. And why didn't anyone question the store that was taken over as a command center until the very end? And why did the credit card machines still work when the phones and internet lines were taken down? There were definitely some holes in the story, but it was still entertaining, which is all you can really ask for.  It would be appropriate for any manner of student and has an average reading level. But be forewarned, it is apparently a trilogy, so there is no resolution at ALL at the end of the book.

A Pledge of Royal Proportions

The Pledge
Native English speakers of the world take the fact that English is the closest thing to a universal language for granted. What if your language was the thing that defined your social class and every aspect of your life? In Kimberley Derting's dystopic trilogy, The Pledge, language is more than just communication. It is a way to control the masses and allow one tyrannical queen to control her country for lifetimes.

Charlaina, who goes by Charlie, is in the Vendor class. That means she speaks two languages, Englaise, the universal language and Parshon, the language of the Vendor class. If a person indicates they can understand a language of a higher class, they will be put to death. In fact, any interactions with a higher class means they can't even make eye contact without being arrested. But Charlie has a secret. She understands everything. She understands all languages, even those that she has never heard before. This could put her entire family in danger in a society where turning in your neighbor solidifies your place in society.

But their country has more going on than just the huge divisions in classes. They are at war, constantly under threat of being attacked from surrounding countries. When two strange young men show up in Charlie's life, she knows something isn't right. Max is followed by two huge thugs and Xander is clearly a man with deadly secrets. They each warn Charlie to stay away from the other, but Charlie can't seem to avoid either one. When their secrets coincide with Charlie and her family caught in the middle, the truth finally comes out, but it is a reality Charlie never thought was possible.

The language aspect of this dystopia is a very different angle, and it is a great way to open up a line of dialogue with young adults about classes, castes, and societal norms. As a teacher of dyslexic students, I love the idea of language being inaccessible and the basis for keeping classes in their place. It is something I am certain my students would be able to appreciate and relate to in a way non-dyslexics wouldn't understand. While this book has clear entertainment value and would appeal to a wide range of people, there is a population who would get more out of this than most others: those who are already find themselves divided and held down because of language.

The Pledge is a great story for any strong middle school reader through high school student. Some of the names of languages and such are a little tricky, but they don't distract the reader. The queendom they all live in is fascinating and the queen herself is terrifying! My favorite part of the book is how everything all fits together in the end. But I warn you, it ends in a way that will keep you chomping at the bit to get ahold of the next book!