Friday, August 31, 2012

There are No Limits

Pushing the Limits (Harlequin Teen)
Do you know that feeling when a book far surpasses the expectations you had for it? When you read a book and think to yourself, "It is so good I don't want it to end!" When I started katie McGarry's Pushing the Limits, I expected teen romance. What I got was so much more.

Echo was once the popular girl with everything going for her, but two years ago she fell off the grid. Her brother died in Afganistan, her mother disappeared, and her father married her former babysitter, but Echo has a secret almost no one knows. Her arms are horribly scarred from something that happened to her at the hands of her own mother, something so terrible Echo has repressed all memories of that day. Living life like an empty shell, Echo is back in therapy, but something is different this time.

Noah lost his parents in a house fire, lost his brothers to foster parents, and the only thing that keeps him in line is the idea that he might get them back when he turns 18. After punching his first foster father (who was abusing his own son), Noah has been bounced from house to house, but he has been at this house with his foster brother and sister for a while. Isaiah and Beth are just as damaged as Noah, but together they make a decent but dysfunctional little family who actually care about each other. But when Noah continues to press the courts and the system to get more visitation with his brothers, their foster parents block him every time. In order to appear to be following the rules, Noah agrees to therapy to deal with everything he has lived through... as long as getting his brothers back is the end result.

What Echo and Noah don't expect is to be put together with Echo tutoring Noah by their mutual therapist. It seems like it would end in disaster, bad boy with tattoos and little rich girl with everything she ever wanted, but their mutual demons give them something in common. Two people who have not had the happy loving lives all children should have find comfort and respect in one another. Together they fill in each other's empty spaces until they become whole again. But there is more at stake than anyone understands. With the emergence of every repressed memory, Echo gets closer to the terrifying truth of what her mother did to scar her, physically and emotionally, and with everything Noah does, his actions and choices are scrutinized to the point where he could lose all hope of getting his brothers back. They know the risks, they fight the feeling, but how can you turn your back on the one person who makes your shattered life whole again?

Oh, sweet Zeus. I loved this book. I read this book, turned the last page, closed my eyes to digest for a minute, and started at the beginning again. This book defied all my preconceived assumptions with buckets of dynamite. With 50 pages to go, my husband came into the living room to find me holding the book with a troubled look on my face. He asked me what was wrong, and I said, "I don't want this book to end!" Yes, he laughed at me a little, but it was true. I didn't want to let go of Echo and Noah. They were the most dynamic, tragic, and beautiful characters I have read in a long time. By 50 pages into this book, you know these characters so well you find yourself laughing, crying, living, and dying along with them. I couldn't believe such characters could exist... especially with such a cheesy cover!

And why would publishers choose to cheapen this incredible story with such a craptastic cover? I will never understand that, but I hope people will look beyond the cheese to see the heart of this really fantastic story. It isn't just a romantic story. There is so much more to this story that the feelings between Echo and Noah are only a fraction of what makes this story so wonderful. The writing is so raw and real you will find yourself hanging on each and every word, living the story along with them. The demons these two carry with them are so difficult to digest, and you never really know the whole story. But most of all, the sacrifice they make for themselves, for their families, and finally, for each other, is beautiful. I loved this book both times I read it and I know I will be reading it again soon. This is the kind of book that stays with you for a long time. So give Noah and Echo some life, because every page makes them just a little more real.

Few Words, Great Power

The Good Braider
Great power can be found in few words. But still, I don't often seek out books written in free verse. The subject of Terry Farish's The Good Braider, however, intrigued me enough to give the book a chance. And powerful it was...

Living in southern Sudan carries more dangers than anyone could imagine. The pressure to convert to Islam can be carried out in ways that make people afraid to leave their homes, especially women. Viola can deal with the scarcity of medicines and food, but the idea that a man could violate her on a whim with no repercussions is both terrifying and stifling. But getting out of the Sudan is almost as difficult as living in it. Surrounded by land mines and drunken, violent, trigger-happy soldiers, and being beaten down and starved into submission is enough to keep most people there, but after Viola is raped, thereby losing her "bride wealth", she, her mother, and her brother are determined to finally escape the violence of their home.

But you can't outrun your culture. With a sponsoring uncle in the states, Viola and her mother make it to Maine, but their Sudanese heritage is right behind them. They might be surrounded by other Sudanese families, but they are enveloped by the American culture. And who would have thought the idea of her daughter succumbing to American values would be more terrifying to Viola's mother than the constant fear of rape and murder back in their home country? But it is, and so is the idea of completely abandoning everything you have known all your life. 

This was a hauntingly beautiful story. I remember loving Inside Out and Back Again this spring, and this book reminded me of that book for a number of reasons, including the verse and the idea of being an immigrant from a harsh environment into the United States. But this book was much more mature and dark than that book. This story really got to the heart of the terror Viola felt from her life in the Sudan to the immigration into a new culture. It was scary, and Farish portrayed that well. 

But I really loved the fact that the Sudan was not all violence and starvation. It was also their home, with the people they loved, the river, the land they adored. Viola truly missed her homeland even if she didn't miss living in fear every day of her life just for walking to get water for her home. I think the important lesson that these violent people who perpetuate these situations like what is happening in the Sudan are not a representation of the entire country, area, continent, etc. is vitally important. There are wonderful, kind people there who just want to live and celebrate their lives without the fear they have come to know. This is a great book for any high school student, especially one learning more about the African continent and cultures or who just needs a bit of a reality check. It is certainly an eye-opener that will make you appreciate the safety you feel in our own country.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Way We Begin

Way We Fall, The (Fallen World trilogy, The)
Living on an island seems idyllic, right? Well, if a deadly virus broke out on your island, you might not think your isolation was so beneficial, especially when the government quarantined everyone on the island and killed anyone trying to leave. In Megan Crewe's first book of the The Fallen World trilogy, The Way We Fall, we get a view of island life that will make you cringe (or itch if you have fallen ill!).

Kaelyn misses Leo, but being back on the island where her mother grew up and not in the big city is enough of a transition to keep her mind occupied. Still, she writes Leo letters in a journal to say all the things she wished she had said in person. She tries to transition, but the kids in school aren't as willing to accept her as they used to be. When one of her friends' father gets sick, she is creeped out by the strangely and brutally honest things he says to her. When he devolves into illness and dies, it begins cycle the island is bound to succumb to.

Soon everyone is getting sick. The illness is contagious, so simply speaking with someone is sick could doom you to the cycle. With so many dying on the island, the government decides to cut the island off to protect the rest of the mainland, but doing so cuts the island off from necessary supplies. The government drops a few supply shipments, but when things start to get tight, looting and hoarding become a problem. When Kaelyn sees Gav, a classmate, taking food from stores, she assumes he is hoarding, but in reality he is trying to make sure everyone out there gets fed in the wake of the crisis. Even though the world is coming to an end, there are still some people out there trying to do right by others, but how can you keep looking to the future when almost everyone you know has lost their future to an unbeatable illness?

I have now officially read three quarantine stories in the past two months. Didn't really intend to go on a quarantine binge, but I did. Out of the three, I would say this was my second favorite, just behind Lex Thomas' Quarantine (original title, I know). I think this story was more realistic in terms of the actual illness, but somethings seemed off about the state of civilization on the island. No one really fights back. Mostly people hunker down. And the looting takes a while (like weeks and weeks) to finally ravage the island. I found that a little unbelievable, but it made for a better story in terms of humanity. I didn't find myself constantly thinking I would rather be a banana slug than a human being. 

My biggest issue with this story was its premise- not the quarantine or the illness, or even the island, but the totally unnecessary "journal conversation" with Leo. Leo is never on the island, isn't even fully explained, but the whole bloody book, is about him? This book would have been much more powerful without that angle. I didn't even mind the first person narrative, which isn't usually my style, but I hated the idea of Kae pouring her heart out to a boy who has nothing to do with any of the story I was reading. In fact, I don't even know the full Leo story now that I have finished the book! OK, end rant. Sorry. 

But still, I really did like this story and have every intention of reading the next book in the trilogy. I am looking forward to more of Gav, because he is just the type of young man you all hope your sons will grow up into. He thinks about others before himself and risks everything to help people he barely knows. I love Gav! This is a mild mini-apocalypse type story that would be appropriate for a mixture of ages and reading levels as it is relatively tame on all fronts. And hopefully Crewe will explain a little about Leo in the next book, or ditch him altogether!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Just For You!

Just for Fins
I am convinced those people who claim to only read intellectual, stuffy books, magazines, and newspapers secretly have a stash of fun, easy reading hidden under their beds. Why fight the fact that sometimes, a funny, easy, entertaining, endearing read is all you really want? And with Tera Lynn Childs, you are bound to get just that with Just for Fins

Lily may be a mermaid queen, but that doesn't mean everyone takes her seriously. In her mermaid kingdom, she tries to use her position to call the other mermaid kings and queens to join forces to help Tellin's kingdom (her "husband" or bond mate, in name only). Tellin's kingdom is on the verge of starvation due to pollution and over-fishing, but that doesn't mean anyone wants to help them. The other leaders scold Lily for not recognizing their own human-caused problems and promptly depart from the meeting, leaving Lily to look like a fool.

But Tellin's dying kingdom isn't Lily's only concern. An ancient law is dug up that states Quince, Lily's true love, must pass three trials in order for them to remain together. If he fails, she will be banished to the water, he will be banished to land, and neither can come together ever again. Now Lily finds everything she ever loved on the line with little hope of fixing things. But it is about to get worse when the merpeople consider acts of sabotage on oil rigs and ships perfectly acceptable revenge to save the oceans humans have so carelessly destroyed. As a half-human who is in love with a human, Lily can't imagine the losses and devastation such acts could cause. But how can one teenage mermaid stop generations of oceanic destruction all by herself?

I just love Tera Lynn Childs. She never disappoints. Her stories are witty, fun, and just make me smile. This was a good conclusion to the mermaid tales (pun intended), but I wish the trials for Quince weren't so rushed. With the focus on the environmental issues, the trials we stuffed into a few short pages them forgotten about for a long stretch. It seems like it could either have been more developed or left out altogether instead of making a big deal out of it then ignoring it. Still, the environmental issues were a great, serious element to these fun stories, and whole-heartedly appropriate for a modern day story of the sea.

These are fairly young books and would be best for middle readers or an immature young adult reader. Although, if you can get a stronger young adult reader to pick them up, they would most likely enjoy the entertaining stories. They do have a great joy to them, and I know I have enjoyed every book I read by Childs!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Adrift at Sea

The Raft
I remember reading Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor in junior high and being terrified. I don't want to bob around at sea with no idea what was going to happen to me, slowly going mad by dehydration. My husband is terrified of the ocean, and while I mock him for it endlessly, I can see where his fear comes from, especially after reading The Raft by S.A. Bodeen.

Robie lives on the Midway Atoll with her biologist parents. People think it is cool to live on an atoll, but when you are the only teenager, there is rarely an internet connection, and the only food and movies you have are the ones you schlepped over on a limited space cargo plane, you lose sight of the "coolness" quickly. So after sometime in Hawaii, she makes an impromptu decision to return home ahead of schedule. She secures a space on a cargo plane with a pilot she knows and trusts and his new copilot, Max. All is going well until an unexpected storm sends the plane hurtling into the ocean.

While Max manages to throw her out of the plan and they get into the raft, all is not well and safe. bobbing around the ocean in a raft is the furthest thing from Robie's bucket list, and now, without out food or fresh water, surviving the plane crash may have been a wasted effort. Max won't even respond to her most of the time, but his stories are comforting at least. Unfortunately, they can't survive on comfort, and as the days roll on, their chances of making it off the raft in one piece become smaller, especially when sharks are beneath them, fishing is pretty much impossible, and there is no rain in sight.  Will Robie live to see civilization, or will she succumb to the sea?

Here is the thing about S.A. Bodeen. She knows how to throw a twist you didn't see coming. In The Compound, she threw a twist that changed the ENTIRE intent of the book and had my head spinning. In this book, the twist isn't nearly as large, but it is pretty significant. Enough so to make you stop and say, "Hey! You got me!" That makes for a fun and entertaining book. Robie is an intereting character because her little acts of rebellion, like piercing her nose, pale in comparison to her will to survive. I don't think I could have done what she did to stay alive. You will like Robie from the start of the book and will find yourself cheering for her straight through to the last page.

Since this is a short book and is quite interesting, I will most likely keep it on my shelf for kids who struggle to get something to hold their attention. The monkey wrench in the middle will hold them through and the idea of surviving is great material for discussions. I didn't think the story was mind-blowing, but it was good entertainment and will appeal to a good deal of my students. The writing is neither simplistic nor intricate, so this is a perfect book for your average young adult reader. Still, I am impressed how Bodeen can get me every time!

Tiny, Slightly Unnecessary Story

Free Four: Tobias Tells the Divergent Story
Four, or Tobias as he is now known, was a strange character in both Divergent novels. He is not an easy character to get to know, he puts up walls, and that outer, crusty shell he wears is pretty impenetrable. So a short story about the Four's first encounter with Tris from his own perspective must be pretty illuminating, right? Well, sort of. 

This was an interesting few pages from Four's perspective about how he decided to stay in Dauntless after finally deciding to become factionless (which we found out about in Insurgent). We know Tris was the reason, but from Four's perspective, we see it wasn't all love at first sight and kittens and roses; there was a more sinister reason behind his need to protect Tris. 

But this is such a short, short story, you don't really get much from it. A brief insight, but otherwise an unnecessary story this late in the game. It would have been a great chapter addition to either of the books (first one as it happened or second as a flashback), but seeing as how the information is already known, the added perspective didn't change much for me. I read it because I really like the series, but it wasn't a necessary purchase if you have read the two books in the series already released (and might give too much away if you have only read the first book). 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Thrilling Sequel Takes a Bite Out of My Summer!

When Enclave by Ann Aguirre ended, we found Deuce and Fade Topside- aboveground after living underground in the Enclave all their lives. It was a change that sent the series into a completely different direction, and it injected more surprises and excitement into Outpost than you can imagine!

Deuce, Fade, Tegan, and Stalker were taken in by the people of Sanctuary, but they certainly weren't accepted by everyone immediately. Given to different foster parents, they found themselves suddenly immersed in a society that had survived within tall walls and relatively removed from the Freaks who roamed the countryside. They almost never came face to face with the Freaks, animal-like humanoids with terrifying teeth and claws, and they certainly couldn't defend themselves against them. Deuce and the others were well-trained in Freak combat, but Sanctuary saw them as children, not the lethal hunters they actually were. Forced to go to school and act like proper boys and girls, Deuce and the others struggle to fit into Sanctuary. 

When the crops are destroyed by the Freaks, it becomes clear they are no longer mindless roaming monsters with no intellect. After a couple of calculated attacks, Sanctuary is forced to acknowledge that the Freaks are getting smarter and Sanctuary is in danger. When Deuce, Fade, and Stalker offer to set up an outpost to protect the crops, the rest of the town is shamed into sending adults with them. Leaving the walls is terrifying for the people of Sanctuary, but so is starving through the winter with no crops to eat. Once they establish the outpost, however, it becomes clear the situation with the Freaks has escalated to a point that leaves Sanctuary vulnerable. But if the only people willing to do anything about it are the outsiders, how will Sanctuary survive this new threat?

I know it is difficult, sometimes, when a series takes a whole new spin, like Enclave did by throwing the kids Topside, but when done well, it can transform a series and make the sequel just as exciting as the original novel. That was certainly the case with Outpost, which extended the first story, but gave this book a whole new purpose all its own. I thought it was brilliant on Aguirre's part to do so, and it made me just as thrilled for the third book to come. We also get to see a whole new side of the characters we loved from the first book. Most transformative for me was the path Deuce traveled. Having never had a family in the Enclave, she couldn't get used to Momma Oaks, her foster mother. But when it became clear Momma Oaks really loved her, allowing herself to be the child of caring parents was an experience that made Deuce want to save Sanctuary. There were also times when you saw the ugly side of Sanctuary, which was very realistic for any community living so close together, and it made me like and believe the story even more. 

I really liked this sequel, and I think Aguirre did a great job of keeping a story going without just repeating what worked in the first book (a common mistake). The journey these characters traveled not only changed them, it changes you as a reader. You see them differently and cannot help but transform with them. The story was exciting and terrifying at times, but it keeps you wondering what is going to happen next. You will want to protect these kids, but you will also be proud of their bravery, even when the adults from Sanctuary are unwilling to take the same risks to save their own home. This was a fantastic follow-up, and I am dying to get ahold of the next book!

Brilliant Short Prequel

The Shadow Cats: A Girl of Fire and Thorns Story
When you read a story, sometimes there are characters who are important, but not enough to take center stage. They lack in development in order to keep the pace of the story, but are certainly the focus of intrigue. This is how I felt about Alodia, the crowned princess in Rae Carson's Girl of Fire and Thorns, and what made me so interested in this short prequel story, The Shadow Cats.

Alodia may be the crowned princess, the one who will run her kingdom someday, but her sister, her ineffectual, frumpy sister Elisa is the one everyone talks about because of her Godstone (given to her by God and will lead her to greatness). Alodia resents the undeserved attention Elisa is afforded, but that doesn't make her shirk her duties. When she travels to a distant province within her kingdom, she finds a town suffering a curse that leaves the ground unable to sustain a harvest and people on the verge of starvation. When the conde tells her a mystical jaguar is the carrier of the curse, Alodia has no time for rumors and superstition. She is a princess who isn't afraid to put away her skirts and travel into the thick jungle to save her people. Elisa might be chosen by God for greatness, but Alodia makes her own choices and she chooses greatness.

This was a phenomenal prequel story that really gave us a glimpse into the life of Alodia. I always wondered about this sister of Elisa, since Girl of Fire and Thorns was all about Elisa. Alodia bore the whole responsibility of her people, but Elisa was just handed the glory, she never earned anything. I think Carson did a good job by releasing this story to not only keep us biding our time for the next book in the series, but also to give us another perspective and more insight into the relationship between these two sisters. And although the story is about Alodia, the presence of Elisa makes you understand the girl and her Godstone even better! This is a must for anyone who started reading this series!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rockin' Story!

Every graduation ceremony is littered with students who feel obligated to make their parents happy, have their fleeting moment of freedom cut short by obligations, and are wildly unsure of themselves. If you show me a new graduate who has a clue what they want to do with their lives, I will show you someone who is delusional! In Tara Kelly's Amplified, we get a glimpse into the life of a young woman who is in the middle of figuring out what she really wants to do, even if that means her father kicks her out of the house.

Jasmine Kiss (yes that's her real name) may not have ever played in a real show or in front of anyone, but she considers herself a musician. She has used every penny she ever saved to buy her equipment, and even though her only shows are for her best friend in the garage, she knows she has to spend her life playing music. The problem is her father has other ideas about what she should be doing with her time- namely, college. When Jasmine refuses to go to college right away, her dad kicks her out and tells her to make it on her own. For a girl form the rich neighborhood, being homeless and broke are new experiences.

When Jasmine finds an add for a guitarist similar to her style, but they are only looking for guys. Since the gig comes with housing, Jasmine takes a chance anyway. She instantly likes Veta, the perky, angsty singer, but Sean, Veta's rude brother is a whole different story. When they agree to let Jasmine join the band (albeit reluctantly for some members), they have no idea that she has never played a show or been part of a band before. With the band, C-Note's, rising success, the next few shows are going to make it or break it for them, and Jasmine's complete lack of experience could do them in completely.

Jasmine was a strange mix. She was strong enough to stand up to her father, get kicked out of the house, and even sleep in her car until she hooked up with the band. But then you put her onstage and she becomes a shy little mouse who can't even do what she loves. And quite frankly, that was tough for me to understand. A girl who has enough guts to abandon her cushy life and live in her car should be able to get up in front of five people and play the guitar (the packed club I understand, but she could barely even try out!). But the supporting characters were a decent addition. Not everyone in the band was sold on Jasmine, which made the dynamic more realistic and believable. I had a tough time even liking Sean, Jasmine's love interest, because he was such a toad most of the time. Yes, it sucks your girlfriend cheated on you with your best friend and broke up your band, but what the heck does that have to do with this new girl who might save your flippin' band, dude? Lighten up! Sean just didn't really do it for me.

The story, however, was much more interesting than any individual character (although I loved Veta). I love the idea of abandoning your parents' expectations and taking some risks in order to do something that makes you happy. By this age our kids are so influenced by everyone around them, it was enlightening to see a young girl who simply couldn't pretend anymore. She knew she wanted to play, and there was nothing that was going to stop her (except stage fright, perhaps). So this isn't a bad story for young adults, but it might be particularly good for that rebellious young woman who needs to recognize rebellion for a cause, not rebellion for the sake of annoying people. And anyone interested in music will enjoy the detailed descriptions of the band's songs- pretty powerful!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dystopia Surges Forward

Insurgent (Divergent)
When any group of people are divided, they lose the strength their numbers could have afforded. As divided groups, they have less power, they are easier to manipulate, and most importantly, they find it harder to fight back against adversity. In Veronica Roth's Insurgent, we see a city divided into factions that is finally realizing the hazards of living separate lives.

Tris experienced one of the worst things a child could encounter. She watched her mother sacrifice herself in order to save Tris's life. Add that guilt to the fact that Tris's faction, Dauntless, were the ones killing her parents' faction, and you have a young girl who no longer knows where she belongs. Now that the Abnegation (her parents' faction) survivors have scattered and Dauntless (Tris's faction) has divided, the plans of the Erudite faction are coming to light. The faction knows how to control people's minds through simulations (used to place kids in their factions and train them), which gives Erudite a load of mindless, obedient drones to control. For a faction with its sights set on controlling everything, this is a very dangerous scenario.

But the loyal Dauntless who aren't under the Erudite's control refuse to give up (because, after all, they are Dauntless). With the discovery that the Divergent (a rare person who qualifies for more than one Faction) are immune to the simulations, Erudite is becoming more ruthless than ever, and they know Tris and Tobais are behind the insurgency. What they didn't expect is that the factionless, people ejected from the factions for one reason or another and forced to fend for themselves on the streets, are joining forces with the other factions to stop Erudite. But are a bunch of half-starved stragglers enough to take on the most powerful faction? They just might be!

I loved Divergent. Loved it. Obsessed about it a little bit. So Insurgent  had a lot to live up to. While I still love Divergent the best so far, I have to say Insurgent was pretty darned good! I was a little worried at first, but the book hooked me quickly and kept me turning the pages. I loved the depth into Tris's story and her true qualities, the same ones that make her Divergent, poking out. Her relationship with Tobias was really strained throughout this book, and I was glad to see a relationship that mirrored the climate and setting of the book. I hate when you have the crazy, can't see anything but you, obsessive love forming in the wake of a murderous revolution (or zombie plague, or any high anxiety situation for that matter). Who is going to be giving moon-eyes over the table when you watched your family slaughtered by your own community?! So I appreciated that Roth kept that in mind with the relationship. I also like that Tris was a little impetuous and had trouble keeping herself out of trouble. We can't all be calculating and spot-on, so it was humanizing to see her react to each situation.

This is a great dystopian series for both lovers of the sub-genre and those who just liked one particular dystopia (that which shall not be named out of respect for not comparing every bloody book in the same genre to one particular series despite the glaring lack of similarities solely because that series is the new craze). The books look big and intimidating, but they read so fast that a number of types of kids could enjoy them. The story gets a little complicated at times with so many characters, but you can sort them out relatively easily. And oh boy. You will want MORE!!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Supreme Fantasy, Like No Other

Finnikin of the Rock (The Lumatere Chronicles)
Melina Marchetta has a way of writing a story that doesn't appeal to some people, but it blows the rest of us out of the water. In her beautiful opening to the Lumatere Chronicles called Finnikin of the Rock, you will find yourself immersed into this foreign world where things aren't always as they seem.

Finnikin remembers the nights of horror after the king, queen, and their children were slaughtered by assassins. The cousin of the king stormed the castle and took over, closing the borders of Lumatere. Many Lumaterans escaped as he ravaged through the country, killing those who would dare question him, but many were trapped inside the country's walls. Of those trapped was the mystical priestess of the Forest Dwellers, but when they came to kill her after discovering she was covered in the blood of the youngest princess, Isaboe, she cursed the kingdom on her way out of this world from a burning stake. Now everyone suffers: the innocent people caught inside the walls and those thrust from the kingdom who live as exiles, claimed by no other kingdom and suffering the curse from afar.

When Finnikin and Sir Topher are compelled to seek out a novice (kind of a priestess in training), they locate a young woman who tells them Balthazar, the young prince heir, is still alive. Finnikin's father was the leader of the King's Guard, but he is imprisoned in an unknown location and unable to do anything for his people. So Finnikin and Topher take it upon themselves to find a place for their people to finally call home now that Lumatere is lost to them, but such a task is near impossible. Now, with the hope of the prince heir still being alive, they feel they might be able to help their people if they have a beloved leader to bring back to them. But the road with the novice, Evanjalin, is paved with lies, deceit, and danger. She is someone Finnikin is sure he can't trust, but she is also captivating. He can't stay away from her, but he is worried she will get them all killed if he doesn't. 

Oh, Melina Marchetta. When I read Jellicoe Road, I was blown away. It was beautiful, haunting, and amazing. But when I saw Finnikin of the Rock I wasn't sure what to think about a fantasy novel. I should have known you would create magic with anything you wrote. This novel was so beautifully told, I couldn't rush it. It actually took me significantly longer to read for a book this size because I wanted to cherish each and every word. It was the kind of story that rolls around in your mind long after you finished it. I am not sure how else to describe the magic you accomplish with your writing other than magical. Maybe that is cliche, but in this case, completely accurate. Just thinking about it makes me want to gush even more! Marchetta can take a simple scene, a scene other authors can tackle without difficulty, but she does so with an infinite grace that makes each page draw you into the fantasy world she created. In fact, the story reminded me a little of Kristin Cashore's Graceling where she created a story that just spoke for itself- no endorsements necessary!

This book, as beautiful as it is, might be too complex for a younger, less experienced reader. It is mature, not because of the content (although the content can be mature at times, dealing with rape, gruesome murders, and child slavery), but because of the way it is writing. The writing style is incredibly beautiful, but it may lose a reader who isn't comfortable in taking their time, digesting the story, and possibly even rereading in order to get the full effect of the story. I know my students are sometimes to anxious to finish the story, they can't take their time to enjoy it. This book would be lost on those students. It would also be lost on those who can only read a few pages at a clip. It really needs to be digested in larger hunks to get the full experience of the story. But if you know anyone, adult, or young adult, who loves fantasy and can take the time to enjoy a beautiful story, this is a perfect choice for you. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

An Isle of Blood Can't Be Good?!

The Isle of Blood (Monstrumologist)
With so many myths and stories of hairy beastlies and mysterious creepers, we all rest a little easier thinking there is a monster hunter (hunt in the biological sense, not the skin and eat sense) out there keeping things together. But when that Monstrumologist is Pellinore Warthrop, you know being his apprentice is going to be adventurous, and seriously dangerous. In Rick Yancey's The Isle of Blood, the third book in the Monstrumologist series, you get to see just how far Warthrop will take his young apprentice, Will Henry.

When a "wild card" colleague of Warthrop's tricks a man into delivering an artifact, a nest made out of human bits, Warthrop realizes he now possesses evidence of the great white whale of Monstrumology. Unfortunately, the highly contagious nature of this nest causes the distraught messenger to succumb to the illness and attack Will Henry. In order to prevent the same fate for Will Henry, Warthrop must do something unthinkable. While he saves Will Henry's life, he can't get past the fact that he has put Will Henry in danger, and as he goes off in search of the greatest monster that ever lived, the Faceless One, he leave Will Henry behind and takes the eager new apprentice who arrived conveniently before this big adventure.

But when the apprentice returns and claims Warthrop is dead, Will Henry refuses to accept the news. He knows his master is alive, and he is willing to go to great lengths to find him. Unfortunately, no one wants to believe a young kid when chances are the Monstrumologist finally succumbed to the very monsters he focuses his life around. Of course, monstrumologists are used to believing in the long shot, and one Will Henry pokes holes through the new apprentice's claims, they are able to get a lead on Warthrop. Where that lead takes them and what they have to do to get there, of course, are the stuff of nightmares. But then again, isn't that the world of Monstrumology?

It amazes me how Yancey can take such a small wisp of an idea and create such a story. A rumor of a beastlie can lead you down a road of visceral trauma and imagination like you never thought you could experience. And the characters? I continue to love them more and more with each passing book. In particular, I love the relationship between Will Henry and Warthrop. Where I could never put my finger on who Warthrop reminded me of, I finally realized it as I was describing the story to my sister... he is Sheldon from "Big Bang Theory"! He is not heartless or uncaring, but rather very clinical and devoted to his work. But when his work poses a threat to Will Henry, he cannot being himself to lose the boy and you get to see glimpses of how much this man truly does love his "adopted" son. He may call Will Henry his apprentice, but the love between father and son is obvious to those of us on the outside looking in, which makes their story even better, in my opinion.

This is truly a magnificent series, and it is perfect for those quirky students who have grown out of typical YA stories. It has a gothic feel to it, but the story transcends anything you have read before. I am excited to hear the publisher was bullied into letting Yancey write a fourth book after trying to stop him at three, and I can't wait to read the final book in the series. Yancey has an imagination that will only twist and warp your own imagination in ways you didn't think possible, so I say, "Let him have it!"

Friday, August 10, 2012

Endlessly Entertaining

Endlessly (Paranormalcy)
I struggled with the second book of this series, Supernaturally, after loving the first book, Paranormalcy, so I didn't know what to really expect with this final book in the series. But, never one to give up on a trilogy after reading two thirds of the story, I went with Endlessly, and I am glad I gave Kiersten White's final book in the trilogy a shot.

Evie always knew she was different, growing up in IPAC (they keep the ugly beastlies in line) and seeing through paranormal glamours left her with anything but a normal childhood. But when IPAC turned on her and she found out what she really was- an Empty One- her ability to suck the souls from paranormals was further from normal than she ever thought she would be. But now that she is out of the Company and living almost a normal life (surrounded by vampires, water elementals, and other supernatural creatures, but more normal than IPAC!), she wants to avoid them at all costs. But when a group of paranormals want her to open a gate to another realm and take them all of earth, she isn't willing to use her powers again.

But the answer isn't that easy. The good paranormals want to go back home, but the bad ones, Unseelie faeries in particualr, are quite content where they are, taking advantage of the human race. When Evie's ex-boyfriend, faerie Reth, takes her on a tour of the Unseelie lands, she sees just how far their terror goes with their "farm" of humans and pregnant girls ready to give birth to more Empty Ones. And then her boyfriend, Lend, is cursed and she will do anything to lift the curse, even if it means working with paranormals again. But no one wants to make this easy for Evie. IPAC, the Unseelie court, Reth, and everyone she knows continue to pull her in different directions, and the one person Evie needs to talk to about it all is cursed to fall asleep every time she enters the room. Evie can never catch a break!

Like I said, I am glad I gave this book a shot. I am not sure why I struggled so much with the second book, but it just didn't appeal to me as much as the first book. This one redeemed the series a bit. I liked Evie in all her snarky madness, and the supporting characters really added to her development. I also liked the arc the story took and how it finally ended. It wasn't too predictable, but not unfamiliar either. I am glad I read this third book, because it made me appreciate the series again.

This is a great series for young girls because Evie is a strong, spunky, snarky young woman who isn't afraid to use her taser on a faerie or tell off a werewolf, but she is still just a young girl who wants normal things, like a dance with her boyfriend at the formal. I think girls will relate to Evie easily, and find themselves laughing out loud at her witty comments and silly antics. The series waivers between being fairly young and edging into the young adult realm. I wouldn't necessarily call it Middle Reader, but it is definitely on the younger side of YA. But either way, Evie will give you a chuckle!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ending in Rapture

Rapture (Fallen)
A conclusion to a well-loved series is tough. You know how you want things to end, so the ending has the dangerous tendency to be predictable, which is always disappointing. Or the author could do something completely unpredictable, but what if it kills your favorite character or means the girl ends up with the wrong guy? Then you are just ticked off that you bothered to even read the whole bloody series in the first place. But sometimes, just sometimes, an author can do something magical. They can do something unexpected and still make you happy. Difficult to accomplish? Absolutely. Phenomenal experience? You bet your rump it is! Well, Lauren Kate didn't disappoint with Rapture, the final book in the Fallen series... Not by a long shot.

Now that Luce has seen the beauty and the horror of all her many lives of falling in love with Daniel and then her immediate destruction, she knows the consequences and she still loves Daniel. But Lucifer won't let them accomplish their one true desire: to end the curse and finally be together as they have always wanted to be. Lucifer decides to start the Fall again, to erase thousands of years, not only of Luce and Daniel's love for each other, but also of the rest of the world's evolution. By starting the Fall anew, the angels must again choose between the Throne (God) and Lucifer (Hell). But the consequences will be catastrophic.

Daniel knows that there are three relics in the world that might lead them to the path where the Fall is to begin. If they can find these three relics and locate the place where the original Fall took place, they might be able to stop Lucifer before he follows through with his mad plan. But the relics haven't been seen for generations, centuries, and locating them is only half the battle. With only a little over a week to stop Lucifer, all the angels and demons must come together and work as the team they once were. But how do you stop the greatest evil of all when he sets his mind to something?

I never saw this ending coming. I knew what I wanted, but I didn't expect what actually happened, and I have to say, I am not the least bit disappointed. I think Lauren Kate did a beautiful job finishing this series and I am very glad I stuck with it. I struggled with the first book, but I think the story just improved with age and culminated in this final, epic volume. The final section (I won't give it away!) is so beautiful that while you read it, you feel like you are beholden to something magical, supernatural, and just beyond your ability to comprehend. It was amazing and I feel completed by this final novel in this series. I feel like there was no better way to end the years of books I have kept up with, so Brava, Ms. Kate. Brava.

This series can fluctuate in its excitement and confusion levels, so I would start the series with a kid who is strong enough to keep up with it. But I wouldn't give this series to the kind of kid who doesn't like to read all of the books in a series, because this series definitely gets better with time. You would be doing yourself a disservice to read one or two books and put it down. But if you want a really beautiful series that started out a little bit trite and transformed itself into something magical, I give you the Fallen series!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

High School is Like Prison

Quarantine #1: The Loners
High school is a prison. At least it feels that way when you are there. But what our slightly melodramatic youngsters can't imagine is actually being trapped in your high school, under a quarantine that literally makes your high school into a prison. In Lex Thomas's Quarantine: The Loners, you get to see just how ugly high school can be.

David knew punching Sam, the star of the football team, was going to have repercussions, but he had no idea they would be so long-lasting. In a normal time, he would have had to watch his back and life would have been difficult until he graduated, but when half the school exploded and the rest was put under a mandatory, isolating quarantine, he was left to survive the insane wrath of Sam with no adults to supervise. When a kid infected with an insane virus that kills all adults instantly runs into the high school, there is no other option but to try to contain the disease by bombing the school. Unfortunately, nothing was contained and all the adults died anyway. Now hundreds of kids are left to fend for themselves with no answers, and no way to feed themselves. The military starts dropping food, but as the seniors age, they start to die the same way, by coughing up their own lungs. In order to avoid the inevitable massacre, the military creates the "graduation booth" where kids who have lost the virus from their systems can safely leave the toxic school and rejoin the rest of society. But that means there are a lot of kids stuck in the school who face years before they can leave. And we all know what happens when kids are left to their own devices for years on end... we have all read Lord of the Flies. It doesn't end well.

After a year in the school, gangs have formed so kids can have some fighting chance of staying alive. Without a gang like Varsity, Pretty Ones, Nerds, Freaks, or Sluts, you can pretty much count on starving and looking over your shoulder with every move you make. Thanks to David's impulsive decision to punch Sam for fooling around with David's girlfriend, he is a wanted and shunned man, and his brother Will is guilty by association. They make do, cleaning laundry to trade since they have no chance of actually getting food in the military drops, but Will resents his lot in life. As Scraps (gang-less kids), they barely get by. But when David tries to protect a newly shunned Pretty One from being raped by a Varsity, he accidentally kills the guy and becomes more than just shunned... now he is a wanted man. When he is saved by a bunch of Scraps and Will, the Scraps have an interesting proposition. They want to form their own gang. David finally agrees when the Scraps come together an stand up to Sam for the next drop, but just because they have a gang, it doesn't mean they are safe. Because no one is safe in Quarantine.

So, this was quite the story. Two man writing team Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies (pen name: Lex Thomas) created a realistic, terrifying, brutal place that is exactly what you would expect. There is violence and rape and starvation and insanity and even forced "prostitution" where the Pretty Ones are forced to date Varsity in order to get their protection and food and resources. This book is ugly because this situation is ugly. A world where bullies and beasts are strongest is just survival of the fittest. And everyone else is forced to survive on the fringes. But we all know a revolution is imminent when people are scared and starving. Starving people will do anything to eat, even stand up to someone who has all the power when they are essentially powerless as one individual. But together, they can show the powers that be that there is power in numbers. This story felt so real and accurate it was incredibly disturbing. I found myself cringing with each descriptive sentence and action scene. Not because it was gratuitous. Because it was exactly what would happen if this wasn't fiction.

There is an amazing depiction of the relationship between brothers, David and Will, that will ring true to any sibling relationship. They hate each other, but love one another, they want to kill each other, but won't let anyone hurt the other, they forgive but don't forget, and most of all, they compete. It was a really well executed relationship for Lex Thomas, and it will ring true for anyone with siblings. But the other characters were just as dynamic and well executed. The boy, Smudge, who preferred being a Scrap, and Dorothy, who abandoned the Scraps out of fear when they faced Sam, and even Hilary, the leader of the Pretty Ones who did what she had to in order to stay alive, but who could barely live with herself anymore. They were executed brilliantly.

Since the story is so disturbing, it would probably be best for older young adults, maybe grades 10 and up. But this would be a perfect story for any reluctant reader, boys in particular. Like I said, the story is mature, so be aware of who you give it to. I can't imagine anyone with delicate sensibilities will make it more than 10 pages in this story. My one biggest critique was the difficulty keeping up with the ever-changing point of view. It switched so often it felt a little schizophrenic at times. I never really got used to it. But otherwise, you will enjoy this story if you can stomach the terrifying reality of it all! And you will walk down the halls of your school a little differently once you are finished!

Monday, August 6, 2012

One Big Paranormal Motley Crew!

Infinity: Chronicles of Nick
Life is hard for any teenager. But if your father is an evil, sadistic jerk serving time and your mom is a stripper, life is downright miserable. In the first book of The Chronicles of Nick, Infinity, Sherrilyn Kenyon tells the story of a normal boy who is anything but normal.

Nick lives among thug football players, crazy voodoo hunters, and some real New Orleans characters, but he just can't seem to stay out of trouble. His mother tells him on a daily basis how hard she works to take care of him, and he wants nothing more than to make her happy, but things around him always fall apart. When another football jerk taunts him into reacting (by mentioning his mother's profession, of course), he gets suspended from school. What he didn't realize was he was safer being out of school than in it that week. 

When one football player attacks another and tries to eat him, people start to wonder what on earth they have been doing. When a whole rash of "zombies" start running around trying to kill people, they start to get worried. In New Orleans, of course, nothing surprises people. When the "zombies" (who aren't really zombies, but just kids who are under a voodoo trance) get out of hand, it's crazy Bubba and his clan who know exactly what to do. What Nick doesn't know, though, is everyone around him, including his classmates and his new employer, are not what they seem. But can all these paranormal beings stop brainwashed zombies from trying to eat their way through the city?

OK. So there was every kind of paranormal creature stuffed into one book. Sometimes that is fun, sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. In this book, I teetered on the edge of both sentiments. I found myself confused sometimes and others I had to laugh at how everyone just accepted werewolves and shapeshifters as something they figured existed anyway, and just hadn't seen for themselves yet. Sometimes, the addition of yet another paranormal creature made the story feel a little anticlimactic. I asked myself, "Really? No one thinks this is strange?" Maybe that is just the interpretation of the New Orleans culture coming through in this story, but it struck me as odd. 

Another struggle I had with this story is all the added angles flying in and out of the story. Sometimes there was so much going on it seemed confusing, especially when a new angle (like Nick's dad) was introduced, but never fully developed or explained. Since this is an ongoing series, I assume those things are being addressed later, but it makes the first book more difficult to digest at this point. Other than that, this was a fun book. I think the maturity level and reading level make it a decent middler reader book for your older middle school students through less mature young adult readers. I am anxious to read the next book in order to find a little resolution for my many many questions. At least I hope there is a little resolution!