Sunday, September 30, 2012

How Do You Hide a Dragon?

Hidden: A Firelight Novel
The life of the Draki isn't easy. Have you ever tried hiding a dragon? What about a whole pride of dragons? But the hunters and the enkros (scientists who torture and dismember dragons) make life particularly dangerous. Jacinda has survived, but in Hidden, she risks her own life to save that of her pride member. Even when it means giving herself to the enkros.

Jacinda bonded with Cassian, but the bond was in name only. She truly loves Will, but responsibility to her pride changes her ability to make decisions based on her emotions. Now that Cassian's sister has been taken to the enkros, she can feel his pain through the bond and knows she must save Miriam. Doing so, however, means letting herself be captured and taken to the enkros, a fate no Draki would choose for themselves.

Inside the enkros headquarters, Jacinda learns just how awful the scientists are. While Drakis go into the lab, they never come out. But Jacinda, Will, and Cassian won't rest until they free Miriam. Inside, Jacinda is pitted against a terrifying gray dragon with razor sharp scales. She survives, barely, but the enkros take her to be tagged with a tracking device. Cassian and Will couldn't have come at a more perfect time, saving her from the implanted device, but Miriam wasn't so lucky. Now they have to outrun hunters who know where they are, and the only safe place they know if is the pride, but returning to the pride means putting them all at risk. Choices aren't always easy, and Jacinda has been plagued by enough of her own tough choices, but the safety of the pride is the toughest one she has had to weather. What will she decide?

This was a very exciting conclusion to this interesting young series. We all have an idea of "the perfect ending," which might not be the perfect ending for some characters, but we know what we want to happen. We also know what the easy ending would be- something that doesn't rock the boat too much and leaves us warm and fuzzy inside. Jordan took a risk with this conclusion by not giving you everything you wanted. You won't be disappointed, but you won't feel warm and fuzzy either. In a book full of tough choices, some of those choices were bound to lead to sacrifices, and that is exactly what happened in Hidden.

I loved where this series went, and I think it matured and grew up in content dynamics as it aged. It went from a clear middle reader series to a final book that expects more from its readers in the depth and breadth. This conclusion proved Jordan knows how to elevate her readers as they progress through her stories, and I am looking forward to her next endeavor!

What Do You Perceive?

Perception: A Clarity Novel
Being someone with the ability to see into the past by touching an object, from a family of people with supernatural gifts, and in a tourist town means high school ain't easy. Instead, it's full of isolation, taunting, and downright mean teens. But when Clarity helped solve a murder that threatened to put her own brother in jail in Clarity, she was lifted out of the perpetual world of the outsider... at least for a little while.

Clare isn't used to her new-found "acceptance" among the students at school, but at least not everything has changed. The Queen Bee, so to speak, still hates her, and her minion still makes life for Clare hell. So it hasn't changed that much. But Clare can't forget that her ex-boyfriend cheated on her, especially since she saw it with her own vision. He keeps sending gifts "from a secret admirer", but she knows it is him. But what has really changed is Perry, Clare's brother. While Perry was once happy go lucky and carefree, he is now haunted by almost going to jail for that girl's murder as a result of his gift. He postponed college and barely leaves the house, but something is about to happen to their sleepy little town that will remind him all too much of the girl who was murdered. 

When a girl goes missing, everyone in town assumes, as an 18 yr old child prodigy, she ran away. But her mother insists something happened to her. When her mother comes to Clare's family for psychic help, they can't get much to help her. But now Clare feels like she has to help this girl. When it becomes clear her gifts and flowers aren't from her ex-boyfriend or Gabriel, the interesting guy who helped her exonerate Perry in the previous murder, she is confused. But as the gifts turn to stalker material, like pictures taken of her trying on Homecoming dresses, she gets nervous. Around her, things are falling apart as her brother grows closer to being a shut in, the girl's disappearance becomes suspicious, and her gifts grow creepier and creepier. But Clare won't back down. She isn't going to let herself be scared. But she should be scared.

While reading this book, I kept thinking there was too much going on. The backlash from the murder in the first book, in particular, what is happening to Perry, seemed to be enough to keep the story going. I felt the disappearance was just unnecessary plot that cluttered the other stuff and was somewhat implausible in this sleepy little tourist town. But as the story continued, it all came together and it all made sense. In the end, I see where it all went, but I still think the story about her brother and the town recovering from the original murder was more important than having Clare solve yet another horrible crime with her gifts. 

These books are good for a mix of young adult students. They are interesting and not overly complex, complete with the twist at the end. The characters are where the most intrigue lies, both with the family's gifts, and the people themselves. This is a pretty good series. I am interested in seeing what Harrington does with another story, though. I want to see what she has coming next.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The End isn't as Final as You Thought

Aftermath: A Nightshade Novella
At the conclusion of the Nightshade series, many readers were left aghast at Andrea Cremer's ending (I was surprised, a little sad, but appreciative of the surprising ending). It might have been a surprising ending, but it was certainly a conclusion. In Aftermath, Cremer takes a conclusion full of finality and with a few short pages, makes things not so final again...

The Keepers have been destroyed, but Logan, son of the Nightshade's Keeper, is still free. Adne knows she should enjoy her life free of the wolf, the Keeper's and the threat of monsters worse than anything this world could deliver, but she has a sinking feeling something bad is coming. The war might have been won, but there is still plenty of evil running free.

Well, I thought this was going to wrap things up even more, but it seems to be acting as a bridge to some new spin-off series? I am not saying I didn't enjoy this little teaser, but I certainly hope Cremer plans to follow through on what she set up with this story- a continuation from the conclusion of Bloodrose and on. Otherwise, that was just mean!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Possession or Obsession?

After Obsession
A small, cold town in Maine. A creepy entity that has haunted the town for decades, despite the fact the townspeople refuse to acknowledge its existence. Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel transform a sleepy little town into a complete nightmare in After Obsession.

Aimee's town has suffered sea tragedies before with such a big fishing industry, but the most recent tragedy took her best friend Courtney's father. While they haven't found the fisherman, it is assumed they are lost, to everyone but Courtney. In danger of losing their house, Courtney's aunt and cousin Alan move from the midwest to help them stay on their feet. The tragedy is hard to deal with, but when the rest of town starts to act strange, the loss of the fishermen becomes the last thing on everyone's mind.

People start to act irrational and violent with little to no cause. Alan uses his Native American background to cleanse the house he shares with Courtney, but when she becomes moody, violent, and breaks out in seeping "acne", he suspects something is seriously wrong. Aimee, having lost her mother to mental instability, is worried her suspicions are symptoms of her own insanity. What they realize when they come together, though, is that the current events and past events in the town are no coincidence. Something is rotten in the state of Maine.

I went back and forth about this book before reading it, but I am glad I did. It was a really interesting stand-alone ghost story full if icky, creepy factors and mystery. I really loved Alan's character, who related to his Native American father despite never knowing him. I liked that his heritage was so important to him despite never being handed down to him. He researched his tribe, knew about their ceremonies and customs, and practiced on his own. It was a really interesting new type of character I had not seen before in YA. Sure he was swoon-worthy as well, but this inner conviction in Alan was really inspiring. It also brought this idea of the "modern Indian" out there in a way people haven't really seen before. I was glad the author's took Alan down this road. 

The story itself is a medium kind of creeper with looming mystery and possession. Courtney's symptoms are gross and scary at times, but don't expect "The Exorcism". This would make a good upper middle reader through young adult book for those kids who are a little more mature than their age, but not ready for some heavy horror stories. I really enjoyed the story, and would like to see these author's team up again!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Story of Thimble and Stone

Endurance: A Original
When you read the first book in Ann Aguirre's Enclave series, you were happy to follow the story of Deuce, but you wondered about Stone and Thimble, the friends she left behind as she went Topside. Underground, in a world of darkness and monsters, we finally learned what became of Stone and Thimble as the only world they had ever known crashed down around them.

Stone is just a breeder, but he is a big, strong man. He might not have a specific purpose in the Enclave other than making more brats, but he wants to have a purpose. Thimble narrowly escaped being thrown to the freaks outside the walls to become a Builder, and while most people see her as deformed, Stone has always thought she was perfect. As the Enclave erupts into a civil war with the monsters just waiting for the blood to spill, Stone, Thimble, and Boy 23, Stone's brat, know that if they stay together, they can survive... in one way or another.

This was a fantastic short story attached to this series. It isn't necessary to carry on with the story, but it is really interesting and a fabulous companion to the story currently going on in the first two books. I suggest anyone who liked Enclave to read this companion for more insight into the world of the underground Enclaves. It will leave you wanting more from Aguirre!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Otherworldly Goodness

Just because you know who you are, doesn't mean you can understand your purpose. For Clara in Unearthly, knowing who she is makes her life even more confusing. But Cynthia Hand isn't afraid to throw a few curveballs, even to a divine being (or quarter of a divine being).

Clara knows that as an angel-blood, she has a purpose. All angel-bloods have a purpose, even if they are only a quarter angel. They live to serve their purpose, and Clara is no exception. When she starts to have visions, her half-angel mother tells her the visions are leading her to her purpose... even if that means abandoning California for Wyoming. But in Wyoming is Christian, the boy of her visions. And her purpose is clearly tied to him and the fire that chokes her visions, which start come with increasing frequency. 

But as Clara settles into her new school, she realizes she isn't comfortable living life just for her purpose. She makes friends, has a crush on a boy, and starts to realize there is more to her than a girl who glows from her hair and sprouts wings on command. As Clara gets to know Christian and the brother of her best friend, Tucker, she is torn between what she should do and what she wants to do. but it is difficult to make a decision when one side is determined by God. Even if going against God means a totally wonderful cowboy named Tucker!

There are lots of angel books out there these days, so a new one is always a comparison to the previous stories. In this case, I have to say this was quite an enjoyable angel book. I really appreciated that the angels weren't hidden for 75% of the book (like Hush, Hush), or doled out in tiny little bots, feather by feather, if you will. It was apparent from the beginning that Clara was angel-blood, as were her mother and brother. All the secrets weren't splayed out immediately, of course, but you were given enough upfront to keep you from reading through that foggy confusion. 

Clara was an interesting character who wavered between a girl who wanted more than she was given and a girl who felt responsible for the gifts she was given, even though she didn't totally understand them. I liked the added angel history that added to the story and will certainly keep the story going into the series. This is a great story for strong middle school readers into the young adult readers. It is very clean and interesting, and should appeal to a great deal of readers. I can't wait to find out what happens to Clara, Tuck, and Christian!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I Like My Leading Ladies Defiant!

I like nothing better than a book who was trained to track, hunt, and fight against the will of a dominating ruler in a society where women must be escorted everywhere they go, aren't educated, and are treated like property. And C.J. Redwine takes the dystopia genre by storm with Rachel in Defiance, a girl who won't just sit back and accept her fate. A girl who fights for everyone she loves.

Rachel's father has been declared dead, but she simply won't accept the news. She watches as they close up the city on the final day of wait for him and knows she will find a way to escape the city walls and find her father. But the Commander of the city must now assign her a new Protector, and she assumes it will be Oliver, the man who has been a grandfather to her all her life. When Logan, her father's apprentice and the very young man Rachel professed her undying love to and was rejected by, is named her Protector, Rachel's vehement defiance catches the terrifying eye of the Commander.

Logan tries to keep rachel under control long enough to put together a plan to find her father, but the headstrong young woman refuses to wait. In an attempt to escape over the wall, she is apprehended and has the opportunity to witness the Commander's cruelty all too close. But nothing will stop her from protecting the ones she loves, even if it means leaving the safe walls of the city to roam the Wasteland and risk being burned alive or devoured by the Cursed One.

This was a book that has it all: monsters, dystopia, human folly that gave way to an apocalyptic future, controlling rulers, and feisty ladies. I loved it! Rachel was strong, brave, and quite stubborn, and that made me like her all the more. She was like so many girls I know, love, and am related to! Rachel wouldn't take no for an answer, and her love for her father was one I am sure we can all relate to. Logan was also a very dynamic character. His background as a starving wretch who was saved by Rachel's father and Oliver added to the ferocity with which he protected his job as a courier/tracker. Add to that his loyalty to Rachel's family and burning rage toward the Commander and you have quite a match! 

This is a great book not only for the kids who like dystopias, but also for those girls who need a butt-kickin' heroine to love and root for. There is some violence and the control of the Commander is pretty vile stuff. The book ends in a way that keeps you wanting more but doesn't leave you cursing the book Gods who think it is funny to cheat us of any possible resolution (jerks). So let loose your Defiant streak, ladies. It's time you had some fun!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dragon Racism?

In a land where dragons can kill humans on a whim with all of their reptilian power and strength, but humans can band together and be the first real threat the dragons have encountered, a truce between the two would be delicate at best. In Rachel Hartman's Seraphina, a land where the dragons walk amongst the humans is also a land filled with danger, mistrust, and extreme prejudice.

In order for the dragons to participate in daily activities and government, they must fold themselves into human form. While they immediately look human, there are undeniable dragon traits like silver blood, a lack of human emotion or sensitivity to social constructs, and the bells dragons must wear to identify themselves. The treaty struck years ago allows this delicate balance to hold, but humans and dragons alike despise living together. There are plenty of people who would stop at nothing to see the treaty fail, even by killing the crowned prince.

Seraphina has always had to keep to the shadows and stay out of the public eye because her true nature is something that makes her an abomination in the eyes of both humans in dragons- she is the daughter of a human father and a dragon mother. Inter-species reproduction is forbidden, and for all Seraphina knows, she is the only one. But her mother left her with more than just scales she must keep hidden to avoid detection- she left her with maternal memories that give Seraphina insight into the dragon and human worlds. These maternal memories coupled with Seraphina's mind (and the odd collection of people swirling around inside it) help her to find her way out of a darkened corner and into the light of truth, but truth isn't always easy. Especially when she has grown close to the prince in an effort to solve the mystery of his uncle's murder. 

Seraphina was truly high fantasy. With a dynamic and living fictitious world, new beings and creatures, and a language that required a glossary at the end of the book, this is not a fantasy for those who are just dabbling in the genre. It required a lot of patience and focus to truly enjoy. In fact, as school started and things got hectic for me, I actually had to put it down because reading in between speaking to parents and pre-school meetings was leaving me confused and frustrated with the story. I am actually very glad I put it down and saved it for a better time, because if I had forced myself to read it then, I wouldn't have appreciated it as much as I did by waiting. So be aware that this is a beautiful and intricate story, but you must have the time to devote to careful reading or you will miss the beauty of the story.

That is why this story is best left for an older, stronger reader, preferably one who is into fantasy already. There is a confusing element to the story about these people who roam around Seraphina's head (and she puts them "into a garden" and "tends to them"), but it begins to make more sense later in the story. At first it seemed like a totally unnecessary and confusing element, but once the true nature behind it was revealed, it made a lot more sense. So if you like true fantasy and dragons, you will want to check out Seraphina, if for no other reason than to bear witness to the ugly face of racism against dragons!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Persephone Packs a Punch

Everyone knows the story of Hades and Persephone. A girl tricked by the God of the Underworld to spend half the year in his domain, and half the year she can escape. But Brodi Ashton takes the story further in Everneath by exploring the daughters of Persephone and the hell they live... literally.

Nikki disappeared six months ago, but for her it was like 100 years. She barely escaped the underworld and Cole, the Everliving who wants to join with her and take over the Underworld. But the escape wasn't the end of it. Returning to her life isn't as easy as one would think. Everyone moved on from her disappearance... everyone except Jack, Nikki's boyfriend before she left who has never stopped searching for her. Incidentally, Jack is the one wisp of a memory she didn't lose in the Underworld and what allowed her connection to earth to help her return.

While Nikki just wants to stay, she knows there is an end to her time on earth. She can either return with Cole and rule, but that requires her to become an Everliving who feeds off souls to remain immortal, or she can give herself to the Tunnels, where her very essence is drained away. After spending more time with Jack, Nikki isn't sure which choice is best, but she does know one thing- the last thing she wants to do is to hurt Jack again.

This was a truly unique spin off the Hades and Persephone myth that didn't deal with them directly, but rather their "offspring" embodied. It was a little difficult to follow in the very beginning, in particular in regards to Jack and Cole. At first, I though Cole might be a guy that, while being a soul sucking rocker, might actually be OK for Nikki since he loved her so much. And at first, Jack was painted as a cheating turd who caused her to seek Cole in the first place. But then more and more of the story was revealed and I wanted to beat Cole with his own guitar and write a cheesy love song for the adorable Jack! It was a great transformation that kept me intrigued throughout the entire book. This might seem like a love triangle, but there isn't much competition both before when you think Cole might be OK and hate Jack and after when you love Jack. I think a love triangle has to have two possible love interests, but there really is only one good guy and one turd each time. 

This is a good story for any kid interested in mythology. despite being based on Greek Gods, there is some Egyptian mythology inserted with the idea of the five pieces of a person. It was a really interesting spin off classic mythology, and I think it would hold the attention of many students. The beginning is a little "wispy" and confusing, but eventually you get enough of the story to understand as the pieces are slowly revealed. I look forward to seeing where the series goes, because the end of this book definitely leaves you wanting more!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Spin off the Red Death

Masque of the Red Death
Who would be brave enough to spin a story off the great and powerful Poe, you ask? Well, because there is no greater form of flattery than imitation. Bethany Griffin took Poe's ideas in Masque of the Red Death and ran with them in a story of plague, corruption, and despair.

Araby Worth is one of the lucky ones. As a result of her father's status as a scientist who designed the masks the rich use to keep themselves plague free, she lives in the "safe" part of town (which inevitably  means the wealthy part of town). But even in a time of so much death and suffering, people who have the time and money to not worry about where their next meal comes from or if they are safe from illness find themselves bored. Araby may not be as wealthy as her friend April, but she has no problem acting as carefree as they club hop and experiment with illicit substances. But the tattooed boy who works at the club just has to look at her with those piercing eyes to bring her out of the haze she has been living in ever since her brother succumbed to the plague. 

When Araby ends up passed out on the floor of the club, Will, tattooed boy, takes her home despite the risks. There she finds he is struggling to raise his younger brother and sister alone after his parents died, and without money to even feed them, he can't afford to buy them the masks that will keep them safe. Araby is drawn to Will, but back home, Elliot, April's brother, is pressuring her to steal her father's plans for how to create the protective masks and distribute them to everyone in the city, not just the rich people. As things tend to do, everything starts to fall apart at once. Prince Prospero has taken an interest in Araby, rebels are fighting the Prince's army, and a religious zealot uses the plague as a proof of God's vengeance. Araby isn't sure who she should trust, but she certainly knows that something must change or the newest illness, the fast and violent Red Death, will be the end of them all.

I love this Poe story, and I am an avid fan of dystopias, so I was interested to see how this homage held up to the original story. I think the direction was great and the twist was interesting, but sometimes I think the structure of the story faltered a bit. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy the story, because I actually did, but it wasn't a seamless, flawless story. There were some confusing moments and changes in direction that weren't clearly prepared for or resolved that left me forced to go back and reread for more clues.

But still, this was a really interesting twist on Poe. The characters aren't exactly the type of people you would instantly love or put complete faith in, but that didn't necessarily both me. Araby's drug addiction, Elliot's scamming and drug dealing, and even Will (who was the most likable main character in my opinion) who was difficult to read most of the time, all added to the realistic notion that great things can be done by not-so-great people. In a dystopia like this, you often see a clear hero, but I prefer a flawed hero who you appreciate the effort it takes for them to sacrifice for strangers. Therefore, the lack of clear heroic qualities only added to this story in my opinion.

I think this would be an interesting story for a fan of dystopias, but not the best as first exposure into the subgenre. I think some of the confusion and difficulties I had will be resolved in the following sequel. I am very interested to see how these characters develop and if they will become more defined in the next book. This would be appropriate for the older end of young adults since it shows some of the uglier sides of plague and dystopic society (starvation, rape, violence, etc.). The reading level isn't too complex, but parts of the story itself can be complex, so an older student would appreciate this story the most. It is also a great complement to the original Poe story for a literary connection to popular literature!