Monday, December 31, 2012

Fated to Walk Between Worlds

Fated (Soul Seekers)
Alyson Noel's Fated, the first book in the Soul Seekers series delves into the three worlds: Lowerworld, Middleworld, and Upperworld. We know all three worlds exist, but only the Soul Seekers can walk amongst all three. But for a girl who has never even had a home, how can you imagine the weight of generations worth of traditions resting on your shoulders?

Daire has always lived on the road with her Hollywood make-up artist mother. She travels the globe, but has never truly known what it is like to have a home. When she finds herself on the wrong side of the paparazzi with an insincere, sexy movie star, her mother seeks out the last resort. She ships Daire off to her paternal grandmother, the grandmother Daire has never met. But there is more to Paloma's life than just the small, Native American world around the town of Enchanted. She carries a secret Daire has to know.

Daire's family are all Soul Seekers, ones who can walk between the worlds. When her father died suddenly, the chain of succession was broken and now Paloma must teach Daire about her heritage. Unfortunately, time is running out and the Richter family is getting closer to success with their evil misdeeds that involve an unnatural resurrection of their ancestors. Paloma isn't strong enough to stop them, so Daire is the only one who can. But she has only just learned about her heritage. She can't possibly stop such a plot, could she?

The first 150 pages of this bok were pretty slow, I am afraid. They travel with Daire through her time with her mother to her learning of the Soul Seekers through her vision quest. I think if that whole part had been condensed, the story would have moved faster and held my attention better. I assume now that that is all out of the way, though, it means the subsequent books will also be faster paced. But still, it made it difficult to slog through the beginning of this book. I actually had to put it down for a while and pick it up a week or so later when I had the concentration to force myself through it. By the time I did so, I had barreled through the slow parts and got to where Daire fights Cade Richter, but even that action wasn't nailbiting. Interesting, but nothing stupendous. 

I am going to keep going with this series because I think it has potential, and now it also has the benefit of an upward swing, but I sincerely hope it goes with that forward motion. I think it is tough for a series when the first book is so slow and bogged down by back story, especially for a struggling reader. Not only are they not going to finish it, they also aren't going to get to the next story to where all the good stuff is. However, I love the Southwestern Native American aspects of this story. It is nice to see different cultures represented in YA books!

When an Assassin Goes Under

The Assassin and the Underworld (Throne of Glass)
Celaena has defied Arobynn, her master, once already and suffered the consequences, but she survived. In fact, she has come out on top. In The Assassin and the Underworld by Sarah J. Maas, Celaena learns the truth about her master, and the truth about herself.

After returning from the Red Desert and being trained by the Silent Master himself, Celaena returns to Rifthold in an entirely different position than how she left. The Silent Master gave her enough gold to buy her contract back from her own master, and she no longer has to live under his thumb (or beneath his fist). When he gives her a new job that pays well to assassinate a slave trader trying to establish a foothold in Rifthold, she assumes he is trying to make amends for what he has done to her and Sam. But something is wrong, very, very wrong, and Celaena doesn't figure it out until it is too late.

Yet another fabulous novella from the Throne of Glass series. These four prequel novellas are truly enlightening little morsels to be gobbled up either before or after you read the first novel in the series. I love this evolution of Celaena and how she becomes a dependent young woman to an independent assassin who follows her own morals, even if it means risking her own life. And Maas is a brilliant writer. I thought that at the end of Throne of Glass, but these novellas have solidified that opinion!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Untold and Unstrung

Who can imagine a world where doctors "unwind" people by taking them apart and using their parts to use in transplants for other people? Neal Shusterman can, and in this short story from the Unwind series, he gives you a taste of how unwinding creeps through all of society... even those who don't want to be a part of the horrid practice.

Lev was a tithe- a donation to the system of unwinding by his family. He is supposed to be proud of his gift to the system, but he escapes before they can take him apart. When he ends up on a reservation, he learns the ways of the people who refused to be a part of the unwinding society. Instead, they have perfected using animal parts if needed, but the rest of society doesn't want to know about their ability to not use unwound people. They like using people, because it is a great way to do away with society's undesirables. But unfortunately, the kids on the reservation aren't safe. And Lev and the tribe learn that the hard way.

At first I wasn't impressed with this short story, but by the end, it was terrifying. I guess I was never a fan of Lev's, so I didn't care much to hear more about him, but the end of this story was devastating, even though you only know Will for a few short chapters. But that is the brilliance of Shusterman. He knows how to clock you in the gut and make you thank him for it! Great story!

Falling for the Final Angel

Finale (Hush, Hush)
Only true love could survive everything Nora and Patch have been through, but they are still standing on the edge of a cliff looking into the face of a war Nora is supposed to lead against the fallen angels like Patch. In Finale, Becca Fitzpatrick concludes the fallen angel story, not with a whimper, but with a bang.

Nora has inherited the Black Hand's army when she killed the Black Hand himself, who also happened to be her father. Becoming the leader of the army, however, means she is now responsible for continuing their cause: stopping the fallen angels from possessing the bodies of the Nephilim during the holy month of Cheshvan. The angels have always taken advantage of this time to use the Nephilim's bodies, which is the only time they can feel human emotions, but their forceful possession and reckless use of the bodies is a time that is feared by all Nephilim. Now the Nephilim want to end Cheshvan, but they need someone to lead them.

Nora is torn between being a newly created Nephilim and understanding the terror involved with the angel's possession, but she also loves her boyfriend Patch, who is a fallen angel. If she doesn't lead the army, she will break her oath and be killed. But how can she, not even as strong as the natural born Nephilim, stop the angels? And it doesn't help that she doesn't even know who to trust as the Nephilim and angels around her are all working for their own personal desires. They have even created a synthetic devilcraft, which is a substance that can enhance a Nephilim's abilities, but different prototypes also have severe consequences and side-effects. Nora learns about them first hand and her addiction to the substance may keep her from finding a peaceful way out of this war. But if there is one thing Nora won't do, it is sacrifice her love for Patch.

I have had an up and down relationship with this series, but I have to say, I am so glad I hung in there. It turned out to be a really big upswing and left me very happy I didn't give up on it. Each book got better and better and the conclusion of the series was exciting and interesting. At times I was annoyed with either Patch or Nora for different reasons (in this one I was annoyed with her stupid addiction to the devilcraft- c'mon!), but something kept me going to the conclusion, which was really well crafted.

My favorite part of this series were the supporting characters like Vee and Scott, but also mean Marcie and others. I think this is a common finding in all stories these days where the main characters can frustrated you, but the supporting characters are more dynamic, funnier, and easier to root for than the main characters. Maybe there isn't as much at stake for a supporting character, but I hope authors in the future consider making their main characters as endearing as their supporting characters. Either way, though, the story was definitely the best in the series and made me feel good about the end!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

In the Little Never Realm

Roar and Liv
Before Perry came across a girl from the domes, he was just a boy with a complicated family in a tribe that can barely feed itself. In Roar and Liv, and Under the Never Sky story by Veronica Rossi, we get the sense that life isn't easy for anyone... especially those whose lives can be traded.

Roar loves Liv. She is his life. Now that his grandmother is gone, Liv and her brother Perry are the only family he has, and he would do anything to protect them. But their brother, Vale, is the Blood Lord of the tribe, and when he decides the tribe's well-being is more important than what his sister wants, Roar will do anything to prevent her from being sent away. But how much will he risk? His life? Her life? The lives of everyone in the tribe?

This was a really interesting prequel because you really get an idea of how Perry came to see the world as he does. He knows the duty his brother carries on his shoulder, but he also knows what is right and wrong. It was quite an illuminating little story as you think about Under the Never Sky. How could you not be bitter and cynical when your brother has to sell his sister to feed his tribe? Especially knowing how life in the dome is!

Who Deserves the Throne?

The Gray Wolf Throne (A Seven Realms Novel)
Raisa has lied to many people, but the lie about being heir to the Gray Wolf Throne to the man she loves is the most painful. When her throne and life are threatened, Raisa is willing to do anything she can to protect the line. Even if it means alienating the one boy she knows is not only unimpressed by her position, he despises all blue bloods, especially the queen. In The Gray Wolf Throne, Cinda Williams Chima's third book in the Seven Realms series, we watch Raisa become the queen we knew she could be even before she is crowned. 

Raisa has been hiding out waiting for Amon, but she knows she can't hide out in a taproom forever. When Amon's father appears and tells her things aren't safe there anymore, she knows he is one of the only people she can trust and goes with him. On their way back to her queendom, they attacked with such brutality that the attackers are sure they have done away with the princess heir. To her surprise, they are her own soldiers sent to hunt her down. But unbeknownst to Raisa, Han, the street thug turned wizard, is trailing the girl he knows as Rebecca. What he doesn't understand is that Rebecca and Raisa are one and the same. But to him, being the heir to the throne makes her the embodiment of everything Han despises.

After saving Raisa from her own traitorous soldiers, Han learns the truth about the girl he cares so much for. Meanwhile, things back in the city are going poorly and news of the queen's death means a new queen must be crowned. But not everyone wants the strong willed Raisa to sit on the throne. With the wizards led by the sneaky Bayar family doing everything they can to keep Raisa from making it to her own queendom, it is time for everyone to put aside their differences and help the queen. But that doesn't mean they have to like it. Or trust one another. But can they save the throne?

In another stellar installment of Chima's, we go deeper and deeper into the world of the Seven Realms. Not only is the world incredible, deep, and magical, but the characters are as well. Raisa is among one of my favorite female leads in all of YA. She doesn't cower or wait for people to help her, she knows what she must do and her duty comes before her own safety. I love this about her. Even when she was an intractable princess, she had the gumption and bravery to be a queen someday, and in this book you see that tenfold. She doesn't let the power around her scare her and isn't afraid to make deep changes, even if they make her great enemies. But the relationship between her and Han is so intricate and delicate, you find yourself racing to more scenes with the two of them together.

This series is simply phenomenal. If you love high fantasy and have enjoyed any stories by Cashore, Marchetta, Maas, etc., you will love this series. It is a beautiful world built in a land you can see so clearly you would think you were there. I can't wait for the final book, but I will be sad to see the story go. So fantasy, you say? Here it is!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Assassin Meets the Desert

The Assassin and the Desert (Throne of Glass)
Celaena may be one of the most feared assassins, but her training never ends. And after setting the slaves free, her master isn't pleased with her. In The Assassin and the Desert, Celaena must seek the Silent Assassin Master for training and approval before she can return home. But after the beating her master gave her and what she fears he may have done to Sam, she is terrified to return.

The desert in the summer is more punishment than the beating she received ever was. She knows she must serve her penance for the slave escape, but she didn't expect her penance would come with such a surprise: friends. For once, Celaena actually feels like she belongs somewhere. Her roommate, although annoying at first, is even starting to grow on her. But the master hasn't agreed to train her himself, and without his approval she can't return home. Although she doesn't want to know what happened to Sam, she has to know.

Another great novella! I loved this one just as much as the last. In fact, I really hope Maas publishes these in paper as opposed to just ebooks because they are vital to understanding Celaena and everything she is doing now. This is a fabulous way to break in your new series, and congrats to Maas for such wonderful tales!

Partial Terror

In Dan Wells' Partials, the war raging between humans and Partials (humanoid machines) isn't much of a war at all considering the humans are barely surviving and their inability to reproduce leaves them with a bleak end. But did you ever wonder how the world came to be in the grip of the Partials?

Heron is a newly created Partial soldier; her specialty is espionage. Built to be a spy, Heron was created without an empathy chip. What they didn't think to include was a "lack of self-preservation" chip. In the course of Heron's training and her big job, she realizes the humans who created her think of her as nothing more than a machine. While they may have created her, Heron is more than just nuts and bolts. And her decisions won't always make her creators happy.

I really enjoyed seeing the world from the Partials' side of things, especially because in the first full-length novel, it was clear there was more to this dystopia that was created. And the worst part of this is how easy it is to imagine these humans doing such horrible things with and to the Partials. This short story isn't vital to the continuation of the story, but it is certainly central to the theme of the series. You will want to check this one out if you plan to continue with Wells' series!

Raven Boys Flutter

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle)
Esteemed prep school boys can be full of mystery and intrigue, but the Raven Boys are searching for something dangerous. In Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys we find out just how much an obsession steeped in the mystical can cost someone.

Blue's life in a house full of psychics isn't easy, but she makes do. Her mother and aunts run their business out of their house, and Blue's special ability of increasing the powers of others certainly comes in handy. While she isn't exactly part of the "in-crowd", Blue lives her life and knows to steer clear of the raven boys, the students at the renowned private school, Aglionby. But Blue has always been part of a prediction that haunts her as it has been spoken by every psychic she has ever known: she will kiss her first love and that will be his end.

When Blue is on the Corpse road on St. Mark's Eve, she hears a name that she can't get her mind off: Gansey. As a Raven Boy, Gansey and his three friends, Noah, Ronan, and Adam, are already mysterious, but their hunt for the ley line, a mystical, magical focus of energy that connects mystical places and holds the promise of a hidden king, is what brings them all together. When they come to Blue's house for psychic help, the connection between Blue and Gansey has her mother forbidding Blue to see them ever again. But Blue's interest in Adam, the one local boy of the group, and Gansey, whose haunting past keeps him on the trail of the ley line, are too intriguing to abandon. The consequences, however, are more than anyone has considered.

So, Steifvater is notorious for her nebulous, ethereal writing that has the reader floating along, usually totally confused, for 3/4 of every book until it all comes together in the last hour. Having read the Shiver series and Scorpio Races, I fully knew what to expect. But this book was so confusing and nebulous, I really couldn't get a grasp on it. And when it finally picked up the pace and came together, I was frustrated enough to have lost interest already. In Shiver, at least there was a secret to be revealed that kept me going with the next two books in the trilogy, but in this book, I am not sure the "big reveal" was enough to keep me going. It was certainly interesting, but, honestly, it was predictable. And quite frankly, I am the kind of reader these twists are made for- I never see them coming! 

So if i figured it out, everyone will. That means this story, without the writing style, would be best for a young, less mature reader, but the writing style is so confusing and unfocused, it would lose such a reader. I think this is the struggle behind most of Stiefvater's novels, unfortunately. Sometimes the story is interesting enough to keep an older reader going, but this story was too weak for that, in my opinion. Truthfully, in writing the recap above, I found myself struggling to even explain what the story was about because there isn't much to it despite 400+ pages! If you are a die hard Stiefvater fan, you should pick up this series, but if you struggled with her other books, I imagine this will be your least favorite. I know it was mine. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

16 Year Old Assassin vs. Pirate Lord

The Assassin and the Pirate Lord: A Throne of Glass Novella
No one would think a 16 yr old girl could best a pirate lord. But no one has seen Celaena in action before. The assassin's apprentice may look young and innocuous, but there is nothing that can stop her when she has set her mind to something- not even being trapped on an island with hundreds of angry, violent, murderous pirates.

When Celaena's master sends her, the heir to the Assassin's Guild, to settle a debt with the pirate lord, she is annoyed that he also sends Sam, the boy her master passed over to make her the heir. But what sends Celaena off is when she realizes their presence on the island had nothing to do with accusing the pirate king of killing three assassins. It was to broker a deal entering the Assassin lord into the slave trade. Celaena may be a kill for hire, but she will not settle for entering innocent people into slavery. But how can a young girl take on this battle by herself? Maybe she isn't alone...

This was such a good short story, I can't wait to read the other four. I was a little skeptical about these short stories Maas released before the big release of the Throne of Glass series, but I was totally wrong. In the first book of the series, we already saw Celaena captured and fighting to regain the foothold she used to have, but with this short story, we see her in her prime. We see her as the full assassin she was born and trained to be. And it is... AWESOME! This is a great way to continue with the series (even though it is a prequel). If you liked the series or if you haven't started it and need something to entice you, try this short story. You will get hooked! (pun intended!)

I'm Falling for Fantasy!

Falling Kingdoms
What happens to the land, the people, and the kingdoms when the magic fades? In Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes, the power may have faded, but the tensions between three kingdoms, one affluent, one starving, and one teetering on the edge, are ever present and growing.

Auranos is the land to the south where the people are prosperous and food is plentiful. Cleo knows not all lives are as fortunate as her own as the princess, but she has no idea just how bad things have become outside her kingdom's borders. Her father, the king, believes in the freedom of choice among his people, even if that includes a failure to worship either one of the goddesses whose deaths have resulted in the dwindling magic in the land. Limeros is the northernmost kingdom where a madman runs the kingdom. his son, Magnus, has no idea what his father is capable of, including kidnapping and raising a girl said to be the last sorceress, Lucia, as his own daughter while he punishes his subjects on the very suspect of magic. 

But it is the kingdom in the middle, Paelsia, where the people suffer the most. As Cleo and the arrogant boy she will most likely be forced to matter travel through the land, Aron, find themselves in a small scale class war over a case of wine, Aron kills a local boy and sets off a revolution against Cleo's home. Now the slain boy's brother, Jonas, is determined to kill Aron, and more importantly, his bloodlust for Cleo based solely on her upbringing leads him on the path to revenge. But the key behind all of this is the magic that has faded from all the lands since the two goddesses killed each other. What Cleo, Lucia, Magnus, and Jonas have no understanding about is how they will all come together: four young people from four wildly different backgrounds who all have one thing in common: preservation. What sets them apart is what they will do to preserve their way of life.

Magic, magic everywhere, how to be truly original? I don't know, but Morgan Rhodes does! This was your true high fantasy novel that is right up there with Cashore's Graceline, Marchetta's Finnick of the rock, and Chima's Demon King. You need some fantasy in your life and can't wait any longer? Start this series. It was such a whirlwind of different situations and different people, but the way they all came together is magnificent. I found myself rooting for the rebels but sympathizing with the prosperous nation hidden behind their boundaries and walls. I felt bad for the twisted Magnus while simultaneously wishing someone would run him through on the battle field. I wanted Jonas to avenge his brother's death, but I didn't want him to harm Cleo. I couldn't believe Auranos could sit by and watch their neighbors suffer, but their king was not a bad man. This is not a novel that gives you an easy out. You won't predict what happens in this book. And you certainly will have no idea who to get behind, but there is one thing I can guarantee: you will love this story. 

It was a beautiful high fantasy novel chock full of mystery and intrigue. It is one of the best I have read in a long time and falls right in the same league as all my favorites like Cashore, Marchetta, and Chima. I loved this novel and cannot wait to see where Rhodes goes with it. The story is fine for all ages, but like a lot of high fantasy, might need a more mature or stronger reader to keep up and keep everything together to really enjoy it. My only peeve? Why do author's need a pen name? Do they really think we can't distinguish between different genres from the same author? It seems silly, but since Rhodes gave me this to read, I suppose I should keep my peeves to myself! Great first novel, and I can't wait for the sequel!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Destruction of a Man's Humanity

Destroy Me
Juliette has escaped from the asylum where she was kept, but she left Warner behind- her captor. What she didn't know in Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, is that Warner has a few secrets of his own. Dangerous secrets. Secrets that could make his father come to the final conclusion that he had gone soft. Secrets that are revealed in Destroy Me

Warner is beyond livid that Juliette has escaped, but there is more to his anger than just being duped by one of his own soldiers. Warner can't get Juliette out of his mind. He has always been fascinated by her, and his fascination treads on the cusp of being an obsession. Now that she has managed to escape, Warner's father arrives to clean up the mess. But he discovers Warner's secrets in the process, like the fact that Warner is weak and cares about the civilians attached to his post. This is a transgression no leader can afford. And his love (albeit warped love) for Juliette may just be the final straw.

In Shatter Me you assume Warner is just an evil jerk who needs control and enjoys hurting people, but there is more to him and I am glad this short story showed that side. This little story reveals a new Warner who will, quite honestly, change the tone of the next book. Therefore, this really becomes a short story you should read before you continue the series. And remember, there is always more to someone than meets the eye!

Don't Fear this Series

Fear: A Gone Novel
There is nothing more controlling and irrational than fear. You would think the kids in the FAYZ would have nothing left to fear after the gaiaphage, a kid with a whip hand, a girl who can make you think you are suffering your worst fears, murderous bugs the size of cars, and life without the adults who should be taking care of them, but they have never experienced real fear. In the fifth installment of Michael Grant's Gone Series, Fear, we get a taste of just how much terror is too much.

Sam, Edilio, and Dekka have made as stable of a life as they can in the FAYZ. They moved to the lake where they have plenty of water and houseboats to hide on in case of an emergency. Caine is now calling himself King Caine and ruling with the madness he has become known for. But some alliances have changed. Quinn organizes the fishing for both camps, Albert (who was always out for himself) deals to both sides, and Diana, now pregnant, has left Caine to live with Sam and the others at the lake. But the most painful is Astrid's abandonment. She left Sam and everyone else who reminded her about how she sacrificed her little autistic brother Petey to stop the bugs from annihilating the kids at Perdido Beach. But oddly, even with the division, this is most stability the FAYZ has ever seen. That is, until the dome starts to go dark.

The stain is slowly creeping up the dome and threatens to plunge the entire place into complete darkness. It takes everything Sam can do to keep the kids from panicking, but with the coyotes becoming desperate and Drake "Whip Hand" Merwin skulking about, there are reasons to be afraid of pure darkness. Sam can hang as many "Sammy Suns" (little orbs of light from his powers) as he wants, but it won't save hem from the crushing darkness. And now that Drake and the gaiaphage think Diana's baby is the key to giving the gaiaphage a body, there is more at risk than anyone can possibly understand. And that is only what is happening on the inside of the dome. On the outside? People are prepared to do unspeakable things to stop what they fear is inside from getting out. Even if that means sacrificing everyone inside the dome.

Oh boy. Boy, oh boy. This series doesn't just age well like cheese, it transforms with each book into a mind-blowing experience where you find yourself asking, "How can Grant do that? Did he really just go there?! What, for the love of all that is holy, is happening?!" Five books in and this series simply doesn't get old. It doesn't get predictable. It knocks your socks off with each new installment. It is, quite simply, brilliant. Of course, the story does get darker with each new book, and Grant doesn't pull any punches with the kids in the FAYZ, but if I know anything about teenagers (and I certainly hope I do after ten years teaching in a high school), it is how much they appreciate an author who trusts his or her readers to experience a serious story. They like an author who doesn't hold back just because this is a young adult series. And most of all, they like a story that will shock them with every turn. Well, here it is!

Last year, I had been telling a 9th grade student of mine about this series. He loves graphic novels, but doesn't read full length novels outside of literature class. I told him about the story and then the year continued. Then, at our Parents' Weekend, his mother tracked me down to tell me he devoured the first four books of this series. She told me these are the first books she had seen him actually enjoy reading, and she was thankful I had mentioned them to him, because, in her words, her son was now "a reader". It was amazing to hear that we had finally found a series of books he could enjoy at that level, but more importantly, Michael Grant made him a reader. If that isn't a solid endorsement for this groundbreaking series, I am not sure what is! So if you have a kid out there who just needs to find the right series to make them a reader, consider Gone. It might be just the thing that kid needs to become a book lover!

First and Lost Loves

Legacy Lost: A Tor.Com Original
In Anna Banks' Of Poseidon, we were so wrapped up in Galen and Emma's lives we barely got to see Galen's brother Grom, the prince who shall inherit the throne and carries all the burden of such a post. Grom is the brother whose marriage and mating has been decided on for generations before their own existence. He is the brother with the least ability to make decisions for his own life. 

But Grom's story is one of young love and tragedy. In Of Poseidon, we know he lost his first mate, Nalia, but you never learn how. In Legacy Lost, you not only find out about the tragedy Grom was victim to, but also how he really loved Nalia. One would think an arranged marriage is awful and loveless, but Nalia's dangerous side and impulsiveness draws the series Grom to her. And finally, even his mother can't hide the knowledge that Grom's love for Nalia is written all over his face. But Nalia's desire for more and more danger will be her undoing... and Grom's.

Sometimes these short stories are pointless, but I was really happy to read Grom's story. I always thought he was a little cold or too devoted to the throne, but it was nice to see him young and in love. Even though this is a prequel, I think the addition of this story will lead very nicely into Of Triton where Grom's position will take on an even larger purpose than in the first story. Nice addition to the series!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Not Totally Infectious

The Infects
It's bad enough to be labeled a juvenile delinquent over an accident and sent to a wilderness program with other criminals, but watching everyone around you turn into flesh eating zombies just makes it that much worse. In Sean Beaudoin's Infects, Nero is trapped in his own worst nightmare... but at least there is a cute girl there too!

Nick Soul couldn't have imagined a freak accident on the chicken "disassembly" line would have him labeled an ecoterrorist or a criminal, but then again there isn't much in his life that goes his way. As he is on his way to the wilderness program that is supposed to "straighten him out", he realizes there are worse things in this world than the genocide of chickens that happens everyday in the chicken factory. Once he chooses his wilderness name, Nero, he is immersed into a ride that no one world have expected.

Not 24 hours in the woods and Nero wakes up to a sight he can't believe is real despite looking at it with his own two eyes: one of his counselors is bent over the other counselor... eating him. It is that very moment that all hell breaks loose. The few other delinquents who aren't crazy cannibals take off with Nero headed away from the campsite- they don't know where they plan to go, but they know they can't stay there! On the way, the boys encounter all manner of zombies, but what is even scarier than their desire for human flesh is the fact that they seem able to think, reason, and solve problems. Those are never good qualities to find in a zombie. You never want a zombie to be smart enough to find even more ways to eat you. If life wasn't hell for Nick before he became Nero, its about to be worse than any hell he could imagine.

Well, I think it is important to know that this zombie novel isn't really your classic zombie novel. It is more like "Shawn of the Dead" in novel form, a farce, a spoof, if you will. I thought it was a real zombie novel, so when I delved in and started to notice some quirks and odd characters, I became suspicious. By the end it was clear this was a goofy book playing off the subgenre. That isn't to say it isn't funny, because it is, but if you were looking for a real zombie novel, try Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin series. 

That being said, this was a pretty entertaining, albeit goofy, book. The descriptions and dialogue will leave you chuckling, and even the zombies themselves are ridiculous (even with gory bits of human gristle hanging out of their mouths). Even though the story is funny, it is also pretty bloody. I would suggest this book for those students who like a good horror movie but have a sarcastic streak. Those are the kids who will appreciate this story the most. While it wasn't my favorite book, this story gave me a few chuckles and definitely has a niche audience. I can see myself passing it off to my older students (some pretty vulgar language on top of gore and sexual content). But, it would definitely have to be the exactly perfect audience for this story to work for one of my students.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Are You a BZRKer?

There are two worlds: the macro and the micro. Wars are fought on the macro between men. Wars are fought on the micro between nanobots and biots... inside men. Both are destructive, both have the ability to wield great power, but only the bots can rewire a person. In Michael Grant's BZRK, the risks are always worth the trouble.

Plath watched her father's plane taken down with both her father and brother aboard. Coincidentally (although there never are coincidences), the plane crashed into the very stadium where she was enjoying a game. But Plath wasn't killed, despite a very obvious intent. Instead, as the last surviving McLure, she was recruited into BZRK, the secret group of "agents" (kids and gamers who now control biots) who try to prevent the Armstrong twins and their company, Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation, from world domination. The conjoined twins and their company might seem innocuous enough, but anyone who has spent time on the micro level know the damage their nanobots can wreak. 

Now there is a plan to quite literally take over the world. AFGC wants to sink nanobots into every world leader on the planet and control them from the inside out. BZRK will take every step to stop them, but the stakes are much higher for the BZRKs. Their biots are created using their own DNA and are therefore connected to their controller on a level that would leave the BZRK crazy if even one was to die. The AFGC twitchers control the nanobots, which are simply machines. When you face an enemy who can't feel pain and will stop at nothing, you find yourself up against an insurmountable foe. But the BZRKs fight for something that is worth the risk: their freedom.

This book started with a bang as the McLure plane crashed into the stadium, but then it quickly hit an air pocket: a place where the lingo and technical specifics are so confusing and obscure you lose sight of the purpose of the book altogether. In fact, there is no proper explanation of the difference between biots and nanobots (and the difference is significant to the story) until about 70 pages in. Luckily, there is a key for all important characters (which is good because they all have real names and handles, and I found myself mixing them up right to the end) and the companies and technology. This helped me to better understand the book, but it left me wondering why that information, if so important, wasn't shared earlier in the story.

As the story progressed, though, I did find it fascinating even though really techie science fiction isn't usually my schtick. Some of the lingo was hokey, and quite frankly, the "bad guys" (or guy- they are conjoined twins) is more laughable than terrifying. Sure, they seem diabolical, but all that talk about their conjoined body, etc. left me without much fear even though I knew they were essentially taking over the world. I think a real villain, not one that is gross and laughable, would have really made this book better, more serious, and less hokey in the long run, but still it was a pretty good book. I would not give this to any kid unless I knew they could get through the technical jargon and had the patience to figure everything out, because there is a lot to the back story that requires understanding for the current story to continue. But if I knew a gamer or science fiction fan, I would surely pass this story on.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

We've Reached the End

Reached (Matched Trilogy Book 3)
Cassia, Ky, and Xander have survived a lot, but they have no idea how the Society will end up after the  rebels have executed their plan. But the plan may have more consequences than anyone prepared for in Ally Condie's Matched finale, Reached.

Ky is a pilot for the Pilot, the leader and inspiration of the rebels, and he delivers to the people who need them. Cassia's sorter skills are going to help find the ultimate cure. But it is Xander who is there, on ground zero, helping the people who have become "incidental casualties" to the rebellion. He is a physic, a medic who helps the people suffering from the Plague. It is easy enough to do, as part of the rebellion, because the Plague was supposed to happen. The Society's very own control measure backfired and infected the general public, so the rebels created a cure. And isn't it convenient that they were able to swoop in and save the day just before the Plague took too many lives? Xander knows this was the plan all along, and he understands people wouldn't support the rebellion without a good reason, but no one prepared for what happened next. 

The Plague mutated.

Now the stakes are higher. The rebellion's cure doesn't work on this strand of the Plague, but there has to be a cure out there because a large portion of the outsiders, the people not living within the Society's control before the Plague, are immune. But it will take a lot of work and many sorters to find out the basis for the immunity. Meanwhile, Xander has been quarantined with the victims of the mutated plague and Ky begins to question the true nature of the rebellion. But one thing is for certain. Without a cure, all the lives lost and things sacrificed will be wasted if a cure isn't found. And no one knows the stakes more than Cassia.

I have to say this was my least favorite of the three books. I am fine with how it ended, I understand both the execution and the conclusion, but I just didn't like how I got there as much as I did with the first two books. If you remember, Matched was just so beautifully written, poetic, melodious. Crossed took the story to a new level, getting Cassia outside the Society and really expanding the story. But Reached lost the magic of both previous stories. Yes, the writing was beautiful, but not as much so as before, and the story hit a weird point where the crossing between Society and Rebels became too much for me to invest in fully. I even liked the separate stories of our main characters, which eld my interest, but there was just some kind of magic missing from this last installment that I simply can't put my finger on. Maybe it was just me, but this book didn't captivate me like the rest of the series did. 

On a whole, though, this is a really beautiful story. It is meant for people who liked The Giver, not those who loved Hunger Games because the story is less about the action and more about the beautiful human emotions tied to the circumstances. Condie does a beautiful job of getting to the root of all this conflict- the human will for freedom, expression, and beauty. It is amazing to see those complex emotions and desires displayed with such ease on the page, and in a way young adults can fully understand and talk about. That type of metacognition is not something the average teenager engages in on a daily basis (or adult for that matter) so it is beautiful to see a popular series that would encourage (or even force) them to do so. I did like this series, and I am starting to think if I reread this book and took more time to digest it (instead of devouring it because I wanted so desperately to know what happened), my opinion might just change. So I will do that. I will reread it after a while and let you know if my initial reaction was jaded. So stay tuned! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Dysgraphic Romance

So Much Closer
Who would move to a new city just to follow the boy you have a crush on, even though he barely knows you exist? Brooke would in Susane Colasanti's So Much Closer. A new city, a new school, and all in her senior year? Nothing can stand in the way of her love for him!

When Brooke moves to New York City, she has only one thing in mind. She wants to get Scott to finally notice her. Who cares if it means she has to ditch her friends, leave her mother behind, and move in with her absentee father who continues to ignore her even when she is under his very roof? Not Brooke. That is how much she loves Scott. Utterly and completely. It doesn't matter that he barely knows who she is.

And what are the chances that they would go to the same new school? Well, they do, and it gives them the opportunity to get to know one another. The new school is actually good for Brooke, despite her unhealthy attachment to Scott. She starts to tutor a fellow classmate who is dysgraphic and struggles to get his brilliant ideas onto paper. It gives her a chance to realize that her incredibly high IQ is a gift that she has been squandering on mediocrity and hiding for too long. She also has a chance to make a new friend. And most importantly, she falls deeper and deeper in love with New York City with each passing day. But can she win the boy she sacrificed everything for?

I hate to say it, but I had some real problems with this book, which was incredibly difficult because someone had compared this author to Dessen and Perkins, and there just aren't enough Dessen and Perkins books published to keep me satisfied. So I was excited to find a substitute while waiting for the next Dessen or Perkins, but that wasn't what I got with this book. Instead, I was really disturbed by this girl, who was a senior, dropping everything, her friends, her mom, her school, to follow a boy who didn't even know she was alive. And if that wasn't stalker enough, she would walk through his neighborhood day after day after day in the hopes of running into him. It was just creepy. Not romantic. Creepy. Add to that the fact this girl was brilliant. I am talking off the charts gifted, and she hides it. Now, I get kids being embarrassed by their smarts, but I really want a role model of a main character- a girl who can be cool AND super smart. Who rocks the genius gene with flair. Not Brooke. She is totally embarrassed to the point that she doesn't even try in classes and skates by with Cs. This has ruined her chances of going to a great college. And then she gets near perfect scores on her SATs? Why didn't anyone get to the heart of this behavior BEFORE she was ready to graduate? It was just not a quality I want to see in a main character my students are reading about. 

One thing I did like about the book was the connection to the beauty of NYC. As someone who has lived close enough to NYC for a day trip, I love what it contains but struggle with the bad parts of the city- in particular the stench. But Brooke sees the beauty in the city, especially in reclaimed structures like the High Line or rooftop gardens. It was nice to see. And my favorite part of this book was something that was so great at the beginning of the book and then ignore, sadly, for the remainder- the boy Brooke tutors is dysgraphic! Now, I teach dyslexics and dysgraphics, and I have seen a number of dyslexic characters in books, but none are really described very well, but this kid was a great representative of a typical dysgraphic- brilliant but totally unable to translate his brilliance into the written word. I was so excited to finally find a dysgraphic character, but then Colasanti ignored his dysgraphia after the first few chapters. Why? Why not run with that or not bring it up at all? It didn't make sense to me.

So, I would say this is a book for a younger student, as most young adults would find it cheesy and inauthentic. Still, I don't think I would recommend it to any of my girls, as I would rather give them Dessen or Perkins and know they have a great book in their hands. It is unfortunate because I really needed a good girlie book to read. I think I will give Colasanti one more chance, but I hope my next book by her is far better than this one. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

After the Ash Begins the Winter

Ashen Winter (Ashfall)
Alex and Darla made it through the insanity following the volcano in Yellowstone blowing, but they were far from unscathed. In Mike Mullin's Ashen Winter, Alex and Darla will risk their lives again (and again and again) for each other and for a little sense of normalcy in the madness they now call life.

The world is cold. With a year long winter after the eruption, the snow continues to fall and people struggle to stay alive, let alone stay warm. Even though they feel relatively safe at their aunt and uncle's house, there is something missing: Alex's parents. Before he and Darla arrived, his parents head left to look for him, heading out into the post-apocalyptic wake left by the volcano. Now Alex is convinced he has to go look for them. Knowing all the dangers out there, he is terrified to think of his parents all alone searching for him. Despite trying to convince Darla to stay behind, she won't leave Alex's side. Together they set off on a fool's mission against all kinds of monsters and demons... unfortunately, these are the incredibly human variety.

They don't make it far before they encounter trouble. The world has taken a deep turn for the worse and  the reality of that fact doesn't take long to soak in. They don't take unnecessary risks, but still, it isn't long before Alex's inability to sit by and watch an ambush of cannibals against innocent people leads to an accident where Darla is shot, falls off an overpass, and lands on top of the cannibals' truck. Alex will do anything to get Darla back, even if it means abandoning hope of finding his parents. But his travels are dangerous and give him an unwanted view of the way the world is, complete with kidnapping, rape, slavery, and most repulsive, the trafficking in human meat. Will Alex save Darla, or is he doomed to lose everyone he loves in this frozen, ash-covered world?

I must warn you that if you aren't prepared for a dark post-apocalyptic story, this isn't the series for you. It is brilliant and realistic, but it is certainly mature. If you question a student's ability to handle this dangerous and violent world, I would save it for when they are a little bit older. That being said, this is an amazing portrayal of what could really happen if the supervolcano were to blow. Do you think it would be all kittens and tulips? Then you would probably be one of the first to go at the hands of flensers or bandits. So, I have to say that while I would choose the student to pass this series onto carefully, I would be sure the right student would be just as enthralled with it as I was.

Since the first book, the situation has gotten worse. And why wouldn't it? Are our governments really so selfless that they wouldn't tuck and run as everything swirled down the toilet? But the thing I love the most is these characters. Even though Alex wants nothing to happen to Darla, he can't seem to help himself from sticking his neck out for other people. And there are others, too. People they come across who are willing to help others, and it is those people who will struggle with this new world the most. They will crave teh morals of a world that has passed and despise the new world order that makes them a dying species. It is a terrifying and fascinating examination of the human species, and I will bet you won't be able to stop thinking about it when you finish the book. I know I couldn't. So if you are a fan of serious post-apocalyptic literature, pick up this series. You won't be sorry. But you might be terrified. I certainly was.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

They Will Fight Down to Flesh and Bone

Flesh & Bone (Benny Imura (Rot and Ruin))
In a world where zombies may not be the apex predator in all cases, they certainly become the most persistent predator. But Benny Imura and his friends aren't giving up hope, even if it means traipsing across the zombie eaten landscape. In Flesh and Bone, the third book in Jonathan Maberry's Benny Imura series, you get to the real heart of humanity, or lack thereof.

Benny, Nix, Lilah, and Chong are still reeling from the death of Tom Imura, Benny's older brother who kept them all safe. And what makes it worse is that he was murdered by a breathing human being, not a zom. But none could stay in that town with the ghosts of their family haunting them, so they decided to head off to find the source of the jet they saw flying overhead when they were in the Rot and Ruin. Only what they encounter makes the zombies look like kittens.

In a real doomsday situation, humans can often become the biggest threat, and the Rot and Ruin is no exception. When the kids are split up, they all find themselves facing insurmountable odds. Lions, escaped from zoos, now hunt through the country. People they come across, even ones who they save, aren't always grateful (and some even threaten to kill them). But worst of all is the death cult hell-bent on ridding the world of its biggest parasite: living, breathing human beings. When Saint John encountered Mother Rose, a cult was born and their reapers have "spread the word" ever since. But Saint John (a former serial killer before the First Night) has very different intentions from Mother Rose. And Benny, Nix, Lilah, and Chong are all caught in the middle of a turf war they know nothing about.

You wouldn't be reading this book if you hadn't read the first book, so you know Tom Imura died. I am not going to comment on that decision, because while I see how it drove the plot forward, it still devastated me when I read it. But this book deals with grief, and healing, and hope, all wrapped up in a crazy apocalyptic world. And what that does is show this really human side of your main characters, making you love them even more, flaws and grief and all, but it also gives you that terrifying glimpse into those people you wish hadn't made it through the First Night. I always love when an apocalyptic story is realistic, and a huge part of that is acknowledging that a lot of really horrible people will not only make it through the apocalypse in tact, they will thrive. Scary thought, but totally accurate. So Saint John being a former (well, current, to be exact) serial killer is so terrifying but so true. And this installment of the series really shakes you to the core with that realization.

I think it was hard to write this story coming off the supreme grief of losing Tom, but I think Maberry has a clear plan for the series and new how to pivot from that traumatic event and recover. It was done very well and kept me enthralled with each page. This is a phenomenal series and while I am anxiously awaiting the final book, I am also dreading its release and therefore the conclusion of the story. This series doesn't disappoint, and I promise, you will be more scared of the people in it than the zoms.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Origin of Humanity

The question is as old as time: what makes us human as opposed to animal? How have we become an elevated species? Have we accepted that responsibility with grace? In Jessica Khoury's novel Origin, we have the opportunity to explore a new immortal species and the humanity (or lack thereof) that created it.

Pia has always lived in Little Cam, a highly secret scientific community hidden deep in the Amazon Rain Forest. She was created there. Pia is the result of a discovery of a deadly but uniquely manipulated flower and a century's worth of experimentation. Scientists were able to incorporate the flower's nectar into a serum that over generations made the test subjects more and more "perfect" and eventually resulted in the perfect human being- the immortal Pia. Even her skin is impenetrable. But Pia still faces dangers. In the rain forest she could be swallowed by an anaconda and spend her immortality inside its belly, but on a larger scale, her very existence is dangerous. People would kill to get their hands on Pia and study her. 

The scientists aren't allowed to let Pia know anything about the outside world, but a girl trapped in a compound is bound to overhear information. Intensely curious about the outside world, Pia jumps on a chance to escape when a tree uproots and creates an opening in the otherwise electrified and fatal fence. Dashing through the jungle, she encounters a young native boy names Eio. Eio is everything she never knew she wanted. He is strong willed and strong in body. He is intrigued by Pia, and despite her brief visit, they can't stop thinking about one another. She knows she will be in trouble if the scientists know she found a way out, but she must see more of Eio. In her frequent visits, Pia begins to learn the scientists hid more from her than just knowledge of the outside world. When she finally learns the secret of how she was created, Pia isn't sure she can become one of them, even if her immortal life will be without a perfect, immortal mate. Because, after all, not all wonderful things are immortal... like Eio, for instance!

This was such an interesting and intriguing novel. It had all the elements you would imagine in a "created" human (think Frankenstein), but it also had so much more, like love and teenage affections. I loved how Pia was sheltered, but certainly not naive. She struggled with acceptance that the people she referred to as Uncle and Aunt were in fact cold, heartless, ruthless people, but she wasn't naive. It was a truly remarkable transformation to see her from the first time she escaped to her final experiences with scientists. This is a story that raises so many emotional and ethical questions that you could spend weeks discussing it with your students.

The writing is very clean and appropriate for a wide range of ages. I think a younger student would miss some of the more subtle or more mature concepts, such as science vs. morality and the ethics of the means justifying the end, but they will still enjoy the story. There is enough in here for a large variety of people. I am interested to see what Khoury does next, because this stand-alone novel was pretty powerful! And you will have to ask yourself, what would you sacrifice to stop your family from aging?

Medusa's Middle Book Syndrome!

Sweet Shadows (Sweet Venom)
It's hard enough being the ancestor of Medusa and her sisters, but being monster hunters and the source of a very vague prophecy that has you ruining the world is just too much. For Gretchen, Greer, and Grace, the prophecy is just the start of their problems in Tera Lynn Childs' Sweet Shadows.

Now that the three sisters, triplets separated at birth, have found one another, it seems as though nothing is normal about their lives. Even Gretchen, whose life trained as a huntress was far from "normal" to begin with, longs for the easy days of training and hunting in between occasionally going to school. Now the girls are embroiled in a life altering decision that they barely understand: the prophecy. As the Key Generation, they are going to be responsible for either opening the door from the abyss to the human world which will unleash all monsters upon humans or closing the door forever, which, as it turns out, isn't such a clear win/win. 

Without Medusa's sisters, who have guided them disguised as mortals for years, and the oracle to confide in, the girls are struggling to decide which direction is best and who to trust. This becomes incredibly more challenging when they learn one faction wants them dead to keep the portal from opening and one wants them to open the portal and then kill them to keep it opened. Feeling like there is no place to run and an impossible decision to make, the girls find themselves torn in different directions. Grace knows something is going on with her brother Thane and her usually rock-solid relationship with her parents is being threatened. Gretchen finally allows herself to start liking a boy only to watch him sucked into the abyss and chooses to go tumbling after him where she learns more about the "monsters" she has been fighting all these years. And Greer must take a long, hard look at her lifestyle and how tea socials and high society events are just not possible within the life as a hunter. But the girls all have one thing in common: they have no idea which end of the prophecy they should be on.

I really like this series and love Tera Lynn Childs, but this was definitely a "middle child" in the trilogy. I am not saying it wasn't a good book, because it was! The struggle for me was that the action was held over from Book 1 and all the conclusions seem to be waiting (im)patiently for book 3. In my opinion, a trilogy should have three separate components that can stand on their own yet still all come together as one cohesive unit. This book had too many ties to its younger and older sisters, leaving it torn and without a real firm purpose on its own. For instance, the whole book we suspect something really horrible is happening to Grace's brother. He is oddly absent and not keeping in touch, and when he does come back, he is clearly hiding something. When the three girls come back together and press on to take care of a legion of monsters, he wants to come with them, then the book is done. You are left with no explanation for what is going on with him and no conclusion, just a whole lot of questions left to hang for another year until the final book. It was pretty frustrating!

This middle child syndrome is rather new for Childs. All her previous series (Oh. My. Gods. and Fins) are connected and continuations of one story, but they are strong in and of themselves as well. While it might bug you to wait a whole year with where this book left off, I hope you don't choose NOT to read this series because of it. Instead, I would recommend waiting until the final book in the trilogy is out and then to read them all in tandem. It will solve any of these problems I had with this book and you will probably get much more out of the story. The story itself is really quite wonderful, and in particular, the ambiguity surrounding the "monsters" is a real-life circumstance people face all the time- what happens when you realize the "bad guy" isn't really bad at all? This is a great mythological tale with real-life practical applications that make this a stellar series. Even if the middle child has a couple of small flaws!