Sunday, December 29, 2013

The UnWholly Unwind

The Akron AWOL is infamous. The other whollies worship him and the Unwind Culture despises everything he stands for. But behind the moniker is Connor. Connor is just a boy who made it to 17 and can't be unwound, but the weight of the world rests on his shoulders in Unwholly, the second Unwind book by Neal Shusterman.

Connor is in charge of the entire plane Graveyard. He has hidden over 800 AWOLs there, but the fact that missing kids slated for unwinding are hiding there is no secret. He isn't sure why the authorities haven't come to get them yet, but he takes each and every day as a gift. While he and Risa can't be unwound anymore, there are a lot of kids whose lives are in his hands. He can barely feed the kids he has, but that doesn't stop them from the constant rescue missions to save more. Of course, not every kid is as grateful as they should be, and some, like Starkey, have only their interests in mind. When a bunch of kids are barely holding it together in the face of imminent unwinding, all it takes is one very smart, very devious rabble rouser.

Meanwhile, Camus Comprix tries to find his way in a world where he shouldn't exist. The product of dozens of unwound kids, he is made of the parts of others. He was created, not born. When he struggles to find his way in the world with so many conflicting thoughts and memories swirling around his head, his handler feels a companion will keep him on the right track as the most revolutionary advance for humans in their existence. The only problem is the girl Cam wants is an unwilling participant in the experiment. When Risa is captured and blackmailed into joining Cam, she is forced to support the Unwinding movement, the single thing she hates the most. While everyone at the Graveyard thinks she has betrayed them, Risa is trying everything to hold them together. For a group of kids who no one cares if they exist or not, the responsibility sitting on their shoulders is overwhelming.

This was such an interesting follow up to Unwind for a number of reasons. First, it was a book that came out after a significant hiatus. Shusterman took a while to get this book together, so if you followed the series from its inception, you needed a refresher at the beginning of this sequel before you started the new story. But who wants to read an info dump or a recap? So Shusterman created a really ingenious "index" that catches you up quickly and efficiently at the beginning of the story so you know where you are without some silly recap. I also really liked how he balanced the story between the main characters from the last book, Lev, Connor, and Risa, and the new characters Starkey, Cam and Miracolina. The addition of the focus on new characters made it more interesting while still keeping me connected to the previous book.

On a whole, this is one of the creepiest premises I have ever read. I mean, seriously, unwinding kids?? People fighting to preserve the unwinding? The public service notices to convince people what a wonderful solution to abortion? CRAZY! But a brilliant fictional examination of just how far people can go and how blinded they can be in the face of fear and propaganda. It is the kind of series that can be related to everything from the Holocaust to the battle over same sex marriage or abortion. I love a book that is going to elicit passionate discussions from my students, and unwinding is definitely one that will get them fired up. But in addition to the infinite discussions, you will get wrapped up in a really crazy, really interesting story. Shusterman always does that to me!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's Always a Trap

I am sure you all think there is nothing original about a vampire story. Well then, my friends, you haven't taken a chance on Andrew Fukuda and his The Hunt series! These vampires will terrify you and surprise you with each page. It started with The Hunt and it ends with The Trap, but you won't be ready to let go!

Gene, Sissy, David and Epap made it out of the "sanctuary" but they had no idea they were headed to the palace full of vampires. When the train arrives, there are too many kids to fit into the elevator. Those left behind get to know first hand what happens when you don't follow the rules of the Palace. And it is vicious. Those in the elevator fly upwards to a space full of human children just waiting for their time to be called. When the alarm goes off, they have a few short seconds to get into an enclave before the vampires are allowed in. If they are caught outside, their fate is swift but vicious. When the alarm blows, they all make it into Enclaves, but the ruler is clearly interested in Sissy. Then he notices Gene: the boy who masqueraded as a vampire for years and proved them all fools. 

When Gene's enclave goes shooting through the walls, he is sure he is being sent to the ruler's rooms to be devoured, but what he doesn't expect is to be taken to a secret laboratory where he is informed of the true nature of his and Sissy's lives. As the Origin, their blood combined cures the vampire plague, turning any vampire back into a human. But Ashley June, the former human who sacrificed her humanity to save Gene is stopping them from working on a widespread cure. Having survived the scorching trek from the mission, she has called a press conference to tell the city about the Palace's secret stash of Hepers. Now the ruler wants Ashley June gone, but his first assassin wasn't so successful. When Gene learns Epap was sent first, he refuses to stay in the Palace in relative safety. Instead, he and Sissy head to a city full of vampires to save their friend, because friends never leave a man behind. Even if they are the only cure to the plague that took over the world. 

OK. I am NOT going to give you any spoilers, but I have to tell you that the ending of this series will leave you reeling! It is such a shocker but then it isn't, but then it is, and it left me staring at the last page like, "Oh NO you didn't!!" It was ridiculous! I can honestly say this ending was nothing I could have expected. So shocking! I think any kid who read this series would find themselves stunned and searching for their next set of books when they were done because it is Just. That. Good! I don't get surprised often, so when I do, it is flabbergasting! And let me tell you, this book totally caught me unaware. That ending was phenomenal!!

So you should all definitely use this series for any struggle or disinterested readers you come across. It is so novel and new that it will keep any reader hooked right to the last page. I see every boy who ever told me, "I hate all books" finally picking this series up and never putting it down until the end of this final book. This is the series that could make them lifelong readers! And we owe it all to Andrew Fukuda and his brilliant series (and that brilliant ending!). So if you need a new kind of vampire story full of action, suspense, and insanity, Go on The Hunt. You will love every minute of it!

She May B. Dyslexic

Our children very often don't have an understanding of the kinds of lives people their age lived 100 or more years ago. In Caroline Starr Rose's beautiful little book, May B., we see a young girl who sounds very much like my own students today in 2013. But May's life is very, very different in many ways, and I can't help but think how special it would be for our students to read this book.

May's parents tell her she is going to have to travel 15 miles to live with another homesteader and his new wife. They need help around the homestead, and he is willing to pay May's parents to have her stay with them and help for the next few months. May knows it isn't permanent, but she also isn't ready to move away from her parents for so long with no way to be in contact with them. 15 miles across rough land in a horse and buggy is nothing to take lightly. To make matters worse, May is going to have to stop going to school when she moves in with them. School is hard enough for May, but with such a long time away from it, she knows she is never going to move out of the little kid side of the schoolhouse. It is embarrassing enough to have to sit with the little kids at her age because she can't read. After months away, she knows it will be worse and she will suffer the wrath of her teacher even more than she does now.

At the homestead, it is clear the homesteader's wife doesn't want to be there. She doesn't intend to do any chores herself, but it seems like May's very presence bothers her. When she picks up and leaves, her new husband chases after her, leaving May behind in the homestead. May assumes they will be back, but days and days pass and no one returns. Left to tend to the home herself with no new food, she has enough to survive a while, but not until her father comes for her at Christmas. Just a child, May B. does the bravest thing she could do. She survives.

May B. is my newest love. This book is told in short free verse that is very readable and easy to understand. It also makes the book incredible accessible for students who struggle with reading. Do they look at a page full of text the same way May describes? You bet they do! So having these short, powerful snippets are an amazing way to tell the story of a dyslexic girl while simultaneously not alienating the dyslexic young adults who the story would mean the most to. Pure brilliance. And while May isn't actually stated as being dyslexic, her struggles with reading are so spot on, you can't deny her obvious dyslexia. I loved this. Our students are lucky enough to live in a modern world where dyslexia is known and can receive remediation. What if they lived 150 years ago and you were just considered unintelligent if you couldn't read? This book really gives them a moment of perspective, and I really believe that is invaluable.

In addition, May is a young dyslexic girl who is SO brave she is able to take care of herself and survive through enormous winter storms all by herself. We so often now see kids who passively let everyone do things for them- teachers, parents, etc., but they never learn to handle difficult situations themselves. In fact, the Washington Post did an interesting article on these "Snow Plow" parents. So to watch May survive and figure things out herself was truly inspiring. I love this little story, and I think it would be great for any kid to read. It is simple enough for super low-skilled students, but it is also appropriate for older students as a supplement to history or a quick connection to the times. I think parents and teachers will enjoy this quick little story too. It was just so wonderful in ever possible way!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I Wish I Could Unread it to Experience it for the First Time All Over Again

When we got Noah and Echo's story, we thought we couldn't love anyone more than the two of them. Then we got Beth's story and realized our love for each character is different, but equally as devoted. And then there was Isaiah's story and I thought to myself, "Katie McGarry! You tricky little devil! How on EARTH do you do this to me with every single book?!" In the third companion novel of the Pushing the Limits series, McGarry brings Isaiah what we always wanted for him: the perfect girl for him. But nothing comes easy for Isaiah. 

Isaiah has only loved two people unconditionally in his life: Noah and Beth. Noah has Echo and is torn between his past and loyalty to Isaiah and the future he wants to start with Echo. Beth just destroyed Isaiah. Now Isaiah finds himself alone again and hanging on by a thread. Barely able to make rent with Noah, he faces losing his freedom from the system if Noah moves to the dorms with Echo. In an effort to make a little money and keep Noah with him, he does something he never does: he decides to drag for a little extra cash. When he goes to Eric's illegal races, he expects meet some rough characters, Eric being the most deceptively terrifying. What he doesn't expect is to meet an angel in a Mustang. 

Rachel has always been protected. Born as a replacement for her sister who died of leukemia, Rachel has never lived up to the vibrant, outgoing Colleen. Instead, her desire to work on cars, irritation with the colors pink and purple, and anxiety attacks have been the ever present source of sadness for her mother. Add to that an overprotective father and four overprotective older brothers, and you have a girl who barely leaves the house. Except to drive her mustang. Her baby. After a rough night, Rachel's twin, Ethan, covers for her while she goes for a ride. She doesn't expect to end up at a drag race, but even less does she expect to be so taken by a guy full of earrings and tattoos. But when Isaiah strides up to her car to approve of its engine for her to race, she can't pull her eyes away from him. And she isn't afraid to tell him to get his hands off her car. 

When the race goes bad and the police show up, Isaiah refuses to leave Rachel behind. In a new kind of race, they manage to get away, but they aren't free and clear. While the police didn't catch them, Eric thinks Rachel had something to do with the anonymous tip that was sent into the police about the race which led to a couple of guys ribbing him. Now he is hunting Rachel to make her pay. But Isaiah has no intentions on letting anyone get anywhere near Rachel. He will do anything he can to protect her, even if it means not calling her when she is the only thing he can think about. But when Eric finds her, Isaiah gives up his exile. Now nothing can keep Isaiah from his angel. Not her brothers, not her father, not even a homicidal criminal like Eric. 

Oh boy. Boy, oh boy. I cannot tell you how MUCH I loved this book. I really did not think it was possible to love a couple more than I loved Echo and Noah, but you know what? Isaiah and Rachel's story is now my absolute favorite. There is something so deep and so tormented about that boy that you just needed for him to find his perfect complement. And that complement was Rachel. She wasn't perfect- far from it- but she was perfect for Isaiah. Not only because of her love for cars, but because she was as damaged as he was. While her life might have appeared to be charmed, it was actually a complete mess. Together, Rachel and Isaiah made a whole. Apart, they were in pieces. That is the stuff of a beautiful (and complicated) romance, and I loved Every. Single. Page. Of. It.

When I describe these stories, I just don't do them justice, though. They appear to be your standard, run-of-the-mill romances, but they are anything but average. McGarry has this uncanny ability to make you love her characters as if they were really in your life. It sounds silly, but I felt like I knew Isaiah and Rachel by the time I finished with this book! She also has the ability to introduce supporting characters new to each book who are just as fantastic as the regulars. When you meet Abby, the snarky, tough as nails, drug dealing con artist, you are going to fall in love with her. You think I am wrong, right? How could you ever love a girl like that? Well, read this book and tell me you don't. I bet you will be begging for a book about Abby the same way I am!!

So here is my plea to Ms. McGarry. PLEASE don't stop writing these stories. They make me so happy and consume my life from the first page to the last. My husband tried to talk to me in the middle of Crash Into Me for about 20 minutes before he realized I hadn't heard a word he said. Luckily the boy understands what happens when I love a book this much! I am so excited for West's story, but the next one should be Abby's story! And by the time you are done with those two, I am sure I will find another supporting character to love just as much as I loved Isaiah and Ryan and Abby and West. I need more! Don't stop! Keep 'em coming! These are some of the best books I have read! I can't get enough!!

To Study or Not to Study: Is There a Question?

Cia made it through the Testing, but that doesn't mean her life is easy. In Independent Study, Joelle Charbonneau takes Cia's accomplishments to the next level: her studies. 

After the Testing, the people who passed had their memories wiped. The people who didn't... disappeared. But Cia managed to hold onto her memories through the recording device she has hidden. Her memories were wiped, but from the recordings and the flashes of memories that weren't erased, she knows the government is doing dangerous things with the testing. Now, a University student, she must go through initiation. Just when she thought she had survived the worst ordeal of her life, she is forced to join forces with people she doesn't know and doesn't trust and go on an expedition for her initiation. Whenever the government gives them a test, it is clear they aren't afraid to risk their lives as well. 

Finally, Cia is given her course load and an Independent Study location. What she doesn't expect is to be swamped with nine class when everyone else has six, given the hardest independent study, and most importantly, picked by the Government as its only intern. There are people out there who want to see Cia fail because they fear the bravery and will to protect people she harbors. To them, anyone willing to stand up to the establishment, even if in the smallest of ways, such as being able to figure out their tricks too easily, is a threat. And there is nothing more dangerous than being on the threat list of the government. But Cia has bigger things to worry about. With a rebel army amassing and Cia caught in the middle, she doesn't know who she can trust. In order to survive, however, she is going to have to learn to trust someone...

I thought this was a really interesting next step in this series, but I also found the beginning of the story with the initiation to be a lot more exciting than the parts after the initiation. The initiation was very similar to the actual Testing in the first book. They had a small quest with different deadly obstacles and such a desperation to pass that students would do anything to be first- even hurt each other. After that was over, it became more of a psychological thriller. Cia spent a lot of her time pondering the thought processes of the government, ways they were trying to trick her, and how to counter their moves. She also spent a lot of time skulking about campus trying to get information. I found it a little unrealistic that these crazy masterminds would be having these serious conversations full of important details in places where a girl in a hallway could hear them, but oh well! It was interesting!

This is a good series for anyone who likes dystopias and corrupt government stories. Again, I am glad to see a strong female lead who actually wants to do something to stop a corrupt government, not a reluctant hero who just wanted to be left alone. I like a hero who actually fights for what she believes in. There is some obvious brutality and violence in this story, but this one less so than the first book. Still, it isn't a story for young middle readers. More made for young adults. Lucky for all of us Charbonneau is pumping these books out every 6 months! Next one is right around the corner!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

When Gods Get Murderous

The Greek Gods and Goddesses have been portrayed in many different ways in young adult literature lately. From the usually humorous and typically oblivious gods in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, to the modern spin in Meg Cabot's Underworld series, we have seen all sorts of interpretations. But Kendare Blake's Goddess War series has to be the start of the most brutal and bloody of all all the recent mythology based stories. In Antigoddess, you get a new perspective that might just turn your stomach!

The Gods are immortal. They might not be the most popular anymore, but at least they have immortality. Or so they thought... Athena, goddess of wisdom, is being consumed by the feathers of the very owls who serve her. Feathers are sprouting inside her, slowly consuming every bit of her. Soon, they will take her the same way they took Demeter, who was slowly consumed by the earth. Before Demeter died, however, she told Athena and Hermes (who is wasting away) that Cassandra, the oracle, is the key to finding a way to stop their inevitable deaths. With the greater gods like Poseidon being led by crazy Hera to find Athena and the other lesser gods and hunt them down, Athena and Hermes don't have much time before they finally meet their fate. 

Cassandra is a normal girl. If you don't count the fact that she can see into the future, of course! Luckily, her boyfriend Aiden is not only supportive and loving, he knows about the visions and doesn't think she is a freak. But Cassandra's life isn't going to be uncomplicated for long. The gods seem to think she is the key in the upcoming war for survival, and in the process, everything she knows will be upended. 

I knew Kendare Blake didn't mess around after I read Anna Dressed in Blood, but this book was pretty gruesome at times! I was a little surprised! Blake doesn't hold anything back for this one, she just lets it all fly! I don't particularly agree with censoring the books of teens, but I know some people are sensitive to violence, so you might not want to give this book to anyone who can't handle the gore factor. If you don't believe me, just read the first description of Athena's feathers poking through the roof of her mouth, and you will know what I mean. Basically, this is not for your typical Percy Jackson crowd. This is a story for a much older crowd who seeks a pretty dark tale to be spun!

As for the characters, both new and revised, I actually really liked them! I thought they were a fresh new twist on very old tales and characters that made me want to continue with the story. It was certainly action-packed, and the descriptions are masterful. I mean, the description of Demeter, or Poseidon and his madness? Definitely gave me the creeps. Yuck! So if you need a dark, twisted tale or you know someone who likes that kind of story, this is your book. But please don't pass this story onto your 11 year old nephew who loved Percy Jackson. This isn't the next step from there!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ghost Hunters Meets Supernatural

If you loved Kami Garcia's Beautiful Creatures series with Margaret Stohl and were worried about what would happen when they decided to take on their own projects, I suggest you pick up this story before you speculate! Unbreakable, the first book in The Legion series is Unstoppable!

When Kennedy walks into her home to find her mother dead, she thinks nothing could possibly turn her life upside down more than that very moment. She was wrong. When her options are to live with her aunt or go to boarding school, she chooses a boarding school as far away as possible, but she never makes it there. Instead, something happens to her that she would never have expected. Her cat tries to kill her. Actually, it is a vengeance spirit inside her cat, but that doesn't make it any less deadly. Kennedy has almost succumbed to the spirit inside her cat when twins burst through her bedroom door and blast the cat. Terrified, Kennedy hides from them and threatens to call the police, but there is something strange with these brothers and their presence in her life. When they insist she is in danger and that they protected her from a spirit with salt bullets (which undoubtedly scared her cat, but didn't kill it), she can't believe such things exist. But how can she deny their existence when one clearly just tried to kill her?

When another spirit attack Kennedy, this time a poltergeist, she can't deny she needs help. Thank goodness the boys didn't go far. Lukas and Jared fill her in on their role in the Legion as each a member of the group of five who inherited their place to defend the world against a demon and his spirit minions. When one member dies, they tap another in to replace them. All five members of the Legion died the same time Kennedy's mother died, creating a completely new (and green) legion. Meanwhile, the demon their ancestors released is hunting them the same way they are hunting him. Kennedy is convinced she isn't part of the Legion, but the others refuse to believe it. They know her mother was the missing member who disappeared off the grid. The problem is, no one told Kennedy and no one trained Kennedy. Now she is in as much danger as the rest of them, but she is also a liability. She could get them hurt with her lack of training just as easily as the spirits could do their work. And they don't need one more thing that could get them killed. 

Kami Garcia really did a phenomenal job with this story. It was like Ghost Hunters meets Supernatural. And if you have watched Supernatural, you know the story with two hunter brothers! Well, Jared and Lukas do NOT disappoint. Jared is your surly brother while Lukas is the friendly brother, but you will find yourself loving both of them equally. Interestingly enough, I didn't connect to Kennedy as much as I loved the twins and the other two members of the Legion, Priest and Alara. Priest was your typical super-tech inventor with a sweet, witty humor and Alara was the surly, hardcore lady who kicked butt first and asked questions later. They were brilliant! It really felt like the Winchesters and their comrades from Supernatural! 

But the story was more than just superb characters. The whole back story about the Legion ties into the Knights Templar and Illuminati in a whole knew twisty, creepy way. I loved the "Da Vinci Code"/"Natural Treasure" kind of hidden clue hunt they had to go through in order to find what they were looking for to finally stop the demon. It added a layer of adventure to the creepiness that topped it off perfectly. Honestly, I am really impressed with the start of this series, and I can even forgive the nutso cliffhanger at the end that left me flipping the last page back and forth praying more would magically appear! This is a great book for any YA readers who like creepy ghost stories and dig some awesome characters!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Say Goodbye to the Gallagher Girls

If you have followed the Gallagher Girls from their inception, you know Bex, Macey, Liz and Cammie are not your average young adults. But still, you are sad to see them go, sad to see them graduate, and secretly you hope there will be a follow up series after United We Spy that brings them all back together from their super secret government spy agencies to foil another plot to destroy the world! (Hint, Hint, Ally Carter!!). 

Everyone knows the Circle is up to no good, but when the original members of the Circle start disappearing or them and their families start showing up dead, Cammie and the girls immediately worry about Zach and Preston. Preston should be safe in the embassy, but the people who are after him are scarier than anyone had imagined. But the government wants Preston and his father more than the people who are offing the circle. The girls insist Preston doesn't know anything about his father's business in the Circle, but no one wants to believe a young girl. Even if that girl is a Gallagher Girl.

When Cammie witnesses just how far the reach of this group killing off the Circle can be, and almost becomes collateral damage, the girls realize something bigger is afoot. But the scariest part of it all is that Liz, the brainchild of the group, may have set in motion the most terrifying series of events the world has ever seen. Now the girls have to figure out the connection of this secret group, the Circle, and the world atrocities that are pushing dangerous nations into World War III. But how can four girls figure this all out and stop the events from happening? Well, your first mistake is underestimating a Gallagher Girl!

This series started out as your basic Middle Reader. Fun, playful, and silly, it wasn't the most serious of series, but it was darned enjoyable! But then the series started to grow. It got darker, more serious, and the Gallagher girls matured with their readers. And finally we land in this finale, ready and waiting for the girls to graduate and simultaneously foil a plot to start WWIII. It was so perfect, so exciting, I can't believe I have to say good bye to the Gallagher Girls! I can only hope we can convince Ally Carter to start pumping out some "New Adult" Gallagher Girls stories about their adventures in their agencies so we don't have to lose them from our lives!

But the important thing about this series is the absolutely empowering message it sends to girls everywhere. You want to be a spy? Do it! You are brilliant at deciphering codes? You can do it! You are so smart you stump the people around you? Don't hide it to impress some stupid boy who should be attracted to your smarts, not intimidated by them. Use them! Be proud of them! I love the message this series sends to middle readers and young adult girls alike. It tells them there is nothing they can't do, even become a spy! And it really is a message we need to send to our young women. How many girls don't raise their hands because they are afraid their peers will catch onto how smart they are? How many don't join the science club or the math club because they will be made fun of for being a nerd? If we want more women to take charge in these typically male dominated fields, then we have to start right here. We have to be like Ally Carter who tells her readers, "I believe in you!" *climbs off her soapbox* Thank you, Ms. Carter! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An Inhuman Journey

In a world where we are already terrorized by swine flu and avian flu, the idea of those viruses infecting people with the animal genetics they carry is the next step we hope could never happen. In Kat Fall's Inhuman brings that terrorizing thought to life as the humans hide behind the walls and the animals roam around the outside.

Everything from the east of the Mississippi river is abandoned as the Feral Zone. When a biological disaster allowed animal DNA to mutate a human through a bite or contact with blood, the rest of the country realized quickly they had to abandon the East Coast in order to preserve what was left of the humans on the other side. Meanwhile, scientists worked on a cure, but the sheer amount of animal DNA in the human population makes a cure or even a treatment impossible without samples from every mutation. When a human is bitten by an infected human, the first stage of the Farae virus is a high fever that hits them immediately. Then, they begin stage two:  mutation. The second stage can last for years, if someone is lucky. As they physically transform into the animal, they still retain human conscience and reasoning. These manimals are still feared by the untouched population, but on the other side of the wall, the lines aren't so black and white. When an infected person finally enters the third stage of the virus, they turn into a Feral. The final change can be so abrupt, they can turn on their loved ones, which is why people are so skeptical of the manimals. But when it is your mother, father, brother, child, or spouse, kicking them out when they get bitten isn't so easy. Now thousands of ferals roam the East and even more people are infected by the virus. Meanwhile their families teeter on the balance of love and self-preservation in small civilizations that scrape by a living.

On the other side of the wall, life is different. It isn't necessarily easy, but it also isn't survival driven like life in the east. Lane is fascinated by the Feral Zone, but terrified by it at the same time. When her father, who usually travels for work and leaves her to fend for herself, is revealed by the government to be a "fetch", she can't believe her ears. Fetches go into the Feral Zone to bring back items for people on the other side of the wall, but their very existence is highly illegal and can result in their execution. Lane always knew her father was an art dealer, but she had no idea he spent his life getting on the other side of the wall to collect abandoned art. Now Director Spurling needs her father to fetch something personal. She is offering full immunity for Lane's father, but first Lane has to find him and get him to do the fetch. But finding someone on the Feral side of the wall isn't easy. In fact, it is the most dangerous thing Lane has ever tried to do... until she realizes she has to do the fetch for her father.

Wow! This was such a fast, fun science fiction novel, I couldn't get enough of it! The story behind the virus was as fascinating as the story of what happens to the people it infects. I loved the contrast between the safe zone behind the wall, the intact humans in the Feral Zone, and the manimals. It really demonstrated a class hierarchy that could rival communities existing today. And the descriptions of the manimals and the ferals is so terrifying and creepy, you can just visuals these animal/humans perfectly! It made the story so graphic and vivid, I couldn't get enough of it! 

When Lane started off on her journey accompanied by a green line guard named Everson and a scampish guy named Rafe who makes his living stealing from the guards to deliver to the towns in the zone, I was a little disappointed to see yet another love triangle when I really wanted the action of the story to be the focus. But it actually turned out to be the least offensive and least annoying love triangle I have every encountered! In fact, there was even a point when Rafe outright said, "Ok, I am taking myself out of this silly love triangle!" It was like breaking down the fourth wall for television- if the characters acknowledge the silliness, it makes it not-so-silly! Meanwhile, Everson's "by the book" attitude contrasted with Rafe's "anything goes" attitude perfectly. I loved how they came together to help Lane, protected her, but still did so in wildly different ways. I loved both these boys for very different reasons, and I can't wait to get more of them in the second book. But beware- this ends in a serious cliffhanger, so if you can't wait for the rest of the story, you should hold off until the next book comes out to read this one! This is a good series for strong middle readers through young adult readers. The violence in the Feral Zone is expected, and some of the creature mutations are downright terrifying (I am now having nightmares about weevlings and chimpacabras, Ms. Falls. Thanks for that!), but it is so fast-paced and exciting, it will hold anyone's attention!

Ride the Wave of the Living

When you are in a book slump, you need something exciting to really grab you and force you to plow through with the excitement and enthusiasm you are struggling to find in other books. For me, The Living by Matt de la Pena was just that book. Need a little excitement in your life? Look no further! This will grab you like a tsunami, and won't let go until its ready. 

Shy took the job on the cruise line to make some money this summer. His mother was worried about him, but how much could go wrong on a cruise ship? Besides, with the Romero virus going around, home wasn't so safe either. Having watched his grandmother succumb to the disease, he doesn't think he could watch someone he loves go through that again. Life on the cruise ship isn't so bad. You work a lot catering to the ridiculously wealthy, but most are nice enough. When a strange man throws himself off the side of the boat, Shy is the one who tries to save the man. But after a cryptic "death bed confession", Shy loses the man to the sea. Now, a few weeks later, a strange man is on the new cruise and everyone keeps telling Shy the man is looking for him. Shy can only avoid him for so long. Especially when he has no idea what the man would want from a simple poor kid from California on the Mexican border. 

When word gets around that something catastrophic has happened to the US, Shy can't imagine the state of devastation his home is in. An earthquake like no other ravaged the West Coast and has left most of the states of California, Oregon, and Washington completely devastated. Everyone on the ship is reeling from the news, but they have no idea what is about to come their way. With an earthquake that close to the coast, a tsunami is bound to be close on its heals. Cruise ships are built to withstand incredible storms, but this might just be the monster that pushes it to the limit. There are a lot of people on the boat Shy cares about, but when it comes to life and death, it is amazing the choices a person will have to make. 

Sometimes a book that runs at this break-neck pace is too fast for you. When you are in a book slump like I was, or if you are looking for a book for a student who gets "bored" too quickly, this is a perfect choice. In hindsight, the story had a LOT of different elements that seemed almost too much: the virus, the earthquake, the tsunami, the island, the lost at sea. Any one or two could have made for a great story, but all together it can be a bit overwhelming. Still, I was totally in the mood for this kind of story. I needed a book where every single page was stuffed with intrigue and action. And I got it with The Living! This was truly an action-packed story, and it was exactly the medicine I needed to pull me out of my book slump. 

Shy is a really great main character. He is just a good kid, a normal kid. He loves his family. He mourns the loss of his grandmother and worries about the rest of his family and the virus. It is also great to see more and more diversity in YA lit. There have been a lot of articles lately about the "white washing" of YA lit, so I am always happy when I see diversity effortlessly injected into the genre. We want our YA lit to reflect its readers who are diverse themselves! I really enjoyed Shy's character, the break-neck pace of the story, and everything about it. The one this I didn't enjoy is knowing I am going to have to wait a year to read the next book. It really left us on a cliffhanger and I don't know how long I can wait to see where the story goes! This is an excellent book for a struggling, mature reader who has never finished a book. Have a student who claims they hate reading because its "boring"? Pick up The Living. I promise you they won't be bored! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Heir and A Warrior in One

Working my way backwards, I read the Seven Realms series first, and after recommending it to a dear, dear friend and hearing her rave about how much she loved it, I missed having a little Chima in my life! So I finally started The Warrior Heir and boy am I glad I did!

Jack may have to take medicine every day to stay alive, and he may have had heart surgery as a baby, but his life is still pretty unremarkable. Crushing on an unattainable girl, goofy friends, and soccer tryouts are his biggest concerns. Until his aunt Linda comes into town. When she convinces Jack and his two friends to come with her on a hunt for some genealogical hunt for information about their ancestors, Jack gets more information than he expected. When someone who can only be described as a wizard attacks them, Jack realizes there is more to his heritage than just heart disease. 

Then he finds the sword. Jack was born a wizard, but he was born without a wizard stone: the stone that sits behind the heart and determines the kind of Weirlind you are (warrior, enchanterer, wizard, etc.). Without the stone, he would have died, so a wizard doctor implanted a new stone, but she did something unexpected. She gave him a Warrior stone, not a Wizard stone. Now, as an amalgamation of warrior and wizard, Jack is highly sought after to fight in the wizard tournaments. Unfortunately, the tournaments are a battle to the death. Jack's sleepy, peaceful, normal life will never be normal again. 

You can definitely tell that this series came before the more sophisticated Seven Realms series, but it is still fantastic! From what I understand, the series is not an actual series, but more a group of companion novels set in the same world, which I don't mind (think Graceling!).  Jack's story was definitely interesting, and the history behind the wizards and the other Weirlind are fascinating. I hope the following books in the series delve even more into the back story in addition to how it moves forward. I also like the idea of companion novels instead of a series for my students, because they don't have to read the rest of the series to enjoy the story. 

The story itself is really mild and would be perfect for a high skilled middle school student. There are some wizardly clashes and the tournament, but it isn't particularly violent in a gratuitous way. This is a great new series either for Chima fans or newbies to fall in love with her writing. Most of all? It is a fun and exciting story. Jack is the kind of kid we all love and want to see triumph! And the supporting characters, like the magical folk all around his neighborhood who spent years protecting him, are fun too. You won't be sorry with more Chima in your life! It will just make you crave even more!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Chaos Isn't In the Stars

Life as a teen is hard enough, but when you are the daughter of Egyptian Gods, your life comes with a special set of issue. But for Isadora, life as a normal teen is like a fantasy more fantastical than actual mythology. In The Chaos of the Stars, Kiersten White combines modern day teens with ancient mythology for a fun and mystical story.

Isadora lives an easy enough life, if you don't count her goddess mother, dead, but undead, father, awkward brother and strange half-brother. As the mortal daughter of immortal God parents, she knows her time with them is limited. But time amongst the immortal is tricky. They live years as moments and she is tired of being ignored because her life is fleeting. When her mother chooses to get pregnant again, a necessary part of keeping herself alive is to produce heirs who will worship her, Isadora is almost happy when it means she is being sent to America to live with her brother. When her mother is pregnant, she is most vulnerable, so it would be safest for Isadora to be squirreled away someplace. 

Her brother Sirus is welcoming, but she was shocked to find him with a wife- a pregnant wife. To make matters worse, her mother's arms reach far from Egypt and get Isadora a job in a museum curating an exhibit of none other than Isis herself. Isadora wishes she had more distance from Egypt and everything in it, but at the museum she meets some great people- including a mysterious boy who writes epic poetry. While Isadora makes herself quite clear that she has no interest in romance, she can't help but think about Ry (Orion). Isadora starts to think she might just be able to have a normal life away from Eygpt... until Egypt finds her in San Diego.

Kiersten White has a way of writing stories in a very middle reader/YA hybrid kind of way. I don't think they follow into either category, but somewhere in between. For instance, they sound kind of young and feel kind of young, but I can picture young adult readers still enjoying their stories (in a much different way than they enjoy the books of Rick Riordan, for instance). It makes them both versatile and hard to place in an equally strange way! Some YA readers find them childish and some middle readers aren't ready yet. But they do have fairly good cross-over appeal, and make for fantastic reads for older, low-skilled readers or younger, high-skilled readers. 

I like White's stories, but in the Paranormalcy series, she lost me after the first book, which was really, really good. I am looking forward to the next project White works on, and would have loved to see where Isadora's story went, but at the same time, I am happy White plans to leave it as a stand-alone. I think it will do the story justice to not drag it out unnecessarily. For me the big reveal was not terribly surprising, but it was satisfying, nonetheless. This was a fun, interesting tweak on Egyptian mythology!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An Order to Kill

Before there was a maze, there was a world torn apart by wars and environmental disaster. The world fell apart with a bang, but a few lone souls tried to cling to the people they found and loved thanks to circumstance. In The Kill Order, James Dashner told us the tale of life before the maze.

Mark and Trina were lucky enough to be in the subway when the flares began. Uncontrollable and completely devastating flares tore through the world, destroying everything unlucky enough to be in their wake. They know something is happening, but aren't sure what to do. When attacked by a group of homeless men, they have the incredible luck of being found by Alec, an ex-military survivalist who knows what is happening and how to survive it. But if they don't listen to him quickly, they too will be swept away and drowned by the incoming flash flooding and tsunami caused by the immediate destruction of the ice caps. But there are worse things out there than the sun and the water. Worse by far. 

It isn't easy, but the group survives getting out of the city... most of the group anyway. While life isn't easy, it is survivable. They even have some semblance of life in their ramshackle civilization. But they were naive to think they could survive undisturbed. Out in the world are terrors far beyond anything Trina, Mark, and Alec have seen so far, they just didn't think they would be battling those terrors so soon and all at once. Together they hope they can fight through the onslaught, but there are far more dangerous things out there than they expected. And those dangers are around every single corner.

The thing to know about this prequel is that it really doesn't ever tell the early story of Thomas and Theresa. This story goes way back to tell how the world got so desperate, and it does a pretty good job of that! The problem here is that as a prequel, some people would choose to start the series here. Earliest chronologically must be the first read, right? Wrong! Don't do it! The Maze Runner is so amazing it, and the two subsequent books, should be read first. If you were to read this prequel first, you would lose the desperation of the world years later as well as find yourself totally lost by the time you get to The Maze Runner.

I did think this story was interesting, but it wasn't completely necessary. I would rather have had more of the story of Thomas and Theresa instead of little snippets from the prologue and epilogue, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. It almost seemed like this story should have been its own series that ends with the start of the maze because there is a huge gap between the end of this story and the beginning of the maze. I think this might have been an afterthought from Dashner, but it worked. I would give this prequel to a student who read the rest of the series, but I wouldn't give it to anyone as a stand-alone even though it is so disjointed from the original series. There is, of course, a decent amount of terror and violence, but nothing more so than the original series. Still, I would love to see the gap between the two parts of the series closed with more of the story!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Who is the Real Monster?

The world of Pellinore Warthrop and Will Henry almost ended before the fans of the Monstrumologist and his apprentice fought back and demanded an ending. The Final Descent might not be the ending you pictured or hoped for, but was there any other way to end their story? Rick Yancey ends this phenomenal series with more devastating heartbreak than I was ready for. But for the life of a monstrumologist, you have to be ready for anything.

When a man seeks out Warthrop to sell him the greatest find in generations of the field of monstrumology, Warthrop assumes it is a fraud. But Will Henry takes it upon himself to check it out. What he finds is quite possibly the most terrifying and most ground breaking creature they have ever seen: the last of its kind. While still unhatched, the egg, stolen from its seller, must be cared for with the utmost of precision. Warthrop and Will Henry are brought back together through the care for the egg and the future implications such a find could bring them. But the damage to their relationship is too big for one find to cure.

Flash forward years. Will Henry finally returns to the man who made him what he has become, but what he finds is not the strong, confident, aloof Warthrop. Instead he finds a broken man surrounded by the horror he has wreaked upon himself. For all of Warthrop's determination in his field has left him broken and determined to find the end that he deserves- one without the love of another human being. The story of Will Henry and Warthrop didn't end with that egg, but the connection between them had never been so fragile. Warthrop's created the Will who now stands before him, but he can't bring himself to take credit for the man Will Henry has become.

If you have followed this series, you know you weren't ready for it to end. But I bet you also weren't ready for this kind of ending. Warthrop and Will Henry's story was too complex and tumultuous not to have a similar ending, but I could never have imagined the kind of ending Yancey gave us. It was gut wrenching. It ripped out your very soul, did a Mexican hat dance on it, stuffed it back in and sewed it up with a rusty spoon. I do not exaggerate, my friends. This was the most difficult ending to a series I loved that I have ever read. But it wasn't bad. Nope. Not at all. It was perfect. Heartbreaking, but the perfect end to their story. Yancey may have loved his characters, but he knew the proper way to end their story wasn't going to be all sunshine and tulips. Nope. It was going to be ugly, brutal, and awful. It was going to destroy them, you, and everyone in between. And it did. 

The biggest question in this book is who the monster really is. The easiest thing would be the incredibly poisonous thing ready to hatch from that leathery egg, but nothing with a Yancey book is easy. No, the monster was inside them all. Warthrop's monsters, or inner demons, were different from those Will Henry harbored, but both were hell-bent on destruction. We saw Warthrop struggle to love Will Henry in every way he could, even if that meant leaving him, throughout this series, but we always knew he loved the boy. Even when he showed it in the most counterproductive ways, he still always needed to make sure Will Henry was safe. But the man Will Henry grew into is the most terrifying thing Warthrop ever encountered, and for a momstrumologist, that is saying a lot. And Will Henry blames no one but Warthrop himself.

So, I have to say, if you want a pretty ending all tied up in a neat little bow, then skip this book. You are going to upset. But if you need to see the way Will Henry and Warthrop finally end, then you need to prepare yourself. This series ending was phenomenal and heartbreaking all swirled together like a miserable ice cream sundae. It made me grieve for these characters I loved so much, but I know a happy ending would have been too unrealistic for the lives they lived. I really loved this series, I am not happy to see it go, but it was hard to see how it ended. Still, it is just one more bit of proof in the large collection of evidence that Yancey is a genius. Pure Genius. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Maas Deserves the Crown

The idea of rooting for an assassin is somewhat like watching "Dexter" and rooting for the serial killer. When that happens, you know an author is not only skilled, they can turn everything you thought you believed in on its heels. Sarah J. Maas does this in her Throne of Glass series. In the second book, Crown of Midnight, Celaena Sardothian is a woman we can all admire.

As the King's champion, Celaena must carry out the assassinations he orders. As a paranoid man who enjoys eliminating his possible enemies, the King isn't afraid to send her after anyone who might be plotting against him. As Celaena appears to do his bidding, however, she keeps to herself what she is really doing: helping the targets to disappear while secretly digging up information on the real enemies to the king. Celaena isn't a fan of the king, but she prefers to know what is happening in the kingdom as opposed to operating under fear and assumptions.

Celaena has seen her parents murdered, has been imprisoned to work to death in the mines, and trained under the most lethal and cruel assassins the world has ever seen. She isn't afraid to kill, but she refuses to be the king's hired dagger. While she can't trust anyone with all the knowledge she has amassed, Chaol is the first person she has let enter her heart since she can remember. It seems as though Celaena's ruse is successful until her entire core is shattered by the loss of a dear friend in an evil and brutal way. Celaena is the King's champion, but she will not be led about by a ring in her nose. Celaena is the champion of all her people, and she will find answers to every question she has unearthed.

This series took some huge turns with the switch from the competition in the first book to the true assassin work in the second book, but the pace hasn't slowed. Instead, it seems Maas has picked up even more momentum from the craziness of the first book! It seems impossible, but I think this book got a little darker from the first, and it certainly got more magical. There is a lot of magic hiding under the surface of everything in this sequel, and by the end, it has opened up a magical portal that can never be closed again. While this really changed the flavor of the story, I found it incredible and couldn't put the book down! I mean, seriously, this was a fantastic sequel to an incredible series. The fantasy keeps building and building, bring the reader into a magical world you never imagined you'd see. It is a brilliant way to build such a fantasy world, and I cannot wait to see more from Maas.

More importantly, I love Celaena. A lot of fantasy out there has an epidemic of weak ladies, but lately we have seen a flurry of leading ladies who take no prisoners. They are moral and ethical, but they also aren't afraid to throttle the bad guys in the meantime. It is such a relief to see this shift in gender roles where girls and women aren't weak and in need of protection, they are the characters others should fear! In fact, there is one part of this novel where a character is kidnapped and he tells his kidnappers Celaena will come for him. They muse that there isn't much to be worried about with all their armed guards and the kidnapped man chuckles. He knows 20 grown men are no match for Celaena! I loved this murderous side of Celaena paired with the young woman who is willing to go against the king by faking the deaths of all his marked men (and their women and children, since the King's orders are to kill the whole family). She is a fabulous leading lady, and I cannot wait to see what happens next. The ending of this sequel is so gripping I am going to wait with bated breath for book number three!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Beneath the Maggot Moon

Sometimes a story has more layers than an onion, with more and more meaning to peel away and peel away. Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner is just such a story. But you might not like what you find under each layer. 

Standish Treadwell isn't bright. At least, it is safer for Standish if you think that. In the alternative Britain he lives in, there isn't much of anything that could be considered "bright". No color, no fun, no happiness. But for a boy who can't read and write, this cruel world is particularly cruel. That is, until Hector comes along. As the only boy Standish has every called a friend, Hector is the most important person in his life besides Standish's grandfather. 

The world doesn't take kindly to friends. With the Greenflies buzzing around and teachers who are willing to beat a little boy to death for laughing, the world is a cold hard place. But when Hector disappears, Standish refuses to stand by and let it happen. He watched his own parents disappear after his mother was taken and returned disfigured, and he isn't going to let the same thing happen to Hector. Standish is the only one who can help. He is the only one who can help because he is the one who is underestimated the most.

Have you read Animal Farm? If you have, you know there are two (or more) layers to that story. You have the weird story about the talking animals taking over the farm, and then you have the deeper allegory into the world's political figures. Maggot Moon is the same kind of story. Honestly? This is NOT a book for young kids or even most young adults. It is deep, complex, violent, bizarre, confusing, and I am not even sure I really liked it, but it had my mind spinning all day. The author is severely dyslexic and she speaks of her learning disability quite candidly. Not only did she make a world with a dyslexic hero, but she also created this dyslexic world inside a dystopia. If you let yourself run with the way the book is written, it feels different, confusing at times. I love the statement this makes about the dyslexic mind... layers and layers of meaning hidden behind simplistic language and a confusing story.

That being said, I actually didn't enjoy this book in the way I enjoy other stories. It was difficult and painful at times, but you shouldn't let that to scare you away. It is the kind of book that will make your head spin if you let it, but you can't fight the odd story and characters. Like Animal Farm there is something deeper here that you have to find yourself. What does this story mean to you? Are you a Standish Treadwell? Is your brother or sister? Student? 

The dystopia angle of this story is very odd and won't appeal to many kids who likes the popular dystopias out there (Hunger Games, Maze Runner, etc.). It really shouldn't be classified as a dystopia, and in fact, I think this book defies most categories. But it's strange and interesting, and I still can't stop thinking about it!

Written Like a Two-Hour Series Premiere

When there is a lot of hype about a new novel, and a television series already created before the novel has even been released, I suffer from two distinct and hypocritical emotional states: an overwhelming desire to get my hands on it and see what all the fuss is about and a superficial judgment that anything thought to be so cool can't possibly be really that cool. So I couldn't wait to get ahold of Kass Morgan's The 100, but I wasn't sure what to expect.

Nobody knows except those who make the decisions, but 100 of the juvenile delinquents imprisoned in the colony will be sent back to Earth. They are convinced Earth is safe to recolonize, but to be sure, they are willing to sacrifice 100 teens who would be executed after their 18th birthdays anyway. For Clarke, it is a surprise, but it isn't like she really has anyone back on the ship anyway now that her parents were executed. All she cares about is her cellmate Thalia, who is also coming along. Wells is the Chancellor's son. He knew he had to do something truly horrible to get onto that ship headed toward Earth, but what he did threatened the psychological well-being of every person aboard the colony. He knew this would be the result, but the only thing he cared about was getting on that drop ship to be with, and to protect, Clarke. Even though she didn't want him there after what he did to her.

Bellamy isn't on the Drop Ship, but he needs to be. In a colony where reproduction is heavily controlled, he is probably the only person aboard who has a sister, and she is being sent to Earth. Unable to protect her from being arrested, he must now find a way to get on the ship in order to be with her on Earth. What he has to do, though, is unheard of, even for the colony that executes so many 18 year olds for petty crimes. During the chaos of Bellamy's entrance onto the ship, though, Glass manages to make her way out of the drop ship. Originally slated to go to Earth, she knows she must find Luke. What she doesn't expect, as a now fugitive of the entire colony, is that Luke might not have been waiting for her. Once the drop ship lands on Earth, it is a race to survive with minimal supplies, a crash landing, and a world they couldn't have imagined. But life back on the ship for Glass isn't much better.

I was surprised when I saw this was already in the process of becoming a TV series without having even been released as a book yet. Don't get me wrong, the premise is fantastic, but how do you know how people are going to react to it until some have read it? So I went into this book expected to be floored by a phenomenal story, and I am sad to say I was pretty disappointed. The premise, as I said, is fabulous. But the story was really written as a two-hour series premiere, not the first book in a series. From the beginning with the snippets of all four main characters and their situations to the sudden ending, everything in this screamed TV. Honestly, there was no wrap up for the story, there was no world-building (because on TV, who needs a single description of the scenery, right?), and the only focus was the four main characters despite 100 kids on that island (ok, a few died early, but still, 90+). Seriously, there was absolutely no description of Earth save for two mutated animals, that warranted a paragraph each, and a decrepit building. What is it like there? Is there anything around you? can you see signs of what chased humans off Earth in the beginning? I got nothing. Until a tiny little snippit right before the book ended. Sound like a fabulous series permiere? Yep. Like a great first book? Nope. I just felt cheated by this book that was obvious supposed to be a screen-play. If I had not known the original of this book for the CW Network, I think I would be even more disappointed with it. At least with the TV series, I will be able to see a little of what Earth looks like.

And how fast does Morgan expect to pump these books out? If the TV show is starting now, and with so very little information in the first book, they are going to run out of story lines in like 4 episodes. So does the show carry on without the next book? Who would buy the books and watch the show simultaneously, then? Will she toss out a book every 6 months to keep up, or let the show run independently?

I also had another weird feeling when I read the acknowledgments: "I owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude to Joelle Hobeika, who not only dreamed up the premise for The 100, but whose imagination, editorial acumen, and tenacity were essential for bringing it to life." So, wait a minute... Morgan didn't even come up with the story herself? So she is essentially someone's not-so-ghost writer? That makes me even less interested in this story, which is sad because the premise and the characters are an absolute gold-mine if done well. Sadly, though, the characters felt rather shallow and one-dimensional and the premise was swallowed up by the complete lack of information and development throughout the entirety of the novel. I am sad I had such trouble with this story. It could've been great!!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

City of Losing Interest a Little

Clary and Jace aren't exactly a normal couple. In fact, they have probably had the most traumatic and bizarre relationship as any couple in history. From assuming they were brother and sister, still being attracted to one another, being attacked, death, etc., they are a bizarre couple from the word go. And in The City of Lost Souls, the fifth book in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, their relationship doesn't get any easier.

Clary thought it was over. Sebastian, her real brother (and also known as Jonathan Morgenstern), was defeated, Lilith was killed (or as killed as the oldest demon in history can be), and Jace was safe. She couldn't have been more wrong. When she returns to the roof, both Jace and Sebastian, who was supposed to be dead, are gone with no trace. They can't even be located magically. After an exhaustive search, the Clave can't afford to keep everyone looking for Jace. They are ready to close the search, but Clary refuses to give up. She will do anything to find him, even go to the Seelie queen. When she tries to steal the payment for the Queen from the Institute, she sees Jace, with Sebastian. As thick as thieves, the boys who were once mortal enemies seem to be the closest of friends. Clary had thought any manner of things could have happened to Jace, but she never imagined he would turn to the dark side. 

When Jace and Sebastian show up at Luke's apartment to get Clary to join them, it is clear to her that something had to have happened to Jace to change him. When they attack Luke and stab him with a demon metal knife, she knows she has to do something. But when it becomes clear that anything that happens to Sebastian also happens to Jace, their connection becomes even more frightening. One can't be killed without killing the other. Clary knows the Clave will consider Jace collateral damage in an effort to get rid of Sebastian, so she decides to do the only thing she can do- make them think she is going to join them in order to find a weakness in their connection. But what if there is no weakness?

You know when you follow a TV show for a long time and you start to think about how many times the main couple has broken up and made up, or how many guys the main girl has dated, or how many times the main characters have almost died, and it seems laughable? Like when you think about how many kids died in Buffy the Vampire Slayer over her years at Sunnydale High, but no one ever thought it was fishy? That is starting to happen to this series for me. I mean, really, how many times can Clary and Jace be in mortal peril or have their relationship completely destroyed, only to pick up the pieces and start again? Now, I have to say, I enjoyed the story, as always. But I am starting to go weary of Clary and Jace. In fact, I wanted to skip through their half of the book, but I just couldn't do it for plot's sake. 

Instead, the true gems for me are in the supporting characters. The relationship between Alec and Magnus is simply fabulous (well, honestly, Magnus is simply fabulous and by influence, so is Alec!). I love having a serious gay couple in young adult literature where they aren't romanticized or too perfect, but rather experience the same insecurities any couple faces, gay or straight. This is a great for all young adults to have experience with. In addition, Simon and Isabelle are a great couple. As complete opposites both supernaturally and humanly, they are full of twists, turns, and surprises. I honestly felt these characters were more interesting than the same old Clary and Jace nonsense, and would have been happy to just have their stories in this book. But alas, there are bigger things at work, and we must have Clary and Jace together again for the big, final, epic battle that is surely to come in the final book of the series. (Wait. Didn't it end already?!)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

More Like "The Butt-Kickin' Kingdom"

Elisa's reign as queen has never been easy, but in the final installment of the Girl of Fire and Thorns saga, Rae Carson gives us and ending so epic, it will give you shivers. The Bitter Kingdom is a conclusion like no other.

Elisa has suffered through being married off to a man she had never met for political reasons, the loss of a husband she had just come to appreciate, being kidnapped, the loss of a man she loved, assassination attempts, and now attacks upon her kingdom. As a foreign-born queen, Elisa must do more to prove to her people she can protect them. As the Invierno sorcerers finish their attack on her city, she escapes, but not before her beloved guard Hector is kidnapped. Determined to find Hector, Elisa and a trusted group of loyal friends head off through the mountains and desert to find the man she loves. 

Along the way, Elisa realizes she has tapped into the power of her Godstone through the discovery of a source of power. Storm, the Invierno traitor turned loyal subject, works with Elisa to hone her powers. While she knew she had grown since her original marriage as a plump, bored princess, she had no idea just how much has truly grown. As one of the most powerful animagus to ever live, she knows she now has the power to protect her kingdom from the Inviernos and their magic. But it is her fearless nature and determination to protect her people that is the true force to be reckoned with. People may underestimate Elisa, but that is just one more thing in her favor, because if they underestimate her, they will never see it coming when she follows through on all her plans.

I have absolutely loved this story from the first book to the last. Carson wove a web of stories that were so intricate and so engaging that you simply couldn't stop reading. There was no sophomore slump throughout the series, and the ending? Don't expect any downtime here! This story was action-packed from the first page to the last. With the exception of about 5 pages at the end to give us an epilogue with information on how life turned out for everyone, this book just didn't release its vice grip on you until you were done! If you are the kind of reader who needs to be engaged from start to finish, this really is the series for you. Not a dull moment to be found!

I have said this before, with Carson's previous books, but I will say it again. There is something so incredible about Elisa that she really has to be one of my absolute favorite heroines in all the books I have read. She is strong, she won't be broken, she doesn't scare easily, and if she does, she uses that fear to take back what is hers and find a way to resolve any solution with as few casualties as possible. I love the fact that her body is constantly discussed as well. You would think this should be something inconsequential, but there is something so important about a heroine who lived a life of pleasure, who didn't fit the "princess mold" in terms of her body type, and who still rose to the occasion and defied all expectations. And even when she slimmed down, she was still built differently. People commented on it and made snide comments, but Elisa used their derision to catch them off guard. It was fabulous! But it was her ability to negotiate and see the big picture that made Elisa so successful and made me truly love her. 

The supporting characters are just as dynamic as Elisa. Mula, the slave girl they rescue on their travels, is so funny, loyal, and appreciative that you can't help but love her! She drives them all nuts with her candidness, but that is what I love the most about her! She just tells it like it is! Then there is Storm, the Invierno traitor who became Elisa's ambassador and finally her loyal subject. Inviernos are described as a primitive race who were there before Elisa's ancestors "descended" and began taking over. Unfortunately, there isn't much information past this tidbit, but the Inviernos clearly despise anyone who isn't their kind. They also can't lie. In fact, trying to get a straight answer reminds me of trying to get a straight answer out of a faerie, as described in other novels. They can't lie, but they are more than happy to trick, mislead, and deceive. That is Storm. And his people. So his blunt honesty can be humorous or unwelcomed, but it is who Storm is! And while he drives everyone else nuts, Elisa is protective over the strange man. And his loyalty to her is matched only by her other traveling companions. 

This was just such a special story full of magic, sorcerers, strong ladies, and the lands they will die to protect. If you have any student who loves a little fantasy and needs a fabulous story to keep them interested, look no further. You have found it. As a conclusion, this was a fabulous way to wrap up a story I have followed since the first book was released. I loved it so much, I can't even find the right words to describe it! I think the beautiful complexity matched with the simplistic strength of the story will appeal to young adults as well as adult readers. And Ms. Carson? You had better be working on something new, because I cannot wait too long without something more from you!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

One Crazy Summer and One Fabulous Story

Every student who makes it to middle school has heard of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but how many know about Malcolm X or the Black Panthers? An underrepresented piece of this important history comes alive in this tale of sisterhood, motherhood, and a bigger need to be heard and treated with equality. In Rita Williams-Garcia's beautifully written story, One Crazy Summer comes alive with the way the world existed in Oakland in 1968.

Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are packed up and ready to be shipped across the country to spend the summer with their mother Cecile who they haven't seen in years. Once Fern was born, Cecile left them to be cared for by their father and grandmother in Brooklyn and never looked back. While Big Ma questions Papa's judgment for sending them across the country to a woman who doesn't want them, the girls are full of nerves and excitement. As the oldest, Delphine is expected to make sure her sisters behave and don't embarrass Big Ma and Papa by being the "black girls everyone expects them to be". The color of their skin means they have to be better behaved than any white girl would have to be. 

When they arrive in California, it is clear Cecile didn't want them to come. She sends them by themselves to get Chinese food for dinner every night and to the Center to get free breakfast every morning. She won't even let them into her kitchen to get a proper glass of water. And she doesn't hold back from reminding them that she didn't want them there in the first place. When there is a knock on the door, she shoos them into the back room and tells them to stay back there and stay quiet. But Delphine can't help but peak and she sees men in black clothes with large afros: Black Panthers. She had seen some Panthers in Brooklyn, but they weren't like the men she sees now, with her mother. As the days continue on and Delphine continues to take care of her sisters while her mother ignores them, she starts to learn more and more about who she is as a young black woman. The Center is full of Panther information and the summer classes revolve around learning not to trust The Man. While others are content to fight in any way they can, Delphine can't help but remember her one priority: keeping her sister safe. And if the Man shot an unarmed black boy in his underwear just because he was a Panther, they wouldn't think twice about three little girls who their own mother doesn't even want.

This story was so rich with amazing historical facts and personal, real family emotions that I can barely wrap my head around it all! First and foremost is the emotional family dynamic. Williams-Garcia must have younger sisters because this incredibly realistic portrayal of three sisters is so perfect it made me laugh and cringe thinking about my own childhood with my sister. Everything from the way they parrot their older sister, to their precocious goofiness, to their enthusiasm about everything Delphine doesn't want them to do, all of it is so skillfully written you would think you were there with your own sisters! 

Then you have Cecile. At first I was shocked their father would just ship them out to her, but I realized by the end that he cared about her and trusted her with his kids. Cecile was such a dynamic yet subtle character that you really had to read between the lines to fully appreciate the character Williams-Garcia created. At first it appeared she was working for the Black Panthers, and then it felt like she was somehow forced into it. Then it seemed she didn't believe everything they stood for and then she lectured her daughter about being her own woman and not adopting the housewife subservience her gender has been forced into. It was a little confusing at times, but it made Cecile more human, more real. But more importantly, this story gave life to the Women of this movement, the women caught in between a war of men. From Big Ma back home, a poor but strong southern woman, to the ladies at the Center to Cecile, this was a wonderful book to allow your young readers to see a side of the story never talked about: how it affected the women these men belonged to. I loved this angle on the story, especially since we never hear about the women of the Black Panther movement.

And finally, this story is a much needed addition to the world of our cultural and racial history in this country. Everyone likes to talk about MLK, but what about the other side of the movement? They are an important part of our legacy, but it isn't taught as openly in schools, so I am glad to see a book that is appropriate for middle readers that also opens their eyes to a part of their cultural they most likely haven't been exposed to yet. There isn't a deep understanding of the Panthers, but enough to pique their interest. This might be a story best taught in a class or read with a parent in order to help them fully understand the nature of the revolution. I am really glad there is a book like this out there. It is a great addition to the shelves of our libraries and our classrooms. 

Secrets in the Ward

We take fresh water for granted, but there are parts of the world where freshwater is a commodity. When that becomes the case for New York City, especially after the Wash Out, fresh water is the only thing people care about, next to a cure for the Blight. In Jordana Frankel's first novel in The Ward series, we see just how far people are willing to go to save the lives of those they love. 

Ren can't tell anyone she works for the Blues, even if it is only to scout for water. Everyone would think she was a traitor who turned in the sick for a ransom rather than a selfless hero searching for a source of freshwater to sustain the population. Granted she wouldn't be working for the Blues had she not gotten arrested and forced to work for them, but still, she believes she is doing a good thing to find fresh water for the sick, dying, quarantined population. When she is told by a Blue to search a specific quadrant in the middle of a race whose purse she needs desperately, she can't tell him her sister is home suffering the final stages of the Blight. Instead of finding just fresh water, however, she finds something more important than she ever could have imagined. 

She finds water that is essentially the Fountain of Youth, heavily guarded and protected, but powerful enough to cure everyone of the Blight. Or at least for a little while. When her sister Aven drinks the water, it beats back the Blight in her body briefly, but then it makes her worse. Now Aven must get to the bottom of what was int hat water to make Aven better, how to get more of it, and how to cure her sister. What she doesn't expect is a crazy governor, a group of guards who protect the spring to the death, and even people who she thought she could trust who have darker intentions. All Ren wants to do is save people, but it seems like everyone is standing in her way.

A good PA or dystopia has to create a world I understand and believe in. Unfortunately, The Ward had great potential, but it really didn't delve very deep into the world that was so integral to the entire story. For instance, what is the full story of the washout that dropped New York City into the water? How is it possible to have lots of technology like racers and some "party noise filter" that gives you a beam of silence in a party to talk in but still be poor enough to not be able to treat the illness or at least buy pain relievers, or even have electricity? The racing is another thing I never truly understood. They are subs, but then they are on the roof? At first I worried I had possibly read the book too fast, and that this caused me to miss this important backstory, but in looking at some other reviews online, I realized I wasn't the only one pretty confused with the backstory. This was a shame for me because the story was actually pretty interesting and read quickly for its size. But still, the backstory was a huge thing to leave out of the story and it took away from my enjoyment of the story. I hope Frankel puts more into the back story of the rest of the series, but I am concerned the story is going to struggle without having already established this background.

Ren is a great character with a headstrong need to help people, even in a world where so many are dying. I like her relationship with Aven even though they aren't blood sisters, and how Aven is the only concern for Ren's entire life. It made Ren an investible character for me, even when I struggled with other parts of the story. I was a little torn and confused about some of the supporting characters like Ter, Derek, and Callum, but I guess there could be more to give them a boost in the next book. Overall, this wasn't a bad book, but I shouldn't have finished 460+ pages with so many questions about basic plot points and characters. I don't think I would give this story to many students unless they were strong readers and could handle the plot holes. It might be interesting for someone who has already read a lot of PA or dystopias and is looking for another. I will certainly read the next book in the series, but I strongly hope Frankel plugs the holes when she writes it!