Saturday, March 23, 2013

5 Waves of Pure Genius

There are good authors and then there are authors who have made some kind of Faustian deal. Everything they write is brilliant. For me, Rick Yancey is one of those authors. Having followed the Monstrumologist series from its beginning, I couldn't wait to see what Yancey did with The 5th Wave, an entirely different kind of story. All I have to say is, Rick Yancey, you didn't fail me brother!

No one can predict what would happen if an alien race decided to invade earth, but we can pretty much bet they wouldn't travel all that way to just make friends and coexist. The 1st Wave began when they took out all the power. The 2nd Wave took advantage of our tumultuous planet and its fragile fault lines. The 3rd Wave used our own viruses and spread them through a innocuous and beautiful species, our birds, turning them into the carriers of the plague. After the 4th Wave, no one could be trusted. They looked like us, they talked like us, and the Others had fully infiltrated our kind. But the 5th Wave. That was pure genius. Evil genius, of course, but genius nonetheless. 

Cassie has lost everything, but only her brother could still be alive. After failing the one truth about this new world (Trust No One), she lost her brother to the Others. Now, she will do anything to get him back, but she has no idea where they took him. She misses the days when her biggest worry was whether or not Ben Parrish, the boy she had a crush on, even noticed her. She never anticipated a world where she would be skulking through the countryside with an M-16 strapped to her back. When she is shot by a Silencer, she assumes her promise to find her brother will be broken, but Evan Walker's miraculous appearance could change the tides for Cassie. But will she break the cardinal rule? Can she trust him?

Meanwhile Zombie is at Camp Haven training to fight the Others with the rest of the kids. The training is brutal, but when you have the fate of the human species riding on your shoulders, you do anything you can. When he is saddled with a really young boy named Nugget, he should think of self-preservation and leave the kid to fend for himself, but there is something about Nugget that makes Zombie want to protect him. He can't fully explain it, but there is also something strange about the camp. Of course, digging too deep might reveal information Zombie wasn't ready to learn. 

If I was a lesser person, I would have called into work just to read this book in one sitting. It was that amazing. Despite the length of the book, it read like it was 20 pages. Now, I have read Yancey's Monstrumologist series and loved every minute of it. It was witty and sharp. But this series takes Yancey to a whole new level. I don't throw the word genius around often, but Yancey truly earns that title. He knows how to write dialogue, suspense, human emotion, and everything in between. If you haven't read Yancey's work before, this is the place to start. You won't be sorry.

This world Yancey built is so twisted and so frightening, I couldn't stop reading but was simultaneously terrified to keep going. The Waves of destruction the Others washed down upon the world were so brilliant and horrendous at the same time, you will find yourself praying we never make that first encounter! But the tricky part is that the aliens, while the premise for the story, are really more of a background to the true story: the humans. The people on earth, fighting for their planet and their species, are the true meat to this story. The unflappable nature of people when all hope seems lost to pick themselves up and march on makes for a truly inspiring story. I loved this book, and I know you will too. It would be great for a variety of readers, adult and young adult. It is so exciting and enthralling, and no one's attention would wan from start to finish. So, my dearest Yancey, you are either a brilliant Other, or you are one tricky genius! Keep the stories coming, because brilliance needs to step out into the world!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Drowning in an Ugly World

The Drowned Cities
When the world falls apart, the power struggle to gobble up the pieces will get ugly. From religious radicals to pseudo-militaries who are nothing more than vicious men with weapons, no one will be safe from the greed and lack of humanity, especially the innocent. To the world at large, they have become the weak to be consumed and disposed of. In The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, the world couldn't get much uglier.

Mahlia's life has never been easy, but after she was captured by soldiers and her hand was cut off, she was doomed in a world where you don't survive long if you can't take care of herself. Luckily for her, Mouse was there to save her. Now she apprentices for the doctor in their village and scrapes by with a pretty decent life: a job, a friend, and a purpose. But all that changes when a group of soldiers come searching for a wounded half-man (soldier experiments that combined men with animals to create the ultimate fighters). In their search, they hold the village hostage as they hunt, but Mahlia has a secret. She knows exactly where the half-man is. And he is holding Mouse hostage.

When Mahlia and Mouse stumbled upon the half-man who was half-dead, he still had enough rage in him to grab Mouse. Mahlia convinces him to let her get antibiotics at the village in exchange for Mouse, but the soldiers ruin her plan. Desperate Mahlia refuses to lose Mouse, but despite her best efforts, everything goes wrong. Now she is left with Tool, the half-man, and the soldiers have taken Mouse with them. Tool is the only one who knows the world outside their village, and it isn't pretty. He begrudgingly agrees to help her find her friend because if there is one thing he remembers, it is having a true pack.

First of all, you have to know that if you are reading this story thinking it is an extension of Shipbreaker, it truly isn't. It may be set in the same world, but the stories are wildly different (and frankly the setting, other than both being post-apocalyptic, are as well). There isn't much of anything to connect these stories, so I am confused as to why Bacigalupi would consider this the second book in the Shipbreaker series. Still, it was a gruesome and ugly story set in a terrifying world. One thing Bacigalupi doesn't do with his YA stories is hold anything back. They are as gritty as the world he created. That means they are also pretty violent, and if your reader isn't ready for that kind of violence, this isn't the kind of story they should read.

As for the post-apocalyptic literary world, this is a great example of loyalty and friendship in an ugly, ugly world. I liked the story, but not as much as I liked Shipbreaker. The ending of the story also wasn't my style, but it might be fine for you. I would certainly pass this story on to any number of students of mine. It would be a perfect book for a young man who struggled to find a book to hold his interest as the action stretches from the very beginning to the very end. 

Dyslexic-Centric Titles from Stoke Books

On the American Dyslexia Association's blog this morning was an announcement that Stoke Books has released a list of titles that are written about dyslexics and for dyslexics. These books are written for middle readers through young adults, but they are written at a 3rd or 4th grade reading level to accommodate struggling readers. The blog described the books:

"The books are commissioned, edited and designed to break down the barriers that can stop teens from wanting to read due to lack of confidence and reluctance through visual stress and dyslexia. The font, spacing, editing, paper and short, punchy chapter structure all help readers focus on the most important thing – the compelling story."

In addition:

"The paper in each book is lightly tinted to reduce glare, tackle visual stress, and stop words appearing to ‘dance’ on the page. The font is designed to make each letter as distinctive as possible, to help with word and character recognition, promote good eye-tracking, and lead the eye onwards. The layout is carefully calculated to ensure words and letters don’t encroach on each other and confuse the eye, give enough text per line to allow readers to ‘chunk’ for meaning."

The books have flashy, bright covers and are clearly trying to draw in struggling readers. I think this is a great idea, but often these publishers overlook one very important aspect of a dyslexic's life: they want to be like every other non-dyslexic peer. They don't necessarily want special books and special classes. They want to read what their friends are reading. They already feel different and separating them further with these special books doesn't help that fact.

Still, I appreciate the trend of publishers to consider the different reading levels of their readers, and in particular, to focus on the struggling readers. Granted, this publisher is a UK based company, but we have seen this trend across the pond as well. Now all we have to do is try to keep them from making the books look quite so cheesy and maybe our kids will seek them out!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I Fell Prey to This Series

The Prey (Hunt)
With Andrew Fukuda's The Hunt, I found myself bumfuzzled that someone could write a tale of vampires that was whole-heartedly original. Now, with the sequel The Prey, I find myself bowled over that this story could continue with the same powerhouse energy as its predecessor. But it did! 

Gene and the others barely made it out of the Heper Institute alive, but they haven't fully survived just yet. As they flow down the river on the boat, groups of vampires follow them in the darkness, sacrificing being caught in the sun just to enjoy the flesh of a real live person. When the attacks start to thin, the group thinks they have won, but the vampires are getting smarter. Where they used to be slaves to their lust for flesh and unable to refocus long enough to plot and plan, these new groups aren't afraid to work together. But the group just has to make it a little longer and they will find the Sanctuary, the place where humans can live free of the vampires.

When they finally make it to the sanctuary, life isn't all flowers and milk and honey. Women's feet are disfigured and any defiant women are branded and punished. Men, however, live like kings! Gene and Sissy are instantly skeptical about the false utopia, but the leaders of the town squash any chances they have of getting answers, and Gene's hopes of finding his father are dashed when he learns of his suicide. But if the Sanctuary is so wonderful, why would his father take his own life? And where do all the supplies come that keep the town living such a plush life? While Gene and Sissy think there is something more sinister going on in the town, the alternative may be something far worse than they are willing to admit. 

OK, I am not a night owl. In fact, if I stay up too late, it takes me days to catch up (my age showing through!). But this book? It was so addicting, I was up ALL NIGHT reading this book! I am suffering this morning for it, but darn it, it was worth it! The Prey is so exciting and terrifying you won't be able to stop reading, so pick it up when you have enough time to read the whole thing! 

The idea of a false utopia has always intrigued me because the opposite of a utopia should be a dystopia, but it really isn't. The false nature of a utopia is usually so subversive and hidden, it makes it inherently different from a true dystopia where the world has gone to hell in a handbag and isn't afraid to let that shine. In fact, I think these false utopias (think The Giver or Delirium) are almost scarier than a world where you know to expect awful things around every corner and can prepare for them. That is the beauty of the Sanctuary in The Prey. The answers are never clear, and the next step is always a bigger risk than you can imagine. I loved that Sissy and Gene knew the Sanctuary was false, but the other boys couldn't see through the abundant food and pliant ladies. And when Sissy and Gene tried to make decisions of where to go, no choice was the safe one. They were more than caught between a rock and a hard place. They were caught between a swirling vortex to hell and an erupting volcano full of molten lava- and it was ugly!

This story is exciting, fast-paced, and violent. I can easily get my students (usually boys) who are tough to find a book for to read this book. They scoff and claim they "hate reading", but when given this series, they devour it (pun intended!). This is a series that should grace all library and classroom shelves and be pulled out for those difficult readers. You won't even need to sell them this series. Just read the first chapter and they will be hooked! 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Classic Tale of the Tripods

The White Mountains
Sometimes when you are struggling to find the next book to read, it is good to just reread an old favorite. For me, The White Mountains by John Christopher was one of the first young adult stories I read as an adult, and it was the first story I enjoyed with a student. It had been well over a decade since I read it, so I thought I would pick it up again. And I am glad I did!

Will has always known his Capping Day was coming, but until now, it didn't seem like something to worry about. But as his day grows nearer, he gets more and more worried about the idea of allowing one of the tripods to put a metal cap in his head that would control his thoughts. Everyone in his village had it done and seems content, but there is something about the process that doesn't sit well with Will.

When a Vagrant (a person whose Capping didn't go well) approaches him about the Capping, he is interested in hearing the man's perspective. But it turns out the man wasn't Capped at all. He was masquerading as a Capped Vagrant, but in reality, he was a rebel recruiting unCapped young adults to bring to the White Mountains- a place where the rebels are safe from the Tripods and can plot to take the world back. Will decides to head to the White Mountains, and along the way he acquires two new friends, Henry and Beanpole. But the three boys have a long way to go to the White Mountains and between them and sanctuary are many many tripods. 

This story was written almost 50 years ago and still it is one our kids today could enjoy. I have seen a few comparisons to War of the Worlds, but this story takes place well after the tripods have taken over the world. No one really fights back and everyone accepts the Capping with a complacency that makes them even easier to manipulate and control. The idea of choosing the easier road because you don't want to make life harder with the fight for freedom is a universal theme especially relevant for today's children. Kids who are so far removed from wide-spread social protest don't really understand fighting for freedoms and rights, so this story could easily be related to the current events of our students' lives. 

While this is more of a middle reader, it is a great series for young adults who also like to read science fiction. The stories are easy to read, so they might be best for an older student who has a lower reading skill level. Christopher's stories are classic, and they will survive long after the tripods come to Cap us! So if you have a sci-fi junky who has burned through everything, pass this gem on. You won't be sorry!

Nick Isn't So Invincible!

Invincible: The Chronicles of Nick
Nick's realization that there is more out there by way of the supernatural continues in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Invincible, the second book in the Chronicles of Nick. Unfortunately, so do the life-threatening situations!

Nick survived half his school turning into zombies and trying to eat him and his friends, but he isn't knocking his new-found abilities. Although, his ability to see through the glamours of supernatural creatures lets him know just how many creatures there are in New Orleans that are far from human. But, his new boss also gets his mom a new job where she doesn't have to dance, makes more money, and happier, so he can't complain. 

Life in school, however, hasn't improved. As the poor scholarship kid, he is still the outcast among the rich kids, and no one lets him forget it. When the football coach coaxes him back onto the team and blackmails him into stealing things from other kids, Nick knows something is up. He hits up his supernatural and human friends to help him dig up the truth behind this new coach, and what he finds out might be just as deadly as a pack of groaning football jock zombies!

These are fun stories! They are witty, the dialogue is pithy, and they keep you entertained from cover to cover. They are, however, quite young in how they read. The stories are still exciting and hilarious, so that makes these great books for a younger student who wants more mature reading, but still requires age-appropriate content. I might give this to an older student with a lower reading level, but I would make sure it was a student who didn't need more mature subject matter and enjoyed an easy read.

Nick is a typical wise-guy high school student with a chip on his shoulder and an attitude to match. He is fun to read about because he always has a witty quip to put people in their place. This witty dialogue, while quick and perceptive, is easy to follow and keeps the mood of the book light while the content deals with some ugly stuff! I like these books for a range of low-skilled readers, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Approaching the Heavenly Gate

Gates of Paradise (A Blue Bloods Novel)
The vampires are really fallen angels, but they are divided amongst themselves. Some continue to side with Lucifer, but others need to stop the Dark Prince from waging war on heaven itself. In Melissa de la Cruz's final Blue Bloods novel, Gates of Paradise, the final battle is primed, but the risks are bigger than anyone imagined.

Schuyler has sacrificed everything to continue the work of her mother, the great angel Gabrielle, but nothing seems to have worked. Lucifer is still gaining power and the Silver Bloods have scared all the vampires into hiding. Schuyler and her best friend Oliver know they must protect the Gates of Paradise from the Dark Prince and his plans, but she doesn't even know how to find it. Mimi, on the other hand, has gotten over wanting to kill her heavenly twin for leaving her for Schuyler, but Mimi and Jack were called back to service by Lucifer. While they don't actually want to help the Dark Prince, they must convince him they are in his service in order to protect the ones they love; the problem is Lucifer is much smarter than even they, his trusted two, give him credit for.

Bliss is no longer a vampire, but she has folded into the Wolf Pack. With Fenrir and the other wolves at her side, she thinks they can give Lucifer a good fight to stop his corruption of heaven. The problem is she no longer has the powers as a new Red Blood that she once had as a Blue Blood. Just investigating the destruction of the Repository becomes dangerous, since she can't protect herself. But the true story lies with Michael and Gabrielle generations upon generations ago. How did they stray apart? What came between them? And what, ultimately, allowed Lucifer to get to this point?

My relationship with this series went up and down at times, but I actually really liked this conclusion. At a couple points in the novel, I was confused as to how everything was going to play out, but I was happy everything all eventually worked out in the end the way I wanted it to. Again, I liked the multiple stories carrying on simultaneously; it built the suspense and kept me going to find out what was going to happen next. Sometimes it got a little confusing, but I still liked the rotating perspective.

As for the series as a whole, I think this is a good series for middle readers who are just starting to branch out into YA books. It is a little juvenile at times, but the story matures with each installment. It always joke that it is "Twilight meets Gossip Girl", but it is certainly more than that. There is much more the the story behind the vampires, and the whole fallen angel angle makes this a unique story. I can't say I am totally sad to see this series end, because I was ready for it to conclude, but I did certainly enjoy it while it was going. 

Stellar Crimson Conclusion

The Crimson Crown (A Seven Realms Novel)
Raisa has always been the link between the queendom and the clans, but since she hid in plain site as a soldier in training and became close with so many people she never would have met as queen, she has become the link to bring together all the people in her lands. Unfortunately, the divisions are so deep and have run for so long, the people may never fully come together. In Cinda Williams Chima's final book in the Seven Realms Series, The Crimson Crown is a true masterpiece in this already stunning fantasy series.

After having assumed the throne, Raisa's decisions were constantly challenged. If they weren't challenged, it was because her enemies planned to dispose of her eventually anyway. One of her biggest battles was the placement of Han Allister, the former street thug, as her head body guard and her appointment of Han to the Wizard's Council. The wizards were always struggling to gain more power, and Han looking over their shoulders made those efforts decidedly more difficult. 

But Raisa's struggles inside the queendom were just one of her problems. Outside, she was being threatened by the southern thug who seemed to be collecting kingdoms in the Seven Realms, and his consumption of her queendom would end like all the rest: widespread slaughter and rape until he fully owned the land through force. Raisa is being pulled on all sides, and she doesn't have an answer for any of them. Barely keeping her queendom together is consuming almost all of her thoughts, but behind her struggles is one man who wants the best for Raisa: Han. Everyone tells her Han is working against her to take the throne, but Raisa can't believe he would do that. But Han is a tricky young man. Could he be the catalyst to bring the queendom back together again to fight their common enemy, or will their internal bickering be their demise?

Oh, dear. I loved this series from book to book to book, but this last in the series was the perfect conclusion. It was everything I wanted it to be and more. When you love a series as much as I loved The Seven Realms, you worry about the ending. Will it make you happy? Will you be surprised? Are you going to be left wanting more but knowing you weren't going to get it? And when I closed the cover after reading the final pages of this book, I realized just how brilliant Chima really is. This book covered all the bases I worried about and more. 

The beauty of this story is how you really get to see the relationship between Han and Raisa develop. She wants to keep him close to her and she trusts him fully, but no one else does. It is hard defending him when his history as a thief and a gang leader looms over his new-found success as a member of the wizard council, but she continues to do so, knowing he is a good person. I loved this relationship and how they protected one another time and again. Even though they were forbidden to be together, they would be close in anyway they could, even with him as her bodyguard. It was really a lovely romance to follow, and I selfishly wish I had more! But still, this was a fabulous story from Chima, and while it is the conclusion, it is still action-packed right up until the last page. If you haven't started this series yet, I have one thing to say to you... WHAT are you WAITING FOR??!!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Evolution Without Answers

The Evolution of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer Trilogy)
Mara Dyer's life has been filled with trauma and terror, but nothing tops the fact that people don't believe her. In Michelle Hodkin's The Evolution of Mara Dyer, Mara's life continues on the downward spiral, but at least one thing has change: someone believes her.

Where does a girl go after being present for yet another horrific murder? She gets committed, that's where. Mara has been put in an institution "for her own well being", but the truth is people are scared of what happens around her and what she insists is happening. When her father was shot and people around her died, it became clear the death of her ex-boyfriend and two friends last year was not an isolated incident. But no one believes Mara that her psycho, almost-rapist, dead ex-boyfriend is the one stalking her. But then again, no one believes she can move things with her mind or that Noah, her new friend, can heal himself. 

When Mara is finally sent home, she is still required to go for outpatient treatments at a psychiatric facility. There she is surrounded by "more crazy teens", but over and over, Jude makes attempts to scare her. He slips photos of her sleeping into her bag, he leaves her a dead cat on the porch, and she begins to see him around, especially when he tries to run her and her father off the road. But everyone already assumes Mara is teetering on the border of crazy town, so no one is going to believe Jude, who is supposed to be dead, is really alive and stalking her. Even Mara begins to wonder if she is really just crazy. Luckily, she has Noah, the one unwavering person who believes in Mara more, sometimes, than even she does herself. But what is happening to them all? Why can she move things? How does Noah heal himself? And how did Jude rise from a building collapse that should have killed him?

At the end of the first Mara Dyer book, I found myself confused and I had no idea what was supposed to be the cause of the strange happenings, but I actually didn't care about my confusion because the book was so good! Usually there is a big reveal at the end of these books where you find out the supernaturalness was vampires, fallen angels, werewolves, shapeshifters, etc. At the end of Mara Dyer #1? Not a clue. I knew there was something supernatural involved, but there were no answers! So I assumed there would be some answers in this book... but there aren't. And you know what? It didn't bother me (again)! The book was so good and so enthralling, I didn't mind waiting for another 500 pg book to finally get the answers I was looking for to questions such as: Why can they heal/move things? Why are they connected? What is happening?? This ambiguity usually drives me nuts in other books, but I actually loved it in this series!

So the big reveal must be the purpose of the whole series- and if Hodkin leaves me hanging at the end of the last book, that is when you are going to see me angry! But since the books are so well-written and still exciting, I am willing to hang on until then to find out the big secrets! I don't think this series would be good for kids who can't hang on through a long, ambiguous series to get answers. I think there are better stories for those kinds of kids, but if you have a strong reader who can hang in there, this is a great series! And I can NOT wait to find out what on earth is going ON!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Mysterious City

City of Glass (Mortal Instruments)
The Shadowhunters have a huge responsibility for such a young group of people: they must protect mundanes (you and I) from ugly nasties that go bump in the night. But life as a Shadowhunter isn't just dangerous because they hunt vampires, werewolves, and demons; it is dangerous because everyone they ever loved could be in danger because of their calling. Cassandra Clare's third book in the Mortal Instruments series, City of Glass is another thrill ride to keep you coming back for more.

Jace doesn't want Clary to go to the City of Glass on the hidden Shadowhunter island; she is determined to go even though it is illegal to travel to the city without being invited. Despite the dangers, Clary knows the answers to her mother's disappearance are on that island, and she isn't scared of the consequences. When Jace and the others leave without her, she drags Luke with her to the island, but the presence of a werewolf in the city is more than just illegal- it is dangerous. While the Shadowhunters Clary knows are comfortable working with some Downworlders like Luke and newly vampirized Simon, the Clave members and their families on the island have very different, very sheltered understandings of what it means to be a Downworlder. 

In addition to her unwanted presence on the island and her missing mother, Clary is still reeling from the news that Jace is actually her brother. It was bad enough learning she is the daughter of Valentine, the maniac in league with demons to scare the Clave into waging full-scale war on the Downworlders, but to learn Jace was also his son was too much. She knows the island has deep answers, but the answers she has gotten so far have only made her life more complicated (and uglier). But everyone knows there is more dangerous evil out there than any Downworlder walking around: Clary's father. 

The interesting thing about reading this book so late is that I know there are 3 more books in the series, but at the same time, this installment ended with such finality. It almost makes me think the next three books were just an afterthought for Clare who has been notoriously stuck in this world for 5 or 6 series at this point (most upcoming)! Still, the stories are exciting. You can't deny that. They are entertaining, they are exciting, and they keep you wanting more. So even if you think Clare needs to move beyond this world, you still find it your guilty pleasure to join her in it time and time again! 

The series is great for a range of students. It is always action-packed, but the books are really long, and so could bog down a struggling reader. I once had a student who was very dyslexic but was addicted to these books, and he used to listen to the audio books. He loved them! Devoured them! So consider these books for a variety of ages and demographics, because they are just pure, easy fun! 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Days of Resurrection and War

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone)
In The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Karou lived a strange life only to realize her origins were even more strange: she was a chimera who was secretly resurrected into a human body (instead of the cropped together bodies the Resurrectionist usually created) after her execution for loving a member of the chimeras only enemy: the angels. In Days of Blood and Starlight, Karou's guilt and pain make her become the one who can recreate bodies for captured souls: she is the resurrectionist.

As Karou takes over for the Resurrectionist, a chimera she loved dearly, she realizes her job is pressured by the needs of a war she feels responsible for creating. Chimera souls are trapped on the battlefield and brought back to her to create bodies for them to be perfect soldiers. Even still alive chimera are killed and their souls trapped so Karou can build them better bodies to fight the angels with. While hiding in Morocco, they build an army, but Karou is always singled out as the one who started the war with her relationship with Akiva, an angel and the chimera's sworn enemy. Only Thiago, the very person who executed her in her past life when she was originally caught with Akiva, will talk to her, but Karou doubts his good intentions. Still, she carries the weight of her fallen people whose souls they couldn't save upon her shoulders, and if she must work for Thiago, it is the least she can do.

Akiva watches the brutal chimera slaughters in their world at the orders of the angel emperor. Innocent, harmless chimera are slaughtered for no other reason than to eradicate the entire species. Now that the angels know the chimera secret of resurrection, they know how to prevent the soldiers' souls from being collected. But a new enemy has cropped up- an unforeseen group of guerillas who swoop in, kill angels, and mutilate their corpses as a message. Now the emperor doubles his efforts in the field, but Akiva has started a new campaign of his own: he is going to save as many chimera as he can in the name of Karou. When the angels learn there is a new Resurrectionist practicing, Akiva is afraid to get his hopes up that it might be Karou. But who else could be restoring the bodies of fallen chimera soldiers? Together, they are the star-crossed lovers doomed to love each other and fight for each other in a world that doesn't want them to love one another. But the world is bigger than the two of them, and no one knows that fact better than Karou and Akiva.

Laini Taylor wrote a stunning first novel in this trilogy, and her second novel is just as mind-blowing. This was a phenomenal follow-up that will keep you glued to it, so if you pick it up, make sure you have time to read it cover to cover! I couldn't put this book down for so many reasons, but in particular, for the many twists and turns Taylor creates that I never saw coming. In fact, the ending is so shocking I am dying to get my hands on the last book! Another reason is the chimera. They are such an interesting and varied species and the resurrectionist's job creating these amalgamations of different animals and humans is fascinating. Death just doesn't seem permanent when someone can easily make you a new body, but when it does become permanent to a species that hasn't had to deal with that before, it is devastating. This was so sad and fascinating to read about, I couldn't stop myself!

These books are very complex, and so I would suggest saving them for an older, stronger reader. If a student is a serious fantasy reader, they will probably already have the skills to unravel a new, unfamiliar world and truly enjoy this book. However, this is not a series for a younger or weaker reader, as it really is complex and difficult to piece together at times. For me, that complexity was brilliantly executed, so I wouldn't give this to a younger reader before they are ready for it and ruin the story with a series that they aren't ready for. Because when they ARE ready for it? They will be just as enamored as I am!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Converse over Cranium

Families are as different as people themselves. The definition of family is so broad that it doesn't just cover a mom, a dad, and children. Sarah Tregay gets to the heart of this growing cultural difference in Love and Leftovers with a variety of different kinds of family, but they all have one thing in common: love. 

Marcie's mother drags her to New Hampshire after finding out Marcie's dad has been lying and cheating on her- with another man. Usually they just vacation at their family's old summer house, but fall has arrived, school has begun, and they should have left by now. Back in Idaho, Marcie left her father, her best friends (the Leftovers), and her perfect boyfriend, Linus. She didn't even pack for the move, and her aunt has to donate some clothes to the cold and changing cause (including underwear the size of Idaho). 

At first Marcie just wants to go back to Idaho, but she begins to settle in to her new school. In fact, she even starts hanging out with a boy named J.D. and starts to forget about the life she has back home. When her own father's lies and life choices start to invade her own thoughts, she finds herself uncertain about what to believe. Could Linus be gay like her father is? Is it easier to go after a boy who is so clearly not gay but might be a player?

There are so many layers to this book, it is hard to unravel them all. First you have the catalyst for the whole story, Marcie's dad. This whole relationship is handled so well, I was happy to see it in this book. Yes, the realization that he was no longer in love with Marcie's mother was difficult, but he still cared about her. And Marcie struggled with the separation and divorce, but eventually she accepted it and was actually quite understanding about her father's new relationship. She even becomes close with Danny, her father's boyfriend, and realizes how much happier her father is now. I loved the way this relationship unfolded, and it gave this added depth and love to the story that doesn't often come out of one parent cheating on the other.

Next were the supporting characters. In Idaho, Marcie's friends call themselves the Leftovers, the unclassifiable kids who don't belong to any group. They are an eclectic bunch, but they are truly fabulous- the kids you wish you were brave enough to be at that age! But they all have their skeletons too. Emily got pregnant and gave her son up for adoption. Linus' father lost his job and Linus spends most of his time babysitting his brother's daughter. All of these backstories make this group of kids enough for an entire book for each of them! But the backstories aren't hokey or cheesy, they just are what they are, and they all care about one another. I loved these kids!

This was a really great book written in verse with short but powerful sentences that suck you in and throw you into the spin cycle. I would love this book, which deals with such mature topics, to be used for an older, mature, struggling reader because the chapters are super short, the language is melodious but simple, and the verse is acceptable. They would be able to read it successfully but not feel like they were reading a story that was beneath them in terms of maturity. I really liked this story and applaud Tregay for fitting in so much material with so few words! Brilliant!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hysteria Unraveled

If you are covered in your boyfriend's blood and his lifeless body is found in your kitchen, there is no chance you will ever be considered innocent. The courts may be persuaded to believe it was self-defense, but in the eye of the public, you are still guilty. Especially to the guy you killed. In Megan Miranda's Hysteria, one girl carries the weight of what she did on her shoulders, but no one will let her move on.

When her mom hides the knife block in the kitchen, it was the first sign Mallory's own parents didn't trust her, were possibly even scared of her. She had been found innocent, and the murder of her boyfriend Brian was considered self-defense after he broke into her house and attacked her, but she can't even remember what happened that night. After Brian's mother breaks into their house, Mallory is sent to her father's old boarding school to get away from everything... and she is convinced her parents sent her because they don't trust her.

But everything isn't perfect at Monroe. Steeped in tradition and secrets, there is more to Monroe than meets the eye, and Mallory isn't exactly accepted with open arms. She struggles to fit in, and her roommate even leaves the room when she sees Mallory there. Luckily, Mallory has Reid, the son of her father's best friend from Monroe. Reid helps Mallory feel a little less lonely, but when a boy is murdered in Mallory's bedroom and she doesn't remember anything about it, the situation feels all too familiar. 

This is a murder mystery, a psychological thriller, and a ghost story all rolled into one. It was really interesting, but sometimes the plot became difficult to get a firm grasp on. Sometimes I thought I understood what was happening only to find myself confused again. I understand that is the general slow roll-out of a plot that centers around mystery and intrigue, but it felt a little too heavy-handed at times. But on a whole, it was a very interesting story. I certainly wasn't able to unravel all of the mystery at the end ahead of time, so it was a successful mystery!

The characters were many-layered and interesting. Mallory is, of course, intriguing, but so were Reid and her friend Colleen, not to mention the other Monroe kids. The layer of tradition and secrets kept you wondering about these fancy prep schools and how this stuff can persist. I wonder about the kind of kids who come out of these prep schools with their lack of sensitivity to manipulation and deceit. That has got to carry over into their adult lives! This is a good book for any kid who needs a good mystery but has trouble figuring things out because the murder is out in the open, but there is still layer after layer of mystery to unravel. It makes this novel a good combination of obvious and not-so-obvious. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Murder Mystery, Fantasy, and Real Problems all in One!

When a country puts a limit on how many children are allowed per family, what happens to the "extra" kids? And when one gender is preferred over the other, the treatment of the lesser orphans can be horrifying. We have seen this in our own world, but Miriam Forster takes a real issue and places it in a fantasy world where real solutions were created in City of a Thousand Dolls.

Nisha has no past, and even her future is unclear. But she has lived fairly well in the City of a Thousand Dolls since she was found and brought there as a young baby. She can speak with the sacred cats in the city and seems to hear things she shouldn't around the city. As the Matron of the city's eyes and ears, she has a special place in the city, but still, she has no House to call her own. Each house takes the orphan girls left by their families who prefer boys in the world where how many children you have are limited. They take the girls and train them so they may be Reclaimed when they are ready, and returned to society with a House and a life. Without being claimed, they will never be accepted into society. Nisha knows her talents are limited, but she desperately hopes her romance with the second-born prince will lead him to Reclaim her. 

When a girl has died falling from a roof, the entire city is rocked. But when a second girl is found dead by the fountain, the stench of foul play looms over the city. With her mysterious talents and perceptiveness, Nisha offers to quietly investigate the murders for the Matron. What she uncovers, however, is a murderer who specifically targets certain girls, and Nisha hasn't figured out the pattern. But when the murderer goes after her only true friend in the city, the girl who is training to marry the prince and become princess, she knows she will have to take risks in order to prevent another murder. What she didn't realize was that there are even bigger and deeper secrets surrounding her own life. As Nisha digs deeper, she unravels webs of lies she never thought existed, and those lies will change her life forever.

This was such an intriguing book and interesting world, I am almost sad that I think it is a stand-alone. Some of the world-building was too slow for me, and left me struggling to understand the story, but on a whole, this was a really brilliant world Forster created! It really ended in a way where it doesn't seem like there will be another story, but maybe that will change! I really wanted to hear so much more about the city, the world as a whole, the wandering tribes, etc. Especially the cats! It seemed like such a strange side story to have Nisha able to speak to the cats, but the story behind it (which I won't divulge and you have to get to the end for) was SO interesting! And I want MORE!

But Nisha was the real story for the entire book. She was so integral to the mystery surrounding the world, as she belonged but didn't even in a city full of outcasts. I loved the intrigue that surrounded her and in the end, she proved to be such an honorable and amazing young woman. I would love to see more about her as she continues through the world, learning more and more about who she was. It was amazing to see a young woman who had almost no past, present or future still fight to live and fight to protect those she loved. Nisha was the kind of character you want your young women to read about!

This book also delves to the heart of the issue of limiting children to families, as has been the case in China. They have the same problems of infanticide and female orphans China has faced in the rash solution to overpopulation, but the way the City of a Thousand Dolls has chosen to protect those orphan girls is amazing and controversial at the same time. Many are married off or taken as mistress to the highest "bidder", while others become healers and musicians. It isn't a perfect system, but the Matron is doing the best she can for girls who would otherwise never have a future. The idea of sacrificing a few to unhappy lives to save the many comes up more than once, and it is discussion-worthy. I would definitely have a student read this book and research China's practices and consequences when we were done. Sometimes a fantasy world can help you see more about your own world than you thought it could! 

Friday, March 1, 2013

It Always Comes Back to Mr. Darcy


  Pride and Prejudice

by Guest Blogger, Ari

      Jane Austen writes this book like a good nineteenth century romance over the crime of the social system and economic structure to human events. Austen's novels are simple works that make it worthwhile for the engrossing portraits of life. The satisfying plot makes it enjoyable to read and fun. What Pride and Prejudice is mainly about is the main character Elizabeth, who deals with issues of manners, upbringing, education, and marriage in the society of well classed people.
    The story is based on five sisters and their single minded, illiterate mother who is overly pushy about marrying somebody who can provide. Almost every sister is in distress because of their damaging actions that result in engagements that sometimes ruin their mindset. There are two sisters who are generally normal, have a good head on their shoulders, and do not engage in these actions. Elizabeth is the most levelheaded of them all. My favorite part of the story was when Elizabeth's future husband, Mr. Darcy, is at the church getting a lecture from the priest about general expectations when he marries her because there are very strict rules. The plot of the story is relatively simple; two characters stay the same on the first few pages and the last pages with complications in-between. There is some witty dialogue.
    Some things that I liked about this book were the action, learning a moral, and reading how they deal with their issue, since in today's society we are faced with the same problem of following through with commitment. The not so fond parts of the story were the great detail of the plot, slowness of the dialogue, and character interactions. My favorite character was Elizabeth because of her transformation and perseverance. This was a good book, but I would not recommend it for just anyone because of the complexity and slowness of the story at times. Readers who enjoy classic literature would like this book.