Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sever the Ties that Bind

When a devastating consequence of trying to cure diseases leaves all new generations with an early expiration date (20 yrs for women and 25 for men), the generations left will try anything to find a cure. There are no boundaries to how far they will go, including unthinkable experiments. In the conclusion to Lauren DeStefano's Sever, we see the true devastation of the virus and the unflappable hope of a few that might just turn the tide against complete destruction.

Rhine has survived her murderous father-in-law before, but she never thought she would find herself back in his grasp so soon. Vaughn will go to great lengths to conduct his experiments, but his daughter-in-law's unusual eyes are the source of his intrigue. This time, however, Rhine's husband Linden is actually listening to Rhine's concerns. He agrees to take Rhine and his son and other wife, Cecily, to his reclusive uncle's house instead of keeping them under Vaughn's watchful eye. But Vaughn isn't so easily deterred. 

He quickly finds them and through blackmail and threats, he convinces Linden and Cecily to return home. Meanwhile, Rhine's only concern is finding her brother. Rowan has become the leader of the resistance, blown up laboratories trying to develop a cure, and is the source of a great deal of terror in the world, all because he believes the hunt for the cure is what killed his sister. After Cecily loses her baby and realizes Vaughn's connection to her pregnancy so soon after the difficult birth of her first son, she convinces Linden to go with Rhine in her search. They may soon find Rowan, but the answers they find along the way in their search may not be the answers they were expecting to find.

Hmmmm. Well, I am not sure where to begin with this book, this series. I loved Wither, but Sever not only suffered from the sophomore slump, it made me wonder if it was even written by the same woman. Where was the magic? Where was the beautiful, haunting intrigue the first book was so full of?   SO I really wanted this final book to pick up that beauty and recover from the confusion of the second book. Sadly, it failed on that front for me. There wasn't anything of importance for the vast majority of the book, and then the bitter end was solid, albeit rushed. 

*Spoiler Alert* The entire plot of the story consisted of run away from Vaughn, Vaughn finds them. Run away again, Vaughn finds them again. Run away again, agree to return with Vaughn. Find out Vaughn is hiding and experimenting on your one true love,  leave him there while you dither and fritter your time away so sad that he is in the basement in an induced coma. bad vaughn. We hate Vaughn. Grrrr.  And that was about it. I did indeed like the way the story ended, but our journey to get to those last 20 pages was a bit ridiculous. No, actually, it was more than that. It was really ridiculous. If an evil, mad scientist had your love in the basement withering away and doped up, wouldn't you find a way to break him free and escape? Yeah, me too. Not Rhine! She goes to tea. And argues with Vaughn. And does as she is told. Ugh. As if our young adults need anything more to pull them into the dark side of passivity. *End Spoiler*

So I have to say this series started out fabulously and ended with my complete confusion for the way the author took the story. it felt as though she had a good book idea that a publisher convinced her to make into a trilogy, because that is what sells these days, and so she stretched everything and added some whining and pining, and POOF you have yourself a trilogy. And thanks to Wither, we know DeStefano can WRITE! So what happened here? I am not sure, but it makes me sad to think this happened to a really promising author who had a lot to offer. I am not sure I would recommend this series to someone, because it just did not do anything for me by the end. The conclusion is good, but that doesn't make up for the crap that came before it. I hope DeStefano manages to come back from this series and get back to the beautiful, haunting writing she showed us in Wither. Those are books I would definitely buy. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Your teen years are formidable. It seems like you will barely survive, but you eke out the other side relatively unscathed and tougher for the challenge. But what if you were raised by international spies, a lock picking, safe cracking prodigy (given Master Locks to play with and crack as a toddler), and had never gone to school, gone to a dance, or even kissed a boy? In Also Known As by Robin Benway, Maggie is up for her first official case for the group of Good Guy Spies they work for: going to high school and fitting in!

When news of a journalist writing an article about the group of spies her family works for, thereby blowing their cover, is released, Maggie is given her first job: infiltrate the high school of the journalist's son and get the evidence for the story back. This job is even more important than the other "do-good" jobs Maggie has been a part of before, because now her family's safety is in jeopardy. Even though the group of spies only work their magic for good, stopping bad guys, toppling evil, and returning items to those good people who they were taken from, she is still a spy, complete with aliases and multiple passports. Infiltrating a high school sounds relatively harmless, unless you have ever been a new kid before. Then you know just how treacherous this assignment really was. Terrifying in fact.

To make matters worse, Jesse Oliver, the mark, is a popular bad-boy. Maggie knows she has no chance of getting to him without an in, so she makes friends with an eccentric former Queen Bee named Roux.  While Roux is currently a social-outcast, she still makes for a good in to Jesse Oliver's Halloween party. But after the party, Maggie realizes there is more to Jesse Oliver (she likes to say his full name!) than Maggie had expected. As she gets closer to him, she realizes she doesn't want him to just be a mark. But that would be breaking the cardinal rule for a spy: never get too close.

This was a fun, somewhat young, spy story, much in the same vein as Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series. Maggie was a typical teenager, complete with sarcasm, snark, and a desire to be kissed by a cute boy, but it was her entourage that was the most fun. You find yourself really liking Jesse Oliver, and Roux is hilarious. I like the fact that Roux was a former-Queen Bee, fallen from her throne. It made her so much more interesting, and her hilarious rambling diatribes were so much fun! When she came face to face with Angelo, the family's spy friend, I thought I was going to die! Too funny!

But this is a rather young story. It would be good for any young reader transitioning from Middle Readers to YA. The cover screams girl book, but if you can get a boy to read it, I can see them being equally entertained, especially since Maggie isn't terribly "girly". The spy stuff isn't terribly dangerous, but made for a fun read. I am looking forward to the sequel to this story to see what happens to everyone!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

For Darkness Shows Humanity

Our world is all about tinkering with Mother Nature. From our homes, to our energy use, to our crops, to the heart of what makes us human, we tinker in the name of science. But what will be the consequence of all that tinkering with DNA and the very code that makes us human? In Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars, the world has been changed irrevocably in the name of science.

When we began changing the genetic structure of our food, we didn't expect it would also change us. But genetic experiments on food created the Reduced: simple people who need to be taken care of in order for them to survive. This role was taken by the Luddites, a group of people who denounced all technology in favor of lives in agriculture on farms that gave the Reduced a purpose- to work the farms. Elliot North is the daughter of a Luddite and takes her role as caregiver to the Reduced very seriously... certainly more seriously than her greedy father and sister. The Reduced are content enough to do as they are told, but the Posts (Post-Reductionists or CORS, Children of the Reduced) are not. As time passes, the Reduced begin to have children who are no longer affected by the genetic changes. Posts are fully functional, and with that comes a resentment for being treated like slaves. Even though it is forbidden, many Posts begin to leave their estates. And without the Luddites' fear of technology, they also have the advantage of finding better, faster, more efficient ways to do things. And that is what has given them the edge against the Luddites, who can barely hang on to their livelihoods and their lifestyles.

Elliot knows the rules. She should have grafted new wheat that would produce more and faster, but she is the only one trying to keep the Posts and the Reduced fed. She doesn't live an easy life, but there is only one thing she yearns for. Kai. The Post boy she grew to know against all the rules of the classes. But he ran away to start a new life far away from the Luddite slavery. When Elliot desperately rents her grandfather's estate to a group of Post shipbuilders, the last person she expected to see was Kai, now known as Captain Malakai Wentworth. With the roles reversed and Elliot struggling to keep the estate alive and her charges fed, Kai's feelings of betrayal are barely hidden. But there is more to the story of these Posts with their fancy clothes and their new technology. And the answer might lie in something so unforgivable, so against the laws of nature, that Elliot could never look at Kai the same way again.

This was a really interesting dystopia. The horrors of the world were mostly generations in the past, so it was a surprisingly peaceful dystopia, despite the Luddite slavery of the Posts (the Reduced needed to be taken care of, and even if the Luddites took advantage of that, the Reduced could never have survived without them). But the class distinctions were so severe and rigid that the Luddites couldn't imagine considering a Post romantically even though they will take their money, wear their clothes, and secretly delight in their advanced technology. The story really got to the heart of laws and rules that are passed down for generations to a point where they are irrelevant but everyone follows them because "that is how it has always been". I am always trying to get my students to just care about something, and to fight for what they believe, but sometimes the path of least resistance is just easier. I loved that this story encouraged questioning things that are no longer relevant even if that means questioning the entire basis of society.

There was even more intrigue connected to our technology and how society had to completely reject it in order to survive. Especially the idea of genetically modifying our food. If I was reading this story with my students, I would do some real research into GMO food and encourage them to think about that information critically while we read the story. Elliot North was a young woman to be admired. She truly cared about her people, and when Kai questioned her responsibility to them, it was amazing to see the Posts from her own estate defend her vehemently. She is a character you can really get behind, and that made this book really special. The book wasn't slow, but it wasn't action packed either, so I would save it for an older, stronger reader. There is something beautiful about how this dystopia was written, which sounds like a contradiction of terms, but it really was. I am very excited to see where the story ends up, because I just can't get enough of Kai and Elliot!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Amish vs. the Vampires?! What??!!

The Amish Life, or Plain Folk Life, is somewhat of a mystery in a world controlled by technology. We can't even step outside our doors in the morning without our automatic coffee makers, iPhones, checking our email, and hopping into our cars. So how do people live and thrive in the modern world without those things? In The Hallowed Ones, Laura Bickle's breakout novel, all you need is a little faith.

Katie is ready for Rumspringa, the Amish tradition of allowing their children to experience the English world before making the decision to become baptized and adopt Plain life. She loves her family and her life, but she can't help but think there is more out there. When something goes horribly awry in the English world, the Elders decide to shut the gates to the outside world permanently: no one in and no one out. This is hardest for the people who have family on the outside, but Elijah, the boy Katie can imagine herself marrying someday, takes it the hardest. His two younger brothers are outside, and he insists on finding them. He and Katie go to town only to find bloody remnants and a destroyed, empty town, but they never find the boys. It is clear something has happened, but they have no idea what could have erased an entire town.

When Katie finds a stranger, and Englishman, just outside the gates, she calls upon the Elders. They decide to uphold their decree that the gates were sealed, and even consider shooting the man, but Katie stops them. She invokes their sense of faith which says God decides when it is time to leave the earth, not a man with a gun. They intend on leaving the man outside the gate to die, but Katie wouldn't be able to live with herself. Once she has him secure in a barn, she realizes he needs medicine, and the Amish don't have antibiotics. She decides to break the rules and sneak into town for medicine. She finds what she needs, but she also stumbles upon the cause of all the destruction: the undead vampires that have turned the English into cattle. Barely making it home, Katie must now find a way to save her people, but how to you convince someone to believe in vampires and protect against them when they don't even believe in using a car?

I thought this was a simple Amish story when I picked it up, but a crazy apocalyptic Amish vampire story? I NEVER would have thought of that!! Talk about an original idea- I mean, seriously, Ms. Bickle, where did you come UP with such a story? And with so many odd things thrown together, there was a dangerous chance the story would end up incongruous or just plain weird, but that wasn't the case- instead it was terrifying and addictive. I couldn't put it down!! And here is the thing I loved about it: I loved that it was a snapshot of typical Amish life while also being a spooky supernatural story. I really came to understand the fictionalized Amish town through this story, and the culture is so fascinating, I wanted more! 

Katie is also an incredibly interesting character to follow. She is torn about her faith, and that is the basis of the entire story. But when push comes to shove, I love that her very own faith in her God and her beliefs, the very ones she has questioned, are what saved her. She knows the limits of pure faith, but is also a spitfire who will never give up on survival. It was a fascinating combination in one character, and it kept me from putting the book down until I had devoured it! And the vampires? Let's just say there are no sparkly vampires in this neck of the woods. These are some creepy monsters that will give you nightmares for sure! So, are you looking for something fresh and original? Then pick up The Hallowed Ones. I guarantee there isn't another story like it out there!!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Game is Never Just a Game

If you are raised by a serial killer, taught his ways, and everything you learned as a child had something to do with maiming and dismembering, do you think there would be a chance you could turn out normal? For Jasper Dent, that is the question that haunts every thought in his head and every decision he makes. Game by Barry Lyga is the chilling sequel to I Hunt Killers where the Dent family has even more to worry about than a psychopathic father.

Jasper (Jazz) can't help blame himself for the deaths of the guards when his father, Billy Dent, the most notorious serial killer you can imagine, escaped from jail. He didn't know that moving his grandmother's birdbath for Billy would set off a chain reaction that sprung his father from jail. Now Billy is on the loose. But when an NYC officer comes to Lobo's Nod to find Jazz, there is more to worry about than just Billy. New York is being terrorized by a serial killer that is so scattered in his method, the police are finding it impossible to get any leads on him. The Hat-Dog killer's only calling card is he etches either a Hat or a Dog into his victims when he leaves their bodies to be found, but there is no rhyme or reason for who gets which tag. And no victimology fits any one hunting pattern. This killer is a mystery, but even worse, he is brutal. His victims know the face of true evil.

Jazz is reluctant at first to get involved. After the Impressionist stalked him in an effort to become the next Billy Dent, Jazz has absolutely no interest in putting the ones he loves in danger. But when he looks at the evidence, he realizes his unique knowledge might be the thing to catch Hat-Dog. Being inside a serial killer's brain isn't easy, but if Jazz can use it to catch another killer, he is willing to take that risk. Unfortunately, all that time in the head of a killer brings Jazz's own concerns and thoughts to the undeniable surface. The closer he gets to the surface, the more Jazz worries about his own proclivities. And this killer isn't easy to crack. But there is more than what is on the surface that should scare Jazz- Billy is still out there.

This series is simply phenomenal. It is gruesome, exciting, and heart-wrenching. The serial killers themselves are a Mind Hunter's dream and nightmare all rolled into one. You can't believe how Jazz comes to the conclusions he does, but then again, you can't imagine being the son of a serial killer. And that is the true heart of this story. Jazz. He is so tormented by his father that even getting physically intimate with the girl he loves is terrifying, because serial killers almost always have a sexual need that motivates their killing. Getting in the head of this boy is so fascinating and heartbreaking, it makes you wish you could save him from himself. He wants so badly to be a good person, but the ghosts of his father's lessons huants him more than the actual killers themselves.

But there is something to be said for an amazing support network. And Jazz certainly has one. Between his girlfriend Connie and his hemophiliac (and consequently very delicate) best friend Howie, Jazz has people who love him and will do anything to help and protect him. Of course that love leads to even more danger, but the idea that they would do anything for Jazz is really incredible. They even carry their own demons regarding Jazz's family (Howie beats himself up about how he could spend so much time with Jazz and NOT know the truth about Billy), but that makes them even more amazing. They know everything, but they still love Jazz enough to do anything for him. It is Connie and Howie who make Jazz human, and you can't help but love them for it.

This is a great story for anyone who likes murder mysteries, is a fan of "Dexter", or just loves a good story, because you would be crazy if you didn't think Lyga could write. Man, that boy can write! Barry Lyga knows characters, he can write a plot that keeps you guessing until the last possible second, and he never ceases to shock you (which is pretty hard considering the books are about gruesome serial killers). This is a great series for an older reader who needs something to grab their attention and HOLD it! But the way it ends? Oh lord. How could you do this to me Mr. Lyga? I am dying over here!!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Eternity isn't Forever

When the plague took over, humans did everything they could to stop it... even if it meant using vampires like lab rats to develop a cure. When that cure turned out to be the cause of Rabidism, a mutated vampiric virus that made humans into unstoppable monsters, the humans now needed the vampires to protect them. In The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa, the tables have turned once again.

Kanin turned Alli into a vampire, the one creature she detested most. But when the choice is vampire or death, it is amazing what we will become to save our own lives. But Alli wasn't your typical vampire. She may have battled the Hunger like other vampires, but she didn't want to hurt anyone. And a boy she met by chance was the closest connection to her human side. Unfortunately, once he found out she was a vampire, it didn't matter that she was the one who protected him and his family and delivered them to Eden, the vampire-free sanctuary. She was the vampire who endangered Zeke's family by bringing another vampire after them.

But Kanin has been kidnapped by the crazy Master vampire, Sarren, and Alli feels she owes it to him to save him from whatever Sarren plans to do. Along her travels, she stumbles upon Jackal, another of Kanin's children, who is also concerned about Sarren, but for a very different reason. Sarren is thought to be searching for the labs that created Rabidism. At first, they are convinced he planned to destroy any hope for a cure, but then their realization of his true intentions comes to light... and it is even scarier that the lack of a cure. Now Alli and Jackal must find a way to work together to hunt for Sarren, recover Kanin, and stop the Mad Hatter of vampires from total annihilation of the world. Because there is only one thing worse than the Rabidism virus: a bigger, badder virus. 

If anyone tells you there are no more original vampire stories out there, tell them to check out Kagawa and Fukuda. If they don't think those are fabulously unique, fresh stories, you tell them they are just trying to be difficult. The Blood of Eden series is not only a great vampire story, it is an awesome story all the way around. Not only do you have truly deep characters like Alli, Zeke, and Jackal, you also have a plot that grabs you by the unmentionables and doesn't let go! For me, Alli is a fabulous character, not just because she is still holding onto her humanity (which others see as naive), but because she wants that humanity to define her. She doesn't want to become a cold, heartless vampire, and her will to hang onto her humanity is hard to deny. In fact, it changes everyone around her. I love this character's will to be a "good person" and the effect it has on the other characters. In a desolate wasteland, people should only be thinking about survival, but she sparks something deeper in even the worst of the worst, even in Jackal. A character like this is a great role model for a reader. While they might only be thinking about the vampires and the battles, there is something deeper that is unconsciously internalized- we are who we want to be. I love that lesson, especially for teens who struggle to find their place in the world for years. 

But the story is too fabulous to take a back burner. It is so incredibly exciting, and I could barely put it down. There are twists and turns so novel, I have to go back and reread to be sure I got it right! It is hard to make a story of hope in a barren wasteland patrolled by monsters, but Kagawa does with her magical storytelling. She knows how to craft a story that will hold you in rapt attention and spit you out on the other side, rumpled and tired from reading all night. So don't be afraid to give this to a student who needs an exciting story to hold their attention, or even an adult reader who is looking for an exciting story. This series has it all in spades. It has a brilliant and it will keep you chomping at the bit to get the next book (cheesy pun totally intended!!). 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Pinning in the Classroom!

If you aren't currently addicted to Pinterest, you must be hiding under a rock with no internet connection! Pinterest is an incredible social media site where you are allowed to create Boards and then "Pin" images to the boards. Some of mine include ideas for my future dream kitchen, places I want to travel to, and, of course, many of those scrumptious recipes I might never have time to create, but gosh are they yummy to look at!

I also love playing with funky titles for my boards thanks to a previous college professor who always told me "titles are the most important part of the book. Even more important than what is between the covers!" I always thought that might be a little extreme (and this was one extreme little man), but the love for titles still stuck with me.

So Pinterest has been the glut of my time (I master the art of time suckage) for quite some time now. Need to procrastinate? PINTEREST!! But I kept wondering, how could this be used in my classroom? (Check out the toilet one where one student who will remain nameless for his own protection compares it to my mind! Rascals!) 

I had heard a few other teachers using it now that our school had bought iPads for every student, but I wasn't sure how it would turn out. So, while reading Slaughterhouse-Five with my seniors, I decided to implement a weekly Pinterest assignment for all students: 10 pins that relate to our book due every Friday. 

I have to say it has been really cool to see the images my students find that connect them to the book. For instance, one student chose this beautiful profile of a model with bright violet make-up and hair to represent the color violet Billy Pilgrim saw. Another used a beautiful photo of roofs in Santorini to illustrate the "ivory and blue" of Billy's feet throughout the book. 

These pins started to really expand and become creative expressions of the imagery that might be lost to them by the time they finished the book. They might forget that color violet or the car he drive or what they thought Montana Wildhack looked like, but now with their Pinterest Board, they could relive those images all over again with the tap of a screen!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Requiem for a Dystopia

With the freedom of free will and the ability to love comes the consequence of loss, grief and pain. But for many, the freedoms are worth the consequences. In Lauren Oliver's final installment of the Delirium  series, Requiem, we find out just how far the resistance will go to stop a world only interested in keeping its citizens numb and uncaring.

Having saved Julian and reuniting with Alex, Lena now bears a heavy cross. Alex has been cured, which has left him a different person- closed off, reserved, and disconnected from everything he shared with Lena. With Alex so different, Lena is drawn closer to Julian, but even Julian knows she still loves the old Alex. Even if the old Alex is gone. But boys aside, the people in the Wilds are no longer safe. They used to be protected by the fact that the government didn't want to acknowledge their existence, but since their very public demonstrations, that is no longer possible. Now they are hunting down everyone in the Wilds with one purpose: total extinction for all uncured people. But the uncured must decide their path. Do they fight back, or do they run? The decision will change Lena's life forever.

Hana was cured, but it didn't take. She is still haunted by dreams and emotions she shouldn't have to worry about. But her pair has been made and she is to marry the new mayor. She should be happy about the favorable match, but all she can think about is Lena. Where is she? What happened to her? When rumors of rebels get around, Hana begins to see Fred's true colors. Determined to stamp out all rebellion, Fred clearly aspires to be a true dictator. But with the population scared of the rebels, they look to Fred to protect them, even if it means they will lose more and more of their freedoms. 

Again, I loved having two different perspectives to the story. With Oliver's previous novels, we have seen this alternating perspective, which she does particularly well. It really allows you to see both sides of the wall (pun intended) and doesn't bias the story. When you watch the rebels doing what rebels do best- fighting back- you realize this isn't the best situation for everyone. But still, there is no doubt what a monster Fred is. I always like Hana, so I was really happy to see more of her in this story. But Fred was the prize for me in terms of characters. He was the kind of man you LOVE to hate, which kept me coming back to see where his storyline went.

My biggest issue with this novel is that it is supposed to be a conclusion where everything is laid on the table. And it was certainly shaping up to be just that, but something got lost at the very end. Instead of a complete and satisfying conclusion, it felt rushed and empty. I wanted more. In fact, it ended like a typical chapter conclusion, not the end of a trilogy. I actually kept reading expected more only to realize that was the acknowledgments section. Where did the end of the book go? I am sad this didn't end in the best way for me because otherwise, I really loved this series. It was well written and read easily. But Oliver does like to put out those short stories, so maybe she will release something for after Requiem. It's just too bad she didn't put it all in the book.