Sunday, June 30, 2013

No One Wants School Spirits

The Prodigium live by a set of rules, but not everyone wants to follow those rules. When a Prodigium threatens people, the Brannicks are there to help. In a spin-off from the Hex Hall series, Isolde Brannick is put to the test with her first solo case. But School Spirits might prove to be more than she can handle.

Izzy lives the life of a Brannick. Once the fearless hunters of Prodigium, the Brannicks are now essentially the Prodigium police. They take care of any supernatural creatures who get carried away or go rogue and could hurt the mortals around them. During a routine bust a few months ago, Izzy's sister Finn disappeared. Now the only two Brannick's left are Izzy and her mother. When they get word of a haunting in a school, Izzy is given her first solo job. And hauntings can get ugly quick, but not as ugly as high school.

After watching enough teen TV shows to have a vague idea of what happens in an actual high school, Izzy sets off to do recon and blend in. Immediately she finds a handful of kids in a Ghost Hunting club. Mostly mocked, ignored if they are lucky, Dex, Romy, and Anderson make up the rag tag group investigating the haunting of the school that has already left one teacher in a near coma. While hauntings are relatively simple to solve, humans toying around with the supernatural is never a good thing. While Izzy should be maintaining a decent distant, it is hard not to start to really care for the kids in the group. But in a case, the minute you get attached, you put yourself in danger, and everyone around you. 

I really loved the Hex Hall series, so I was stoked to see a new series from the same world. And having it focus more on the Brannicks, in charge of controlling the unruly Prodigium, is even better yet. We saw the Brannicks toward the end of the first series, and while I wanted more of the Prodigium there, now I am very happy to have their side of the story. You could, however, easily read this story without having read the first series, but knowledge of Hex Hall will just help you to understand the world the Brannicks work in. There was a lot left open for the continuation of the series, like Izzy missing sister and the warlock trapped in a mirror who predicts Izzy will be the one to finally free him (something she repeatedly tells him won't happen).  

The story is very clean, perfect for a middle reader or a low-skilled young adult reader. It has a great amount of action, the dialogue is witty, and Izzy is a trip. It would catch any kid's attention. I look forward to more of the Brannicks to come, and in particular, to have a chance to watch Izzy come into her own!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Carter Kane Meets Percy Jackson

Carter Kane has battled and won against Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Percy Jackson has done the same with Greek Gods and Goddesses. If the Greek and Roman mythological figures and beasts can come together in The Heroes of Olympus, why can't Greek and Egyptian mythology come together? Well, speculate no further! In The Son of Sobek, Carter and Percy have to do the hardest thing two heroes can do- work together.

Carter is confident (somewhat) that he can handle the giant bedazzled crocodile that is terrorizing Long Island. That is, before it eats him. being squished inside the gullet of a giant crocodile isn't exactly his idea of a good time, but at least the croc was big enough to eat him in one gulp instead of biting him in half. While Carter is still trying to figure out what to do next, the croc spits him up, right in front of some strange kid. When it is clear the kid can see the croc, not some watered down version mortals would see, he realizes this is no normal boy. Together, Carter Kane and Percy Jackson must get rid of a crocodile that likes to munch on cars and can flatten a house. But there is something more disturbing going on. Something that would send an Egyptian monster right into the heart of Camp Half-Blood, thus bringing together Carter and Percy.

OK, I hate to speculate, but this felt like Riordan was setting up a massive new series that brought together Eyptian, Roman, and Greek mythology. *insert loony squeal here* I hope this really is the case and this wasn't just one lone short story, because nothing would be better than seeing everyone come together for a final series (because honestly, a world where there are no more Kane and Jackson novels to come out is just a world not worth living in!). This was a fabulous little story that gives you just enough of a tease to keep you sated until House of Hades comes out! So fingers crossed. Mr. Riordan, we want a series where they all come together and throw the world for a loop! Puh LEASE?!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


The Gallagher Girls like the fact that you wouldn't believe a bunch of young women were really spies. In fact, they count on it. The group of career criminals, jewel thieves, and con artists who count Kat Bishop among their ranks count on the same thing- to you, they are just another group of teens, not master thieves who can break into the most highly secured art museums in the world. In Double Crossed, Ally Carter brings together the spies and the thieves for one action-packed, doubly brilliant short story. 

Macey McHenry is the senator's daughter, but no one would expect she was also a trained Gallagher Girl. W. W. Hale V is the heir to a fortune you wouldn't believe, but really he just loves a good con. Neither knows the true nature of the other, and there is nothing worse than underestimating your opponent... or in this case, your ally. When, at a high society function, men armed to the teeth hold everyone hostage, it doesn't take Hale and Macey long to realize they have no intention of bagging the wallets and jewels and running. They want something bigger. But that bigger is hidden inside an impenetrable safe. How can two teens save a room full of people? If you have to ask, you don't know Hale or the Gallagher Girls!

OK, first, I must take a moment to BEG Carter to start a new series that brings these two groups together. Come ON! Give me a cross-over series! This was such a TEASE! It was a fabulous way to bring the two groups together and truly showcased ALL their talents. I love the fact that the Gallagher Girls are typically on the "good side" and jewel thief is considered "bad" (although these guys specialize in returning goods that have been misappropriated to their rightful owners). Yet when they come together, especially cool guy Hale and sassy Macey, it was magic! I loved this, and if you have read the two series, you should check this out. If you haven't, I have one thing to say to you- What are you WAITING for!!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Sky on Fire

Kids are resourceful. In extreme circumstances, I have no doubt kids could find a way to survive all on their own. In Emmy Laybourne's Monument 14, we saw them find a way to survive in a Greenway, but in the sequel, Sky on Fire, the group splits up in their fight to survive. 

As type O's, if Dean and Astrid breathe the compounds NORAD released into the air, they will become raving psychopaths hellbent on killing anything in their way. Therefore, they decided to stay behind and protect the little kids while Dean's brother Alex and the others took the schoolbus that saved them to the Denver Airport in the hopes of finding people willing to help rescue those left behind. But neither group experiences anything they expected.

Outside the Greenway, things are bad. A strange white mold eats rubber and has destroyed cars, making their bus a commodity for anyone within earshot. Add to that the raving lunatics and the fact that Josie lied to them about her blood type. With one whiff of the air, she becomes her own raving lunatic in the close quarters of the bus. Meanwhile, back at the store, Astrid and Dean are experiencing their own horrors. With crazy people trying to break into their stronghold one after another, they realize how defenseless they really are. Meanwhile, inside, they can barely hold things together with the little kids, infections, and people determined to get in. Both groups are in the middle of the battle of their lives, but will anyone make it out alive?

This series is an odd mixture of fairly mature circumstances with a relatively low reading level. Therefore, it is a good series for an older student who is also a struggling reader. The maturity of the subject matter includes a lot of murder, sex, and pretty scary situations, but the short nature of the stories and easy reading level makes them a perfect option for a reader who doesn't want to read a "kids" book, but needs a lower level story. Also, this series could easily serve as a bridge into more complex, mature post-apocalyptic and dystopic stories.

Overall, I like the story, but sometimes the kids make some really stupid mistakes. I know that is most realistic, but still, I would love it if they had a learning curve about trusting people! How many times do you have to get attacked, beaten, almost raped, and robbed before you figure out to not trust anyone??!! I like the fact that these books end with some finality, but still lead directly into the next story. I don't think these are the absolutely best PA stories out there, but they are quick and a lot of fun to read, which gives them a permanent space on the shelf of my classroom!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

High School is all about choosing sides and finding allies, which inevitably makes you enemies. If you are a drama kid, the jocks will undoubtedly ignore you at best. If you are a Queen Bee, the goth kids despise you. But what if you could manage to be accepted on the outskirts of every single group? You would never be able to reveal your allegiance to another group, would have to avoid all areas of congregation like the plague, and would have to accept that in order to be friends with everyone, you can't have any real friends. Is it worth it? For Greg, it was a juggling act that was about to come crashing down in Jesse Andrews' Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl

Greg is a pasty, overweight, nondescript kind of guy, but his philosophy for making it through high school is a unique one. If you can somehow manage to have a casual connection with every group on campus without actually committing to a single one, you can be relatively safe from the horrors of high school. For a kid like Greg who is awkward, can't talk to girls (actually, turns into a babbling idiot every time a cute girl walks into the room), and is obsessed with strange, obscure movies, this is really the best decision. He has always had Earl, the filthy mouthed oddball who shares Greg's love of strange movies and is his coproducer in their own miserable attempts at filmmaking, but you wouldn't exactly call Earl a "friend". He is more like a bad habit. 

When Greg actually made attempts to get girls to notice him, they turned into poo-covered, flaming disasters. The only girl he didn't completely alienate was Rachel. Granted, he never accomplished much of anything, but at least she didn't think he was a drooling moron. When Greg's mother tells him Rachel has cancer, she forces him to spend time with her. In reality, it isn't so bad. Rachel is pretty cool, and she isn't appalled by Greg's bizarre antics, but this isn't like what you would expect from a boy who befriended a dying girl. It isn't some life-affirming, wisdom laden one-liner filled cream puff of grief and self-reflection. Greg insists Rachel's presence in his life has not changed him. But is it possible to live through something like the death of a girl who was the first person you let over your protective wall and not be affected? Greg insists it is!

OK, this was a strange book. It was strange in the same way Greg was strange- awkward, sometimes pretty funny, and surprisingly endearing. I actually loved it when I first started it, went through a period of being annoyed by Greg's silliness, and finished absolutely loving it. It was a strange experience, to tell you the truth. Even now, I am not sure how to describe the book that is going to truly do it any justice. Greg is just this big ball of awkwardness. He is so invested in blending in and not identifying himself to anyone, that is becomes terrifying to him to even consider openly befriending Rachel in school, but because he has a soft, gooey center, he does it anyway. And he insists over and over again that he is not affected by Rachel's leukemia, but you can see how it chips away at his resolve and his hard candy coating he uses to protect himself. Not in a "come to Jesus" kind of revelation, nothing that dramatic or expected, but just in small, tiny little ways where he allows Rachel to affect him. It was a really interesting approach. In fact, it made me think that this book was the antithesis to The Fault in Our Stars. Everything Greg made fun of, the deep, meaningful one liners, the emotional roller coaster, the grief, was hidden so well, you would almost miss it if you weren't looking carefully enough. And in the end, although Greg was totally ridiculous at times, it was a really great book.

And the supporting characters were just as hilarious. Earl in all his foul-mouthed glory was so absurd you had to love him. Greg's parents were just as entertaining. I think I can see the exact kind of kid I would give this book to- the wise-guy kind of tough guy who hides behind his wise cracks and silly jokes, the class clown. The only concern is that there is a lot of profanity and sex talk in this book (nothing graphic, just gross teenage boys talking about boobs and whatnot). I personally wouldn't let that keep me from giving this to a younger student if I thought they would enjoy the book, because it is mostly in the form of silly jokes and ribbing, but some might not be comfortable with that, so I thought it was worth mentioning. I am still shaking my head about this book, but I will definitely read Andrews' next book to see how much of this story was his creation of the characters and how much was really Andrews!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Trapped in Hell, Me- not the Characters!

Falling for a death deity can't be easy, but for Pierce, Meg Cabot's character in the Abandon Trilogy, it has made her already complicated life just that much more complicated. In Underworld, Pierce is faced with the reality that she might belong in the Underworld if she wants to be with John.

When John dragged her to the Underworld, it was to protect her from the Furies. After her grandmother, or rather a Fury wearing a grandmother suit, tried to kill Pierce, they barely escaped. But the Underworld isn't a place Pierce can imagine herself living. In fact, nothing lives in the Underworld, as a matter of speaking. Certainly not a real live girl. But she must make the best of it if she wants to be with John, even if that means abandoning everything she left behind on the island. When John offers her a meal, she distinctly remembers the story of Persephone who was trapped in the Underworld for 6 months a year as a result of eating 6 pomegranate seeds, so she avoids them like the plague. But what John didn't tell her was that any food consumed in the Underworld ties the eater to its realm for eternity. Essentially, John just ensured Pierce has no choice but to stay with him.

Pierce is stunned by his treachery, but staying with John seems to be more important, until she sees a video on her phone. In the video, her cousin Alex is locked in a coffin, dying. Convinced she needs to save him, she begs John to go find Alex, and John agrees to take her with him. What she didn't expect to discover, however, was the dark past John has been hiding from her, and the lies he doesn't want to reveal to her. With the Furies after her, her cousin in trouble, and the pain of leaving her mother to think she was dead, Pierce just keeps remembering John and his hunky biceps.

OK. You may have gathered a hint of sarcasm right there, and you would be correct. It has been a while since I read the first book, but I don't remember Pierce being so easily manipulated or so swayed by a few well-toned muscles. I also don't remember her to be one to pretty much abandon her family for a guy. So when I read this book, I was shocked to see John had become a manipulative, lying twerp who woud do anything to make sure he got what he wanted: Pierce. There were about 5 different instances where he openly LIED to Pierce to keep her from thinking there was any hope of her leaving the Underworld. He also got irrationally angry if she touched anything of his (despite insisting they cohabitate), and then she apologized profusely for being so out of line as to look through her own backpack that was taken from her and hidden when she was kidnapped and dragged to hell. Yep. Seriously. This guy wasn't a leading man, he was pathetic. He could only get his girl by lying to her, tricking her, and keeping her trapped. And the worst part? She couldn't stop thinking about how much she wanted to stroke his abs. Blech. 

I don't really know what happened to this series. I remember liking the first book, so I was interested in the second book, but now I am pretty turned off. Add to that the fact that the whole plot revolves around a stupid kid getting stuffed in a coffin (here is a tip, young man: stay away from coffins and graveyards, moron!), and even that was pretty anticlimactic. Sometimes I am a glutton for punishment, so I might read the last book in the trilogy just to see what happens, but I will likely let the book sit and gather dust for a while until I forget my distaste for this story. What happened, Meg Cabot? Why did you take your characters down this road? 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Assassin Meets Beast

Historical fantasy can be a beautiful thing when done well, and Robin LaFevers does it masterfully with her His Fair Assassin series. In Dark Triumph, she tells the dark tale of another of Saint Mortain's handmaidens, Sybella. 

Sybella's worst nightmare is returning to the home of her father, Lord D'Albret. D'Albret is not only a traitorous beast insistant upon forcing the duchess to marry him so he can control her land, but also to call her his next conquest. Since all six of his previous wives have died mysteriously, this does not bode well for the duchess. But Sybella's sister through Mortain saved the duchess. Now Sybella's post in her own home is to be the mole in the lion's den. The only way the abbess got her to return was with the promise she could kill D"Albret with her own hands. But after much time has passed and the Mark of Mortain has not graced D'Albret, giving Sybella the sign to finish him, she realizes she doesn't think she can wait a single minute longer before killing him even without the Saint's blessing. 

It is just then that she receives a message from the abbess to save a prisoner from D'Albret's dungeon. When she arrives, it becomes clear she is going to need help getting the heavily damaged beast of a man out of his cage in his beaten, semi-conscious state. Baron of Waroch, affectionately referred to as Beast, is half-dead already, but with the help of a jailer turned ally, Sybella is able to free him. In the confusion of their escape, however, she is knocked unconscious and take with them. Knowing it means D'Albret will peg her a traitor, she has no choice but to escort Beast to the duchess. What started out an assignment for the abbess and Mortain turned into a journey Sybella had not thought possible, both physically and emotionally.

You know, there is something about historical fantasy that just sucks me right in. I don't know what it is, but if done right, it gets me every time. And the His Fair Assassin series is addictive for me. I avoided this book for a little while until I had some time to really sit down and get sucked into it, and boy am I glad I did because it was SO good I couldn't put it down. In the first book, you see a little bit of Sybella, but not much. And what you do see isn't all that great- she is pretty mean and angry and bitter, but in this book, you find out exactly what made her that way. And boy, is it ugly. What this girl had to endure at the hands of her maniacal father and brother is a fate worse than death. LaFevers can write a villain like no other villain I have ever read about. I mean, if you can read about D'Albret and not want to kill him yourself, then I have to question your own sanity! I don't think I ever could have imagined such a vile, disgusting human being in my life! 

The beauty in LaFevers' writing is how she can make a character like Sybella redeemable. In fact, the redemption is the best part. I absolutely loved Beast and watching him and Sybella together was amazing. Both had their own demons to deal with before they could look at each other with any hope, but the beauty was in their ability to love and heal each other, and darn if it wasn't fabulous to watch! This was an amazing story, and I know so many adults and young adults who would enjoy it. I think if you know anyone interested in historical fiction with a touch of fantasy, this is your series. If you liked Graceling, Demon King, Throne of Glass, etc., you will love this series. And now I must wait for the third, anxiously biting my nails to see what happens to all of the daughter of Mortain!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ladies: Champions of the Primates

Having just read Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, it seemed fortuitous that I would wander into a local bookstore to find this little gem facing out at me from a shelf in the children's department. Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas is a graphic, slightly fictionalized history of the three women who started with Louis Leakey and transformed the world's knowledge of the great apes.
Jane Goodall is probably the most well known of these three women, and she was the first woman Leakey was successful in sending to study the great apes. When his former secretary wasn't successful with the chimpanzees (or terribly interested), Goodall, a woman with no formal degree or experience in conducting such a study, was sent. It was there that she conducted some of the most groundbreaking research ever done on the chimpanzees.
Dian Fossey didn't wait for Leakey to discover her, she hunted him down and demanded to be sent to study the mountain gorillas. Leakey, still convinced women are better at this kind of research, put her study together and sent her. It was there that the gorillas became the life and death of Dian Fossey. Her refusal to back down from dangerous people's protection of the poaching of the gorillas was her undoing, but even in death, she is a champion for these beautiful animals.
 Birute Galdikas is the least known of these three women. Having come to Leakey after Fossey and Goodall, she was most interested in the illusive orangutans. Lucky for these creatures, their ability to fade into the mist also made them difficult to hunt, which was a protection in and of itself. Galdikas herself was as illusive as her orangutans, but the research she gathered is still unmatched.

This was a lovely little graphic non-fiction mini-biography of how these ladies came to study the great apes and forever shape the way the world viewed them and connected them to the human species. While the book is short and the stories are brief, it is a great starting point if you have a student interested in the study of the great apes. This would be a great paring with Endangered or "Gorillas in the Mist". After they have a taste of these three amazing (and very different) women, it would be fabulous to send them off for further research. I really enjoyed this little book, and I am so glad I happened to stumble upon it! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In Danger of Breaking My Heart

Life for the bonobos and other great apes in Africa has always been tumultuous, but when people are starving, they will do anything to feed their families. Now the bonobos, the "lesser" chimpanzees, are endangered and in Eliot Schrefer's novel Endangered, he explores the love and risks involved in protecting these beautiful animals in the midst of a terrifying civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sophie has spent her summers in the Congo with her mother ever since her father relocated her to the US to go to school. While it is a culture shock, those summers with her Congolese mother at the bonobo sanctuary are something she looks forward to. But this summer is different. On her way to the sanctuary, she sees a trafficker witha  near-dead bonobo baby, trying to sell him to people driving by. Unable to bear the thought of what could happen to the baby, Sophie does the worst thing she can do: she buys him from the man. Once you establish that precedent, there is nothing to stop the trafficker from going back into the jungle and taking more bonobo babies, even though it means killing all the adults it was with. Sophie knows her mother will be mad and this will create problems int he future, but she couldn't see past the despair and desperation in that little baby's eyes.

Her mother certainly is mad, but she makes the baby Sophie's responsibility. Named Otto, he struggles on the long, hard road back to health at the sanctuary. Sophie knows she should be acclimating him to another human as she is flying back to the US in a few short days, but she can't bear to be separated from Otto. When her mother travels north to deliver adults to the wild sanctuary, Sophie finds herself alone and caught in her worst nightmare: a coup. While she should have evacuated, she can't imagine leaving Otto behind. Hiding in the adult bonobo enclosure, she manages to live undetected for weeks while the rebels take over the sanctuary and kill all the people she knew and loved. But once the power to the electrified fence is cut-off, she knows she has to escape. How is a single teenaged girl going to escape with a baby bonobo in tow? And where do you go in a country that has been torn apart from the inside out?

Oh. Oh, boy. This story was so beautiful and so powerful, it has actually left me speechless. I had the privilege of meeting Eliot Schrefer at an author function a few years ago, and knowing what a funny, light-hearted man he is, I am even more blown away by this amazing, powerful story. The even more fascinating thing is that he took an incredibly violent and terrifying setting, and he managed to show the impact of the violence while still writing a story that could be read by a wide range of ages. For instance, he hints that death would be better for Sophie than being captured by the rebels, but for a younger reader, this subtlety would easily go over their heads: not forcing them to understand the culture and violence of rape behind the coup in order to understand the story, but still including this terrifying and important part of the story in a way that older readers would pick up on. It was masterfully done, and makes this book appropriate for students who aren't necessarily ready for the full terrors of such a war, but still should learn about the kind of life being lived in that part of the world. I am not sure how Schrefer managed to do this so seamlessly and beautifully, but I am grateful for it, because I can pass this book onto more and more of my students.

The conflict itself, Schrefer explained, was fictional, but based off previous conflicts. It felt so real and the terror that girl must have felt was palpable. But the story is really about Sophie and the bonobos. The descriptions of the bonobos are so amazing, it is clear Schrefer spent a great deal of his own time in the Congo studying them. The plight of these amazing apes that share so much of our DNA is one of the most shameful parts of our society. But Sophie, obviously trying her best to save Otto and the other bonobos, often considers the idea that any efforts to save the animals are efforts that aren't going to save the thousands of humans dying all around her. Having seen her friends killed around the sanctuary, she knew the full impact of the danger these people were in, and how the bonobos are no longer the focus. But still, she can't think past the immediate concern in her own life, and that is Otto. A poor boy who has suffered enough in his life, and she, the girl who saved him, can't imagine letting him down. It was beautiful. She understood what was going on around her, but her love for Otto kept her from saving herself when she couldn't take him with her. 

I am not ashamed to tell you that this book really made me cry. I cried for the bonobos, the people of the Congo, for Sophie and all she saw that would forever change her, and for the world that continues to sit by and watch conflicts like this happen. Our students have the privilege of not having to grow up so soon like poor Sophie did, but they also have the responsibility of knowing what is happening around the world they live in. This is a beautiful book, and it is not hard to imagine why it was a National Book Award finalist. After reading the Q&A and the Author's Note at the end of the book, it was clear that this book was Schrefer's way of bringing life to these people and these apes. He had to abandon all he knew about the world and the safety of his own life to travel to the Congo, and I am glad he did, because it brought us this beautiful, heartbreaking story. I know I was changed by Endangered, and I am sure you will be too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

So Many Lives Lost

When a virus takes over, it is only natural to assume the Powers that Be would be developing a vaccine or a treatment to stop the pandemic. People trust the government will save them. But a virus that collapsed all the governing powers is going to squash any hope of finding a cure as well. In the second book of Megan Crewe's The Fallen Worlds Trilogy, Kaelyn has the weight of the world on her shoulders. In The Lives We Lost, the hope of a cure lies in the hands of an orphaned teenage girl. 

Kae isn't in the mood for celebrating her birthday with everything that has happened to them. When she grabs her father's coat, the only thing that still smells like him, she discovers the key she has been looking for desperately: the key to his lab where he was trying to develop a cure. When she goes to the lab, she finds 5 vials of a vaccine her father was convinced would work, and as the first guinea pig, it seemed to be protecting him. With the vaccine in tow, Kae convinces Gav to trek with her to Ottawa in search of government scientists who can replicate the vaccine and save the world. What they don't expect are military helicopters to descend on the island in order to destroy what they believe is the epicenter of the pandemic. When a lone soldier speeds up to the dock to save them, Kae piles everyone in to race across the straight to the mainland. Now they are forced to begin their journey with more than they had expected and even with a kid in tow. 

But life on the mainland has changed. Leo tried to warn them about what it was like in a world where everyone was scared of dying, people were freezing to death, and starvation was imminent, but Kae is determined to save people with her vaccine. She uses 2 of the vials to vaccinate her little cousin Meredith and Leo, but Gav refuses to use one of the precious vaccines on himself. As they get further into the mainland, however, it becomes clear the virus isn't the only thing they have to worry about. When Meredith tells a group of hostile strangers about the vaccine, the group finds themselves dodging the murderous gang all across Canada. There are a lot of people who would love to save themselves with the few vaccines instead of save the world, but a few brave teens know the right thing to do, even if it kills them.

There is a lot about this book, the group of teens tracking across the countryside, the snow, the food, etc. that reminds me of Ashfall by Mike Mullin, but this story is much less mature than Mullin's series. That isn't to say it isn't a good story, but if you have read some of the more gritty and mature versions of this story, this one won't be as exciting. There were quite a few instances where I wanted to just smack the kids as they announced their possession of a vaccine, got in arguments with people on the street, and trusted people WAY too easily, but I imagine there are a lot of naive young adults out there who would fall into the same traps (although letting your little cousin announce you have a vaccine is quite possibly the stupidest thing you could ever do). I wanted them to maintain a lower profile, but they seemed hell-bent on walking in and announcing their presence with every step. It was maddening at times. 

Even with the lack of maturity, this was a fun story. It's mild nature would make it great for a younger reader who was new to the post-apocalyptic genre, but it would probably be too immature for a reader who had finished a story like Ashfall. I would give it to your stronger middle school readers, and it would be really interesting to see how many of those kids would find the actions of the book's characters to be childish as I did. Maybe they wouldn't even notice! But, Crewe did a pretty good job, and I will definitely be coming back to the third book to see the final leg of their journey. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Coming-of-Age, Not a Romance

Sarah Dessen is a magician with beautiful, clean, innocent, but meaningful romances set in Colby, the calm, beach town that swells during tourist season. With The Moon and More she wrote a different kind of novel. All the components you love are there, but this story is about Emaline and Emaline only. 

Emaline's family runs Colby realty, renting houses for the owners to pushy tourists hungry for some time at the beach. As her last summer before heading to college, Emaline should be hanging out with her boyfriend and friends, enjoying the freedom before she heads off for college. Unfortunately, her sister Margo has recently returned from business school and has taken the opportunity to transform their comfortable family business into a well-oiled machine.  And Emaline's boyfriend Luke has recently been unhappy with the way their relationship is progressing, or rather, not progressing. But when a high roller rents the biggest house in Colby for two months, its occupants are about to change Emaline's life in a way she never would have expected. 

Ivy  and her assistant Theo are making a film about Clyde Conaway, the reclusive Colby native who also happened to be a world-renowned artist at one point. To everyone in Colby he is just Clyde, but to these ambitious New Yorkers he is much more: he is the ticket to fame. When Emaline's boyfriend turns out to not be the guy she thought he was, she finds herself in the arms of Theo, a somewhat dorky film student from New York who is more ambitious that even his boss understands. When Emaline's father (not her dad, but her biological father) comes to town to stay for the first time since getting her mother pregnant at the age of sixteen, she has more than just her romantic life and the rentals to deal with. He was the man who abandoned her mother, ignored her most of her life, and most recently, reneged on his offer to pay for Columbia, forcing her to go to East U in the fall. With her half-brother in tow, he spends the summer in Colby working to sell his aunt's house and adjusting his son to the separation of their family and the inevitability of his parents' divorce. What Emaline didn't expect was to really get to know Benji and to get to know the real man behind the fatherly emails. But even bigger was the opportunity Emaline had in one summer to truly and deeply get to know who She was. 

Dessen usually writes these amazing romance novels, but this book was not a romance novel. Not because you aren't really invested in either Luke or Theo (who is a total tool, but every girl finds herself with a tool at least once in her life, right?!), but because they are not really the focus of the story. Instead, this is a coming of age story for a girl who has always approached life passively and agreeably who finally stands up for herself and goes for what she wants, not what someone else wants for her. I think if you go into this story thinking you are going to find a romance, you will undoubtedly be disappointed. In fact, the jacket blurb talks about Theo as though he is a cool, almost sheik film student who transforms town. Instead, he is a tool. A total tool. He starts off pretty dorky, a guy who never had a girlfriend, never went to prom, was generally miserable in high school. Now this alone doesn't make him a toolbox. I tend to like the dorky guy (brings me back to my love for Duckie, if you must know), but when he become an arrogant, pompous, over-ambitious jerk, I had had enough. And still she stayed with him for most of the novel. This annoyed me at first, but I realized, after a great deal of anger and confusion that I waited for so long for a Dessen romance and got THEO instead, that Emaline needed to date this tool. She dated Luke, not because she was madly in love with him, but because he was comfortable. He embodied all that was Colby, and for a girl who was abandoned by her father, who saw her stepdad as her real dad and his daughter's as her sisters, whose mother was duped and got pregnant in a typical summer romance that faded before she even reached her nine months, she needed her stable, loving family. Theo, on the other hand, was different. It didn't matter that he wasn't a good different (because lord know he wasn't), but just that he was different. But quickly, Emaline realized that she didn't want different. She loved Colby. She didn't want to be "stuck" there for life like so many others, but she didn't want to flee like the other half of its recently graduated population. Instead, she wanted choices while also having her roots. And that was what made me really love this novel.

Instead of your simple romance, this was a complex and emotional coming of age story. Emaline never knew how to define herself, but throughout this story, you watch her finally become comfortable in her own skin and her own desires. Sometimes it takes the exact wrong guy to help you realize what you really want, and Theo was certainly that guy (I can't stress enough how much I disliked him). So, don't go looking for a lovely Dessen romance. You won't find it and you will be disappointed (I know I was at first). But if you go into this thinking you are going to find one of Dessen's more serious novels hidden within a beachy, carefree cover, you will enjoy the book as much as I did. It isn't your typical Dessen, but that is what I love about her the most. She isn't predictable, and neither are her characters. I can't say I loved this story, but I really liked it in more ways than one. But more importantly, I came out the other end of the story loving Dessen more than ever before. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Of Royalty and Rules

Being half-Syrena is a troublesome place. Emma feels out of place in both worlds, but in Anna Banks' Of Triton, she gets to know just how much of an outsider the Syrena really think she is. 

Emma barely adjusted to the idea that she was half-Syrena (mermaid) before finding out her mother was a Syrena princess. In fact, she was THE Syrena princess who was thought to be dead and was the cause of the war between the two kingdoms. When Galen recognizes her, he immediately brings his brother Grom, to the surface to reunite with Nalia, his mate who he thought died in a mine explosion. This could have been a beautiful reunion if Nalia hadn't kidnapped Emma to escape the Syrena she was convinced would imprison her and murder her daughter. 

When Nalia finally sees Grom with her own eyes and realizes she didn't cause his death all those decades ago, she can barely control her love for him. What she didn't expect was that Grom had already been bonded to Paca, the commoner claiming to have the Gift of Poseidon, the ability to communicate with all marine life. With Grom bonded, the next in line to marry Nalia, according to Syrena law, is Galen. Faced with the fact that her mother is supposed to marry Emma's boyfriend, she is desperate to find a way around the law. Unfortunately, that means Nalia and the other royals returning to the water to challenge Grom's bonding and reinstate Nalia as his queen. But the kingdom they return to isn't exactly the one they left, and no one is in more danger than Emma, the abomination in the eyes of all Syrena. 

The first book in this series was seriously funny. I mean laugh out-loud like a fool kind of funny. That was part of the reason I loved it. While I really liked this story as well, it just wasn't as funny as the first book. I missed that. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the back story into the Syrena and the action of everything, but I really missed the spunky, sassy characters and the silliness that made Of Poseidon so very funny.

Still, this was a good story and a great continuation of the series. This series would be great for low-skilled older students, but it is fairly clean and would be appropriate for younger, stronger readers. The books are pretty brief, so the stories fly by pretty quickly. I am looking forward to the third book, but I hope Anna Banks puts more of that snark I loved so much into this upcoming installment! 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mexican Hat Dance on My Heart

A good book makes you love the supporting characters as much as the main characters, so when Katie McGarry announced Dare to You, the story of Beth from Pushing the Limits, I was so excited I yelled loud enough to wake my husband and scare my dogs. And lucky for me, McGarry didn't disappoint.

Beth has always taken care of her mother. She buys food, pays the bills, and even collects her when the local bar owner wants her out. Beth has never known what it meant to be a carefree child, but at least she has a family with Noah and Isaiah. When a confrontation with Trent, her mother's abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend, leaves Beth in jail, her aunt calls the one person who can help them: Beth's uncle, the famous baseball player, Scott Risk. Scott is willing to help her, in fact, he insists on it, but he has some conditions. In fact, he tells Beth that if she doesn't live with him, go to school, stay out of trouble, and abandon everything about her former life, he will tell the police exactly what Beth's mom has hidden in her apartment. 

Beth can't imagine life in the sticks with prom queens and baseball games, but she will do it to protect her mother. What she didn't expect was to come face to face with the jerk who asked her out last week. Ryan has some demons of his own, but they are well-hidden inside the school's star baseball player. Never one to lose a bet, he continues to try his luck with Beth now that she is permanently in Groveton.  His friends bet him he couldn't land a date with her, and lord knows she has made it perfectly clear she would rather stab him that go on a date with him, but Ryan doesn't give up on anything. Especially a girl who seems like a nightmare on the outside, but turns into a whole different person when you get to know her. 

I don't think my description of this book can really do it justice. It sounds like a typical romance, but there is so much more to this book and this series. In fact, the romance is hidden within a dark, sad tale about a girl who had never had a stable life. Sure, Isaiah and Noah loved her unconditionally, but she never had real parents. In fact, Beth had to parent her own mother. And because of everything she dealt with growing up, Beth was a hard, angry young woman who was the antithesis of the suburbs her uncle transplanted her to. And who can blame her? Anyone growing up around abusive boyfriends and drug addicts would have to develop a wall around themselves just to survive. But I loved that there was so much more to Beth. She wanted to love and be loved, but she never fully believed she deserved it. Even with Isaiah's undeniable love for her, she never felt she was worthy. 

And her relationship with Isaiah was hard for me to accept. In Pushing the Limits, I wanted her to finally realize he was in love with her, so seeing this book wasn't about the two of them devastated me. But once I saw the story play out, I could see how Isaiah would have been wrong for Beth and she for him. She needed something different, someone new, someone whose romance didn't threaten one of the few friendships Beth had. And Isaiah could never be that for her. And trust me, it was heartbreaking. Watching her come to that realization and Isaiah, wonderful, tattooed, devoted Isaiah, come to that conclusion had to be one of the hardest things for me to read as a person who just loves these characters. 

And that is the thing about McGarry. She can make you fall in love with even the toughest and hardest characters. I mean, Beth?! She was the last character you would find yourself siding with in Pushing the Limits, but you always knew there was more to her than just the black hair and nose ring. And McGarry gave you more. And she gave it to you in a way that is absolutely heart-wrenching. I felt such an emotional attachment to these characters that even now, I am looking at this book thinking, "How can it be over?!" These are phenomenal books and I don't think anyone out there could read them and not feel a connection to the characters, even if they could never empathize with them. McGarry has a gift, and I am going to be waiting, very, very impatiently waiting, for Isaiah's story, because he has some unfinished business. I love this series, and I Dare You to read it and not love it too!

Monday, June 10, 2013

It Sure Crossed a Line!

Noah and Echo's relationship was so deep and so emotional in Katie McGarry's Pushing the Limits, that you can't imagine finding yourself just as invested in another relationship from McGarry, especially from a short story. However, in Crossing the Line, we see the budding love of Lila and Lincoln despite the fact that they have only met once. And it isn't a relationship to trifle with.

Lincoln's brother was killed in the same roadside bombing that took Echo's brother Aires. Lincoln's parents brought the whole family to Aires' funeral in an attempt to preserve a little bit of his life from the moments before he was killed, but Lincoln didn't expect to find answers at a stranger's funeral. He also didn't expect to find a girl he could fall in love with after only meeting once, either, but that didn't stop him from having hope once he met Lila. 

Lila was confused about a lot of things, but after watching her best friend, Echo, lose her brother, she was even more confused than ever. But one thing made sense: Lincoln. After the funeral, they agreed to write each other real letters twice a week At first, it was something whimsical, but quickly it became more, much more. Soon it became the impossible feelings of love that you shouldn't feel for a person you only met once. But when Lincoln lies to her, it all falls apart. From 12 hours away (10 if you ignore the speed limits), two lives have connected in a way that no one understands, not even them.

Leave it to McGarry to sucker punch me with only a few short pages. This was a relatively short story that was loosely connected to Pushing the Limits, but it was still amazing. I really loved the long-distance connection they had through letters, real letters. It felt like those letter collections you read from famous authors where they spent years of correspondance getting to know the one person who knew who they truly were. It was beautiful, and this story was a modern version of the same. You don't have to see a person every day to let them into your life. And that comes from a few short pages of letting Lila and Lincoln into my life!

Now THAT'S What I'm Talking About!

We all have a little bit of the dark side residing inside of us, but we know how to control it. Keep it down. But what if we were being controlled by the darkest power that was ever created? Could we still fight the dark side like we do every day? In Leigh Bardugo's Siege and Storm, Book Two of the Grisha Trilogy, Alina Starkov shouldn't be able to fight the Darkling, but love for Mal and for her country keep her resisting the darkness that threatens them all.

Alina is the Sun Summoner, the only Grisha with the power to bring light to the Fold and fight the monstrosities that reside within it. Now that the Darkling fitted her with the Amplifier made of the mythical stag, she can harness a power like none have seen before. But after learning the truth of the Darkling and his creation of the fold that threatens to take over the world, she narrowly escapes with Mal, her childhood friend and one true love, leaving her country and friends behind to suffer the Darkling's wrath. The problem is one cannot escape the Darkling for long, and with the help of a famous pirate, he finds Alina and Mal and drags them into the icy waters in search of the second mythical beast, an icy sea dragon. While legends has always told a Grisha cannot assume two amplifiers without suffering grave consequences, the Darkling believes otherwise, and he isn't above sacrificing Alina to find out.

What the Darkling didn't expect was that the pirate might have different loyalties than just those of a common mercenary. Sturmhond has his own secrets he hasn't shared with the Darkling, and those secrets run deep. He also has plans for the Sun Summoner and how she can help him get his country back. Whether Alina trusts Sturmhond or not, she can't deny he is the better option when caught between him and the Darkling. Together, they embark on a dangerous and determined path that will bring together mortal and Grisha, the First Army and the Second Army, powered and determined, to save the future of Ravka and all the people she holds. The only thing standing in their way is the Darkling and his frightening new power- the ability to create the shadow monsters out of thin air. How can a handful of Grisha and a mass of half-starved, fanatical countrymen fight the most powerful Grisha who ever lived?

OK. Any of you out there need a lesson on how to write a sequel that not only knocks your socks off, but also makes your already brilliant first novel pale in comparison? I would like to introduce you to the amazing Leigh Bardugo. The first novel of this trilogy was brilliant. This sequel is something so much more that it defies my current dumbfounded language. I don't even know how to tell you how incredible it is because I am still reeling after flipping that final page! This was beyond just some great sequel. This is a masterpiece all on its own!

High fantasy is tricky, but Bardugo knows how to build a world like you have never seen before and still connect you to every bit of it. How does she do that?! How can I feel like I know the people of Ravka when it is so wildly different from everything I have ever known? I don't really know, but by golly! It was AMAZING! The whole world she created is so fascinating and so real, you would think those terrifying volcra were right behind you. And there are layers and layers of history and mythology and culture that every page brings you deeper and deeper into. The whole idea behind the stag and the dragon and the firebird could have been another entire series in and of themselves, but they were intertwined beautifully within the world of powerful Grisha and terrifying monsters. But the beauty behind it all was the love for one's people and one's country. Together, Grisha or civilian, they all want to save Ravka from the Fold and the terrors it contains. It was a really beautiful and fascinating examination of the human psyche and what kind of creature we want to be.

But this story is more than just broad, sweeping theories and examinations. The specific characters are so deep and real, you would feel like you had known them all your life. But Alina is the reason I can't stay away from this series. As a teacher of young women, I love to see a young female character who isn't afraid to stand up for what she believes in. When the prince misleads her and traps her in a position she wasn't expecting, what does she do? She punches him right in the nose! This is one girl you can be proud of and it lets you totally understand why the people of her country view her as a saint despite the fact that she is just a poor orphan thrust into a situation she wasn't ready for. Alina doesn't care who is her "superior". She knows what is right and is determined to sacrifice her own life to save the lives of others. And THAT is what I loved the most about this story. Of course snarky, pompous, but humble, Nikolai was just as wonderful. I have been searching YA lit for just this kind of young man- snarky on the outside and a truly good man on the inside- and imagine my pure joy to find him inside this book I already loved! Sure, he was a wise-crackin', infuriating putz sometimes, but that just made you love him all the more when you found out his true love for his country and everyone in it. He was just as determined to save Ravka as Alina, and together they made a fabulous team. 

This is a series for everyone, young adult or not-so-young adult. You like fantasy? Pick this series up! You not really interested in fantasy, but love a great story? Pick this series up! Like to read? Here you go! Don't read much? Look no further! This is the series that will make a reader out of you! Truthfully, this is a series for anyone, and it has the potential to turn non-readers into readers, it is genuinely that powerful. I love this series and the only thing that is going to disappoint me is when Bardugo finally concludes it. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

And the Claws Come Out!

In a land with a caste system that keeps people stationary and desperate to survive, what better way to calm tensions than have a Selection: a contest for girls of all castes to compete for their chance to win the heart of the Prince. In Kiera Cass's sequel The Elite, the competition has gotten stiffer and the world has gotten more dangerous. 

America isn't sure what to do anymore. She was finally admitting her feelings for Maxon before Aspen arrived at the palace as one of the guards. Seeing Aspen changed everything. All those feelings she had thought she left behind came rushing forward and she struggled with the conflicting feelings building up inside her. Meanwhile, the competition was down to only a handful of girls, and with America liked some of them, there were others she downright despised, like Celeste. Celeste knew how to push American's buttons, but more importantly, she wanted America to remember her place in the world: as a Five. As the lowest caste girl left in the competition, she wasn't the country's popular choice, but she seemed to be Maxon's.

Then something happened. When one of America's dearest friends among the selection is caught with a guard, punished severely, and banished to live life as an Eight, the lowest caste, America can't imagine how Maxon could stand by and allow a young girl to be treated like that. She begins to see the true nature of the monarchy and everything it entails. Where America once thought she could change the country from the top, now she has begun to realize there might not be any chance to change anything. The people with control might have such a dangerous and all-powerful grip on the country that a girl like America doesn't have a chance. Especially as rebels from their own country continue to break into the palace in an effort to destroy the Selection and wars across oceans threaten their very existence. 

One thing I wanted more of in The Selection was world-building. I can't say I got as much as I wanted from this sequel, but I definitely got some more background than the little amount in the first book gave me. We learned a lot about the creation of the new monarchy from generations ago and how the caste system was created, but we still don't know much about the different kinds of rebels and what they were up to. Since this books is a dystopia, it seems strange we would be able to get through two whole books without real answers about the world the story is set in. Still, I focused more on the relationships between the girls, America and Maxon, America and Aspen, and the rest of the cast. And that kept me happy throughout the book.

And usually I despise love triangles, but this one doesn't bother me, mostly because I still really, really like Maxon and don't have much interest in Aspen. You see a lot more of Aspen in this story, and you are supposed to question Maxon's position and choices in a few places, but I still really liked Maxon. Only once did I want to slap him around a little bit, but if you consider all the mixed signals America sent him and her lack of real interest in the competition, I am not sure you can completely blame the guy for trying to find a back-up plan to the princess problem. I think if things were different and he just pined after American with all her indecisiveness and wavering nonsense, he would be completely unrealistic! In fact, had I been Maxon, I would have given up on her LONG before he actually started to. 

I started reading this story during the busiest time of our school year, the bitter end. It meant I fought to find time to read, and the book took me an unusual 7-8 days to finish. Usually this destroys a book for me, but The Elite still held my attention even with the gaps in my chances to read it. I think that is a sign of a pretty good story, and I am really looking forward to the next one. I just hope we get the full story behind the world they live in because it has the potential to be incredibly interesting!