Wednesday, July 31, 2013

History Made Accessible

No student should leave their high school without having learned about Charles Darwin and the work he conducted. From evolution to natural selection, Darwin is iconic for a true understanding of organisms and science of the five kingdoms. In this graphic adaptation of The Origin of Species, Michael Keller has taken this relevant book and created a version that preserves the language and true feel of Darwin's studies while making it graphically appealing. I think even Darwin would be proud of this story.

I am not going to go into depth with the story of Darwin and the Beagle because if you are looking at this adaptation, you understand the relevance of the book to begin with. But I do have to say I thought the original story was beautifully captured in this adaptation. Everything from the connections he made to come to the idea of natural selection to the controversy surrounding his theories was beautifully depicted either through the words themselves or beautiful illustrations that told the story in a different and equally as strong manner. Our students don't truly understand the risks Darwin was taking in coming forward with these theories, but this book does that controversy justice. The language holds true to the original, but with the illustrations, I think this story is finally accessible to your average young adult students. 

I have been looking into graphic novels, but in particular, into non-fiction graphic novels, as a means to draw students into more challenging works. For instance, I loved the graphic novel Primates, and plan to delve into Feynman as soon as possible. These books are truly opening doors to information many of our students would not otherwise access. While they would benefit from this information in its original form, they might not necessarily choose a book written so long ago. This type of adaptation bridges that gap, and I am grateful for it. I look forward to finding more adaptations like this! So if you have a student studying biology who really needs to know about the life and studies of Darwin but won't read Origin? Pick up this book!

Monday, July 29, 2013

The True Nature of the Program

One of the worst things imaginable is for a parent to lose their child. The idea of teen suicide becoming an uncontrollable epidemic has to be something we can't even imagine. In Suzanne Young's The Program, we see a world that has done everything to find a way to stop their teens from killing themselves. Unfortunately, the Program might not be as successful as they had hoped. 

Sloane survived her brother Brady's suicide, but only because she had James to help her survive the tragedy. With suicide rates amongst teens out of control, the government has started a few pilot operations of the Program. The Program is meant to monitor teens for any sign of depression or an inclination of wanting to hurt themselves; if spotted, students are then pulled from their schools, entered in the Program, and once they are cured, they are returned to a self-contained school for returners, sans all memories that might have contaminated them in the first place. For Sloane, James and Miller, the Program is the worst kind of abuse, and they would do anything to avoid it... until Miller can't go on living after his girlfriend returns from the Program and doesn't even recognize him. 

James barely survived the loss of Brady, but Miller's choice has sent him over the edge. Unable to get a grip, he is flagged as a potential for the Program. Sloane tries to survive without James as her rock, but she isn't doing so well. When he returns and clearly doesn't remember her, it is too much for Sloane to handle. Her parents become worried about her state of mind, and they choose to do the only thing they think will save their only surviving child: they contact the Program. What they don't know is that the Program has its own demons. Could the very program that is meant to save the world's children be the thing that is driving them to take their own lives?

I wavered back and forth with this book throughout the entire thing. First I was really intrigued, then I was really turned off, and finally I ended up wanting to know where the second book was going to go (but admitting to myself it might have been better without a second book). I knew a book about teenage suicide wasn't going to be sunshine and daisies, but there were parts of this book that were pretty disturbing. In particular, when Sloane was enrolled in the Program. I fully accept that being disturbed as a reader was what Young was going for, but it was almost too much at times. So much that it actually turned me off from the book at one point. I won't give you any spoilers, but I am sure you can figure out what I am talking about when you read it yourself.

For a number of reasons, I find myself struggling to picture the kind of reader I would give this book to. I know it would be a small population, but I still can't think of anyone off the top of my head, in terms of students, who could handle the strange and sometimes highly disturbing subject matter. Don't get me wrong, Young did a good job of handling such delicate subject matter with careful hands, but there were times where I think she almost went too far- farther than she needed to in order to accomplish her goal. I will certainly be reading the second book, but I am not sure I really even liked this book. It absolutely got me thinking and that is the sign of a great book, but then again, you don't necessarily have to LIKE a book to appreciate how much it made you think!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Orleans Ain't New, Cher

As the waters receded, New Orleans picked itself up by its bootstraps and flipped Hurricane Katrina a rude finger gesture as she tucked tail and ran. But what would happen if Katrina was only the first in a long line of increasingly more severe storms? Could our beloved N'Orleans and the surrounding delta survive? In Sherri L. Smith's Orleans, we get a terrifying glimpse of a world that we pray doesn't resemble our future. 

Fen survives in the Delta like everyone else. They have no choice. After hurricane after worsening hurricane battered the area into total submission, Delta Fever took over. Delta Fever was unstoppable and the rest of the country had no choice. They built the wall. They separated themselves from the Delta region, and left it to fend for itself. Now, decades later, inside the wall is assumed to be a wasteland with few survivors. Daniel wants to find a cure to Delta Fever, but his closest attempt only made the virus worse. Instead of giving up, he heads to Orleans to gather data that is unavailable outside the wall. 

Once inside, though, he is shocked to find a thriving, albeit bloodthirsty, way of life. Fen, a teenaged O-Pos girl lives that life well. Everyone survives better in a tribe, but when her tribe is brutally murdered and she is left with an infant from the tribes leader, she can only think of taking care of Baby. Although Daniel is a liability, he also helped her and Baby escape the Blood Farm, so she owes him. While she doesn't think she can give him want he is looking for, especially in the lawless city of Orleans, she can certainly guide him there. But there is a lot more waiting for innocent, unsuspecting kids than just Delta Fever. Orleans is full of shadows. 

This was a really interesting post-apocalyptic story. It was terrifying to see how quickly the region spiraled downwards, and how the rest of the country was totally willing to quarantine the area with Delta Fever unrelenting and incurable. I have family who lived through Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, and it was until I saw the actual destruction a hurricane can cause, I didn't truly understand what a city like New Orleans has lived through. Sandy may have caused a lot of monetary damage that crippled a lot of people, but Katrina crippled a culture. Although they bounced back, as is the nature of those fierce Cajuns, Katrina will always be a part of their culture now, for better or for worse. The idea of shutting out a whole part of the country and calling it quits was terrifying, but how far would we really go if we couldn't control a deadly virus? 

The book is a little confusing sometimes because it is told in Fen's first-person perspective with a mild dialect (perfectly readable, and easy to get used to, but a grammatically incorrect dialect nonetheless), and Daniel's third-person perfect English. The chapter heads weren't marked, so sometimes it took me a minute to realize who I was reading from. This might confuse a weaker reader, so be careful who you give the story to. Still, it is a good enough stand-alone story for any young adult reader. The virus is a little odd in how it affects different blood types in different ways (hence the blood typed tribes), but if you just went with the story, you would certainly enjoy it. I look forward to more from Smith int he future!

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Venomous Past

Serial Killers aren't a new phenomenon, they are just more commonly talked about. So, is it hard to imagine the dark dealings that may be going on in the shadows of a city like Venice? In Fiona Paul's new series, The Secrets of the Eternal Rose, she explores the mystery of murders only a young girl is willing to investigate.

Cass lives the life of any other Venetian girl of means: she waits to be married off so she can become a proper wife. The only problem is her fiance, Luca, is a terrible bore. When her friend succumbs to an illness and dies, Cass has a hard time dealing with the loss, especially after having lost both her parents. At night she slips out of her house to visit her parents' graves, and when she does so to visit her friend, she finds the body has been replaced by another body- one that certainly doesn't belong there and certainly did not meet a peaceful end. With a giant X carved into her chest, the girl clearly met an ugly ending. Terrified, Cass leaves the crypt and bumps into a man named Falco. She should be scared of any guy wandering the graveyard at night, but there is something about Falco she finds intriguing. When he agrees to help her investigate the girl in the crypt, Cass finds herself with a new partner in crime.

Together, Cass and Falco delve into the seediest areas of Venice, places Falco is clearly comfortable with but that Cass has never experienced. Throughout their investigation, Cass finds herself drawn to him in ways a proper engaged girl shouldn't be thinking about a man who isn't her betrothed. Of course, she isn't exactly proper as she escapes into the night in her nightgown with a strange man to hunt down a murderer. Cass's connection with Falco makes her forget just how dangerous what they are doing truly is, but the shadows of Venice can only stay hidden for so long. 

I had actually started this book a while ago and put it down only a few pages into it because I just wasn't in the mood for historical fiction, and I am really glad I did, because when I finally did read it, I really enjoyed it. Good historical fiction doesn't get bogged down with too many specifics of the time period, but rather allows them to come out naturally through the progression of a really good plot. That was how this story was. It had a great pace, a solid story, and it really kept me intrigued right to the last page. In fact, I really loved how the whole setting developed around the plot. 

Sometimes I was a little annoyed with Cass, especially with her volleying feelings about Falco and Luca. There were times when it felt like her feelings went from one guy to the other six times before the end of a page. It was so frustrating! But in the end, I was surprised but not displeased with where the story left her between the two men. It left me wanting to come back for more and check out the next book in the series. The story deals with some ugly parts of the time period (prostitution, lack of police protection, murder, indentured servants, etc.) and might be better for older readers. But if you have a younger student who is a strong reader and enjoys historical fiction, this is for you! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Series Everyone Must Read

The sordid, complex story of Quintana and Froi continues in Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta. While one kingdom has begun rebuilding, another is struggling to overcome the curse that left them without the ability to have children. However, the very breakers of the curse are the least likely to create hope amongst the broken people of Charyn... unless those people truly knew them, of course.

Froi was just a criminal from Sarnak and Quintana was a savage, mad princess from Charyn, but together they came together and created the first innocent, beautiful creation that had ever come from two tortured and disturbed souls: the baby Quintana is carrying. That baby is the first baby to be born to Charyn since the curse of the weeping began and Charyn's babies were taken from their mother's wombs. Now, knowing a little prince grows inside his mad mother, every person in all of the land hunts for his mother: some to protect her, some to kill her and claim the babe for their own, but only one because he loves her, even if Froi can barely admit it to himself. 

However, the hunt is in the middle of trying times where Finnikin and Isaboe are trying desperately to rebuild Lumatere after the Charyn invasion and curse split their kingdom. Charyn is in the middle of a bloody, desperate power struggle. Even Froi himself is split between the Lumaterians he loves and the Charynites he belongs to. But one thing is for sure, and that is that Quintana is the least "queenly" person to be at the center of it all. Even the women protecting her think she is a cruel, savage girl... at first. The more Quintana's life and decisions come to light, the more people see a woman of true sacrifice before them. It might be shrouded in a rat's nest of hair, wolfish teeth, and a savage grimace, but Quintana and Froi have created a true little king, and as the world's most unlikely couple, they will do anything to protect him. With very bad men out to take the little king, this is a feat like no other, but unlikely allies crop up everywhere. Even where you least expect them. And together, they have the opportunity to rebuild all kingdoms, regardless of how destroyed and demoralized they have become at the hands of those with too much powerful and too much corruption.

I want to weep. I actually want to cry, pound my fists on the floor, and scream knowing this is the final Lumatere story. I can't believe it is over. There is some kind of magic that Marchetta weaves with each of these stories that just takes over your life and makes you unable to imagine a life without them. I am devastated to think that I will not have more of Froi, Isaboe, Finn, Phaedra, Lucian, and even Quintana in my life. They truly transformed a simple reading experience into something so special and magical that I find it hard to locate the words that will actually do it justice. 

There was something so beautiful and bittersweet about Froi and Quintana, that by describing them, I cannot do them justice. I am sure, if you haven't read these books yourself, you think they are the most unlikely "heroes" to ever grace the pages, but you would be wrong. It is their flaws, either the wrongs they have survived and prevented for others, their very savage nature, or even the fierceness with which they react to those threatening their interests, that make them so beautiful. These two have lived through such horrors, and neither should ever be able to trust after the way they both separately grew up. But these characters are so deep and dynamic, that they become REAL with each page, and, in all their flawed glory, you will find yourself loving them as much as I did. 

As a conclusion, there was an important piece to Marchetta's final story: the final 100 pages. Any uninvested author or punchy editor/publisher might not have allowed a story to continue for 100 pages in order to fully explore the story after the final apex, but not Marchetta. She took her time in order to do these characters and their stories justice. And justice you have. There is no way to complete this story and not be more than satisfied. In fact, if you have come this far, you are just as devastated to lose this series as I am. I feel like Marchetta just finished the series that will undoubtedly be the "classic trilogy" we will be reading to our grandchildren the same way they are being read the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter series now. She is going to be one of those authors who is revered for generations to come, because you cannot write a truly perfect series such as the Lumatere Chronicles and not go down in the history books. And thank you, Ms. Marchetta, for bringing these characters and their stories to our shelves. We promise to cherish their stories for years to come!

Landing on Hallowed Ground

Clara may have been angel blood, but she still had free will, and that is what led her to defy the very will of God. Now, in Hallowed, by Cynthia Hand, she must deal with the consequences of choosing her own path.

After the dreams led her to her purpose of saving Christian and sacrificing her boyfriend Tucker, Clara realized the purpose given to her as an angel born wasn't worth losing the boy she cared for as much as she did Tucker. When it turned out Christian was also angel born, perfectly capable of flying, and in absolutely no danger, her decision became even more right in her mind. Unfortunately, she had now exposed herself to a Dark Wing who was now stalking her family and desperate to get ahold of Clara's mother.

It is bad enough to have a Dark Wing stalking them, but Clara then begins to get visions of her adapted purpose, and they involve a funeral. When she realizes the only one not present at the funeral (including the Dark Wing) is Tucker, she is convinced it is going to be his funeral. She already defied a heavenly purpose to save him once. She is not going to be involved in yet another plot to kill her boyfriend. What Clara doesn't consider, though, is that there are a lot more stories at play and more purposes involved than just her own free will... especially those involving her own fate. 

I tend to find these books a little slow at times while I am reading them, but by the end, I always seemed to have enjoyed them and want to read the next. I think that is because they end at the absolute perfect spot- enough revealed for some closure and enough left open to entice me into reading the next book. What I particularly enjoyed, however, was the increased family background and historical information about the angels. What can I say? I am a sucker for a good background story! In fact, it makes me connect to the current players, even if the background was centuries before they were even fictionally born! 

I think the sometimes slow nature might be a struggle for a reader who needs a fast-paced story, but this is a sweet book with plenty of mystery to keep most readers going. Any reader who wants some romance amongst her fallen angels would also be pleased with this story. I will definitely be checking out the final story, especially with how this story ended!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Day it All Ended

The experts say we are ready for a pandemic of epic proportions, but we have never really understood what that means in terms of the collapse of society and survival. How many of us could really live through the apocalypse? In Amber Kizer's A Matter of Days, two brave kids set out to travel across the country in the wake of the most devastating pandemic the world has ever seen.

Nadia and Rabbit weren't raised like other kids. With their uncle and father teaching them survival tips all their life, their crazy, off-the-grid grandfather, and their nurse mother, they have picked up a few tricks over the years. When their Uncle Bean comes to Seattle and gives them injections, they know something is about to happen. A scientist from the most secret of government labs, Bean knew BluStar was going to decimate the population. He also knew the vaccine to stop it. He left them with an injection for their mother and instructions of what to do should the pandemic begin, and the rest would have to be up to them.

After BluStar took down the world, Nadia and Rabbit followed Beans instructions. It wasn't enough to save their mother, but they managed to make it through the virus, the mass exodus, and the mass extinction. Now that the virus has run its course, they must continue as the direction tell them, to make their way from Seattle to the wilds of West Virginia where their grandfather has been building a place to survive anything in the heart of an old mine. It all sounds so simple, but with society all but gone, gangs of marauders, and people who have totally lost their minds following the end of the world as they know it, making it across the entire country seems almost impossible. Still, Nadia and Rabbit know what they must do and where they must go, and nothing can stop them. Even the supreme kindness of strangers.

I love apocalypse stories. Love them. The Stand is one of my all time favorites, and this book reminded me of the YA version of The Stand or Earth Abides (without Stephen King's mysticism, of course). The idea of being left alone int he world with so little of the population surviving is terrifying, but I can't get enough of it! So this story had a lot to live up to (and I was pleasantly surprised to read the fabulous author's note at the end of the book and learn Kizer was a huge fan of The Stand as a kid!). And A Matter of Days held its own next to those giants! It was, of course, a YA version- less ugly, gruesome, and gritty. But it was still a great story of a brother and sister left to fend for themselves. It wasn't as gritty as Mike Mullin's Ashfall, but it was still a fabulous story!

I also loved that we FINALLY have a couple of characters in an apocalypse story who know what they are talking about (and Rabbit names their found dog TEOTWAWKI, TWAWKI for short- "The End of the World As We Know It"!!). These kids didn't know everything  about survival, but Bean had left them with fabulous instructions and with books for survival. With everything their Special Ops father had taught them before he was killed in action, they had enough to make it as far as they did. I loved the fact that these kids were the product of standard preppers (not the type who get a little carried away with it). It was a fabulous twist, and one I have been waiting for throughout years of reading this genre! I mean, really, do you think there would be a zombie apocalypse in 2013 and not one single person who survived would have watched or read The Walking Dead?? So silly! A few people who know what to do are going to certainly survive, but so are some who want to prey on those unwilling or unprepared to defend themselves. And then there will be some purely decent people, and I am really glad this book had a little bit of everything- it made it a tame but realistic PA novel that I really enjoyed!

I actually read this book in one complete sitting (barring water and bathroom breaks). It was so well paced and so interesting I couldn't bring myself to put it down. I really related to all the main characters, even though they were so different from one another. Because this is a fairly tame PA story, it would be great for most junior high through high school students. The writing is fairly simple and the style is straightforward. I think this would be a fun book for a variety of readers, including those adults who love PA! So, Ms. Kizer, please give us more like this! I loved it!

Sisters vs. the Wolves

Little Red Riding Hood has to be one of the most iconic fairy tale characters we know. In Sisters Red, Jackson Pearce explores Red from a different perspective. And if you like fairy tales, you are going to want to check this one out!

Scarlett saw her grandmother devoured by a Fenris (werewolf doesn't even come close to describing the terror they bring). At such a young age, she was able to kill the wolf and save her younger sister, but not before the wolf scarred her forever and took her eye. Now, a scarred shell of the carefree girl she used to be, Scarlett throws herself into hunting with everything she has. And beyond her sister Rosie and their childhood friend Silas, hunting pretty much is the only thing happening in her life. 

Rosie knows she owes Scarlett her life, and she intends to pay that debt. Even though she dreams of things beyond hunting like a life and boys, she knows she owes everything to Scarlett and would never leave her. But when Silas returns, he is more than the boy next door to her, and she is more than little Rosie to him. When the wolves begin to congregate and multiple packs arrive in Ellison, the three realize what they are after: a Potential. A wolf can only be made through a potential, so all packs have an invested interested in finding him before the moon phase is over. Scarlett, Silas, and Rosie head to Atlanta to research and hunt in bulk, but they learn far more than they ever expected, both about the wolves, and about themselves. 

I love retold fairy tales. Cinder was one of my all time favorites. This is a really fun new imagining of Little Red Riding Hood. I didn't think it was the same caliber or complexity of Cinder, but I legitimately thought it was an exciting and fun story! I liked having the two personalities between Rosie and Scarlett, but I really loved Silas. And when Silas fell for Rosie, it was so clear that Scarlett had just a hint of jealousy, as Silas was always the only man who ever really saw her scars... and more importantly, they didn't disgust him. Scarlett's connection to Silas was never romantic, but the idea of him with Rosie hurts more than she would have expected it to. It was interesting watching her struggle with the idea of being the third wheel to the only people who mattered to her.

But that is not how Rosie and Silas see Scarlett. There is no real love triangle here, just a really special and unique relationship between three people who would all die for one another. It was a beautiful touch to this long lived fairy tale, and I wanted more! I think this would be great for any middle reader. There is a smidge of violence, but it is all behind the curtain or "fade to black" kind of violence. I also think I could see a young adult who really loved fairy tales getting into this series. I am looking forward to the next Retelling!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

And the Saints Come Marching In

When the adults abandoned the kids quarantined in McKinley High, the students were left to fend for themselves. And if you have read Lord of the Flies, you know exactly how that all ends. In Lex Thomas' Quarantine: The Saints, the kids might finally find a reason to come together instead of trying to kill each other every day.

Will and the other Loners lost most of their gang. Without his brother David to keep them together, the remaining Loners realize they can't survive without joining other gangs. Will can't imagine losing Lucy to another gang, but he can't feed her and take care of her like David could. And while neither of them will admit it, she can't get David out of her mind, even with Will standing right in front of her. Without anyone fighting with him, Will is barely surviving. In fact, he doesn't think he is going to make it when something miraculous happens: the Saints come barging in. 

Kids from a local private school break into McKinley to rescue the kids trapped there, but they didn't expect a group of parents to thwart their efforts at the very same moment. Now the newcomers are trapped inside with them, but the parents have taken over the military's efforts to keep the kids fed. Of course, they expect the kids to remain civil and take only their share of the food, but when you have been living like caged animals, all civility goes out the window. At least it did before Gates arrived with the other Saints. Gates is not the kind of leader Sam was, hoarding all the food and lording it over everyone. Gates prefers to bring the kids together by giving them all everything they have ever wanted. When he takes Will in, he elevates the previous Loner to #2 and most certainly saved his life. But there is more to Gates than meets the eye. Something darker lurks beneath the boy who saved the kids at McKinley, but no one might realize that until its too late.

OK, I thought Michael Grant's Gone series was truly dark and twisted and bloody, but this series might just take the cake. If nothing else, they are at least tied neck and neck. This is one disturbing, gory series that will leave you grossed out on more than one occasion. And the writing team, Lex Thomas, isn't afraid of getting to the seedy underbelly of such a situation, including forced prostitution, murder, and gangs. Let's just say, this series gets ugly quick. This, in my opinion, makes it the perfect series for those mature reluctant readers who just will not allow themselves to succumb to a good book. Give them the Quarantine series, and you won't be able to keep them away. It really is that tense and addictive. 

This is not a series for younger students or those who can't handle a very violent story. It is for the more "adult" range of young adults. Gates' character was probably the most disturbing in the entire story, even more so than the sadistic Sam, because he appeared to have it all together. I loved the dismantling of the Loners and how that affected everyone differently. But don't forget, this is one seriously disturbing series! If you liked Grant's Gone series, this is your next move. If you couldn't handle Gone, then this is not a series you want to start!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Thousand Words are Not Enough

We can make assumptions about the lives of today's teenagers based on our own adolescence, but truth be told, we don't have a clue. Technology and its level of instant gratification have changed the landscape of growing up, for better or for worse. In Jennifer Brown's Thousand Words, she explores the wide reaching effects of just how it easy for teens to send the most private and secret parts of themselves out into the world for all to consume.

Ashleigh is worried about her boyfriend going to college. There are girls there. Girls who are much more willing to do things with him than his juvenile, virgin girlfriend back home. Ashleigh is your typical good girl- a jock, a smart kid, and daughter of the superintendent of the school. She never does anything really wrong, but at a party, she lets loose a little. After getting a little buzzed, she spills to her friends all her fears about Kaleb going off to college, and they have a great solution. She should send him a sexy photo to keep him interested. After a little protest, Ashleigh pops up to her friends bedroom and takes the full frontal photo. She sends it off to Kaleb and forgets all about it. Until morning.

All seems well for a while. The photo did its trick and Kaleb seems to be more interested in spending time with Ashleigh than with his buddies. Then he leaves for college and everything changes. When they break up, he promises her he has already deleted the photo from her phone, but after a prank her friends played on him, he does the only thing he can think of to truly retaliate. He sends the photo to everyone he knows. Now Ashleigh is embroiled in a situation that not only affects her entire life, but the lives of every single person around her. 

It is so hard to talk to teens about this very real problem, because as you know, teens are pretty convinced they know everything. You did too, when you were a teen, so don't judge! But also remember it makes a heavy-handed "public service announcement" kind of message to be almost completely useless. Remember those after school specials? How did they work on you? Well, the same goes for the teens of today. Sure lots of things have changed for adolescents today, but some things will never change! 

So how do you write a book about a very real problem in the hopes that kids will read it, digest it, and maybe even talk about it with other kids? You make your characters very real, that's how. And I really believe Brown's characters were a good representation of guys and girls going through these very situations. I am sure there are tons of girls out there suffering the same insecurities and concerns as Ashleigh, watching their boyfriends go off to college and leave them behind. And they may even choose to do the same kinds of things Ashleigh did, from the photo to the jealousy when he is gone, to all the arguments. If you have a any teenage girl out there, your child, your student, etc., get them to read this story. If nothing else, maybe it will at least open the dialogue to just how scary it can be to expose yourself like that for the world, even if you meant it to only go to one person, a person you trust.  Because in the real world, you have to follow one simple rule I always tell my students... Do you want your grandmother or grandfather to see it? If not, then DON'T do it! 

After Doesn't Always Have Good Beginnings

What would you be doing when the world as you knew it came to an end? Most likely something simple, mundane, or every day. In Demitria Lunetta's phenomenal breakout novel, In the After, the world crashes to a halt. And everything outside wants to eat you.

Amy was watching TV and eating bagel pizzas when it happened. She was annoyed when the show she was watching was interrupted by a Presidential address, but then she realized something was seriously wrong. Luckily, her prepper mother and her greenie father created the perfect fortress around their suburban Chicago home. Complete with an electric fence powered by her father's solar panels, Amy is able to survive without Them finding a way in. Outside is a different story. With the aliens roaming the entire country just waiting for their next meal to tear apart with their claws and teeth, the sickly green skin is the last thing you have to worry about. But food runs low and outside is the only place to get it. Amy barely survives her first venture outside, but she gets better. Still, as adept as she is at sneaking in and out of her protective fence, the last thing she expects to find is a toddler. 

She considers leaving the child for fear of any sound alerting the aliens with their insanely sensitive hearing, but she just can't bring herself to be alone anymore. And it quickly becomes clear that the child knows to be silent. Once home, Baby and Amy develop a bond that could not be any closer even if they were full-blooded sisters. Complete with their own version of sign language to communicate without sending aliens crashing into their fence, they develop a semi-normal life together. As normal as you can be in a world surrounded by savage, flesh-eating aliens. But then it all changes. Forced to escape their stronghold, Baby and Amy are on the run, and when they are captured by a spaceship, the last thing they expect is to be rescued. Once they arrive at New Hope, the compound that considers itself the cradle for a new chance at civilization, Amy realizes there may be as many monsters inside New Hope as there were outside. Only these monsters don't look like aliens. 

Holy crap, Batman! I picked up this book last night and was so enthralled by this story, I couldn't put it down until I fell asleep on it (drooling probably). This book just instantly grabbed me with fangs and claws and wouldn't let me go! I am serious. I read a LOT of YA and a whole lot of PA, but this book? Scared the crap right out of me! Those aliens were some terrifying kind of zombie/extra-terrestrial mix that is quite possibly the only thing that could scare me more than your typical, run-of-the-mill zombies. I mean, these things are green for goodness sake! There is a whole twisted backstory involving the aliens that will leave you gaping in shock and awe, but I don't want to give away too much- you deserve to have the same crazy experience of finding it all out on your own!

I really liked Amy, too. She was your typical bratty know-it-all (self-professed) who just happens to survive. She shouldn't have, but her fortres of a home kept her safe. I love her transformation that makes her a survivor BUT doesn't completely change her! It was fabulous! When she arrived at New Hope, she knew there was something fishy about the place, and she had no intention of sitting idly by as the director led a whole different behind-the-scenes kind of compound kept top-secret from the rest of the people living their in ignorant bliss... even if that meant risking her own life. Amy was awesome. She was tender, motherly, and yet she was a butt-kickin' lady who at the tender age of sixteen had no qualms about standing up against or exposing the wrongs in this false utopia. I loved it! 

And who should read this? Oh boy. I could give this to any student who needs a gripping story to keep them interested (just not the scaredy cats. Think green, fang-filled nightmares and monsters under the bed). Give this story to any boy who struggles to find an interesting book, and I promise you, a reader this story will make! In fact, it was such a great, crazy fright train of a story that I already emailed the mother of one of my students to give her the title as one of his summer reading books. Seriously. Adults who like horror stories and apocalyptic stories will love this book. Young adults will love this book. Everyone who picks it up will love this book! So what are you waiting for? It's time for you to find yourself In the After

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Beneath a Meth Moon

Crystal meth has become a scourge upon our young people. But do you really understand why? I can't say I do, but in Jacqueline Woodson's heartbreaking tale, Beneath a Meth Moon, I feel like I witnessed the devastation first-hand. 

Laurel's mama packed her and her baby brother up to go with their father north, away from the hurricane, away from the water. She said it would only be a few days and that she couldn't leave Laurel's grandmother M'Lady behind, but she lied. It was forever. As they turned and drove away, they never thought that would be the last time she would see or speak to her mother. But the water came. And the water couldn't be stopped. And the water took everything away.

At first they lived with Laurel's aunt, but in search of more work, they headed to a new town with new people and new opportunities. Laurel meets Kaylee and starts cheering. Everything finally seems like it might be a life worth living again. Until Laurel meets T-Boom, the co-captain of the team. It is T-Boom who introduces Laurel to the moon. And once she starts the moon, it isn't so easy to stop. Especially when it takes away all the memories, all the pain, and all the emotions. 

This is a short, quick story, but it is devastating, both in the poetic beauty with which it is written, and the haunting devastation of the content. You see this innocent 15 year old girl who lost her mother and her grandmother, and even having a loving father and a little brother who needs her can't make her stop using. She knows it is killing her, she sees herself in the store windows, but when the itch starts, all she can think about is the moon (meth). 

I have read a number of addiction YA stories in the past, but there is something so melodic and poetic about the way this story was written that it makes you almost feel guilty in finding beauty in a story of such devastation. That conflict of emotions may be what made me like this story so much. It is written in simple language with large type and is a fast story, so this would be a very good story for an older student who struggles with reading. They won't be bogged down by the heavy content because the writing style is so smooth and easy to read. This story makes me want to explore more from Woodson. I am very impressed by my first story from her!

Even a Goddess Can't Escape Troy

No one is more petulant and used to getting their way than the Greek Gods. When a prophecy tells of a group of Scions or demigods overthrowing the gods, they can't stand to let that happen. But all Helen wants is to protect the ones she loves. In the stunning conclusion to Josephine Angelini's Starcrossed series, Goddess, the gods finally get a taste of their own medicine.

While the four houses of Scions have always remained divided and bitter, but their battle to find Atlantis and become immortal has reached new levels of violence. The prophecy of the Tyrant who will be their undoing has got everyone scared, even the gods. But Helen, Lucan, Orion and the other Scions know the house division is not something they can stand by and let happen anymore. They must come together in order to keep from repeating the same story over and over again. 

The Fates have recycled the story of Helen of Troy since it first began with the intention of changing the ending. When that doesn't happen, the story begins again in new Scions, hoping they will finally be the ones to overthrow their parents, the Greek Gods. Helen and the others are the next in line for those roles, but they refuse to let the cycle continue and let the gods win again. Instead, their teamwork and refusal to bow down to history might be the one thing that can change it. As the first Scions to bring all four houses together, they finally have a chance, but fighting a battle with the gods means great stakes and great consequences if they lose. They aren't willing to risk each other or their loved ones, but in a battle this great, that seems to be the only solution.

I have to say, this was a really fabulous series. And one of the most amazing character transformations had to be Helen. I always liked her, but the Helen by the end of the trilogy was so strong and powerful, yet not corrupted by her awe inspiring power. As the Scion who seemed to be more powerful than even she understood, it would have been all too easy to fall corrupt, but she never lost sight of those who mattered- her family and friends. And there is nothing more important to Helen than protecting innocent mortals who don't deserve to die as casualties of an ancient war they know nothing about. She was a fabulous leading lady, and I really enjoyed reading about her journey. 

This final book is very, very myth heavy. It delves heavily into historical and mythological stories, such as those of Helen of Troy all the way to Lancelot and Guinevere. Personally, I loved the historical flashbacks Helen experienced as she dreamt, but I can see where they might bog the story down for an unfamiliar reader. Still, they made the plot development so much more than just the story of a couple of kids in Nantucket. Instead, it became this large, almost mythological experience all on its own. I am sad to see the end of this great series, but I loved living through it over the past couple of years. I hope Angelini is writing furiously as we speak with an equally amazing new series, because I need something of hers to look forward to!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Odd and Unique

What is it that makes us unique? The size of our brain? Metacognition? The ability to reason, sympathize, and empathize? In Bernard Beckett's tiny novella, Genesis, he takes a unique approach to exam the heart of that very question. What is it that makes humans so special?

Anax is giving her presentation to the Academy for approval. She has studied, memorized, researched, and she believes she has developed an amazing presentation for the Examiners. While many people tell the story of Adam Ford, her new approach to the topic is what she thinks will gain her acceptance into the Academy. As the catalyst from a tightly controlled island fortress community to what the world has become now, Adam was the one man who changed the world. Arrested for defying orders, but unable to execute him as he became a public sensation and his death would create outrage, Adam was sent to live forever with the professor and his new AI robot, Art. It is this relationship that paved the way for the world Anax lives in, and she can't help but feel a connection to it. 

I still don't know what to really say about this story! Honestly, I really didn't like the story for most of its measly 150 pages, but in the last 5 pages, I felt like I was hit by a freight train! The premise of this little novella is entirely unique. There is no action, no real plot, just the delivery of some type of thesis. This was troubling for me because it meant I never truly connected with or engaged with any characters from the story. I got to know as much about Anax as I did the completely nameless Examiner. She was not even mysterious, just more like a flat secondary character. So you would think Adam was the focus of the story, then, right? You are correct, but, you only see snippits of his life. You don't see anything that will really allow you to connect with Adam on a personal level, either for good or bad. Instead he is just a test subject. Something to be examined and studied. This disjointed account of his life was certainly interesting, but it did not give me the connections I so craved.

Then the last five pages hit. And I can't stop thinking about them! It was delivered so calmly. So carefully, and then BAM. A shot right to the gut. Honestly, this ending made me hold this story in an entirely new light. I can't say I loved it. But I can't stop thinking about it. And the deep implications of this story about humanity, about our willingness to kill and yet our inability to kill, artificial intelligence,  and how technology controls our lives. All of this has been swirling in my brain more with this tiny little novella than I ever had when I took a Science Fiction class in college or throughout all my SF reading since then. Beckett actually thumped me more than all the heavyweights like Asimov and Heinlein. So did I like the story? Nah. It was OK. Not something I would read again for pleasure. Do I think this story deserves a place on my shelf and possibly in my classroom? TOTALLY. It was deep and complex with the guise of pure simplicity. It is something that would be excellent to teach in a Literature classroom, and I think that is where it would be best enjoyed. I have a few books that I know I loved because I learned/read them in a classroom setting. It was the guidance of the professor or teacher and the discussions with my classmates that allowed me to fully understand the story. I think this is one of those stories. It might not be great for a summer reading or independent reading project, but to read it in class? Kids are going to feel like I do right now. Bulldozed. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

He Has Risen

Department 19 has done everything it can to keep supernatural beings under control, but nothing could stop one of the three most powerful vampires alive, and the most insane vampire ever, from bringing Dracula back. In Department 19: The Rising, Will Hill explains just how terrifying of a notion that really is.

Having barely survived Lindisfarne, the battle of Jamie's lifetime, the group is trying to regroup at the Loop, but it is difficult to come down from a battle such as that. Jamie managed to kill Alexandru, one of the oldest and certainly the craziest vampires on the face of the planet. But something bigger was happening behind the scenes. Alexandru's brother Valeri was bringing back his master, Dracula, the first and most powerful vampire the world has ever seen. This was a slow deliberate process, and it would take months to get Dracula to his full power, but once he was fully restored, he would be essentially unstoppable. Zero Hour. Now Blacklight must stop Dracula from fully recovering from his century of ashed dormancy. 

But that isn't so easy. Personally, Jamie is struggling with his own grief and confusion. His mom was turned into a vampire (and is being held in the Loop), his girlfriend is a "vegetarian" vampire working for Blacklight, and his best friend is dating a different guy, throwing him for a loop. Not to mention, Frankenstein sacrificed himself to save Jamie, a guilt Jamie still cannot put behind him. However, he must put his personal struggles behind him as the vampires of the world are starting to act out with the knowledge that Dracula rises. All the operatives must remember their number one priority right now- making sure Dracula does not fully rise and end life as they know it. 

I love Will Hill's books for a number of reasons, but the primary reason is how he can have a huge book with only two or three major action scenes, but the whole book is so fascinating you never hit a slow part! I don't know how that is possible, but he does it. The characters are so dynamic and the exposition is intriguing. I also absolutely love how he throws historical and mythological figures in the story with new and surprising twists (hello Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway!). I always hope those fun references would convince a kid to check them out and discover a whole new literary world out there. 

This second book was just as strong as the first. You had a lot more of the emotional angle for both Jamie and the rest of the teens involved in Blacklight. I also really enjoyed the extended history that brought more and more levels to the story. This story reaches back centuries and still remains present and relevant in modern times. It was a great way to build the world around the story. And what a world this is! Sometimes the story really feels like an action-packed summer blockbuster, and then other times it becomes a true examination of morals and how far you can truly go in the name of protecting society. 

Even though this is a huge story, it reads like it was 20 pages. If you can get a kid over the intimidation factor of the sheer size of this book, you will find they (or you) will be hooked instantly. This would be a great boy book for a teenaged boy who is interested in supernatural stories, but not so much in twinkly vampires (and not quite ready for the terrifying vampires in Del Toro's The Strain). I absolutely enjoy this series from first page to last page. I can't get enough of them (which is fabulous because there is a LOT of them!). So now I wait for the third book! And it is going to be an impatient wait, because this was a wild ride. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Anything but Dead and Gone

Before Benny and the others finally left to fend for themselves in the Rot and Ruin, there were bad things happening that didn't even involve zombies. Unbeknownst to them, bad, bad people had survived and even thrived in a world where the dead rose to eat the living. In Dead and Gone, a story Jonathan Maberry wrote to precede Flesh and Bone, the third book in the series, we get to see just how our new character, Riot, came to find the group. 

The Night Church is the epitome of terror, established by a serial killer who anoints his followers as Reapers, meant to quiet the living and bring them back as the walking dead. But the daughter of his second in command doesn't want to live the life of a Reaper anymore.  She manages to get away, but Sister Margaret is too valuable for the Night Church to let her go. Now she is on the run, fighting through the gray people to escape the Reapers, but they forgot one thing. She isn't Sister Margaret anymore. She is Riot, and Riot is in control of her own life. 

First of all, if you have read anything by Jonathan Maberry, you know what a fabulous writer he is. Whether his adult or young adult stories, they are equally as enthralling and exciting, so it is no surprise this simple, short little story would be jut as fabulous. Riot is a butt-kicken girl and the people she encounters out in the Rot and Ruin are just as awesome. If you have read the Rot and Ruin series, pick this up, but even if you haven't, maybe reading this short story will convince you to read more!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Just Like You

"I swear to you fat is not an emotion. I wish you could hear that... it'd spare you lots of self abuse."

Typically, Young Adult authors are adults. Sure, they have lived through high school and their awkward teenage years, but they aren't currently entrenched in them. Perhaps they have glorified those times, or maybe they view them like being the lone survivor of a zombie plague- all alone and waiting to be devoured by the beasts surrounding you. Either way, they aren't part of the target audience for whom they write their books. So can they make the young adults they write for believe they lived through the same situations? Yep. With one book. In Dear Teen Me, a collection of letters from the authors to their teen selves, you will get a glimpse of just how much they can connect to the teens they write for.

"You know there is no way in hell a guy like him would ever kiss a girl like you, you think."

There are moms who left. Left behind was a girl who had to raise her younger siblings and needed her grandmother to buy her first bra for her. Dads who left an never called, creating an almost obsessive need for attention of any kind. There was a dad who suffered from mental illness in a way that devastated her childhood. And there were great parents who loved, comforted, angered, yelled, supported and loved some more.

"Here's the thing: You're a freak. Always were. Always will be. One day you'll love this about yourself. But right now you hate it."

There are band geeks, theater dropouts, book nerds, smart kids, dancers, jocks, chubby kids, and so much more. Some had a defining moment like when Big Bern (scary Sister Bernard Agnes) recognized you were a fish out of water and suggested you spend some time in the library, the exact spot where you finally fit in. Some just floated through, realizing only now that they missed an amazing opportunity. But they all have something in common. They had no idea who the hell they really were and who the hell they were going to be one day. And that was OK. Because eventually, they would know. 

"The goose egg on your forehead will heal, but the loose thread in your moral fiber is probably still there to this day."

There were bullies. Some were expected, and some were unexpected. Those were inexplicably sadder. Sometimes the bullied became the bully just to turn the tide a little bit. There were cruel taunts and jabs that will stay with you forever. But there were friends. A girl who let you know it is OK to stop worrying about homework and tests and just be free. Friends who want to play Dungeons and Dragons or belong to the breakdancing group right along with your rhythm-less self. And did you know Lauren Oliver and Elizabeth Miles were friends in school?! How awesome and crazy is that?!

"Keep dancing by the highway, you splendid little dork."

There are first crushes, first kisses, and attempts to lose your virginity. There are milestones and drudgery, but it is all that time you need to spend finding yourself, losing yourself, and finding yourself again. This is all the advice you wish someone had told you when you were a teenager, but then you stop and realize even if they had told you, you would have ignored them and made those same mistakes again. This book should not only be read by students from middle school through their young adult years, but also adults as well. Parents, teachers, and just the woman debating whether or not to go to her high school reunion because she was once an awkward young girl who dreaded every day of high school. I loved this collection. Loved it. And there is nothing you will ove more than watching someone realize those very authors you look up to were struggling through the same horror show you went through during adolescence. (And not Rocky Horror Picture Show, kind of horror either. There was no bustier and singing. This was more like Jason and hockey mask). 

"PLEASE stop pretending you don't know the answers in math class! It's okay to be smarter than they boys. Really. They'll get over it."

Thursday, July 4, 2013

No Glitch in the System

We have seen Cinder's life, full of prejudice against a cyborg, an unloving stepmother, and a plague ravaging her world. But how did Cinder come to live with her stepmother and stepsisters? In Glitches, a short prequel story to Cinder, Marissa Meyer tells the tale of Cinder's arrival.

When Garan is entrusted with Cinder's welfare, he takes his job seriously, bringing her into his family as his daughter. She doesn't know how to feel about the man she can call dad, but she does feel grateful. When they arrive, however, not everyone is happy to see her. Peony welcomes Cinder, but Adri and Pearl are unimpressed by the cyborg they must now call "family". But as long as Garan is there, he will hold the family together...

These short stories publishers are pushing out in between the releases of series installments fall into three distinct categories: necessary for plot advancement and should be put in the next book, unnecessary for plot advancement but enjoyable and helps you appreciate the series, and completely useless and wasted your $.99. I will pay my measly buck for the first two, but the latter ticks me off. Luckily, this little short (which is available on for free) falls into the second category. We already knew the dynamic between Cinder and her sisters and stepmother, but it was still interesting to watch it unfold in this short tale. It makes you love Garan more, and sympathize with Cinder, and love Peony and hate Adri, but then again, you already felt those emotions in Cinder. So, if you love the series, don't hesitate to check this freebie out. It will hold you over until the next book is over!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Deadly But Not Silent

A peaceful death is something we all take for granted, but if you can see a death echo, a body's connection to the person or creature that ended its life prematurely, you know all too well how many deaths are far from peaceful. In Kimberly Derting's Dead Silence, Violet's life has taken a very violent turn.

It was bad enough that Violet lived her life stumbling upon dead bodies, animal and otherwise, but when she was taken by a serial killer, her last resort was to kill him, leaving her with her own death echo connecting her to his life which she took. She can't help but think it was all connected to the team, and that without them, she never would have had to kill a man in self-defense. As she learns to cope with her new life, she stumbles upon the journals of her grandmother, the woman from whom her gift of sensing the echoes came from. It is in these journals that Violet begins to uncover the truth of her team and the people pulling their strings- a dangerous truth.

Meanwhile, she is drawn into another series of imprints that lead her to a family brutally slaughtered in their home. Unable to ignore the imprints, she finds the bodies and must rely on her team for help. It is through this case, one that involves a missing teenaged girl, Violet's childhood friend as the primary suspect, and more murders piling up, that Violet begins to look carefully at her own life and her own gift. But more than anything, Violet wants to keep those she loves safe, and when you can't stop finding murderers, it is hard to feel safe anywhere you go. 

I was really surprised in the last book when Violet's involvement with the team took a turn for the worst. I actually really liked the idea of the team, so it was hard to think of it as a bad thing, but in this installment, we get to see a lot of the politics and history behind it, making the team a fascinating, morally ambiguous group that you can't get enough of. While I think four books would have been tough without the team, its presence gives a whole new dimension to Violet and her ability. And what a terrifying ability to have! I am glad Derting has added this level of sophistication to the story, as it has certainly held my interest and then some! In fact, although I am fairly certain this is the final book in the series, I would love if she would just keep going with it! There is so much more to be done with the team and Violet's personal life (Oh, I love Jay). 

This is a good series for many readers. It is interesting, mature at times, and the series doesn't ever dull. I would give this series to a number of different kinds of students, in particular older readers interested in true crime or mild supernatural stories. Derting creates realistic, skeptical characters who aren't afraid to question authority, a quality I whole-heartedly appreciate! So, please, Ms. Derting, Give. Us. MORE!