Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ghost Hunters Meets Supernatural

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Say Goodbye to the Gallagher Girls

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An Inhuman Journey

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

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

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

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

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

Ride the Wave of the Living

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Heir and A Warrior in One

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Chaos Isn't In the Stars

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

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

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

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

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