Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sheer Shadows and Mischievous Mystery

A typical graphic novel is told in pictures and in words, but what if the story was actually two stories: one through words and one through images? Brian Selznick did it with surprising grace, and now Kiersten White and Jim DiBartolo have done it with In The Shadows, and the result is pretty awesome. 

Cora and Minnie's mother runs a boarding house where they all live together. Minnie has an insatiable desire for adventure (bordering on the side of reckless), while Cora prefers to play it safe, except when Minnie calls her out on her stuffiness and she has to live up to her little sister's expectations. But after Minnie convinced Cora to climb a tree and peer into the witch's window and she got caught, she has never been the same. Her father died the very next day, and Cora knows it was a curse the witch put on her. Arthur was brought to live with them over a year ago after his father disappeared, but the girls suspect there is more to the reason Arthur is with their family. When Charles and Thomas arrive for the summer, the group bands together, all for different reasons, but all for the hope of some fun (at Minnie's direction). Especially when Charles' illness and imminent death is a weight holding Thom down. 

When they visit the witch's house all together this time, Cora is more than just a little nervous. In fact, she is terrified, but the others convince her it will be fine. When they see the witch, Mary, they aren't prepare for what they witness- she hangs herself right in front of them. When they report it, however, something scary happens- her body isn't there anymore. When they see her again in town, she is with the scary man from the boarding house... and a woman Thom is convinced he heard speaking to his father right before he was sent to the boarding house. Something very mysterious is happening in this sleepy little tourist town, and Minnie and the others are going to get to the bottom of, regardless of the risks.

Half this story is the one I have just described. It is written in short chapters like any other typical story. The other half of the story is written in illustrations and follows an entirely different set of characters. I haven't described the illustrated story because it isn't easy to describe it without giving away too many important details needed for the end of the story when everything comes together. But they do, and when they do, it is pretty gosh darned awesome. My biggest issue with this book throughout the entire story was that I had absolutely no idea what was happening in the illustrated story- until the very very end. Now, in hindsight, I can see it was designed that way and that is what made it such a cool story, so I should have just had faith in the authors. 

Another thing I struggled with was the ages of the kids. One moment they struck me as definite middle schoolers. Precocious, adventurous, and usually reckless abandonment regarding concern for consequences. But then the next moment they felt a little older, like young adults. It made them difficult to understand completely. While Minnie was the fun, impish, mischievous one, Cora and Arthur were the ones I really liked. Unfortunately, the story is really brief, so you don't get to spend a lot of time getting to know any of the characters very well. The important thing to know, though, is that this is one serious mystery! It was really a nail biter right to the end, and I did not see it coming. I really liked this story, and I hope White and DiBartolo give this format another shot!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Elite and Ticked Off

We all carry our scars around, and they affect every decision we make, but what if every scar was on the outside? In Marie Lu's The Young Elites, the malfettos suffer the shame and ridicule and persecution of their entire society thanks to a plague that scarred them but didn't take them. But society isn't ready for those who survived and have become The Young Elites. 

The plague ravaged the world, killing the adults it touched. Many children survived, however, they were left far from unscathed. Many were deeply scarred. They are now called malfettos, the abominations. To make matters worse, some malfettos have developed abilities that rival the supernatural. While Adelina's father was appalled to have a daughter who was a malfetto, he at least would have preferred her if she developed powers and was of any use to him. Instead, she was completely useless and a shame to their entire family on top of that. When she runs away after he sells her as a mistress to a local business man, they are both surprised to discover that she is indeed talented, even though her talent wasn't one that could help him...

Scheduled to be executed by the Inquisition, Adelina isn't going to fight her fate, but when the Young Elite rescue her, she finds out dark secrets she never thought could be true. Enzo, the leader of the Dagger Society (Young Elites) is the malfetto prince the royals said had perished. Now he wanted the throne back from his greedy, cold sister and her malfetto lead Inquisitor. To be part of the Dagger Society, Adelina must prove her worth, but her powers are dark and mysterious. She feels a connection to most of the Elites, but even they are unsure how her powers will play out. As she advances, so does the war on malfettos. Children and harmless women are dragged into the street and executed, but the Daggers have to pick their perfect moment to attack. If they don't, they could lose everything. 

While I really loved Lu's first series, Legend, it had some moments that ran a little slow. After reading the first book in this series, it is clear Lu has gained a little experience under her belt and chose to pick up the pace, because this was one heck of a book! This historical fantasy goes above and beyond to hold a readers attention, and Adelina is the ultimate of anti-hero. She doesn't fully understand her power, but she does know she likes the strength it gives her over others. She isn't a bad person by any means, but after years of torture at the hands of her father, she definitely has a well-deserved dark side. But she is also kind and caring. She loves her sister unconditionally and will go to great lengths to save her, even test her own limits of right and wrong. And her relationships with the different Elites are so different and unique, you see layer and layer of depth within Adelina's character with each page you turn. 

The story itself is also unique while still being familiar. Super powers in young adults? Not terribly original. The way Lu does it? Pretty freakin' great! My only concern was the lack of real world building, which was a problem in her last series as well. If a world is developed on the page in the same level of detail as in the writer's head, I should be able to picture what each scene looks like, but with Lu's books, I often find myself surprised by a piece of the setting because it doesn't fit with other details I have gleaned. That means there are definite gaps in what she is giving us. It is a fine line between too much and too little world-building, and that is one thing Lu should work on for the sequel to Young Elites. Everything else she has in spades!

Until it Gets Its Talons in You

Adolescence should be a time for freedom, rebellion, and learning about who you are, but if you are part of Talon, your life is never yours. In the first book of Julie Kagawa's new series, Talon, a unique young woman fights rules and restrictions like every young teen, except she is the furthest from a normal teenager as one could be. 

Ember Hill is unique. She has a brother. It is very rare for a dragon to have a sibling hatched alongside them. Dante is her best friend, but not only because they have been hidden away by a secret dragon society for most of their hatchling years. She trusts Dante completely. Now she and Dante are being moved to California to learn to assimilate with the humans so they can eventually live among them without detection once they are trained for their careers in Talon. Talon understands that if humans knew about the dragons, they would hunt them to extinction, so they protect their hatchlings and their way of life. Although they haven't been able to keep their existence a secret from everyone. An equally secret order of humans called St. George lives and dies by hunting dragons. They know they have to do away with female dragons and hatchlings to keep the next generation from taking over the world. All this is important to Ember, obviously, but what she really wants is one summer of freedom and "normalcy" for a girl her age at the beach. Unfortunately, her summer, like her life, is anything but normal. 

Ember and Dante's human guardians have strict rules, but it doesn't mean they aren't allowed to have some fun. Ember loves her freedom as much as she loves the beach and surfing. Since she isn't allowed to fly under any circumstances while she is off Talon controlled property, surfing is the closest she can come to that feeling of exhilaration. When she meets a boy named Garrett, she can't help but be drawn to him, even if her inner dragon is screaming at her to run away. But Garrett has a secret, too. As an elite member of St. George, he has been sent to California to find the new hatchling their sources say has been infiltrating the town. He suspects Ember, but he has always known dragons don't have siblings. That, among other St. George facts, might be completely wrong. For Ember, everything she knew about Talon might be wrong as well. This is a story about two young adults who come from opposite ends of an ancient war who really know nothing about the sides they have been born into fighting for. 

I really love Julie Kagawa's books. I still haven't read her lengthy Fae series, but her vampire series was a breath of fresh air in a genre that is stuffed with "same ole, same ole." Now she takes a dragon story and makes it fresh, new, and exciting! I loved how Ember was going through the same kinds of struggles as any teenager: boys, friends, parties, feeling stifled by rules and restrictions, etc., yet she was as different as different can be. It made her relatable yet completely interesting, and I absolutely loved it. She was even stubborn and petulant at times, just like every teen we know and love. I also loved Garrett for the same reasons. The only character who was really flat for me was Dante. I just couldn't get over how unwilling he was to even consider there might be other answers out there that contradict what Talon always told him. He was naive and unimaginative, and therefore, I found Ember's devotion to him difficult to tolerate. 

The story itself never had a dull moment, and you will find yourself questioning everything right alongside Ember. She is inquisitive and skeptical, and I think a lot of teens will really relate to her, even if she is a mythical flying reptile! Kagawa has done it again with this story, giving readers an exciting and thrilling story that when it ends, you will find yourself screaming, "NOOOO!" because you just want MORE! Loved it!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Happily Ever After with Bumps Along the Way

The story of the School of America in Paris continues with two new characters who are intertwined with the lovable characters you never wanted to give up in the previous two books. In Isla and the Happily Ever After, Stephanie Perkins does what she does best: she gets you to love two human and lovably flawed characters you can't live without even after the last page is turned. 

Isla has always had a crush on Josh her entire time in Paris. Unfortunately, he has never noticed her. Or so she thought. After a chance encounter, it appears she may have misjudged Josh all along. And he has definitely misjudged her relationship with her best friend Kurt. With all the information set straight, Isla and Josh start spending more and more time together, and their connection is undeniable to everyone around them, even friends like Kurt who begin to feel like the third wheel in a whirlwind romance. 

Like most real adolescent romances, not the kind in books, Isla and Josh's future is uncertain and paved with bumps and bruises. Isla is used to life with Kurt, her socially awkward but devoted best friend who can spend the night in her room and not set off any red flags. She is used to always being herself and having Kurt, who has Asperger's, tell her the truth even when she doesn't want it. But a relationship is different. Especially when she already has one very important person in her life. And Josh's life is no easier. The son of a politician engaged in a fierce campaign, his antics have landed him on his final warning at the school, and expulsion would most certainly embarrass his family in ways only the son of a politician could understand. But Josh is daring. And he can't resist showing sheltered Isla a little taste of the world, even if the consequences could tear them apart. 

This is a romance story for the realist in you. Don't expect a perfect story all wrapped up in a bow, but then again, if you like real characters who could be your own friends and family in all their flawed glory, this is the right romance for you! Stephanie Perkins has been as special to me as Sarah Dessen for a long time, and I waited what felt like an eternity for this book, and I wasn't disappointed, but I was definitely surprised by it! Perkins' realism is standard, but this relationship felt so real for two teenagers, I was actually surprised! While some might be turned off by this approach, I also think there are enough teenagers out there who are interested in seeing their own bumbling, awkward, passionate, life-or-death feelings aren't abnormal. Do you remember what it meant to be a teenager in love? I was strange, exhilarating, awkward, and fabulous all in one breath. And that is why I loved Isla so much. It was like being transported to that place all over again (without having to be the actual punching bag for emotions and hormones we all were! So much more fun from afar!).

There was this one part where Josh sends Isla his comic book memoir, and it truly chronicles everything in his life- even the girls before Isla. It is so honest and vulnerable, yet the unforeseen consequence was that it was more than Isla really wanted to know. Just the idea that Josh would bare his soul to her and not see how hurtful it could be to an insecure young woman was so real, it was palpable. This is just one small example of why this book was such a great story for all those young adults in your life. It may look like a cushy romance on the outside, but once you get into the thick of it, you realize just how special the story is. Perkins hits another one out of the park!

Dust, Decay, and Devotion

In the world after an apocalypse, life will revert back centuries. A day will revolve around the sun, work will be for survival, and modern medicine, like vaccines, will be a forgotten luxury. In Mindy McGinnis's sequel to Not a Drop to Drink, she takes the apocalypse one step further in the fight for survival. In a Handful of Dust doesn't stop at simple survival, like finding food and water. It takes these characters through something far scarier. 

Lynn used to shoot anyone who dared to walk near her pond, the only healthy water source nearby, and a guarantee for survival, at least in a world where water is difficult to come by. Now she has a whole civilization around her pond and even adopted Lucy, a girl whose family was lost to the apocalypse in the worst kinds of ways. They have a fairly decent life, given the circumstances, until people start to get sick. When a polio outbreak threatens the community, and Lucy is targeted as a possible carrier, Lynn has no choice but to go with the young girl when the community insists she leave to protect them from the illness. 

With no real knowledge of the world outside her property, but still a stubborn determination to survive, Lynn decides to head to California to see if there is a place unspoiled by the water shortage. As they pick their way across the country, they encounter all manner of people. Some mean well but are clearly suffering and struggling to survive. Others are capitalizing on the circumstances and thriving in the wake of such devastation. Regardless of the obstacle in their path, Lynn refuses to give up. She and Lucy will get to California, even if it kills them. And it just might.

I really loved the first book in this series, and this second book was just as great of a read with the exception of one huge, glaring flaw- its entire premise. Lynn isn't just a stubborn survivor. She is a smart, logical woman who understands how to survive and how to weigh the pros and cons of every decision. We saw her be ruthless when she needed to, and we saw her compromise when it was the best decision. But one thing was for sure. Lynn did not take kindly to the unknown and her home was her home. So why on earth would it be so easy to displace her from her own darned property?! I understand McGinnis wanted the story to be about the journey, but the part where Lucy and Lynn are pushed out is so rushed, it doesn't do justice to Lynn's character. There is no way Lynn would leave her own property and her pond without any kind of a fight, but that was exactly what she did. It felt too much like a quick plot device than an actual development in the character, especially when you see how she is on the road- same old Lynn. Logical, sometimes ruthless survivor. 

That annoying flaw in the story aside, this was a very interesting book. The characters they met on the road were realistic and interesting. They were varied and different, and some were downright terrifying. I also loved the differences between Lucy and Lynn. When Lynn can be cold and pragmatic at times, Lucy is kind and trusting. The dichotomy between the two was the perfect duo to cross the country in such dire times, giving the reader two different perspectives on the world. It was a good sequel, albeit not a perfect sequel, and it would still leave me interested in whatever McGinnis chooses to write about next!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Rise from the Ruin

Leigh Bardugo hit the fantasy genre with a mallet with her first book in the Grisha series, Shadow and Bone. The series never lost its momentum, and with this final book, Ruin and Rising, it ends with power and force and a conclusion that befits such a phenomenal series. 

The Darkling has won. Alina has two of the three amplifiers which make the Sun Summoner a Grisha like no other, but with the uncertainty and instability of the world at large, she is being hidden away underground where her ability has no hope of doing any good against the Darkling's forces. She can use the sun's force to fight his shadows and monsters, but not while she is trapped underground. It might keep her alive, but Alina is no longer satisfied with just remaining alive. She wants to get the world back from the Darkling and end the darkness he created forever. Especially when she is being kept underground by the power-hungry Apparat who likes having the Sun Summoner under his thumb. 

When Alina, Mal, and their loyal Grisha friends break free, the hunt for the final amplifier, the Firebird, proves to be more difficult than they ever could have imagined. With secrets behind the Darkling and his creation revealed, there is more to this hunt than Alina expected. She wants to save the world from the Fold and the darkness inside it, but what is she willing to sacrifice in order to do it? The conclusion will answer that question in a way you never saw coming...

I have loved this series from the first book, and it never once let me down. This is high fantasy in its ultimate incarnation, and you won't regret taking the time to read the Grisha trilogy. There are twists and turns and bumps and bruises along the way, but by the time you get to the end you will be so excited with the conclusion and so simultaneously sad to see the series end, you will want to reread it immediately. It might be expected to some, but I was whole-heartedly taken aback by the twist at the end, and I hope you will be too.

Alina is truly amazing in this series, but Mal is the true character you won't want to give up with the last page. There is something so loyal and amazing within him, even though we all struggled with him in the second book at times. You feel he is really human, not just a flat character on a page. Sometimes you love him and sometimes you are really angry with him. Even though I imagine many people struggled with Mal's character, it was that humanity that made me love him more. 

I loved this series so much, and I just can't wait to see what Bardugo does next. Can. Not. Wait!

Monday, December 22, 2014

It is the End... Or Is It?

Some things are never as they seem, and After the End, by Amy Plum is no exception. A story within a story that leads to another story, this is one post-apocalyptic tale you haven't heard before... because nothing is as it seems. 

Juneau was raised to be the next Sage for her community. Using the earth and its energy, the Sage can communicate in a way completely foreign to the humans of the past. Then again, much of the post-apocalyptic landscape after devastating World War III would be foreign to the humans of the past. Juneau's parents, among others, escaped the war-torn wasteland to hide and survive in an isolated area of Alaska. They live off the land and with the land. But when Juneau's entire community disappears while she is on a hunt, along with the sighting of a helicopter- a piece of technology that should be long gone with another way of life, she knows she must find them. 

Meanwhile, there are a lot of people looking for Juneau. When she makes her way back into the United States, she doesn't find what she expected. Life is carrying on normally. In fact, it appears there never was a war. Determined to find her parents, cynical, skeptical Juneau picks her way through the country looking for her people. When she comes across Miles, she has no use for the disrespectful boy, but he has a reason to go along with her- he wants to help capture her and curry his father's favor. While Juneau doesn't trust him, she also isn't aware of the depth of his deceit. The only thing she cares about are her people. 

I was totally surprised by this book! I expected your typical post-apocalyptic story (clearly didn't read the description too carefully before starting it) and I was pleasantly surprised by the depth and differences of the story. I even really liked Juneau- a girl completely out of her element in the modern world after growing up surviving in the Alaskan wilderness. It was refreshing and even comical at times to see her trying to make her way with so little knowledge of survival in a world of technology.

My one confusion was Miles. There are these moments when Juneau really feels drawn to him, and I just don't get. Usually I like the wise-guy with a heart of gold character, but Miles didn't have that redemption for me. Instead he seemed like a pompous, self-serving little twit most of the time and his few moments of unboorishness were so few and far between they left me undeterred in my original opinion of him. Overall, I liked this story and there were a lot of unanswered questions that I look forward to exploring in the sequel. I just hope Miles stops being such a darned twerp!

Idols not be Idolized

We take our freedom and role in the world for granted, but what would you do if humans were no longer the controlling species on earth anymore? One of my biggest fears developed, Icons is the story of an alien invasion and the world that develops around their arrival. 

Dol survived the day. The day the Icons came to Earth, they destroyed land and lives in their efforts to swiftly and violently take over the planet. They succeeded. Now, Dol, Ro and the other survivors hide in the lands beyond the grasp of the Lords who provide the Icons with manpower for the work to be done. While being a Lord is certainly an easier life it also means selling your own kind to a life from which they never return. Dol has always been intrigued by electronics and other mysteries from the time before the Icons, but she never thought there was more to her life than hiding. 

When Dol and Ro are taken, they are brought to the Embassy Headquarters. It is there that Dol realizes just how different she and Ro really are. Meeting Lucas and Tima leads to one very clear conclusion- they are all unusual and special in a way that humanity has never seen. Dol can control people's emotions. Ro can agitate people. Lucas and Tima have other talents, but Lucas is also the son of the Ambassador. Together, they learn more about the world than they had ever expected, and it isn't promising...

We first met Margaret Stohl with Kami Garcia in their Gothic supernatural story, Beautiful Creatures. When authors collaborate before you have read their independent work, there is always the nagging question of what they would be like without their co-author. I was always very curious about this pair, because some of Creatures was brilliant while other pieces were a struggle (ending much?!). Now that I have read a book from Garcia and a book from Stohl, I have to say I think Garcia is the stronger writer. Not that this was a bad book or uninteresting, although it certainly suffered from some dry, difficult spots. Instead, it just wasn't as good as Garcia's Legion series, which really never had a dull spot. 

It's hard to put my finger on what exactly the problem was for me. I liked Dol well enough. She didn't annoy me or anything, but she also wasn't the kind of heroine I wanted to fight for. She was just ok. The only character I truly loved was Tima, and we just don't see enough of her. I guess this book just had too many dull spots that made it difficult to trudge through to the next exciting part, but I am still planning to read the second book. I hope Stohl is able to get her groove back by then!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

I'm Baaaaaaaaack!

That's right! You guessed it! I am back in the saddle and finally reading again! This was a difficult summer with a big move and a new job, but it led to an amazing house and a job I love. The only problem was it was so hard to find time this summer to read. Where it is usually my most successful reading time, the move, the commute, and everything in between left me too exhausted to read even when I did find a spare moment!

But a book-less Jess no more!

It took me more than a week, way too long for me, but I finished my first book in months! It feels so good to have that escape again, and to immerse myself in different worlds with each flip of a page. So expect some reviews to be forthcoming, because my To Be Read pile is threatening to take over the room and needs some attention!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Not Your Typical Graduation

Cia survived the Testing, but the worst was still to come. In the conclusion to Joelle Charbonneau's Testing series, Graduation Day, Cia is given the responsibility of the entire country, but she has no idea who to trust and how to proceed. 

Cia knows the truth behind the Testing. They were supposed to wipe her memories, but she remembers, and she knows the Testing is evil. Kids forced to kill one another, put through hell, and if they fail? They just disappear. She knows the Testing should end, but she has no idea who to trust. There is an entire group of rebels trying to stop the Testing, but their leader might be the worst of them all, secretly trying to control the rebels to actually preserve the Testing. 

Meanwhile, the President has a task for Cia. She is to find a way to get rid of the highest ranked Testing officials so they can get rid of the entire process. Only the list Cia gets is suspect. She knows she will need some help to get rid of the officials, but who she can trust among her University classmates is still a mystery. Besides Tomas, no one is completely trustworthy, not even her best friend. Still, she can't do it along. She is going to have to trust someone... but first, she must have her own little version of the Testing. With no one's allegiances clearly drawn, the fate of the country is clearly on precarious ground. 

Well, my biggest concern about this conclusion isn't really the conclusion itself. It felt pretty final, and while there were a couple of twists to keep you interested, it wasn't anything overwhelmingly fabulous. It was good, just not spectacular. My biggest pet peeve was that it felt like 250 pages were devoted to Cia's self-doubt and suspicions of the people around her and not enough was given to the actual coup she was supposed to be going through with. I kept finding myself thinking, "Really girl? Really? You have to assassinate 12 people, but let's snog our boyfriend and fret about whether our old roommate is a true friend or not!" It was frustrating at times. When the action did happen, either throughout the book, scattered around, or the big finale, it was very well written and interesting, but it didn't feel like it was the focus of the book. 

The biggest let down was that both subsequent books were just never as good as the first. I LOVED the first book, despite all its Hunger Games similarities, and this one just felt like Charbonneu grew tired of the story. At least the ending was one I could be satisfied with. I was sad to see less of Tomas, because he has always been more important to me than Cia in this series. There is a lot of moral ambiguity in this story that would be great conversation and discussion pieces. It is also middle reader friendly while still being a complex story. I look forward to reading Charbonneau's next project, but I really hope it remains steady in terms of entertainment factor!

The Cycle of Life

The responsibility of being the last man on earth must be a burden like no other; for Yorick, it appears to be just another day, as long as you don't consider the fact that he is being hunted by multiple groups of women for very different reasons. In the second volume of Y: The Last Man, Cycles, Brian K. Vaughan flexes his muscles in the story of Yorick, the last remaining man on earth. 

Yorick and Agent 355 found Dr. Mann, the woman looking to cure the plague, but they didn't save her research. When her lab and all her research is burned, they decide to head across the country to her secondary lab in California. Unfortunately, there is a whole country full of women who would be very interested to learn about the last man on earth between them and California. They are able to bargain their way onto a train headed West, but they should have expected the trip couldn't be that easy. When they end up in a small, idyllic town, they can't believe how well these women are living. What they don't know is that the whole town is hiding a very big secret. 

This volume does a great job of giving you glimpses into Yorick, Dr. Mann, and Agent 355, and because of that, you become heavily invested in the story after these issues. The first book was fun and exciting, but this is where you get hooked. The story line is complex and there are characters who will blow you mind. The reintroduction of Yorick's sister Hero is the most pivotal point for me. I just can't wrap my head around her and everything she is doing. And yet, why not? The world as they knew it is over. Why not capitalize on the new face of the planet? 

One of the most interesting sides of this part of the story is how different groups of women cope with the death of all the men. Some are falling apart, but some are actually better off, and that is a hard thing to wrap your head around! I loved how much it made me think and process that fact. Of course we would all grieve the loss of our husbands, fathers, sons, and friends, but who would survive best? And how would the world change without them? It is a heady batch of questions, but you will keep asking yourself these and many more as you continue with this fabulous series!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What Would You Sacrifice?

Life in London hasn't been easy, but with strongholds going up to protect the kids who survived, everyone stops thinking about not getting eaten on a daily basis and starts thinking about how to put their lives back together. In the fourth book of Charlie Higson's Enemy series, The Sacrifice, the kids of London have to remember, danger is all around them. 

Little Sam survived being kept by an adult for a future snack, but now all he can think about is finding his sister. It is so hard to get from one place to another that friends and family members are scattered in strongholds all over the city. Jordan won't let him leave, but Sam is determined to get to his sister. Even Ed, the nicest guy around, thinks the idea of traipsing across the badlands to find a girl who might already be dead is a bad idea. When the group saves a strange girl named Tish from a horde of sickos, Sam and The Kid get the opportunity they were looking for: a girl with the gumption and determination to leave the Tower of London and help Sam and The Kid find Sam's sister, Ella. 

Meanwhile, Shadowman has been doing some traveling of his own. He has been following the nasty father, Saint George, and George's crew. He is the only on who knows the scary new potential of the mothers and fathers. No longer the stupid, shambling, mindless eaters, they have started to hunt and plot against the surviving kids. Something even more dangerous is happening- they are also beginning to congregate and Saint George's group is getting larger and larger. Soon, they will have the numbers and power to overthrow even the most secure stronghold in London. The problem? The kids Shadowman comes into contact with don't believe the adults are changing... until it is too late. 

My pet peeves with this series continue to be frustrating, but at least one has been mitigated. I still struggle to pick up one of these books and get right into it because there isn't a good recap in the beginning. I find myself looking up a plot summary for the previous book and reading reviews to remind myself what happened in the book I read more than a year ago. Not ideal. I really wish Higson did a better job of taking a moment to catch you up before jumping right into the insanity, just so I knew what was bloody happening! However, it seems the last two books have gone in chronological order, which I appreciate. At first, the books bounced around, but lately, one follows the next, which makes it far easier for the reader to understand exactly when and where things are happening. 

As a story, this series just never lets up. Even though it is a long series, every book is packed with mystery and excitement (or terror). I find myself sucked right in and reluctant to let go. The idea of the adults learning to reason again and plot against the kids is a thought so creepy it gave me actual nightmares! I think this series continues to be a strong plot, writing, and entertainment form the first book to the last, and I think that is a testament to Higson's writing. It just doesn't get old with this series! I think my favorite part of this story is Sam and The Kid, as they are so sweet and innocent yet left to fend for themselves in this ugly world where the flesh-eating adults are the least of your worries. Still, the Shadowman story line is fascinating as well. I can't imagine having all this important knowledge and no one listening to you. He warns kids over and over again not to underestimate Saint George and his crew, but they just won't listen to him, and his guilt over watching the result is palpable. 

This series can certainly be gruesome at times, but if you have a kid who watches "The Walking Dead," or any other zombie stories, they should be fine with this series. The interesting part is the complete lack of sexy times so far. I find more parents and teachers find the sexy times to be more objectionable than the violence, so this story would make a great, captivating story that is relatively unobjectionable for readers craving more mature material. Even though the book is long, it reads really fast, which makes it perfect for a struggling reader who wants mature material. Higson sure knows his stuff!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Why Be the Last Man?

Some ladies might think a world without men would be far more peaceful, but there would be huge changes to the structure of the world without men, and the continuation of the species would be the last thing on everyone's mind. In the first volume of Y: The Last Man, Unmanned, by Brian K. Vaughan, the world loses every male mammal... except two. 

Yorick has a smoking hot girlfriend who is currently traipsing around the Outback, but he fully intends on proposing to her. Meanwhile, his mother is trying to hold her own in Congress, and his sister, Hero, is living up to her name as an EMT. Everything seems normal. Normal, until everything isn't. All of a sudden, every man and male mammal in the world dies. Women around the globe watch their fathers, sons, husband, friends, coworkers, etc. drop dead in front of their eyes. Everyone, that is, except Yorick. A borderline agoraphobic, Yorick doesn't really leave his apartment. He offered to train a service monkey to help handicapped people, but so far the only thing he has accomplished is ducking when Ampersand flings his poo at Yorick's head. 

Yorick is a goofball, and certainly not anyone's idea of the epitome of the last man on earth, but he is all the human race has left. With all the men gone, the women have had to step in, but none can agree on how to run things. The Amazons believe the plague was the world's savior, and try to eliminate all chances of a baby boy ever being born. The few remaining members of Congress are trying to hold things together, but the wives of prominent Republicans don't agree with how they "took over the government." Meanwhile, there are millions of bodies of men just rotting in offices and apartments that have to be incinerated. The world has gone to hell in a handbag, and Yorick is the last hope for mankind?!

First of all, I have read this series before. It was quite some time ago, and I loved it so much, I certainly did not take my time to savor it. After having finished all of Vaughan's Saga so far, I needed more of his genius, so I decided to reread this series, and I am so glad I did. It really is brilliant. First of all, Yorick is awesome. He is a total screw-up, but you won't be able to resist his delightful, scampish charm! Seriously. Yorick is absurd and fabulous all in one, and I just LOVE him SO much! So, the idea that this knucklehead is the last man on earth makes this series even more spectacular. 

Add to that the great illustrations (not as stunning as Saga, but pretty darned good) and an incredible story line, and you have yourself one winning graphic novel series here. My only regret for purchasing these is that I couldn't control myself and wait for the hardcovers, because I imagine I will be rereading this series frequently. This volume is the basic backstory leading up to the death of all men, and the beginning of Yorick's travels. It will give you a good snapshot of the world without men, but it doesn't get to the heart of the story... for that you need Volume 2!!

How Can You Kill the Buzz?!

There are enough mysteries about high school without adding murder to the list. When Millie stumbles upon a body, she becomes embroiled in murder mystery she never wanted to be in the middle of in the first place... especially because the victim had direct ties to her father. In Beth Fantaskey's Buzz Kill, the sleuthing rivals Nancy Drew!

Millie Ostermeyer lives with her father. She loves her father, but as the Assistant Coach of a big high school football team, his time is generally consumed by the goings-on of the sport. She has worried about him since her mother passed away, but he isn't exactly an open book, so she gives him his space. When her father's nemesis, the head Coach Killdare, is found dead on campus, Millie is not only traumatized since she was the one who found the body- she is worried that all the signs point to her father as being the one with real motive to do away with the jerky head coach.

Millie's unlikely partner-in-crime, the new and mysterious football star who doesn't seem to fit the mold of typical high school star athlete, helps her to uncover some of the secrets Killdare kept from everyone around him. The further she digs, the clearer it becomes that this murder is more mysterious than she ever thought it could be. Unfortunately, her father is still in the crosshairs of both the local police department and Millie's own nemesis, her arch-enemy on the school paper, is hellbent on making her father look guilty. She has to get to the bottom of the story and quickly if she has any hope of saving her father's reputation... and keeping him out of jail!

I loved Fantaskey's Jessica series. I hated the cover, and I thought the title was a total cheese-fest, but the characters were really fun and unique, and I loved the story itself! I mean, laugh-out-loud kind of awesomeness! So, I was thrilled to see her come out with something that had a great premise, a good title, and a far better cover (although it does feel a little hokey). But, my experience with her writing said I was going to like this story, and I really did! I have to say, however, it was certainly a little campy at times, and I think the campiest parts were with Millie. She was less unique than the characters in the Jessica series, and a little more of a "type," but I still liked her. Chase, however, was my favorite part of this story. There was a boy with a past that I couldn't wait to learn about. He did not fit any stereotype, and I was intrigued from the moment Millie laid eyes on him. Even Millie's dad and Killdare were great characters. She just wasn't as awesome for me as they were, which was a little hard since the book was about her!

The good part was the plot and the pacing was a lot of fun. It was just mysterious enough to hold your attention without being silly or too predictable. There was a lot at stake for Millie, and she took her job of sleuthing very, very seriously. In fact, you are going to see some references to Nancy Drew, which I appreciated because it pointed out the elephant in the room. Everything about the story felt very Nancy Drew, so it was important to acknowledge that fact rather than pretend it didn't exist. Overall, this book continues my love for Fantaskey, even though Millie wasn't my favorite character ever, and I will keep an eye out for this author's next project!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Savage End

Sometimes we don't stop and think about all the things that could go wrong in our precious, carefully orchestrated lives. When a mega-tsunami creates a chemical leak that changes the Four Corners are forever, a group of kids must learn to grow up quickly. In the Monument 14 conclusion, Savage Drift, Emmy Laybourne wraps up the story of those kids and how they had to change with the world. 

It wasn't easy, but Dean, Alex, Niko, Astrid and the other kids made it to Canada. In the refugee camps, life isn't easy, but it is far better than where they came from, running from criminals, looters, and worse, the compounds that changed them with every exposure. They have carved out a little life in the camp, but they never expected to see someone they thought was dead in the papers. When Niko finds the picture of Josie in the news, he insists they must go get her out of the O concentration camps they are keeping everyone who might go crazy in. Josie lost it to save their lives, and they can't leave her there with all those criminals. 

At first Dean and Astrid refuse to entertain the idea. They can't leave the kids behind, and with Astrid's pregnancy, it is too dangerous to travel, especially with the rumors of "drifts" where the compound was collecting and moving with the wind. But when they catch on that exposed pregnant women are being taken without their permission for testing, Astrid worries about her unborn baby's life. When they finally make their way out of the camp, the world outside is no longer as they remembered it. Things have changed, but so have they. 

This series has always been a little juvenile and unsophisticated. It has been a good alternative to the darker PA stories for middle school students, but it did reveal Laybourne's struggles to conclude and stretch the story simultaneously. I think older students would find it too tame and childish, but my middle school students who wanted to read a PA story seemed to like it, and I didn't have to worry about mature content. Unfortunately, that juvenile quality also made the story a little one dimensional. And the ultimate conclusion, while not that bad, felt rushed and predictable. 

Ultimately, I think the story would have been better if it had ended with their arrival in Canada. This installment wasn't really necessary, and that showed. It felt like the push to squeeze out a trilogy along with every other author out there, and the stretch showed through. It was interesting, but I think the story would have been better if the first two books had been combined as one and ended in Canada. I originally picked this story up for the content, but I am not sure if I will read Laybourne's next book, although I imagine it would be a decent middle reader for that age group. I just don't think I am partial to her writing style. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Huck How Huck Would Have Appreciated!

We all know Huckleberry Finn. He is the boy whose adventures, alongside Tom Sawyer, are read in almost every school in America. It is also the Mark Twain story that sparks racial controversy every time it is added to a curriculum. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a story we are all familiar with, but is it always accessible to students?

Huck's father comes and goes, but Huck doesn't mind when he is gone. It means he doesn't hit Huck. When Huck is taken in my a kind neighbor, he appreciates everything she is doing for him, but he struggles to remain proper. In particular, he struggles to remain confined inside four walls. When his dad returns to town, there is an adventure of epic proportions complete with a murder mystery, con men, Jim, the runaway slave, and treasure. 

The great thing about these Campfire stories is how they take a large, possibly dry story and abridge it into a fun, short, graphic novel. I don't usually like abridged versions, but more and more, I see the merit in these graphic shorts. They can inspire students to pick up the full story when they are ready for it, and even if they don't, they at least give them exposure to the story. Sometimes, because the story is heavily abridged, it feels a little choppy or disjointed, but that is the price you pay for this kind of adaptation! I like this series, and hope to pick up a few more. But one thing is for sure... this is the kind of fun, quick story a boy like Huck, who can't be in the same place for too long, would appreciate!

Friday, June 13, 2014

On a Wing and a Prayer

High school is hard enough, but if you are a 14 year old junior in high school, you can expect some pretty ridiculous situations to live through. Ryan Dean West is a 14 year old junior who is starting his school year in O-Hall, the hall for the "juvenile delinquents". Unfortunately, those are the same people who make his life miserable, including his brand-new roommate! Winger is a hilarious account of Ryan Dean's year in all its awkward, hilarious, and heartbreaking glory!

When Ryan Dean is put in O-Hall, he knows he is going to be ducking and dodging Chas, his new roommate, for the rest of the year. All he wants is to move back with his friends, Seanie and JP, but now he is stuck in a room with the meathead. Add to that his best friend, Annie, has no idea he is madly in love with her, and you have the recipe for one seriously sucky year. But then something bizarre happens. Chas is a turd, but sometimes, he is less turdy. Sometimes, he just isn't so bad. When Chas's girlfriend, the hottest girl at school, starts flirting with Ryan Dean, he doesn't have any clue what is happening. but he is also not stupid enough to question it!

In O-Hall, he even finds himself enjoying his time with guys like Kevin and Joey. Sure Joey is gay and all, but everyone seems to know it and not give a crap. But even when things seem to be going OK, there is always the chance they are going to take a turn for the hilarious and horrible worse. From late night poker games and the two-beer hangover that almost kills him the next day, to doing something he knows he shouldn't but can't stop himself, to using humor to convince Annie she really should consider dating a 14 year old, Ryan Dean is a tricky guy, a funny guy, but just don't call him "little boy"!

This is one of the most hilarious books I have read! Ryan Dean's dry sarcasm and wit is so spot on, it makes you want to meet Andrew Smith, because, let's be honest, he HAS to be hilarious, right?! There is no way he can't be. Ryan Dean kept me cracking up right until the final part of the story. Don't get me wrong, there are some serious parts of this book that are difficult and beautifully written, but it is Ryan Dean's outlook on life that makes this book special. He just tells it like it is, and you know those thoughts are going through the mind of every single 14 year old boy! Especially one surrounded by hot older chicks he knows he can't get... or can he?!

There is a good amount of language and sexy times referred to in this book, but not too graphic- mostly Ryan Dean talking about his junk (wait for the fateful rugby game/ball sack incident!). I think this is such a good story it spans gender and age groups, but the humor also ranges from clear gutter humor to really sophisticated wit. I mean, Ryan Dean is a seriously smart guy! But he is also super young! So it just makes sense that he would embody both- the immature doofus who can't stop thinking about sex, and the sophisticated wit that leaves you speechless! I really enjoyed this story, and the end really knocked me for a loop. I am looking forward to the sequel and more of Ryan Dean and his hilarious antics!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Take This One On!

As if you needed one more excuse to sit on the couch all day and read? Well, Katie McGarry does it again in Take Me On, the fourth book in the Pushing the Limits series of companion novels. And you won't be able to say no to West and Haley, mark my words!

Haley was a champion kickboxer, until everything went wrong. She also had a fairly normal life until her father lost his job, they lost their house, and the whole family had to move in with her short-tempered uncle. For Haley, there is no such thing as normal anymore. When she quit her grandfather's gym and started training at the competitor gym, she alienated her entire family on top of that- all for some guy who ended up ruining her entire love for the sport anyway. Now all she can do is pray she can somehow eke out a scholarship to get the hell out of that house.

West is an over-privileged brat, and he knows it. Unfortunately, he is also headstrong, defiant, and always looking for a fight as well. When his impulsive actions send his sister into life-changing danger, he doesn't need anyone to beat him up for it. He is already beating himself up enough. When his father finally kicks him out of the house, no one expected what would come next. West decides to make it on his own. From living in his car while it still has a little gas, to going to the local public school, to finding a job so he can eat, everything changes. But not as much as it changed the moment he met Haley.

When he stops a couple of thugs from hurting her, he didn't realize it would change his life forever. The fight he got into might have been the catalyst for getting kicked out of his house, but it also brought him to Haley. Thinking he was the knight in shining armor, it was like the world had been turned inside out to wake up and realize someone else had done the damage to the other two guys- Haley. Now those guys want to make him pay in the only way they know how- a fight. Challenged to a no-holds-barred fight, Haley must now train West in the hopes he won't get killed in the cage. The problem is, her grandfather owns the gym, and fighting is the last thing Haley ever planned on doing. But she will, to make sure West stays alive!

OK. If you read my reviews, you know I LOVE Katie McGarry. Seriously? I would read ANYTHING this woman wrote. She knows how to write contemporary with a background of romance but a bulk of character and a winning plot like so few authors can today. She belongs in the same crowd as Dessen and Perkins with these books because I a) know I am going to love them and b) am always surprised by what is happening even though I know I am going to love them! She does it to me. Every. Time. So I walked into this story knowing it was going to be fabulous, but clearly curious about how it was going to stack up to Isaiah's story, which I loved unconditionally. Well, West wasn't Isaiah, but I loved him all the same. And Haley? There are no words!

Haley almost reminded me of Eleanor from Eleanor and Park. I loved her for that. She had a clear set of baggage she dragged around with her, and it took you almost the whole book to find out the true depth of those issues. I didn't pity her, but I did struggle with seeing her try to put on a strong, brave face in the midst of everything around her. You just wanted to protect her, but you knew she had to learn to fight back on her own. 

I also loved a few more important themes I found repeating in this series:

1. Romance doesn't need wishy washy woman. I like a romance with a sassy lead, and McGarry always delivers!

2. I love the guidance counselor. So often they are the butt of jokes, but I have known some great counselors, and McGarry always seems to put her in there. She helped Noah and Echo and never stopped! 

3. Boys need love too. None of those stone cold boys in McGarry books. They can be strong and manly and still have deep emotions. I love it! 

4. Girls. Kick. Butt. Cars? Kickboxing? You name it, McGarry's girls do it. I love this gender stereotype busting. It is fantastic and doesn't fail to give new perspective to young woman. 

5. People make mistakes. But you have to forgive and move on. 

So give West and Haley a piece of your heart. And, Ms. McGarry, if I don't get an Abby story soon? There is going to be a kind and praising email that also begs, bribes, and pleads for one! So save us all the time and pitiable begging, and just give Abby a book.... PLEASE?!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Sentence Served

Percy Carey lived a life that felt like the average life of a gang-banger, and then also seemed utterly spectacular. In Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm, he tells his story, including his rise from the streets and his fall from grace. 

Percy got his first taste of attention from his time on Sesame Street, but it wasn't until he decided to be the baddest emcee that he had a true dream. Yes, he grew up on the streets, but they weren't the kind of streets you hear about. He had an amazing, strong, butt-kicking mother who would do anything to protect her children. He had a good stepfather, and lived in a neighborhood where the mantra "It takes a Village" is more like a lifestyle. But there was another element to his life and world that couldn't be ignored: the gangs. 

Percy was a smart guy, and even though it set him apart, he loved to read and write. When he declared his intention to emcee, he knew it would lead him places, included the ultimate battle. Whether living on the east or the west coast, his life was tumultuous, dangerous, and exciting. And for a smart man like Percy, that excitement was what he was ultimately looking for. Unfortunately, it had consequences he could never escape; far deeper than prison or parole, he suffered a fate he could never have imagined. 

Here is the important thing about this story. It isn't just a glorification of life on the streets. Money, fame, girls, objects, drugs, lifestyle. All those are there, but there is more. That life can't live forever. It burns out quick, and Percy learned that lesson the hard way. After the shooting left him paralyzed, he even found he had no place int he legitimate world. He tried, he really did, but he had no skills. The legit world didn't want him. So he went back to the world he knew: drugs, the streets, and a crew to watch your back.

I liked this story so much because I was constantly surprised. I went into it expecting a story of a kid on the streets who wanted to be Dre or Snoop, but instead ended up in a wheel chair. And yes, this story is that, but it is also so much more. This story is full of paradoxes and confusion as to how Percy got here, but more importantly, it is a story of how our surroundings shape us. If this kid had been born someplace else, he could have become a lawyer or a politician as opposed to learning about law in jail in order to get his sentence reduced. It takes a village, but that village can also define us, and I hope this story is a lesson to its readers of how to break out of that definition. This isn't a pretty story all tied up in bows, but it is a gritty, dark, fabulous story of a man who had to fall before he could pick himself up. 

An Egyptian-Greek Mash-Up

When Carter and Percy came together to fight a monster, we thought it was a fluke. A fabulous fluke, mind you, but a fluke nonetheless. Now that Sadie and Annabeth have had to come together to fight a monster, the writing on the wall is clear. Something is going on to bring the Greek and the Egyptian worlds together, and it is scary. IN The Staff of Serapis by Rick Riordan, two beloved series connect once again in magic-wielding, monster fighting goodness. 

Annabeth can't catch a break. Just when she thinks things will be normal for a moment, a monster shows up. But something is wrong with this monster. Not that it has two very different heads and seems to be struggling to work together despite being connected. Nope. It is running away from her! Monsters don't run away from demigods! When she decides to follow it, she is surprised by something even stranger- a girl who can see the monster too! 

OK. I am really hoping all these short stories are leading up to a final Egyptian, Greek Cross-over series by Riordan. Seriously, dude. Don't hold out on us. We need the Kane's and the demigods together in one magnificent series, and we need it now! I don't even need to review this fabulous little short, because we all knew it was going to be awesome. But still, Rick, bro. Please? Give us what we want! Kanes meet demigods! And we want it NOW!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Will She Be the One?

Oh, the Land of the Beautiful and Frilly Dresses! It is funny, because these dresses are what drew me to this series, but I also fear they might be what keeps people from reading this interesting story. In The One by Kiera Cass, The Selection series comes a final conclusion as Prince Maxon must choose his final bride.

For America, the Selection started just as a means to better life for her family. All girls in the Selection move up in caste and their families get compensation that could mean the difference between abject poverty and food on the table. So, despite the fact that she cared deeply about Aspen, a boy who was a caste below her, she did her duty and joined the Selection. What she didn't expect was to care deeply about Maxon. And Aspen's appearance on the guard in the castle made things confusing for America... at first. It became clear fairly quickly that America wanted to be with Maxon. For the other girls, the crown was the goal, and Maxon was the means to get it; for America, the crown was just a hassle that came with the man she truly cared about.

Unfortunately, the path to the crown was not so easy. it was clear the king did not feel the same about America as Maxon and his mother did. She did not bow to societal pressures. She would not allow people to be punished beyond their crimes of necessity, like feeding their children. Despite the needs of a princess, America had been brought up to stand up for what she thought was right, and she would let no one, not even the king, intimidate her. She had everything to lose and everything to gain, but America wouldn't be scared away from doing the right thing.

OK. This started out a puffy, goofy story for me, but quickly, in the first book, I new I loved America. This girl had a metaphorical right hook that would knock you on your butt. She was a lot of fun and still a very strong young woman despite her years. I loved her. I also really liked Maxon. He grew up under a tyrant, and he would not let that control the person he was destined to become. I know the premise of this book was a love triangle, but I think if you read the first two books, you would agree with me that Maxon was always going to be the clear winner in our hearts, and I am quite simply OK with that! Don't get me wrong, I liked Aspen and respected that he cared about America, but she and Maxon were wonderful together. In fact, she had the ability to make Maxon rise to the true king he was destined to be.

I still think the story lacked real world-building, but my love for the characters overshadowed that need for me. It was more important for me to hear about the amazing people they had all become, even Celeste, the stereotypical mean girl in the competition! There were so many back stories to the girls and transformations, that it really became a character driven story and even if there was a rich world around it, that world would have quickly faded into the background. I loved the final conclusion, and I will miss this series. It might have started with the frilly dress, but it ended with the revolutionaries who won't settle for a broken world that harms its people.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A March Upon Me

We all learned about the Civil Rights movement, but our generation didn't live through it. We never had segregated bathrooms or restaurants that would take the money of one race and still not let them sit at the counter. However, just because we have never lived through THE Civil Rights Movement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others, it doesn't mean we haven't experienced the battles for Civil Rights first-hand. We watch the rights of one group or another trampled upon regularly, but what kind of person are each of us? Would you stand up against injustice? Or would you be a quiet bystander? Or would you fight to maintain the status quo?

Congressman John Lewis is no standard politician. He was part of the Civil Rights movement that led to the end of segregation in our country. In this simply amazing graphic novel, he tells his story of how life on a sharecropper's farm led to a life of freedom, movement, and justice in a world that didn't like the color of his skin. 

The story starts with a mother and her young boys entering Lewis' office to show the boys where their history started. Lewis, still in the office, begins to answer the boys questions and tells them how he came to be a part of the march on Washington, and how he left that farm in Alabama to serve a higher purpose. It is the first part of a truly inspiring story that I am waiting with bated breath to continue. I have known about John Lewis, but I don't think I could have asked for a better rendition of his life than we get with this story- it is full of history, anecdotes, real sentiments and emotions, and so much more.

The beauty of this graphic history is how it draws out the true nature of nonviolence. We have all known about nonviolent protest and how successful it has been in our history, but have you ever thought of how those people remained so passive and polite when they were being beaten for simply believing they had a right to sit at the local restaurants counter? Seeing this training they all went through was so hard to experience through these words and illustrations, it kept me talking about it for a long time after I was finished. Luckily, my husband had read the story before me and was a captive audience, because this book left a need to talk in me once I had finished. 

Do the people who did and said these awful things every regret their actions? The police who beat passive protestors, are they ashamed of their actions? How do they tell the story to their grandchildren? Do they tell them of how they brought their billy sticks down upon a legend like John Lewis? My husband and I talked about this story for hours, pondering the movement, the purpose of nonviolence, the people behind the fight for Civil Rights, and so much more. If we could be so captivated, I think anyone can. Whether you are a lover of graphic stories, history, strong leaders, or just a good story, this is one for you. Simply amazing, and I really hope the sequel is available soon, if for no other reason than to continue those amazing conversations I enjoyed so much!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

It All Happens in the End

Everyone knows the zombie craze has hit big time, and with the success of The Walking Dead, it isn't going anywhere. So how do you make a story with maniacal, people eating creatures new and fresh? If you are Demitria Lunetta, you make them greenish-yellow with creepy fangs... but their origins aren't so different. In the End is the conclusion of Amy's tale in a world where arrogance and experimentation led to a completely new species of people, who are contagious and who want to eat you. 

Amy and Baby survived together in silence, avoiding the Florae wherever possible. They thought New Hope, and the realization that Amy's mother was still alive, would allow them to live in peace finally, but it was clear the crazy scientists in the compound had different ideas. Amy escaped, but she left Baby behind in what she thought was relative safety. Unfortunately, when Kay, a guardian who helped save Amy, contacts her, Kay tells Amy that Baby is now being bled dry for Dr. Reynolds' experiments. Amy can't save her alone, so Kay sends Amy to Fort Black where her brother Ken is working on a cure. She thinks Ken can request to work directly with Baby and get her out of New Hope, but from the moment Amy enters Fort Black, it is clear nothing is going to go as planned. 

Fort Black is basically a lawless prison that is only preferable over becoming Florae food. The guards who are protected by the Warden are fed well and everyone else must use whatever methods possible to feed themselves. Luckily, Amy stumbles across Jacks, the Warden's nephew who, while protected and living a life of leisure thanks to the Warden's influence, is still a pretty good guy. Amy explains why she is looking for Ken, and Jacks agrees to help her, but to protect her, he must also "claim" her. Unclaimed ladies are unprotected ladies, so, despite Amy's protests at being thought of as property, she allows the rumor to spread that she is now Jacks' girl. The problem, though, is no one has ever heard of or seen Ken. Just when Amy starts to think she will never find him or save Baby, she realizes the truth depths of the darkness in Fort Black. And it's ugly. 

The only think I can complain about with this book is that I am pretty sure this is it for the series. I thought there was going to be a trilogy, but the sequel ended with quite a bit of finality. I am sad to see it go, because this was a really great series! The story is fast-paced and exciting, every character is dynamic and interesting, and there really were no complaints I had about anything! Even the new and supporting characters like Brenna and Jacks were fabulous! I hope someone can convince Lunetta to do a book that comes later, because I don't want to be done with Amy and the group!

The story behind the Florae is just downright disturbing. Almost all of it came out in the end of the first book, but you get a really full back story with this sequel. In addition, the series of experiments to find a cure is downright unethical, but in a post-apocalyptic world, where people will eat you, is there room for ethics? I found myself asking that a lot throughout this book. I am currently reading Watchmen with my juniors, and we talk a lot about the ethicality of sacrificing a few to save the money. Still, it is hard to imagine how anyone could dehumanize their subjects enough to inject a child with the Florae virus! I found the moral questions in this story were just as strong as the entertainment factor of this crazy story. And somehow, Lunetta figured out a way to make new, scarier versions of zombies! Holy Florae, Batman!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

There's No Story Like Back Story

Once you are a part of the Morning Glory Academy, you really have no choice but to stay. Not only do they cut you off from your family, but in isn't difficult to make the students realize they have no choice but to stay put. In Volume 2 of Nick Spencer's Morning Glories, the six new students all have a story to tell. 

Everyone has a story, but how important are those stories in relation to the person you have become? For the newest Morning Glories, those back stories directly tie to how they got there, and who they are going to become. If you are a little rich kid who committed an unspeakable act, is there a chance you can find your way out of it, or are you going to have to face your actions in the harshest way possible. When twin brothers are separated, can they ever come together and be the same? When a little girl is taken from her people, will her extraordinary talent lead who she is to become? 

The second volume of The Morning Glories wasn't much different from the first. The story was filled with mystery and intrigue, but I'll be darned if I am not still totally in the dark about what they heck is happening! I expected a few more answers than I got, so the story was a little frustrating when all it did was give me more questions. Still, the mystery continues to be interesting, so I will continue to keep reading, but I want answers people! I have NO idea what is happening! The back story was very interesting, and I was glad to have it, but now I need more about this Academy and what on earth is happening inside it!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Nothing Stops the Pandemic

Are any of us prepared for a true pandemic? If a plague hit us, how would we survive it? Those are the questions you are going to ask yourself and are going to keep you up at night as you read Yvonne Vontresca's Pandemic

No one knows what happened to Lil except her parents and her two friends. Well, the one who believed her is still her friend. The other? Let's just say she didn't believe Lil's big secret. Since everything happened, Liz has broken up with her boyfriend, doesn't go out, and certainly doesn't want her parents to see her grades. She has also started slipping into "Prepper" habits. With her father working for Disease Control, it isn't hard to imagine what could happen to everyone if there was any kind of pandemic. She hides her supplies in a closet, and doesn't tell anyone about her disaster monitoring, but her mom finds out anyway. While her father is less disturbed by the behavior than her mother, it is clear they are both worried about what has happened to Lil. 

When Lil sees a strange flu that is hitting south of their NJ home, she decides to keep an eye on it. Her mother is heading out of town, which means she doesn't have to keep such a careful check on her concerns, but when her father is called to a conference that is focusing on the disease, she becomes concerned. He tries to soothe her worries, but at the same time, they both know the flu seems to be spreading, and its deadly. When her father gets quarantined at his hotel, it is clear the pandemic isn't a figment of Lil's imagination. Now she is alone, she is terrified of the flu that has hit her home state, and out there is the man who changed her life not too long ago. 

There are two stories in this book: the pandemic, and Lil's big secret. They are both interesting, both are handled well, but it still seemed weird to me to have both in the same book. Not sure why, it just didn't seem like they belonged together in the same story. Still, both were very interesting, so I got over my weirdness and just enjoyed the story. I like disaster/pandemic stories, so this was right up my alley. As disaster stories go, this is a fairly tame one, so feel free to use this story for your middle school through high school students. As for the big secret? It isn't graphic, and it is rarely dealt with once the pandemic starts, so it shouldn't be too distracting. 

As for Lil? I actually really, really liked her. She was quirky, and I loved the little prepper in her, but when push came to shove and she should have been locking her windows and doors and pretending she wasn't around, instead, her worry for her friends and neighbors overcame her need to stay safe and control her surroundings. It was a good display of how we can overcome our own demons in the wake of a tragedy, and I really enjoyed watching her transformation. Like all disaster books, there are obvious losses, and it was sad watching Lil deal with them, but she is a tough girl. This was a great first novel, and I am interested to see what Vontresca does next!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When Everything is Torn Away

If you live in tornado alley, you not only respect these hulking beasts, you also get used to them. When the siren blows, you might not run right to the shelter, but you keep an eye out. While you can't live in fear for half a year during the season, being lulled into a false sense of security can be very, very dangerous. In Jennifer Brown's Torn Away, the lives of so many were changed forever with the presence of more than just a funnel cloud... it was like the finger of God himself.

Jersey Cameron grew up knowing what to do in the event of a tornado; its just that she never really had to do it. Occasionally, the family would go to the basement, but most of the time the sirens were a false alarm. So it got easier and easier to ignore them. She gets home and starts a meal like any other normal day while her mother takes her sister to dance class, but there is nothing normal about this day. This is the day that they never saw coming and will never be able to forget. 

When Jersey realizes the tornado warning is real this time, she turns dinner off and heads to the basement. Hiding down there, she quickly realizes the tornado is bigger than anyone thought. By the time it is over, she leaves the basement to see that her entire house is almost gone. Her neighborhood is almost gone. Her neighbors, and everyone around her, are either injured, or even dead. If her neighborhood is this bad, how could her mother and sister have survived? All alone, Jersey realizes just how destructive the tornado really was. 

This book starts with the destruction of a tornado, but it continues down the road of a young girl's dysfunctional family. Her mother never spoke to her own parents, and so Jersey is sent to live with her father whom she has never met. When she gets there, it is clear these people just don't give a crap about Jersey or anything she has gone through. While the premise of the book is the tornado, the continuation of the story really gets to the heart of the aftermath of such a tragedy.  It was a really amazing and heartbreaking journey for both Jersey and the reader. Here was a normal girl in a normal midwest life who had everything she ever knew or loved sucked up into a funnel cloud. What is left is damaged beyond all repair... or is it. 

This is a book about family, about healing, and also about grieving. I think pegging this book as a "storm book" doesn't really get to the heart of Brown's purpose for the story. If it was a storm book, it would have ended when Jersey was shipped to her dad's house. Instead it kept going, proving Brown had more to say. I have always like Brown's stories, because they aren't afraid to get to the dark and ugly side of things, and Torn Away is no different. I think this story, while dark and sad, would be appropriate for a variety of students. The real-life implications are deep, and a reader will have a hard time not connecting to the story. Jersey is a young woman who was dealt the worst hand possible, yet there is still hope for her with each page you flip. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Half Bad and Totally Awesome

In a new England where witches live silently amongst humans, there are two kinds of witches. Even amongst the small minority, there is prejudice. White and Black, the witches do not mix. Until, they do. In Sally Green's Half Bad, a young boy is the victim of his parentage, for White or for Black. 

Nathan's father was the evilest Black witch in the world. His mother was a White witch who committed suicide. Every year, Nathan goes for an assessment to see if he has officially coded to one side or the other, but on his seventeenth birthday, the results will no longer be inconclusive. All witches must receive three gifts from an immediate family member and drink the blood of a family witch in order to come into their gifts. For a White witch, not receiving their gifts merely means they lose their opportunity for their gift. For a Black witch, it is said they will die if they do not receive their gifts. Nathan's grandmother has tried to raise him in a White witch household, but his heritage cannot be denied. 

As a Half Code (Black and White), Nathan's final allegiance is still unsettled, but the council isn't about to let him roam about like a powder keg waiting to be lit. Decree after decree is handed down that specifically limit Nathan's comings and goings. Finally, just limiting his journeys from the house aren't enough, and he is captured and caged until his seventeenth birthday, which is years away. His captor doesn't necessarily agree with the decision, but Marcus, Nathan's father, killed her sister, so she isn't shy about her dislike of Black witches either. But nothing changes the fact that Nathan's birthday is fast approaching, and he has nobody to give him his gifts. Is he Black? Or is he White?

I know we have all lived through the Harry Potter era where witches are adorable like the Weasley clan. Sure you have a Malfoy or a LeStrange or a Voldemort in the mix, but for the most part, they are normal folks with some awesome abilities. These witches? A whole different world. I half expected a Potter-esque witch story going in, but I came out like I was ripped through the spin cycle. This is one seriously dark book! I mean, this kid is tortured. He is held in a cage and affixed with a collar full of poison. This is some pretty heavy, dark business here. 

And Nathan? I am choosing to think he wouldn't be as dark as he turns out. I feel he was made Black by the very same people who feared his Half Code. By imprisoning him and torturing him, they have created a dark individual. In fact, the brutality, the violence, the dark in this story reminded me of a somewhat tamed version of The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski. It is the single darkest book I have ever read (makes The Road look like Goodnight Moon), and Nathan just made me think of that little boy the entire time I read it. That doesn't mean this is THAT dark, but it certainly isn't any Harry Potter. Instead, this is a truly unique story that will catch the attention of your students. Especially those who have a dark side!

The implications towards prejudice and racism in this story are very thinly veiled. The decrees about Half Codes and Black witches reek of Jim Crow. You can see the allegory here, and it is incredibly interesting when juxtaposed with historical racism. I think any student will be able to make those connections without any guidance, which will give them an added layer to the story. I was really bowled over by this story, even though it was so disturbing, and I will certainly be finishing the series.