Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sunrise in a Darkened World

Alex and Darla are survivors in every way possible, but in a world that is dangerous in every way possible, it is hard to maintain hope of one day returning to living, not surviving. In Mike Mullin's Ashfall series finale, Sunrise, he brings the incredible story home in a way that couldn't be more perfect. 

After setting off to find his parents, losing Darla to flensers (cannibals), being a prisoner in a FEMA camp, finding his parents, finding Darla, and losing his father in the battle to save her, Alex knows all to well how ugly this world can be. He has returned to his uncle's farm outside Warren with his damaged mother, Darla, and a few others in tow. What he returns to is just as grim as his travels. The neighboring town, Stockton, is being run by a ruthless maniac named Red. Red might be insane, but he smart. That level of intelligence combined with such insanity is a dangerous combination. When Stockton takes all Warren's food stock including enough pork to last the town for the foreseeable future, Alex knows he must get it back. Unfortunately, the mayor of Warren is more concerned with his own ego than a smart strategy, and he leads his people into an ambush. When Alex takes charge and manages to recover most of the pork, he has not only made an enemy in Red, but also in the mayor. 

Alex understands his uncle's farm is too isolated, unprotected, and dangerous, but so is Warren. He tries to convince the town to protect itself, but he meets nothing but opposition. While he wants to protect everyone he can, he realizes he isn't going to risk his own life or the lives of those he loves trying to reason with people who don't want to listen. Alex is determined to find a way to increase his food production, create a surplus even, and find a way where they can survive without having to fear for their lives each and every day. What he doesn't expect is that in this new world, it doesn't matter how old you are. People look up to you, respect you, and put their lives in your hands if they believe in you. And it is hard not to believe in a young man like Alex.

When I first read Ashfall, I was blown away. Knocked on my literary behind! This story was absolutely phenomenal; in a genre full of stories just like it, it was a shining star. Ashen Winter was just as striking. And now Sunrise has left me devastated. It's over! Sunrise was such an impossibly perfect ending to this series that I am sobbing in my cocoa about the fact that we will never have another Ashfall story again! It is like Mullin knew exactly what I wanted from this story and delivered it like a true master. I mean, I knew this man was a heavyweight in the genre, but he just elevated himself to a class unto his own with this finale!

The progression of the story through the three books starts with Ashfall as the catastrophe novel. Then Ashen Winter is the survivor's novel. And finally, Sunrise is the novel of hope, healing, and moving on. That isn't to say there isn't a graphic and violent portrayal of life in this post-apocalyptic world, because this book is just as shocking and horrific as the first two, but it has a different message. This book brings the series full circle into a place where you wanted and needed it to go. It also allows the children of this new world to grow into their shoes the way they were meant to. Alex was just a bratty kid when the volcano blew. By the end, he is a man to be proud to stand beside. It was an amazing transition, and I feel honored to have witnessed it in this character, among others. But alongside Alex and Darla and the others you come to love and hold your breath when they find themselves in precarious situations, you are also confronted with the absolute worst examples of society. It is disturbing to see people act like these do, but you know as well as I do that they would be there, most likely profiting, in a post-apocalyptic world. 

Mullin's prowess as a storyteller, however, is that despite the dark and ugly side of humanity, you still find hope and humanity around every corner. Sure people are skeptical, but they can still turn out to be good people, great even, when given the opportunity. As dark as this series can get, there is always that restored faith in humanity that brings you back for more. When I got my hands on this book, I was so excited I abandoned a book I was 2/3 finished with. This series has made such an impact on me that I refused to wait even a day before starting it. I waited long enough between the last book and this one, that I couldn't wait another minute! So, thank you, Mr. Mullin. You brought to our shelves a story that is sure to cause irreparable damage because nothing will ever be able to live up to its greatness! 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Manual for Shadowhunters

"Welcome and Congratulations. You have been chosen to become one of the Nephilim." 

The Shadowhunter's Codex is a manual for new Shadowhunters. It is meant to guide them into their new, dangerous, usually short life. The life of a Shadowhunter is violent and often brief, but their role in containing rogue Downworlders and preventing harm upon mundanes by demons and the like is an important one. While most Shadowhunters are born into the life, some mundanes can ascend to become Raziel's soldiers. For those who have not been raised as a Shadowhunter, there is a lot to learn. The Codex is meant to guide those young, new Shadowhunters to prevent their even more untimely deaths. 

This is a brief little book that is mostly unnecessary if you have followed along with the series up to its most recent book. It details everything from the Mortal Instruments to a Shadowhunter's weapons to the different kinds of Downworlders. While I didn't mind all this information, and enjoyed this little manual, it is pretty repetitive and would make only the most die-hard fans happy. The most important information you get is the history in the last part of the book. The history of the Shadowhunters has been touched on in bits and pieces throughout the series, but it was good to have it all together in one place. 

The most entertaining part of this book wasn't the actual book itself, but the "notations" made by Clary, Jace, and Simon. They were funny little quips, especially about the parts where the Codex is lacking due to plot events from previous books. If I hadn't read the series, though, these little smart-guy comments wouldn't make much sense. I would use this book for a student who is going through the series but reads slow and might lose track of different names that are complex and unfamiliar. Using this as a dictionary/reference of sorts for those oddball items and names would help them keep up with the series at their own pace. It was a cute companion to the story, but if you read pretty steadily with the series, it isn't entirely necessary for your Mortal Instruments enjoyment!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hell Froze Over and its Ugly!

Melissa de la Cruz is no newcomer to the world of the magical and supernatural. In her new series with her husband, Michael Johnston, however, she brings a whole new level to the Heart of Dread series with the first book Frozen. In this new series, you will see every manner of supernatural or post-apocalyptic element. It could have been like a literary version of a clown car, but instead, de la Cruz and Johnston knocked it out of the park. 

Nat escaped. She got away, but now she must hide in plain sight. As a dealer in New Vegas, it is easy to blend right into the woodwork while still standing in a busy casino day after day. In a world covered with ice, everything will do almost anything for heat credits to stay alive. But Nat has more to hide. She wears lenses to cover her eyes and never reveals her Mark because people aren't comfortable around the Marked and their powers. But when a guy comes to her table and clearly tries to run a con, she takes advantage of the situation and snags the life-changing heat credits off the table he was trying to scam. Now she has the opportunity to use the map she "acquired" not long ago. This map could lead her to the Blue, a place untouched by the pollution and chemicals that surround them all in this disgusting, frozen world. Now all she needs is someone to get her there. 

Wes had his chance. He almost had those credits, but the dealer had him captivated and he lost his chance. When he looked back, the credits were gone. Now he had to go back to his hungry crew empty handed and face the angry kids he was responsible for. He is getting desperate, but when a big job comes through to take some girl into the poisoned, polluted ocean, he agrees to take the job. Now he just has to get his boat back. What he doesn't expect is to see the dealer in front of him ready for her ride. There is something mysterious about this girl, something dangerous, but he doesn't scare easily, and he doesn't have much of a choice. His crew needs to eat. So they all head off into the ocean full of Trashbergs and dead of any life filled with water that will kill you on a mission that seems impossible. In a world full of magical folks, however, nothing is impossible. 

This book easily could have been "too much," easily, but somehow, by the end, the myriad of different elements seemed to work quite well.  In the beginning I struggled a little to make sense of Cruz and Johnston's world, but once I understood where all the different pieces fit together, it was quite an enjoyable story. For instance, this is a world that suffered environmental catastrophe, is covered with polluted ice, has no means to support itself through agriculture, and survives off synthetic food. That is enough for one whole book on its own. Then you add the magical folk who came out of the ice as it took hold of the world. First people were suspicious of the Sylph or the Smallmen, but then they realized the benefits of using these magical people. Quickly, however, paranoia grabbed hold and they began to imprison or do away with anyone magical, including the Marked, people born with a Mark and a gift. Then you add this magical place that has somehow avoided the environmental disaster that took down the rest of the world. And there is more, but I don't want to give it all away. Clown car? Yeah. Clown car that eventually worked? Yep!

I did struggle with this book at first, because it is so hard to figure out where all the wildly different pieces fit together. After I got about  100 pages into the book, it started to all pull together and then I got hooked. I have to admit I read the Blue Bloods series and loved it at first, but by the end I wanted to scream "enough already!" and that was directly tied to the path de la Cruz took that led her so far away from the original premise of the book. She does tend to overcomplicate her plots and then they lose their way quickly (can't have a story about witches- gotta through some Norse Mythology in there!). It has always been her downfall for me. Perhaps this series will be more successful because the 1001 elements are already out there and won't muddy the story later on, but I fear she is going to think, "Book 2? We need something new... how about evil, murderous pagan gods! Book 3? Where do we go with this one... I've got it! Animals who can walk and talk. Book 4? The Knights Templar!" and before you know it, you've got one big ole hot mess like the Blue Bloods. So, my biggest hope for this series is she knows how to edit properly and doesn't get carried away with trying to make it "exciting" by stuffing in entire kitchen pantry. This is a decent adventure series for both young adults and high-skilled middle readers. If they can figure out the complex beginning, they will really enjoy the adventure at the end. But remember, Melissa and Michael! Less is More!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Island of Secrets

Orphans with potential will still be lost in the system. Their potential turns from something good to something that could lead them down a path of crime. When one man develops a network to funnel those delinquent orphans through the system directly to his island, he changes the fate of these children forever. John Dixon's Phoenix Island is a no-nonsense story about who we are inside... and who we are fated to be. 

Carl Freeman lost his parents and became an orphan. Stability is a figment of his imagination as he is bounced from foster family to foster family and state to state. He tries to stay out of trouble and keep to himself, but he has a weakness for bullies. When he sees a bunch of kids going too far, he can't help but step in and do something. Of course the bullies were the sons of very connected people, so boxing champ Carl is deemed the villain in that story. When the judge sends him to Phoenix Island, Carl chooses to see this as an opportunity rather than a punishment. If he keeps his head down and does his time, he will be released with an expunged record by the time he is 18. This is the first big break Carl has ever received and he intends to take it seriously. 

Phoenix Island is nothing like he expected. Sure, there are other delinquents like himself, but the guards are not interested in just making sure everyone follows the rules. They are soldiers. And sadistic. In addition, they have picked some favorites out of the group to act as their long reaching arms into the ranks of the orphans. The boys chosen for that detail are exactly like the kids Carl beat up to get put here. It will be hard enough to keep his head down, but when Carl starts to suspect there is something deeper and darker than just vindictive guards, he struggles with his inner conscience. His weakness has always been that he cared about the people around him. At least that is what the system led him to believe. But in reality? Has it made him stronger than the bullies around him?

Phoenix Island looked like a "boy book" and truly turned out to be a boy book. If it was a movie, a 16 yr old Sylvester Stallone would play Carl. He would wear a dirty white tank top and fatigues and run around the island all sweaty and dirty. I am not criticizing this. Honestly? I watch the Rambo series all the time (more than I care to admit). But there is a particular audience for this kind of story. If you have a reader who loves those violent action flicks (I know I do!) with explosions and bad guys and the lone good guy trying to save the world one innocent life at a time, here be your tale. And it was done pretty well, albeit a little formulaic. I really didn't have to predict much about the layout of the plot because it happened just as you would think it would. Again, that isn't to say I didn't like it, because it was certainly enjoyable, but I would have loved a surprise every now and then. 

The real winner in this story is Carl. He is truly unwavering in his goodness. Carl actually cannot control himself when it comes to protecting the innocent, even when he knows it will totally and completely ruin his life. He is the epitome of unwavering good guy. A little unrealistic, but it makes for an entertaining story! He is the kind of good guy you can't help but root for and hope he pummels the crap out of the bad guys. I have to say, the fact that he is always in trouble for stopping bullying is my favorite part of the story (and the saddest reflection of humanity). Phoenix Island is an entertaining, kind of predictable story that will certainly appeal to those hard-to-reach boys. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

This Broken Universe

As you look up at the stars, you can imagine a world where any universe is at your fingertips. Imagine if those universes really could be at your fingertips with the mere thrust of hyperdrive. In These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, the worlds, planets, and universes collide when two star-crossed lovers fall from space. 

Lilac LaRoux's father is the richest man in the universe. To say she is untouchable isn't an understatement. Her father would make any man who dared to look at her too long, ultimately disappear. Tarver Merendsen may be a decorated war hero, but he wasn't born among these people, and they don't hesitate to let him know. He is on the luxury liner, but he doesn't belong there. When he bumps into Lilac, he is drawn to her. He doesn't know who she is, but she is still out of his league. She is equally as interested, but she will never risk putting another man on the wrong side of her father. Not after what happened to her childhood love. 

When the ship starts to pull out of hyperspace, everyone is supposed to run for escape pods. Tarver tries to help people from being trampled, but in the rush, he and Lilac are swept the same way. They find an empty pod and manage to start disengage from the ship, although not all pods make it. In fact, they seem to be the only one that was able to actually disengage from the ship before it plummeted to the nearest planet. Lilac and Tarver have a bumpy landing, but at least they are alive. What they don't expect is a planet that seems to defy all logic. It appears to be terraformed, but there are creatures on the planet that wouldn't exist on a terraformed planet. If that isn't peculiar enough, Lilac keeps hearing voices in the wind. Tarver is convinced they are a result of her shock at the situation, but when they save them from certain death, he begins to realize there is something different about this planet. They had hoped to be rescued by Lilac's father soon, but will anyone find them before they find out the deep, dark secrets that lie in this planet?

This book has gotten a lot of hype and I can see why. It is like Titanic on a luxury spaceliner. And who didn't fall for the love story on Titanic, right?! Well, you will love Tarver and Lilac just as much as you loved Jack and Rose. In fact, this story was captivating. Not only the romantic spark between the two characters, but also the world they find themselves in. It is so unique and interesting, and I can't tell you how much I loved reading about it. I will say I preferred the first 2/3 of the book to the last 1/3, though. By the end it got really trippy and out there, and that is where the true science fiction came in. While this seemed at first like a simple space opera, there was a lot more to it by the end. The deep and confusing back story was interesting, but to be honest, I would have been just as happy following Tarver and Lilac around the planet! That isn't to say I didn't like that last 1/3, I just preferred the beginning of the story more. 

This is a complex story with average to above average language but a clean story that would be appropriate for any age. Given the complexity of the story, I would save this for students of any age as long as they have strong reading and comprehension skills. A student with weaker skills might get lost in the latter portion of the book. I think my favorite part of the story has to be Lilac. Even though she could easily have been a useless, overprivileged brat, she surprised even Tarver when she bit her lip and muscled through the daunting task of surviving on an alien planet. It was an awesome portrayal of a female character, and I loved reading about her! I look forward to seeing where this series goes from here!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

OCD, The Dude, and Me

There are books out there that make you laugh, that make you cry, and that do a little of both. But when you find a book that leaves you stunned and speechless, you stand up and take note. Lauren Roedy Vaughn's OCD, The Dude, and Me is a story like no other. 

Danielle doesn't make apologies for the way she is, but that doesn't mean her mother likes it. What's worse than being chunky, having unruly orange hair, and being a general outcast? How about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to top it all off? When Danielle's English teacher encourages her to see the school counselor, Danielle is unhappy, to say the least. But at least in class, she can communicate through her favorite means- by writing. Her English teacher even advises the counselor to let Danielle conduct sessions through letters. She can't be all that bad, right? You would think, but then again, she seems to enjoy ripping apart Danielle's English papers, no matter how witty they are (or snarky). 

When everyone seems to conspire together to ruin her life, they decide to do so through a social skills class for other social rejects like Danielle. Even her parents are gung-ho for her attendance in this class. While Danielle inwardly wants to shrivel up and die before attending, her mother's thinly veiled threats to send her back to legit therapy keep her going. But something interesting happens. Danielle meets Daniel. An unlikely duo, as Daniel seems surly and sullen to Danielle's quirks, they find common ground in their relationships with the world. Both have wildly different reasons for how they relate to people, but the end result is fairly similar: outcast central. 

Oh I just loved this story. Danielle is the perfect blend of kooky, sassy, and snarky all rolled into one. And the best part of this story? For once, we have a really great blend of adults in the life of a student with a learning difference who support but don't shelter the main character. Too often we have overbearing parents who try to do everything for their child or protect them from the world, but that doesn't do anything to prepare them for the eventual time when they have to be independent. Or we get the oblivious, absentee parents who don't care the kind of pain their children are going through. In this book, it first seemed like the English teacher and Danielle's parents were too pushy or unforgiving, but really they were doing what was best for Danielle. It might not have been what Danielle wanted, per se, but it was what was best for her. From making her talk to the counselor, to the social skills class, to even forcing her to go on a class trip to England, everything they did was painful, but it actually helped Danielle. I liked that it took me a little while, especially since the story is told through Danielle's assignments and personal journal, to figure that out. Since she was not thrilled about these endeavors, it took her revelation that they had helped for the reader to have the same revelation. It really put the reader in Danielle's shoes in a marvelous and touching way. In addition, she has an aunt who is just fabulous. Seriously. Totally fabulous! We all need an aunt like this in our lives!

This story was so amazing it took me longer than usual to read because I felt like I had to digest every single word with care. It is so much more than meets the eye. My colleague and friend and co-blogger (if we can ever coax her back here!) left this book for me. I knew I would like it, but I wasn't prepared for just how much I would love it! Vaughn really captured the complexity and inner thoughts of her characters, and did so in a way that takes you through their lives alongside them. This is a book that will stay with you long after you have finished it, and just like Theresa, you will want to pass it onto someone you know will love it as much as you do!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

If there were a water shortage, the people living in cities with no real water sources of their own would be desperate. In Lynn's world, water has always been scarce to the point that those who have it, guard it with their lives. In Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis isn't afraid to show just how dark and cruel the world can be. 

Lynn and Mother live and survive by themselves. They don't need anyone else. They protect their little pond, gather and store food and wood to get them through the winter, and they shoot anyone who comes close to their water. They have to. In this world, its killed or be killed, and Mother doesn't let anyone get close enough to tip the scales in their favor. When an unfortunate accident leaves Lynn all by herself, she knows she can survive, but she isn't sure she is willing to survive the way her mother always taught her to. When her neighbor, Stebbs, makes contact, Lynn breaks every rule her mother set. She talks to him. Even worse, she agrees to check out the camp of strangers down stream who clearly have no idea what they are doing. 

Lynn has never had to deal with people, so she doesn't come off as terribly empathetic when she meets Eli. He and his niece Lucy and Lucy's very pregnant mother Neva have been camping and trying to survive, but with the group of dangerous men nearby who took all their food and Neva's refusal to leave the side of the stream, life hasn't been easy. Now Neva is in labor and in trouble. Normally Lynn would have left them to fend for themselves, but Stebbs convinces her that the world isn't always so black and white. When people have more than they need and have the ability to help those who don't, their choices say a lot about them. And so begins Lynn's new life- one where she has to trust people more than she ever has. 

This was a seriously realistic, interesting post-apocalyptic story that, in my humble opinion, accurately depicts the world we would live in if water became more valuable than money. The descriptions of life in the cities where people are forced to live in poverty, desperately trying to make enough to buy water and the life in the wilds where people with water sources hold onto them fiercely. The descriptions of Lynn and her mother were truly remarkable. A woman with a daughter, surviving all those years alone, they had to become a hardened to the plights of those around them, and McGinnis did a beautiful job of explaining that. I loved that while Lynn grew up being suspicious of everyone and shooting before asking questions, she still had it in her to care about people, like her love for little Lucy. Even giving Stebbs a chance was a huge step for Lynn, and while each step took courage, she was willing to brave new territory.

This is a great book for anyone new to the PA genre or someone who already delved into it. It is a very realistic portrait of life after the end of the world as we knew it. The violence is certainly there, as it has to be for this kind of landscape, but it isn't gratuitous. The story is relatively short, about 300 pages, but it is a full and complete story from start to finish with an ending that couldn't be more perfect. The characters certainly suffer some losses, and you see how truly ugly people can be in a world like this, but you will be happy with the course of events that has to take place. I really loved this book, and I will be keeping an eye on McGinnis from now on!

Body Finder Meets Criminal Minds

Nothing is more terrifying than a serial killer hunting in your back yard. Well, maybe a horde of zombies, but one is more likely than the other. In Jennifer Lynn Barnes' first book of a new series, The Naturals, she explores the desperation of the FBI to catch these brutal hunters, even if it means she has to enlist the help of some kids.

Cassie knows her grandmother loves her, but after her fake-psychic mother was murdered and Cassie was the one to stumble upon the crime scene, living with her grandmother has always left her feeling like an outsider. When she is approached by a boy sent by the FBI to consider entering a special program of other Naturals, she assumes they are just messing with her. But the offer is real. There is a special group of kids who are Natural profilers, genius statisticians, and human lie detectors who can swing the result of any investigation. They aren't allowed into the field, but the agents house them in an old mansion and ask them to review cold cases in the hopes of solving previously unsolvable crimes.

Michael brings her around to meet the other kids, but while he is welcoming, the others aren't exactly interested in her presence. They all live in a house with pictures of serial killers on the walls, but that isn't even the strangest thing about the place. Liv can read lies and Sloane is like Rain Man (and a klepto). But mysterious Dean is the unreadable member of the team. The agents want to ease Cassie into the process, but when a serial killer starts hunting in the middle of the city, they get desperate. The kids aren't willing to stay on the sidelines, though, and their meddling gets them, Cassie in particular, the attention of the one person they don't want: the serial killer.

The Naturals was my first experience with Barnes, and I have to say it was definitely a good one! The story was a nice mix of slightly paranormal (the kids' "natural talents" feel a little like special abilities) and a crime mystery. The serial killer is a pretty creepy twist with special short chapters between Cassie's chapters where you get inside the killer's head. Creeptastic! Barnes did a good job of building enough suspense that you couldn't put the story down, and better yet, it seems we will have a sequel to look forward to. The one aspect of the story I struggled with was the boys. Michael and Dean are supposed to be the Cassie Love Triangle, but neither really appealed to me. I was more interested in quirky Liv and Sloane than I was the boys, which made it tough to be too invested in the small amount of romance in the story. But Dean has a promising back story that could get interesting.

The story can be kind of gruesome at times. Basically, if you would let a kid watch Criminal Minds, they could read this book about these serial killers. The house the kids live in is a little morbid, but it adds to the creep factor of the whole place. The story was fast-paced and incredibly interesting, so it would be good for any reader interested in mysteries or crime writing. I am looking forward to the next story  to see what happens to all the Naturals!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Surprising and Intense

A story that completely catches you off-guard is an experience in and of itself. One that catches you off-guard, kicks you in the cojones and dances a jog on top of them is something you can't miss! Andrew Klavan's Nightmare City did just that... if I had cojones. 

Tom Harding believes in the integrity of journalism. He was just an average teen in high school until he wrote and published an article that exposed his championship high school football team for using steroids to win the championship a couple of years earlier. Tom had sources and hard evidence, but like any respectable journalist, he maintained their requested anonymity with a ferocity. Even when the principal and football coach pulled him in and threatened him, he refused to give them his sources or to retract the story. It was true and Tom believed in the truth. 

When Tom wakes up in the morning, something about the day feels off. He looks outside to see the marine fog has crept far inland and seems to be blanketing the neighborhood. Even creepier, the whole neighborhood seems eerily quiet. When he goes downstairs to get his mother, she is nowhere to be found. Then he hears his brother's voice calling to him from the basement rec room. The only problem is his brother died in the service six months earlier. Tom realizes something is deeply wrong and when he sees a woman outside, he tries to follow her. He doesn't think anything of the mist that seems to be enveloping him, until he realizes something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong. And then he sees them. The creatures. They are all around him, coming for him...

OK. I am going to warn you about something, but I am not going to give away the surprise. This book is NOTHING like the description I just gave, but that is all I am going to give you because the real story, the surprise twist in the story is too good to ruin for any reader. I started reading this book and thought, "OK. Decent horror story. I'm enjoying this!" And then, about 100 pages in it threw me on the ground and beat the crap out of me. The whole story was nothing like I expected. There was nothing to indicate this about the blurb or the cover, but it was a total twist. And man, did I love it! So, if you are going to read this story (and you should), make sure you go into it with an open mind! 

Everything about this story makes it a brilliant option for reluctant readers. It is exciting and fast-paced, and you will flip that last page and be just as stunned as I was! In fact, I ended up starting this book very late last night and stayed up until 2am to finish it in one sitting. That's how fun of a read it was! I plan to use this book for those tough boys who don't like to read anything. It will knock them off their chairs! Klavan has done a great job with the young adult genre. It is full of simple language but is still a complex and intricate story I couldn't get enough of and never got bored with. Loved it! 

The Cutting Edge Meets The Parent Trap

Lauren Morril broke into the scene with her first book, Meant to Be, and she joined the ranks of Stephanie Perkins and Sarah Dessen in the world of contemporary romance. With her next book, Being Sloane Jacobs, she proves her success with Meant to Be was not beginners luck!

Sloane Emily Jacobs has been out of the figure skating circuit for a while, but her mother insists this intensive camp in Canada is the perfect place for her to get back in the game. While Sloane E wants nothing to do with skating anymore, at least not competitively, she is willing to go to the camp just to get away from her politician father and the tension between him and the family. Always the obediant daughter, Sloane E is having trouble these days being the perfect girl his political career demands. Especially when their family is anything but perfect. 

Sloane Devon Jacobs has the yips. Everyone thinks she is just one seriously tough hockey player, but all the checking and aggression is just hiding the fact that she can't make a shot. She can get the puck lined up for the perfect shot, but every time she gets there, she chokes. When she takes it out on a deserving loud-mouthed player, her coach decides she needs to spend a little time a hockey boot camp in Canada. When her father supports the idea, Sloane D feels like she is damaged goods being shipped off and out of the way, just like her mother. Since the camp is Sloane D's only way to keep playing hockey and hopefully get the scholarship that will be her only one-way ticket out of Philly and into a better life, she will do it. But she isn't happy about it. 

Then something happens. Sloane E and Sloane D crash into one another. Literally. When the bellhops bring their luggage up to their rooms at the hotel the night before camp starts, they realize the luggage was switched. Their names are the same, but their lives are vastly different. Both girls are running away from something, and finally they have an opportunity to forget who they are and all their responsibilities. They decide to switch. Sloane E goes to hockey camp and Sloane D becomes a figure skater. What the girls don't stop to think about is that you can ignore your life briefly, but it won't go away permanently!

Oh I so enjoyed this story. It was a really cute "chick flick" of a book that gave me the warm fuzzies. While there is a little romance going on for both girls, the focus of the story really was on the girls and what they were both going through. I did, at a couple of points, think to myself it was a little unrealistic that a hockey player could become a figure skater and vice versa in a week or two, or even do it well enough to fool the people at their respective camps, but if you suspend that belief enough to enjoy the story, it is a really fabulous coming of age story. Both these girls have a lot of baggage and have situations back home they are running from, but by escaping that for only a few short weeks, they have a chance to really find out who THEY are. It was a really fabulous story about two really great young ladies!

I am really growing to love Lauren Morrill. I was lucky enough to have a chance to meet her at our local bookstore a few months ago, and I hope she keeps turning out stories like this one. She has an unabashed love for romantic comedies that even the most jaded of ladies out there has to appreciate. And it really shows in her stories that she is a Dessen and Perkins fan. She pays homage to the greats of the genre while still paving her own unique path, and I can't wait to see what she comes out with next! 

Where Does Your Allegiance Lie?

The city formerly known as Chicago has been divided into factions for generations, but it was never more divided than when a group of factionless, led by a tyrant of a woman, forced the factions to disband. In the conclusion to the Divergent series, Allegiant is Veronica Roth's chance to wrap up the stories of Tris and Tobias. 

With the factions disbanded, the people of the city are struggling to find their rightful place. When Evelyn locks the city down, Tris, Tobias, and a number of others designated the "Allegiant" or rebels against the factionless, decide to escape the city in the hopes of some help from the Vast outside. What they find outside the city, however, is something none of them could have expected. They have known all along the Divergent were special, unique. They also knew the Divergent were being hunted, but they assumed those people were lost forever. When Tobias runs into the Divergent who helped him when he joined Dauntless, he can't believe he is alive. But outside the fence, there are even more secrets to be uncovered.

Very quickly they learn Chicago is only one city of many experiments. All were treated differently, and not all had factions, but the most terrifying thing is the organization outside the fence is just as devious and cold as those factions inside the fence. When a war is on the brink of eruption in Chicago, they have plans to "reset" the experiment. Tris, Tobias and the others are stuck on the outside watching their friends and family inside being treated like mice in a maze. But if you know anything about these brave kids, you know they don't just sit idly by and watch tyrants mess with their lives. They are going to do something about it. Even if it means risking their lives. 

I have a truly strange relationship with this series. I loved, I mean adored the first book. The second book was good, but it just didn't have that magic for me. And again, I liked this book, but it just didn't have that spark of the first book. I will, however, say that for all of you out there who hate the romance or the relationship angles of these dystopian books (can't harm the sacred 10 people who we love so much!), you will be happy to know Roth ended this story in a way that leaves no question where her loyalties lay. She is dedicated to her story, not her characters. She is dedicated to the world, not the relationships in it. While I struggled to truly LOVE this book like I had the first, I totally respected her dedication to the world she built. I am sure it wasn't easy for her to do and she will get a lot of flak for it (much like Robert Kirkman gets for his ruthless treatment of his characters in The Walking Dead). 

I think the struggle with this story lies in the huge amount of conflicts all intertwined but still independent of one another that are going on. Sometimes they contradicted one another, which made the whole situation a little more confusing. For instance, there was more than one rebel movement in the fence, more than one outside the fence, people pretending to be on one side but really on a different side but actually secretly working for a third side?! Sadly, in an effort to make the story intricate and complex, it got lost in a convoluted mess. That being said, however, it wasn't a bad story. I actually enjoyed it and was content with the ending (although I predict many readers will hate it). I just don't think the rest of this series lived up to the amazing first book, sadly.