Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige

Title: The Wicked Will Rise
Author: Danielle Paige
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: March 31, 2015
Rating: 5/5

Cover Impressions: 
I love the entire concept of this cover.  Very dark and gritty.  The cut out showing storm clouds is fantastic and I love the shade of green for the title font.

The Gist:

In this dark, high-octane sequel to the New York Times bestselling Dorothy Must Die, Amy Gumm must do everything in her power to kill Dorothy and free Oz.

To make Oz a free land again, Amy Gumm was given a mission: remove the Tin Woodman’s heart, steal the Scarecrow’s brain, take the Lion’s courage, and then Dorothy must die....

But Dorothy still lives. Now the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked has vanished, and mysterious Princess Ozma might be Amy’s only ally. As Amy learns the truth about her mission, she realizes that she’s only just scratched the surface of Oz’s past—and that Kansas, the home she couldn't wait to leave behind, may also be in danger. In a place where the line between good and evil shifts with just a strong gust of wind, who can Amy trust—and who is really Wicked?

 

Review:Having failed to assasinate Dorothy, Amy Gumm is on the run.  Alongside her is princess Ozma, former ruler of Oz and current space case.  All she has to go on is the Wizard's assurance that she can succeed in her task once she has collected the three most powerful objects in Oz.  With the tin man's still beating heart squirreled away in her satchel, Amy sets out to find the rest her compatriates, collect the Lion's courage and Scarecrow's brain, and finally kill Dororthy.

For those people new to the story, this is not the Oz we grew up with.  It is much grittier and features some truly dark characters.  There are gruesome deaths (usually at Amy's hand) and some scary moments that are not for the faint of heart.  This creates an action-packed plot that is near impossible to put down (even when it is past midnight and you know that your 3 month old will be waking in a few hours!) 

In this second book in the series, Danielle Paige has expanded to cast of characters and moved beyond those we may be familiar with.  We meet LuLu, the monkey queen with a past close to the crown, Bright, a beautiful but cowardly young man and Polychrome, the rainbow fairy who appears to have a great deal more going on beneath the surface.  Of course our old favorites reappear and we get to see a developing relationship between Amy and Nox.  Amy experiences a great deal of growth within this novel as she learns more and more about the magic of Oz and balances the line between good and wicked.  She is not your simpering, goody-two shoes character who whines about her lot in life and she never hesitates to do the dirty work - even when that involves beheadings!

We follow Amy and Ozma through several new, enchanting lands and get a glimpse of what Oz could have been without the influence of Dorothy and Glinda.  These worlds are truly magical and I only wish the book had been longer so that we could spend more time in these incredible places.  We also get to see a twisted, macabre version of the Emerald City and discover that the liberation of Oz has become even more complicated than we had previously thought.  In the end, we are left on a cliffhanger that had me thinking about the book all night long and pining for the release of the next in the series (2017? Say it ain't so?!)

If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and pick up this book.  And while you are at it, grab the novellas as well. They add an interesting dimension to the story and allow you to immerse yourself in Oz just that little bit longer.


Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:  13 and up
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Knifeplay, Swordplay, Death by Beheading, Death by Strangulation
Inappropriate Language: Fuck, Dick, Shit,
Substance Use/Abuse: Smoking

Monday, April 6, 2015

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Title: Shadow Scale
Author: Rachel Hartman
Publisher:
Random House Children's Books
Release Date:
March 10, 2015
Rating:
4/5

Cover Impressions: These covers are so intricate.  I can't help but stare at all the little details and I love the color.  I wonder if the physical copy has the iridescence that the Seraphina re-do did.

The Gist:
The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?


Review:
Shadow Scale continues the story of half-dragon, Seraphina as she seeks out others of her kind and endeavors to find a way to save her home from the fallout of a dragon civil war.  Seraphina still struggles with who she is as she travels the region meeting hatred in some and acceptance in others.  
Shadow Scale features some fantastic characters.  First, we continue with the half dragons we have already met - Abdo, Lars and Dame Okra - all phenomenal characters in their own right.  Particularly with Dame Okra's sense of wit.
"'Ah children' growled Dame Okra, watching him climb. 'I forget what darlings they are.  How I long for the opportunity to forget once more.'"

But, as Seraphina travels we get to encounter even more half-dragons and see how the avatars in her mind garden compare to the actual specimen.  It was fascinating to see how the dragon side manifested in each of these people and the different motivations of each.  We are also able to see the impact of location and upbringing as we travel from Goredd, where Seraphina hid among the people of the city, to Ninys, where the Ityasaari were banished from society, to Porphyry, where they experienced their own sense of community and family.  We also see more of Jannoula, raised in the worse of circumstances and playing her own game with the people, Ityasaari and dragons.  We spend a great deal of time trying to ascertain her motivations and whether or not she can be trusted.  This adds a sense of intrigue and mystery to the plot.  
The story itself lags a little as we get bogged down in several different places.  There are instances where Seraphina appears to spend a great deal of time in limbo, never really accomplishing anything and also times when the plot is slowed by a sense of helplessness as Seraphina appears unwilling or incapable of saving the people that she loves.  There are also several sections where the author delves into metaphor and introspection, particularly with regard to the inner workings of Seraphina's mind.  The whole concept of the mind garden and Jannoula's tethering is confusing at best, and I did find my eyes glazing over when the author tried to explain them.  The rest of the plot is much stronger, particularly after Seraphina returns to Goredd and the war approaches.  

This being YA, we can't quite escape the love interest aspect, but it is particularly well done in Shadow Scale.  Here we see two characters making a conscious choice not to be together because of the pain it will cause someone they both care about.  There are also some unexpected surprises to this portion of the plot which were a breath of fresh air to someone who has seen the same old love triangle over and over again.  I was also very thankful to Harman for the inclusion of diverse characters - those of color, of all sexualities and even transgendered.  Those aspects of the characters are not a plot device, or even their defining characteristic - it is simply part of them being well-developed characters.    

Bottom Line: Shadow Scale features some phenomenal characters and an interesting plot.  It is an excellent continuation of the story started in Seraphina and, in the end, will leave the reader satisfied, even if we do wish for books in this world. 
Notable Quotables: "Oh, good - he was dead, too. It wasn't just me."

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
12 and up
Sex:  Kissing
Violence: Swordplay, Knifeplay, Death by Falling
Inappropriate Language: Bastard
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Lies I Told by Michelle Zink

Title: Lies I Told
Author: Michelle Zink
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: April 7, 2015
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions:
  Not as compelling as it could be.  I like the mysterious feel of the shadowy figure but this cover has been done before. 

The Gist:

Grace Fontaine has everything: beauty, money, confidence, and the perfect family.

But it’s all a lie.

Grace has been adopted into a family of thieves who con affluent people out of money, jewelry, art, and anything else of value. Grace has never had any difficulty pulling off a job, but when things start to go wrong on the Fontaines' biggest heist yet, Grace finds herself breaking more and more of the rules designed to keep her from getting caught...including the most important one of all: never fall for your mark.
 

Review:
Lies I Told tells the story of a family of con artists as they embark on their biggest heist to date.  Having spent considerable time in the foster care system and been adopted during her teens, this life is the only one that Grace knows.  She trusts her family implicitely and follows their rules to elude suspicion.  Until there is a boy.  Logan is supposed to be just another mark and Grace is supposed to worm her way into his good graces in order to allow her family the opportunity to steal from his father.  But this is different than other jobs and Logan is different from other boys.  Grace finds herself losing her drive and wishing for a different life, a life in which she can have a future with the boy she is falling for.  Meanwhile, her brother Parker is becoming more and more disillusioned with the life they have been taught to lead.  He wants out, and he wants Grace to come with him.  As she falls deeper and deeper into the con, Grace must decide which will stand, her loyalty to her brother, to her parents, or to the boy who has won her heart.

While the first half of the book is a little slow to get started, it does feature some fascinating facets of the life of a con family, for example the fact that they have a "war room" in each home and that details of the job are only discussed there.  It also develops the details necessary to pull of their job and allows for the developing romance of Grace and Logan, a romance that is, thankfully, more slow-burn than insta-love.  The plot gets more and more exciting as we approach the heist and it has some truly heart stopping moments.  

I was a little disappointed in the characters.  Most of them are pretty one-dimensional and, other than Grace herself, we see most characters as part of a larger group and don't get to know any of them all that well on their own.  The one stand-out was Rachel.  She was suspicious of Grace from the moment she met her and didn't quite fit the stereotype of Rich Girl Queen Bee.  In fact, I found myself wishing that this had been written as a dual narrative so that we could watch Rachel as she sought out the truth about Grace and her family.  I wasn't a great fan of Grace at the beginning as she tended to whine a little too much about the type of life she had.  Coming into the book, I had been hoping for a character who reveled in the life and, perhaps, began to change her ways through the plot.  Grace however, was already becoming frustrated with never staying in one place and with the guilt that came from befriending people only to betray them.  As the novel wore on, she became much more of an agreeable character and, with help of the surprising ending, I have high hopes for her in the next novel.  
The novel truly shines in its ending.  From the moment the heist itself gets under way the plot becomes much more exciting and each page had me coming up with a new theory about how it would end.  I was surprised by how satisfying the ending was, while still making me anticipate the next book. 

Lies I Told is a solid introduction into a new series and a great read for fans of espionage and betrayal. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age: 13 and up
Sex:
Kissing, Sex between teenagers - not described
Violence: None
Inappropriate Language: Fuck, Shit, Assholes, Bitch, Jesus
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Marijuana Use

This Review can also be found on Young Adult Books Central

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

New Releases: March 31, 2015


It's Release Day!!  Here are some of the new books that I am excited about this week!

The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige

In this dark, high-octane sequel to the New York Times bestselling Dorothy Must Die, Amy Gumm must do everything in her power to kill Dorothy and free Oz.

To make Oz a free land again, Amy Gumm was given a mission: remove the Tin Woodman’s heart, steal the Scarecrow’s brain, take the Lion’s courage, and then Dorothy must die....

But Dorothy still lives. Now the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked has vanished, and mysterious Princess Ozma might be Amy’s only ally. As Amy learns the truth about her mission, she realizes that she’s only just scratched the surface of Oz’s past—and that Kansas, the home she couldn't wait to leave behind, may also be in danger. In a place where the line between good and evil shifts with just a strong gust of wind, who can Amy trust—and who is really Wicked?




The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer

When Stephen is forced to move back to the nowhere town where his father grew up, he’s already sure he’s not going to like it. Spencer, Michigan, is like a town straight out of a Hitchcock movie, with old-fashioned people who see things only in black-and-white. But things start looking up when Stephen meets the mysterious twins Cara and Devon. They’re total punks–hardly the kind of people Stephen’s dad wants him hanging out with–but they’re a breath of fresh air in this backward town. The only problem is, Cara and Devon don’t always get along, and as Stephen forms a friendship with the charismatic Devon and something more with the troubled Cara, he starts to feel like he’s getting caught in the middle of a conflict he doesn’t fully understand. And as Devon’s group of friends, who hang out in a cemetery they call The Playground, get up to increasingly reckless activities to pass the summer days, Stephen worries he may be in over his head.

Stephen’s fears prove well-founded when he learns of Spencer’s dark past. It seems the poor factory town has a history of “bad times,” and many of the town’s oldest residents attribute the bad times to creatures right out of an urban legend. The legend goes that the only way the town will prosper again is if someone makes a sacrifice to these nightmarish creatures. And while Stephen isn’t one to believe in old stories, it seems Devon and his gang might put a lot of faith in them. Maybe even enough to kill for them.

Now, Stephen has to decide what he believes, where his allegiances lie, and who will really be his friend in the end.


Sisters of Blood and Spirit by Kady Cross


Wren Noble is dead—she was born that way. Vibrant, unlike other dead things, she craves those rare moments when her twin sister allows her to step inside her body and experience the world of the living.

Lark Noble is alive but often feels she belongs in the muted Shadow Lands—the realm of the dead. Known as the crazy girl who talks to her dead sister, she doesn't exactly fit in with the living, though a recent suicide attempt and time in a psych ward have proved to her she's not ready to join her sister in the afterlife.

Now the guy who saved Lark's life needs her to repay the favor. He and his friends have been marked for death by the malevolent spirit of a vicious and long-dead serial killer, and the twins—who should know better than to mess with the dead—may be their only hope of staying alive.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Sisters of Blood and Spirit by Kady Cross


Title: Sisters of Blood and Spirit
Author: Kady Cross
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: March 31st
Rating: 4/5
 
Cover Impressions: I really like the idea behind this cover but the photoshop isn't quite up to snuff and I can't concentrate too long on the hairline without grimacing. 

The Gist:
Wren Noble is dead—she was born that way. Vibrant, unlike other dead things, she craves those rare moments when her twin sister allows her to step inside her body and experience the world of the living.

Lark Noble is alive but often feels she belongs in the muted Shadow Lands—the realm of the dead. Known as the crazy girl who talks to her dead sister, she doesn't exactly fit in with the living, though a recent suicide attempt and time in a psych ward have proved to her she's not ready to join her sister in the afterlife.

Now the guy who saved Lark's life needs her to repay the favor. He and his friends have been marked for death by the malevolent spirit of a vicious and long-dead serial killer, and the twins—who should know better than to mess with the dead—may be their only hope of staying alive.


Review:

Sisters of Blood and Spirit has a really interesting premise.  Twin sisters, one girl and one ghost - both more powerful than they know.  When they encounter a group of teens who have been marked by a frightening spirit, they agree to try and save them, even if that means venturing into the ruins of a mental institution that is filled with ghosts who would love to get their hands on the sisters.

The plot is very suspenseful and has some great, scary elements.  I actually avoided reading it right before bed.  There are some terrifying ghosts and, despite a few slow downs as we get introduced to the world building of this new series, the plot moves along pretty well.

I did feel a little lost in that so much seemed to have happened to the group prior to the start of this novel.  The girls grew up along side one another, but with Wren being considered the invisible friend.  Lark attempted suicide, was saved by a neighbor boy, institutionalized (where she had some harrowing experiences), abandoned by her parents and moved in with her grandmother.  I actually went to check if I was mistaken and there was a book (or novella) prior to this in the series, but there isn't.  Maybe Cross will be publishing a prequel at some point - either way, the time I spent trying to piece together the events of the past took away from my enjoyment of the plot of this novel.
 
The characters were fun.  Lark is the snarky, defenses up against the world, sister while Wren is kind and just wants to be accepted.  There was clearly some effort to distinguish between the narration style of the sisters, but it didn't always work and there were times where I forgot which POV I was currently reading. The sisters were also incredibly forgiving of each other.  They never seemed to get mad at each other, no matter what the offense.  The side characters each had some spark of personality, which is often difficult for large groups.  They seem to have potential for fleshing out as the series continues.  I was thankful that the love interest didn't quite turn out as expected (please Kady, no love triangle in future books...)

Bottom Line: Sisters of Blood and Spirit is a fun read with an interesting premise and some super spooky ghosts.  I will definitely be checking in with the next book in this series.   

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
15 and up
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Attempted suicide, Violence by supernatural means, 
Inappropriate Language: Shit, Dyke, Retard, Bitch, Fuck, Bastard, Cock
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Great For Readers Who Loved:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Title: The Witch's Boy
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Publisher:
Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date:
September 16, 2014
Rating: 5/5 

Cover Impressions: The cover is super cute.  I love the tiny figures with huge shadows.  I worry that the colors are not bright enough to make it stand off a shelf and hope that it doesn't stop kids from picking it up.
I love the fairy tale feel of the book blurb and the fact that the main character's mother is a witch - which is a nice divergence from the traditional tale. 

The Gist:
When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging, bewitched river, only Ned survives. Villagers are convinced the wrong boy lived. Sure enough, Ned grows up weak and slow, and stays as much as possible within the safe boundaries of his family’s cottage and yard. But when a Bandit King comes to steal the magic that Ned’s mother, a witch, is meant to protect, it's Ned who safeguards the magic and summons the strength to protect his family and community.

In the meantime, in another kingdom across the forest that borders Ned’s village lives Áine, the resourceful and pragmatic daughter of the Bandit King. She is haunted by her mother’s last words to her: “The wrong boy will save your life and you will save his.” But when Áine and Ned’s paths cross, can they trust each other long enough to make their way through the treacherous woods and stop the war about to boil over?


Review:


Having lost his twin brother in a drowning accident as they ventured out to find the sea, Ned never feels completely whole and is unable to do many of the things that he had previously taken for granted.  He has been plagued by the assumption that his father had saved the wrong boy.  His mother is a witch who uses dangerous magic and Ned is constantly faced with the townspeople who love her when they need her and loathe her when they don't.  He retreats into himself, rarely speaking and avoiding interaction with anyone, even his grief-stricken parents.  When his mother's magic is threatened by outside forces, Ned is the only one who can protect it and he is sent on a perilous journey to save himself, his family, and his village. 

The Witch's Boy is written in a beautiful style that is reminiscent of classic fairy tales.  The author displays a unique and clever sense of wit that kept me smiling to myself. 

King Ott; benevolent ruler of the Kingdowm of Duunin (of course he was benevolent! It said so on banners and placards and all of the money! He even required his generals to tattoo it on their forearms with an outline of his smiling face hovering above), was in a bit of a snit. 

There is an exchange between the bandit king and the king of Duunin, as the later calls the executioner and the former merely smiles, that had me in stitches.  At the same time, the author regularly comments on the magic, delight and power of words which is bound to warm the heart of any lover of books and reading. 

A word is a magic thing.  It holds the essence of an object or an idea and pins it to the world.  A word can set the universe in motion.  

I love middle grade stories that do not shy away from important themes and deep symbolism.  The Witch's Boy is one of these.  There is a continuous thread throughout the novel the reminds of there could not possibly be NOTHING on the other side of the mountain (in fact nothing is a very important word and becomes a refrain repeated by several characters).  The author does a beautiful job of extending this metaphor to show that there is never "nothing", even in death.  The soul never disappears, it simply moves to the next place - the other side of the mountain.

"There is no death," the Stone said.  "There is only the next thing.  A mountain gives way to a river and becomes a canyon.  A tree gives way to its rot and becomes the ground.  We will let go of our unnaturally elongated lives and embrace something else."

The characters also have a magic all their own.  By the end of the novel, we see such remarkable growth in Ned as he learns his own power and the strength of his own desires.  The magic itself also makes for a very fun character.  It has a fantastic voice as it speaks inside Ned's head.  It doesn't seem to have the same sense of morality or guilt that a human character would, which makes it much more unpredictable and enjoyable to read.

(Having been asked to heal a bandit) 
We are certain that you meant to say, "painless death."  We can say it together: "painless death." Or painful, if you prefer.  It's up to you.  Please tell us that you simply misspoke.

The plot moves at a decent pace, and is helped along by the changing of viewpoints from Ned to Aine to the King, to the Bandit King, to the Stones and so on.  There is a great deal of action that will keep any reader interested and a beautiful thread of friendship that will keep them satisfied.

Bottom Line: The Witch's Boy is wonderful.  A phenomenal addition to any middle grade library and well written enough to be enjoyed by older audiences as well.       

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
10 and up 
Sex: None
Violence: Death by drowning, Death by arrow, Swordplay
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday - March 25, 2015


"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is: The Wicked Will Rise by Danielle Paige which is due to be released on March 31st.

 In this dark, high-octane sequel to the New York Times bestselling Dorothy Must Die, Amy Gumm must do everything in her power to kill Dorothy and free Oz.

To make Oz a free land again, Amy Gumm was given a mission: remove the Tin Woodman’s heart, steal the Scarecrow’s brain, take the Lion’s courage, and then Dorothy must die....

But Dorothy still lives. Now the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked has vanished, and mysterious Princess Ozma might be Amy’s only ally. As Amy learns the truth about her mission, she realizes that she’s only just scratched the surface of Oz’s past—and that Kansas, the home she couldn't wait to leave behind, may also be in danger. In a place where the line between good and evil shifts with just a strong gust of wind, who can Amy trust—and who is really Wicked?


This is one of my highly anticipated releases for the year.  This is the second book in the Dorothy Must Die series (which I ADORE).  I have been waiting for this release all year and have read every novella that Paige has published just to get a little taste of this twisted up Oz. GIMMIE GIMMIE!