Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book Review: Shift by Jeri Smith-Ready

Title: Shift
Author: Jeri Smith-Ready
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: May 3, 2011
Rating: 5/5

Cover Impressions:
This cover is better than the predecessor but I am still not a fan.  Come on publishers!  The authors write fantastic books and you put crappy covers on them (or crappy books and beautiful covers - GET IT TOGETHER!).  The cover model seems a little to grown up and the back-on-to-the-camera-looking-over-my-shoulder pose has been done and done.  At least she doesn't have a tattoo. 

The Gist:
Shift picks up a few months after the events of Shade.  Aura has helped Logan make the impossible transition from Shade back to Ghost and must deal with the fallout as her attention seeking ex-boyfriend demands to steal the spotlight once more.  Aura's attention, on the other hand, is back on the oh-so-endearing and not-so-eternally-patient Zachery.  With help from both, Aura begins to unravel the mysteries surrounding her birth and the special abilities that she and Zack possess.

Jeri Smith-Ready continues to surprise me.  A good half of this book is spent on angst-ridden teenage relationships, a considerable part of the plot involves a complicated love triangle and finding answers to the BIG QUESTION seems secondary to the day to day issues brought on by teenage hormones.  I SHOULD hate this book, but I don't.  I FREAKING LOVED EVERY MINUTE!  I think perhaps it is the author's ability to create characters and situations that are so desperately real that my gut wrenches with sympathy, longing, anger or betrayal.  I wanted to hug the characters, or shake them, or slap them (whichever was appropriate for the situation). 

In the second half of the novel, the action picks up considerably and we start to get some answers to why the Shift may have happened and what makes Zachery and Aura particularly special.  After reading this book I am ridiculously happy that the final book is being released in a few days and I won't have to wait long for the rest of my answers (and to see Aura and Zachery finally have sex - seriously, I have never in my life rooted more for two teenage characters to get it on - Jeri, what have you done to me??!!)* 

As I mentioned in my review of Shade, this is really a book for the older end of the YA spectrum.  I am sure lots of readers can handle the mature elements (and I am sure that I read way more risque stuff when I was a kid) but, as a teacher bent on avoiding parental anger and keeping her job, I wouldn't give it to any student under the age of 16.

Favorite Quote: "Her energy drink took effect right away, and I wondered if it had disappeared from the mainstream market because it had been made from the pituitary glands of deposed dictators and executed serial killers." 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age: 16 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Discussed but not described, some naked shenanigans.
Violence: Gunplay
Inappropriate Language: Bitch, Fuck
Substance Abuse:  Underage Drinking

*I'm going to hell aren't I?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday (1)

Feature & Follow is hosted by Parajunkee & Alison Can Read

This week's question is

Q: Have you had a character that disappointed you? One that you fell in love with and then “broke up” with later on in either the series or a stand-alone book? Tell us about him or her.

1. Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready: Logan

I fell in and out of love with Logan throughout this whole book. He would do something so cute and sweet that I couldn't help but melt and then he would do something so stupid or petty that I wanted to scream! I completely understand the frustration of his family as they try to come to terms with him being a ghost (and a stubborn one at that) and still managing to pull off his diva rockstar act.

2. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness: Todd

I liked Todd for about 1/3 of the book. He seemed like a kid beaten down by circumstances and I wanted to root for him. I really did. And then *SPOILER* he murders someone who did him no harm and it pretty much gets ignored for the rest of the book because the victim wasn't human. Finally, when faced with the sadistic son of a bitch who chased him across half the damn world, he freezes. ARGH!!

3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Gale

I understand the need for Gale's progression throughout this series but that doesn't mean that I need to like it. I loved Gale in the first book. He was handsome, strong, determined and self sufficient. If you subscribe to the belief that the strongest relationships are built on common interests and goals, then he is perfect for Me Katniss. Our literary love ended when he allowed he became obsessed with his weapons and winning at all costs. Sorry Gale, even I couldn't root for you to get the girl after the war ended the way it did.

Book Review: Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready

Title: Shade
Author: Jeri Smith-Ready
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: May 4, 2010
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions:  To be honest, the cover did not entice me at all.  The semi-headless girl in the spangly top smacks of paranormal romance (a genre I usually avoid) and makes it look generic.  The color combination feels off, though I can't quite put my finger on why...

The Gist:  Aura and most of her friends were born after the Shift that allowed the dead to interact with the living.  She has spent her entire life trying to avoid and ignore them.  That is, until her boyfriend joins their ranks.  Now she walks a tightrope trying to keep him from turning into a dark and twisted shade while fighting her growing feelings for the very cute, and very alive, Zachery.   

Review: I fought off this book for a long time.  I would read a review or see it pop up on a friend's shelf on Goodreads, check out the blurb/cover and promptly shut it down again.  Over and over.  I don't do paranormal romance very well.  I do big plots with lots of action and adventure and this - isn't that.  Finally, I could fight it no longer.  I had to see what the fuss was about.  Let this be a lesson to you (and me) when a book keeps popping up, read it.  Don't dismiss it because of the genre, or the supposed love triangle or your expectations of Just Another Ghost Story.  Because this book isn't.

Aura (Just a note - I do hate the name) presents such a realistic portrayal of a teenager that I cannot help but love her.  She has temptations, she has urges, she doesn't always do the right thing and she lives with the consequences.  I had expected a lot of guilt and whining after Logan's death, but there wasn't.  She didn't exactly move on, but she didn't present the reader with diatribes about how this was all her fault and she was a horrible person.   Speaking of Logan's death: that was some powerful shit.  Even though I knew it was coming, even though I knew I couldn't stop it, it hurt to watch.  He was just a sweet kid who thought he was invincible and I wanted to yell at him, tell him what was coming and to not do anything stupid (P.S I yell at tv and movies all the time).  It was like watching a horror movie where an innocent girl calmly gets ready for a bath while the audience cringes because we know there is a serial killer hiding in the shower.  It was that level of sick-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach suspense for me.  That was the point where Smith-Ready had me hooked.  

This is not an action filled plot, but it kept me reading just the same.  The scenes with Zachery are sweet and exciting and Oh So tempting.  They brought me back to those heart thumping first kisses as a teen and the thrill of young love (or at least lust).  There are hints of a bigger plot at play, and I do wish this had been explored a little further and that a few more details had come to light.  It is very clear that this is part of a series (trilogy?) and we are forced to wait for our answers.  Instead of action and adventure we get moments of Oh Noes! and pain that is piercing and palpable.  I can't wait to move on to the next one!

As noted below, there are elements within this book that may raise the age level.  In the past, I have seen a few of my grade 8 (14-15 year old) students reading it.  They really enjoyed it, and they are smart kids, not likely to follow in Logan's footsteps, but I would not personally place it into the hands of anyone under the age of 16. 
Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 16 and up
Gender: Females
Sex: Spoken about, not described.  Masturbation. 
Violence: None
Inappropriate Language: Retarded, Ho Bag, Fucker
Substance Abuse: Underage Drinking, Use of Cocaine

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book Review: Amplified by Tara Kelly

Title: Amplified
Author: Tara Kelly
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Release Date: Oct 25, 2011
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions:  The cover is simple, but fitting.  I like the incorporation of the title as part of the amp and the use of the often overlook, puke-green color.  

The Gist:  Jasmine Kiss has fled the stifling world of academia and an overbearing father for the streets of Santa Cruz and the chance to lose herself in her music.  When the perfect opportunity of a place to stay and a spot in an up and coming band lands in her path, Jasmine has to fight her way in and convince both the band, and herself, that she belongs.

Review:  Jasmine is the kind of character you want to hug, hand a cup of tea and tell "oh sweetie, you are so young".  She comes from a privileged background and, at the beginning, comes off as a 17 year old princess who doesn't realize how good she has it.  I will be honest, I sympathized with the father.  You have hopes and dreams for your children and then they turn around and make the choices that you think will lead them into pain and trouble.  Of course, as the story wore on and I learned more about dear old daddy (particularly him telling Jasmine she was lucky to be plain looking) I began to see where she was coming from.  This is not a story of action and suspense, it is a story of friendship and growth.  I felt honored to watch Jasmine learn some life lessons and come into her own as a musician.  

This is the type of novel that smacks of REAL.  The characters have major flaws, they make real, teenage mistakes and (sometimes) own up and learn from them.  The love interest made my heart flutter and remember how exciting those exploratory days were, when excitement and nerves melded together and made butterflies dance inside your stomach.  There were no real "villains" but even the characters that I disliked could be seen as having bigger issues at play.  I was particularly glad that, while Jasmine does learn and grow from her experiences, she does not change into a whole new person and we know that she still has a ways to go.

The one thing about this book that I could not relate to was the music descriptions.  I know NOTHING about music, I am a casual listener at best and I found myself skimming some of the sections where the band played and Jasmine's each and every move on the guitar was recorded.  This is a personal issue, I know.  I can, however, imagine those to be the favorite parts of someone who does "get" music and understands the lingo.  I do wish this book could have somehow been bundled with a soundtrack so that I could have connected what I was reading with what I was hearing.  

This book should appeal to budding musicians and anyone that enjoys well-drawn characters with a dash of romance.  It should be noted (as described below) there are some scenes and language that may not be appropriate for those on the younger end of the Young Adult spectrum.

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 16 and up
Gender: Will probably be more appealing to girls.
Sex: Spoken about, alluded to, but not actually described.
Violence:  None
Inappropriate Language: Douches, Jacking Off, Giving Head, Fucking, Pricks, Bitch
Substance Abuse:  Smoking, underage drinking

Waiting on Wednesday (5)

"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: Revived by Cat Patrick which is due to be released on May 8th.

As a little girl, Daisy Appleby was killed in a school bus crash. Moments after the accident, she was brought back to life.

A secret government agency has developed a drug called Revive that can bring people back from the dead, and Daisy Appleby, a test subject, has been Revived five times in fifteen years. Daisy takes extraordinary risks, knowing that she can beat death, but each new death also means a new name, a new city, and a new life. When she meets Matt McKean, Daisy begins to question the moral implications of Revive, and as she discovers the agency’s true goals, she realizes she’s at the center of something much larger—and more sinister—than she ever imagined. 

  The premise for this one is so interesting and that cover - WOW!  I am in total cover lust!  I only hope the inside can match the outside and that it won't be another dud (I'm looking at you, The Selection)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday (4)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week will feature a new Top Ten list . Everyone is welcome to join.

This week features the Top Ten All Time Favorite Characters In Books. In no particular order:

1. The Sorting Hat - Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling.  I'm not sure if you can count the Hat as a character but it's my blog and I'm going to anyway.  I always looked forward to the song at the beginning of each school year and I was PISSED when they cut it in the movies.

2. The Grand High Witch - The Witches by Roald Dahl.  I must have read this book at least 50 times as a kid.  I loved the entire story and, though I disliked some of the changes they made in translating the book into movie format, Angelica Houston was FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC

3. Luna Lovegood - Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling.  When I read the books for the first time I would go back and re-read the Luna sections because they were just so hilarious.  I loved that she was so incredibly weird but she OWNED IT!  In fact, I loved Luna so much that when I worked at Chapters I dressed up as her for one of our release parties.  I spent HOURS making a cork necklace and radish earrings which I keep in my classroom as a conversation starter.

4. Finnick Odair - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Finnick is the one character that speaks to so many people that speculation is already mounting on who is going to play him in Catching Fire.  In fact, I am now officially predicting that when the casting is announced THE INTERNET ITSELF WILL CATCH FIRE!

5. Anna - Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake.  Anna is not just a ghost, she is the badassiest ghost I have every read about.  She manages to tear people to ribbons and we STILL love her and root for her.  "Oh, it's just Anna, she kills people every now and again but she's really sweet!"

6. Abby Normal - Bloodsucking Fiends Trilogy by Christopher Moore.  Abby Rocks my Stripy Socks.  She is small, fiesty, smart and strange in that oh-so-wonderful way.  She, more than any other Moore character, makes me roll in the floor from laughter.

7. Jimmy Hailler - Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta.  Jimmy is funny and sweet and can't take no for an answer.  He constantly invites himself over to dinner with Francesca's family (often despite being told directly that he is NOT coming over).  Jimmy is the character that NEEDS his own book.  I want more of his story.

8. Isaac - The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.  Nothing gets me like a kid who has suffered so much and still manages to make me laugh.  Bonus points when he can make me a laugh and cry all in the same moment.

9. Matilda - Matilda by Roald Dahl.  Who doesn't love the precocious, tiny little girl with the heightened sense of morals who punishes the badly behaving adults in her life.  Matilda was the first character I ever found that I could really relate to, one who loved books as much as I did and felt out of place in her small world.

10.  Fred and George Weasley - Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling.  I choosing to speak of these two as one entity because that is how they exist in my mind.  I loved every minute that I got to read about Fred and George.  I still wish that there had been more (or that J.K. would give us some short stories about their shenanigans, pretty pretty please!)

Monday, April 23, 2012

How It Should Have Ended: Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Others



Saturday, April 21, 2012

Harry Potter in Cartoon Form

This artwork is so incredible that it makes me wish for an animated series.  The series can be found on Deviantart  I wonder if they will be available as prints.  I would love one for my classroom.  P.S My favorite is the Lovegoods at the bottom - the eyes are JUST right.


Book People Unite!

This video is AWESOME. 

P.S LeVar Burton continues to rock

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (4)

"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: As Dead As It Gets by Katie Alender which is due to be released on May 15th.

It's been three months since Alexis helplessly witnessed Lydia Small's violent death, and all she wants is for her life to return to normal. 

But normal people don’t see decaying bodies haunting photographs. Normal people don’t have to deal with regular intrusions from Lydia’s angry ghost, sometimes escalating to terrifying attacks. 

At first, it seems that Lydia wants revenge on Alexis alone. But a girl from school disappears one night, and Alexis spots one of Lydia’s signature yellow roses lying on the girl’s dresser the next day. Soon, it becomes clear that several of Alexis’s friends are in danger, and that she's the only person who can save them. But as she tries to intervene, Alexis realizes that her enemy is a much more powerful ghost than she's ever faced before... and that its fate is tied to hers in ways she couldn't possibly imagine. 

Not even in her worst nightmares.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this series.  It starts with Bad Girls Don't Die, then continues with From Bad to Cursed.  The books are well written and scary as all get out!  Just take a look at the covers: They are FREAKTASTIC!  I love reading YA that doesn't shy away from scaring the bejeebus out of the reader.  If you haven't read the first two - go pick them up now.  Special Brownie Bonus Points if you read them while home alone, at night, during a thunder storm.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday (3)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.  Each week will feature a new Top Ten list .  Everyone is welcome to join.

This week features the Top Ten Tips For New Book Bloggers.  I feel grossly unqualified to write this post because my Book Blog is still so new but I am going to give it a shot.

1. Pick a Genre that you love:  It took me a long time to realize that I loved YA.  I started reading it when I became a teacher so that I could recommend books to my students.  I gorged myself one summer and needed to take a break (I think I actually got into a rut of BAD YA and didn't realize it wasn't YA in general that I needed a break from but just the stuff I was reading).  I returned, slowly but surely, when I started noticing that the Paranormal Fiction that I previously loved just wasn't working for me any more (not to mention that I was skipping over the sex scenes and sometimes seemed to skip half the book!).  They just seemed like the same ol' story over and over whereas the YA that sometimes slipped into my TBR pile was fun, unique and exciting.

2. If you are going to be risque - choose a pen name:  My blog isn't necessarily racy, but I do like to use the occasional swear word and sometimes I talk about teaching.  As teachers, we tend to be scrutinized by a public that believes we owe them something.  I didn't want my blog to become part of a scandal, nor did I want my students to google my name (I'm not being conceited - I swear they have done this) and find it - hence the pen name and email address that is in no way connected with my professional identity.

3. Find a format that works for you:  I found reviews easier to write once I had decided on a set format which included Cover Impressions, the Review and Teaching/Parenting Notes.  When I am stuck on one section, I will move on to another and then go back.  Having a set (but flexible) format helps me to keep my thoughts organized and discourages me from rambling.

4.  Take Notes:  I find it difficult to remember everything that I want to say about a book without writing it down.  I keep a journal close by to jot notes down in and, when reading an ebook, I use the highlight feature to note any passages that I want to go back to.  This is much less frustrating than aimlessly flicking pages in the vain attempt to find something.  I will also usually note people/place names that I know I will need when writing my review as these are often the first to escape my mind when I need them.

5.  Post Often:  I try to post as often as I can, whenever I find something interesting I blog it or bookmark it to add to a later post.  I try not to make my posts too long, as I am easily distracted while reading other blogs and will sometimes skim or give up reading entirely if a post seems like a daunting task rather than an amusing moment or two.

6.  Check your spelling/grammar and make use of paragraphs:  I hate solid blocks of text.  I hate the use of lower case when it should be upper case.  I hate misspelled words that could easily be caught by spell check.  This may be the stodgy teacher in me, but I feel it lessens the credibility of the writer and the chance that I will return to their site again.

7.  Relax and Write:  This is one that I struggle with.  I need to keep reminding myself that not every post needs to be the best thing that I have ever written and that, with a fairly low number of followers, this is mostly an exercise to amuse myself and so that I can make connections with other readers and bloggers.

8. Participate in Memes like this one:  I usually only participate in Top Ten Tuesday and Waiting on Wednesday but I really look forward to having a jumping off point for my post.  I also really enjoy checking out other people's responses and getting wonderful comments (and sometimes new followers) on my own.

9. Don't make your blog graphic intensive:  I spend most of my internet time on a netbook over a, less than stellar, wireless connection.  I HATE when a blog takes forever to load because there are so many pictures, ads, links, buttons etc on the sides.  This may be just personal preference, but I like a fairly clean look without special fonts and glaring (often neon) colors.

10.  Network:  Join Goodreads and Twitter (P.S: click the links to add and/or follow me!).  Post on lots of different sites and follow lots of other bloggers.  Comment on their posts (not just to invite them to read yours!).  Make it a goal every day to put out some Good Blogging Karma.  Become part of the community, meet other bloggers and readers and enjoy the wonderful interactions that social networking can bring you.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Walker & Company
Release Date: May 5, 2008
Rating: 1/5

Cover Impressions:  This cover looks rather primitive, as if it was gleaned from a cave drawing.  I don't find it particularly eye catching but I can see where it would appeal to an audience of teenage boys

The Gist: Todd has grown up in Prentisstown; a town full of men who spend their lives surrounded by the Noise of each and every person's thoughts.  Just a month shy of becoming a man, he stumbles upon a patch of silence - something he has never encountered before, and the secret forces him to run from the people who know his every thought.

Review: I had saved this novel for a time when I just had to read something great.  It has wonderful reviews and has won several award so I thought it was a safe bet.  I never dreamed how wrong I could be.  I was angry and frustrated for most of this book.  I spent my time yelling at the characters and cursing the writer.  This was not an enjoyable experience.  

First of all, I did not care one lick for either of the characters.  In fact, I actively despised Todd.  I hated the way he spoke, I hated his actions, I hated the fact that he did not demand answers, because lord knows the author was not going to provide any.  I don't mind novels that ration information, handing it out a tidbit at a time like Charlie nibbling on a scrumdiddlyumptious bar, but this novel gives no tidbits.  Instead, it infuriates with lines like "it is time you knew the truth" followed by either and adult telling the kids to wait or something trying to kill them (something is ALWAYS trying to kill them - see below).  Perhaps, since Todd cannot seem to spell Information, Ness decided that he didn't need to have any.
I realize that the author made a conscious choice to use misspelling and poor grammar to allow the reader further insight into the mind of the main character.  However, I do not care.  I hated it.  I cringed at every "aint" and "shun".  I wanted to plant Todd in my English classroom and teach him how to speak so that he doesn't sound like a bumbling idiot. I couldn't concentrate on the story because every time he opened his mouth the evil teacher in my mind kept correcting him.  Ness also chose to use repetition and short choppy sentence, one would assume, in an effort to make the novel more exciting.  It drove me nuts.  Passages like this:

And she lets go of me-
And I jump across-
And I'm in the air-
And the edge of the falls is shooting over my head-
And I land-
And I turn-
And she's jumping after me-
And I grab her and we fall backwards onto the ledge together-
And we lay there breathing-
And listening- 
And all we hear for a second is the roar of the water over us now-

He employs this strategy over and over, sometimes for pages at a time.  That's right, I said PAGES!  This writing style annoyed me to the point where I really wanted to stop.  Yet I pressed on, I had hope that there would be some twist or scene that would make it all worthwhile.  I mean, something had to make all these people like it, right?

Speaking of Hope.  If the only thing keeping the characters going is hope, how about you give me some?  These characters were attacked at every point.  They never got a chance to rest before one of the main villians (one of which REFUSES TO DIE LIKE A PROPER HUMAN BEING) shows up and trounces them.  The attackers have brute force, horses and guns.  Our MC has ... a knife.... which he refuses to use.  Also, you would think, at one of their stops on this journey they MIGHT have picked up a weapon for Viola.  Fate (in the form of Patrick Ness' brutal pen) continues to pound on Todd and Viola until the untimely and unsatisfying cliffhanger ending.  

I will NOT be continuing on in this series. 

P.S Yes, of course I loved Manchee - and I hold Patrick Ness directly responsible for his treatment.

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 15 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: None
Violence:  Knife play, gun play, death by stabbing, death of a pet
Inappropriate Language: Fuck, Whore
Substance Abuse:  None

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hunger Games Humor ( Part 2)

Lastly, a parody of Part of Me by Katy Perry

Book Review: OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy

Title: OyMG
Author: Amy Fellner Dominy
Publisher: Walker & Company
Release Date: April 29, 2011
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions:  The cover is very cute.  Covered in doodles, it looks like it could have been pulled from Ellie's notebook.  I love the play on words in the title and hope that most teens would get it. 

The Gist: Ellie has one goal: to attend the Christian Society Speech and Performing Arts summer camp and win a coveted scholarship to St. Benedict's school, the posh school with the best debate team around.  As a Jewish girl in a Christian camp, Ellie feels a little out of place and her plans are threatened when she discovers that the school's benefactor, and her the grandmother of her crush and main competition, may be prejudiced against Jews.  Ellie must decide how much of herself she is willing to sacrifice in order to win.

Review:  OyMG is an enjoyable read about a young girl struggling to find her own identity in the face of what everyone else wants her to be.  The plot is a little expected and predictable, but the characters are fantastic.  Ellie is a strong and independent young woman who knows the value of a good argument and is willing to work hard for the things that she wants.  Her parents are loving and supportive - something that is often all too rare in YA novels!  The best friend has her own set of issues (can we have a book featuring Megan as the MC please?) the love interest is smart and interesting and the villain is realistic and complex.  However the stand out (and in close competition with Sage from The False Prince for the prize of favorite character thus far in 2012) is her Zeydeh (Grandfather).  He is so well written that I was convinced he was based on a real person (he's not - I asked) and determined to meet him.  Zeydeh has the best lines enhances this novel with a wonderful spark of humor.  It is not too often that I can "hear" a character speak, but I could hear Zeydeh, in fact, I am still hearing Zeydeh (right now he is telling me to finish my tappity-tapping so we can look up recipes for Motzo Ball Soup).  He is uncompromising, he is funny and he is the one person who demands that Ellie expect more from herself. 

Characters aside, the plot moves quickly and does not suffer from any lag.  There is no InstaLove and it does not paint the world (and the people in it) in black and white.  I am happy to add this to my Classroom Library and cannot wait to see if my students are able to draw any comparisons to their own lives.

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 12 and up
Gender: Will probably be more appealing to girls
Sex: None
Violence:  None
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse:  None

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Review: This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel

Title: This Dark Endeavour
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: Aug 23, 2011
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions: I love the dark feel of this cover.  The scratched keyhole and the black on black outfit are contrasted against the blue sky as Victor Frankenstein takes his first steps on the road toward his destiny.  On the back, as if scratched into the dark wood, is the line: "There is a passion in you that scares me".  Which perfectly sums up the conflicting feelings that Elizabeth and I share of Victor's character. 

The Gist:  Years before the events that were recorded in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Victor lived his days in peaceful playtime with his brother Konrad, cousin Elizabeth, and dear family friend Henry.  While exploring, they stumble upon a hidden Biblioteka Obscura: The Dark Library.  It is full of strange books condemned by both the church, and Victor's father.  When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor decides to use these materials to find a cure and sends himself and his friends on a perilous journey into the heart of Alchemy.

Review: I haven't read any other Kenneth Oppel books (although I do stock some in my classroom library) but, when I read about a prequel to Frankenstein, I knew I had to get my hands on this one.  I love modern takes on classic novels, especially when they aren't trying to re-tell the same story but are using it as literary fodder for their own dark imagination.  I was particularly hoping for a book that would appeal to teen boys and I was not disappointed.  This Dark Endeavour is full of mystery and excitement.  It was one of those page-turning books where I found myself thinking "one more chapter and then I will go to bed" until I had  turned the last page and stayed up far past my bedtime. 

The characters are a little one dimensional, but enjoyable.  I cheered along as Elizabeth asserted herself and laughed at Henry's myriad of fears.  Konrad was just a perfect enough to dislike and I reveled in Victor's first, tentative steps into villainy.  It is interesting to watch the dichotomy between the boys and I was left wondering if this is a case of the "good" twin and the "evil" twin. 

Oppel's pacing is spot on.  There is absolutely no lag in the story and the excitement builds quickly.  There are many action scenes and they demand the readers attention in a way that I know appeals particularly to young boys.  In order to truly enjoy this novel, the reader does have to suspend disbelief in the fact that everything the characters need to acquire in their quest is within walking (or riding) distance and that some information comes a little too quickly and conveniently.  

While this book will not change your life, it will provide a few pleasant hours and, perhaps, the catalyst to explore the original Frankenstein further.  I am excited to place this novel in my classroom and into the hands of those boys who crave adventure stories.

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 12 and up
Gender: Either
Sex: None
Violence:  Amputation of fingers, violent death to animals
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse:  None

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Review: Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

Title: Ashes, Ashes
Author: Jo Treggiari
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: June 1, 2011 
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions:  This cover screams Dystopia.  The ruined buildings and rising waters do an excellent job of introducing the reader to the ruined world that Jo Treggiari has created for her characters.  I was a little disappointed at the portrayal of Lucy.  Another version of this cover showed her in the hoodie and leather jacket that she wears for most of the novel and I much prefer that to the pristine white tank top that she dons in this version.  I also wish that the cover model had Lucy's curly, unruly hair rather than the slightly wavy hair that is featured.  For all the complaining that Lucy does about her hair, I would think it is an important feature.

The Gist:  Lucy is struggling to survive the post-apocalyptic world.  Plague, floods and droughts have ravaged the human population and taken away everyone that Lucy loves.  On the run for her life, she encounters the mysterious Aiden and is forced to consider whether or not she is willing to open her life to another human being.  Forced from her makeshift home, Lucy is sent on the run and discovers that the threat from the Sweepers scouring the land is more real to her than she ever imagined.

Review:  Ashes, Ashes presents a wonderfully terrifying wilderness where dangers lurk around every corner.  Here we meet Lucy, a typical American teenager, struggling to survive with her meager supplies and the skills she has gleaned from a survival handbook.  I was behind Lucy 100% and watched with fascination as she went about her daily routine to find food, maintain her shelter and stay warm enough in order to wake up and do it all over again.  When she encounters Aiden, the first human being she has seen in months, we see the first tendrils of a crush wrap themselves around Lucy's heart.  However, our little survivalist will not let these new-found emotions distract her from the task of living.  This is a dystopian adventure with just a smattering of romance and this fact keeps it appropriate for a young audience and allows it to appeal to teen boys as well.  
The characters are real and relatable.  I found the camp life to be interesting and loved the no-nonsense approach of Grammalie Rose.  Here we get to learn about the Sa'an or plague survivors who remain marked and social pariahs.  There was a considerable amount of time spend here developing the world building aspect of the novel, which would have been understandable if this were the first in a series, but to my knowledge, this is a stand-alone.  As it was, these sections slowed down the action and dampened the sense of urgency that our time alone with Lucy had created.  We learn about the threat to the remaining humans fairly early on, however, it takes a great deal of time for the characters to decide to do something about it.  

Once action has been decided upon, things happen almost entirely too quickly and then suddenly slow to a near stop.  This is where the novel started to fall apart for me.  The pacing seemed off and the reactions of the characters were questionable.  The fight scenes were extremely odd, with moments of action followed by moments of standing around - talking or preparing - then back to action, over and over again.  In the end, I was left with more questions than answers and was, ultimately, unsatisfied.  

Jo Treggiari's world building is spot-on.  She creates a realistic and terrifying world and a group of people willing to face it head on.  While the plot fell apart for me, I do believe it will appeal to fans of post-apocalyptic novels. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 12 and up
Gender: Either
Sex: None
Violence: Plague, Dog Attacks, Stun Guns, Knifeplay
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse:  None

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (3)

"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: Night Beach by Kristy Eager which is due to be released on April 26th.

 Imagine there is someone you like so much that just thinking about them leaves you desperate and reckless. You crave them in a way that's not rational, not right, and you're becoming somebody you don't recognise, and certainly don't respect, but you don't even care.

And this person you like is unattainable. Except for one thing...

He lives downstairs.

Abbie has three obsessions. Art. The ocean. And Kane.

But since Kane's been back, he's changed. There's a darkness shadowing him that only Abbie can see. And it wants her in its world.

A gothic story about the very dark things that feed the creative process.

Honestly, I don't like the synopsis on this one.  It sounds like teen angst to the max.  However, it gets special consideration because a) it is being published in Australia and everything YA coming out of Australia lately rocks my stripy socks.  and b) because the Aussie reviewers on Goodreads all have it on their TBR shelf  and, frankly, whether the book is good or bad I need to read it so that I can get in on the conversation!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Early Book Review: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Title: Masque of the Red Death
Author: Bethany Griffin
Publisher: Harper Collins 
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions:  The cover does an excellent job of expressing the dark and foreboding mood of this novel.  I am a fan of the oppressive fog and the red highlights that provide a sense of mystery.  The title font is PERFECT, antique-looking but clearly legible.  

The Gist:  Araby Worth spends her nights chasing oblivion in the Debauchery District.  She seeks solace from the world outside, a world of death, disease and fear.  The plague that decimated the city left her family elevated in society but shattered and haunted.  When a night of revelry brings Araby to the attention of Will, the well-meaning older brother and Elliot, the reckless leader of a rebellion, she must shake off her stupor and finally decide if there are people in this world worth fighting for.

Review: Bethany Griffin is one brave lady.  It takes guts to take on a master like Edgar Allen Poe.  I love using Poe in my grade 7, 8 and 9 English classes, especially around Halloween.  The kids enjoy the foreboding tone and dark imagery.  Griffin manages to elicit the same ominous feel and sense of decrepit grandeur in her book.  There is a beautiful dichotomy between the peasants ravaged by plague and the sheer opulence of Araby's lifestyle.  
As a character, Araby is beautifully flawed.  In the beginning, we see an empty, thoughtless shell of a girl.  One that is guilt-ridden and bent on wasting away slowly and painfully.  She is unable to recognize love and caring in those around her.  Araby is easily led into betraying her father and endangering the entire city.  It is as if she were waiting for someone to ask her to do something, anything, to tilt the precarious balance that the city has reached.  As the story progresses, Araby begins to drop some of her carefully constructed walls and we get the merest glimpse into the strong and selfless individual that she might become.
For most of this novel, the action creeps along with a few tense moments here and there, much like the city, seething slowly but steadily until it erupts into a cacophony of violence that last until the final pages.  There are some dull moments in the middle but if you persist and push through, you will be rewarded. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 15 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: None
Violence: Murders, Riots, Beatings, Swordplay, Gunplay.
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse:  Underage drinking, Use of needle drugs

Monday, April 9, 2012

School Board Cuts All Librarians: One Response

It is National Library Week.  This should be a time where we take a moment to reflect on how libraries and librarians have enriched our lives and how it is important that we support them.  Unfortunately, here in Nova Scotia, a local school board decided to cut the jobs of EVERY SINGLE LIBRARIAN.  I am deeply saddened, not only for the wonderful librarians who will now be forced to find employment elsewhere but also for how much our students will lose.

Librarians are an integral part of any school.  They manage and maintain small and large libraries.  They order new books and are masters at putting the right book into the right hands.  They teach valuable research skills using both print and online sources.  They provide a safe, quiet environment where many kids go to escape the bedlam of free periods and lunchtimes.  They support teachers in finding materials for their classroom and planning lessons that will appeal to their students.

This is not ok.  School boards all over North America preach about the value of reading and literature and then make cuts to school book budgets, time available for reading and now, the very people who are most qualified to help foster a lifelong love of reading. 

Without Librarians, school libraries will fall into disorganization and disrepair.  New books will not be ordered.  Students will lose their place of refuge.  Teachers will try to pick up the slack, but with an already over-scheduled day and increasing demands from both parents and administration, there is only so much that they can do.

It is time for Education to change.  It is time for governments to start putting dollars into the classroom and value on the skills that are taught there.  It is time to put kids first.

If you are Nova Scotian, please visit KidsNotCuts.  If not, please get involved in your own province/state and let your voice be heard.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book Review: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Title: The False Prince
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: April 1, 2012
Rating: 5/5

Cover Impressions:  The cover doesn't stand out as much as I would like.  It is simple and clean and I do like the gold crown and lettering on a blue background. 

The Gist:  As an orphan running the streets of Carchar, Sage has learned to depend on his quick wits and quicker mouth to survive.  When he finds himself one of four boys bought by a wealthy nobleman with a dastardly plan to gain control of the throne, Sage must use every trick at his disposal to outmaneuver the other boys and convince the kingdom that he is fit to rule.

Review:  The False Prince is the first book in The Ascendance Trilogy, and when I finished this book I was incredibly thankful that there are more to come while, at the same time, lamenting that I did not have the next installment NOW.  This novel manages to invoke the same sense of intrigue and danger that Game of Thrones does, but presents it in a manner that is appropriate for a young audience.  At the end I found myself warring contradicting emotions as half of me wanted to finish quickly so that I could find out what happens while the other half wanted to slow down a savor each word. 

The voice of Sage, hooked me from the very first page.  He is clever, witty and self-deprecating.  He interjects a wonderful sense humor into the most serious of situations and is able to manipulate the other characters into playing along in his grand master plan.  His antics left me laughing, shaking my head or asking "why can you not keep your mouth shut!" (and sometimes all three) in the most wonderful of ways.  Sage is the type of character that is impossible not to root for and I truly feel that he will appeal to both male and female readers, a feat that seems difficult to accomplish in most YA novels. 

The plot unfurls slowly but steadily, with secrets and betrayals around every corner.  There was not a single moment when I was bored or wishing for more action.  This is one of those books in which seemingly insignificant details will later be revealed as integral to the plot.  I adore novels where all the puzzle pieces seem to fall into place, creating a finished piece that is full of detail and leaves the reader reflecting on all of the moments that brought us to this place. 

The False Prince is easily the best book I have read this year and I am especially excited because this is a book that I can hand both my male and female students knowing that they will return begging for the next in the series.  This is a wonderful addition to any classroom library, kid's bookshelf or adult's to-be-read pile. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 12 and up
Gender: Both - Boys will LOVE this book!
Sex: None
Violence: Shooting with an arrow, swordplay, stabbing
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse: None

Friday, April 6, 2012

Book Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFever
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions: Pretty girl in a pretty dress, but wait! What's this? A MASSIVE CROSSBOW?! This just got much more interesting!  I love the look on the model's face and the hair and makeup are well done (though I do wish it had featured Ismae's fancy poison pearl hairnet.)  I particularly enjoyed the tagline "why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?".

The Gist:  Ismae has been sired by death.  At the hands of the Sisters of the convent of St. Mortain, she learns the art of dispatching a man from this earth and finally finds the strength to stand against the men that have filled her life with cruelty.  Sent to on assignment to the court of Brittany, she must wade into a world of secrets and intrigue and follow her own guidance about who to trust, and who to kill.

Review: This book gets an A+ for the originality of the idea.  A convent of nuns trained in the deadly arts and willing to assassinate based on the will of their God - now that is something I have not read before.  In fact, I so loved this idea that I am a little disappointed that LaFevers did not spend more time describing Ismae's training.  The opening was incredibly strong, but then instead of watching Ismae learn the skills that will allow her to kill a man in seconds (or stretch his agony out for days), we get a three year time jump which was more than a little unsatisfying.  

I enjoyed most of the characters (and the glimpses of Sybella made me long for the next installment in this series).  Ismae is strong willed, though young and inexperienced.  I loved her cold hearted certainty and willingness to follow her convent's orders without question.  However, I found her less enjoyable as she developed a conscience.  I was also thrilled to read descriptions of the weapons that she carried rather than the diatribes about sumptuous gowns that one often finds in period novels.  

Despite the strong opening and a very interesting premise, the plot had a tendency to lag.  For a book about an assassin, it was sorely lacking in assassinations.  I like politic intrigue as much as the next reader, but after pages and pages of political maneuvering I was practically foaming at the mouth for some bloodshed!  As for the mystery element, it is laughably transparent who is to blame for the current state of affairs and I kept waiting for some plot twist because surely it couldn't be this obvious, alas - it was.  
I will be back for the second book in this trilogy, mostly because I am intrigued by Sybella but also because I am too in love with the concept of deadly nuns to give up hope for a dark and compelling sequel.  Stay Tuned.
Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 15 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: One instance, tastefully written
Violence: Domestic abuse, garotting, poisoning, shooting with arrow, knife play
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse: Drinking of wine 
Additional Notes:  This is a decent introduction into historical fiction 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Cover Reveal: Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

I don't normally read the ZombieFied Classics but I may have to make an exception for this one.

The cover is so stunning!  I love, love, LOVE her dress and the tagline is PERFECT.  The countdown begins until the Sept 25th release!

Hunger Games Humor

I keep coming across funny and creative Hunger Games items and I thought I would share a few of them.  I am sure there will be more to come.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday (2)

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 Calling by Kelley Armstrong which is due to be released on April 10th

Maya Delaney's paw-print birthmark is the mark of what she truly is—a skin-walker. She can run faster, climb higher, and see better than nearly everyone else. Experiencing intense connections with the animals that roam the woods outside her home, Maya knows it's only a matter of time before she's able to Shift and become one of them. And she believes there may be others in her small town with surprising talents. 

Now Maya and her friends have been forced to flee from their homes during a forest fire they suspect was deliberately set. Then they're kidnapped, and after a chilling helicopter crash, they find themselves in the Vancouver Island wilderness with nothing but their extraordinary abilities to help them get back home. 

In The Calling, the sizzling second book in the Darkness Rising trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong pumps up the romance, danger, and suspense that left readers of The Gathering clamoring for more.

At the end of The Gathering Kelley Armstrong left up with one heck of a cliffhanger.  While I have moved away from "Shifter" themed YA, I will be jumping back in to see what happens to these characters.  One of the things that I love about Armstrong's books is the way that the character from different series intertwine and how, with each book, we learn more and more about this grand world that she has built for her characters.  I look forward to the new twists and revelations that The Gathering most certainly has in store.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday (2)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.  Each week will feature a new Top Ten list .  Everyone is welcome to join.

This week features the Top Ten Books To Read In A Day.  I am going to answer this one as A) books you could possibly read in a day and B) books you don't want to put down until they are finished.  In no particular order ....