Friday, February 28, 2014

In Anticipation: March 2014

As we move into March and the last month of cold, wet, winter reading and a built in excuse to ignore the world and curl up with a good book, there are just a few titles that I am really excited about but they are all HIGHLY anticipated reads.


THE CRACKS IN THE KINGDOM - JACLYN MORIARTY

The second in Jaclyn Moriarty's brilliant, acclaimed fantasy trilogy, THE COLORS OF MADELEINE!

Princess Ko's been bluffing about the mysterious absence of her father, desperately trying to keep the government running on her own. But if she can't get him back in a matter of weeks, the consequence may be a devastating war. So under the guise of a publicity stunt she gathers a group of teens -- each with a special ability -- from across the kingdom to crack the unsolvable case of the missing royals of Cello.

Chief among these is farm-boy heartthrob Elliot Baranski, more determined than ever to find his own father. And with the royal family trapped in the World with no memory of their former lives, Elliot's value to the Alliance is clear: He's the only one with a connection to the World, through his forbidden communications with Madeleine.

Through notes, letters, and late nights, Elliot and Madeleine must find a way to travel across worlds and bring missing loved ones home. The stakes are high, and the writing by turns hilarious and suspenseful, as only Jaclyn Moriarty can be.



THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER

Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird. In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and na├»ve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration. That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo. First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.



THE NIGHTMARE DILEMMA BY MINDEE ARNETT
 
The second in a thrilling new fantastical mystery series

Dusty Everhart might be able to predict the future through the dreams of her crush, Eli Booker, but that doesn’t make her life even remotely easy. When one of her mermaid friends is viciously assaulted and left for dead, and the school’s jokester, Lance Rathbone, is accused of the crime, Dusty’s as shocked as everybody else. Lance needs Dusty to prove his innocence by finding the real attacker, but that’s easier asked than done. Eli’s dreams are no help, more nightmares than prophecies.

To make matters worse, Dusty’s ex-boyfriend has just been acquitted of conspiracy and is now back at school, reminding Dusty of why she fell for him in the first place. The Magi Senate needs Dusty to get close to him, to discover his real motives. But this order infuriates Eli, who has started his own campaign for Dusty’s heart.

As Dusty takes on both cases, she begins to suspect they’re connected to something bigger. And there’s something very wrong with Eli’s dreams, signs that point to a darker plot than they could have ever imagined.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

ARC Book Review: The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty

Title: The Cracks in the Kingdom
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: March 25, 2014
Rating: 5/5

Cover Impressions: 
The digital image really doesn't do this one justice.  In the physical copy, the colors are so vibrant and the raindrops and lightning keep your eye moving across the image.  It fits beautifully with the first cover in this series, but I am still wishing for the parking meter to be featured on a cover - here's hoping for #3!

The Gist:
Madeleine and Elliot's communications through a mysterious crack between their worlds have been fun and exciting, but now their notes must take on more purpose.  The royal family is missing, presumably transported to The World and Madeleine and Elliot have been charged not only with finding them, but with determining the science governing the cracks so that they can bring the family home.  As if that weren't enough, Elliot must also travel Cello with the Royal Youth Alliance and endure tours and parties while trying to discover where in The World to start looking for the missing royals. 

Review:

I shouldn't like this book. The characters are strange and some are completely unrelatable, there are long scientific diatribes that make little sense and the "rules" of the fantasy kingdom are near impossible to discern. I shouldn't like this book, but I do. In fact, I love it.





It has a strange charm that drew me in and I ended up closing the book wishing for just one more chapter.  Please, Ms. Moriarty, Just. One. More. Chapter.





The writing in this series is beautiful and unique.  All of the characters have a remarkable strangeness about them that draws the reader in.  At first, I balked against the strangeness but, once I had accepted it, I was able to see the beauty in each character and the wonderful role that they played in the story.  Madeline continues to be a wonderful and whimsical character but, this time, without the morose obsession with an absent father that brought her down in the last novel.  Elliot is a brave and strong protagonist whose flaws keep him interesting.  There are a plethora of side characters who flesh out the story and provide some interesting color.  I particularly liked Samuel who was slowly revealed to have much more strength of character and determination than had ever been expected of him and the young prince, whose story in The World damn near broke my heart.

The worldbuilding in The Cracks in the Kingdom is like nothing that I have ever read before.  There are elements based on concepts of physics, but they are twisted in such a magnificent way that they become strange and wondrous.  The idea of color storms that turn the world upside down (sometimes literally!) is incredibly unique and allows for an element of excitement, beauty and danger. 

The plot unravels slowly, drawing the reader into its subtle nuances.  There were moments where I was frustrated by the lack of forward movement but, just as quickly, my patience was rewarded with a jaw dropping moment where I was completely surprised by a plot twist that I never saw coming.  The last quarter of the book is very fast paced.  It switches between several points of view which adds to the tension.  The ending itself allowed for the tying up of some loose ends while also leaving the reader breathless in anticipation of the next book in the series. Speaking of which, can we get on a release date for that? Anyone?





Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
13 and up - Requires a patient reader
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Gunplay
Inappropriate Language: Piss
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy


"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 Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer which is due to be released on April 8th

 Witty, sarcastic Ethan and his three friends decide to take down the reality TV show, For Art's Sake, that is being filmed at their high school, the esteemed Selwyn Arts Academy, where each student is more talented than the next. While studying Ezra Pound in English class, the friends are inspired to write a vigilante long poem and distribute it to the student body, detailing the evils of For Art's Sake. But then Luke—the creative force behind the poem and leader of the anti-show movement—becomes a contestant on the nefarious show. It's up to Ethan, his two remaining best friends, and a heroic gerbil named Baconnaise to save their school. Along the way, they'll discover a web of secrets and corruption involving the principal, vice principal, and even their favorite teacher.

This one had me from the moment I read the title.  First, I am a sucker for long titles.  Second, being a teacher means that I have a special place in my heart for stories set in schools and third, poetry.  Teenage boys writing poetry!  TEENAGE BOYS WRITING POETRY AS A FORM OF PROTEST!  This one had me sold before I even read that it features a gerbil named Bacconaise (which in itself would have been a reason to read the book).

Monday, February 24, 2014

ARC Book Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton


Title: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Author: Leslye Walston
Publisher: Candlewick Books
Release Date: March 25th, 2014
Rating: 5/5

Cover Impressions: 
Just beautiful.  The design of the feather is incredible and I love how the title was incorporated.  The colors work really well together.  Gorgeous.

Review:

This book is so incredible, yet so difficult to describe.  It is told through the eyes of teenage Ava Lavender, born under the strangest of circumstances and possessing a pair of dappled wings.  The story follows her great grandparents as they immigrate to America anticipating an easy life and streets paved with gold.  It continues through the life of Ava's grandmother Emilienne and tells the tale of her 4 great loves, all of whom came to a disastrous end.  The torch is then passed to Ava's mother, Viviane who experiences the loss of a beautiful love and is left with a pair of twins: Ava with the wings of an angel and Henry who rarely emerges from the world in his mind.  The entire family is both blessed and cursed with an ethereal strangeness that follows from one generation to the next.  It is a story of heartbreak, but ultimately one of love.

Leslye Walton's writing style is simply magical.  When I venture into the world of adult books, it tends to be in the genre of magical realism like Sarah Addison Allen's books.  It is not a genre that I tend to encounter often in YA novels and I was surprised to see how well it lends itself the novel.  That being said, there are some elements that made me wonder if this should really be considered YA.  There are descriptions of women's breasts, male masturbation, sex between teens and rape that might make some younger readers (and their parents) uncomfortable.    

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender features some of the most unique characters that I have encountered.  Nearly all of them, including the side characters, are well developed and easy to fall in love with, or easy to pity.  Ava served as our omniscient narrator and was wonderful in this role.  There is a sweet sadness in the characters that is not easy to accomplish.  None of the characters wallowed in self pity, forcing to reader to lose patience, it was clear that they were in pain, but they eventually pushed forward with life.  A particular favorite of mine was Gabe, the stoic man who stood by Viviane and helped raise her strange and wonderful children in the hope that she might one day turn her head his way and realize that he had been there all along. 

Throughout the novel, we see love found and love lost and the impact that it can have.  The novel features young love in its sweetest and most heartbreaking of forms.  We watch as these characters, with whom we ourselves have fallen in love with, suffer the pain of a broken heart and, eventually, discover that, despite their scars, love is still waiting.  With this phenomenal debut novel, I am officially signing up for anything else Leslye Walton has in store for us.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
16 and up
Gender: Both, probably more appealing to the girls
Sex: Sexual Language and Description of female breasts, Kissing, Sex between teenagers
Violence: Animal Mutilation, Rape
Inappropriate Language:
Substance Use/Abuse:
Smoking, Underage Drinking

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Stacking the Shelves (27)

Stacking The Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews.  It is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!

EBOOKS I GOT THIS WEEK:



BOOKS I GOT THIS WEEK:



I got Cress in audio book and am super excited to start it.  I listened to the last two in this series and liked the second far better than than the first.  I am hoping the trend continues.  Oblivion and Dissonance are both new authors for me but they both look really interesting. 


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Going Over


"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: Going Over by Beth Kephart which is due to be released on April 1st

 It is February 1983, and Berlin is a divided city with a miles-long barricade separating east from west. But the city isn’t the only thing that is divided. Ada lives among the rebels, punkers, and immigrants of Kreuzberg in West Berlin. Stefan lives in East Berlin, in a faceless apartment bunker of Friedrichshain. Bound by love and separated by circumstance, their only chance for a life together lies in a high-risk escape. But will Stefan find the courage to leap? Or will forces beyond his control stand in his way? National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart presents a story of daring and sacrifice, and love that will not wait. 

I don't know a lot about this book, but I am very intrigued by the idea of a story told on both sides of the Berlin Wall.  I have not read anything by Beth Kephart before, but she seems to be an accomplished writer and I am hoping for big things from this story.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Book Review: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Title: Lost Lake
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: MacMillan
Release Date: January 21st, 2014
Rating: 4.5/5

Cover Impressions: 
I do like this cover, but it doesn't quite have that magical feel for me that Allen's other books do.  I think it is sort of missing something and I would have loved to see the alligator featured somewhere. 

Review:


Lost Lake in Suley, Georgia has been home to Eby and a group of regular visitors since she and her husband bought the magical cottage ground.  As the population ages and visitors are lured away by a new waterpark attraction, Lost Lake is beginning to be forgotten. Eby agrees to sell the property and prepares to spend one last summer in the place so beloved by so many.  Kate has spent the last year in a fog, mourning the death of her husband.  She took a backseat as her mother in law, Cricket, managed their affairs of her and her daughter, Devin.  On the morning that they are to move in with Cricket, Kate's eyes finally clear and she realizes how miserable Devin's life has become.  On a whim, they escape to the one place where Kate felt happy and at peace: Lost Lake.  Once there, Kate begins to discover that the world still holds magic and romance and that returning to her old life may be more difficult than she expected.

I have read all of Sarah Addison Allen's books.  I am a huge fan of her special brand of magical realism and the way that her characters find those elements that have been missing in their lives.  I will admit, Lost Lake started off a little slow.  I was finding myself more inclined to do other things in the evening rather than rushing through my mommy routine in order to jump back into this book.  By about halfway, this issue resolved itself and I became much more invested.  The plot was a little predictable overall, but still held moments that were pleasantly surprising. 

The characters were all very well fleshed out and dynamic.  I would have liked to see a little more of Devin's point of view as her alligator-chasing was one of my favorite elements on the novel.  I also throughly enjoyed Selma and her charms.  She had an ability to snag any man, even enticing him away from his wife, but a finite number of chances to do so.  I would love to see a novel or novella that featured her or others that practiced her brand of magic.  Other character highlights included Bulahdeen and Lisette.  I loved the way that Allen incorporated their backstories and added depth to them and to the novel itself.

Sarah Addison Allen has a wonderful way of interweaving magical elements with a contemporary story in the most believable way.  No one doubts that ___ sees an alligator, or that Selma's tiny charms weld magnificent power of men.  The book abounds with beautiful coincidences could never be mere coincidences and show how mysterious and miraculous life can be.  Ultimately, Lost Lake is a story of family, grief and the power to overcome loss at its most painful.  Every character experiences growth through this story and it is their strength and love for one another that allows them to forgiveness and hope.

Lost Lake is a wonderful story and an excellent addition to the already impressive list of Sarah Addison Allen.  I fully believe that for as long as she is writing, I will be reading her books. 

Notable Quotables: 

"Like heat from a fire, the closer to water you are, the stronger you feel it."

"Just when you think you know the ending, it changes."
  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: The Cracks In The Kingdom


"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 Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty which is due to be released on March 25th


The second in Jaclyn Moriarty's brilliant, acclaimed fantasy trilogy, THE COLORS OF MADELEINE!

Princess Ko's been bluffing about the mysterious absence of her father, desperately trying to keep the government running on her own. But if she can't get him back in a matter of weeks, the consequence may be a devastating war. So under the guise of a publicity stunt she gathers a group of teens -- each with a special ability -- from across the kingdom to crack the unsolvable case of the missing royals of Cello.

Chief among these is farm-boy heartthrob Elliot Baranski, more determined than ever to find his own father. And with the royal family trapped in the World with no memory of their former lives, Elliot's value to the Alliance is clear: He's the only one with a connection to the World, through his forbidden communications with Madeleine.

Through notes, letters, and late nights, Elliot and Madeleine must find a way to travel across worlds and bring missing loved ones home. The stakes are high, and the writing by turns hilarious and suspenseful, as only Jaclyn Moriarty can be.


A Corner of White was definitely a building book for me.  It started off slowly, and a little oddly, but by the end I was entranced by the world building and the story.  I am hoping that Cracks in the Kingdom starts off where the first book left off so that I can get back that feeling of wonder and magic from the first line.  I also have a student who is in love with this series and also can't wait to get her hands on this book as soon as I am finished.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer

Title: Fog Magic
Author: Julia L. Sauer
Publisher: Puffin
Release Date: 1943
Rating: 5/5

Cover Impressions: 
This is my favorite cover of this book and the one that I remember.  It gets the old fishing village just right and has the beautiful, soft and ethereal quality of the fog.

Review:

When I was a little girl I discovered this book on the shelf of my tiny school library.  I read it at least twice a year for the rest of my time at that school.  It was my go-to book when I was feeling sad or lonely (which, to be honest, was quite often) and I was the perfect book for a foggy, Newfoundland day.  Recently, while perusing the shelves at my favorite second hand bookstore, I came across Fog Magic and just about squealed in delight.  I am so happy to get to read this wonderful story again.

Fog Magic is the Newberry Award Winning book of Julia L. Sauer.  It is set in rural Nova Scotia in a tiny fishing village.  The main character is an eleven year old girl named Greta.  Greta has always had an unexplainable fascination with the fog.  From the time she could walk, her mother was constantly trying to stop her from wandering off into the mist.  While walking one grey, foggy day, Greta discovers that the fog doesn't simply hide her from the world, it also reveals a new world to her.  The fog allows her entrance to Blue Cove, a place that holds only remnants of a community in the bright sunshine but is alive with the hustle and bustle of life within the fog.  

I always love the magic behind Fog Magic.  I grew up in the fog, I saw how it will creep and sneak along the ground one day and roll in as if swallowing you up the next.  I loved the idea that you could walk into the mist and come upon something that was never there by the light of the sun but could exist in that liminal space that fog can create.  Sauer does an excellent job of describing the mystery of the fog and the rules of this world are fairly well defined.  The fact that Greta can only reach Blue Cove through the fog and that time is different there allows the story to move quickly through a year without being bogged down with day to day details.

The story is a simple one, but is enchanting in its simplicity.  We are able to see some of the key events in the lives of the people at Blue Cove and can really feel Greta's sense of other-worldliness in having prior knowledge of the outcome of these events but no way to change them.  She develops a simple and sweet friendship with Retha and becomes close with her family, who appear to know more about this mystery that Greta does herself.  I do wish that some of the minor mysteries, like what happened to make everyone leave Blue Cove or who Anthony really is, were answered as these are the questions that keep me wondering and wishing there was a sequel to this book. 

This book will always be a favorite of mine and it makes me happy simply to see a copy resting on my shelves, awaiting the next grey, foggy day.

Notable Quotables:
"Most of us live in two worlds - our real world and the one we build or spin ourselves out of the books we read, the heroes we admire, the things we hope to do." 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
Middle Grade
Gender: Both
Sex: None
Violence: None
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sound Off Sunday - Book Clubs

SoundoffSunday


Sound Off Sunday is a weekly event hosted by Reading Between Classes.  This is your chance to speak your mind.  Each week will feature a new question or topic on which you can share your thoughts.

This week's Sound Off topic is: Book Clubs

How many people have been involved, at one time or another, in a book club? And, how many people have watched the book club devolve into drinking and debauchery (well, maybe not quite to debauchery but at least drinking)?  Book clubs have become the chief dasher of hopes in my life.

I was part of an adult book club a few years ago.  It was the one evening that I escaped the drudgery of motherhood and wifehood and had an evening to myself.  We met every 6 weeks or so and whoever was the host got the honor of choosing the book for that meeting.  The group featured a group of women with varying tastes in genre and writing style, so we got to read pretty different books each weeks.  This went well for about 6 months.  Then things fell apart.  More and more people showed up having not read the book or, worse, did not show up at all.  Eventually, members starting leaving citing that they didn't have time to read.  SERIOUSLY?  You don't have time to read one book in 6 weeks???  If you joined a book club, you must have had some interest in actually reading, and yet, your life is filled with so many other things that you cannot even attempt to read one book in 6 weeks?  

Since it fell apart, I have missed the companionship that the book club provided.  I have attempted to find other book clubs in the area or to find like minded individuals in order to start one of my own, but none have arisen.  Last week, I discovered that a local bookstore which is a favorite of mine, is starting a book club.  I spread the word to my friends - no takers, I shared the link - barely a whisper.  I went to the first meet and greet in which we had planned to choose a book and lo and behold, found myself and one other person.  I was so disappointed.

I realize that reading is a solitary endeavor, but I seriously wish that I could find a way to find those like minded individuals.  The ones that read more than a handful of books a year.  The ones that live their online lives on Goodreads and their favorite book blogs.  The ones that will talk peruse a bookstore for hours and talk about their favorite authors (because the favorite books list is just far too long) ad nauseum.  I know there have got to be other YA readers out there because you are clearing second hand bookstore shelves before I can get to them so where are you?  Why am I the only one who feels passionate enough about my reading that I am willing to pull my behind off the couch once every few weeks in order to talk to real life people about it?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book Review: How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller

Title: How to Lead a Life of Crime
Author: Kirsten Miller
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Release Date: February 21st, 2013
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions: 
I like the cover art but I feel they could have done more with the graffitti concept.  It isn't something that would jump off the shelves for me.  I do, however, really appreciate the quality of the physical copy.  The slipcover paper is thick and has an almost gritty feel to it and I love that little surprise when I grab a book off the shelf and it feels different from everything else. 

Review:

How to Lead a Life of Crime is not at all what I expected.  Like many reviewers, I had anticipated that the author would approach this topic from a humorous point of view.  Instead, we have a story that include some incredibly dark elements.  Our main character, Flick, comes from an abusive household.  He is living on the streets after the death of his younger brother, Jude.  Flick is an accomplished pick pocket appears to be trying to prove something to himself.  He is close to another homeless teen, Joi (pronounced Joey), who runs an unofficial shelter for kids but still keeps her, and all others, at arms length.  Flick's greatest desire is revenge on his father, the man who beat him mercilessly and who, Flick believes, killed Jude in a fit of rage.

The story plays out at the prestigious Mandel Academy, a school that, on the outside, appears to be a safe haven for impoverished youth but, in actuality, is a prison that requires them to become predators to survive.  The school intends to benefit from "saving" these children by putting their new found criminal skills to use in order to gain an even tighter stronghold on the resources of not only the country, but the entire world.  Flick joins the school with the aim of surviving long enough to get intel on his father and then insure the man's destruction.  What he doesn't count on is the horror and depravity that he will discover within the walls of the Academy.





How to Lead a Life of Crime features some really fantastic characters.  Flick has some major flaws but is a kid that you can truly root for.  He has had a horrific childhood and survived to become a very strong and independent teenager.  I particularly enjoyed the hallucinations (possibly...) in which he saw his little brother as Peter Pan. 





They add a mysterious element and a touch of whimsy to an otherwise very dark novel and they allowed a setting in which we could see how vulnerable Flick truly was.  Despite how much I enjoyed Flick and despite all of the arguments to the contrary, he was a bit slow.  It seems to take him a great deal of time to realize the depth of depravity of the headmaster of the school and the lengths to which he is willing to go to secure his position.  And this, is where Joi comes in.  Joi is, quite literally, a joy.  Upon entering the school, she is able to see, very quickly, where the weak points are and how she can exploit them for her own aims.  The change in character from her commune to the school is remarkable - suddenly, she is strong, independent and can kick some serious ass. 





Her return to the story is a real turning point and I couldn't help waiting for a snappy 80's music montage as she cleaned house!  I will admit, the background characters in the book were a bit static.  Many of them blended together and I could never seem to remember which wolf was which, which, in the end, didn't appear to matter much. 

The pacing in this book is fantastic.  The first half builds on intrigue and is able to provide the reader with enough background on the school to understand its inner workings, without bogging us down with monologues.  The second half is where the action really picks up.  We have a great deal of plotting behind the scenes and lots of twists and turns.  Just when you think you have the plot figured out, the entire world turns on its ear and you realize you have no idea what is going to happen.  We are also allowed the chance to experience some major character growth, especially in Flick, and an overwhelming theme that, despite all appearances and stereotypes, everyone has value.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age:
15 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Allusion to sex, no descriptions.
Violence: Attempted rape, Hand to Hand Combat, Kidnapping, Murder by very Violent Means, Mutilation of Corpses
Inappropriate Language: Bastard, Jesus, Faggot, Shit, Piss, Bitch, Douchebag
Substance Use/Abuse:Underage Drinking, Prescription Drug Abuse,

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday (42)


"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 Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen which is due to be released on February 25th.

 Jennifer A. Nielsen takes readers on an extraordinary journey in this final installment of the New York Times bestselling Ascendance Trilogy.
War has come to Carthya. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission.
But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya''s throne?
Rousing and affecting, Jaron''s adventures have thrilled and moved readers in The False Prince and The Runaway King. Journey once again with the Ascendant King of Carthya, as New York Times bestselling author Jennifer A. Nielsen brings his story to a stunning conclusion.
I am beyond excited for the conclusion to this trilogy.  The False Prince is one of those books that I can suggest to any student and I have not yet found one who didn't like it.  In fact, several kids are already begging me to finish my ARC already, so that they can get their hands on it.   

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Books for Teen Boys


Disclaimer:  Yes, I realize all boys are not alike.  Yes, I realize that there are lots of boys who are natural readers.  However, as a teacher, I can tell you that there are a group of students who are very reluctant readers.  These are the kids who will resist all gentle nudges (and forceful shoves) towards the bookshelf and who will stare blankly at the wall for an hour rather than participate in silent reading.  I can also tell you that the large majority of this group are made up of teenage boys.  The teens I am referring to in this post are those boys - the frustrating, tear my hair out, just pick a bloody book already, teenage boys.  They are often the most difficult group to reach and are missing out on valuable opportunities for development of language, empathy skills and sheer enjoyment.  Reading may never become their favorite activity, but finding the right book can make a world of difference to their attitude about the whole reading experience.  This list below may help you get started.  This is in no way meant to be an exhaustive list, but I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of each book to engage those reluctant readers.

SERIES:

The Ascendance Trilogy features Sage, a character who is intelligent, witty and infuriating - in the most wonderful way.  All of my students love the first two books and the third is being released on Feb 25th (I can vouch for it being fantastic!).  It features kingdoms at war, but does not have the trappings of high fantasy that can bog some students down.


The Darkest Minds Trilogy has released two books and is due to release the third (as yet untitled) at some point in 2014 - I expect the fall.  In this dystopian world, a disease has swept through the young population, killing many and those left behind are revealed to have dark and dangerous powers.  The government, frightened of anything they cannot control have rounded the kids up in, essentially, concentration camps and we follow one of them as she attempts to break out.  This fast paced series is a hit with almost all readers.


The Lorien Legacies opens with I Am Number Four (yes, that movie) and continues with The Power of Six, The Rise of Nine and The Fall of Five.  There also appear to be a series of Novellas which can keep a kid reading this series for ages.  It features a mysterious group of teen who fled their home planet and have lived their lives on earth on the run from the Mogadorian, a race bent on their annihilation.  The series follows the different characters (each bearing a number) as they learn more about their powers, their past and how to defeat their enemy.


Rick Riordan has several series that tend to appeal to boys.  Each features a different set of gods and goddesses and there are some crossover characters that allow for easy transitioning.  The original (and most well known) Percy Jackson and the Olympians follows demi-god, Percy Jackson as he learns of his mysterious father and a world he never knew existed.  The Heroes of Olympus series crosses into the territory of Roman Mythology and The Kane Chronicles follows a brother and sister and features elements of Egyptian Mythology.



STANDALONES:


Each of these books features a strong male lead and has enough action to interest most boys.  I have never met a kid who didn't like Holes, or most books by Louis Sachar, for that matter.  The same goes for A.S King.  Ender's Game is fantastic for the kid who likes a little Sci Fi and is an easy sell with the recent movie still on people's minds.  How to Lead a Life of Crime is a lesser known novel, but a great read about a deadly school that trains young criminals. 

DUOLOGY:


I was actually surprised by how much the boys enjoyed Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares.  The series has a strong male lead, but the real star of the show is a ghost who can be sad and sweet one minute but ghastly and fearsome the next.  These books both have lots of action and the romantic element does not overtake the story.

CLASSICS:



These are probably the go to classics for boys, and I am sure they find themselves on many similar lists.  There isn't much new to say about them as they have been around forever, but they still stand the test of time and still hold that same appeal for many young readers.
 

Monday, February 3, 2014

ARC Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Title: The Shadow Throne
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: Feb 25, 2014
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions: 
It fits nicely with the rest of the series, with a stand out color and one main symbol.  I am not a huge fan of the title as it seems a little generic and variations on that title are pretty common among fantasy novels.

The Gist:
Jaron faces the biggest challenge of his less than easy rule.  Carthya is under attack from the neighboring kingdoms.  Imogen has been captured and Jaron will have to use every ounce of cleverness and wit to ensure her safety and to save the throne he worked so hard to reclaim.

Review:


As The Shadow Throne opens we are thrown into the action quite quickly.  I could have used a touch of backstory to remind me what happened in the last book but I understand that we have a limited amount of time in order to wrap up a considerable number of lose ends and to wage an entire war.

Jaron (Sage) is just as clever and calculating as ever.  My favorite plot points involved Jaron being a little shit, ie: talking shit, pulling pranks, being cocky in the face of tremendous adversity.  I often describe him to my students by saying "you will both love him and want to strangle him all at the same time."  In this novel, Jaron continues to have some of the greatest lines.  A particular favorite was "This is my offer.  I'll let you hang me twice.  I won't even put up a fuss the second time."  These wonderfully humorous quips remind me of my first reading of Harry Potter when he broke out the serious sass (sadly almost all of these were cut out of the movies). 

We get to experience some character growth with Jaron coming to understand the travesty of war and to emphasize with the choices of his father.  I think this will truly make him a better equipped king.  I was particularly pleased his coming to understand the role of women in his kingdom.  The book features a few scenes in which women come to the rescue and Jaron states "It would take entire lifetimes for the men of Carthya to deserve their women."  I thoroughly enjoy seeing this in writing, particularly in middle grade writing. 

The Shadow Throne does suffer from a little lag around the middle.  This section involves tons of talking and traveling. It became difficult for me to follow, or care, where all the soldiers are and battles are. I much preferred the intrigue of the first book to the war plans of this one.  It got to the point that I was actually skimming the dialogue because I just wanted to get back to the action.  Luckily, the pacing gets much better in the last third when we get back to Jaron's scheming and secret plots being revealed.  I was a little disappointed with the predictability of one of the major plot points (Spoiler: The number of people who were supposed to be dead but weren't really dead made this slightly reminiscent of a Moffat script.)  The ending also came out pretty much as expected, but it was pleasant nonetheless.

Overall, I was pleased with the conclusion to this trilogy, even if it was a tad predictable.  I loved the character of Jaron from the first book to the last and I anxiously await whatever Jennifer Nielsen has in store next. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

Age: 12 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: War, Torture, Death by sword, arrow, drowning.
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Stacking the Shelves (26)

Stacking The Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews.  It is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!

BOOKS I GOT THIS WEEK:


The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Extras by Scott Westerfeld
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

I picked up The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer for the boys in my class.  I wasn't a big fan of the first book, but I think it will appeal to those teen boys and I am always looking for new books for them.

Before I Fall is another one of those - I see it all the time and should probably read it - books.  I also have a few students who would love to get their hands on this.

A Great and Terrible Beauty has been on my list for some time and completes my collection for this series.  I make it a point to never bring books into the classroom unless I have the first one in the series and I have been looking for this one for ages. 

Uglies and Extras fall under the same sphere.  I had Pretties, but not the others.  Most of my girls have read this series but I would like to try it out myself.

Alice in Wonderland is the classic book my book club kids have chosen for later this spring so I thought I would get a copy early.  I am also hoping to pick up a few more, particularly if I can get one of those super old hardcover copies that have that oh so wonderful old book smell and feel.

Finally, finding Fog Magic on the shelf made me absolutly giddy.  This was one of my favorite books growing up.  I lived in a very small town (think under 1000 people) and other than my basically once a year trip to a bookstore 4 hours away, my school library was all that I had.  I devoured nearly all of the middle grade and teen books that were on the shelves and Fog Magic was one that I kept coming back to over and over again.  I must have read it two or three times a year, along with the Chronicles of Narnia and everything we had by Roald Dahl (The Witches being a particular favorite).