Keeper of the Lost Cities

I’ve finally done it. I have finished reading all twenty of this year’s South Carolina Book Award nominees. It took me a little longer than normal this year because, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the list of nominees. It’s going to be a struggle to sell some of these books to my students…but that is not the case with my final nominee.

Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger, definitely the longest and most intimidating of the SCCBA nominees, is probably my favorite book on the list. It reminded me a bit of Harry Potter, so my enjoyment of the book is really no surprise. This book features beings with special abilities, a fantastical world hidden from human eyes, and an orphan who’s more powerful than she realizes. Sound familiar? Those similarities to Harry Potter will make Keeper of the Lost Cities, the first book in an exciting new series, an easy sell to many of my students. Hopefully, they’ll stick around to find out how the two series are different.

Sophie Foster has always been a bit different. She’s never had many friends, she doesn’t fit with her family, and she’s always been smarter than everyone around her. When she was five, she discovered that she could hear the thoughts of others. She never told anyone about her telepathic ability, but it seems someone out there knows just how special Sophie really is.

When Sophie meets Fitz, her entire world changes. Fitz is the only other Telepath she’s ever encountered, and he reveals that Sophie isn’t exactly human. She’s an Elf, and she definitely does not belong in the human world.

In order to keep her human family safe, Sophie must leave everything behind and move to Lumenaria, a land where she’ll learn what it means to be an Elf and how to harness her special abilities. At her new school, Foxfire, Sophie struggles, but she’s slowly figuring out this strange new world, and she’s finally making a few friends.

Some Elves, however, are less than happy with Sophie’s entrance into the Elf-world. Some have doubts about her place here, there is concern about her history in the human-world, and no one seems to know how to handle just how powerful Sophie appears to be. Her mind is impenetrable for even the most skilled Telepaths, and, while most Elves display just one special ability, Sophie has several. Why is she so different? What is so special about Sophie Foster?

As Sophie tries to piece together the puzzle that is her life, she discovers that her history, abilities, and place in this new world are more uncertain than she realized. Someone in the shadows is manipulating her, leading her on a chase to uncover the truth, but what is the end game? And can she figure out what’s going on before Sophie–and her new friends–are placed in mortal danger?

Read Keeper of the Lost Cities and join Sophie as she navigates this unfamiliar, strange world and attempts to find her place in it.

_______________

I haven’t even come close to capturing everything that transpired in Keeper of the Lost Cities (which is nearly 500 pages long). There are twists and turns galore, and I think this book will keep readers riveted the whole way through. Readers will wonder about Sophie’s past, and they’ll get a few answers, but dozens more will pop up.

This first book has a bit of resolution, but that won’t stop readers from clamoring to read the second installment. (By the way, book two, Exile, is already out. Book three, Everblaze, will be released on November 4th. There’s also a fourth book in the works, and it should come out in November of 2015.) I predict that the entire Keeper of the Lost Cities series will be a hit with many upper elementary and middle grade readers who have a fondness for fantasy.

For more information about Keeper of the Lost Cities and author Shannon Messenger, visit her blog. You can also connect with her via Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.

Now, I must do my best to create a book trailer that will get my students super-excited to read this book!

Published in: on September 29, 2014 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Brutal Youth

Brutal Youth. The title of this book could not be more fitting. It just about cured me of any desire to ever work in a high school again. This intense story by Anthony Breznican paints a vivid picture of some of the most horrible teenagers, teachers, and parents to ever step foot in a school. Yeah…it’s that bad.

Brutal Youth is by no means a bad book. It’s actually a stellar piece of work, but it is often very upsetting…which is why it took me nearly two months to read it. I started reading it in July–when I was trying to gear up for another school year–and it started to color my feelings about going back to work, even though I work in an elementary school. For that reason, I had to put it aside until I felt prepared to handle what I was reading. Finally, this past weekend, I was ready, and I quickly reentered the disturbing world of St. Michael the Archangel High School.

Peter Davidek didn’t exactly want to attend St. Mike’s, especially after the incident on the roof during his introductory tour. A kid who’d been bullied relentlessly snapped and unleashed his wrath on the entire school. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the school.

Somehow, Peter ended up at St. Michael the Archangel High School even after the horrible event he witnessed in the spring. Now, he’s a freshman, and it doesn’t take long for him to realize that this school is much worse than he ever could have envisioned.

Most of the teachers simply don’t care. The guidance counselor is a hateful woman who seems to delight in others’ misery. The parish priest would like nothing more than for the school to close (and he’s got his own shameful reasons for that). Even the few adults who aren’t totally wretched seem to be hiding something.

If the teachers are bad at St. Mike’s, the students are worse. Hazing runs rampant, and the adults turn a blind eye for the sake of “tradition.” Freshmen are tortured, humiliated, and abused daily…all for the sake of the enjoyment of the upperclassmen (and some of the faculty), and some kids are willing to do just about anything to keep from becoming targets.

Peter sees all of this going on around him, and he tries to avoid trouble, but it usually seems to find him. It doesn’t really help that his best friend, Noah Stein, does his level best to antagonize everyone around him…making him a target that most of the school would like to take out. Peter has also unknowingly befriended the school’s most notorious pariah…and that puts Peter in a spotlight he never wanted.

This year at St. Mike’s will show Peter Davidek the absolute worst of humanity. He’ll see friends driven mad by the actions of sadistic bullies. He’ll see a girl he once liked become someone he’d do anything to avoid. He’ll see the appeal in getting revenge on those who oppress others. Peter will learn so much about himself and the world around him…and some of those lessons will be horrid and eye-opening.

How will this brutal year change Peter? Will he retreat into his own mind, or will he use what happens to grow stronger? I’ll leave that for you to discover…

_______________

I’m the first to admit that my own high school experiences were sometimes not great. If it hadn’t been for the band, I would have done my level best to graduate early. (I was the nerdy, fat girl who wore braces, glasses, and played the tuba. It’s something of an understatement to say that I was the target of bullies.) My experiences now seem like nothing after reading Brutal Youth.

The people in this book were absolutely awful, and very few of the characters had redeeming value. Even the characters I sort of liked did things that made me shake my head. The bullying scenarios in this book take torture to a whole new level and exhibit cruelty that I hope to never see. And I’m not just talking about kid-on-kid violence here, although that was bad enough. Teachers bullied teachers, the priest bullied everybody, and parents bullied their kids. No one escaped torment.

With a title like Brutal Youth, one might think that this is most definitely a YA book. I would have to disagree. In my opinion, this is an adult book with young adult characters. Quite frankly, some teens won’t be able to handle this book. (Profanity, while true to the story, is abundant, there’s quite a bit of violence, and the book contains pretty frank talk of sexual situations. It’s an upsetting, disturbing book that could contain some triggers for those who have been severely bullied or abused.)

Other teen readers, though, will find kindred spirits in Peter Davidek, Noah Stein, and other “poor, unfortunate souls.” Sadly, they’ll identify with those who are bullied the worst, and Brutal Youth may give them a voice for expressing their feelings (though not in the way some people expressed themselves in the book, I hope).

Adults who read this book may find themselves reflecting–either positively or negatively–on their own high school experiences, and this could lead them to examine how “tradition” often fuels oppressive or aggressive behaviors.

Speaking (or writing) as an adult reader, I have to say that, while I was horrified by the actions of the kids in Brutal Youth, I was even more perturbed by what I saw of the adults. Which is worse: bullying someone to the point of violence, or turning a blind eye when it happens in front of you? Most of the adults in this book were guilty of the latter, and that can be viewed more harshly than the actual act of bullying. Kids at least have an excuse. They’re stupid sometimes, and their brains aren’t fully developed. What excuse do the adults have? Spite, jealousy, self-preservation? Is any excuse even valid here? I honestly don’t think so.

Well, I think I’ve said enough for one post. (Bullying is kind of a hot-button issue with me, so we’re lucky I’ve limited myself so much.)

If you’re looking for an intense, uncomfortable, and thought-provoking read, I suggest you give Brutal Youth a try. It’s not exactly an easy read, but it’s worth the time you put into it.

For more information about Brutal Youth and author Anthony Breznican, click here. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter.

*I received a free review copy of Brutal Youth through Goodreads First Reads.*

Published in: on September 24, 2014 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Doubt Factory

Thanks to a much-needed beach vacation, I was able to finish reading The Doubt Factory, a new YA thriller from Paolo Bacigalupi, this weekend. I read this book thanks to NetGalley, but you can read it in just a few weeks. It is scheduled for an October 14th release.

If you’re something of a conspiracy nut (like me), The Doubt Factory will confirm everything you’ve ever believed…and give you a few more things to induce paranoia. For those who are on the optimistic side…well, this book should take care of that.

Alix Banks has a pretty decent life. Big house, nice car, semi-attentive parents, the best education. But what’s the cost of all the good stuff in Alix’s life? Alix knows her father is involved in some fairly heavy-duty PR work, but she doesn’t really pay much attention to how Daddy dearest “brings home the bacon.” All that is about to change…

When someone known only as 2.0 enters Alix’s life, she is oddly intrigued at first. This mysterious–and strangely compelling–figure wants Alix to pay closer attention to her dad’s work…but why? Why would this character, believed to be a petty vandal, be interested in Alix’s father?

Alix is curious, and her curiosity eventually leads her into a dangerous game of truth, deception, and corporate greed. 2.0–better known as Moses–and his merry band of activists attempt to open Alix’s eyes to her father’s shady business dealings. They know that he spends his days covering up what “fine, upstanding companies” don’t want revealed–side effects of medications, carcinogens in household products, wrongful deaths, etc. Alix’s father sells doubt. He–and those like him–finesse their government contacts, throw money at problems, mire the legal system in pointless paperwork and delays…all for the purpose at casting doubt on the claims of those would endanger the all-important profit margin.

At first, Alix refuses to believe everything she’s being told. She’s sure her father is incapable of such heinous acts. She reveals what she knows about 2.0 to her dad and his security team…and she almost immediately regrets it. Deep down, she knows her dad is hiding something, and she makes it her business to find the truth.

Alix becomes obsessed with her father’s company, and she is disgusted by what she uncovers. Moses was telling the truth. But what can Alix do to change things? And can she convince Moses to help her when she turned her back on him once before? Can a couple of teenagers take down something as big as the Doubt Factory, and is Alix willing to betray her father, a man who loved and raised her, for the sake of the truth?

_______________

*Spoilers ahead!*

Even though I found The Doubt Factory to be a gripping thrill-ride of a book, I will admit that one thing did bother me: Alix’s relationship with Moses. There was a fair amount of Stockholm Syndrome happening here, in my opinion. The girl fell in love with her stalker/kidnapper! Sure, it worked out for Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but this is no Disney fairy tale. What kind of message does this send? “It’s okay, girls. I know that creepy guy follows you around, bugs your house, drugs you, and keeps you locked in a cage, but he’s a really great guy once you get to know him.” I know that Moses had his reasons for doing what he did, but Alix’s reaction to him felt wrong to me. Even when she discovered he was telling the truth about everything, she was a little too willing to forgive the whole kidnapping thing. That definitely would have been a deal-breaker for me.

Despite that one glaring issue, I did enjoy The Doubt Factory. I’m a little wary of eating, drinking, breathing, cleaning, taking my meds, or doing anything else after reading it, but maybe a dose of paranoia is a good thing. Keeps me on my toes and aware of what’s going on around me. I can definitely say that this book made me want to do a bit more research on the things I put into my body, especially medications. The Doubt Factory was eye-opening to say the least.

The Doubt Factory is ideally suited to high schools with strong business programs. This book would be an interesting read in business classes and could illicit some interesting discussions of ethics, honesty, government involvement in commerce, FDA regulations, whistle-blowing and its aftereffects, and many other issues.

For those of you wondering if you should add The Doubt Factory to your library or classroom collections, let me give this recommendation. This book is a great addition to libraries and classrooms that serve older YA populations (high school age and up). There is some profanity, sexual situations, violence, and criminal activity. Not to mention all the chemical, legal, and corporate mumbo-jumbo. I just don’t think this is a book that most younger readers will appreciate.

If you’d like more information on The Doubt Factory and author Paolo Bacigalupi, click here. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Published in: on September 22, 2014 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Unbreakable

Thank goodness for NetGalley! I’ve only been a member for a short while, but this awesome service has allowed me to be the first to read some pretty awesome books, including the first two books in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls After Dark series, Reborn and Eternal. Well, just two days ago, I was invited by NetGalley to read Unbreakable, a Shadow Falls After Dark eBook novella, which will be released to the masses on September 30th. (That was a pretty good surprise on an otherwise craptastic Monday.) Of course, I dropped everything and commenced with the reading.

If you’re at all familiar with the first two Shadow Falls After Dark books (or at least the first since Eternal doesn’t come out until October 28th), you already know a little about the character of Chase Tallman. He’s the oddly compelling vamp who turns Della’s world topsy-turvy. But what do we really know about Chase? How did he become a vampire? What led him to Della?

Unbreakable answers a few questions about Chase, but several more are left unanswered. Readers learn a bit about his relationships with his family and his loyal dog, Baxter. We also see Chase’s first brush with love and how that eventually led him to Della.

While we did see the tragic circumstances that led to Chase becoming a vampire, I do wish that part of the story had been a little more fleshed out. I wanted to see how he dealt with the aftermath. Also, there was really no mention of the whole “rebirth” thing, and I would have liked to see more of Chase’s early days as a vamp. Maybe these things will get more attention in the next full-length novel (which I think should be out next summer).

If you’d like to learn more about Unbreakable and C.C. Hunter’s other amazing books, be sure to check out the author’s website here.

Published in: on September 17, 2014 at 10:14 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Summer of the Wolves

I’ve never been an outdoorsy kind of gal. Getting in touch with nature? Not my thing. Even as a kid, I disliked being outside, and I hated being forced to read books that had a big focus on nature. The books that stand out the most are Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, and Julie of the Wolves. I know these are great books, but they just didn’t do it for my younger self.

It should surprise no one, then, that I was rather reluctant to read my latest book, Summer of the Wolves by Polly Carlson-Voiles. Pitched as “Julie of the Wolves meets Hatchet,” I was almost immediately turned off. If this book were not a nominee for this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award, I never would have picked it up. (I did put it off as long as I could.) When I finally started the book, it was rather slow going. I found any excuse I could think of to put the book down. Eventually, though, I made myself sit down and read, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book. Now, I’ll never be a nature-lover, but I did appreciate this story and the main character’s quest to find her place in the world.

Twelve-year-old Nika should be used to change by now, but nothing prepares her for leaving her latest foster home in California and spending the summer in the wilderness of Northern Minnesota. Nika and her little brother are staying with an uncle they’ve never met in a place that is totally unfamiliar. Nika’s brother, Randall, seems excited about this new adventure, but Nika is anxious. She wonders why her uncle never contacted them before now, how he feels about caring for two kids all summer, and what will happen to them when the summer ends.

Something happens, though, that gives Nika a sense of purpose in her new surroundings. Nika and her uncle find an orphaned wolf pup and decide to care for him. Nika grows attached to the pup–who she names Khan–and she does whatever she can to make sure the little wolf is healthy and happy. She even entertains thoughts of keeping him for her own.

As Nika cares for Khan and learns more about wolves and the wilderness around her, this lonely girl finds herself growing closer to her uncle and making something of a life for herself in Minnesota. For the first time since her mother’s tragic death, Nika feels like she belongs somewhere.

But what will happen when Nika realizes that she and Khan can’t stay together? Will separation from the wolf pup erase everything Nika has come to love about this place? Can she accept Khan’s fate as well as her own?

Read Summer of the Wolves by Polly Carlson-Voiles to learn how one young girl’s relationship with a wolf pup helps her discover her own inner strength, her connection to nature, and what being part of a family really means.

_______________

The synopsis above is not one of my best, and I don’t think it captures even a fraction of what occurs in Summer of the Wolves. This book, while exploring the complicated life of one girl, also highlighted the plight of wolves and other wild creatures. Where does one draw the line when it comes to studying and appreciating wild animals and leaving them alone? (Anyone familiar with the controversy surrounding SeaWorld knows this is a big issue.) Maybe this book and others like it will help young readers examine their own interactions with animals and learn more about how they can help wild animals around the world.

Summer of the Wolves could be a good novel study for upper elementary or middle grade classes. I see it supplementing science units on animal behavior and habitats. Reading this book could lead to extensive studies of wolves in the northern United States. (I do wish this book had included a “further reading” section for students who wanted to learn more about wolves. There is a little more information on the author’s website, including a Common Core teacher’s guide to this book, but something more accessible to students would be nice.)

Published in: on September 12, 2014 at 2:04 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Red Thread Sisters

I can see the finish line in the distance. Last night, I read my 18th nominee for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Only two more to go!

My latest SCCBA nominee is Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock. It is a short but powerful book that could encourage young readers to explore their differences, appreciate families of all types, and examine the true meaning of friendship.

 “An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.” ~Ancient Chinese Legend

Wen has spent the past several years in a Chinese orphanage, but her life is about to undergo a drastic change. She has been adopted by an American family, and she’s leaving her best friend in the world, Shu Ling, behind. Wen promises that she’ll do whatever it takes to find a home for Shu Ling, but that may not be so easy when Wen is trying to adjust to a new family and an unfamiliar country and language.

Wen’s new life in Boston is much more difficult than she could have imagined. She misses her best friend desperately, and she remains distant from her new mom and her little sister, Emily. It’s also hard to make friends at school when she’s so different–and when she can’t understand many of the words spoken around her.

Eventually, though, Wen does make a very good friend…but how can Wen be totally happy with her new life when she knows that Shu Ling is counting on her to find a forever family?

Young Wen becomes determined to help her best friend, but time is running out. In a matter of weeks, Shu Ling will no longer be eligible for adoption. What can one eleven-year-old girl do to make sure her friend, a disabled thirteen-year-old in a Chinese orphanage, is adopted by an American family?

Well, Wen will discover that she’s capable of quite a bit, but will her efforts be enough? Will she find a home for Shu Ling in time? Will these “red thread sisters” ever see each other again? If not, can Wen ever be truly happy with her new life in America?

Read Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock to see just what one young girl will do to ensure the happiness of her best friend…and herself.

_______________

Red Thread Sisters is a great book that is sure to pull at the heartstrings. I think every reader will root for Wen to connect with her new family and find a home for her best friend. The book may even make people stop and think about how they treat those who come from different backgrounds than their own. Maybe they’ll be a little more empathetic after reading this book. Maybe they’ll learn to focus on what connects them instead of what sets them apart.

Any teachers looking to use Red Thread Sisters in their classrooms are in for a treat. The author has an amazing teacher guide on her website that connects this book to so many areas of study. (It even has the Common Core standards addressed by the book included.) If any of my upper elementary or middle grade teacher friends are looking for a new novel study–and you don’t want to do all of the legwork yourself–consider Red Thread Sisters and this wonderful resource (linked directly for your convenience).

If you’re interested in learning more about Red Thread Sisters and Carol Antoinette Peacock, check out the author’s website. You may also want to take a peek at the book trailer below. I know I’ll be using it when I promote this book to my students!

Buddy

In April, I read a moving novel centered around one twelve-year-old boy’s experiences during Hurricane Katrina. That book was Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick. Last night, I finished another book that takes a look at how this monstrous storm impacted a young boy. The book is Buddy, a 14-15 South Carolina Book Award nominee by M.H. Herlong. Both books are told from the perspective of twelve-year-old boys, and the boys in both stories have a strong connection with their pets. Those similarities aside, these two books are very different. While Zane and the Hurricane presented a harrowing tale of what it was like to remain in New Orleans during Katrina, Buddy gives a glimpse of what life may have been like for those who left–those who evacuated their homes, often leaving possessions, friends, and even beloved pets behind.

Tyrone “Li’l T” Roberts has wanted a dog forever, but he never quite expected to get one the way he did.

On the way to church one Sunday morning, Li’l T’s dad hits a scraggly, old dog with the car. Even though the family doesn’t have the money to take care of this injured dog, Li’l T is convinced that this dog, who he names Buddy, is meant to be his. With the help of some folks at church, Buddy gets the help he needs, and even though the dog loses a leg, he gains a home with Li’l T.

Li’l T sacrifices a lot to make Buddy a part of his family. He sells his GameBoy so that he has money to buy food for Buddy. He starts mowing lawns so that he can keep caring for his dog. He spends hours talking to Buddy and trying to convince this dog to make the most of his second chance at life. Buddy may only have three legs, but Li’l T knows his dog can do just as much as any four-legged dog around.

Li’l T and Buddy are the best of friends, but something is about to happen that could tear them apart forever. A hurricane named Katrina is bearing down on New Orleans, and the family has to leave everything behind…including Buddy. There’s just no room for him in the family car. Li’l T wants to stay behind with Buddy, but his parents won’t hear of it, so they leave Buddy in an upstairs bathroom with enough food and water for the next couple of days. Surely the storm won’t keep them away more than two days, right?

No one is prepared for Katrina’s path of destruction. This monster of a storm even hits the family’s refuge in Mississippi, and Li’l T soon learns that there isn’t much left of his home in New Orleans. Flood waters have destroyed much of the city, and there may not even be a home to return to.

Immediately, Li’l T thinks of Buddy. Is his dog still locked up in the bathroom? Is he wondering why Li’l T hasn’t come back for him? Has Buddy been rescued, or did Katrina claim one more victim? Li’l T isn’t sure what’s going on, but he’s determined to find out what happened to the dog that became his best friend.

It’s not always easy to keep moving when so much has been taken away from you. Li’l T and his family have lost so much because of Katrina, but they’ve still got each other, and Li’l T has the hope that he will be reunited with Buddy one day. But will their reunion be everything that Li’l T expects, or will he realize that sometimes the only thing you can do is move on?

Read Buddy by M.H. Herlong to see how tragedy brought two friends together, tore them apart, and taught one young boy what true courage and sacrifice really mean.

_______________

I freely admit that I didn’t look forward to reading this book. (It was billed as being like Old Yeller. What did you expect?) I did, however, find myself engrossed the more I read. Seeing Li’l T’s journey throughout this book was gratifying, and I think all readers will appreciate how much this character grew and matured throughout the course of this story.

I think Buddy is a great addition to any libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. There is some mention of gangs, violence, and drug use, but these things were true to the story and what was happening in the aftermath of Katrina.

While Buddy is a good book–and one that I will recommend to my students–I think Zane and the Hurricane is a much better book for those interested in Hurricane Katrina. It just seemed much more authentic to me. (Maybe I’m alone in that. I don’t know.) Hopefully, some of my students will read both books, and we can have some discussions on how each book addressed the storm that changed the lives of so many.

For more information on Buddy and author M.H. Herlong, check out the author’s website.

Published in: on September 1, 2014 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Bad Magic

Thanks to NetGalley, I’ve been introduced to the first book in what is sure to be a fantastic series for middle grade readers. This book is Bad Magic by Pseudonymous Bosch, and it’s due for a September 16th release.

Bad Magic is full of snark and humor, and it also parallels one of my favorite plays, The Tempest by William Shakespeare. All in all, I’d say this book is a must-purchase for libraries that serve middle grade readers.

Clay hates magic. One day, he writes his feelings for magic in his journal, and his words–Magic Sucks!–mysteriously (or magically) appear on the side of a building at school. Of course, all fingers point to Clay, and even though he knows he’s innocent, he’s sent away to Earth Ranch, a wilderness camp for troubled youth.

Almost immediately, Clay realizes that things are kind of weird at Earth Ranch, which is located perilously close to an active volcano. There’s the llama that only responds to Spanish, the swarms of bees that simply don’t behave like they should, and the vog (volcanic smog) that makes everything just a little spookier.

Things get even stranger when Clay learns of the seemingly haunted–and off-limits–library that has all but been abandoned. Of course, like any curious kid presented with a mystery, Clay has to investigate this library, and his quest for answers leads him on a journey that makes him question everything around him…including the reason he was sent to Earth Ranch.

What is really going on at Earth Ranch? Is anyone who they seem to be? Why is this camp so much like a play he was reading in school? Is Clay just imagining the connections, or is he really living out a Shakespearean play? Is that crazy, or is someone trying to get Clay to believe in magic once again? If so, who?

Nothing makes sense for Clay, and his search for the truth will only give him more questions. Can you figure out what’s really going on before Clay does? Jump into Bad Magic to find out!

_______________

I had hoped to add Bad Magic to my elementary library collection, but I think some of the humor is just a little too mature for my students. Middle grade readers, though, will eat up all of the sarcasm and gross humor in this book. (I’ve taught middle school before, so I know snark and potty humor is the first language of most 6th-8th graders.)

I don’t know why, but I tend to enjoy novels with funny, informative footnotes. I got those in Bad Magic. These footnotes added to the humor in this novel, but they also provided readers with information on things they may not be totally familiar with…like popular 70s TV shows, for example. I don’t know how it will look in the print version of the novel, but my digital galley had each of these asterisks as links to the footnotes. (Click on the asterisk, and move to the footnote. Click on the asterisk next to the footnote, and move back to the text. Easy-peasy.) I’m hoping that the print version will have the footnotes at the bottom of each page so that reading this added info isn’t too jarring.

As a fan of Shakespeare, particularly The Tempest, I really appreciated Bad Magic‘s connections to this too-often-forgotten play. Those familiar with the play may be able to figure out what’s going on with Clay much sooner than he does. Bad Magic could also be a fun follow-up to studies of The Tempest. I think students (and teachers) could enjoy comparing the two stories and using what happened in The Tempest to predict what will happen in Bad Magic.

Like I said previously, Bad Magic is a must-have book in middle school libraries, and this book can be purchased on September 16th. If you’d like to learn more about this book and others by author Pseudonymous Bosch, definitely do not go to this website.

Published in: on August 31, 2014 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Eternal

Caution: You MUST read the entire Shadow Falls series (Born at Midnight, Awake at Dawn, Taken at Dusk, Whispers at Moonrise, and Chosen at Nightfall) and Reborn, the first book in the Shadow Falls After Dark series, before even thinking about reading Eternal (or this somewhat spoilery post on it). I know that’s a lot of reading, but it’s worth it!

Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read Eternal, book two in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls After Dark series, a couple months early. (It won’t be released to the world until October 28th.) I loved the first series and Reborn, so I figured I’d feel the same way about Eternal. I did.

After being reborn and finding herself with powers beyond what a “normal” vampire possesses, Della Tsang is more determined than ever to work with the FRU, the agency that governs supernaturals, and to uncover the mysteries shadowing her family’s past.

The sudden–and not entirely welcome–appearance of a ghost will make Della’s life more confusing than ever. This ghost is trying to tell Della something about her family and showing glimpses of two captive young vampires who need to be saved from certain death. Who is this presence haunting Della, and can she figure out what the ghost is trying to tell her before it’s too late?

Della is also working to unravel her feelings about two very different young men: Steve, a shapeshifter she’s been sort of dating for the past month, and Chase, the enigmatic vampire who is now bonded to her and seems to know just when she needs him. Della isn’t exactly thrilled about her connection to Chase, but even she can’t deny that her feelings for him are growing. It doesn’t help that Della and Chase are working closely together investigating a case for the FRU. Can she remain true to Steve when every part of her screams to be with Chase? And will fate take this decision out of her hands?

Della’s world is in more turmoil than ever before. How is she supposed to do everything expected of her and still keep her cool? So much is weighing on her, and she’s close to her breaking point. Della doesn’t know which way to turn sometimes, and she feels like she’s being pulled in opposite directions. A mysterious ghost, Steve, Chase, Burnett, her friends, and even her estranged family. Everyone seems to want a piece of Della. But who can she really trust? Can she even trust herself to do what’s right?

Should Della remain loyal to Shadow Falls and the family she’s chosen for herself there? Should she do whatever possible to uncover the truth–however painful it may be–about her father, who has all but turned his back on her? Should she take a chance with Chase, even though it could jeopardize everything she’s been working for? Nothing is clear for Della Tsang, but she’ll do whatever she must to find the answers she needs. And those answers may just lead her to even more questions…

_______________

I’ll go ahead and warn those still reading: Eternal ends on a mother of a cliffhanger. If I had been reading a print copy of this book, I probably would have thrown it across the room. I can hardly wait to read the third book, but considering that Eternal isn’t even out yet, I probably have quite the wait ahead of me. *Insert impatient sigh here.*

There is some good news, though! On September 30th, there is going to be an ebook novella released that’s all about Chase, Della’s nemesis/sometimes love interest. It’s called Unbreakable, and if you check out this announcement on C.C. Hunter’s website, you’ll learn a lot more about what’s sure to be a very enlightening read.

If you love books with supernatural goodness, I strongly urge you to check out both the Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series. Both are excellent, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Della’s journey in the next book.

For more information on the books mentioned in this post or author C.C. Hunter, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

 

Published in: on August 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Finding Zasha

I did not want to read this book. If not for the fact that Finding Zasha is a nominee for the SC Children’s Book Award this year, I doubt I would have ever picked it up. (I don’t gravitate toward historical fiction, and I’m getting a little tired of reading “dog books.”) It took me way too long to get through this book, and it was all I could do to even pick it up some days. Eventually, I did force myself to sit down and finish reading (because I’m an adult, sort of), and I have to admit that I found myself enjoying it more than I did at the beginning. It’s still not my favorite of the SCCBA nominees, but at least I won’t have to tell my students that I loathed it. I guess that’s something.

The year is 1941, and twelve-year-old Ivan Savichev lives with his mother in an apartment in Leningrad, Russia. The entire world is at war, and the German forces are bent on destroying Ivan’s home city. Bombs drop from the sky, food and water are scarce, and no one knows if this day will be their last.

Ivan’s mother decides there’s only one course of action. She will join the other factory workers in the Ural Mountains, and Ivan will cross the frozen Lake Ladoga and go to live with his Uncle Boris (a man Ivan has not seen since he was five). Ivan makes this treacherous journey with Auntie Vera, who is going to stay with her sister-in-law in the village of Vilnov. Ivan cannot fathom leaving Auntie, so he stays with her…and it is here that his life will change forever.

Almost immediately upon arriving in Vilnov, Ivan joins a group of partisans, or an underground movement charged with disrupting the work of the German army. He’s surprised to learn that many of those around him are also partisans, and all of them are eager to do their part for the good of Russia.

After the Germans destroyed his beloved home city, Ivan is looking for a way to help his country win this horrible war, and he’s about to get his chance. The Germans have arrived in Vilnov, and Ivan has caught the interest of their leader, the terrifying Major Axel Recht, a cruel Nazi commander. Major Recht is charmed by Ivan’s musical talent, and he needs someone to help care for and train his precious German shepherd puppies, Thor and Zasha. Ivan steps in and seizes an opportunity to feed information to his fellow partisans.

Ivan soon realizes, though, that his mission is not an easy one. Major Recht is suspicious of everyone and quick to anger. He doesn’t fully trust Ivan, and he seems to resent Ivan’s connection with Thor and Zasha, dogs who are being trained to hunt Russians. Ivan knows he must get away from Recht soon, but he cannot fathom leaving Thor and Zasha behind to face Recht’s wrath alone. Ivan plots to escape with the two puppies, an action that is sure to enrage Major Recht. One night, Ivan makes his move, takes the dogs with him, and leaves Recht behind. He can’t know, though, just how far Recht will go to seek revenge…

In the midst of war, Ivan eventually finds a measure of peace as he finally makes his way to his Uncle Boris’ cabin. He trains Thor and Zasha to be faithful companions, he learns about farming, he visits with friends…and he grows perhaps too comfortable. When his worst enemy returns, Ivan must flee once again, but this latest escape puts Zasha in danger. The dog has gone missing, and Ivan must make some difficult decisions that could impact the safety of his friends and his own future.

What will Ivan do? Will the evil Major Axel Recht catch up with him? What will become of Thor and Zasha? Read Finding Zasha by Randi Barrow to find out!

_______________

Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, I do think that Finding Zasha is a good addition to upper elementary, middle, and high school library collections. It presents World War II from a perspective that many students don’t often learn about. Sure, they learn all about American perspectives, and most students know about Anne Frank and the plight of European Jews, but few students–American students, anyway–ever really think about what Russians endured during this war. World War II took the lives of over 25 million Russians, and that’s something that tends to be glossed over in studies of this time period. This book, at the very least, offers a perspective that many American readers rarely consider.

There is another book for those who enjoy Finding Zasha. Saving Zasha, which was actually written first, is the story of what happens to Zasha after the events in Finding Zasha. I’m not sure if I’ll get around to reading this one, but I’m sure many of my students will. (Usually, if there’s a dog on the cover, I don’t have to do much “selling.”)

If you’d like more information on Finding Zasha, Saving Zasha, and author Randi Barrow, visit the author’s website.

Published in: on August 23, 2014 at 2:22 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 253 other followers