The Spindlers

This one has been on my to-read list for quite some time, and I finally got around to it this weekend. The Spindlers, an upper elementary/middle grade novel from acclaimed author Lauren Oliver, is a fantastical tale that brings to mind such classics as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and even The Chronicles of Narnia. It is rather scary at times, making it a perfect recommendation for younger readers looking for a spooky, Halloween read, but it also explores themes like hope, forgiveness, and perseverance.

Like Liesl & Po, The Spindlers is another great children’s novel from Lauren Oliver!

Something is very wrong with Liza’s little brother, Patrick. Last night, he was his usual happy-go-lucky self. This morning, though, Patrick is different and wrong, and Liza is certain of what happened. The evil spindlers, spider-like creatures from Below, have stolen Patrick’s soul. It’s the only explanation. So what is Liza to do? Well, she’s going to rescue her brother’s soul, of course!

Liza braves the dark and finds an entrance to Below in her basement. Armed only with a broom, Liza enters this strange world in search of Patrick’s soul, but nothing could have prepared her for what she would face. Almost immediately, Liza encounters Mirabella, a talking rat who wears a wig, makeup, and a skirt made out of newspaper.

Mirabella helps Liza navigate this strange new world, with all of its dangers and mysteries. Mirabella introduces Liza to troglods, nids, lumer-lumpen, nocturni, and several other creatures that inhabit Below. Some of those creatures are helpful. Others…not so much. The trick is knowing which is which.

As Liza and Mirabella travel through Below, they are getting closer and closer to the spindlers’ nest…and to the captive souls within. The journey is becoming more perilous, but Liza is determined to rescue her brother before it’s too late.

Will Liza be able to get past her own fear of the the spindlers to do what she must? Who can she rely on when help is needed? Can Liza rescue her brother’s soul–and her own–before the spindlers get the best of her? Journey Below for these answers and more when you read The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver.

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I plan to recommend this book to my 3rd-5th graders who can’t get enough of spooky stories. The Spindlers has just enough scary stuff to keep them on the edge of their seats but not so much that it will give them nightmares (I hope).

I think anyone who reads The Spindlers will draw parallels to other works of fantasy, particularly those mentioned at the beginning of this post. The resemblance to Alice in Wonderland is likely the most apparent, and that may just be the hook needed to entice young–and older–readers to pick up this book. Further discussions on the similarities and differences between the two stories could prove to be rather interesting.

For more information on The Spindlers and other fabulous books by Lauren Oliver, check out the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Published in: on October 6, 2014 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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No One Needs to Know

Like many fans of YA literature, I like a good love triangle. I’ve read books with bitter enemies, best friends, and even siblings fighting over the same person. It’s usually two guys competing for the love of a girl, but my latest read kind of turned that on its ear. In No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace, we do see two siblings with feelings for one girl, but this book features twins, one male and one female, vying for the attention of the same person. It’s an interesting dynamic, and one, to my knowledge, that hasn’t received a lot of attention in contemporary YA lit. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Olivia seems to have it all. She’s rich, she’s a gymnastics star, and she’s beautiful.  But Olivia is struggling. Her twin brother, Liam, is pulling away from her, her parents don’t seem to care about her unless it’s convenient for them, gymnastics doesn’t hold the appeal it once did, and anxiety is taking over her life. Even her best (and only) friend, Ava, can’t be counted on to be there when Olivia needs her. Olivia feels all alone in the world, but that’s about to change…

Zoey is the school pariah. A mistake during her freshman year made her a target of the school’s resident mean girl, Ava, and Zoey’s been public enemy number one ever since. Add in the fact that she’s one of the lone scholarship kids at a prestigious all-girls school, and it’s easy to see how Zoey would feel alone in a crowd. Not to mention that she has worries that her classmates just don’t. While keeping up her grades, Zoey must also take care of her little sister, keep things running at home while her mom works her fingers to the bone, and hold down a part-time job. These rich kids don’t know how good they’ve got it.

When Zoey and Olivia are paired up for a class project, both girls get the opportunity to really see “how the other half lives.” And when Zoey begins dating Olivia’s brother, Liam, she’ll realize that these rich kids don’t have it quite as easy as she once believed. Olivia will also see just how badly Zoey has been treated, and these two unlikely friends will grow closer than they ever thought possible…so close that the two eventually fall for each other.

Olivia knows that Liam is growing serious about Zoey, and she doesn’t know how to reconcile that with her growing, unexpected feelings. She knows that Zoey feels the same way about her, but neither of them wants to hurt Liam. How can these two girls hope to be together when it means hurting someone they both care about?

As Olivia and Zoey navigate the tough waters of this new relationship, they’ll have to decide what’s really important to them. Is being together more important than anything? More important than friendships or family? What will they have to give up to be together…and will it be worth it in the end?

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No One Needs to Know is a quick read, and I think it’s a good addition to LGBTQ young adult lit collections. Even though the characters could have been fleshed out a bit more, I did care about them, and I wanted Olivia and Zoey to find some way to be together.

*Spoilers* In the end, though, I thought it was a little too easy. I doubt I would have been quite as understanding as Liam was. I get that he wanted his sister to be happy, but I felt there should have been a bit more conflict when the big reveal occurred.

Given that I read an uncorrected galley of this book (courtesy of NetGalley), I’m confident that most of the grammar, punctuation, and formatting errors will be corrected before the book’s release on September 8th. I’m also hoping that a decision will be made on what Zoey’s little sister’s name is. In one sentence, she’s Charlotte. In the next, she’s Carolyn. Pick one!

I know many school libraries are wary of including a lot of LGBTQ literature in their collections, but this is one that shouldn’t cause any kind of ruckus. The relationship between Olivia and Zoey never gets graphic, and it is, at its heart, a very sweet love story. That’s more that can be said about many books featuring heterosexual couples!

If you’d like to learn more about No One Needs to Know and author Amanda Grace (also known as Mandy Hubbard), visit either of these websites: http://amandagracebooks.blogspot.com/ or http://mandyhubbard.blogspot.com/.

Published in: on April 20, 2014 at 10:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy!

Warning! If you haven’t read Steve Cotler’s Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything and Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel, stop now! Go to your nearest library, check out those books, read them, and then come back. Go ahead…I’ll wait.

*plays Jeopardy theme*

All done? Okay then…let’s get to it!

Last year, I had the privilege of hosting an author visit at my school with the wonderful Steve Cotler. (For details about the visit, click here.) During the visit, Mr. Cotler let my students know that they could expect more adventures from his hilarious protagonist, Cheesie Mack. Well, I finally got around to reading the third installment in the Cheesie Mack series this weekend (before my students got their hands on it, and I never saw it again). The book is Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy! I know my students will be just as enamored of this book as they were the first two books in the series. (I seriously can’t keep them on the shelves.) They’ll love Cheesie’s humor, love of lists, fierce battle with his sister Goon (June), friendship with Georgie, and his first days in middle school!

Ronald “Cheesie” Mack is about to enter a new world…middle school. Luckily, he’s got his best friend Georgie by his side, but how can Cheesie and company make an impression on students and teachers who are totally new to them? Cheesie thinks he may have the answer. Run for 6th grade class president!

But there may be a problem. Cheesie’s friend from elementary school, Lana, also wants to run for president. (You may recall that Lana is most definitely NOT Cheesie’s girlfriend!) Cheesie doesn’t want to hurt Lana’s feelings, but he does want to be known as something other than “June’s little brother.” What’s a kid to do? Well, Cheesie comes up with something that will satisfy almost everyone…

During all of the class election craziness, Cheesie also has to deal with his horrible sister, joining the school’s cross-country team, and generally learning to survive middle school. He encounters everything with the humor, wit, and intelligence that have gotten him out of jam after jam. The question is…will it be enough this time?

Find out how Cheesie, Georgie, and a charming cast of characters make it to the finish line when you read Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy! by Steve Cotler!

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While I think Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel is probably my favorite in the series, I think this third installment is pretty awesome. I know my students will devour it, and I anticipate requests to have Mr. Cotler visit my school again.

In case you were wondering, it is absolutely necessary to read the first two books before reading Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy! Mr. Cotler doesn’t take a lot of time rehashing old events. He–or Cheesie–just directs readers to the first two books…or the books’ companion website, http://cheesiemack.com/. (The website is pretty cool and only adds to the awesomeness of the entire series, in my opinion.)

Speaking of the series…the fourth Cheesie Mack book, Cheesie Mack Is Not Exactly Famous, will be out in February of 2014. The fifth book, currently untitled, should be out next summer.

Published in: on September 23, 2013 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just One Wish

It’s no secret that my favorite genres–books, movies, TV shows–are fantasy and science fiction. Occasionally, though, I like to mix things up and read some realistic fiction. A few days ago I began reading Just One Wish by Janette Rallison, a book that’s been in my to-read pile for a few years. Despite the title (which one may think indicates some sort of magical wish fulfillment), this is a work of realistic fiction. There’s only one problem. I found the entire premise of the book to be just as outlandish as most of the fantasy I read. I get that the main character wants to do something a little out there for her sick brother, but how she went about it and the results are just too far-fetched for me. Also, when I pick up a book with a cover like the one you see below, I expect sunshine and rainbows at the end. That didn’t exactly happen.

Annika Truman’s six-year-old brother, Jeremy, is about to undergo surgery to remove a brain tumor. Annika is desperate to give him hope, so she comes up with a story about a genie who will grant a couple of Jeremy’s wishes–as long as his final wish is to make it through his surgery okay. She thinks that Jeremy will wish for the most sought-after toy in the world, a Teen Robin Hood action figure, which she’s already bought him. Unfortunately, Jeremy has something else in mind. He wants to meet the real Teen Robin Hood…as in the actor who plays the character. What’s Annika to do now? She’ll do just about anything to make Jeremy happy…so she hits the road to track down one of the most popular teen stars in Hollywood.

Apparently, when you’ve got a will of iron and a loyal best friend backing you up, it’s amazingly easy to find a celebrity. Annika and her friend get up to some pretty crazy shenanigans in their quest to find Teen Robin Hood, better known as actor Steve Raleigh. Here’s the kicker:  They succeed.

Annika’s methods aren’t entirely legal, and trouble ensues, but Annika finally gets the chance to ask Steve, who is even more gorgeous than he appears on TV, to help her little brother. All he has to do is take a little time out of his very busy schedule to visit with a sick kid. Happens all the time, right?

But what if Steve says no? What if Annika has spent all this time–time she could have been spending with her little brother–for nothing? And what if Steve agrees to help? What then? Will it be enough to give Jeremy–and, more importantly, Annika–faith that everything will turn out okay? What if this one wish just isn’t enough? Read Just One Wish by Janette Rallison to learn how far one girl will go to bring hope to a situation that is beyond her control.

As I said before, I found this book to be entirely unbelievable…except the end, which was way too believable. If you’re going to give me a story that makes me suspend reality and think that a seventeen-year-old girl could disappear for a weekend–without her parents having a clue what’s going on–to find a popular celebrity and get him to visit her brother, you could at least give me the ending that I want. And what is up with the schmaltzy romance that, in my opinion, is just as unlikely as almost everything else in this book? It just didn’t make sense to me, but maybe that’s because I’m looking at this from an adult perspective. I’m sure teens want to think that simply meeting a favorite celebrity would be enough to make them fall in love. (Okay, okay…I’ll admit that I have a serious crush on Benedict Cumberbatch, and I’m holding onto the hope that he’ll sweep me off my feet one of these days. I’ll get off my high horse now.)

At any rate, this book wasn’t for me. There was very little about it that I thought was realistic. Feel free to disagree, but, as for me, I think I’ll move on to reading about something more likely to happen…like an alien invasion. Peace out.

Published in: on June 12, 2013 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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All the Lovely Bad Ones

I’m sitting here in the dark writing about a ghost story. No, I’m not trying to set the mood for this post. For some reason, I have no lights in my library this morning. (Everything else is working fine, but it’s kind of dark in here.) I can’t see to do much work in the library, and very few students are coming down to check out, so I decided to go ahead and write up this post on a book I finished yesterday, All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for the past few years, and my students finally hounded me into it. If you’ve ever read any of Hahn’s other books (like The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall), you know that All the Lovely Bad Ones, winner of the 2011 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, is yet another ghost story. I just wasn’t prepared for exactly how much it would freak me out. This may be a children’s book, but it is creepy. Luckily, I read it during one sunny afternoon, so I didn’t have to worry about reading it in the dark. (Writing about it in the dark is bad enough, and, yes, I am a wuss of the highest order.)

In All the Lovely Bad Ones, siblings (and all-around troublemakers) Travis and Corey are spending the summer with their grandmother at her inn at Fox Hill, Vermont. The Fox Hill Inn has a history of being haunted, but the kids’ grandma thinks that’s all a bunch of hokum. Travis and Corey, though, think a haunted inn might be just the thing to boost business, so they get it into their heads to make visitors believe that Fox Hill does have some ghostly residents. What starts out as a prank, however, quickly becomes more than either child ever bargained for…

Without realizing what’s happened, Travis and Corey have apparently awakened the real ghosts of Fox Hill. Some of the ghosts seem to be rather harmless–moving things around, pinching, pulling hair, setting mice loose in the kitchen, etc.–but there’s one ghost who terrifies all who encounter her (even other ghosts). This ghost seems to be malicious, and Travis and Corey soon realize that it’s up to them to find out who this ghost is and how to finally put her–and the other ghosts–to rest.

As Travis and Corey search for what really happened at Fox Hill in the past, they will encounter some disturbing truths. Fox Hill has a dark history, and they will have to make things right before the ghostly residents can have the peace they’ve long been denied. Will these two kids be able to give the ghosts of Fox Hill the rest they crave? Are all of the ghosts even willing to move on? Find out how the dead are finally put to rest–and how the living cope with the truth–when you read All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn.

After reading this book, it’s easy to see why so many of my students love it. It’s scary without being too terribly threatening, and good wins out in the end. (I’ve only read two of Mary Downing Hahn’s books at this point, but I assume that most, if not all, of her ghost stories are like this. It works.) This book may also convince young readers to research the concept poor farms or poorhouses and how the poor were–and still are–treated in society.

For more information on All the Lovely Bad Ones and other books by Mary Downing Hahn, visit http://www.hmhbooks.com/features/mdh/. You may also enjoy the book trailer below. It was created by librarian Analine Johnson from Centeno Elementary in Laredo, Texas. This trailer perfectly captures the creepy tone of All the Lovely Bad Ones. Enjoy!

Published in: on April 30, 2013 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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True (…Sort of)

I love it when new books remind me of old favorites.  My latest read, True (…Sort of) by Katherine Hannigan, brought to mind such favorites as The Great Gilly Hopkins and Maniac Magee.  This nominee for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award tells the tale of Delly, a young girl who has a very close relationship with trouble.  (I have a feeling quite a few of my students will identify with Delly.)  No matter what she does, or how good her intentions might be, Delly gets into predicaments that get her labeled as a “bad kid.”  Now, Delly knows she’s not really bad, but the people around her are starting to make her think that she’ll never outrun the trouble that always seems to follow her.  With the arrival of a new kid in town, however, Delly may have a chance to turn everything around…

No one knows much about Ferris Boyd. The new kid never talks, can’t be touched, spends all her time alone, and is often mistaken for a boy.  Delly Pattison, though, sees Ferris Boyd as her way out of trouble.  When Delly–and her little brother RB–are with Ferris, trouble seems to stay away.  And Delly desperately needs to keep away from trouble, or her parents will send her to a reform school–or a reDellyformatory. 

Even though Ferris doesn’t talk, Delly, Ferris, and RB find a way to communicate and form real friendships that will help all of them through the issues they’re facing.  Even though Delly is quite familiar with her own brand of trouble, Ferris is dealing with something much more serious…something that has robbed her of the ability or desire to speak.  With the help of Delly, RB, and Brud, another unlikely friend, Ferris will be able to come to terms with the fear that has held her captive.  And Delly will learn that some things–like the safety and well-being of a dear friend–are worth the risk of getting into a little trouble.

True (…Sort of) is a quick, often hilarious, read that will grip readers from the first page.  Delly is a character that is often misunderstood by those around her, something that nearly everyone can relate to on some level.  Her quest to stay out of trouble is admirable, and readers will rejoice in her successes, but they’ll also be wowed by Delly’s ability to find a bit of fun in the small things around her and turn even the most mundane things into Dellyventures. 

I also think young readers will be inspired by Delly’s vocabulary.  Her made up words tell so much about her personality, and I hope that my students will create their own vocabulary to explain the truly unique things about their own lives.  (There is a “Dellyictionary” at the back of this book with a list of words and definitions for all of the words Delly uses throughout the book.)  Even the non-cuss words Delly makes up tell readers how unique–and creative–this character is.

Even though this book is lighthearted at times, it also deals with a serious issue.  This issue is personified in the character of Ferris Boyd, and it will be all too easy for readers to realize that something is really wrong in this young girl’s life.  Her selective mutism and aversion to touching tells everyone that this girl has been through something awful.  She may still be involved in something no child should ever have to deal with.  Delly sees what others don’t.  She sees that her friend is sad and afraid, and, even though Delly knows she’ll get into trouble for helping Ferris, she does what no one else has before.  She puts Ferris’ safety above everything, and that decision changes more than one life…for the better.

True (…Sort of) is a book that will resonate with readers of all ages, and it is my hope that we’ll all pay a little more attention to children who might otherwise be overlooked, especially the “troublemakers” and the “invisible.”  Sometimes, these are the kids who need us the most and who are just looking for their chance to shine.

For more information about True (…Sort of) and other books by author Katherine Hannigan, visit http://www.katherinehannigan.com/.

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall

In the coming months, Knight Reader may start to have a bit of a different feel.  I will still be reviewing young adult novels, but I also plan to post more for upper elementary and middle grade readers.  I will start this by focusing on the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees (which I have to read anyway since I promote this SCBA program at my own elementary school).  Many of these books, while targeted to younger readers, may also be of interest to teen and even adult readers.  One of next year’s SCCBA nominees, Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, has already been reviewed here, so this may not be too much of a departure for me.  We’ll see how it goes…

Mary Downing Hahn is known for her ghost stories.  My students at school know to go to the H section in fiction if they want a good spooky tale, and they’ve already begun to devour The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, one of Hahn’s newest books.  This book, which takes place in the late 19th century, is one that will definitely appeal to children, especially those in 4th grade on up, who like their fiction with a bit of terror thrown in.

Florence Crutchfield, a twelve-year-old living in a London orphanage, gets the surprise of her life when she’s sent to live with her great-uncle at his country manor house, Crutchfield Hall.  Life at Crutchfield Hall is very different from Florence’s time at the orphanage.  She has a warm place to sleep, and there’s always enough food.  Florence’s uncle is happy to have her there, but her aunt seems to hate her on site.  Why is there so much animosity from her aunt?  What could Florence have possibly done to deserve so much hatred?

Well, it seems that Florence’s aunt, a crazed and bitter woman, thinks Florence is trying to replace Sophia, Florence’s young cousin who died in a horrible accident nearly a year ago.  Aunt Eugenie makes Florence’s life miserable and constantly compares her to the seemingly perfect Sophia.  Florence is not even allowed to see James, her other cousin and Sophia’s younger brother.  (He grew very weak and sickly following Sophia’s death.)  Florence feels more alone now than she ever did at the orphanage, but she’s not alone…not at all.

Florence soon realizes Sophia is not entirely gone from Crutchfield Hall.  The ghost of her cousin is haunting Florence, James, and even members of the household staff.  Sophia has the power to make Florence do almost anything she wants…and that includes terrorizing those around her and finding a way to recreate her death so that someone else takes the fall that killed her.

Can Florence–and James–find a way to stop Sophia from wreaking havoc at Crutchfield Hall?  Can they banish her ghost forever?  Will Sophia ever really rest in peace?  Unravel the mystery when you read The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn, a nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

While I did find this book to be spooky, and I think the majority of my students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades (the target audience for the SCCBA) will enjoy it, I do think there are some elements of the story, particularly the literary allusions, that may be more appropriate for older readers.  I don’t know many elementary school students who will understand the references to the works of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and others of the time.  Yes, this book could lead them to those works, but they are still, in my opinion, books for older readers.  (I’m in my thirties, and I’m still not a fan of Dickens.) 

Other than that small gripe, I think The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is a great read for kids, teens, and adults.  My students are already fans, and every copy of this book stays checked out of my library.  (I only got to read it this weekend because it’s the end of the school year, and books are getting turned in.)  Even though this book is on the SCCBA nominee list, I also think it’s perfect for reluctant readers in middle and high schools.  It’s short, quick, and engaging, and, like I said previously, it could serve as a push to dive into meatier works.

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is the first book I’ve read by Mary Downing Hahn, but I can almost guarantee it won’t be the last.

Published in: on May 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Serpent’s Shadow

Spoiler alert!  If you haven’t read The Red Pyramid or The Throne of Fire, turn back now!  If you don’t want to know what happens in the third book of Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles, The Serpent’s Shadow, turn back now!  This will be your only warning.

Last night, I finished reading the third and final book in The Kane Chronicles.  This book is The Serpent’s Shadow, and it’s already getting a lot of buzz at my school.  (Honestly, Rick Riordan could write a book about almost anything, and my students would have a fit over it.)  The book has only been out a week, and I’m already getting offers of food, school supplies, and money to have certain students moved to the top of the list to check it out.  (One kid offered up his dog.)  While I cannot be bribed (yet), I am thrilled that this book is so in demand.  Like Riordan’s other books, The Serpent’s Shadow is a great read and will appeal to readers from third grade on up.  It’s full of action, suspense, intrigue, humor, a heavy dose of Egyptian mythology, and even a little bit of romance.  Everyone will find something to enjoy.

Normal is not a word that the Carter and Sadie Kane are familiar with.  They are magicians descended from Egyptian pharaohs, and they often communicate and take on the forms of Horus and Isis, gods of ancient Egypt.  They run a school for young magicians out of their house in Brooklyn, their dad is Osiris (god of the afterlife), and their mom is a ghost.  Sadie has feelings for two different guys:  Walt, a descendent of King Tut who is cursed with a very short lifespan; and Anubis, god of the dead who tends to take on the form of a really attractive teenage boy.  Carter is enamored of a fellow magician, Zia, who spends most of her time babysitting Ra, a senile sun god.

As if life is not abnormal enough, add in a god of chaos, Apophis, who wants to swallow the sun and destroy the entire world.  The incredibly ginormous job of stopping him falls to Carter and Sadie and their merry band of misfits.  It’s up to them to unite magicians and gods in fighting Apophis and his minions, but how can they possibly destroy something so huge, terrifying, and powerful?  Well, they may have found a way, but it involves trusting an evil psychopath (not usually a smart move) and risking their own lives (also not preferable).  Carter and Sadie will have to face unbelievable horrors to save the world, and it still might not be enough.

Can the Kanes defeat the god of chaos without losing themselves?  Can they save those they love in the process?  Is there any hope for a normal life if their longshot of a plan actually works?  Probably not, but they have to try.  In a world that is falling into chaos, it’s up to two teenagers to restore order.  (I was laughing as I wrote that last bit.)  Read The Serpent’s Shadow to find out if their completely crazy heroic quest saves the world or destroys it forever.

Like The Red Pyramid and The Throne of Fire before it, I can’t say enough good things about The Serpent’s Shadow.  The humor alone was enough to keep me reading.  When you throw in a whole bunch of action and, you know, destroying stuff, I’m totally hooked.  This book was the perfect conclusion to The Kane Chronicles, but it definitely left the door open for more of Carter and Sadie Kane and friends.  (I’m hoping we’ll see them in some Percy Jackson crossover kind of thing…maybe in The Mark of Athena—the third book in The Heroes of Olympus series—which comes out this fall.)

To learn more about Rick Riordan, The Kane Chronicles, and Riordan’s other fabulous books, visit http://www.rickriordan.com/home.aspx or follow the author on Twitter @camphalfblood.  You may also want to check out this book trailer for The Serpent’s Shadow from Puffin Books.   It’s short, the cover is different (at least, it’s different from my copy), and the trailer gives nothing away, but it still may be worth a look.  Enjoy!

Legend

It’s my 300th post here on Knight Reader!!!  Let’s all pause to do the dance of joy before I get to my latest read…

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of our systems, we can move on to the real reason for this post.  I just finished a truly outstanding book that will appeal to fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Ally Condie’s Matched series, and other notable dystopian literature.  The book is Legend by Marie Lu.  I finally picked this up a few days ago after several librarians and bloggers recommended it, and I was hooked from the first page. 

Legend takes place in what I can only assume is the not-too-distant future, in an America that is divided and engaged in a civil war.  Two young people are being drawn together by death, secrets, and lies…and neither of them knows who to trust.

Day is the most wanted person in the Republic of America (formerly known as the west coast of the United States). He’s considered a traitor and a threat to the government…and he’s fifteen. Day knows that the Republic is keeping secrets from the people, and he’s doing his best to thwart their efforts. He’s also trying to keep his family safe from the plagues that kill more and more people every year.

June is a fifteen-year-old on the brink of becoming one of the youngest military officers in history.  She is a prodigy committed to her country, her duty, and her brother, Metias.  She has a few issues with following rules, but she is secure in what her future holds…until one night changes everything.

When June’s brother is murdered and the blame falls on Day, the lives of these two young people become entangled.  June goes on the hunt for her brother’s killer, and Day is still searching for a way to protect his family.  Eventually, their paths cross.  Neither is prepared for the immediate chemistry between them.  And neither is prepared for the fallout when their true identities come to light.

June thought she knew everything about Day, her brother’s death, and the Republic, but her time with Day, things she witnesses, and cryptic messages from her brother are causing her to question everything she knows.  What is the Republic’s true agenda, and can she and Day figure things out before one (or both) of them meet the same fate as Metias?  Read Legend by Marie Lu to discover how far a corrupt government will go to make sure its secrets stay secret.

I cannot say enough about Legend.  I am shocked that this is Marie Lu’s first novel.  It is truly amazing, and it definitely gives paranoid people like me something to worry think about.  In my opinion, this would be a great read for anyone interested in government and how much power one should be allowed to have over its people.  (When I was reading, I kept seeing images of Hitler’s rise to power.  It’s not that much of a stretch to think that it could happen again.)

This wonderful story has already been optioned for a movie (like so many great young adult books) by CBS Films, and director Jonathan Levine is already attached to the project.  If done right, Legend will be amazing on the big screen.  Marie Lu’s writing makes Legend a “movie in my mind,” so I look forward to seeing if Hollywood’s version lives up to the one in my imagination.  (This rarely happens, but a girl can dream.)

Legend is gripping, fast-paced, and full of suspense and intrigue.  It is fairly violent (as is most dystopian literature), so keep that in mind when recommending it to young readers.  This is a book, like The Hunger Games, that will appeal to male and female readers, and it will not limit itself to young adult fans. 

If you’d like more information on this amazing first book in the Legend series (the second is due out sometime this year) and author Marie Lu, visit http://marielu.org/index.html and http://www.legendtheseries.com/.  I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did!

Sweetly

Notice:  Sweetly is a companion novel to Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.  It is not absolutely essential to read Sisters Red first…but it would help.  And since Sisters Red is awesome, you should really read it anyway.  The cover alone is reason enough to pick this one up.

Now, moving on to Sweetly…like Sisters Red, it is a retelling of a familiar fairy tale.  Where Sisters Red gave us a new way to look at Little Red Riding Hood, Sweetly gives us a new view of Hansel and Gretel.  (In my review of Sisters Red, I mentioned that I was not a big fan of Little Red Riding Hood.  Well, the same is true of Hansel and GretelSweetly may have changed that.)  And again, readers are blessed with a cover that does its part in drawing us into the story before we even get to the first page.

Sweetly begins twelve years ago with a brother and two sisters in a forest. They are looking for the witch that a book said lives in the woods. Unfortunately, they find more than they bargained for.  The book may have been right, and a witch–or something even more sinister– comes upon the children in the forest, and this mysterious yellow-eyed thing begins to chase the young children.  They try to stay together–holding hands as tightly as possible–but they have to let go to run faster.  When they reach their home, it immediately becomes clear that every child did not make it.  Ansel made it, Gretchen made it, but Gretchen’s twin sister never returned home.  Ansel and Gretchen know the witch took her, but no one truly believes them…and the two siblings have to live with the knowledge that the witch is still out there, waiting, watching, while a family is slowly torn apart.

Fast forward twelve years…Ansel and Gretchen are on their own after their stepmother throws them out.  They are all alone and trying to start a new life away from the pain of the past.  The brother and sister make a long journey from the only home they’ve ever known in Washington to a small town near the coast in South Carolina, a town where outsiders are viewed with contempt.  Only a few people treat the siblings with kindness.  One of those people is Sophia Kelly, the local candy maker, who is dealing with her own problems with the people of Live Oak, South Carolina.  Sophia takes the two young outcasts in and makes them feel welcome in her home.  They had only intended to stay a night, but a night quickly turns into a week, a week into a month.  Before they really know how it happened, Ansel and Gretchen have found a home, one that is far removed from the past they are running from.

But is it really?  As everyone knows, small towns tend to have secrets, and Live Oak is no exception.  It seems, though, that the secrets in Live Oak revolve around one Sophia Kelly, the girl who has befriended Gretchen and bewitched Ansel.  The townspeople blame her for their daughters leaving and never returning.  They don’t visit, they don’t call, they don’t write.  In fact, no one ever hears from them after they attend Sophia’s annual chocolate festival.  Could Sophia have something to do with their disappearance, or is she as innocent as she seems?  Gretchen knows that Sophia is keeping secrets, but she just can’t believe that the girl who has become her only friend could have anything to do with girls vanishing from the face of the earth.

Gretchen reevaluates her views, however, when she encounters the very thing that has haunted her for twelve years.  She discovers it wasn’t a witch that captured her twin sister.  It was a werewolf…more specifically, a Fenris.  When Gretchen narrowly escapes one of these monsters, with the help of the mysterious Samuel Reynolds, she is determined to learn more about these horrible beings and what they have to do with the missing girls of Live Oak.  What do they want with the girls, and how is Sophia involved?  The truth may be more than Gretchen is prepared to handle, but handle it she must.  Gretchen must face her own fears if she has any hope of preventing other girls from vanishing like her sister did.  Is she strong enough to face an evil that has ruined nearly everything she holds dear?  And can she face her dearest (and only) friend’s role in the horror surrounding her?  Join Gretchen as she learns that living in a candy shop isn’t as sweet as it seems.

If your interest has been piqued at all by this post, I strongly urge you to make both Sisters Red and Sweetly part of your holiday reading.  They’re awesome books with strong, yet flawed, female characters, and they turn the “fairy tale” idea of a helpless girl who has to be rescued by the handsome prince on its ear.  (Don’t get me wrong.  There are handsome guys in these books, but these strong ladies could get along just fine without them…most of the time.)

According to Jackson Pearce’s website (http://jackson-pearce.com/), there is going to be another companion book to Sisters Red and Sweetly (and given the way that Sweetly ended, I expected this and even predicted which fairy tale would be retold next).  The book is Fathomless, a retelling of The Little Mermaid, and will be released in August of 2012.  I’m very interested in the connections between these three stories, and I hope Fathomless answers some of the questions that popped up at the end of Sweetly.  At any rate, I know I’m in store for another great story from Jackson Pearce and, I hope, another fantastic cover to grace my bookshelf.

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