The Madness Underneath

Spoilers! Read Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star, the first book in her Shades of London series, before continuing. I just finished the second book in the series, The Madness Underneath, and you really need to experience the first book before diving into the second. This sequel is definitely not a stand-alone novel. You’ve been warned!

A little over a year and a half ago, I read The Name of the Star (which is now on the nominee list for this year’s South Carolina Young Adult Book Award). I picked this book up for two reasons. 1. The author, Maureen Johnson, is one of the funniest people on the planet. (If you don’t already follow her on Twitter, you should.) 2. Jack the Ripper. I’ve always been kind of morbidly fascinated by stories of the Ripper, and I figured this one–with its new supernatural twist–would intrigue me. As usual, I was right.

I absolutely adored The Name of the Star (one of my top 10 books of 2011), so I’m not sure why it took me so long to pick up the sequel. (It was released in October 2012.) At any rate, I made time for it this week, and it didn’t take long to get right back into the world created in this series.

Now, the Ripper-esque story in the first book was–more or less–wrapped up, but the aftermath opened up a whole new world to our main character, Rory Deveaux, a Louisiana native transplanted in London while her parents are on sabbatical. (Hmm…a southern girl in London. I wonder why that appeals to me…)

Following her near-death experience at Wexford, her boarding school, Rory is now staying in Bristol under the watchful eyes of her parents and her therapist. While Rory would normally be thrilled to talk about herself–especially to someone who is basically paid to listen–she just can’t tell her therapist (or her parents) what really happened. No, she must keep quiet about her encounter with the Ripper copycat who stabbed and nearly killed her. She can never reveal that she can see ghosts…and can now somehow kill them (or help them move on to the next spiritual plane) with a touch. Who would believer her anyway? Is there any way for Rory to get back to some semblance of a normal life and maybe–just maybe–not have to hide so much? Perhaps…

With the help of some high-ranking government officials, Rory is allowed to return to Wexford. She’s behind in all of her classes, and she has a bit of trouble adjusting to school after so much time away, but Rory is back with friends…including the Shades of London, a top secret “police force” capable of seeing and interacting with ghosts. And the Shades–Stephen, Callum, and Boo–need Rory. Now that their all-important termini (ghost-eliminators) are gone, Rory is the only being that can send ghosts on. (On to where, I have no idea.) A simple touch makes ghosts go bye-bye. So, in addition to worrying about grades, friends, boys, and the warped psyche that comes with nearly being murdered, Rory must also deal with being a human terminus, a weapon against ghosts with a grudge.

And boy, do some of the ghosts in London carry grudges. But they’re not the only beings up to no good. It seems that something–or someone–even more disturbing may be at work, and Rory finds herself right in the middle of yet another mess. Her longing to get away from her problems and find a place to belong may have landed her into a predicament that even her quick wit can’t get out of. What has Rory gotten herself into this time, and will she be able to find a way out…before she or someone she cares about pays the price? Learn what madness lurks underneath the streets of London–and in the hearts and minds of people–when you read The Madness Underneath, the second book in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series.

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While I enjoyed The Name of the Star a bit more than this book, I have to say that The Madness Underneath was a wonderful read. The character’s distinctive, often sarcastic, voice was perfect, and I felt her turmoil over trying to return to a somewhat normal life after going through so much horror. At several points in the story, I felt like screaming at Rory because I could kind of see that she was about to walk into bad situations. (What seventeen-year-old doesn’t?) I was thoroughly engaged and, at the end, kind of heartbroken. (When you read this book, you’ll know what I mean. If I didn’t treasure books so much, this one would have taken a lovely flight across the room and landed against my wall.) I’m hoping for some kind of happy resolution in the next book. (But I honestly don’t see how things can get happy after what happened at the end of this one. Hopefully, Maureen Johnson can find some way to “unbreak my heart,” to borrow a phrase from one of my all-time least favorite songs.)

Speaking of the next book, it’s supposedly titled The Shadow Cabinet and is due for release sometime in 2014 according to Goodreads. There is no information on the third book on Maureen Johnson’s website. With any luck, she’ll tweet about it in the near future. (This woman is all about some Twitter. So am I, so that’s cool.)

I guess that’s all for now. I’ll leave you with a book trailer for The Madness Underneath from Penguin Young Readers. It’s creepy, but it doesn’t give away much of anything about the book. It does a good job of setting the mood for a good supernatural mystery though. Enjoy!

Published in: on July 25, 2013 at 11:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Chosen at Nightfall

Spoilers! Read the first four books in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls series (Born at Midnight, Awake at Dawn, Taken at Dusk, and Whispers at Moonrise) before proceeding with this post. I will be writing a bit about Chosen at Nightfall, the fifth and final book in this series, and I don’t want to ruin things for you…but I will. (You may also want to take a look at two Shadow Falls novellas, Turned at Dark and Saved at Sunrise. They shed some light on one of the most interesting characters in this series.)

If it’s not readily apparent, I finished reading Chosen at Nightfall earlier today. I’ve been enamored of this series since I first got my hands on an ARC of Born at Midnight about two and a half years ago. Today, I concluded my journey with these characters (or at least some of them). This finale was chock-full of action, conflict, and danger, but it also contained it’s fair share of levity, friendship, and, yes, romance. Many of the questions that plagued me throughout the first four books were answered in this one, and several problems were resolved. Some of my predictions from previous books came true. Others…not so much. All in all, Chosen at Nightfall was a great conclusion to a series that I’ve truly enjoyed. I hope you’ll feel the same.

Kylie Galen finally knows what she is. As a chameleon, she possesses gifts from all supernatural species…along with a few others that are unique to her kind. And even more that are unique to her. While staying with her grandfather and great-aunt, Kylie’s learning a great deal about her species, but she’s finding life with the other chameleons rather difficult. She doesn’t fit in here like she did at Shadow Falls, and she’s viewed with a certain amount of distrust. What’s a girl to do?

Well, if you’re Kylie Galen, fate has a way of stepping in and making your decisions for you. When Mario, a powerful and evil chameleon, returns with the intent to wreak havoc in Kylie’s life, it becomes clear that she must return to Shadow Falls for her own protection. Her grandfather disagrees with Kylie’s decision to return to the camp/school that is her true home, but it’s really not up to him. Kylie makes a getaway from the chameleon compound and, even though she encounters her share of danger in the process, returns to Shadow Falls…and to the two young men who are fighting to win her heart.

Derek, the half-fae who can feel Kylie’s emotions, and Lucas, the werewolf who broke her heart. How can Kylie choose between these two guys when she’s got so much other stuff to worry about? It’s not like she’s super busy with anything like finding a way to help the teen chameleons who want more freedom, or dealing with a sword-wielding ghost who shows up at inconvenient times and wants her to kill someone, or trying to figure out why her mom’s boyfriend gives her the creeps, or helping her friends with their love lives, or, you know, learning to fight so that she’ll be ready to face Mario again. No, she’s got plenty of time to worry about deciding between Derek and Lucas, both of whom have given her reason to distrust them. (Where’s a sarcasm font when you need one?) Does she want either of them after everything that’s happened? (Yes, she does, in case you were wondering.) Who truly holds her heart, and can she get past her own issues–and his–to make things really work?

Boy problems aside, Kylie has a life or death battle on her hands. She knows that she must be the one to face Mario, but she doesn’t know if she has the strength or will to destroy a being so powerful…without losing her own life in the process. Kylie will have to use everything she’s learned and all the connections she’s made–to both the living and the dead–to get out of this one with her life and her sanity intact. Will it be enough? Will she finally be able to rid herself of this enemy that has tormented her for so long? The time of reckoning is fast approaching, and it seems that fate is not done with throwing some surprises Kylie’s way…

I hope that the few paragraphs above have intrigued you or whetted your appetite for this book and the others in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls series. If you decide to give the series a try, I honestly don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It’s a great ride for anyone who likes some supernatural teen angst with a bit of action, mystery, and romance thrown in. And even though the characters in these books are paranormal beings, they relate to each other (most of the time) like typical teenagers. They have problems with their parents, they think about sex, they break the rules, and they’re trying to figure out who they are.

I’m happy to report that this is not the last we’ve seen of at least some of the Shadow Falls characters. According to a small teaser at the back of my copy of Chosen at Nightfall, a series is in the works that revolves around your favorite vampire and mine, Della Tsang. (If you’re already a fan of this series, you know that the two Shadow Falls novellas deal with some of her backstory.) I’m hoping we’ll see more information about this on C.C. Hunter’s website soon!

That’s all for now folks! I’ll leave you with this absolutely fantastic book trailer for Chosen at Nightfall. Truthfully, it’s so good that it made me want to read the book all over again!

*I hesitate to recommend this book to middle grade readers, simply because I know some parents frown on cursing and frank talk of sex…both of which are present in this series. (Truthfully, I think a lot of people are a bit too prudish about such things. If you think middle school students don’t curse or talk about sex, well…you’ve never worked in a middle school. That’s all I’m saying.) As with any other book or series, know your readers, and recommend books accordingly. Knight Reader out.*

Published in: on May 6, 2013 at 9:41 pm  Comments (4)  
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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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Whispers at Moonrise

Spoilers! If you haven’t already, read the first three books in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls series (Born at Midnight, Awake at Dawn, and Taken at Dusk) before reading further. The fourth book, Whispers at Moonrise, picks up immediately after book three, and it is not a stand-alone book. Even those of you who have read the previous books might want to skim over the last chapter or so of the third book before reading book four. (I wish I had.)

I finally finished reading Whispers at Moonrise last night. It took me over a week to get through this one, and most of that time was spent simply trying to remember what happened in the previous book. This fourth installment picks up where Taken at Dusk leaves off, and jumping right back into the world of Shadow Falls was a bit jarring. I really should have skimmed through the third book before starting this one, but I didn’t have that kind of time (or so I thought). I really should have made time to refamiliarize myself with the events that closed Taken at Dusk. Maybe I would have read Whispers at Moonrise much faster if I had. That being said, once I really got into this book, things progressed rather quickly. I actually read most of the book yesterday thanks to an early dismissal from school due to icy conditions.

In Whispers at Moonrise, we continue the story of Kylie Galen and her place at Shadow Falls. Kyle is still trying to figure out where she fits in the supernatural world, but her journey is about to get more confusing than ever before…

Kylie is something of an oddity…even among her fellow supernatural beings. No one seems to know what she really is. She exhibits traits of all species (vampire, fae, were, witch, etc.), and she exhibits some unique gifts that tend to freak out those around her. She is a ghost whisperer, a protector, and a healer. All of this combined makes Kylie’s life extremely difficult, and she doesn’t know where she truly belongs. Things are coming to light, though, that may change all that. Through some weird communications with her dad (who is a ghost) and her grandfather (who isn’t), Kylie begins to learn a little about what she is. It seems that she is a chameleon. At first, Kylie equates this with being a supernatural lizard, but she comes to discover that this “gift” makes her a target…a target who may have to leave the one place she feels safe–Shadow Falls–if she’s to have any hope of discovering, controlling, and even hiding her abilities.

On top of learning what she really is, Kylie is facing some relationship troubles. (Isn’t this always the case?) She has strong feelings for both Lucas (werewolf) and Derek (fae). While Kylie thinks she loves Lucas, she’s disturbed and frustrated by his pack and the limitations they’re putting on him and his relationship with her. Can she honestly be with someone when that person’s entire “family” is against the match? And then there’s Derek. Derek, who’s always there for her when she needs someone to lean on, never makes her doubt his loyalty, and understands that she’s just trying to find some answers…and a small measure of peace. While Derek may now be in the “friend-zone,” he makes no secret that he wants more, and Kylie knows that a relationship with him would be much less complicated that the one she’s currently in with Lucas. It’s a pickle, and Kylie doesn’t know what to do…especially when Lucas’ secrets come to light and threaten everything Kylie thought she knew about him.

As if all of that weren’t enough, a new ghost is visiting Kylie, but this ghost isn’t like the others who’ve sought her out for help. This ghost has the face of Holiday, someone Kylie loves, someone she’ll do anything to protect. How is this possible? What danger is the ghost trying to warn her of? And how can Kylie figure things out before something happens to Holiday, her confidante and fiercest protector?

Changes are coming to Shadow Falls and Kylie Galen. Some of these changes will bring Kylie the answers she’s always needed, but others will force her to take a hard look at the world around her and her place in it. Will Kylie stay at Shadow Falls, the place that has quickly become her home? Or will she leave everything–even her best friends and the love of her life–behind to discover more about her true nature? Read Whispers at Moonrise, the fourth book in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls series, to learn how one girl deals with the constant confusion in her life and what she’ll do to finally begin to learn the truth about herself and her legacy.

Even though it took me a while to get into Whispers at Moonrise, once I did, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was action-packed and angsty, everything I expect from a good YA paranormal novel. I’m still not sure if I’m Team Lucas or Team Derek, and I expect that I won’t make up my mind until I’m well into the fifth (and final) book, Chosen at Nightfall, which is due for an April 30th release. I was happy that at least one of this series’ love stories was sort of resolved in this book.  I’m hoping that it won’t falter in the last book. (It better not! I don’t think I could take something happening to this couple. It would be too much!)

*Quick note:  There are some adult situations and salty language in this book, so I probably wouldn’t put it in the hands of a middle grade reader. This entire series is best suited for teen and adult readers.*

To learn more about the Shadow Falls saga, you may want to visit the author’s website, Twitter feed, or the Shadow Falls series Facebook page. You may also want to take a quick look at the book trailer below (shared from the C.C. Hunter’s website). It doesn’t give away much, but it’s a pretty good teaser for this book. Enjoy!

Published in: on January 26, 2013 at 9:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Taken at Dusk

Warning!  Proceed with caution if you haven’t already read C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls series:  Born at Midnight, Awake at Dawn, the ebook novella Turned at Dark, and the latest installment, Taken at Dusk.  Spoilers ahead!

By now you’ve no doubt gathered that I’ve finished reading Taken at Dusk, C.C. Hunter’s newest Shadow Falls novel.  I was so intrigued by what happened at the end of Awake at Dawn that I had to make Taken at Dusk my next YA read.  (I also made time to read Della’s story in Turned at Dark.  It was very enlightening.)  Anyway, Taken at Dusk picks up immediately where Awake at Dawn left off–which can be a bit jarring if there’s a lot of time in between books.  If it’s been a while since you read Awake at Dawn, you may want to reread the last chapter before picking up the next book.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

Kylie Galen is a mystery, and she’s a little sick of it.  She’s doing her best to find the truth about what she is and where her family came from, but answers are hard to find when everyone–even those closest to her–want to keep some things hidden. 

It doesn’t help matters that Kylie is being haunted by an amnesiac ghost with a cryptic message.  Someone lives, and someone dies.  At first, that’s all Kylie gets from her mysterious visitor.  As time goes on, however, Kylie learns more about the ghost, and what she learns may shake the very foundation of her world and force her to reexamine who should–or shouldn’t–be trusted.

Kylie’s also dealing with something that is the plague of nearly every teenage girl.  Boys.  Two boys, actually.  Lucas, a werewolf, wants to be with Kylie, but his pack may have other ideas.  Derek, who is half-Fae, sort of wants to be with Kylie, but he’s having issues of his own.  Kylie is torn between the both of them, and she doesn’t know how to resolve things so that no one gets hurt.  Is that even possible?

On top of all of this drama, really evil dudes still seem determined to kill Kylie.  Why?  What’s so important about her?  Kylie doesn’t know, but she’s determined to solve the puzzle that her life has become.  Will she be able to find the truth and still save those she loves?  It’s unclear, but one thing is certain…Kylie’s journey is far from over.

Taken at Dusk is a great read for anyone who enjoys great supernatural YA fiction.  I was on the edge of my seat for most of this book, and I’m still a little tense because I’m anticipating what might happen in the next book, Whispers at Moonrise, which is scheduled for an October 2nd release.

I would especially recommend C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls books if you’re a fan of books like Kiersten White’s Paranormalcy trilogy, Rachel Hawkins’ Hex Hall trilogy, or Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures series.  Each of these series gave me the same kind of vibe that Shadow Falls did, and none of them are to be missed!

Published in: on June 1, 2012 at 10:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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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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Whisper

If you haven’t already read the first three books in Alyson Noël’s Riley Bloom series (Radiance, Shimmer, and Dreamland), do that before reading this post about book four, Whisper!

Earlier today, I finished reading the fourth and final (?) book in the Riley Bloom series by Alyson Noël.  I found Whisper to be a quick, fun, engaging read that I just know will be a hit with many of my older students.  (For those that don’t know, I’m an elementary school librarian, and my fourth and fifth grade girls absolutely LOVE the Riley Bloom books.)  I also think teen and adult readers will enjoy this story.  I did.

In Whisper, Riley Bloom finds herself on her most difficult assignment as a Soul Catcher.  Riley, Bodhi (her guide), and Buttercup (her dog), travel toRome where it’s up to Riley to convince a ghostly Roman gladiator to cross over into the Here & Now.  There might be a couple of problems with this, though.  The gladiator, Theocoles, also known as the Pillar of Doom, is seemingly stuck in his last moments.  Riley doesn’t know how to get through to him, especially when she realizes that Theocoles can neither see nor hear her.  Riley isn’t sure what to do, but a girl she encounters in Rome may be able to help her.

When Riley first meets Messalina, trust doesn’t come easily.  She knows that Messalina is up to something, but she needs all the help she can get to convince Theocoles to cross over.  So Riley takes Messalina’s advice and immerses herself in the gladiator world.  Riley transforms herself into the young woman she’s always wanted to be and becomes a part of this strange life in ancient Rome.  She may have even found her very first boyfriend.  Riley, or Aurelia as she’s known in this new dream world, soon begins to forget why she was sent to Rome in the first place.  What was her mission again? 

Every once in a while, Riley/Aurelia gets a feeling that she’s supposed to be doing something important, but the answer slips away from her whenever Messalina is near.  Can Riley wake up in time to complete her mission?  Or will she be forever trapped within the world that has captured so many before her?  Can both Riley and Theocoles learn to ignore the cacophony around them and listen to the whisper of truth that will lead them home?  Read Whisper by Alyson Noël to find out!

This past week, I did a few lessons on genre with my second grade students, and we talked about books that fit into more than one genre.  In my opinion, Whisper, like Shimmer, is a good example of that.  Both of these books combine fantasy with a fair amount of historical fiction.  Shimmer, of course, explored what life may have been like as a slave—and even as a slave owner—in the 1700s.  Whisper delved into life in ancient Rome, particularly gladiator culture.  The Ludus Magnus mentioned in this book is real and was considered to be a very important training ground for gladiators.  I was especially interested in Noël’s descriptions of what the spectators of these brutal displays were like.  Even Riley got swept up in the hullabaloo.  I think it showed a disturbing side of human behavior, and it’s only too easy to imagine the world of gladiators rising in popularity in our modern culture.  (Just look at what we watch on television or read Girl in the Arena if you don’t believe me!)

As far as I know, Whisper is the final book in the Riley Bloom series.  (I hope I’m wrong.)  There’s no mention on Goodreads or the author’s website of another book in the works.  If this is the last I see of Riley, I want to say that the journey has been both fun and enlightening.  I hope I get to share this series with many readers in the years to come!

If you want still more Riley Bloom goodness, check out this book trailer for Whisper (produced by Macmillan Children’s):

Published in: on April 29, 2012 at 7:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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Dreamland

Caution:  Read the first two books in Alyson Noël’s Riley Bloom series, Radiance and Shimmer, before continuing!

About thirty minutes ago, I finished my final book of Spring Break 2012 (and since I have to return to work tomorrow, this post will probably be a short one—well, for me anyway).  The book I chose to wrap up my spring vacation was Dreamland, the third book in the Riley Bloom series by Alyson Noël.  Oddly enough, I began my vacation with the second book in this series, Shimmer, so there’s a nice bookend feel here.  All of the good things I’ve said about Radiance and Shimmer definitely apply to Dreamland as well, and I’m sure the same will be true of book four, Whisper.

 

In each of these books, we learn more about Riley Bloom, a twelve-year-old Soul Catcher who is learning the ropes in the Here and Now (the author’s version of Heaven).  It’s not always easy for Riley, especially since what she wants most in the world is to be thirteen—a feat somewhat difficult to accomplish since she died when she was twelve.  Like most twelve-year-olds, Riley is very self-centered, but she’s also lonely, afraid, and still kind of stuck in the life she left behind, particularly her relationship with her big sister, Ever.  So far, she’s avoided any real trouble with the Council (the “governors” of Here and Now), but her guide, Bodhi, is pretty sure her luck will run out eventually.

When Riley and Bodhi are ordered to go on a vacation after their last fiasco (which Riley would point out ended remarkably well), Riley doesn’t know what to do with herself.  Her work is her afterlife.  She doesn’t have any friends other than her dog, Buttercup.  Her family has moved on.  Bodhi appears to have a girlfriend.  So what is there to do?  Well, she could pay her sister a little visit.  Even though she’s warned against it, Riley decides to visit Dreamland, a place where she can enter her sister’s dreams, communicate with Ever, and finally learn what it takes to be a thirteen-year-old.

But Dreamland is not without its dangers, and Riley may not be prepared to face them.  Riley’s tendency to leap before looking might just land her in more trouble than she can handle.  Can Riley break through the nightmare she finds herself in?  Will she learn what it really takes to grow up in the Here and Now?  Or is she doomed to remain a child—with a child’s fears and immaturity—forever?  Is growing older possible for Riley, or is that yet another dream that remains out of her reach?  Read Dreamland by Alyson Noël to find out!

Dreamland is yet another book that is great for upper elementary, middle-grade, high school, and adult readers.  There’s something for everyone to enjoy (and, more importantly, there’s something everyone can learn).  I look forward to reading more of Riley Bloom’s adventures in Whisper, due to be released on April 24th.  (Just two weeks away!  Woohoo!!)

For more information on Alyson Noël and the Riley Bloom series, visit http://www.alysonnoel.com/ or follow the author on Twitter @AlysonNoel.  You can also check out this awesome book trailer for Dreamland (available on YouTube):

Published in: on April 9, 2012 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Shimmer

Warning!  Read the first book in Alyson Noël’s Riley Bloom series, Radiance, before reading this post.  I’ll be talking a bit about the second book, Shimmer, and I don’t want to spoil things for you!

As many of you know, I am in my second year as an elementary school librarian.  While my first love is (and always will be) young adult fiction, the past two years have made me examine quite a few books for younger readers.  Last year, I read Alyson Noël’s Radiance, and I saw right away how this book could be a gateway for my students into the wonderful world of YA fiction.  A lot of my fourth and fifth grade students want to read books like Twilight, The Hunger Games, and other popular books that are being talked about in the media, but, in my professional opinion, those books are not written or intended for readers that young.  (I’m not saying this is true for all elementary students.  Some, of course, are more mature than others.  I’m just saying I will not purchase these books for my elementary school library because they are not, in my view, written with younger readers in mind.)  Radiance, and the rest of the Riley Bloom series, allowed me to provide my students with at least one series that had some YA appeal yet was still appropriate for young readers.

Radiance was so popular with my fourth and fifth grade girls that I had to purchase the next two books, Shimmer and Dreamland, or I would have had a riot on my hands.  At the urging of my students, I put Shimmer on my Spring Break reading list, and I’m happy to say that I finished it just this morning.  (I’ll be reading Dreamland later this week.)  Shimmer was just as cool as Radiance, and I can’t wait to talk to my girls about it when we return to school next week.  (I know this will also be true of Dreamland.)

After the success of her first assignment as a Soul Catcher, Riley Bloom is enjoying a bit of a vacation with her dog, Buttercup, and her guide, Bodhi.  Surely she can keep herself out of trouble on one tiny vacation, right?  Yeah…not so much.

It all starts with a scary black dog and a conversation with Bodhi on free will.  Riley decides to exercise her own free will, follow the black dog, and find out just what he’s guarding.  This decision leads Riley, Bodhi, and Buttercup on a journey that will introduce them to another “ghost” (for lack of a better word) and force all of them to relive the most horrid experiences of their short times on earth.

Rebecca, in spite of her unfortunate tastes in afterlife clothing, seems to be relatively harmless when Riley first meets her, but Rebecca is holding on to a lot of anger, and she’s determined to make everyone as miserable as she is.  She keeps everyone around her—those who she blames for her death—imprisoned in the most horrible memories of their lives.  She even finds a way to make Riley, Bodhi, and even poor Buttercup experience the worst moments of their lives.  Can they escape the horror and anger that holds them captive?  Is there any way to get away and lead these tortured souls to the Here and Now?

Riley is determined to help everyone escape Rebecca, but she fears she may not be up to the task.  After all, she’s only twelve years old (and she always will be).  What could she possibly do?  She can barely let go of her own anger over the abrupt end to her life.  How can she possibly help everyone else let go of their anger and cross the bridge to the other side?  How can she convince Rebecca to let go of what happened in her life when Riley’s having such a hard time with the same thing?  Find out what “letting go” really means when you read Shimmer, the gripping second book in the Riley Bloom series, by Alyson Noël!

Although there are some scary moments in Shimmer, I would recommend this book—and Radiance, of course—to readers from fourth grade on up.  There may even be some third grade students who will be able to handle it.  I really think this book in particular will generate some discussions on the plight of slaves in the early Americas and the impact slave revolts had on slaves and their former masters.  According to the author’s note, the story was inspired by actual events, a 1773 slave revolt in the Danish West Indies (now St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands).  Realizing this made Shimmer even more poignant for me.

If you’d like more information on Alyson Noël and the Riley Bloom series, visit http://www.alysonnoel.com/.  You can also follow the author on Twitter @AlysonNoel.

If you’re still not convinced to give Shimmer a try, check out this book trailer from MacMillanChildrens on YouTube:

Published in: on April 1, 2012 at 11:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Name of the Star

It’s so great when I come across a book that grabs me from the first page.  My latest read, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, is one of these books.  I loved the voice of the main character, Rory, and I was entranced by the London setting.  This book has also provided me with one of my new favorite quotes that adequately sums up what it’s like to converse with a Southerner.

“I come from people who know how to draw things out.  Annoy a Southerner, and we will drain away the moments of your life with our slow, detailed replies until you are nothing but a husk of your former self and that much closer to death.”

It’s almost like the author had a camera or microphone planted in every gathering I’ve ever been to in my small, Southern town.  I laughed out loud when I read this–all the while picturing several of my family members (who I’ll be seeing in just a few days) who have that special Southern ability to drain the life out of anyone they happen to rope into conversation.  (This may explain why I always bring a book to family gatherings.  It may be rude and antisocial, but even pretending to be engrossed in a book provides me with a much-needed escape.)  (See what I just did there?  I provided you with way too much information and drew things out and probably drove some of you away with this unnecessarily detailed paragraph about holiday gatherings with my family.  Welcome to the South.)

Anyhoo, The Name of the Star is a thoroughly entertaining–and kind of creepy–read that plays upon fear.  It seems that someone is recreating the crimes of Jack the Ripper, and our heroine Rory might be the only one capable of stopping the mysterious murderer…

While her parents are spending a sabbatical year at a university in England, Rory Deveaux, a teenage girl from Louisiana, has decided to spend her senior year of high school at a boarding school in London. She’s never been to boarding school–much less London–and it’s a bit of an adjustment for her. Things are a lot more intense than in America, and they’re about to get even worse. See, her school is in the East End of London, and someone in the area is recreating the murders perpetrated by Jack the Ripper in 1888. The entire area is in a panic, especially because there are no clues as to who might be committing these heinous acts. The cops have no evidence. Security cameras captured the murders, but not the murderer. Everyone is at a loss…until Rory sees someone on the night of one of the murders. Someone no one else saw.

Could the weird guy she saw outside of her dorm be the new Ripper?  Why didn’t her roommate Jazza see him?  Could this have any connection to the security cameras not being able to see the Ripper?  As Rory tries to uncover a mystery without losing her mind, she encounters some disturbing truths along with a strange new ability.  Why can she see people no one else can see?  Does anyone around her share this ability?  And can she use it to find out who the Ripper is and stop him before she’s his next victim?  Enter the shady world of London to reveal the truth in The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.

If you want a funny yet creepy read that will leave you wanting more–but still kind of scared to turn the next page–then The Name of the Star is the book for you.  I read it during two extremely gloomy days here in South Carolina.  The weather outside matched the setting and tone of this book perfectly, and I refused to answer unexpected knocks at the door while I was reading.  I will admit that I was terrified that someone was at the door to kill me.  (I tend to get a little involved in books I read, and I am aware that a potential murderer would probably not knock.  I found out a little while ago that it was my grandmother who was at my door.  Oops.)

If you’re interested in The Name of the Star or any other books by Maureen Johnson, you should visit her website at http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/index1.html.  I’ll go ahead and let you know that The Name of the Star is the first book in The Shades of London series.  The second book, The Madness Underneath, is expected to be released in October 2012.  Based on how the first book ended, we can look forward to even more mysteries to solve in the second.

Published in: on December 21, 2011 at 10:02 pm  Comments (3)  
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