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.

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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  
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The Giver

I know it’s shocking to some that I’ve only just read The Giver. This book won the Newbery Award in 1994, and here I am reading it twenty years later. I don’t know why I waited so long to read this book (especially since my mom gave me an autographed copy a couple of years ago), but I do know what spurred me to read it now…the movie. In case you weren’t aware, a movie adaptation of The Giver is due to be released this August, and with names like Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges attached to the film, I know I’ll have to see that move…but that means becoming familiar with the book first.

I knew going in that The Giver was considered one of the first examples of YA dystopian lit, and I was aware that the book had received loads of challenges over the years. (You’d think that would have made me pick up the book must faster.) I guess this weekend, I was in the mood for something like this, so I finally delved into this seemingly idyllic world created by Lois Lowry. As we’ve all learned, though, perfection has a price, and things aren’t always as ideal as they seem once a person discovers what’s being hidden from them…

Imagine a life free from choice. Everything is decided for you: what you’ll study, what you’ll do with your free time, what you’ll eat, who your parents are, your future career. Everything. This is the only world that Jonas has ever known. This is a world free from pain, war, poverty, and suffering. Every day is the same, there are rules governing everything, and everyone knows their place in the community. Very soon, Jonas will be assured of his place.

Like every other child before him, when Jonas turns twelve, he receives his Assignment. This Assignment is Jonas’ career path, chosen by the Elders who have been watching over him since birth. Jonas is unsure of what his Assignment will be, but nothing could have prepared him for the decision that is made. He is to be the next Receiver, the only person in the community to hold all of the memories of the past. And his training with the Giver–the man Jonas will eventually replace–will begin immediately.

Jonas is nervous about his training, but he soon forms a bond with the Giver. Yes, there are moments of intense pain in his training–as is expected when painful memories are transferred from one person to another–but Jonas also experiences joy. He sees colors for the first time. He feels the warmth of sunshine and the tickle of snowflakes on his skin, things that have been removed from society in favor of sameness and control.

As his training intensifies and Jonas learns more about the past–and the present–Jonas begins to question the societal bounds that define his community. He goes to the Giver with his questions, and Jonas learns that he is not the only one with doubts…or the belief that things could one day be different. But what can be done when only two people, Jonas and the Giver, know the truth of the world? Could drastic actions lead to change? Jonas will soon answer those questions for himself…

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I’m sure the recap above in no way adequately captures The Giver. This is a powerful book that has been discussed for years, and, although I’m late to the party, I wanted to express what I got from this book and how it made me feel.

I think it’s all-too-easy to see the community in this world come to fruition. All you have to do is drive around a bit, find a neighborhood with a bunch of beige McMansions, and you can see that “sameness” is kind of glorified. Look around. Most people want to be like those around them. Being different, in many cases, is seen as bad, and those of us (yes, us) who don’t fit into a neat little mold are ostracized.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I have high hopes that the movie adaptation will live up to my expectations. (With Jeff Bridges playing the part of the Giver, we’re already off to a good start!) Check out IMDB for more information on the movie and its exceptional cast.

There are three more novels loosely tied to The Giver: A Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. I don’t know much about these books, but I plan to learn more soon. Hopefully, it won’t take me quite so long to get around to reading these!

 

Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dead to You

Last night, I finished reading Lisa McMann’s latest novel, Dead to You, and proceeded to spend the rest of the night thinking about the book.  (I didn’t sleep much.)  Dead to You, like McMann’s other YA novels (Wake, Fade, Gone, and Cryer’s Cross) kept my interest from the very beginning and kept me thinking long after I finished the book.  (I’m still processing how it ended.)  It was gripping, tense, and made me eager to turn the page.  Dead to You was a quick read with a sympathetic male protagonist, and is a perfect pick for reluctant male readers.  (There is some bad language in the book and a couple of rather frank depictions of, shall we say, what goes on in the mind of an adolescent male when confronted with an attractive female, so I would hesitate to recommend this book to anyone under the age of fourteen.)  Anyone who reads this book will be intrigued by the premise—a boy kidnapped when he was seven and returned to his family nine years later—and eager to see how this story plays out…

Ethan De Wilde went missing when he was seven years old.  No one had any clue about his whereabouts…until now.  Sixteen-year-old Ethan has returned to his family after nine years, and he’s totally unprepared for what his miraculous appearance truly means, especially since he can’t remember anything before his abduction.  His little brother Blake, though, remembers everything.  He remembers seeing Ethan get into a black car with two strange men.  Ethan has no recollection of that, but he does know that he lived with a woman named Ellen until she abandoned him at a group home a year ago.  After he left the group home, Ethan found out where he truly belonged and made his way back to his long-lost family.

Ethan is trying to recall memories of his first seven years, but he’s overwhelmed with all his return means.  His family—which moved on without him—is readjusting to having Ethan home.  His mom and dad are constantly fighting, Blake seems to be jealous of all the attention Ethan is getting, and little Gracie—the “replacement child”—doesn’t really know what’s going on.  Ethan is struggling with lost memories, going to school, feelings for the girl next door, and controlling his urge to run away from the madness his life has become.

Just when Ethan finally begins to feel safe and at home, something happens that throws his life into a tailspin once again.  Ethan doesn’t know what to do, how he can get past this, or what it means for his future.  But he does know one thing.  Unlocking the memories of Ethan’s first seven years will change everything, and no one will be prepared for the fallout.  Read Dead to You by Lisa McMann to learn what happens when things long-buried—memories, secrets, lies, resentments—rise to the surface and threaten to destroy everything.

I predict that Dead to You will be an easy sell in high school libraries everywhere.  The book’s length is not intimidating to reluctant readers, teen readers across the board will find something to identify with, and the story itself is so fascinating that all readers—teen and adult—will be riveted until the very end.  Also, the discussions that the ending will generate will be quite interesting.  (It almost makes me wish I still worked in a high school so that I could talk to teens about this book.)  Dead to You provides great opportunities for students to take the story and write their own endings.  What happens next?  I’m sure the answers would be as varied as the young adults who read this book.

If you’d like more information about Dead to You and other books my Lisa McMann, visit http://lisamcmann.com/index.html.  You can also follow the author on Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest.

For even more, check out this video from Simon and Schuster with Lisa McMann talking about Dead to You and what her readers can expect next!

Published in: on April 12, 2012 at 9:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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As I Wake

Occasionally, I come across a book that reminds me of a favorite television show.  That is the case with Elizabeth Scott’s As I Wake.  Throughout the book, I was comparing the events to that masterpiece of weirdness, Fringe (Fridays at 9pm on Fox).  Both As I Wake and Fringe deal–to a certain degree–with people crossing between alternate realities and the consequences of those “travels,” and both of them leave me very confused.  I don’t like being confused, but when we’re talking about alternate realities, I guess confusion is inevitable.

As I Wake begins with Ava. She just woke up, and she has no idea where she is, how she got here, or even her own name. Nothing–her mom, her friends, school, home–is familiar, and she has the unsettling sensation that she doesn’t belong here. Apparently, Ava has amnesia, but she senses that her memory loss goes much deeper than anyone knows.  What’s wrong with her?  And how can she fix it?

In dreams, Ava gets glimpses of another life…a life that is very different from the one she’s supposed to remember.  A life full of danger, conflict, spies, and loneliness.  A life that shows her past, including the boy that would change everything.  Are these really just dreams, or are they memories that someone has tried to suppress?  How can Ava possibly know what’s real and what’s not?

When Morgan, the boy from Ava’s dreams, appears in her strange new world, Ava knows that her dreams are really memories of her true life, the reality she was born into.  Can she get back to her old life with Morgan?  Why was she sent away from it to begin with?  Does she even want to return to a reality that held so much pain and danger…even if it did contain the love of her life?  The answers are not simple, and Ava’s decisions could mean the difference between life and death…and not just for her.  Find out what happens when Ava truly wakes up in As I Wake by Elizabeth Scott.

I mentioned that this book reminded me of Fringe, and it did.  At the end, I was left thinking “What the crap just happened?”  (This happens a lot when I watch Fringe.)  Unlike Fringe, though, I wasn’t really invested in the characters in As I Wake.  I’m still not sure what led Ava to be in an alternate reality, and I’d really like to know what happened to the Ava she replaced.  (I know that sentence was probably confusing.  Trust me.  I know how you feel.)  I want to know more about Ava’s work in her original reality, and why she felt so drawn to Morgan.  The author hinted that Ava and Morgan had known each other in other realities, even other time periods, but the idea wasn’t fully fleshed out.  I’d also like more information on some of the secondary characters.  Some of their stories are pretty complicated, and the book delved into those a little, but I didn’t feel that these characters had the depth that they could have.

All in all, As I Wake was an okay book.  I enjoyed that it made me think about physics and alternate realities, but the book could have been so much better had some of the plot lines been further explored.  I was not at all happy with the ending, and I think it could have been a lot clearer.  I still have no idea exactly what happened (and what it meant for the previous 268 pages).

I’ve read a couple of other books by Elizabeth Scott (The Unwritten Rule and Living Dead Girl), and I think both of them are much better written than As I Wake.  (Living Dead Girl still gives me nightmares.)

For more information on As I Wake and author Elizabeth Scott, visit http://www.elizabethwrites.com/.

Published in: on March 24, 2012 at 8:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Mary E. Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox is one weird book…but in a good way.  Jenna Fox is seventeen, but she doesn’t really know who she is.  She has been in a coma for a year, and she only knows what her parents have told her.  Her grandmother appears to despise her, Jenna has little to no contact with the world outside her family’s new house, and her only connection with the girl she used to be comes in the form of sixteen years’ worth of home movies.

Gradually, though, Jenna begins to reclaim pieces of her memory and what led her to her current situation.  She knows she was in what should have been a fatal accident and that her parents broke nearly every scientific law known to man to ensure her survival.  What really happened to her?  Will anyone find out?  What or who is Jenna Fox, and why couldn’t her parents let her go?

This book paints a possible picture of what the world could look like in the not-too-distant future:  antibiotics becoming ineffective through overuse, pandemic diseases, fighting to preserve pure species of plants and animals, government control over what science can or cannot do, and basically regenerating humans who are on the verge of death.  It’s creepy to think about.

Although I did like this book, the ending was a little too neat for me.  I would have liked to see more conflict.  Also, there is an underlying political message in the book that could turn some readers off.  But I guess that’s just one more way to start some discussions.  I would recommend this book for readers interested in science and where it could or should take us in the future.

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