Mountain Dog

Last night, I made myself sit down and finish Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle, another of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. Those who regularly follow me here or on Twitter can probably figure out why I put off reading this book for so long. If the title didn’t clue you in, take a gander at the cover.

That’s right. There’s a dog on the cover. Despite my status as an elementary librarian, I tend to shy away from animal books. (Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I blame Old Yeller.) Well, I knew I had to read Mountain Dog so that I could talk to my students about it, so I jumped into the story this weekend. I’m happy to report that I rather enjoyed it. (Yeah, it surprised me, too.)

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In Mountain Dog, readers are introduced to Tony, a boy who has grown up in a rough environment. His mother is being sent to prison for dogfighting, and Tony is going to live in the mountains with an uncle he’s never met. Tony doesn’t know what to expect, and he’s plagued by nightmares of yelling, claws, biting…and math. Can life with an unknown uncle be better than what he’s known? Tony dares to hope so.

When Tony moves to his uncle’s home in the mountains, he’s met by Gabe, a happy, lovable dog who helps Tony’s uncle on search-and-rescue missions. Gabe, along with Tony’s uncle and a few other people, help Tony to understand life in this wild new environment, how to survive in the wilderness, and everything that happens during SAR missions.

Tony gradually begins to thrive–and even feel at home–in the mountains. He’s making friends (both human and canine), he’s writing for the school paper and his own blog, and he’s becoming more comfortable with the numbers that used to worry him so much. He can’t imagine life without his uncle and Gabe…and he doesn’t want to. Tony feels truly loved for the first time in his life, and going back to the way things were with his mom is unbearable.

How will Tony handle his uncertain future? Will he find a forever home with his uncle and Gabe, or will he be forced to leave the life he’s come to love? Learn the answers to these questions and many more when you read Mountain Dog by Margarita Engle.

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Mountain Dog is told in free verse and is a quick read that will appeal to readers in elementary and middle grades (not to mention many older animal lovers). The story is presented in both Tony’s voice and Gabe’s, and it’s interesting to see how both boy and dog view what’s going on around them. Peppered with illustrations by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, this moving book highlights the bond between man and nature. Mountain Dog shows readers that families come in many forms…and species.

If Mountain Dog seems like the book for you, you may want to connect with author Margarita Engle on her website to learn more about her other books. Also, take a peek at the short Mountain Dog book trailer below. Enjoy!

Bitter of Tongue

I’ll dispense with the pleasantries. At this point, if you haven’t read all of the Shadowhuntery goodness by Cassandra Clare, stop whatever you’re doing and correct that situation. (Also, I’m silently judging you from the comfort of my desk chair.)

Now, let’s move on to the seventh installment in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, Bitter of Tongue

In Bitter of Tongue, we continue to follow Simon Lewis, former vampire, through his second year at the Shadowhunter Academy. Things seem to be going well for Simon. He’s stronger and happier than he can remember being. (Given the state of his memory, I’m not sure how much that says.) His relationship with Isabelle Lightwood is starting anew, and he’s coming to terms with his future as a Shadowhunter.

Or so he thinks…

While on a mission to capture a faerie, Simon unwittingly finds himself thrown into the faerie realm. He is imprisoned, and his only hope of escape comes in the form of Mark Blackthorn, former Shadowhunter and current member of the Wild Hunt.

Even though the Clave (the Shadowhunter “government”) has essentially turned its back on Mark because of his faerie blood, he decides to help Simon escape…but not without first sharing a bit of his pain and misery over being separated from his family.

Simon takes in everything Mark says, and he vows to do something about it. He’ll not only keep an eye on Mark’s family, but Simon will also work to change how Shadowhunters view themselves and others. He won’t simply accept that the Shadowhunters are all-powerful or superior to mundanes and Downworlders. Not anymore.

Simon is reawakening to the truth of his new life, and he may have some powerful allies on his side. Will they be able to make a difference? Time will tell…

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When I first started reading Bitter of Tongue, Simon really bothered me. He wasn’t his usual snarky, sarcastic self, and I didn’t like the change. Luckily for me (but maybe not for him), that didn’t last long. I guess being captured by faeries will do that to you. By the end of this story, Simon was back to seeing Shadowhunters as they are instead of how they should be. The rose-colored glasses were off once more, and Simon realized that battling prejudice remained a huge problem with Shadowhunters.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I loved seeing more of Mark Blackthorn in this story, even though what I saw was heartbreaking. Seeing the Blackthorn siblings through Mark’s eyes brought tears to my own and made me even more eager to read Lady Midnight, the first book in the highly-anticipated Dark Artifices trilogy (due out on March 8th, 2016).

Before we get to Lady Midnight, though, we still have three more installments in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. Story #8, The Fiery Trial (released on September 15th), involves the parabatai ceremony of Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn. Story #9, Born to Endless Night (out on October 20th), features my favorite warlock and yours, Magnus Bane! The tenth and final story, Angels Twice Descending (expected on November 17th), is the tale of Simon’s Ascension and should be quite the nail-biter. I can hardly wait!

If you, like me, love the world of Shadowhunters and want to learn more, you may want to check out Shadowhunters.com and the ABC Family site for the upcoming Shadowhunters TV show. Exciting stuff!

Published in: on August 20, 2015 at 2:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Trouble Is a Friend of Mine

Given that school starts this week and I still have 795, 463 things to do, I’ll endeavor to keep this post short. Here goes…

If you or any teen readers you know like Sherlock, then you definitely need to give Trouble Is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly a try. If Sherlock Holmes were a 16-year-old American boy, he would be Digby…and awesome. In this highly entertaining book, Zoe (a teen girl version of Watson) encounters Digby after moving to a new area, and life as she knows it is about to get a lot more interesting.

Zoe Webster is just biding her time. All she really wants to do is transfer to the elite Prentiss Academy and get out of this new town, but she’s got to deal with her present circumstances first. A clueless mom, a new school, and no friends.

Well, the “no friends” thing may be easier to change than Zoe thinks. One day, a weird kid named Digby shows up at her door and basically informs Zoe that they’re going to be friends. Almost against Zoe’s will, Digby is right. Even when it leads her directly into the path of trouble, Zoe follows Digby into odd and often dangerous situations, but this strange and brilliant young man usually manages to talk their way out of nearly anything.

Digby and Zoe, along with a couple other colorful characters, manage to find themselves involved in a mystery that includes drugs, kidnapping, cults, attempted murder, and more mayhem than they ever could have expected. (Well, Digby may have expected some of it. Not much gets by him.) They’ll have to break every rule on the books–and some laws of common sense–in their attempt to uncover what’s really going on.

But why is Digby so invested in this stuff? And why does he insist on bringing Zoe along? Is Digby just a manic genius, or is something more going on? Read Trouble Is a Friend of Mine to find out.

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After reading Trouble Is a Friend of Mine, I must say that Digby is one of the most entertaining, charming characters I’ve encountered lately. He really keeps this book going simply because the reader never knows what he’s going to do or say next.

The parallels between Digby and Sherlock Holmes (as played by the delightful Benedict Cumberbatch) are unmistakable and wonderful. Digby has his own version of the Homeless Network, he bends the rules to get answers, he works with law enforcement (when it suits him), and he observes every little detail around him.

Zoe, for her part, is something of a stabilizing force for Digby, much like Dr. John Watson. Yes, she follows him into danger, but she also, in my opinion, keeps him grounded and lets him know that she’ll be his backup. Through the course of their friendship, both Zoe and Digby learn more about themselves, who they can really count on, and just how important their relationship is.

At various points, I think this story wanted to be a romance between Digby and Zoe. It didn’t quite happen, but I can see how it might if there were a sequel. (If there is one on the works, I haven’t heard about it yet.) Part of me wants Digby and Zoe to get together, but a bigger part wants them to be “just friends.” There are too many books out there that force a romantic relationship between two characters, and it would be nice to see a story–or series of stories–where male and female characters can keep things platonic. It would be refreshing, to say the least, and these two characters simply don’t need to hook up to continue being their hilarious, charming selves.

Trouble Is a Friend of Mine was released on August 4th, so it’s available wherever books are sold. I highly recommend it to any library serving teens (or older readers) who love Sherlock.

If you’d like more information on this excellent book, you can connect with author Stephanie Tromly on Twitter. As far as I can tell, Trouble Is a Friend of Mine is her first book. I sincerely hope this is only the beginning.

Published in: on August 16, 2015 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sky Jumpers

I have a confession. This year, I’m really struggling to finish the nominees for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award. I had planned to read and review all of them before the start of the new school year. Well, considering that I returned to work yesterday, that didn’t quite work out. I did, however, manage to finish another of these books late Monday night, so I guess that’s something. Only eight more to go. Yeesh.

Anyhoo, my latest SCCBA nominee finished is Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman, and I’m pleasantly surprised by its place on the nominee list. One doesn’t often see post-World War III books written for children, so this book was a breath of fresh air. (Once you read the book, you’ll realize that is sort of an inside joke.)

Hope Toriella isn’t like most people in White Rock. Her town, one of the few remaining after the green bombs of World War III, doesn’t have most of the luxuries enjoyed by its predecessors, so everyone does their part to invent the tools they need to survive and thrive. Everyone except Hope, it seems.

Despite her best efforts, Hope is simply no good at inventing. Her inventions tend to end in disaster, and she sees herself as something of an embarrassment. Hope finds some measure of solace and freedom in sky jumping, something she’s really good at…and something she’s not exactly supposed to do.

Whenever she can, Hope sneaks off to sky jump into the deadly Bomb’s Breath, residue left over from the war. Few other people will even go near this dangerous barrier, but Hope enjoys the thrill of doing something so forbidden. Little does she know that she’ll soon have to use her sky jumping abilities–and fearlessness–to save the town that often makes her feel so alone.

When bandits take over the town and attempt to steal rare and valuable medicines, Hope and her friends escape in an attempt to find help. They must travel through the treacherous Bomb’s Breath, endure a brutal blizzard, and survive long enough to summon the guard back to White Rock.

But will that be enough to fight off the bandits holding the town hostage? What more will Hope have to do to ensure the safety of her town and everyone she loves? And will Hope realize that she’s more than just a failed inventor?

When push comes to shove, Hope’s tendency to take risks and “leap before she looks” might just be White Rock’s ultimate salvation.

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Although Sky Jumpers was a bit of a slow-starter, once I got a few chapters in, I was hooked. It was action-packed, the main character was a kick-butt girl who became a leader in the harshest of circumstances, and she used her strengths and abilities to do what had to be done. Two of her companions were male, but it wasn’t like the guys took over and she followed meekly behind. No, Hope did much of the heavy lifting, but she was also smart enough to rely on her companions’ strengths when the situations called for it. That’s pretty awesome.

While I don’t think Sky Jumpers is a perfect fit for all of my elementary students, I do think it’s a good pick for 4th or 5th grade students–and middle grade readers–who want something similar to The Hunger Games, Divergent, or The Maze Runner. (No, I don’t think elementary-age readers are quite ready for the series I just mentioned. A personal opinion that you’re free to disagree with.) Sky Jumpers may fill the desire for those types of books while still being developmentally appropriate for younger readers.

I also think Sky Jumpers is a great pick for IB schools. (Mine is one of those.) This book epitomizes the risk-taking aspect of the IB Learner Profile, and I plan to promote it that way to the teachers, parents, and students at my school. Hey, anything to get the book in the hands of readers!

Sky Jumpers is the first book in a series, so there’s definitely more to enjoy if this seems like your cup of tea. The second book, The Forbidden Flats, is already out, and I’ll definitely be placing it on my first order of the school year. There’s no information (yet) about a third book, but that info will probably be on author Peggy Eddleman’s website as soon as it’s available.

In the meantime, if you’re still not convinced to read Sky Jumpers or just want to know a little more about this fantastic book, check out the official book trailer below. Enjoy!

Published in: on August 12, 2015 at 7:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Heart of Tin

Those who regularly visit this blog likely know that I’ve become slightly crazy about Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series this past year. (For those who are new here, this series recounts what happens when Dorothy returns to Oz.) Well, my obsession has only gotten worse, and the latest novella in the series, Heart of Tin, is to blame.

For those who are new to this series, I highly recommend you read the following stories before proceeding with this post. There could be spoilers ahead, and I really don’t want to ruin this wonderful series for you.

Now, let’s move on to this latest story, shall we?

If it’s not already obvious, Heart of Tin takes a closer look at the Tin Woodman (or Tin Man, if you prefer). Now, anyone who’s ever watched (or read) The Wizard of Oz knows this character to be a bit of a softy who longs for a heart to beat in his metal chest. And, of course, the Wizard grants his wish…eventually. What we don’t see, though, is what happens to the Tin Woodman after Dorothy leaves Oz behind…or the impact her departure had on one of her closest companions. All of that is about to change…

Oz has been rather quiet of late. The Tin Woodman rules over the Winkies and rarely visits the Emerald City anymore. Why would he? Not long after Dorothy and the Wizard left, Ozma, the true heir to the throne of Oz, returned to claim her rightful place, and the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Woodman were left to their own devices. But the Tin Woodman just received startling news that changes everything, and his quiet life with the Winkies is coming to an end.

Dorothy has returned.

The Tin Woodman’s heart immediately tries to beat out of his chest. His Dorothy is back, and he finally has the opportunity to show her how much he loves her. He just knows she’ll return his feelings and want to make a life with him. He dashes off to the Emerald City to see his sweet Dorothy, but his welcome is not quite as warm as he would have hoped.

Dorothy is not the darling girl she once was. She’s grown up quite a bit, and, with Glinda at her side, she’s learned to harness the magic of Oz. The Tin Woodman isn’t sure that Glinda (or the Scarecrow) have Dorothy’s best interests at heart, but he’ll do whatever he can show Dorothy–and all of Oz–just what she means to him…even if it means allowing others to twist and manipulate his precious heart.

The Tin Woodman, in his quest to prove himself to Dorothy and ensure her protection from potential enemies, turns his heart–and the Winkies–over to Glinda and the Scarecrow, and he becomes someone capable of unspeakable acts…all in the name of of “love” for a girl who is using his obvious feelings to further her own wicked agenda.

Even though he is uncertain about what’s really happening in Oz, the Tin Woodman will do absolutely anything for his beloved Dorothy, even if it means losing his heart in the process…

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So, the previous stories in this series have made me despise Dorothy, Glinda, the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Woodman. Well, Heart of Tin didn’t eradicate my negative feelings about the Tin Woodman, but it did change things a little. I now pity him. Glinda and the Scarecrow–both of whom are nothing short of evil–use his love for Dorothy to turn him into a monster. Yes, Dorothy is partly responsible as well, but I think she’s also being manipulated, particularly by Glinda.

At any rate, the Tin Woodman is, on some level, a victim here. He reasons that something’s not quite right about Dorothy’s rise to power, Glinda’s involvement, and the Scarecrow’s creepy experiments, but he’s blinded by what he thinks is love, and others use that weakness against him. No, I’m not claiming love is weakness–at least I don’t think I am–but I am saying that the Tin Woodman’s unrequited, obvious longing for Dorothy allowed others to use him for their own nefarious purposes. Will that continue to be the case in future stories? I have no idea, but I am eager to find out.

The next short story in this wickedly fabulous series is, according to Goodreads, supposed to come out on November 10th. I’m not sure how true that is, what the title will be, or who it will be about. (That’s not very helpful, is it?) The next full-length novel should be out in March of 2016 (maybe?). Goodreads has a little information on this one, but there’s no cover or title available yet. I’m on pins and needles here! I need the info!

If Heart of Tin and the entire Dorothy Must Die series sound like your cup of tea and you’d like to learn more, you can connect with the wonderful Danielle Paige on her website, Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook. I love this woman’s work, and I can hardly wait for more!

Published in: on August 2, 2015 at 9:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Never Always Sometimes

Yesterday, I finished reading Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid. (You may recognize the name from his previous book, Let’s Get Lost.) Anyway, this latest book, which comes out next Tuesday, is sort of a coming of age story that John Green fans will probably eat up. In fact, at various points, this book reminded me a bit of Paper Towns. If you’re a Nerdfighter, that’s probably all the recommendation you need.

In Never Always Sometimes, readers are introduced to Dave and Julia, best friends who have done their best to avoid becoming high school clichés. Before they even darkened the doors of high school, Dave and Julia made a Nevers List, a list of things they vowed never to do during their time in high school. Some of the items were:

  • #2 – Never run for prom king/queen, student body president, or any other position that would have its own page in the yearbook.
  • #5 – Never dye your hair a color found in the rainbow.
  • #8 – Never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school.
  • #10 – Never date your best friend.

Now, almost four years later, just months before graduation, Dave and Julia have done a fairly good job of sticking to their Nevers List. Or so it seems.

Dave, for his part, has been in love with Julia for what seems like forever–breaking Never #8–but he keeps his feelings a secret so that he won’t ruin his relationship with his best friend.

One day, thinking she and Dave are missing out on the authentic high school experience, Julia suggests that they use the time before graduation to cross off every Never on their list. As is usually the case, Dave goes along with Julia’s crazy idea, and pretty soon, the two are dying their hair (and Dave is shaving his shortly thereafter), stalking a teacher, running a campaign for prom king, going to wild parties, and doing all the other things they’ve been disdainful of all this time.

Through all of this, Dave starts to realize that maybe he really has been missing out. This typical teenage stuff isn’t so bad, and it’s even pushing him to be social with people–girls–other than Julia. One girl in particular, Gretchen, catches his eye, and Dave begins to think that, as much as he still loves Julia, maybe he should let that hopeless crush go and move on.

What Dave doesn’t know (yet) is that Julia is coming to her own realizations. Maybe she too wants something more from her best friend, the guy who knows her better than anyone else. Maybe they should finally cross of Never #10 and see what happens. What could possibly go wrong?

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How do I feel about Never Always Sometimes now that I’ve finished it and reflected a bit? Well, I’m still not sure. I think it’s a good book, maybe a tad unrealistic, but I kind of wanted to punch the main characters in the face several times when I was reading. Especially Julia. (I guess it’s good that I got so emotionally invested.) She seemed so self-centered to me throughout most of the book, and she tended to drag Dave down with her. Granted, he went–if somewhat unwillingly–most of the time, but I wanted both of them to wake up and see just how codependent they were.

As for the ending of the book, it took some doing, but it was sort of satisfying. I wouldn’t exactly call it happy, but given the events that preceded it, it really couldn’t be a totally happy ending for everyone. If anything, I would say that it was fitting and leave it at that.

For those wondering if Never Always Sometimes is suitable for middle grade readers, I would advise against it. It’s great for a YA audience, but the “sexy times” and rather unrepentant alcohol use and rule-breaking make the book much more suited to older teens. Whatever the reader’s age, I’d hope that all of them would have sense enough to know that some of the items on the Nevers List–like “never hook up with a teacher”–should remain Nevers.

As I said previously, Never Always Sometimes will be released to the masses on August 4th. (Many thanks to NetGalley for letting me read it a bit early.) If you’re interested in learning more about this book and author Adi Alsaid, you can connect with the author on Goodreads and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. It’s a pretty good intro to Never Always Sometimes, but it doesn’t give too much away.

Happy reading!

Published in: on July 28, 2015 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gaby, Lost and Found

It’s not easy being an elementary school librarian when you tend to avoid fiction books with animals on the covers. (I’m forever scarred from reading Old Yeller as a child.) It’s especially difficult when your state book award program has a few animal books on the lists every year. Such is life.

Well, this week, I turned my attention to one of the animal books I have to read. Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes, a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, appears to be a “cat book” at first glance. (See cover below.) Cats (and dogs) do play a big part in this book, but they are not the central characters, in my opinion. No, that honor goes to Gaby Howard, a young girl who, like the animals she cares for, is looking for some sense of home.

The past few months have not been easy for Gaby Ramirez Howard. Her mother has been deported to Honduras, her distant father has moved into the house and often forgets to pay bills or go grocery shopping, and mean girls at school ridicule her because of her mom’s situation. Gaby just wants her mom to return and for things to go back to normal. She’s tired of going hungry and worrying about the future. Gaby waits for the day her mom will come back and they can be happy again, but the wait is getting to her.

Gaby’s life is not all bad, though. She has loyal friends, and she’s excited about her sixth grade class’ new service project–volunteering at the Furry Friends Animal Shelter.

Gaby loves her work at the animal shelter. She dotes on the sweet kittens, plays with the dogs, and writes profiles of the animals to convince people to adopt these lovable pets. Her profiles, paired with pictures of the animals, are posted around the community, and Gaby is thrilled that people are reading them and coming into the shelter to give the animals forever homes.

There’s one cat at the shelter who Gaby would love to have for her own. The cat, Feather, was abandoned by her previous owners, and Gaby feels a certain kinship with the little cat. She knows what it’s like to be left alone and wondering if she’ll ever feel truly safe and loved again. If only Gaby could adopt Feather and give her the home that she deserves…

As the days pass, worries about Feather’s future and her mom’s return plague Gaby. Her worries are affecting her friendships, her work at the shelter, and Gaby is doing things that she knows she shouldn’t. And when she receives news that derails all of her thoughts of a happy family, Gaby doesn’t know what to do. She feels so lost…

But maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for Gaby. Maybe she and Feather can somehow find forever homes of their very own…

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I liked Gaby, Lost and Found much more than I thought I would. I even teared up a little bit. (Okay, a lot.) I’m not much of an animal person, but this book almost convinced me to take a trip to the animal shelter in my town. (Almost. I can barely take care of myself. I would not be a good pet owner.)

Gaby’s class service project was pretty awesome, and I can see how this book could inspire school groups to do some work at animal shelters in their own towns. I especially liked the profiles Gaby wrote for the animals. What a great way to combine service learning with creative writing!

I do thing Gaby, Lost and Found fills a void in a lot of libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. First, it features an Hispanic American female protagonist. That’s a big reason to celebrate this book, but it also deals with the subject of deportation and its impact on families.

We don’t often see stories about deportation, especially accounts of the children left behind. Sure, we see cases on the news of raids in factories or calls from politicians to round up those living and working in America illegally, but we don’t see what happens after that. This book gives just a small glimpse into what happened in one girl’s life–how her sense of home and family was taken away, how her life became one big worry after another, and how she had to face growing up without her mother. I think this is an important topic for young readers to consider. More importantly, though, I’d urge teachers and parents to read this book with children and try to examine attitudes about immigration, deportation, and the turmoil that can result in the families affected by it. It’s not a black and white issue, no matter how it’s portrayed in the media. *steps off soapbox*

I think Gaby, Lost and Found is great for readers in third grade on up, and I plan to recommend it to many of my students when I return to school next month. Even though it didn’t quite end the way I wanted it to, this book demonstrates the resilience of one young girl and shows readers that they can find happiness even when things don’t go their way.

Pale Kings and Princes

Notice: If you haven’t already read the collected works of Cassandra Clare, especially the entire Mortal Instruments series and the first five stories in the Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy collection, you’ve got some work to do. Today’s post, a quick look at Pale Kings and Princes, the sixth story in the Shadowhunter Academy series, builds on what’s happened in past books…and gives a peek at what we may see in Lady Midnight.

It should come as no surprise to regular followers of this blog that I’ve already read Pale Kings and Princes (which came out today). I am slightly obsessed with Cassie Clare’s work, and I tend to devour everything she cares to publish. This latest Shadowhunter Academy story is no exception. Given that it relates directly to what will likely happen in Lady Midnight, the next full-length Shadowhunter novel, I am especially intrigued.

Now, if you’ve read the synopsis of this story on Goodreads or even Amazon, I have a bit of advice for you. Ignore it. Just about the only thing it got right is that we learn more about Andrew Blackthorn, his time with the faeries, and the birth of his children, Mark and Helen. Luckily for you, I’m here to get things right. Let’s jump in…

After a rather uncomfortable summer at home in Brooklyn, Simon Lewis is back for his second year at Shadowhunter Academy. Here, he doesn’t have to pretend to be “normal,” to put on a show for those who have no idea what kind of school he’s really attending. There’s freedom in not having to hide, a freedom that not all in the Shadowhunter world share, unfortunately…

In one of his first lessons back at the Academy, Simon and his fellow students meet Helen Blackthorn. Apparently, she’s been “asked” by the Clave to teach the Academy students about the perils of tangling with faeries.

Helen relates the story of how her father and his brother were ensnared by the Seelie Court and how she and her brother, half-fae, came into the world. Her tale is not a happy one, and Simon comes to understand that this is not something Helen wishes to talk about. The Clave is forcing it on her. Why? Well, part of it is to punish Helen for her faerie blood (which is not something she can help), and a bigger part is propaganda in the Clave’s increasing tensions with the faeries (many of whom took Sebastian’s side in the Dark War).

Simon is horrified on Helen’s behalf, and he’s outraged that the Clave would punish an entire race of Downworlders because of the actions of a few. Simon quickly learns, though, that he’s one of the few who feels this way.

In addition to what he’s discovering about Shadowhunter/faerie politics, Simon is also dealing with his own personal turmoil. He’s making a right mess of his relationship with Isabelle, and he’s sure that one wrong move will tear them apart once again. Fortunately for Simon, Isabelle isn’t one who gives up easily…

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After reading Pale Kings and Princes, I am even more eager for Lady Midnight, particularly when I consider what was revealed at the end of this story. (I’m not going to give anything away, but I will say that it could play a big part in all the faerie drama to come.) Sadly, Lady Midnight won’t be out until March 8th, so I’ve still got quite the wait ahead of me. At least I have the Shadowhunter Academy to keep me occupied.

I’m rather enjoying the unique perspective Simon brings to the world of Shadowhunters. He’s been a Downworlder, so there’s that to consider…but he’s also just a regular kid from Brooklyn. Simon makes connections to the world and historical events–especially treatment of Jews in World War II–that other Shadowhunters may not consider. He draws parallels between the Holocaust and current treatment of faeries that are rather disturbing, and he tries to help those around him see that the Clave is on a dangerous path. Will anyone listen to him? Well, I can’t really answer that, but I think you’ll agree that he makes some valid points.

When you add up the origin story of Mark and Helen Blackthorn, Simon’s outrage over their treatment, and, yes, the continuing drama of the Simon/Isabelle relationship, Pale Kings and Princes delivers yet another winner in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. I, for one, am ready for the next installment.

Speaking of the next installment, it is titled Bitter of Tongue and will be released on August 18th. According to Goodreads (which may or may not be accurate), Simon will encounter Mark Blackthorn and the Wild Hunt in this story. I really hope that’s true.

Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 4:59 pm  Comments (2)  
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Rules for Ghosting

Greetings, dear readers. I realize it’s been a while since my last post, but I’m here now. (To be perfectly honest, I needed a bit of a break. And now my break is over…maybe.)

Anyway, I’m back today with another of the nominees for the 2015-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Today, we turn our focus to Rules for Ghosting by A.J. Paquette. This book, which is suitable for upper elementary and middle grade readers, is a ghost story, but there’s nothing truly scary about it. The ghosts in the book are friendly, and the villain of the piece is human. At various points, Rules for Ghosting reminded me of Casper, Beetlejuice, and Ghostbusters. That may be the hook I use to get my students interested in this book.

Silverton Manor is the only home Dahlia has ever known. Her family has lived there for generations, and she’s been there for quite some time. Dahlia died at Silverton Manor over fifty years ago…and she never left. Now, she’s the resident ghost of her family home, but her “life” is a rather lonely one. She can’t get past the boundary of the manor grounds, and there’s no one at Silverton Manor–living or dead–to talk to…yet.

All of a sudden, things are changing at Silverton Manor, and Dahlia is lonely no more…

Mrs. Tibbs arrives on the scene to liberate Dahlia. She’s here to help Dahlia find the object, or anchor, that holds her to Silverton Manor, as well as teach the young girl all of the rules for ghosting. Mrs. Tibbs is rather impressed with all that Dahlia has learned on her own, but there’s still much work to do. If only they weren’t also trying to keep an eye on the house’s newest residents…

Oliver Day wants a permanent home. He’s tired of traveling from town to town with his family, and he’s decided that Silverton Manor, the house his parents have been hired to get sale-ready, is destined to be his house. But strange things are going on in this old house, and Oliver doesn’t know what to make of them. Surely there’s a reasonable explanation here. This house couldn’t be haunted. Could it?

According to Ghosterminator Rank T. Wiley, Silverton Manor is indeed haunted, and he’s just the guy to rid the house of its pesky ghost problem. This nefarious ghost hunter will stop at nothing to nab an unsuspecting ghost and make a name for himself. And no meddling kid is going to interfere with his grand plans…

As soon as Oliver learns of Rank T. Wiley’s true reason for being at the house, he becomes determined to stop this horrible man from succeeding in his quest…especially when Oliver realizes that the ghost of Silverton Manor is a friendly girl. Oliver and Dahlia stumble upon a way to communicate, and they work together to rid the house of its true pest while trying to uncover all of the secrets hidden within the mysterious Silverton Manor.

Can Oliver and Dahlia stop Rank T. Wiley before something truly horrible happens? Can Dahlia ever find her anchor and be free of the boundary that holds her to Silverton Manor? And can Oliver figure out a way to stay in the house that has come to mean so much to him? Answer these questions and many more when you read Rules for Ghosting by A.J. Paquette.

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In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that it was very difficult for me to get into this book. I really wanted to be invested in it, but it just wasn’t happening…which may explain why it took about four weeks for me to get through it.

That being said, I do think many of my students will like it. It’s a ghost story, but it’s not too scary, so I have no problem recommending it to any readers in third grade and up. It’s got colorful characters, a couple of mysteries to solve, and an interesting setting. There’s also a fair amount of rule-breaking and working around clueless adults, something most young readers will identify with and/or root for.

So…while Rules for Ghosting is not my favorite of this year’s SCCBA nominees, I predict it will be a hit with young readers. I look forward to their thoughts on what happens with Oliver and Dahlia after this story ends.

For more information on Rules for Ghosting and other books by A.J. Paquette, check out the author’s website. Happy reading!

Published in: on July 20, 2015 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Beginning of Everything

Happy Independence Day to all of my American friends out there–and happy Saturday to everyone else. As fireworks are blasting all around me, I figured now was a good time to bring you my latest read. I’m not a huge fan of loud noises, so this is helping me to focus on something other than the idea that my neighbors have spent what seems like thousands of dollars in pyrotechnics. Thanks for that.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider. This book, which is nominated for the 15-16 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, is sure to be a hit with readers who love John Green, Gayle Forman, Jennifer E. Smith, and other wonderful authors of contemporary YA fiction.

“Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them…That everyone’s life, no matter how unremarkable, has a moment when it will become extraordinary–a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen.”

Ezra Faulkner was once the envy of nearly everyone around him. He had the beautiful girlfriend, he was a tennis star, and he was one of the most popular guys in the junior class. All of that changed, though, on one fateful night. One night–and one tragic car accident–that shattered his leg, his tennis career, and everything he thought he knew about himself.

After a grueling summer of surgeries, rehab, and physical therapy, Ezra is returning to school for his senior year. He knows that this year will be different, but he’s not quite prepared for just how different. He’s no longer the school’s golden boy. His former girlfriend has moved on–to the new captain of the tennis team. Some of his supposed friends act like nothing has changed, but Ezra knows that they can’t simply go back to the way things once were. Too much has happened in the past few months.

Now, Ezra is trading the tennis team for the debate team. It is here that he reconnects with Tobey, one of his best childhood friends, and he also meets a few new friends who are much more interesting than his former self would have believed. Ezra also meets Cassidy Thorpe, the enigmatic new girl who sparks his interest and forces him to think about the new direction his life has taken.

Ezra is completely taken in by Cassidy. He feels more for her than he ever did for his former girlfriend, he enjoys being with her, and he appreciates that she makes him think. But Ezra knows that Cassidy is holding something back. She won’t talk about why she’s transferred to his school or no longer competes in debate. She never invites Ezra to her house or introduces him to her family. Why? What exactly is this mysterious girl hiding? Why is she doing her best to drive Ezra away when he thought they were closer than ever?

When Ezra finally realizes what Cassidy has been hiding, the air is knocked out of him. The truth is almost too much for him–and Cassidy–to handle, and this new tragedy, much like the car accident that altered the course of his life, has the power to change everything.

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While I found The Beginning of Everything to be a tad predictable, I did enjoy it. I loved the character of Tobey, who I imagined as kind of a teenage version of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor. I also liked how Ezra’s character developed throughout the book. Sure, there were times when I wanted to smack him for being wishy-washy, but he did come to realize that he had more to him than tennis and superficial popularity.

I’m hoping that readers will do further research on the the literary and philosophical allusions in this book. There were many references to the PanopticonThe Great Gatsby, Foucault, and other works and ideas that make The Beginning of Everything a much richer read because of their presence.

If I have one big complaint about this book, it was the way it concluded. I wasn’t crazy about the abrupt ending. It almost felt like there were a couple of chapters missing. I went from reading about Christmas of Ezra’s senior year to his first year of college in a matter of minutes. It was a little jarring. I get that the major events of the book had already happened, but a little more stuff would have given me a greater sense of closure that what I ended up with.

If you think The Beginning of Everything sounds like your kind of book, you can learn more on the author’s website. You can also connect with author Robyn Schneider on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.

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