The Whitechapel Fiend

Before proceeding, read everything Cassandra Clare has ever written. Seriously.

It’s been a big week for my fellow Shadowhunters. We get the news about the casting of Jace in the upcoming Shadowhunters TV series on ABC Family. (Thank you, McG!) And the third installment in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, The Whitechapel Fiend, comes out. (The first two stories are Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy and The Lost Herondale, in case you’re behind on your reading.) Good times.

I read The Whitechapel Fiend on Wednesday, but, as it so often does, life got in the way, and this this the first opportunity I’ve had to get my thoughts down. Basically, I loved it. (Shocking, I know.) How can you go wrong when you combine the world of Shadowhunters with Jack the Ripper? Answer: You cannot. It also didn’t hurt that this particular story let us spend a little time with Jace, Tessa, and even Jem.

In this third episode in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, Simon is continuing his grueling training to become a Shadowhunter. It’s by no means easy, and the newest lesson seems to be falling out of trees. He and his fellow students are instructed in this oh-so-important skill by none other than Jace Herondale. Simon’s friendship with Jace gives him a little bit of cred at the Academy…but not much.

Simon is also learning more about Shadowhunter history and how Shadowhunters have played a part in covering up or changing perceptions of things in the past. Case in point: Jack the Ripper. For this particular lesson, Tessa Gray, a woman who actually lived through this time in Victorian London, speaks to Academy students about what really happened. She talks about the fear that gripped the Whitechapel district, the grisly crime scenes, and how she, her husband Will Herondale, his parabatai, and their fellow members of the London Institute discovered who–or what–was actually behind these murders.

As Simon learns the truth about Jack the Ripper (and why this case seemingly remained unsolved), he also urges Jace to connect with Tessa. He doesn’t miss that Tessa was married to a Herondale, and Simon knows she could shed some light on Jace’s true family history.

Through all of this, Simon may even learn to deal with his own rather murky past before it does irreparable damage to his future. Time will tell…

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What else can I say about this story? Oh yeah…I. WANT. MORE!!! More Simon.More Jace. More Tessa. Definitely more Jem. I loved reconnecting with these beloved characters, and I can hardly wait to see more of them in the Shadowhunters TV series, The Dark Artifices, The Last Hours, and the other novellas in the Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy collection.

Speaking of this particular collection, the fourth installment, Nothing but Shadows, will be out on May 19th. In this episode, we’ll learn a bit more about James Herondale and Matthew Fairchild. Woohoo!

In closing, I’d like to thank Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson for giving us The Whitechapel Fiend. It was a great read, and their explanation of Jack the Ripper and his crimes totally creeped me out. In a good way. I’m guessing other readers will feel the same.

Published in: on April 24, 2015 at 2:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Half a Chance

Once again, it’s time to bring you yet another of the nominees for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. This time, we turn our attention to Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord.

Half a Chance is a quick, engaging read that I think will speak to readers in upper elementary grades on through middle school. The setting is appealing, the characters’ adventures may encourage young readers to do some exploring of their own, and their struggles are true to life. Most readers–young and old–are sure to find something to relate to in this book.

Lucy and her family have just moved to a lake house in New Hampshire. Almost immediately, Lucy’s dad, a famous photographer, jets off on a job, leaving Lucy and her mom with the tasks of unpacking and getting to know their new surroundings.

Before Lucy’s father leaves for his trip, he inadvertently gives Lucy both a chance to explore her new home and a way to find out if her photos are really good. Dear old dad is judging a kids’ photo contest–a scavenger hunt of sorts–and Lucy sees this as her chance to prove herself to her father.

Lucy looks for potential photo subjects everywhere, including next door. It is there that she meets Nate, a boy who visits the lake with his family each summer. Nate decides to help Lucy with her photo project and, in the process, introduces her to some of the best parts of her new home. They look for loons and their chicks (and try to figure out a way to protect them), they climb a mountain, and they work together to get the perfect photos for Lucy’s contest.

But one day, in Lucy’s quest for a great photograph, she snaps a shot that reveals more than Nate is ready to see. In it, Nate’s Grandma Lilah looks scared and lost, and her deteriorating memory is right there for everyone to see. Nate doesn’t want Lucy to use the photo in her contest, but Lucy knows that this particular picture is powerful, shows great emotion, and truly captures what Lilah is going through. How can she not use it?

As the summer winds down, Lucy must decide what to do about the contest. Should she enter the photo of Grandma Lilah even though it could damage her friendship with Nate? Should she enter the contest at all, knowing that she could be disqualified for being the daughter of the judge? Will her father ever take her seriously as a photographer? Answer these questions and many more when you read Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord.

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Okay…first off, I love the photography contest featured in this book. My hope is that my students read Half a Chance and get inspired to do their own photo scavenger hunt. Maybe I’ll make that a library-based activity for students who read the book. I don’t know yet. I’m still playing around with things in my head, but what an awesome way to integrate literature and visual arts!

Secondly, I think this book could help readers to see and experience the larger world around them. Even Lucy, who usually viewed everything behind a camera lens, realized that some things simply need to be lived. One needs to be in the moment, taking everything in, and not worrying about capturing the perfect photo. (This applies if the photo is for a contest like Lucy’s or…maybe for a Facebook or Instagram post.) A lot of people could take this message to heart.

I also like how Half a Chance featured loons and talked about the many dangers they (and other animals) face in the wild. In this book, the characters decided to do something to spread awareness about loons, their habitats, and how community members could protect these birds. That’s a great example for young readers interested in protecting animals and the environment or just getting involved in their communities in whatever way they can.

Finally, this book takes a look at dementia from a kid’s perspective. (We see a little of what it’s like for Grandma Lilah, but the primary focus is on Nate and Lucy.) When I was a kid, I watched my great-grandmother slowly decline due to Alzheimer’s disease, so this really resonated with me. How great would it have been for me to read about a character going through the same thing? I’m guessing that other readers will be able to see themselves in Nate–wondering when his grandmother just won’t remember him anymore–and this book may help those readers to cope just a little better and look for ways to make this terrifying time easier for their loved ones and those around them.

Half a Chance is an excellent book, and I’m thrilled with its placement on next year’s SC Children’s Book Award nominee list. I hope my students feel the same way.

For more information on this book and other by Cynthia Lord, click here.

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 12:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

I am a fangirl. (This likely shocks no one.) I totally geek out over Star Wars, Harry Potter, all things Marvel, Sherlock, Doctor Who, Supernatural, The Princess Bride, Firefly, YA literature, and way too many other things to name. I make no apologies for my preference for fictional worlds over reality. It’s just how I roll.

So, when I got the chance to read something titled The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks, I jumped on it. (Thanks once again to NetGalley!) In this book, Sam Maggs gives her fellow fangirls a bit of a guide to navigating geek culture, often seen as somewhat male-dominated. She presents information on various different fandoms (sometimes oversimplified, but whatever), being a fangirl online, surviving and thriving at conventions, and what it may mean to be a fangirl feminist. Between each chapter are interviews with famous fangirls, each talking about what the term means to them and advice for their fellow geek girls.

In the very first chapter of this book, Maggs talks about some of the major fandoms: Harry Potter, SuperWhoLock (Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Sherlock), Lord of the Rings, Otaku (anime and manga), Star Trek, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Marvel, DC, YA literature, Whedonites, and gaming. (You may have noticed that I fangirl over many these.) Now, Maggs is the first to admit that she’s left out/glossed over quite a few fandoms, and that’s okay. What’s not okay, then? Well, in my personal opinion (for whatever that’s worth), as much as I love the idea of a potential meeting between Sam, Dean, Castiel, the Doctor, Sherlock, and Watson, each of these fandoms should be given their own space. They’re all great in their own right.

The Fangirl’s Guide also introduces noobs to “fangirl-speak.” I’m not going to go into all of that here, but it is a nice primer if you’re confused about the difference between canon and headcanon, wonder why “feelings” has become “feels,” or have no idea what someone is talking about when they go crazy over their OTP or ship.

Maggs wraps up the first chapter with advice on how to get involved in geek culture IRL (in real life). She goes into how to meet up with like-minded nerds, how to convert friends into fangirls, and how you can “let your geek flag fly.” All of her suggestions are great…unless you suffer from near-crippling social anxiety. Then, you’re better served by connecting online…which leads me to the next chapter.

Chapter two, Geek Girls Online, discusses the various platforms for connecting with other fangirls (or fanboys), writing fanfiction (or creating any other type of fan art), and what to do about the loathsome Internet trolls. While I didn’t get a ton of new information out of this chapter, I do think it has loads of great advice for those somewhat new to being a fangirl. What’s important is to find the right platform for you and interact respectfully with your fellow geeks.

The third chapter, How to Survive Conventions, filled me with so much anxiety that I can’t even. Just the thought of so many people in one place gives me hives. That being said, Maggs gives a quick run-down of the major cons and their associated fandoms, what to expect at a con, planning and packing advice, choosing the perfect cosplay for you, and coming down from your time at a con. A great resource for someone looking for the ideal con for their interests.

I was pleasantly surprised to see one on the list that I actually do attend–YALLFest, a free YA book festival in Charleston each November. There’s just one problem, though. This festival is in SOUTH CAROLINA, not North Carolina. Hopefully, the author, editor, or someone else caught this pretty major error before this book went to print.

Chapter four is all about Geek Girl Feminism, something that’s been getting a lot more traction lately. With things like GamerGate in the news, it’s no wonder. (Look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) As a longtime feminist, I truly appreciate this chapter and its message of equality for all. Geek culture is something that’s supposed to be all-inclusive. After all, we know what it’s like to be excluded, ridiculed, bullied, and the like. Do any of us really want to have a part in making others feel that way? In this chapter, Maggs talks a bit about some fangirl feminist terminology that people should be familiar with (privilege, mansplaining, objectification, male gaze, etc.), myths about modern feminism, and kick-butt female characters in comics, books, TV, movies, and gaming. She also encourages her fellow fangirl feminists to call our fandoms out when they show misogynistic tendencies.

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy wraps up with some resources for further exploration. Most of these are blogs, shops, or YouTube channels that lead fangirls to new ideas in all sorts of geek culture: math, coding, science, fashion, cosplay, and much, much more.

All in all, I think this guide is great for fangirls who may be new to geek culture…or those who just want to know what in the heck the fangirls around them are talking about. If you’ve been a girl geek for a while, some of this info may be old news, but it never hurts to have a refresher. Even I–a fangirl for more than 30 years–learned something new in this book. I’m guessing you will, too.

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy drops in stores and online on May 12th. I think this book would be an especially great addition to high school libraries. In fact, any library that serves a large YA population should add this book to its collection. Your patrons will thank you.

For more information on this book and author Sam Maggs, you can connect with Sam on her website or Twitter.

Have fun out there!

Published in: on April 19, 2015 at 9:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Boy on the Porch

Today, I bring you yet another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. My latest read, The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech, isn’t a very long book, but it packs quite an emotional punch. It is sweet, heartwarming, suspenseful at times, and it leaves the reader with a feeling of contentment. If I’m being totally honest, though, I think adult readers will appreciate it more than children will.

One day, John and Marta step outside, and they find a boy asleep on their porch. They don’t know why he is there or who left him. The boy, Jacob, doesn’t speak, so John and Marta don’t know where he’s from, who his family is, why they were chosen to care for him, or when someone will return for the boy. So they care for him as best they can.

John and Marta grow rather attached to Jacob. They love him as if he were their own…and Jacob seems happy with them. He still doesn’t speak, but he makes music, he paints, he enjoys time with the couple’s animals, and he communicates in his own way. He thrives in this young couple’s care.

But John and Marta are always waiting for someone to return for this boy they’ve grown to love…and one day, it happens. This young couple doesn’t want to say good-bye to Jacob, but they seem to have no choice. Even when Jacob leaves, they let him know that he is welcome to return at any time.

As days go by, John and Marta miss Jacob, and they look for ways to help other children who need special care. They open their home and their hearts to kids who need a little extra love, and they always remember the boy who started them on this journey. And they hope that one day, their beloved Jacob, the boy on the porch, will return to them once again.

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I can’t help but think that The Boy on the Porch is a must-read (and a great gift) for foster parents. This book shines a light on the sacrifices many of these people make to care for children in need. They often provide a safe, loving home for kids who’ve only known the opposite. Many, like John and Marta in this story, give children a voice in a world that doesn’t really understand them. This poignant book honors that and shows that the love that foster parents get in return is more valuable than diamonds.

Now, having said all that, I will admit that I don’t think this book will be a huge hit with my students. It doesn’t read like a “kid’s book.” Yes, it’s heartwarming, sweet, and all that other mushy stuff, but, in my opinion, it comes across as a short book for adults. The story is told from the adults’ perspectives. It’s not Jacob’s story. I doubt most young readers will be able to relate to the struggles of a couple tasked with caring for a young boy. Maybe I’m wrong, but this may be one book I market to the parents of my students rather than the students themselves.

So, while I enjoyed this book and think some of my students will pick it up solely because of its length, I sincerely doubt that most 2nd-5th grade readers will be able to pick up on the subtle–and even the more obvious–messages in this book. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you disagree.

If you’d like to learn more about The Boy on the Porch and other books by Sharon Creech, click here.

Published in: on April 14, 2015 at 1:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Almost Super

A couple of months ago, the South Carolina Association of School Librarians released the nominee lists for next year’s state Book Award program. When I first glanced at the lists, I was surprised by how few of the nominees I’d already read. Since I’m an elementary school librarian, I focus most of my attention on the Picture and Children’s lists, and, until recently, I’d only read two of the nominated titles on those lists. (One of those, Zane and the Hurricane, I’ve already posted on.) Today, though, I was able to check off one more nominee on the Children’s Book Award list, Almost Super by Marion Jensen.

Almost Super is sure to be a big hit with elementary and middle grade readers who enjoy movies like The Incredibles and Despicable Me. This book introduces readers to a family of superheroes…but what will they do when they realize that the supervillains they’ve been battling for years are just like them?

“At 4:23 in the afternoon, on February 29, any Bailey age twelve or over gets a superpower.”

This year, brothers Rafter and Benny Bailey will finally get the superpowers they’ve been waiting for. Will they be able to fly? Have super strength or speed? Shoot fire or water out of their hands? What powers will they get to aid in their family’s fight against the Johnsons, the evil family of supervillains?

When the clock strikes 4:23, Rafter and Benny finally get their long-awaited powers…and they’re total duds. No, they couldn’t get useful powers like flight, strength, speed, or even super-smarts. Nothing useful like that. No, Rafter now has the astounding ability to light matches on polyester, and Benny can turn his belly button from an innie to an outie. It doesn’t look like these two boys will be much help when it comes to fighting crime.

Rafter is shocked by how worthless his new power is. Why did he and Benny get such dumb powers? How can they possibly help the family fight evil with powers like these? Rafter becomes determined to find out just what is going on, and his quest leads him right to one person–Juanita Johnson. (Yes, of the evil supervillain Johnsons.) Did she get a worthless power, too? Or did this embarrassment somehow skip the Johnsons?

As Rafter and Benny learn more from Juanita, they begin to realize that maybe the two families–who’ve been fighting for decades–aren’t all that different. Maybe they both see themselves as superheroes. And maybe there’s an even bigger problem that they need to work together to solve.

Join Rafter, Benny, and Juanita in Almost Super as they uncover a plot to manipulate both of their families and learn that one doesn’t need superpowers to do something truly heroic. Sometimes, being almost super is enough.

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I found Almost Super to be a quirky, witty, thoroughly entertaining read, and I look forward to sharing it with my students. I think this will be a huge hit with those who love comic books and all things superhero. A fun writing exercise to go along with this book may be to have students come up with their own “dud” superpowers and figure out a way for those to be used to fight crime. I’ll have to think a little more about that.

Almost Super does end with a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m thrilled that the next book, Searching for Super, is already out. I’ll definitely add that one to my next library order!

Within the next week or so, I’ll try to create a book trailer to go along with Almost Super. (I do this with most of the SC Picture and Children’s Book Award nominees. Those I can’t find videos for, anyway.) Check my library YouTube channel periodically to see when it’s posted. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Almost Super as much as I did.

Published in: on April 12, 2015 at 7:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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All the Rage

For the past week or so, I’ve been reading All the Rage by Courtney Summers, and I was finally able to finish it last night. (Thank you, NetGalley.) This book, which will be released on Tuesday, is not a light, easy read. It deals with some very serious, sensitive issues, and it doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Sometimes, I simply had to put the book aside and read something a bit less intense and disturbing. And if this book–which addresses things like date rape, victim-blaming, bullying, etc.–doesn’t disturb you on some level, then you’re not paying attention.

Romy Grey is the town pariah–and it’s not just because she’s the daughter of the town drunk. She receives dirty looks from nearly everyone, people talk about her behind her back (and to her face), she’s bullied incessantly, and she can’t rely on anyone to truly have her back. Why? Well, not so long ago, Romy was raped…by the sheriff’s son, a golden boy who everyone believed could do no wrong.

After Romy came forward with what happened, it became crystal clear that no one would ever take her seriously. People blamed her for trying to ruin a “good kid’s” reputation and figured she was just a slut from the wrong side of town looking for some attention.

But Romy knows the truth. She still bears the scars of that horrible night. She fears nearly every guy who crosses her path, and she can’t trust that this won’t happen again. She’s dead inside, and she doesn’t think she has anyone to lean on. Romy certainly can’t depend on her former friends–friends who abandoned her when everything went pear-shaped. No, they’re too busy making her life miserable…and they’re not the only ones. Some of the adults she should be able to trust fail Romy at every turn.

Romy’s only respite is her job at a diner in a neighboring town. No one knows her or her story there. She can blend in and try to have something (or someone) good in her life. But all of that ends when Romy’s former best friend, Penny, comes in the diner one night and hints that the guy who violated Romy may have done the same to another girl.

Romy doesn’t want to hear what Penny has to say, but this news–and Penny’s appearance at the diner–sends Romy’s entire world into a tailspin. She seems to go looking for trouble…and she definitely finds it.

As Romy’s life spirals out of control, she realizes that she has once again been victimized by those around her. And that’s not all. Now, Penny is missing, and, for some reason, people are blaming Romy for Penny not being found. Why? Why are people so eager to point the finger at Romy? What connection does she have to Penny’s disappearance?

Facing the comments and looks at school make Romy feel dirty and sick, and that only gets worse when she comes to understand just what happened to her–and Penny–on the night that Penny went missing. Romy wonders if maybe she should be the one in Penny’s place. Everyone else seems to think so.

Romy is struggling with everything that is happening. She doesn’t feel like she can talk to anyone, and all of this pressure is going to make her self-destruct. And if Romy knows anything, it’s this–there’s more than one way to kill a girl.

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I don’t know how appropriate the title of this book is for the characters, but All the Rage definitely fits my feelings about the book. I raged at everyone who made Romy’s life miserable. I raged at a corrupt system that blamed the victim and made her feel totally worthless. I raged at those who bullied this girl so incessantly that she couldn’t feel safe anywhere. And, yes, I even raged at Romy for not speaking up, for seemingly trying to ruin the only good things in her life, and for taking what everyone else dished out. I wanted her to fight to be heard, and I wanted the people around her to stand by her, believe her, and fight for this tortured girl.

All the Rage is a gritty, realistic look at something that happens all too often. When young women are sexually assaulted, people wonder what they were wearing, how much they were drinking, or if they were “asking for it.” Why aren’t we putting the blame where it belongs? On the rapist. If someone–anyone–in power had believed Romy, the entire chain of events that followed could have been avoided…and two girls could have been spared horrible fates.

If I had to say one negative thing about this book as a whole, it would be that the timeline of events could be difficult to follow. I often found myself going back and rereading passages because it wasn’t entirely clear if something happened “now” or “then.” A little confusing there.

All the Rage is definitely a book for mature readers. (I would not put this book in the hands of a middle school student.) It’s raw, dark, and frank. It is not a book to pick up when you’re looking for something light and fluffy. This is a book that will make you think, make you reexamine your own attitudes about very important issues, and, most importantly, a book that will make you rage. Be prepared for that.

You can buy All the Rage on April 14th. If you want to learn more about the book in the meantime, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with the author via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Published in: on April 10, 2015 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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All Fall Down

Late last night, I finished reading Ally Carter’s latest novel, All Fall Down, the first book in her new Embassy Row series. Having read her Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, I figured that I would immediately fall in love with Carter’s newest work. Well, I can’t exactly call it love at first read, but I do think this series is promising. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Three years ago, Grace Blakely witnessed the death of her mother. She tried to convince everyone that it was no accident, but no one would listen to her. They all thought she was crazy, and she spent the next few years moving from therapist to therapist, hospital to hospital, drug to drug. She still believes that her mother was murdered, but Grace has learned to keep her thoughts to herself.

Now, with her military father deployed, Grace is returning to the land where her mother grew up. She’s living with her grandfather now, but her grandfather isn’t some kindly old guy who’s retired and spends his days fishing or gardening. No, he’s the U.S. Ambassador to the country of Adria, and Grace is now living in her mom’s old room at the Embassy. No pressure to act normal here.

As Grace tries to adapt to her surroundings–which are familiar but different at the same time–she also encounters some new–and old–friends who are looking out for her and trying to make her feel welcome. There’s Noah, son of two ambassadors, who appoints himself as Grace’s best friend. There’s Rosie, a young girl from the German Embassy, who has the impressive ability of blending into the shadows (and getting loads of information). There’s Megan, a former playmate of Grace’s, who has depths that surprise everyone. And then there’s Alexei, son of the Russian Ambassador, best friend of Grace’s brother, and her self-appointed protector. Even with all of these people, though, Grace feels totally alone.

Grace is haunted by her past, and her worlds collide when she sees someone in Adria who everyone says is a figment of her imagination. The Scarred Man who killed her mother. None of the adults around her believe Grace’s tales of the Scarred Man, so she seeks the help of her fellow Embassy kids. Together, they search high and low (sometimes very, very low) for information about the Scarred Man, proof of his past crimes, and clues pointing to his next target.

While Grace is seeking the truth about her mother’s death, everything around her seems to be spinning out of control. She doesn’t really know who she can trust, who will believe her…or who will ultimately betray her. And in a world where one misstep can have international ramifications, Grace may just find herself in the middle of something she never could have foreseen. Something that may change everything.

Is Grace prepared for what she will discover about her mom and herself? Or will the truth ultimately tear her apart? Begin to unravel the mystery when you read All Fall Down by Ally Carter.

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Like I said at the beginning of this post, I think the Embassy Row series shows great promise, but I did have a couple of issues with this book. The biggest problem for me was that some of the action sequences and changes were rather abrupt. I found myself going back and rereading several passages because I was sure I had to have missed something. (I even looked to see if pages were missing from my copy of the book. No dice.) Some things just happened way too suddenly, and there was very little explanation about why things unfolded the way they did. (This was especially true at the end of the book.) I’m hopeful that this will be ironed out in the next book.

I also didn’t quite get the relationship between Grace and Alexei. For most of the book, Alexei was a big brother figure with questionable motives. By the end of the book, we’re supposed to believe there’s the possibility of a budding romance between Grace and Alexei…but then he disappears without a word (which was, again, rather abrupt and unexpected). I guess I just didn’t see these two as a potential couple. It didn’t make sense in this book, but I have a feeling we’ll see Alexei again in future books, and maybe that relationship will feel a bit more natural.

Speaking of the next book in this series, it should be released sometime in 2016. There’s currently no title listed on Goodreads, but I’m sure that will be remedied soon. There is, however, a bonus scene available, Before the Fall: Arrival, that is already out, and you can read it for free. Given the title, I’m guessing this 15-page short story highlights Grace’s arrival in Adria. I’ll take a look at it soon.

In conclusion (because it’s almost time for bed), I would like to say that, even with its faults, I did like All Fall Down, and I will likely continue with the rest of the series. I’d recommend this book to both middle grade and young adult readers who like a bit of political intrigue in their books. I look forward to seeing where Grace’s story leads and how this girl navigates the tough waters of international politics while trying to have a somewhat normal life. Should be interesting.

For more information about All Fall Down, the future of the Embassy Row series, and the author’s other books, check out Ally Carter’s website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

The Wicked Will Rise

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige, turn back now. This post focuses on the second full-length novel in the series, The Wicked Will Rise, and I’d hate to ruin this journey for you. That doesn’t mean I won’t, though.

If you’ve been following this blog for the past couple of weeks, you’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve become a tad obsessed with Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series. It all started, of course, with the first novel, but I quickly became enamored with the three prequel novellas that I read. (For reference, those are No Place Like Oz, The Witch Must Burn, and The Wizard Returns.) In short, I love this series and the fact that it turns everything I thought I knew about Oz on its ear.

I had a feeling that I would also adore the second novel, The Wicked Will Rise, and–aside from one minor thing that may just be my issue–I was right. This book, which was released a couple of days ago, kept me entranced from the very beginning, and I was reluctant to see it end…mainly because I now have to wait a really long time to find out what happens next.

If you’re new to this series–and you ignored my warning above–I’ll try to quickly fill you in on where things stand as The Wicked Will Rise begins. Here goes…

In Dorothy Must Die, Amy Gumm was transported to Oz from Kansas in a cyclone. This, however, is not the Oz she remembers from books and movies. It’s dark, dangerous, and terrifying. Why? Well, because Dorothy returned some years ago, took over, and proceeded to become the most heinous you-know-what in the history of the world. The Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Woodman are working for her, and Glinda is also doing her part to drain the magic from Oz and keep Dorothy in power (supposedly). Amy, who is new to Oz and walks into all this trouble, teams up with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked (a bunch of witches who actually blur the lines between good and wicked) and trains for the most important mission in Oz. She must kill Dorothy. Well, things don’t exactly go as planned, and that’s where we pick up our story in The Wicked Will Rise. (As you can imagine, I just left out a crap-load of details. Do yourself a favor. Read the book.)

Amy Gumm has failed. She had the chance to kill the evil Dorothy, and she totally blew it. Now, she’s on the run with Ozma (the true leader of Oz) and a couple of flying monkeys. She doesn’t know where the rest of the Order is, where Dorothy ran off to, or what has become of the Emerald City.

She does, however, know that she must regroup and continue with her tasks. She’s already eliminated the threat of the Tin Woodman. Now, she must neutralize the Lion and the Scarecrow before she has any hope of killing her true enemy, Dorothy. To do this, Amy taps into the magic that is coming much more naturally to her now. She becomes so in tune with the dark magic around her, though, that she hardly recognizes who she is becoming. And neither do those around her. Amy is now feared…and she kind of likes it. Is she becoming a Wicked Witch…or something far worse?

As Amy works to reunite with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, she encounters a couple of beings that may help her on her way. First is Lulu, Queen of the Wingless Monkeys. This feisty ruler wants little to do with the war that is overtaking Oz, and she lets Amy know that…but she does give Amy a bit of direction on where she should head next. Amy also seeks the aid of Polychrome, the Rainbow Fairy. Polly also wants to stay above the fray, but, as with Lulu, she isn’t given choice in the matter. Oz is being destroyed, Ozma is almost literally being torn in two, and Amy will need every ally she can gather to fight her formidable foes.

With all of this going on–and all that is ahead of her–Amy still tries to hold on to the girl she once was. She doesn’t want to lose herself to the darkness swirling inside and all around her, but she may need every bit of that darkness to fight against Dorothy, Glinda, and those who seek to betray her. And when Amy realizes that the war in Oz may put her home in Kansas in serious peril, Amy knows she’ll have to harness all the power she can to prevent the destruction of everything she’s ever known.

Is Amy willing to make the hard choices to save both Oz and the home she left behind? Is she prepared for who she’ll have to become to defeat Dorothy and her cronies once and for all? Will she ever truly know who can be trusted and who is orchestrating the chaos around her?

Nothing is clear for Amy and her allies, but one thing is certain. If Oz is to have any hope of survival, the Wicked must rise!

_______________

So…I really, really liked this book. It was action-packed from start to finish, and Amy’s journey was fascinating to see. I’m not just talking about her physical journey here, either. Despite her assertions that she’s still the same girl from Kansas, Oz has changed her. She’s more confident and–dare I say it–bad-ass in this book than she was in Dorothy Must Die. I kind of like it that she’s in touch with her dark side. (I imagine, though, that will come back to bite her in the posterior later on.) She’s definitely a strong female character who “don’t need no man” to fight her battles, but she’s smart enough to seek help when she really needs it. Given how the book ended (which I refuse to divulge), I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the future.

Now, for my one teeny issue with this book. Queen Lulu. I have no problem with talking wingless monkeys. More power to them. I’m sure they’re lovely. My problem with Lulu is the way she speaks. No, I’m not talking about the fact that she actually, you know, speaks. I’m talking about the words and phrases she uses. One that really stood out was when she said that something wasn’t “kosher.” How does a wingless monkey from Oz even know what that word means? It just seemed totally unrealistic to the setting, and that’s just one example. Maybe language from the Other Place has seeped into Oz over the years, but, if that’s the case, it needs to be made clear. I’m sure other characters made similar comments that seemed out of place in Oz, but Lulu’s seemed more pronounced to me. Probably because she’s a monkey…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

All in all, I feel that The Wicked Will Rise is a great book that will appeal to all sorts of readers, but it may not be for everyone. There’s quite a bit of “saucy” language, violence, and a girl learning to harness dark magic, so if you’re looking for a nice little retelling of The Wizard of Oz to share with kids, you may want to look elsewhere. If, however, you’re looking for a book that turns what you think you know upside down, explores the line between good and wicked, and features a kick-butt female protagonist, this entire series may be right up your alley…or your Yellow Brick Road, as it were.

I cannot wait for the next book in the series. Sadly, it seems we have quite the wait ahead of us. Even though there is another prequel novella, Heart of Tin, that will be released on July 28th, according to Goodreads (which I know may not be the most reliable source, but it’s all I could find), we’ll have to wait until sometime in 2017 for the third full-length Dorothy Must Die novel. *Cue epic Dorothy-inspired temper tantrum here.*

In the meantime, if you want more information about this wicked awesome series (Ha!), visit author Danielle Paige on Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook. You may also want to check out Epic Reads’ book trailer (below) for The Wicked Will Rise. If I hadn’t already read the book, this short video would likely convince me to pick it up. Enjoy!

Published in: on April 2, 2015 at 11:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pluto: A Wonder Story

If you work with kids at all–or are a kid yourself–and you haven’t already read both Wonder and The Julian Chapter by R.J. Palacio, do yourself a favor and remedy that immediately. (Also, there may be a few spoilers ahead, and you really need to at least read Wonder before reading the rest of this post.)

Wonder introduces readers to the remarkable Auggie Pullman, “an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face,” as he faces the ups and downs of middle school. The Julian Chapter, an ebook novella that came out a while back, gives readers a look at this story from a bully’s perspective. Julian, one of Auggie’s harshest critics, provides us with a look at what may drive someone to be a bully…and what may ultimately redeem him.

Now, we have another story to add to what I like to think of as the Auggie Chronicles. In Pluto, we meet Christopher, Auggie’s oldest friend. Christopher has been friends with Auggie from the very beginning, before he even realized that Auggie didn’t quite look like other kids. An on this particularly bad day, Christopher reflects on his friendship with Auggie and what it means to really be there for someone…

It started off like any other day. Christopher didn’t want to get out of bed and go to school, but his mom insisted. But something was a little different today. Christopher’s mom had bad news. His friends’s dog, Daisy, passed away last night. This news hits Chris pretty hard, and it makes him think about all the fun he and his friend, Auggie Pullman, had with Daisy…and with each other.

As the day goes on–and gets worse for Chris–he continues to think about Auggie, his own issues, and just how hard it is to be a friend sometimes. He remembers both the good times (watching Star Wars, planning expeditions to Pluto, throwing Nerf darts at Auggie’s sister, Via) and the not-so-good times (visiting Auggie in the hospital, other friends not wanting to play with Auggie). It’s not always easy being Auggie’s friend, and, since Chris’s family moved away, it hasn’t helped matters. The two friends have sort of drifted apart.

Today, though, a series of events may just bring the two boys back together. With everything that’s happened today–starting with the news of Daisy’s death and ending with a car accident, a band breakup, and really confusing math problems–Chris might just need Auggie more than he ever realized.

Though distance, time, and experiences may separate some friends for a while, true friends will find their way back to each other. Join Chris as he realizes just how important his friendship with Auggie is (even if it can be tough sometimes) and how that friendship can make his current troubles a little easier to handle.

_______________

I know Pluto is going to be a big hit with my students. My 3rd-5th graders are fairly obsessed with all things Wonder, and I’m sure this story will be no different. My hope is that they’ll learn a lesson with this story, as with Wonder and The Julian Chapter.

In Pluto, I think the big lesson is that real friendships take hard work, but it’s worth it. True friends will always be there for you, no matter what. That was a lesson that Chris needed to learn, and I think his circumstances in this story drove things home for him.

There was quite a bit going on in this short story that I didn’t begin to touch on, and that was intentional. You need to read this story for yourself and see how the little tidbits fit with Wonder and what we know of Auggie, both before and after his time at Beecher Prep. It’s interesting to compare the friendship between Chris and Auggie with those Auggie later made at school.

On May 12th, we’ll get the chance to read a story from one of Auggie’s new friends. Shingaling will show us a bit of Auggie’s first year and take us into his second year at Beecher Prep, and we’ll see this story through the eyes of Charlotte. (You may recall that she was one of Auggie’s “welcome buddies.”) I look forward to reading this story and seeing just how it adds to the “wonder of Wonder.”

For more information on Pluto and all things Wonder, I urge you to check out author R.J. Palacio’s website.

Happy reading!

Published in: on March 30, 2015 at 6:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Wizard Returns

Warning! Read Dorothy Must Die, No Place Like Oz, and The Witch Must Burn before continuing with this post. The Wizard Returns is the third prequel novella in the Dorothy Must Die series, and I’d hate to ruin this magical journey for you!

So, it’s the first day of my Spring Break, and I kicked things off by finishing The Wizard Returns this morning. (I would have posted on the novella sooner, but I decided to take two naps today. Priorities, people.) This prequel is the perfect lead-in to the second full-length novel, The Wicked Will Rise, which comes out on Tuesday.

In No Place Like Oz, we learn how Dorothy made her way back to Oz and rose to power. In The Witch Must Burn, we see the new power struggle through the eyes of Jellia Jamb, and we learn more about Glinda’s thirst for control. Now, in The Wizard Returns, we’re (obviously) off to see the Wizard.

Everyone thought the Wizard headed back to Kansas when his hot air balloon left the Emerald City. Everyone was wrong.

It is only as his balloon was leaving Oz behind that the Wizard realizes he doesn’t really want to leave. Well, it seems there are powers at work that also want him to remain in Oz, and, mysteriously, the Wizard never quite makes it back to the Other Place. Instead, he crash lands in a field of poppies…

Fast forward twenty-five years, and the Wizard wakes up…with no memory of who he is, what he’s done, or how much time has passed. He’s met by a curious figure named Pete. This boy gives the Wizard (who doesn’t know he’s a wizard) the name of Hex and takes steps to ensure that no one will recognize him. Why? Has Hex done things so horrible that being recognized would put him in danger? (In a word–yes.)

Pete informs Hex that he’ll have to pass three tests–tests of Wisdom, Courage, and Love–to have his memories restored, but Hex isn’t sure if all this trouble is really worth it. If he was such a horrible guy, does he really want to remember everything? Maybe it’s better to have a fresh start.

Unfortunately, those who were victimized by Hex’s actions don’t have the luxury of forgetting, so Pete guides Hex through the tests that will determine his fate. Hex must prove that he is willing to put the good of Oz over his own interests, but that proves easier said that done.

Something in Hex wants the power he knows he once had. He hungers for the magic that flows through Oz. Have these trials revealed and repaired the weaknesses in the Wizard’s character, or have they made him more convinced of his own superiority than ever before?

Will the Wizard do his part to restore Oz to its pre-Dorothy glory, or will he be this magical land’s ultimate doom?

_______________

In Dorothy Must Die and the previous novellas, I was unsure about the Wizard’s motives in everything that was going on. After reading The Wizard Returns, I’m even more unsure. Sometimes, he really seemed sincere, repentant, and more concerned with others’ well-being than with his own. At other times, he was clearly looking out for his own interests. I just don’t know where that leaves us going into The Wicked Will Rise. Hopefully, things will become clear as I read that book.

One thing I will say about the Wizard is that his behavior toward the monkeys was thoroughly despicable. *Spoilers* When I learned how he essentially sold them into slavery to the Wicked Witch of the West, I was horrified. He seemed to feel the same way when he got snippets of his memory back, but I don’t know if that was enough to change his behavior. He still seemed to have a bit of a superiority complex, and I predict that will get him into trouble.

So, what’s going to happen to the Wizard when things come to a head with Dorothy, Amy, and the Witches of Oz? I don’t know, but I look forward to seeing how this intense power struggle plays out. Only a few more days until this wonderful series gives us some answers!

If you’d like more information about The Wizard Returns and the other Dorothy Must Die stories, visit author Danielle Paige on Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook. Enjoy!

Published in: on March 28, 2015 at 9:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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