Carry On

If you’ve read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, you’ve already been introduced to the characters of Simon Snow and Baz Grimm-Pitch. These two characters are the subjects of Cath’s fanfiction in Fangirl. In Carry On, Rowell graciously gives readers the story Cath was working on. Now, it’s not totally necessary for you to read Fangirl to follow what’s happening in Carry On, but I do think it helps.

*I hope the paragraph above makes sense. It does if you’ve read Fangirl. It may not if you haven’t. Of course, it’s pretty easy to remedy that situation.*

Simon Snow is, by all accounts, the Chosen One. It doesn’t seem to matter that his magic is unreliable at best and totally explosive at worst. The leader of all mages–called the Mage, obviously–is sure that Simon will save the World of Mages. Simon isn’t all that convinced. (Neither is his roommate, Baz.)

Simon is starting his final year at the Watford School for Magicks, and he’s fairly certain that he’ll have to battle the Insidious Humdrum, the strange figure who’s creating holes in the magical world, at some point this year. (Simon has no clue how he’s supposed to win against this guy.) He’s also worried that he and Baz are probably going to end up killing each other. That is, if Baz ever shows up.

When the new school term begins, Baz is nowhere to be found, and Simon becomes obsessed with figuring out what’s happened. There’s simply no way Baz would voluntarily miss his final year at Watford…or any chance to torture Simon. Does his disappearance have something to do with the Humdrum or the increasing negative feelings about the Mage? Could it be related to Baz being a vampire (which he has never actually admitted to Simon)? Or could something more be going on? Whatever’s happening, Simon needs to know where Baz is…and what he’s up to.

Soon, though, Simon has one less thing to worry about. Baz returns to Watford. Why was he gone? Well, that’s sort of complicated.

“Complicated” is the perfect word to describe nearly everything about Baz’s life. He’s a vampire, he’s returning from being kidnapped, he’s trying to find out who killed his mom, his infuriating roommate has more magic than anyone in the world (but doesn’t really know what to do with it), his family is working against the Mage, and…oh, yeah…he’s in love with Simon. How could he possibly fall for someone he doesn’t like most of the time and may have to destroy in the near future? Well, the heart wants what the heart wants…

Eventually, Simon and Baz realize that they’ll have to form a truce and join forces to discover what’s really going on in the World of Mages…with the Mage, the Humdrum, all of it. Can these two work together without killing each other? Will Baz reveal his feelings for Simon? How does Simon truly feel about Baz? Is there hope for the future when the World of Mages is in so much turmoil?

Only one thing is certain: It’s going to be a very interesting year at Watford.

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I love this book so hard. (This is true for every Rainbow Rowell book I’ve read.) The dialogue is compelling, the mysteries are intriguing, and the characters are wonderfully complex. And I haven’t even mentioned the delightful love story…

Those who’ve read Fangirl (or any of this post) likely already know that Carry On features a developing relationship between Simon and Baz. This is commonly known as slash fic, and is very popular in fanfiction writing. If you ever wanted Harry Potter to end up with Draco Malfoy instead of Ginny Weasley, definitely give Carry On a try. It’s a very sweet love story, but there’s enough danger, magic, drama, and even humor to satisfy all readers (even those who don’t particularly like slash fiction).

As I wrap this post up, I realize that I haven’t begun to express just how wonderful Carry On really is. I don’t know if I can. Read it for yourself. Hopefully, you’ll love it as much as I do.

If you’d like more information on Carry On and other books by the absolutely fabulous Rainbow Rowell, check out the author’s website or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram. You may also want to check out the video below. It features Rainbow Rowell herself talking about Carry On at Book Expo America.

 

Isla and the Happily Ever After

For the past couple of years, I’ve been impatiently waiting to read Stephanie Perkins’ latest, Isla and the Happily Ever After. Finally–FINALLY–I got my chance this week. My signed copy of the book (along with some lovely swag) arrived last weekend, and I read it during my limited spare time this week. (School resumed for teachers in my district this week, so “limited” is the perfect way to describe my time of late.)

Just like Perkins’ previous books, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, Isla and the Happily Ever After was outstanding. I loved the characters, how they interacted with each other, how they grew throughout the story, and how they connected with characters in the preceding books. I cannot say enough good things about this book. It was so worth the wait, and part of me wants to find Stephanie Perkins and give her a hug for creating such memorable and lovable characters. (A bigger part of me, though, shies away from human contact, so Ms. Perkins has no worries about random embraces from strangers. At least none from me.)

Isla Martin has been in love with Josh Wasserstein since the start of their freshman year at the School of America in Paris. Fast forward to senior year, and it seems that Isla may finally have a chance at being with the guy who’s always seemed out of her reach.

After a rather odd encounter in Manhattan over the summer, the two finally reunite at school, but Isla can’t get over her nervousness around Josh, and it looks like Josh is trying to keep his distance. Trying…but not succeeding. Isla and Josh are growing closer, and when Isla clears up a misunderstanding that was keeping Josh away, they’re finally able to start the relationship that both of them so desperately want.

Isla and Josh become nearly inseparable, and they want to spend every spare minute together. Sometimes it’s as simple as being in the same room–Josh sketching or working on his graphic novel, Isla studying or reading–but being together is what’s important. They explore their favorite spots in Paris. They learn all the important little things about each other. And during one memorable, romantic weekend, Isla and Josh break all the rules and journey to Barcelona to take in a few sites. It’s this weekend, though, that ultimately tests how strong their love really is.

When Isla and Josh return to Paris, they realize that their impulsive actions have devastating consequences. Josh is taken away from school and Isla, and this heart-breaking separation takes its toll on the couple’s burgeoning relationship.

The more time they spend apart, the more Isla begins to doubt if Josh’s feelings for her are real. She knows she loves him, but what does he really see in her? Why would he want to be with someone who doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life? Is she just a placeholder for his ex-girlfriend and all of his friends that have moved on? Isla just doesn’t know, and her doubts soon lead to an epic confrontation that may destroy any hope of a future with Josh.

Can Isla wade through her doubts and finally learn to trust in Josh’s love? Does Josh even want to be with her after everything they’ve been through and said to each other? Is there any hope of a happily ever after for Isla and Josh? Only one way to find out…

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I love this book so hard. I have zero complaints, and people who know me realize how rare that is. I think every girl (or guy) who reads this will absolutely fall in love with Josh. Many readers will likely identify with Isla and her deep-seated–and often unfounded–insecurities. Everyone will root for Isla and Josh to make it. Adult readers will probably want to go back and relive their teen years in the hopes of finding–or reliving–a love like the one we see between Isla and Josh.

After reading Anna, Lola, and Isla, I have to say that I will read anything that Stephanie Perkins cares to write. (I already follow her blog and Twitter, so I think I’m good to go there.) This lady is a master of YA romance, and I recommend her to every teen and adult reader who likes a good love story. I am eagerly anticipating her next book, and I can’t wait to see what she contributes to the upcoming anthology, My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories.

If you’d like to learn more about the fabulous Stephanie Perkins and her equally fabulous books, check out her website, Twitter, or Tumblr.

*Note: As much as I adore Isla and the Happily Ever After, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a small warning to librarians, teachers, and parents. This is a book for teen and adult readers. Isla and Josh are characters in a serious relationship, and their relationship follows a fairly natural progression. There are a couple of sexual situations, but they are not terribly gratuitous. Even so, I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending this book to middle grade readers.*

United We Spy

Spoilers! Don’t read this if you haven’t kept up with Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series. I just finished the sixth and final book in the series, and I’ll be talking about this book and the series as a whole in just a bit. Check out my posts on the first five books in the series below.

Now…onward to United We Spy!

For those still with me, I guess you’ve figured out that I finally finished reading United We Spy, the last book in Ally Carter’s thrilling Gallagher Girls series.  This final installment was, perhaps, the most action-packed of the entire series, and the fascinating characters I’ve come to know are putting everything they ever learned at the Gallagher Academy to the test. Their ultimate mission? Save the world. No biggie, right?

Cammie Morgan is starting her last semester at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. She should be worrying about senior pictures, college admissions, and final exams…but those things don’t matter all that much when the fate of the entire world could be in your hands. Cammie and her friends are facing a plot to engage the world in an epic war…and it’s up to them to stop it.

Cammie, Bex, Liz, Macey, and Zach may have been training for years to be spies, but their training may not have prepared them for everything that’s about to unfold. They’ll have to brave the harshest of elements, breaking into a super-maximum security prison, and heavily-armed enemies to prevent all-out war. And when it’s revealed that the enemy’s plans were hatched from the mind of a Gallagher Girl–someone very close to Cammie–things become even more intense.

These Gallagher Girls (and Guy) can’t trust or depend on anyone but themselves right now…but will their own efforts be enough to save the world? Can they put everything they’ve learned at the Gallagher Academy to use before the enemy, the dreaded Circle of Cavan, succeeds in its mission to start World War Three? What secrets will be revealed in the process, and will everyone make it out of this battle alive?

Things are coming to a head at the Gallagher Academy, and everything is about to change. Will Cammie and company succeed in preventing war, and if they do…what then? What does the future hold for Cammie and her friends? One thing is certain–Cammie has to get out of this fight alive (and relatively well) before she can even think about her future…whatever it may be.

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United We Spy is an action-packed read that kept me hooked from the first page. It built on everything from the previous books, and it showed just how much a group of strong young women is capable of accomplishing. (No, I’m not discounting the contributions of the guys in the series. I’m just saying that the series as a whole focuses on the ladies, their abilities, and their tremendous strength in adverse situations.) I hope this series will inspire more young women to be confident in their own abilities–whether it’s being a spy, a musician, a public speaker, a writer, whatever.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way things played out in this book, and I thought the conclusion–oddly reminiscent of the final battle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–was particularly fitting. I hate to say goodbye to the characters I’ve come to know and love in these six books, but I take comfort in the fact that I can revisit them anytime I want.

If you’d like more information on this series and other books by Ally Carter, go to http://allycarter.com/. You may also enjoy the United We Spy book trailer below. It doesn’t give much of anything away, but it does provide just a glimpse into what it means to be a Gallagher Girl.

I hope you enjoy the Gallagher Girls series as much as I have. It’s been wild!

The Madness Underneath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for Alaska

Over the past year or so, I have experienced a great deal of grief because of my emotional attachment to fictional characters. Most of the blame for my grief can be laid at the feet of two men. The first (and worst) offender is one Steven Moffat. (I’m sure my fellow Whovians and Sherlockians can sympathize.) The second man to bring on copious feels is author John Green. I read The Fault in Our Stars in July of last year, and I was an emotional wreck for days because of that book. Well, earlier today, I finished reading Green’s Looking for Alaska. This Printz medal winner was released way back in 2005, but, for whatever reason, I didn’t get around to reading it until this week. The simple fact that Looking for Alaska is a John Green book should have let me know that I would need tissues by my side while reading, but I was woefully unprepared for how overwrought I would become because of this book. I read the latter part of the book without wearing my glasses because the tear residue was too much to see through. Yes, it’s that good.

When Miles Halter–or Pudge, as he would come to be called–began attending Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama, he didn’t really know what to expect, but he was hoping that his life would become something more than what he left back in Florida. Almost immediately, he gets more than he bargained for thanks to a couple of new friends that will change his life forever. The first is his roommate, the Colonel, who is some kind of math genius with a fondness for video games, cigarettes, and booze. The other friend is a girl named Alaska. This girl is quite probably the most beautiful creature Pudge has ever seen…and the most volatile. Despite the roller coaster that comes with knowing Alaska, Pudge is drawn to her and the excitement and mystery that seem to be a part of Alaska’s very being.

The first part of Pudge’s year at Culver Creek is one filled with friends, pranks, laughs, and his first experiences with smoking, drinking, sex, and breaking school rules. The second part of his year takes a turn, however, when something terrible happens that shakes the foundation of his entire world. (If the title didn’t clue you in, this horrible event revolves around Alaska.) As Pudge, the Colonel, and a couple of other friends look for answers, they all begin to question why things happen the way they do and if there’s anything that could have been done to stop tragedy from striking their lives. Will they find the answers they seek, or will they forever be looking for Alaska?

I’ll be the first to admit that the recap above…well, it kind of sucks, and it doesn’t come remotely close to conveying just how amazeballs this book is. It contains so much awesomeness that, quite frankly, it’s probably impossible for me to write a decent blog post about it. Looking for Alaska forces readers to examine some pretty deep existential questions. It alludes to great works of literature and gives us information on famous last words. It teaches us about relationships and how much they mean to us. And it shows us that some emotional damage may be too much to overcome…or it may just make us stronger for having gone through it. I cannot say enough good things about this book, and, despite the grief I’m experiencing right now, Looking for Alaska made me love John Green even more.

One word of caution.  Looking for Alaska is not a book that I would recommend to readers younger than about sixteen. It contains quite a bit of cursing, and the characters are not shy about enjoying smoking, drinking, sex, and subverting authority. (I’ve taught middle school, so I’m not naive enough to believe that younger readers don’t have experience with this stuff, but I do think librarians, bloggers, teachers, and others should be careful when recommending this book to readers who may not be mature enough to handle it.)

In closing, read Looking for Alaska if you haven’t already. It’s an exquisite book that will stay with me for a long while.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to my latest read, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  This book was on my to-read pile for quite a while, and I finally began reading it exactly two weeks ago.  Well, as it so often does, life got in the way (work, sickness, family stuff, bought a new phone, librarian conference, etc.), and I wasn’t able to finish the book until this morning.  Anyway, I’m so glad I finally picked up Daughter of Smoke and Bone (at the suggestion of several fellow bloggers and librarians).  It was well worth every spare minute I spent devouring the world of Karou and Akiva.  Yes, it took me longer to finish this book than is normal, but, in a way, that’s good.  I was able to fully digest the story, appreciate the depth of the characters, analyze the intricacies of the plot, and think about what might be happening in the future.  (I was nearly always wrong, so kudos to Laini Taylor for keeping me guessing.)

Karou is not exactly a normal girl. Her hair is naturally blue, she is an artist in Prague, she speaks many languages–both human and not-so-human–she runs mysterious errands for her “family,” and she was raised by someone–or something–named Brimstone. No one takes her seriously when she talks about Brimstone and the other “monsters” in her world, and that’s okay with Karou. In certain circumstances, the less people know or believe, the better. But even Karou doesn’t know everything about herself. Brimstone won’t tell her about her parents, why she collects teeth from nefarious types all over the world, how the portals to his shop work, or what the other door in the shop leads to. Karou’s life is full of secrets, but when black handprints begin appearing on the portal doors to Brimstone’s lair, those secrets begin to reveal themselves…

Karou isn’t sure what’s going on, but she knows that danger is all around her…and when she’s attacked by someone who can only be described as an angel, she’s convinced that her family is threatened.  Oh, how right she is.  But why?  What does this angel have against the beings that have loved and cared for her forever?  And why is she so drawn to someone seemingly determined to destroy her entire world?

Akiva was bred to be a warrior, to battle the vile chimaera that have plagued his kind for centuries.  But his war against the hideous creatures goes even deeper.  He’s determined to bring an end to this war by any means necessary…until he encounters Karou.  Who is this blue-haired girl with the power of the chimaera and the face of an angel?  At first, Akiva is unsure about Karou’s connection to the chimaera, but he soon discovers that her connection to them–and him–goes far deeper than either of them thought possible.

Karou and Akiva seem to be inextricably linked, and, as they grow ever closer, the past, the present, and the future conspire to drive them further apart.  How can their fragile relationship hope to survive in a brutal war that has been tearing worlds apart for centuries?  And when long-held secrets are finally revealed, will their connection be severed forever…or will it unite them against the forces that seek to kill any hope for peace?  Explore the possibilities when you read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

I shouldn’t even have to say this, but I will anyway (because it’s my blog, and I can do what I want to).  I adored this book.  It is unlike anything I’ve read in recent memory.  All at once, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a fantasy, a tale of forbidden love, and a story of an epic, otherworldly war that rivals the myths of ancient civilizations the world over.  Every setting in the book was richly described, so much so that I now feel that I’ve actually been to Prague or Marrakesh.  The characters were flawed yet perfect in their own way.  It was difficult differentiate between “angel” and “devil” because each character had good and evil within them…just like all of us out here in the real world.

If you haven’t picked up Daughter of Smoke and Bone yet, do yourself a favor, and check it out soon.  It’s an amazing story that will definitely keep you on your toes.  It took me on a journey that was both unexpected and amazing, and I hope you’ll feel the same.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first book in a trilogy.  Book two, Days of Blood and Starlight, is set to be released on November 6th of this year.  In the meantime, you can get more information on author Laini Taylor and Daughter of Smoke and Bone at http://www.lainitaylor.com/ and http://daughterofsmokeandbone.com/.  Enjoy!

Wildefire

I love mythology.  Always have, always will.  My latest read, Wildefire by Karsten Knight (no relation), relies heavily on mythology for its story, but it’s not your typical retelling of a mythological tale.  Unlike so many books that deal with well-known myths, Wildefire brings together deities from several different cultural belief systems.  The gods and goddesses in this story come from Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Zulu, Shinto, Polynesian, and even Native American myths.  That in itself is pretty cool to me.  It’s also cool how this unique story unfolds…

Ashline Wilde does not have an easy life as the only Polynesian girl in her school in New York, and things are about to get much worse. When Ash finds out that her boyfriend cheated on her, she lets the girl he cheated with know just how upset she is. Things go from bad to worse when Ashline’s estranged sister Eve enters the fray. What could have blown over in a few days escalates into a horrific, unexplainable incident that will send Ash across the country to escape the fallout.

Months later, Ash is a student at Blackwood Academy in California.  She’s the school’s star tennis player, she has good friends, she’s caught the eye of a really hot park ranger, and she’s finally beginning to leave the past behind her…or at least she thinks so.

It seems that Ash did not end up at Blackwood by accident.  She and several other students were called there by–what else?–a siren.  Ash and the others soon learn that they are not mere high school students.  They are reincarnations of gods and goddesses, and each of them has a purpose to fulfill.  But who (or what) has determined what that purpose should be?

Ash is not sure what is going on or if she even wants to be a part of it, but she is sure of one thing–her life will never be the same.  (Oh, how right she is.)  And when big sister Eve–who is also more than human–reappears to wreak havoc in Ash’s life, Ash must rely on all of her resources–both human and divine–to preserve the life she’s built for herself.  Can she win a fight with her powerful and determined sister?  What does Eve even want with Ash?  Can Ash solve the mystery clouding her future before the world as she knows it is set aflame?  Read Wildefire by Karsten Knight to discover how Ash deals with a war of mythological proportions.

If you’re looking for a book that is different from nearly everything out there, I encourage you to give Wildefire a try.  Even the chapter setup is unique.  Mysteries abound in this story, some of which remain unsolved at the end.  And the ending is so unexpected that I think readers will be clamoring to know where the story is headed.  Luckily, questions will be answered in two more books.  Book two, Embers and Echoes, will be released sometime this year, and book three, Afterglow, will be out in 2013.

Caution:  Wildefire contains some adult language and situations, so I would recommend it for readers age 14 and up.

If you’d like more information on Karsten Knight and the Wildefire series, visit http://www.karstenknight.com/.  You can also follow Karsten on Twitter @KarstenKnight.  Peace out.