See You in the Cosmos

It’s not very often that I read a book and think, “Man, I wish I’d listened to this as an audiobook.” But that’s just what happened with my latest read, See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng. The very nature of this book makes it a perfect story to listen to…providing you’ve got the right narrator(s). I haven’t experienced the audiobook, so I can’t speak to how well it’s done, but, like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, this is a book that you probably need to hear to truly appreciate.

See You in the Cosmos is essentially a transcript of eleven-year-old Alex Petroski’s life. He’s recording the world around him on his Golden iPod–a tribute to the Golden Record launched by his hero, Carl Sagan–and everything that pops into his head goes into this record. But who is Alex making this recording for? Aliens, of course. Alex wants to show them what life on Earth is/was like and to provide them with the sounds of his home.

Alex talks about Carl Sagan and his canine namesake, his mom and her quiet days, his absent brother, and the rocket he’s built to launch his Golden iPod into space. He talks about his solo trip to SHARF (the Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival) and the people he meets there. He also talks about what he’s discovered about his dad through Ancestry.com, and that’s what leads him on a journey that he never could have anticipated.

From his home in Colorado to New Mexico to Nevada to California and back again, Alex meets new people, makes friends, and finds a sense of family that will help him through some tough times ahead. And even when things get difficult, Alex keeps his sense of wonder about the world around him and his hope that things will work out. His attitude is contagious and may just help to change the lives and hearts of those around him.


Even without listening to this book, Alex’s voice shines through each page. He actually reminds me of one of my all-time favorite students. (Yes, all educators have favorites. Anyone who says different is lying.) My favorite student–or “My Boy,” as I like to call him–is inquisitive, funny, innocent, generous, very literal, and always wants to see the best in people…even when some of them don’t deserve it. That’s what I see in the character of Alex. He is all of those things I just mentioned, and he never holds a grudge against those who wrong him. It would have been all too easy, but, at least in my mind, Alex’s focus on the larger universe allows him to truly see the bigger picture.

So what age-range would I recommend See You in the Cosmos to? Well, I think some upper elementary readers may like it, but I think this book is ideally suited for a middle grade audience, particularly readers who appreciate science. It’s a fun, sometimes light-hearted, read, but it also deals with serious stuff like abandonment, mental health, family secrets, and holding onto true friends.

See You in the Cosmos isn’t like any book I’ve read in recent memory, and I’m betting anyone else who gives it a try will feel the same way. Read it, and let me know what you think. If you’ve read it as an audiobook, I’d also love to get your take on how that experience may differ from the print version.

For more information on this book and others by Jack Cheng, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

After the End

After the End by Amy Plum has been on my TBR list for a while. I loved Plum’s Die for Me series, so I was confident I would like this book, the first in a duology. As it turns out, I did like After the End, but I also found it kind of frustrating…especially since I didn’t realize until after I’d finished it that it was only book one. (Luckily, the paperback version of book two comes out today. Hooray!)

Juneau, a seventeen-year-old girl living with her clan in the Alaskan wilderness, has grown up knowing that she is one of the few survivors of the fallout of World War III. She and her clan commune with nature and avoid anything and everything outside of their boundaries. Juneau is set to become the clan’s new sage, she feels connected to Yara, or the force that holds all of nature together, and she is confident of her place in the clan.

Everything changes, however, when all Juneau has ever known disappears in an instant. She knows something is amiss when, while on a hunting trip, she hears helicopters in the distance. Juneau rushes back to her clan only to learn that no one is there. Everyone, including her father, has been kidnapped, and Juneau is the only one left to discover why and where they were taken. It’s up to her to rescue them from an uncertain fate.

Juneau crosses her clan’s boundaries for the first time in her search for answers, but she’s not prepared for some of the answers she receives. It seems that nearly everything she believed was a lie. There was no World War III, no nuclear devastation, no reason for her clan to be so isolated. So why were they? Why have they been taken now? And what do those responsible for her clan’s disappearance want with Juneau?

Someone who may have the resources to answer at least one of these questions is Miles. Miles Blackwell is the eighteen-year-old son of a pharmaceutical firm CEO. While Miles is at home–after being kicked out of school–he overhears his father talking about the search for a young girl in Alaska. He figures that he can maybe find this girl and somehow get back in his father’s good graces. What could possibly go wrong?

Miles is on the hunt for Juneau while Juneau is searching for her clan, and the two eventually cross paths. Miles doesn’t exactly buy all of the Yara stuff that Juneau is talking about. His goal is to turn this girl in to his father. Eventually, though, he comes to realize that there is something special–supernatural even–about this girl, and he begins to change his tune. He wants to help her, but how? And what exactly does his father want with her?

As Juneau and Miles get closer to the truth, they will encounter some uncomfortable realizations about their families and what they believed about the world around them. Will they be able to figure out what’s really going on, find Juneau’s clan, and escape those who would do almost anything to stop them? We shall see…


If you’re as avid a reader as I am, you no doubt know the frustration that comes when you get close to the end of a book and there simply aren’t enough pages for everything that needs to happen. That’s what I endured as After the End drew to a close, so it’s good that there’s another book, Until the Beginning, to look forward to, but I’m still a little dissatisfied. Hopefully, that feeling will change when I read book two.

Minor frustrations aside, I do think After the End is a good book. It’s gripping, puzzling, and thought-provoking. The two different perspectives in the book–and how they come together–make for a very interesting read, and the larger ethical dilemmas presented in the book could lead to some intriguing discussions.

If you’d like to learn more about After the End and other books by Amy Plum, check out the author’s website. You may also want to connect with her via Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Instagram.

Unspoken

Spoilers ahead! This post focuses on Unspoken, book 3 in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls After Dark series. If you haven’t read the entire Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series, you might want to take care of that before proceeding. Here’s a list of books you need to read posthaste:

Now that we’ve taken care of that, let’s move on to Unspoken, the third and final (?) book in the Shadow Falls After Dark series…

Unspoken, which will be released to the masses tomorrow, continues the story of Della Tsang, a young vampire who is struggling with more than anyone should have to bear. Her father, who barely speaks to her, is about to go on trial for murdering his sister many years ago. Della knows he didn’t do it, but gathering the evidence to prove his innocence is difficult. She’s convinced that her uncle, long thought to be dead, knows something–or is guilty of the crime himself–but she can’t find him and get answers to her questions. And why is her uncle so elusive? Well, Chase Tallman may be partly to blame for that.

Chase wants to do everything he possibly can to help Della, but, just like Della is convinced of her father’s innocence, Chase is certain that Eddie, Della’s uncle, didn’t commit this horrible crime. But if neither of the brothers killed their sister, who did? And how can two vampires with their own issues work together to find a killer who’s been on the run for decades?

Part of Della wants to trust Chase, but another part feels like she’s being forced to rely on him. Yes, they are bonded, but is that the only reason they are so drawn to each other? Does Della really have any choice in her mixed-up feelings for Chase? She’s spinning out of control, and Chase isn’t exactly helping. He’s trying to be honest with Della, but his omissions are just as bad (in Della’s eyes) as outright lies. What exactly is he hiding? Is he trying to shield Della from the truth, or is he protecting someone else?

As Della, Chase, and an assortment of other friends at Shadow Falls work to reveal what really happened in Della’s father’s case, another heinous act is also demanding their attention. And, as they begin to examine evidence (and as Della gets information from a couple of ghosts), it seems that the two crimes are somehow linked. How is this possible? And can they find the real culprit before time runs out?

Are Della and Chase ready for what lies ahead? Read Unspoken by C.C. Hunter to find out.

_______________

I thought Unspoken was a rather satisfying end to Della’s story in the world of Shadow Falls. I liked how things worked out for the main characters, and the story made me feel okay about how they’ll move forward. (I’m trying really hard here not to spoil anything for anyone. Can you tell?)

One thing that I didn’t really touch on in the recap above was Della’s relationship with her father. If you’ve read any of the previous books, you know it’s strained. Well, it definitely gets worse in Unspoken. By the end of the book, I sort of understood why her father acted the way he did, but that did not help my urge to give him a good smack. He was horrible to Della, and here she was, busting her tail to keep him out of prison–something he wasn’t even aware of. She could have turned her back on him–just like he did to her–but her love and loyalty were more powerful than anything, including what her father believed she was capable of. (You’ll have to read the book to figure out what I’m talking about here.)

I’m hoping we’ll see more of Della and the gang in future books. Although things are cool now with Della–and with Kylie from the Shadow Falls series–Miranda’s future is still up in the air. We saw a bit of her story in Spellbinder, but I’m thinking there’s a lot more to come–hopefully in a full-length novel or even an entire series.

Speaking of more to come, all of the e-novellas in the series are finally coming out in print. All four of them will be released in one volume, Almost Midnight, which will be out on February 2nd. According to C.C. Hunter’s website, this collection will also feature a new story from another Shadow Falls character. No idea who at this point.

For those considering adding Unspoken or any of the other books in the series to your libraries, I would recommend these stories to libraries that serve teen readers. It’s not that I don’t think some middle school students can handle it. Some likely can, but the books do have some mature situations that are more suited to young adults. Just my two cents.

In closing, I’d like to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read Unspoken and the rest of Della’s story. I truly appreciate it!

 

Spellbinder

If you’re not caught up on C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series, you might want to take care of that before reading this post or Spellbinder, the upcoming novella set in this magical world. The books in these series thus far are:

And now we have Spellbinder, a story that takes place after the events of Eternal, the second Shadow Falls After Dark novel. This novella will be released in eBook format on June 30th, and it centers around Miranda, a young witch who is trying to live up to the expectations of those around her…even when it could put her very life at risk.

Miranda Kane has always been something of a klutz when it comes to managing her magic. She can never seem to please her exacting mother, who wants nothing more than for Miranda to be a Wiccan high priestess. Miranda never gets her spells quite right, and she’s sure that’s not going to change in the latest spell-casting competition her mother’s dragged her into, especially when Tabitha, Miranda’s nemesis, is also competing.

Almost immediately, things get off to a rocky start for Miranda, and she can’t seem to shake the feeling of foreboding that surrounds her. Something is off about this competition, and Miranda’s not the only one that senses it. She shares her concerns with her best friends, Kylie and Della, and all of them eventually realize that someone–or something–is targeting the witches in this competition. Why? Who would care so much about a spell-casting competition for teenage witches?

As the competition leads Miranda and company to Paris, the threat intensifies, as does Miranda’s confusion about the turmoil that is her life. Why does Tabitha seem to hate her so much? Why are her parents keeping secrets? What’s going on with her ex-boyfriend, a shapeshifter currently living in Paris, and why does she even care?

Miranda Kane is about to get the answers she needs, but she may not be ready for what those answers might mean. How will they change her life and what she’s always believed about herself? And how will they impact her future?

_______________

I know we’ll see more of Miranda in the third Shadow Falls After Dark novel, Unspoken, but Spellbinder has really whet my appetite for a meatier story centering on Miranda. Given what happened in this novella, I’m certain she’ll get another story, but I don’t know at this point if it will be a full-length novel. I hope it is.

Remember that this story will be released to the masses on June 30th. (Thank you, NetGalley, for allowing me to read it early!) If you’re new to the world of Shadow Falls, you’ve got a bit of time to catch up before then. If you’re all caught up, I think you’ll be as pleased with Spellbinder–and its connections to the other books–as I was.

For those who’d like to learn a bit more about the Shadow Falls books and C.C. Hunter, you can connect with the author on her website, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. Enjoy!

Suspicion

Thanks to NetGalley, I have once again been privileged enough to read an early copy of a thrilling new young adult novel. This time, I turned my attention to Suspicion by Alexandra Monir. (This book is set to be released next Tuesday, December 9th.) I had previously read one other book by Ms. Monir–Timeless–so I was fairly certain I would enjoy Suspicion. And when I heard that it was like a combination of The Princess Diaries, Downton Abbey, and Alfred Hitchcock, I was even more eager to read it. (Also, the cover is gorgeous, no?)

Seven years ago, Imogen Rockford endured a horrible tragedy on the grounds of her family’s estate in Wickersham. Her parents and her aunt and uncle were killed in a terrible fire, and Imogen has spent the time since trying to put the horrifying events firmly in the past. She cut off all communication with her grandfather, her cousin Lucia, and Sebastian, the boy both she and her cousin adored.

Fate, though, seems to have other plans for Imogen…

When Imogen learns that both her grandfather and cousin have passed away, she’s faced with the realization that she’ll have to return to the Rockford family home in England…as the new Duchess of Wickersham. That’s quite a bit of pressure to put on her seventeen-year-old shoulders, but Imogen knows only she can fill this role. Only she has ties to the estate that cannot really be explained.

Upon her arrival at her newly-inherited estate, Imogen is flooded with both a sense of rightness and a feeling of dread. For some reason, she belongs here, but why? Why does the land come alive in her presence? Why does she seem to have some sort of power over the gardens? What abilities has she been ignoring for all these years…and who wants to make sure that she never has a chance to discover just how important those abilities are?

As Imogen learns more and more about her place–and her family’s history–in Wickersham, she begins to uncover a mystery that defies everything she’s ever believed. She also grows ever closer to Sebastian, the boy she’s loved her entire life, the boy who chose her cousin, the boy who is hiding secrets of his own.

Can Imogen unravel the web of deceit surrounding her before she’s caught up in yet another tragedy? Will her newly (re)discovered abilities help in her quest for the truth? Who can she trust with her own secrets? And who is hiding something so shocking that it will shake the foundation of Imogen’s entire world? Read Suspicion by Alexandra Monir to find out!

_______________

First, let me say that I did like this book. It was a quick, fun read that kept me guessing…but it was rather unrealistic at times (aside from the supernatural elements). I had issues with the lightning-fast romance part of the story, Imogen’s totally ridiculous “magical powers” (which I didn’t think added all that much to the plot), and the unrealistic ending. The ending especially was just a little too neat for me, and I can only hope that the one piece of “unfinished business” in the book will come back in a sequel and mess things up a bit.

All of that being said, I do think Suspicion is a good read for those who like their mysteries peppered with a bit of romance and a dash of the supernatural. When you throw an English setting into that mix, you’ve got me. I’m probably not alone in that.

If you’d like to learn more about Suspicion and other books by Alexandra Monir, check out her website, Twitter, or Goodreads.

The Red Pyramid

When I was in the third grade, I went on a field trip to view a museum exhibit on Ancient Egypt.  Since then, I’ve been completely captivated by the subject, particularly Egyptian mythology.  I think it’s fascinating to study how ancient cultures, and not just those in Egypt, created gods, goddesses, and entire belief systems to explain the world around them.  (I think I’ve mentioned before that I also have a fondness for Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology.  Fun stuff.)  Anyway, my latest read, The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, delves into Egyptian mythology, and Riordan gives this world as much life as he did for Greek mythology in the Percy Jackson series and the Romans in The Lost Hero.

In The Red Pyramid, we meet estranged siblings Carter and Sadie Kane.  When their mother died, the siblings were split up.  Carter traveled the world with their archaeologist father while Sadie lived with their maternal grandparents in London.  This Christmas, though, the brother and sister will be reunited for what they think will be an uneventful holiday with their father.  They could not be more wrong.  And it all starts when they blow up the British Museum.

As you can imagine, an explosion in a popular museum is a pretty big deal.  It’s an even bigger deal when the explosion causes your dad to be imprisoned in a sarcophagus and several gods to be released into the world.  It seems that dear old Dad was up to something, and it’s up to Carter and Sadie to figure out what’s going on and set things right before the world devolves into complete chaos.  But how?  How can two kids who barely know each other unite to stop Set, one of the gods who was released, from destroying all of North America?

Well, Carter and Sadie aren’t exactly normal kids (as you may have guessed).  They are descended from pharaohs, and have the potential to be very, very powerful, especially when it becomes clear that a couple of Egyptian deities have taken up residence in their heads.  Carter and Sadie are also being assisted by their Uncle Amos (who may or may not be on their side), the cat goddess, Bast (who Sadie always knew as Muffin, a beloved pet), a magical baboon named Khufu, an albino alligator called Philip of Macedonia, and a few gods, goddesses, and magicians that have agendas of their own.

Carter and Sadie must stop Set from completing construction on his red pyramid before sunrise on Set’s birthday.  If they don’t, the pyramid will become a magical force that will ensure the spread of chaos and desolation across the continent and eventually all over the world.  Can Carter and Sadie, two kids with very limited knowledge of their magical heritage, possibly defeat such a powerful force?  What sacrifices will they have to make to even the odds?  Will Carter and Sadie (and their lovely assistants) be able to restore balance to the world, or will chaos reign forever?  Read The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan to find out!

I truly enjoyed how Riordan melded the modern world to Ancient Egypt in this book.  It was interesting to read about how the Egyptian belief system evolved, and devolved, over time and how Carter and Sadie were charged with restoring it to its former glory.  I appreciated how many of the gods and goddesses were viewed as neither good nor bad.  Each being had both flaws and redeeming qualities.  Additionally, I liked how Carter and Sadie grew closer together throughout the book.  They were at their most powerful when they were united.  I also loved the subtle allusion to the events in the Percy Jackson series at the beginning of the book.  (It’s one of those blink-and-you-miss-it kind of things, so be on the lookout.)

As I’m sure you probably know, The Red Pyramid is the first book in a series, The Kane Chronicles.  The second book, The Throne of Fire, is already out, and I plan to read that within the next couple of weeks.  The third book in the series is scheduled for a spring 2012 release.  If you’d like more information on this series or author Rick Riordan, visit http://www.rickriordan.com/my-books/kane-chronicles.aspx.  Have fun!