Illusions of Fate

Last night, I finished reading yet another excellent story by Kiersten White. After reading her other works (the Paranormalcy trilogy, The Chaos of Stars, Mind Games, Perfect Lies, and In the Shadows), I was expecting a great book, and I’m thrilled to say that I got one in Illusions of Fate. The wonderful Ms. White did not disappoint.

In her latest novel, Kiersten White weaves an intricate tale of magic, suspicion, and intrigue. Illusions of Fate is something of an historical fantasy and reminds me a bit of Cassie Clare’s Infernal Devices trilogy (a mark in the book’s favor). In this stand-alone novel, however, the world seems to be entirely fictional. It bears some resemblance to Victorian England, but White’s nation of Albion has it’s own societal constructs, political maneuvering, and disregard–and even rebellion against–the status quo. That’s where our main character, Jessamin, comes in…

Jessamin is perfectly aware that she doesn’t fit in with the majority of people in drab, colorless Albion. In fact, she wouldn’t even be there if not for persuading her father to see to her education. And if Jessamin were still on her island home of Melei, she probably wouldn’t find herself in the midst of a power struggle like none she ever realized could exist. Then again, fate may have had plans for Jessamin all along…

Jessamin couldn’t know that her life is going to change forever when she decides to walk through an unfamiliar alley. That decision leads her to a young man named Finn, a noble with strange abilities who can’t seem to help his fascination with Jessamin. Both parties do their best to ignore the other, but fate, circumstances–and observant foes–continue to throw the two together. Soon enough, it becomes clear that Finn’s enthrallment with and connection to Jessamin have made her a target of perhaps the most dangerous man in all of Albion.

The nefarious Lord Downpike, also Albion’s Minister of Defense, wants something from Finn, and he sees Jessamin as his way to get what he wants. And what is it that Downpike desires? Control of all magical lines and limitless power. Only Finn stands in his way. Or so he thinks.

It seems that Jessamin isn’t as easily swayed as most of the young women of Lord Downpike’s acquaintance. She doesn’t take being tortured or threatened lightly, and she is determined to stand up to the evil bearing down on those she cares for. She won’t run away and hide as Finn suggests. She won’t allow Finn–a young man who is coming to mean more to her than anyone else–to fight this battle alone. No, she doesn’t have the magical abilities of Finn or Lord Downpike, but she does have her wits…and a smart woman can certainly be the downfall of an overconfident man. But how?

What will Jessamin have to do to outwit the evil Lord Downpike? What sacrifices will she have to make to prevent this vile man from taking away everything she loves? What secrets will Jessamin uncover along the way?

Will fate decide the path of Jessamin’s life, or will she be the mistress of her own destiny? Answer these questions and many more when you read Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White.

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I hope I’ve hit the highlights of this wonderful book, but I’m sure I’ve left out quite a bit. (Actually, as I’m typing this, I realize that I didn’t even mention the birds and what they meant to the plot. Kind of a big deal. Oh well.) There’s a lot going on in this book, so I can’t possibly address all of it in a single blog post. I wouldn’t want to anyway. That would ruin things, wouldn’t it? Suffice it to say, Illusions of Fate is a magical story that kept me enraptured from the very beginning, and I hope you will feel the same.

If you’re looking for one more book featuring a kick-butt female character, I urge you to add Illusions of Fate to your list. Jessamin experienced some true horrors at the hands of a powerful man, but she didn’t cower like some shrinking violet…even though that would have been infinitely easier. No, she stood up for herself and those she loved. She used her brain to outsmart those who would oppress, torture, or kill her. She remained true to herself, even when it meant defying those who sought to protect her. Did it all work out in the end? Well, I won’t tell you that, but I will say that Jessamin is a character to be admired, and I hope many teen (and adult) readers follow her example of doing what she must to halt the spread of evil.

For those who want to learn more about Illusions of Fate and other books by the fabulous Kiersten White, I encourage you to visit the author’s website and Twitter feed. As for me, I’ll just sit here and eagerly await Kiersten White’s next book.*

*Not really. I’ve got loads more books to read in the meantime, but I guarantee I’ll be on the lookout for the next great book from this outstanding YA author.*

Published in: on February 16, 2015 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Inked

Most of the books that I’ve read through NetGalley have been fairly good. Some have been stellar (The Kiss of Deception, We Were Liars, The Fourteenth Goldfish, Gracefully Grayson, and others). Some have been less so. (I won’t link those because…well, I don’t want to.) The book I just finished, in my most humble opinion, falls into the latter category.

Inked by Eric Smith has a really interesting premise–tattoos that determine one’s destiny–but the book itself just didn’t grab me. I found it really easy to put aside, and it took me over three weeks to finish. Now, some books take a while because I want to savor every page. This one wasn’t like that, at least for me. Maybe you’ll feel differently. (If you do, let me know in the comments. I welcome a good argument!)

Caenum’s life is on the verge of great change. His birthday is approaching, and that means that he’ll soon receive his Ink. In Caenum’s world, Ink determines destiny, and he is nervous about the magical tattoos he’ll end up with. So nervous, in fact, that he is considering leaving everything behind to avoid being Inked.

Before Caenum can go through with his plan to run away, though, something happens that will make Caenum question everything he thought he knew about himself, his family, his friends, and the world around him.

After angering the Scribe tasked with giving Caenum his Ink, events are set in motion that reveal that the entire Inking process isn’t at all what it seems. Ink is a way to keep people under the Citadel’s iron control, and there are some that want to see that control come to an end.

Caenum and some friends, after witnessing the destruction of their homes and families, go on the run from the Citadel. During their journey, it becomes clear that Caenum and his friends possess the special abilities that make them so dangerous to the Citadel and all those who fear magic. Caenum can control the earth; Dreya, Caenum’s best friend, is a healer; and Kenzi, the very Scribe that was supposed to give Caenum his Ink, has the power of lightning. What do these powers mean, and why are they so important to and feared by the Citadel?

As Caenum and company journey toward an uncertain future, they encounter both friends and foes…and it is often difficult to differentiate between the two. One thing, however, is certain. Caenum’s world is changing in ways that he never expected, and he’ll have to step up and make some hard decisions in order to make his own way in the world.

Who will try to stop Caenum’s quest for freedom? Who will work with him? Who will be sacrificed in the battle to come, and will those sacrifices work for the good of Caenum’s world…or its eventual demise?

Read Inked by Eric Smith to learn just how skin-deep one young man’s destiny really is…

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I think if Inked had been a little more fleshed out, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It just felt too rushed for me. Yes, it was action-packed, and I think many readers will enjoy that, but I wanted to see more. More character development, more explanation of the Inking process, and more back story would have made an okay story into a spectacular one.

Given how Inked ended, I’m sure we can expect further installments from Caenum and friends. Hopefully, future books will address the issues I had with Inked. I guess we’ll just have to see.

Published in: on January 26, 2015 at 2:12 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Iron Trial

If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you probably know that I will read anything that Cassandra Clare cares to write. So it should come as no surprise that I was eager to read the first book in her new middle grade series co-authored with Holly Black. Well, I finally got around to reading The Iron Trial, book one in the pair’s five-part Magisterium series, over this holiday weekend, and I’m pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it…and it’s something I can add to my school library and promote to my students. (I think it’s a great read for upper elementary on up.)

There are elements that many readers will find familiar in The Iron Trial. A boy learns he has magical abilities, goes to a hidden school for those of his kind, becomes close to two other kids (a boy and a girl) at this school, gets into a bit of trouble, and works to solve a mystery that could endanger his life and the lives of those around him. Sound familiar? Yeah, the similarities to Harry Potter can’t be ignored…but they can be used to urge Potterheads to pick up this book. Readers will undoubtedly notice the parallels, but I also believe they’ll be pleasantly surprised by how things are different. Clare and Black take the story we expect to read and turn it around on us, and I think most readers will be both shocked and intrigued with how this plays out. I know I was.

What kid wouldn’t want magical powers? What kid wouldn’t want to attend the Magisterium, a super-secret school to learn how to use those abilities? Callum Hunt, that’s who.

For as long as Call can remember, his dad has told him that the Magisterium is evil and that he must do whatever it takes to fail the Iron Trial, a series of tests used to determine who earns a place at this magical school. And Call does his best to fail…and it looks like he’s succeeded. He fails spectacularly and gets the lowest possible marks at the Iron Trial…but he’s selected for the Magisterium anyway. Not only is he accepted; he’s with one of the best mages, in the group with the most gifted apprentices. What’s going on here? Why would anyone want him as an apprentice? What is so special about Callum Hunt, a kid with a bum leg who wants to be anywhere but here?

As Call begins his Iron year at the Magisterium and learns more about magic, he begins to wonder just what his dad had against the school and magic. Call is learning so much…and he’s actually getting pretty good at his studies, despite his rather horrible start. His fellow apprentices, Aaron and Tamara, soon become his closest friends, and that’s kind of a big deal to a kid who really didn’t have friends before now.

Call is becoming more and more comfortable with himself and his abilities, so he’s eager to learn just why his dad didn’t want him here. Since Call is a curious sort with a certain disregard for rules, Call begins to investigate. He stumbles upon a few things that might answer some questions…or they might create even more.

It seems that Call’s past is tied to the most feared being in the magical world, the Enemy of Death. This figure, cloaked in mystery, is responsible for the deaths of many, many mages–including Call’s mother–and he’s still out there, biding his time until he can use the forces of chaos to rise to power. The Magisterium has recently discovered its own weapon in the coming war with the Enemy…but will that be enough? What if the Enemy has already infiltrated the Magisterium? What will that mean for the Magisterium then? And what does all of this have to do with Call?

Soon, Call will come face-to-face with his past, his place at the Magisterium, and what it could mean for his future. He learns just why his father wanted to keep him from magic. What will Call do with this new and disturbing information? Time will tell…

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I hope I haven’t given too much away in this post. I want readers to be just as floored by the ending–and what it could mean for future books–as I was.

The second book, The Copper Gauntlet, is expected to be released sometime in the fall of 2015. I, for one, can hardly wait to read more about the adventures of Call, Aaron, and Tamara, and what they do with everything they learned in The Iron Trial. Should be interesting to say the least.

If you’d like to learn more about The Iron Trial, I encourage you to visit the official website. It has loads of information on the book, the authors, and the world of the Magisterium. There are also some games and other extras that look like fun. You may also want to take a quick peek at the video below. Enjoy!

Published in: on November 30, 2014 at 10:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Map to Everywhere

Next week, an outstanding new book will be released to the masses. That book is The Map to Everywhere, the first book in a new fantasy series by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis. I was lucky enough to read a review copy of this book via NetGalley, and I was thoroughly enchanted. I would have liked to see the artwork that will be included in the final copy, but I guess that’s one way to ensure reviewers like me buy the book! (And I will buy several copies of this one for my school library.) I’m sure the illustrations will only add to what is already a wonderful, captivating story!

Fin, a young thief living in the treacherous land of Khaznot Quay, is a boy who is easily forgotten. Seriously. As soon as someone meets him, they forget he ever existed. Pretty handy if you’re a thief, especially one surrounded by pirates, con artists, and, well, other thieves. Not so much if you need help looking for something…or someone.

Marrill is a girl who’s just been handed a shock, and she’s trying to make sense of her new circumstances. That is going to be much more difficult after she sees a huge ship sailing through what was a parking lot just minutes ago. So what does Marrill, girl adventurer, do? She climbs aboard the ship…and quickly realizes that she can’t find her way back home.

Marrill does have a bit of hope, though. The ship she’s currently on is home to a wizard, Ardent, and his companion, Coll. This unlikely pair is looking for a mysterious map. The Map to Everywhere. This map will lead anyone wherever they need to go. So what’s the problem? Well, the map is in pieces, and it could be quite the quest to find the pieces and put them together. Marrill, Ardent, and Coll will have to navigate the magical waters of the Pirate Stream to even attempt their mission.

And that’s where Fin comes in…

Marrill and company sail into Khaznot Quay. After getting herself into a sticky situation, Marrill encounters Fin (who is also in a sticky wicket of his own). Unlike everyone else he’s ever met, Marrill actually remembers him, and Fin is eager to hold onto that tenuous connection to someone. He stows away on Marrill’s ride, and joins the crew’s search for the Map to Everywhere (an object that he’d also like to get his hands on).

Also, Fin would kind of like to get away from the Oracle, an evil wizard who spreads sorrow wherever he goes. Fin has something that the Oracle wants, and this shadowy figure will stop at nothing to claim his prize. It seems he is also searching for this powerful map, but what he wants to do with it could be devastating for everyone, everywhere.

Now, Marrill, Fin, Ardent, and Coll are on the hunt for the pieces of the Map to Everywhere, each for their own reasons. Can they work together to complete this dangerous puzzle before everything is torn from them? Will they succeed in their quest to bring the Map together, or will the Oracle beat them to it? Will Marrill ever find her way home? Will Fin find what he’s looking for? Nothing is certain, but one this is clear. We’re in for one heck of an adventure!

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I think The Map to Everywhere is an excellent addition to any library that serves upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s action-packed, full of humor, and it teaches some pretty valuable lessons–the importance of friendship, how horrible it is to be forgotten, the destructive power of rumors, etc. I can’t wait to add this book to my own school library and, more importantly, talk about the book with my students!

My favorite part of this entertaining read was probably Ardent, the wizard. This guy was as powerful as you’d want a wizard to be, but he was also kind of hilarious. He reminded me a bit of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. He didn’t take himself too seriously, but you also wouldn’t want to meet him in a fight. Ardent was very wise, but that didn’t always show. It seemed that he wanted those around him to learn lessons for themselves instead of him jumping in to save the day constantly. (And that came in handy when one of his companions had to jump in and save him.) An admirable character and one that I think readers will take an instant liking to!

I look forward to seeing the illustrations in the finished book. If they’re anything like the cover, I’m sure they’ll be just as fantastic as the book’s text.

There’s no word yet on when we can expect the second book in The Map to Everywhere series, but I’m guessing we’ll see something in November of next year. Here’s hoping!

To learn more about this fantastical tale, go to http://www.themaptoeverywhere.com/.

 

Published in: on October 28, 2014 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Spindlers

This one has been on my to-read list for quite some time, and I finally got around to it this weekend. The Spindlers, an upper elementary/middle grade novel from acclaimed author Lauren Oliver, is a fantastical tale that brings to mind such classics as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and even The Chronicles of Narnia. It is rather scary at times, making it a perfect recommendation for younger readers looking for a spooky, Halloween read, but it also explores themes like hope, forgiveness, and perseverance.

Like Liesl & Po, The Spindlers is another great children’s novel from Lauren Oliver!

Something is very wrong with Liza’s little brother, Patrick. Last night, he was his usual happy-go-lucky self. This morning, though, Patrick is different and wrong, and Liza is certain of what happened. The evil spindlers, spider-like creatures from Below, have stolen Patrick’s soul. It’s the only explanation. So what is Liza to do? Well, she’s going to rescue her brother’s soul, of course!

Liza braves the dark and finds an entrance to Below in her basement. Armed only with a broom, Liza enters this strange world in search of Patrick’s soul, but nothing could have prepared her for what she would face. Almost immediately, Liza encounters Mirabella, a talking rat who wears a wig, makeup, and a skirt made out of newspaper.

Mirabella helps Liza navigate this strange new world, with all of its dangers and mysteries. Mirabella introduces Liza to troglods, nids, lumer-lumpen, nocturni, and several other creatures that inhabit Below. Some of those creatures are helpful. Others…not so much. The trick is knowing which is which.

As Liza and Mirabella travel through Below, they are getting closer and closer to the spindlers’ nest…and to the captive souls within. The journey is becoming more perilous, but Liza is determined to rescue her brother before it’s too late.

Will Liza be able to get past her own fear of the the spindlers to do what she must? Who can she rely on when help is needed? Can Liza rescue her brother’s soul–and her own–before the spindlers get the best of her? Journey Below for these answers and more when you read The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver.

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I plan to recommend this book to my 3rd-5th graders who can’t get enough of spooky stories. The Spindlers has just enough scary stuff to keep them on the edge of their seats but not so much that it will give them nightmares (I hope).

I think anyone who reads The Spindlers will draw parallels to other works of fantasy, particularly those mentioned at the beginning of this post. The resemblance to Alice in Wonderland is likely the most apparent, and that may just be the hook needed to entice young–and older–readers to pick up this book. Further discussions on the similarities and differences between the two stories could prove to be rather interesting.

For more information on The Spindlers and other fabulous books by Lauren Oliver, check out the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Published in: on October 6, 2014 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Keeper of the Lost Cities

I’ve finally done it. I have finished reading all twenty of this year’s South Carolina Book Award nominees. It took me a little longer than normal this year because, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the list of nominees. It’s going to be a struggle to sell some of these books to my students…but that is not the case with my final nominee.

Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger, definitely the longest and most intimidating of the SCCBA nominees, is probably my favorite book on the list. It reminded me a bit of Harry Potter, so my enjoyment of the book is really no surprise. This book features beings with special abilities, a fantastical world hidden from human eyes, and an orphan who’s more powerful than she realizes. Sound familiar? Those similarities to Harry Potter will make Keeper of the Lost Cities, the first book in an exciting new series, an easy sell to many of my students. Hopefully, they’ll stick around to find out how the two series are different.

Sophie Foster has always been a bit different. She’s never had many friends, she doesn’t fit with her family, and she’s always been smarter than everyone around her. When she was five, she discovered that she could hear the thoughts of others. She never told anyone about her telepathic ability, but it seems someone out there knows just how special Sophie really is.

When Sophie meets Fitz, her entire world changes. Fitz is the only other Telepath she’s ever encountered, and he reveals that Sophie isn’t exactly human. She’s an Elf, and she definitely does not belong in the human world.

In order to keep her human family safe, Sophie must leave everything behind and move to Lumenaria, a land where she’ll learn what it means to be an Elf and how to harness her special abilities. At her new school, Foxfire, Sophie struggles, but she’s slowly figuring out this strange new world, and she’s finally making a few friends.

Some Elves, however, are less than happy with Sophie’s entrance into the Elf-world. Some have doubts about her place here, there is concern about her history in the human-world, and no one seems to know how to handle just how powerful Sophie appears to be. Her mind is impenetrable for even the most skilled Telepaths, and, while most Elves display just one special ability, Sophie has several. Why is she so different? What is so special about Sophie Foster?

As Sophie tries to piece together the puzzle that is her life, she discovers that her history, abilities, and place in this new world are more uncertain than she realized. Someone in the shadows is manipulating her, leading her on a chase to uncover the truth, but what is the end game? And can she figure out what’s going on before Sophie–and her new friends–are placed in mortal danger?

Read Keeper of the Lost Cities and join Sophie as she navigates this unfamiliar, strange world and attempts to find her place in it.

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I haven’t even come close to capturing everything that transpired in Keeper of the Lost Cities (which is nearly 500 pages long). There are twists and turns galore, and I think this book will keep readers riveted the whole way through. Readers will wonder about Sophie’s past, and they’ll get a few answers, but dozens more will pop up.

This first book has a bit of resolution, but that won’t stop readers from clamoring to read the second installment. (By the way, book two, Exile, is already out. Book three, Everblaze, will be released on November 4th. There’s also a fourth book in the works, and it should come out in November of 2015.) I predict that the entire Keeper of the Lost Cities series will be a hit with many upper elementary and middle grade readers who have a fondness for fantasy.

For more information about Keeper of the Lost Cities and author Shannon Messenger, visit her blog. You can also connect with her via Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.

Now, I must do my best to create a book trailer that will get my students super-excited to read this book!

Published in: on September 29, 2014 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Eternal

Caution: You MUST read the entire Shadow Falls series (Born at Midnight, Awake at Dawn, Taken at Dusk, Whispers at Moonrise, and Chosen at Nightfall) and Reborn, the first book in the Shadow Falls After Dark series, before even thinking about reading Eternal (or this somewhat spoilery post on it). I know that’s a lot of reading, but it’s worth it!

Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read Eternal, book two in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls After Dark series, a couple months early. (It won’t be released to the world until October 28th.) I loved the first series and Reborn, so I figured I’d feel the same way about Eternal. I did.

After being reborn and finding herself with powers beyond what a “normal” vampire possesses, Della Tsang is more determined than ever to work with the FRU, the agency that governs supernaturals, and to uncover the mysteries shadowing her family’s past.

The sudden–and not entirely welcome–appearance of a ghost will make Della’s life more confusing than ever. This ghost is trying to tell Della something about her family and showing glimpses of two captive young vampires who need to be saved from certain death. Who is this presence haunting Della, and can she figure out what the ghost is trying to tell her before it’s too late?

Della is also working to unravel her feelings about two very different young men: Steve, a shapeshifter she’s been sort of dating for the past month, and Chase, the enigmatic vampire who is now bonded to her and seems to know just when she needs him. Della isn’t exactly thrilled about her connection to Chase, but even she can’t deny that her feelings for him are growing. It doesn’t help that Della and Chase are working closely together investigating a case for the FRU. Can she remain true to Steve when every part of her screams to be with Chase? And will fate take this decision out of her hands?

Della’s world is in more turmoil than ever before. How is she supposed to do everything expected of her and still keep her cool? So much is weighing on her, and she’s close to her breaking point. Della doesn’t know which way to turn sometimes, and she feels like she’s being pulled in opposite directions. A mysterious ghost, Steve, Chase, Burnett, her friends, and even her estranged family. Everyone seems to want a piece of Della. But who can she really trust? Can she even trust herself to do what’s right?

Should Della remain loyal to Shadow Falls and the family she’s chosen for herself there? Should she do whatever possible to uncover the truth–however painful it may be–about her father, who has all but turned his back on her? Should she take a chance with Chase, even though it could jeopardize everything she’s been working for? Nothing is clear for Della Tsang, but she’ll do whatever she must to find the answers she needs. And those answers may just lead her to even more questions…

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I’ll go ahead and warn those still reading: Eternal ends on a mother of a cliffhanger. If I had been reading a print copy of this book, I probably would have thrown it across the room. I can hardly wait to read the third book, but considering that Eternal isn’t even out yet, I probably have quite the wait ahead of me. *Insert impatient sigh here.*

There is some good news, though! On September 30th, there is going to be an ebook novella released that’s all about Chase, Della’s nemesis/sometimes love interest. It’s called Unbreakable, and if you check out this announcement on C.C. Hunter’s website, you’ll learn a lot more about what’s sure to be a very enlightening read.

If you love books with supernatural goodness, I strongly urge you to check out both the Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series. Both are excellent, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Della’s journey in the next book.

For more information on the books mentioned in this post or author C.C. Hunter, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

 

Published in: on August 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Vengekeep Prophecies

Once again, yours truly is here with another nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. This time, I bring you The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian Farrey. This book, the first in a new series, brings to mind the wonderful fantasy stories of Tony DiTerlizzi, Rick Riordan, and, J.K. Rowling (also known as The Queen of All Things), and I think it is a great fit for readers–young and old–who are looking for a bit of magic in their lives.

In The Vengekeep Prophecies, author Brian Farrey introduces readers to the Grimjinx family. This family of thieves is rather notorious in the town of Vengekeep, but no one can ever really prove that they’ve done anything wrong. Young Jaxter Grimjinx is supposed to be a master thief like everyone else in his family, but he has a bit of a problem. He’s clumsy. So clumsy that he can’t pick a simple lock. So clumsy that he sets a house on fire during his first solo job. A life of thievery doesn’t look promising for Jaxter.

But Jaxter is skilled at one thing that his family values. He can create natural mixtures that break low-level magical locks. Pretty handy when his family runs into trouble beyond their skills. And trouble is definitely on its way…more trouble than the Grimjinx clan has ever seen.

Each year, a tapestry is unveiled in Vengekeep that reveals a prophecy. This prophecy provides a sort of guide for the town on how they should proceed during the year–what troubles to avoid and the like. Well, this year, the tapestry is especially disturbing. It foretells the utter destruction of Vengekeep and essentially states that the Grimjinx family may be the town’s only salvation.

Jaxter knows his family isn’t really hero material, but they may not have an option this time. Even though they did so without intending to, the Grimjinx clan set events in motion that could actually level Vengekeep, and it’s up to them–or, more specifically, to Jaxter and his friend Callie–to set things right.

Jaxter and Callie set off on a mission to ultimately destroy the magic surrounding the tapestry. Their journey will be perilous, and they will encounter both friends and foes–and it won’t always be easy to tell the difference between the two.

Will Jaxter and Callie be able to get what they need before Vengekeep is destroyed, or will their efforts be for nothing? Will Jaxter Grimjinx be the savior Vengekeep needs, or will he be its ultimate end?

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The Vengekeep Prophecies reads a little like a mix of fantasy and historical fiction. There’s some vocabulary that many of my students won’t be familiar with. Some of that vocabulary seems to belong in a work of historical fiction. (The words “cistern” and “gaol” come to mind.) Other words, of course, are unfamiliar because they are unique to the world built by the author. Readers who give this book a whirl, though, will be able to use the vivid descriptions in the text to overcome most of the issues they may have with vocabulary.

The Vengekeep Prophecies is an ideal read for upper elementary and middle grade readers who are looking for a great fantasy. I know I’m always looking for more books to give to Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, or Spiderwick fans, and now I’ve got one more series to add to the list.

The second book in this series, The Shadowhand Covenant, is already out. As soon as I return to school, I’ll be adding it to my first order. I look forward to learning more about the fascinating Grimjinx family!

If you’d like to learn more, check out Brian Farrey’s website or Twitter. You may also want to check out the video below from HarperKids. It features the author telling a bit more about The Vengekeep Prophecies…and doing so much more eloquently than I ever could!

Published in: on August 5, 2014 at 9:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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Flora & Ulysses

What can I say about Flora & Ulysses? It won this year’s Newbery Medal. It was written by acclaimed author Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by K.G. Campbell. And it captured my heart–and imagination–within the first few pages.

Flora & Ulysses tells the tale of Flora Belle Buckman, a self-proclaimed cynic who loves reading comic books, and a very special squirrel we come to know as Ulysses. A chance encounter with a vacuum cleaner transforms a rather unimportant little rodent into a magnificent example of squirrelkind with some very special abilities. Flora is convinced that this squirrel, Ulysses, is a superhero waiting to happen. Everyone else around her isn’t so sure.

Ulysses does, in fact, have some pretty awesome gifts. He can lift heavy vacuum cleaners over his head! He can fly! He can use a typewriter and compose lovely, misspelled poems! But does that make him superhero material? Flora sure seems to think so, and Ulysses would hate to disappoint his new favorite person.

Not everyone thinks as highly of Ulysses as Flora does. Her mother seems to be his most vicious hater. She even plots Ulysses’ demise! What’s Flora to do? Well, she enlists the help of her father, her neighbor, a couple of other unlikely characters, and her own extensive knowledge in her quest to keep Ulysses alive and kicking.

Can Flora convince her mother to abandon her treacherous villainy? Will Ulysses be able to prove that he’s got superhero potential? Will Flora abandon her cynical ways and open her heart to love, hope, and friendship with squirrels and humans alike? Read the illuminated adventures of Flora & Ulysses to find out!

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Okay, so the recap above kind of stinks. It doesn’t even begin to go into everything that happened in this book. Flora’s vocabulary alone was worth at least a paragraph, and I didn’t even mention the strangeness of William Spiver, the great nephew of Flora’s neighbor. (I guess I’m taking care of that now, though, aren’t I?) There was just so much to love in this book that I couldn’t possibly encompass it in one post.

Something that did strike me in this book were how the text and illustrations flowed together to create one beautiful, seamless story. K.G. Marshall, in a few black-and-white drawings, added another layer to this story that I think a lot of comic book enthusiasts (like myself) will appreciate. (This might even go a long way in convincing parents and teachers that reading comic books IS ACTUALLY READING! I know I can use a little extra ammunition in this fight!)

If you haven’t read Flora & Ulysses, I strongly urge you to give it a try. If you’re anything like me, you’ll devour it in one sitting. You’ll fall in love with the characters just like I did…and that is saying something considering that I really don’t like squirrels.

Readers may even see themselves in one or more of the characters, strange as they may be. Personally, I identified with Flora. Why, you ask? Well, let’s see…we share the same taste in hairstyles, glasses, and shoes, and we’re both rather cynical, enjoy comic books, and have extensive vocabularies. Both of us even struggle with our cynical natures from time to time! (Sometimes people–or maybe rodents–surprise us with just how wonderful they can be.)

I wish I could do a better job of communicating just how amazing this book is, but I feel I’m falling short. Let me just say that the Newbery committee made an excellent decision this year. Flora & Ulysses is definitely medal-worthy. Bravo!

For more information on this book and others by Kate DiCamillo, visit the author’s website, and check out the Flora & Ulysses trailer below. It’s much better than any recap I could ever write.

Published in: on May 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Reborn

Proceed with caution! Reborn is the first book in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls After Dark series. It might behoove you to read the entire Shadow Falls series before continuing with Reborn. In my opinion, it is kind of necessary to have some knowledge of what happens in the original series before continuing with the spin-off. If you need a list of these books, look below.

There are also a couple of ebook novellas that add to the series and what happens in Reborn. They are Turned at Dark (Shadow Falls #0.5) and Saved at Sunrise (Shadow Falls #4.5).

If you’re still reading this post, I’m assuming you’ve already read the entire Shadow Falls series. Next week, Reborn, the first book in the Shadow Falls After Dark spin-off series, will be released to the masses. (I was lucky enough to read an advance copy via NetGalley.)

Reborn (and the rest of this new series, I imagine) is told from the perspective of Della Tsang, the rather moody vampire we met in the original series. Della is still living with roommates Kylie and Miranda at Shadow Falls, but she’s got her eye on a future with FRU, or Fallen Research Unit, the agency that governs the supernatural.

Della just has to convince Burnett, the big, bad vampire in charge, that she’s got what it takes to be a FRU agent. This may not be the simplest of tasks given that Della has a tendency to go off into dangerous situations with little regard for the consequences. Also, Burnett has a protective streak a mile wide when it comes to any of the young women in his care. A little sexist, yes, but, considering that Della’s own family seems to have written her off, kind of comforting.

When a new guy enters the picture at Shadow Falls, Della’s life gets even more complicated. Chase, a super-powerful vampire, has an air of danger about him, and Della is sure she’s run into him before, but she can’t quite place where. She’s sure he’s hiding something, but she may have to put her suspicions aside if she truly wants a place in the FRU. She and Chase are on the trail of a murderer, and any conflicts could convince Burnett to pull Della off the case that’s quickly taking over her life.

As if worrying about her place with FRU weren’t enough, Della has a few more issues on her plate. Steve, a shapeshifter she’s sort of in a relationship with, wants to make things official. Della’s not sure she’s ready for that. After all, the last guy she loved left her when he discovered she was a vampire. Della doesn’t want to put her heart on the line if Steve will up and leave her one day. And the mysterious Chase also seems to be interested in Della. Officially, Della loathes the newcomer, but she can’t deny that he has a certain appeal. What does he really want with her, and should she be even thinking about Chase when Steve so clearly wants to be with her? Well, the answers to those questions may be more complicated than even Della realizes…

Della is also dealing with the possibility that she has vampire relatives she never knew about. Apparently, her dad had siblings that could have faked their deaths because they were turned (much like her missing cousin Chan). Della is using every resource she can think of to determine if she has an uncle or aunt out there somewhere. Since her own father seems to hate her, Della is longing for some sense of family, especially family who understands what being a vampire is really like.

Della Tsang is facing quite a few changes in her life at Shadow Falls. Tracking down a killer, getting a taste of her future career, a thoroughly confusing love life, trying to find her family, and so much more. You see, while all of this is going on, Della is also experiencing a strange sickness. Her senses are on the fritz, she’s running a fever (very unusual for a vampire), she’s having some pretty intense headaches, and, to really make things odd, she’s seeing ghosts. What exactly is going on here, and can Della figure things out before it’s too late?

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C.C. Hunter has once again packed a bunch of stuff into one book. Della definitely has a lot to deal with, and she manages to do it with the sass that we’ve come to expect from her. But we also get a glimpse of a Della we may not have seen before. Yes, she presents a tough exterior to those around her, but her emotions are often in a state of turmoil. She struggles greatly with her father’s disappointment, she wants to make Burnett proud of her, she’s fiercely loyal to her friends, and she seeks justice for the innocent. Della also wrestles with seeing herself as a monster. (We know she’s one of the good guys, but sometimes all Della can see is the fear associated with the word “vampire.”) This character wants love and acceptance, and she’s sometimes too blind to notice that she’s had it since she stepped foot into Shadow Falls.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Reborn, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it–and the original Shadow Falls series–to teen readers. (It is a bit mature for middle grades.) If you think this book is worth a read, I encourage you to pick it up on May 20th!

If you’re a book trailer enthusiast (like I am), you may also want to take a peek at the Reborn video below. It’s just a wee bit spoilery, but it doesn’t give too much away. And it’s kind of awesome.

For more information on RebornShadow Falls, and author C.C. Hunter, visit the author’s websiteTwitterGoodreads, or Facebook.

The next book in this series, Eternal, is scheduled for an October 28th release.

Published in: on May 14, 2014 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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