Nothing but Shadows

Two days ago, Shadowhunter fans were graced with yet another Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy story from Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan. In case you’re not caught up, the first three stories are Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy, The Lost Herondale, and The Whitechapel Fiend. Get to reading, my friends!

For those who are still with me, the fourth tale, Nothing but Shadows, continues Simon’s journey through the Academy and gives readers a look at the relationship between James Herondale and Matthew Fairchild.

As Simon Lewis navigates the rather gloomy halls of the Shadowhunter Academy, he’s learning more and more about those who came before him. It seems he’s not the only one to question the absolute certainty that Shadowhunters–especially those born to the life–are superior to everyone else.

Many years ago, two very different young men also questioned things…and, even though they had a rocky start, they eventually formed a virtually unbreakable bond. These two Academy students were James Herondale (son of Will and Tessa) and Matthew Fairchild (son of Henry and Charlotte).

James, a rather serious boy, really just wants to make a friend, but he’s shy, unsure of himself, and often prefers the company of his books. Matthew, on the other hand, seems to be James’ exact opposite. Matthew is popular, witty, outlandish, and, no matter what shenanigans he pulls, everyone is charmed by him. Everyone except James.

When a shocking truth is revealed about James, his heritage, and his abilities, he retreats even further from his fellow students. He’s now a total pariah, and he thinks that no one will ever want to befriend him now. As it turns out, he’s as wrong about that as he is about what really drives Matthew Fairchild. When James learns just why Matthew behaves the way he does, he finds himself as drawn to this charismatic boy as everyone else.

James and Matthew eventually form a strong friendship, and, when James’ future at the Academy is called into question, Matthew is right there by his side. He doesn’t care that James has some odd abilities passed on from his mother. He doesn’t care that others are afraid of James. Matthew sees James as a friend, a parabatai…and a way home to his father.

When Simon discovers what James and Matthew experienced during their time at the Shadowhunter Academy and beyond, how will that color his own experiences (and his slowly returning memories)? Is there someone at the Academy–or perhaps back home–who Simon would ask to be his own parabatai? Is Simon, the former Daylighter, finally coming to terms with his own murky past by learning about the complicated history of the Shadowhunters? Stay tuned to find out…

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As most of you likely know, I adore all things Shadowhunter (except for the crappy movie adaptation of City of Bones *shudder*). Going into this story, I didn’t think it was possible to love any characters more than Magnus Bane and the casts of The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices. Well, I may have been wrong. (It’s too soon to tell.)

Granted, the glimpses I got of Will and Jem in Nothing but Shadows were amazing, but James and Matthew were definitely the shining stars (as they should have been), and I can’t wait to see more of them. James spoke to the shy bookworm in me, and Matthew was just too outrageous not to like. Their journey to friendship, though not without its bumps along the way, was a joy to witness, and I look forward to seeing how their parabatai bond changes how they view each other and the world around them.

I’m not sure James and Matthew will be shown in any other Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy stories, but I know we’ll see them again in Chain of Gold, the first book of The Last Hours (due sometime in 2017). A sixteen-year-old James Herondale is featured in the fourth book of The Bane Chronicles, The Midnight Heir, if you want to see him a few years after the events of Nothing but Shadows. What happened in those few years? At this point, I can only begin to speculate…

The next story in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy is The Evil We Love, and it will be out on June 16th. This story will tell readers about Valentine’s Circle and their time at the Academy. I am giddy* with anticipation.

*Not really. I don’t think anyone has ever used the word “giddy” to describe me. I’m way too reserved for that. At most, I’m simply eager to read the next story in this collection. Do with that what you will.

Published in: on May 21, 2015 at 3:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Snicker of Magic

Greetings, dear friends. I know it’s been a few weeks since my last post, but I promise I have very good reasons.

  1. I’ve been fighting a wicked bad sinus infection. When I’m sick, all I feel like doing is vegging out in front of the TV. Also, it’s difficult to get involved in a book when you have to stop every few seconds to sneeze or blow your nose.
  2. I’m wrapping up another school year. The beginning and end of the year are the absolute craziest times in a school library, and this has been one of the worst finales I can remember.
  3. My weekends have been jam-packed with birthdays, family celebrations, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Not going to apologize for that.

Anyway, I’m back today with another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. This one is A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, and, to be perfectly honest, it took me a while to get into this book. (The reasons listed above are partly to blame.) I actually only got really invested in the book last night, and I read 3/4 of it within the past 18 hours or so. (I even skipped watching Supernatural last night so that I could read more. That’s huge.)

So, even with a somewhat slow start, I found A Snicker of Magic to be a delightful, poignant book, and I can only hope that my students–and you–agree.

Felicity Pickle is a word collector. She sees words floating in the air, hovering around people’s heads, and zipping all around. She writes the words in her special blue book, and she carries the book with her everywhere. That includes Midnight Gulch, Tennessee.

Midnight Gulch, her mom’s hometown, is the Pickle family’s latest stop. Felicity’s mom has a wandering spirit, but Felicity is eager to call someplace home, and it seems like Midnight Gulch may just be the home she’s always wanted.

It is here that Felicity meets Jonah, a special boy who immediately becomes her best friend. Together, they learn about the magic that once existed in Midnight Gulch, and they try to figure out just how to bring that magic back.

Felicity soon discovers that the magic of Midnight Gulch is connected to her own family…and a mysterious curse that may be responsible for her mom’s wandering ways. If Felicity can figure out a way to break the curse, using the small snicker of magic still left in this small town, maybe she can finally have the home she’s always wanted.

But can Felicity overcome her own fears and break a curse that’s held Midnight Gulch in its grips for a century? Does she truly have the power–and the words–to make this place truly magical once again? Find out when you read A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd!

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Aside from A Snicker of Magic being a heart-warming (and tear-inducing) book about the healing magic of love, music, family, friendship, and forgiveness, I think it has great potential to expand readers’ vocabularies. The words that Felicity collects are descriptive of the people and places around her, and it could be a fun exercise for young readers to explore that a bit. What words do they associate with their friends, family members, teachers, school, home, and anything else in their lives? Like Felicity, they could craft poems or songs out of these words and create some magic of their own.

A Snicker of Magic is already a big hit in my school library, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Now that I’ve read it myself, I’ll definitely encourage others to do the same. I look forward to talking to my students about this spindiddly book and sharing the beautiful words and magic found within its pages.

For more information about A Snicker of Magic and author Natalie Lloyd, you can visit the author’s blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and even Pinterest.

Half a Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 12:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Watch the Sky

I was just talking to one of my colleagues about my most recent read, Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard, and, in a nutshell, I described it as “kids of Doomsday preppers.” She reminded me that we actually have some of those kids at our school, so I think this book, which comes out on April 7th, will eventually be added to my school library collection.

Watch the Sky is an interesting book–told from the perspective of a young boy–about a rather fascinating (and disturbing, in my opinion) lifestyle choice. Now, I’ve never watched Doomsday Preppers or anything like it–nor do I intend to–but I think this book gives readers a small glimpse into what life may be like for the kids in those situations. It can’t be easy to live in fear all the time while finding some way to balance school, friends, and loyalty to family. That’s what Jory is going through in Watch the Sky

Jory’s stepfather, Caleb, is always telling the family to look out for signs. Signs of what? Jory’s not entirely certain, but Caleb seems to be sure enough for everyone. These mysterious signs could be things like an odd newspaper article, a meteor shower, some dead birds, or even the simplest, seemingly innocent thing. Jory’s not sure what makes something a “sign,” but he trusts Caleb to keep the family safe from danger.

Jory must also do his part to keep his family safe. He must follow all of Caleb’s instructions. He can’t draw too much attention to himself or the family, he always wears heavy work boots, and he can never tell anyone about his sister Kit. And he must make sure to “watch the sky” for signs.

Before long, Caleb becomes convinced that all of his “signs” are pointing to a cataclysmic event, one that the family will need to prepare for. What do those preparations entail? Stockpiling supplies, getting used to eating MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), canning food…and digging. Almost every night, the entire family digs in the canyon beyond their house. Jory’s not sure exactly why or what they’re digging, but this mission soon becomes clear. They are creating a bunker to survive whatever danger Caleb feels is on the way.

While all of this is going on, Jory also has to go to school. He has to worry about keeping his grades up, staying out of trouble, and making friends with a couple of people who won’t let him blend into the background.

It’s hard to balance his schoolwork and friendships with everything happening at home, and Jory is starting to wonder why he should have so much to worry about. Why is Caleb so convinced that danger is coming? If things are really so bad, why aren’t they warning others? Caleb always taught Jory to question everything he was told, but what will happen when Jory begins to question Caleb? Is he prepared to live a life without fear if it means losing his own family? Or will Jory follow Caleb into an uncertain future away from the world around him?

Answer these questions and many more when you read Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard.

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I think Watch the Sky will spark some intriguing conversations with my students. I haven’t read anything like this book before, so it definitely fills a hole (that I didn’t know was there) in my library collection. I would recommend this book for libraries that serve elementary and middle grade readers.

That being said, I did have one big issue with the book. There didn’t seem to be much resolution at the end. I kind of expected what was going to happen, but there just needed to be more. More about what happened to Kit, both before and after her time with Jory’s family. More about how Jory and his family fared after their decision in the canyon. What came next? Maybe these things played out in the final version of the book (I read a galley copy via NetGalley), but I would have liked a bit more clarification.

For more information on Watch the Sky and author Kirsten Hubbard, check out the author’s Goodreads page.

Published in: on March 26, 2015 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I Was Here

It’s difficult to describe my feelings on Gayle Forman‘s latest book, I Was Here, but I’ll do my best. Don’t be surprised, though, if this post is a bit different from most others.

I Was Here deals with something that is hard to discuss. Suicide and those left to pick up the pieces. I won’t go into how suicide has touched my own life, but I will say that this book brought back all of the feelings of pain, grief, and guilt. No matter what anyone says, suicide doesn’t just impact the one contemplating or going through with it. It leaves total wreckage behind, and that’s what Cody, this book’s protagonist, is facing.

Cody and Meg were once as close as sisters, so how is it possible that Cody had no idea that her best friend was suicidal? Is there anything Cody could have done to stop Meg from carrying out the elaborate plan that would end her life? How can Cody go on without her other half, the friend who meant the world to her? And how can she figure out just what drove Meg to do the unthinkable?

All of these questions are plaguing Cody, and she is determined to find the answers that she needs. Her search leads her to Meg’s college apartment and a life that Cody was never a part of. She talks to Meg’s roommates and her friends in Seattle, including the enigmatic Ben McCallister, a young man with his own guilt about what happened to Meg. No one seems to know why Meg would have committed suicide, and Cody is growing frustrated with what seems to be a fruitless quest for the truth…until she discovers an encrypted file on Meg’s computer.

With a little help, Cody discovers exactly what Meg was hiding, and her investigation becomes even more intense. Cody becomes obsessed with Meg’s journey to suicide, and she’s getting drawn into something that is taking over her own life. She needs to find a reason for Meg’s decision, someone to blame for this horrible act that threw everything she thought she knew into a tailspin.

But will Cody really be prepared for what she uncovers? What will she do with the information? Will it change anything? And who will be there to help Cody pick up the pieces of her shattered life now that her best friend is gone?

Read I Was Here by Gayle Forman to learn how one young woman tries to live while attempting to find out why her best friend wanted to die.

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I Was Here was not an easy book for me to read. I had to put it down several times because I was, quite simply, getting too emotional. I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about some parts of the book. I guess some things may have hit a little too close to home. I will say, however, that I think this is an important book. It deals with subjects–suicide and depression–that many young people are facing…but not talking about. Nothing is glossed over or treated with the least bit of glamour (something the media tends to do with suicide). I Was Here is an honest look at what’s left behind when loved ones end their own lives. The feelings of guilt, loss, and hopelessness. It’s something that never really goes away.

I hope that this book, like Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, opens up a dialog about depression and suicidal thoughts. Young people need to realize that they are not alone, and, as trite as it sometimes sounds, things really do get better. The darkness will eventually pass. The road may not be easy, but it’s worth it, and no one has to walk it alone.

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression or suicide, please talk to a trusted friend or adult. Seek help. Call the National Foundation for Suicide Prevention lifeline at 800-273-TALK. Go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website to learn more about warning signs and how to find local support groups for survivors.

 

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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My Best Everything

Today, thanks to NetGalley and the Great Southern Ice Event of 2015 (hopefully, the only ice event of the year), I bring you yet another post on a recent read. That book is My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp and is due to be released on March 3rd.

I finished reading My Best Everything at about 10:30 this morning, and I’ve been thinking about it since then. After a few hours, I’m still not sure how I feel about this book. It’s certainly an interesting read, but parts of it really bugged me. The entire scheme cooked up by the main characters seems thoroughly implausible to me, and the ending, while somewhat satisfying, was kind of anti-climactic. I expected a bigger fallout, especially considering exactly what our protagonists were involved in.

On a positive note, though, My Best Everything wasn’t at all the love story I was anticipating. It went much deeper than that. This book–which needs a better title, by the way–gave me a story that did touch on first loves, but it also delved into things like self-control, looking to the future, escaping one’s past, and making hard–and sometimes dangerous–choices to achieve one’s goals.

All Lulu can think about is getting out of her small town. She doesn’t want to be one of those girls who stays in Dale, Virginia, and never leaves. Lulu’s plans to go to college in San Diego, however, have just hit a major snag. Her father, a traveling businessman, has just lost all of Lulu’s college money. It looks like Lulu may have to stay in Dale after all.

Or will she? When a moonshine still is sent to the junkyard where Lulu works, Lulu and her friends cook up an insane–and totally illegal–money-making scheme. What if they make and sell moonshine this summer? How hard could it be?

Well, as it turns out, there’s more to making moonshine than Lulu, Roni, and Bucky thought, so they turn to Mason, a troubled young man whose family has a long history as shiners in Dale. Lulu is intrigued by Mason, his past, and his vast knowledge of moonshine, but she’s also drawn to the man he’s trying so desperately to become.

Even as she and her friends are getting more caught up in making moonshine, Lulu worries that her great plan could ultimately be Mason’s downfall. Can he, with all of his personal demons, handle what they’re doing? Can Lulu? And can their fledgling relationship survive all of the pressures to come? Lulu is still focused on leaving Dale forever, but what will that mean for Mason? Is she ready to say good-bye to this young man who has quickly become so important to her?

This summer, changes are on the way for Lulu, Mason, and their friends. Nothing will end up quite like they expect, and their moonshining venture will impact everything they thought about themselves and their plans for the future.

Will Lulu make it to San Diego? Will she stay with Mason? What will become of their business as moonshiners? Can a small group of kids really make something like this work? Or will all of their efforts blow up in their faces? Read My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp to find out.

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Maybe I’m alone in my sheltered little world, but I find the very thought of successful teenage moonshiners to be something of a stretch. In this book, though, the characters not only became moonshiners, but they also became pretty good at it. Yes, sometimes things didn’t go according to plan, and things didn’t quite end up like they’d hoped, but they really made a go of it. It was impressive…and disturbing.

Also, aside from the impact on the characters’ personal lives and relationships with others, there weren’t really any consequences for their highly illegal activities. I think that’s what bothered me the most about this book. The authorities weren’t even a real presence in the book, and some of the characters didn’t acknowledge being found out as a legitimate threat. I guess the rule-follower in me expected some sort of punishment for their actions, and, even though I would have likely rooted for the characters to escape the long arm of the law, I did want that arm to be present. Quite the conundrum.

I did like the way My Best Everything was written. Almost from the beginning, we know that the book is essentially a letter to Mason. But what kind of letter? Is Lulu telling him goodbye? Is she writing him a love letter? Is she simply trying to explain why things happened as they did? The reader never really knows, and that’s part of what I enjoyed about this book. Lulu lets us know that things didn’t happen the way she wanted them to, and, even at the end, we still don’t know what the future ultimately holds for her and Mason. It’s up to the reader to fill in those blanks.

For those who are considering purchasing this book for their libraries, I would urge some caution. My Best Everything is not a book I’d recommend to middle grade readers. In fact, I doubt I’d give this book to anyone under age sixteen. There are some complicated, adult situations–and loads of illegal activities–so this is definitely a book for older, more mature teen readers. Do with that what you will.

If you’re interested in learning more about My Best Everything and author Sarah Tomp, check out the author’s website, Twitter, and Goodreads. Enjoy!

Hero

It’s no secret that “dog books” circulate heavily in my school library. Most of the time, all I need to do is display a book with a dog on the cover, and it doesn’t stay on the shelf very long. Well, thanks to Sarah Lean, I now have one more “dog book” to share with my students. That book is Hero, and it was released to the masses this past Tuesday.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Hero through Goodreads First Reads, but I didn’t make time to finish it until last night…and I did read the bulk of the book in a single evening. It was a quick, engaging read suitable for anyone–young or old–who has ever imagined themselves to be extraordinary, struggled with fitting in or standing up for what’s right, or had a special bond with a beloved animal. (I’m pretty sure that covers everybody.)

Hero highlights heroic actions–from both humans and canines–in everyday situations…and in circumstances that defy even the most vivid imaginations.

Leo Biggs often imagines himself as a gladiator, fighting in the Roman amphitheater and trying to win the favor of Jupiter. In real life, though, Leo is a bit of an outcast. He only has one real friend–at least, just one human friend–but Leo longs to be seen as brave, popular, and extraordinary. And one day, he thinks he has his chance…

After a rather interesting episode at school, Leo gains the notice of Warren Miller, probably the coolest guy at school. Warren invites Leo to hang out after school…but Leo has to prove himself worthy of being in Warren’s crowd. Even though Leo is hesitant about what is asked of him, he’s willing to do just about anything to be popular. Leo couldn’t know, though, that his actions would lead to more trouble than even his powerful imagination could conjure.

One day, Warren and his crew try to convince Leo to have a little “fun” with Jack Pepper, his neighbor’s dog. Leo knows what’s going on is wrong, and he doesn’t really want to participate. What happens next changes everything Leo feels about himself and what the people in town think of him. Leo takes credit for saving Jack Pepper’s life (even though it was really the other way around), and now everyone thinks he’s some kind of hero. Only Leo, Warren and friends, and little Jack Pepper know the truth…but none of them are talking.

Leo is enjoying his new status as a town hero, but part of him knows that he’s living a lie. One day, however, something happens that puts Leo’s vision of himself as a hero to the test. A catastrophic event hits the town, and Jack Pepper is put in real danger. Leo knows it’s up to him to save this little dog, but what can one boy do in a truly perilous situation?

Will Leo finally step up and be the hero that Jack Pepper needs? Will Leo–or anyone else–ever reveal what actually happened when he “saved” Jack Pepper to begin with? And will Leo ever discover what it really means to be a hero? Answer these questions and many more when you read Hero by Sarah Lean.

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Hero is a good book for illustrating the importance of being true to oneself and standing up for what’s right…even when it’s not easy. This book also emphasizes the value of all types of friendships–those with kids, adults, and even animals. As the story progresses, Leo begins to realize that real friends are loyal, even when he doesn’t deserve it, and he needs to do whatever is necessary to prove his loyalty as well. Sometimes, that simply means being upfront and honest about his mistakes and doing whatever he can to make things right.

I think Hero is a good fit for most elementary and middle grade readers. It deals with issues like bullying, honesty, popularity, imagination, bravery, friendship, and, of course, caring for animals. I’m sure this book will be a big hit in my own school library.

For more information about Hero and other books by Sarah Lean, check out her website. You can also follow her on Twitter @SarahLean1.

 

 

Published in: on February 6, 2015 at 1:39 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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Notes from an Accidental Band Geek

The title of this book alone should have told me that I would love it. (I did.) I am an unapologetic band geek, and I probably always will be. Notes from an Accidental Band Geek allowed me to relive some of the happiest memories of my adolescence, and I imagine that any former or current marching band members will feel the same. This book could also show prospective band members–and maybe even those who look down on this bunch of dorks (I’m looking at you, Jim Rome)–just how awesome marching band really is. Seriously, band geeks are the coolest people in any school, and no one will ever convince me otherwise.

Now, on with the show…

Elsie Wyatt lives and breathes music. Her main goal in life is to take over her father’s position as principal French horn player for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She’s just got a few things to get through first…like band camp.

As part of the requirements for the prestigious Shining Birches summer music camp, Elsie must take part in a musical ensemble. For Elsie, that means joining her new high school’s marching band. She’s confident in her ability to play her horn, but that confidence takes a big hit on her first day of band camp. Not only is she encountering a musical culture that she never expected–one in which she’s humiliated before things even get started–but she’s also being forced to trade in her gorgeous French horn for a mellophone, a poor substitute that will require her to essentially start from scratch. Yeah…this is going to be a blast.

Now, Elsie must worry about perfecting her audition piece for Shining Birches as well as learning a new instrument, marching techniques, even more music, and navigating the tough waters–and friendships–that come with entering high school. And the friendship thing seems to be the hardest thing for Elsie to handle. Her horn has always been her best friend, and she doesn’t really know how to really talk to people, how to focus on someone other than herself, or how to control her temper when she’s having a troubles (musical or personal). She has to find a way to be a better friend, something that is becoming more and more important to her.

Even as Elsie is learning–and loving–more about the marching band and the friends she’s making, she’s still struggling with the pressure to be great. While part of her really wants to hang out with her band friends and let loose a little, she knows she must stay focused if she wants to earn a spot at Shining Birches and prove to her father that she’s a worthy, serious musician. She knows he doesn’t think she has what it takes, and Elsie will do just about anything to prove him wrong.

All of her intense focus, though, is turning Elsie into someone she doesn’t like or even recognize. (The people around her aren’t so crazy about her, either.) She’s snapping at everyone, even the people who would be there for her if she’d only let them, and her increasing anxiety is about to cause her to break. And when one more thing is added to Elsie’s already full plate, she has to decide whether she’ll rise to the occasion or buckle under the pressure.

Join Elsie in the wonderful world of marching band–band camp, rehearsals, passing out, bizarre rituals, parades, football games, competitions, pranks, bus rides, and much more–and learn how the one thing she thought would be nothing more than a means to an end has the power to change her entire life.

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My time with the marching (and concert) band was my favorite part of school. Most of my friends were in the band, and I spent every spare moment with them in the band room. I have so many fond memories of band camps, football games, and competitions, and I still try to take in at least one marching band or DCI (Drum Corps International) competition every year. (I’ve blocked out most of the sunburn, dehydration, soreness, yelling, running laps, crying, and all the other not-so-great stuff that comes with being part of this tight-knit group of awesomeness.) Not to be too melodramatic or anything, but marching band is a way of life, and it’s something that stays with you long after your last show. Erin Dionne, the author of this amazing book, totally gets that.

If I have any issues with this book, it’s with the main character herself. I just wanted to knock Elsie upside the head sometimes. (If I’d been her section leader, I probably would have.) She was just so mean to everyone around her, and, at least until the end, she didn’t see how her words and attitude impacted those around her. I know she had to display some personal growth throughout the course of the book, but, man, was that journey ever rocky. (Her parents didn’t help matters, either, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.)

Even with my desire to give Elsie a good wallop, I confess that I absolutely adored this book, and I will be recommending it to all of my fellow band geeks. I think it’s safe to say that Notes from an Accidental Band Geek will give every one of them some pretty awesome flashbacks. I know it did for me.*

For more information on Notes from and Accidental Band Geek and author Erin Dionne, check out her website and Twitter. Enjoy!

*Sadly, my time in the band came before digital photography was huge, so I have very few pictures of these wonderful moments. Here’s one, though, that I’m willing to share with the masses.

band_photo

Yep, that’s me in all my seventeen-year-old glory. I was tuba player and Band Captain for the Mustang Regiment of Palmetto High School. I loved every minute of it.*

All the Answers

I’m a world-class worrier. I can obsess over the smallest thing and make it into a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. This has been a skill of mine for years (and still drives my mother crazy). I have to force myself to stay away from things like WebMD because a cough is never just a simple cough. In my head, it’s always much, much worse.

No one–including myself sometimes–really understands why I worry so much, so it’s often refreshing for me when I encounter someone–real or fictional–who “gets it.” A couple of days ago, I finished reading a book about a character who definitely “gets it.” In fact, she may worry more than I do. The book is All the Answers by the always entertaining Kate Messner, and the character is young Ava Anderson.

Ava Anderson knows what it means to be anxious. She worries about everything. She panics before every test, and this morning is no different. She’s got a big math test today, and Ava knows she’s going to flub her way through it. She knows the material, but when tests roll around, Ava’s anxiety always gets the best of her. This morning, however, is going to be a little different…

It looks like an ordinary pencil, the kind someone would pick up at a conference or something, but this one turns out to be very different. When Ava grabs it out of her parents’ junk drawer, she has no way of knowing that this pencil is going to change her life.

Ava uses the pencil during her dreaded math test, and, wonder of wonders, when she presents questions to this strange pencil, it gives her the answers! For the first time in forever, Ava feels great about how she performed on a test. But does this magical pencil only work on math questions? Well, Ava and her best friend Sophie are about to find out…

Ava and Sophie soon realize that the special pencil will only answer factual questions, and it won’t answer anything with free will involved. The girls decide to use their new “power” to get some important information. For instance, which boys at school have a crush on Sophie? (This information leads to some rather sticky situations, as you can imagine.) They also use the pencil to figure out what would make Ava’s grandfather and his friends at the nursing home truly happy.

One day, though, Ava asks the pencil a question, and the answer rocks the girl’s entire world. This information has the power to change Ava’s entire family, and Ava can’t stop herself from worrying about what it could mean. Is Ava strong enough to handle what is coming, or will panic take over?

As Ava deals with everything revealed by this mysterious pencil, she begins to wonder if having all the answers is really so important. Does knowing so much make things better, or does it give people even more to obsess over? Can Ava put her worries–and her pencil–aside and finally trust in her own strength? And will that strength get her through the tough times ahead?

For the answers to these questions and many more, read All the Answers by Kate Messner.

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All the Answers, which will be released on January 27th, is a definite purchase for any libraries serving upper elementary and middle grade readers. Many readers will surely identify with Ava’s test anxiety and her worries about navigating the perils of school, friends, and new experiences.

While being a thoroughly entertaining (and totally relatable) book, All the Answers also delivers an important message. Having all the answers may sound awesome, but it’s not the most important thing in life. Yes, a magical pencil like the one in this book may sound appealing, but it could also be a crutch, something that one learns to rely on instead of developing his/her own inner confidence, strength, and faith. (This was really brought home for Ava when she discovered her grandfather’s history with the pencil. It definitely opened her eyes a bit.) There’s nothing out there that can magically erase anxieties, but, like Ava discovered, there are some strategies that can make it easier to deal with.

As I wrap up this post, I’d like to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read another book that I’ll be adding to my school library as soon as it’s released. I’d also like to send my heart-felt gratitude to author Kate Messner for writing another story that so many students will enjoy. I wish I’d had a story like this when I was younger. It would have helped so much to read about a girl who worried about stuff like I did.

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Happy holidays to all of my friends out there! Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts about books this year, and I hope you’ll follow me into next year. I’ll be taking the next couple of days off to bake and spend time with my family, but I’m always reading and looking for more awesome books to share with all of you. So…merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a wonderful winter solstice, and a fun Festivus for the rest of us! (And if you choose not to celebrate any winter holidays, I hope you have an excellent time as well!) Happy reading!

 

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