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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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!

 

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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Bad Magic

Thanks to NetGalley, I’ve been introduced to the first book in what is sure to be a fantastic series for middle grade readers. This book is Bad Magic by Pseudonymous Bosch, and it’s due for a September 16th release.

Bad Magic is full of snark and humor, and it also parallels one of my favorite plays, The Tempest by William Shakespeare. All in all, I’d say this book is a must-purchase for libraries that serve middle grade readers.

Clay hates magic. One day, he writes his feelings for magic in his journal, and his words–Magic Sucks!–mysteriously (or magically) appear on the side of a building at school. Of course, all fingers point to Clay, and even though he knows he’s innocent, he’s sent away to Earth Ranch, a wilderness camp for troubled youth.

Almost immediately, Clay realizes that things are kind of weird at Earth Ranch, which is located perilously close to an active volcano. There’s the llama that only responds to Spanish, the swarms of bees that simply don’t behave like they should, and the vog (volcanic smog) that makes everything just a little spookier.

Things get even stranger when Clay learns of the seemingly haunted–and off-limits–library that has all but been abandoned. Of course, like any curious kid presented with a mystery, Clay has to investigate this library, and his quest for answers leads him on a journey that makes him question everything around him…including the reason he was sent to Earth Ranch.

What is really going on at Earth Ranch? Is anyone who they seem to be? Why is this camp so much like a play he was reading in school? Is Clay just imagining the connections, or is he really living out a Shakespearean play? Is that crazy, or is someone trying to get Clay to believe in magic once again? If so, who?

Nothing makes sense for Clay, and his search for the truth will only give him more questions. Can you figure out what’s really going on before Clay does? Jump into Bad Magic to find out!

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I had hoped to add Bad Magic to my elementary library collection, but I think some of the humor is just a little too mature for my students. Middle grade readers, though, will eat up all of the sarcasm and gross humor in this book. (I’ve taught middle school before, so I know snark and potty humor is the first language of most 6th-8th graders.)

I don’t know why, but I tend to enjoy novels with funny, informative footnotes. I got those in Bad Magic. These footnotes added to the humor in this novel, but they also provided readers with information on things they may not be totally familiar with…like popular 70s TV shows, for example. I don’t know how it will look in the print version of the novel, but my digital galley had each of these asterisks as links to the footnotes. (Click on the asterisk, and move to the footnote. Click on the asterisk next to the footnote, and move back to the text. Easy-peasy.) I’m hoping that the print version will have the footnotes at the bottom of each page so that reading this added info isn’t too jarring.

As a fan of Shakespeare, particularly The Tempest, I really appreciated Bad Magic‘s connections to this too-often-forgotten play. Those familiar with the play may be able to figure out what’s going on with Clay much sooner than he does. Bad Magic could also be a fun follow-up to studies of The Tempest. I think students (and teachers) could enjoy comparing the two stories and using what happened in The Tempest to predict what will happen in Bad Magic.

Like I said previously, Bad Magic is a must-have book in middle school libraries, and this book can be purchased on September 16th. If you’d like to learn more about this book and others by author Pseudonymous Bosch, definitely do not go to this website.

Published in: on August 31, 2014 at 1:54 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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The Kiss of Deception

I love books with strong women at the forefront. I adore fantasy. I’ve also been known to enjoy a good love triangle. Well, I got all that and more in The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, but…let’s just say it took me a while to get into this book.

My copy of The Kiss of Deception is an uncorrected galley (thanks to NetGalley), so I’m hoping that some of the things I had issues with will be worked out in editing. The book is scheduled to be released on July 15th, so I may have to pick up another copy to see if anything changed. Now, I’m not saying it was a bad book. Trust me, I’ve read LOADS of bad books, and this one definitely has the potential to be a truly outstanding book in a promising new series.

Our story begins with Lia, the Princess of Morrighan, preparing for her wedding to the prince of a neighboring kingdom. She’s never met the prince, but Lia wants no part of a marriage where love is never considered and she’s viewed as little more than a broodmare. So, on the eve of her wedding, Lia and her maid Pauline make a run for it.

Lia and Pauline evade everyone looking for them–soldiers, barbarians, bounty hunters–and arrive in Pauline’s hometown of Terravin. Here, the two are no longer princess and maid. They are now girls who work in an inn for their wages…and Lia has never been happier. She’s finally escaped a destiny that was mapped out for her, and she’s the one in charge of her life.

What Lia barely considers, however, is that there are people out there looking for her…and two have found her.  The prince she left at the altar and an assassin sent to end her life.  They have tracked young Lia to the inn where she now lives and works, and each of them is determined to see his own agenda through…but they don’t count on their own feelings for this girl. Lia has captivated both young men, Kaden and Rafe, and it seems they will do nearly anything to earn her favor. But what will Lia do when she discovers who these young men truly are? Will she be able to trust either of them when so many lies stand between them?

Soon Lia is faced with an untenable choice. Should she stay in her somewhat comfortable life in Terravin, or should she come out of hiding and face her past and her future? Lia does what she must in the hopes of preventing war, but that choice will lead her into troubles that she could scarcely have foreseen, troubles that could endanger her very life.

Will she be able to get out of alive? Who can she trust to help her? And what will Lia do when she realizes that she’s more important than anyone ever thought? Is she strong enough to fight–and win–the battles in front of her?

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So, in the little recap above, I think I’ve made The Kiss of Deception sound pretty good, and I’ve captured the highlights without giving too much away.  It is a good book, but here are a few things that bugged me a little:

  • I didn’t figure out what a Remnant was or what was so special about it until about halfway through the book. Since this is book one in The Remnant Chronicles, I thought a little more explanation at the beginning of the book would have been nice.
  • Sometimes, the story seemed to drag on. There was a lot of time spent on donkey- or horse-back, and I felt like I experienced every single one of those miles. I could have done without some of that.
  • A pronunciation or translation guide would have been helpful for all of the foreign words and phrases in the book. Sometimes, they just weren’t explained adequately by using context clues.
  • It wasn’t exactly clear where or when this book was set. Is it post-apocalyptic Earth? Is it an alternate history? I just wasn’t sure, and that was a little aggravating.

All that being said, I do think the main character, Lia, is one to be admired. That girl has a backbone of steel, and I’ll probably read the rest of this series just to see her make mincemeat of the Neanderthals around her. (The next book, by the way, is The Heart of Betrayal and will be out sometime in 2015.)

I also liked reading the chapters from the prince’s and assassin’s points of view. Eventually, we learned their names, but it was still unclear which one was the royal and which was the killer. Personally, I had the two mixed up, so the big reveal was a bit of a shock for me. I’m sure other readers will feel the same way.

I hope you’ll give The Kiss of Deception a try.  I’ve been impressed with a couple of Mary E. Pearson’s other books (The Adoration of Jenna Fox, The Fox Inheritance), so I knew this would be a good book. With a little polishing, I think it could be a great one.

Published in: on April 4, 2014 at 4:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Aviary

Greetings, dear readers! It’s been a while since my last post, and I apologize for that. I’ve been trying to get through my latest read for a while, and let’s just say that it was extremely slow-going at first. So slow, in fact, that I read at least six other books while I was trying to get into this one. Why did I continue trying, you ask? Well, this book, The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell, is a nominee for the 13-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, and I felt I had to read it if I plan to promote it to my students. A few minutes ago, I finally finished The Aviary, and, while it took what seemed like forever for me to get invested in the story, the last half of the book flew by. (Pun intended.)

Even though The Aviary a work of historical fiction (not my favorite genre) that involves birds, which I’m not a huge fan of (which is odd considering that both of my college alma maters have birds as mascots), I do still plan to recommend this book to my students. It’s a good story, and I think it will spark the imaginations of upper elementary and middle grade readers.

Clara Dooley has been cooped up in the Glendoveer mansion her entire life. Her mother takes care of the house, and young Clara, who has a weak heart, has lessons with the aging Mrs. Glendoveer, widow to the famed magician, the Great Glendoveer. The Glendoveers were once a big, happy family, but tragedy struck–the Glendoveer children were kidnapped and killed–and the family was reduced to little but tears, bitterness, and a longing for times past.

The Glendoveer mansion is shrouded in mystery, a mystery made even more strange by the birds that inhabit the house’s aviary. These birds have lived longer than any birds should, and they have some odd connection to the Glendoveer family. Clara has always been a bit frightened of the birds–who squawk madly whenever she’s near–and her fear reaches a new level when one of the birds speaks a name–Elliot.

As one would imagine, Clara is intrigued by this, and she asks elderly Mrs. Glendoveer if she knows anyone by the name of Elliot. That seemingly simple question starts Clara down a path that will eventually unravel the mystery of what really happened  to the Glendoveer children…and how the birds in the aviary–and Clara herself–fit into the puzzle she’s attempting to solve. But how can Clara hope to figure out what happened if she can’t even leave the house? Well, she’ll have a little help from a new friend, and Clara may just discover that she’s stronger than anyone ever realized…

What really happened to the Glendoveer children? Who is Elliot? What is so special about the birds in the aviary? Why is so important that Clara be the one to uncover the truth? And can this young girl solve a mystery that has puzzled everyone for decades and help the Glendoveer family finally find peace? Answer these questions and many more when you read The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell!

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I think that any reader who really sits down and gives The Aviary a bit of time to get going will be pleasantly surprised by the journey. That being said, I do have a few issues with this book. First of all, it felt like it dragged at the beginning. It usually doesn’t take me quite so long to get into a book, and, honestly, if I hadn’t had to read this book, I would have stopped reading it entirely. Secondly, I didn’t find the cover appealing at all. (I freely admit that I judge a book by its cover.) I found the cover to be kind of boring, and that may have given me some preconceived notions about the book. Finally, the book featured letters from several characters, and those were printed in very difficult to read fonts. Given that many of my students can barely write–much less read–cursive, these letters may be hard to decifer (which is a shame since most of them add quite a bit to the story).

If you’d like more information about this book, check out the official Facebook page or the author’s website. You may also enjoy the book trailer below. Maybe if I’d watched this first, I would have gone into this book with little more excitement. (It doesn’t give away anything, but the music sets the perfect mood for this book.)

Published in: on July 18, 2013 at 10:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tiger Lily

I’ve been kind of inundated with Peter Pan lately. Eighteen of my current students have been involved in a local high school’s production of the play. (Several former students were also involved.) For the past couple of months, all I’ve heard about is Peter Pan. The classic Disney movie has also been playing on cable. In this case, I decided to join in the madness by not only seeing my students in the play (which was fabulous, by the way), but I also moved Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Tiger Lily to the top of my reading list.

If you know anything about the story of Peter Pan, you can probably figure out that this book focuses on Tiger Lily, one of the natives of Neverland. In this book, she is the adopted daughter of a shaman (not the chief’s daughter like she’s been portrayed in the past). This novel, told from Tinker Bell’s perspective, gives readers a glimpse of a character that has often been overlooked. Sure, everyone loves to focus on Peter, Tink, Wendy, Hook, and the Lost Boys, but Tiger Lily often gets shoved to the background. Tiger Lily brings this mysterious character to the forefront and shows us the struggles she encounters. We also learn that, before Wendy even entered the picture, another girl stole the heart of Peter Pan…

Tiger Lily–of the tribe of Sky Eaters in Neverland–is no ordinary girl. She is tough, she keeps to herself, and she has few friends. She is close to her adopted father, Tik Tok, the tribe’s shaman, but she knows she doesn’t really fit with the rest of the tribe. In fact, they often seem a bit scared of her. (She’s not the scary one. That honor goes to Giant, the massive man who she is promised to marry.)

Tiger Lily is dreading the day that she is forced to marry a man she despises, but she does have an escape from her worries. That escape comes in the form of a strange boy…a boy that her tribe has always thought is surely a monster. Peter Pan. With Peter, Tiger Lily can let her worries go, if only for a little while. She’s still holding parts of herself back, but she gradually grows to love Peter, his freedom, and even the Lost Boys who are always ready for a new game or adventure. Soon, the time will come when Tiger Lily will have to choose between her love for Peter and her duty to her tribe. Will she choose love over duty, or will that choice even be hers to make?

Changes are coming to Neverland. Some of them are dangerous and have the power to completely destroy Tiger Lily’s life as she knows it. One such change comes in the form of a girl. Wendy Darling. Who is this dainty English girl who has so captivated Peter and the Lost Boys? How could Peter so easily forget Tiger Lily in the presence of this new girl? And what will Tiger Lily do to recapture Peter’s attention? How far is she willing to go–and what alliances is she willing to make–to get rid of this girl?

Journey to Neverland to discover the story of Tiger Lily, the girl who first loved Peter Pan. Yes, this is a fairy tale in the strictest sense of the phrase. (It is told by a fairy, so there you go.) It may not be the happily ever after we’ve always expected, though. What really happened to Peter Pan, Wendy, the Lost Boys, Hook, Smee, and Tiger Lily? The answers may surprise you, but, I promise, you’ll never look at this classic story quite the same way again.

I always enjoy books–particularly YA books–with strong female characters, and Tiger Lily definitely fits the bill. At some points, Tiger Lily could even be considered too strong, and readers will want her to bend a little, but you have to respect someone who is so strong-willed. Tiger Lily was determined to live life on her terms, and, even when she did what others wanted, she still retained her will, determination, courage, and tenacity. Things didn’t always go the way she would have wanted, but Tiger Lily endured.

Tiger Lily is told from Tinker Bell’s perspective, which I think is kind of cool. Tink, though she’s always been portrayed as totally loyal to Peter Pan, was a faithful companion to Tiger Lily in this novel. Yes, she did spend some time with Peter and the Lost Boys, and she even did a little recon to gain information from the pirates, but she always returned to Tiger Lily. In this book, we experience Tink’s frustration with the situations around her and how little she could do to change things. Tink sees and hears all, but she can’t really communicate that with the people she’s come to care about. It’s up to them to figure things out.

Tiger Lily turns the beloved Peter Pan story on its ear, and I think that’s a good thing. I like it when familiar stories are shaken up a bit, and I’ve always been a fan of fairy tale retellings. This new perspective could help to reintroduce this familiar story to teen (and adult) readers who want to experience just a little of their childhoods all over again. Yes, the story is a little different, but, now that we’ve grown a little older, so are we. (Notice I didn’t say that we’ve grown up. I, for one, plan to stay young at heart forever. “Growing old is mandatory.  Growing up is optional.”)

For more information about Tiger Lily, author Jodi Lynn Anderson, and her other books, visit her Facebook or Twitter pages.

Published in: on April 29, 2013 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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