Almost Super

A couple of months ago, the South Carolina Association of School Librarians released the nominee lists for next year’s state Book Award program. When I first glanced at the lists, I was surprised by how few of the nominees I’d already read. Since I’m an elementary school librarian, I focus most of my attention on the Picture and Children’s lists, and, until recently, I’d only read two of the nominated titles on those lists. (One of those, Zane and the Hurricane, I’ve already posted on.) Today, though, I was able to check off one more nominee on the Children’s Book Award list, Almost Super by Marion Jensen.

Almost Super is sure to be a big hit with elementary and middle grade readers who enjoy movies like The Incredibles and Despicable Me. This book introduces readers to a family of superheroes…but what will they do when they realize that the supervillains they’ve been battling for years are just like them?

“At 4:23 in the afternoon, on February 29, any Bailey age twelve or over gets a superpower.”

This year, brothers Rafter and Benny Bailey will finally get the superpowers they’ve been waiting for. Will they be able to fly? Have super strength or speed? Shoot fire or water out of their hands? What powers will they get to aid in their family’s fight against the Johnsons, the evil family of supervillains?

When the clock strikes 4:23, Rafter and Benny finally get their long-awaited powers…and they’re total duds. No, they couldn’t get useful powers like flight, strength, speed, or even super-smarts. Nothing useful like that. No, Rafter now has the astounding ability to light matches on polyester, and Benny can turn his belly button from an innie to an outie. It doesn’t look like these two boys will be much help when it comes to fighting crime.

Rafter is shocked by how worthless his new power is. Why did he and Benny get such dumb powers? How can they possibly help the family fight evil with powers like these? Rafter becomes determined to find out just what is going on, and his quest leads him right to one person–Juanita Johnson. (Yes, of the evil supervillain Johnsons.) Did she get a worthless power, too? Or did this embarrassment somehow skip the Johnsons?

As Rafter and Benny learn more from Juanita, they begin to realize that maybe the two families–who’ve been fighting for decades–aren’t all that different. Maybe they both see themselves as superheroes. And maybe there’s an even bigger problem that they need to work together to solve.

Join Rafter, Benny, and Juanita in Almost Super as they uncover a plot to manipulate both of their families and learn that one doesn’t need superpowers to do something truly heroic. Sometimes, being almost super is enough.

_______________

I found Almost Super to be a quirky, witty, thoroughly entertaining read, and I look forward to sharing it with my students. I think this will be a huge hit with those who love comic books and all things superhero. A fun writing exercise to go along with this book may be to have students come up with their own “dud” superpowers and figure out a way for those to be used to fight crime. I’ll have to think a little more about that.

Almost Super does end with a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m thrilled that the next book, Searching for Super, is already out. I’ll definitely add that one to my next library order!

Within the next week or so, I’ll try to create a book trailer to go along with Almost Super. (I do this with most of the SC Picture and Children’s Book Award nominees. Those I can’t find videos for, anyway.) Check my library YouTube channel periodically to see when it’s posted. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Almost Super as much as I did.

Published in: on April 12, 2015 at 7:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

All Fall Down

Late last night, I finished reading Ally Carter’s latest novel, All Fall Down, the first book in her new Embassy Row series. Having read her Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, I figured that I would immediately fall in love with Carter’s newest work. Well, I can’t exactly call it love at first read, but I do think this series is promising. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Three years ago, Grace Blakely witnessed the death of her mother. She tried to convince everyone that it was no accident, but no one would listen to her. They all thought she was crazy, and she spent the next few years moving from therapist to therapist, hospital to hospital, drug to drug. She still believes that her mother was murdered, but Grace has learned to keep her thoughts to herself.

Now, with her military father deployed, Grace is returning to the land where her mother grew up. She’s living with her grandfather now, but her grandfather isn’t some kindly old guy who’s retired and spends his days fishing or gardening. No, he’s the U.S. Ambassador to the country of Adria, and Grace is now living in her mom’s old room at the Embassy. No pressure to act normal here.

As Grace tries to adapt to her surroundings–which are familiar but different at the same time–she also encounters some new–and old–friends who are looking out for her and trying to make her feel welcome. There’s Noah, son of two ambassadors, who appoints himself as Grace’s best friend. There’s Rosie, a young girl from the German Embassy, who has the impressive ability of blending into the shadows (and getting loads of information). There’s Megan, a former playmate of Grace’s, who has depths that surprise everyone. And then there’s Alexei, son of the Russian Ambassador, best friend of Grace’s brother, and her self-appointed protector. Even with all of these people, though, Grace feels totally alone.

Grace is haunted by her past, and her worlds collide when she sees someone in Adria who everyone says is a figment of her imagination. The Scarred Man who killed her mother. None of the adults around her believe Grace’s tales of the Scarred Man, so she seeks the help of her fellow Embassy kids. Together, they search high and low (sometimes very, very low) for information about the Scarred Man, proof of his past crimes, and clues pointing to his next target.

While Grace is seeking the truth about her mother’s death, everything around her seems to be spinning out of control. She doesn’t really know who she can trust, who will believe her…or who will ultimately betray her. And in a world where one misstep can have international ramifications, Grace may just find herself in the middle of something she never could have foreseen. Something that may change everything.

Is Grace prepared for what she will discover about her mom and herself? Or will the truth ultimately tear her apart? Begin to unravel the mystery when you read All Fall Down by Ally Carter.

_______________

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I think the Embassy Row series shows great promise, but I did have a couple of issues with this book. The biggest problem for me was that some of the action sequences and changes were rather abrupt. I found myself going back and rereading several passages because I was sure I had to have missed something. (I even looked to see if pages were missing from my copy of the book. No dice.) Some things just happened way too suddenly, and there was very little explanation about why things unfolded the way they did. (This was especially true at the end of the book.) I’m hopeful that this will be ironed out in the next book.

I also didn’t quite get the relationship between Grace and Alexei. For most of the book, Alexei was a big brother figure with questionable motives. By the end of the book, we’re supposed to believe there’s the possibility of a budding romance between Grace and Alexei…but then he disappears without a word (which was, again, rather abrupt and unexpected). I guess I just didn’t see these two as a potential couple. It didn’t make sense in this book, but I have a feeling we’ll see Alexei again in future books, and maybe that relationship will feel a bit more natural.

Speaking of the next book in this series, it should be released sometime in 2016. There’s currently no title listed on Goodreads, but I’m sure that will be remedied soon. There is, however, a bonus scene available, Before the Fall: Arrival, that is already out, and you can read it for free. Given the title, I’m guessing this 15-page short story highlights Grace’s arrival in Adria. I’ll take a look at it soon.

In conclusion (because it’s almost time for bed), I would like to say that, even with its faults, I did like All Fall Down, and I will likely continue with the rest of the series. I’d recommend this book to both middle grade and young adult readers who like a bit of political intrigue in their books. I look forward to seeing where Grace’s story leads and how this girl navigates the tough waters of international politics while trying to have a somewhat normal life. Should be interesting.

For more information about All Fall Down, the future of the Embassy Row series, and the author’s other books, check out Ally Carter’s website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

Blood of My Blood

Warning: Before proceeding with this book, you MUST read I Hunt Killers and Game. Preferably during daylight hours. Or with every light in the house on. And maybe a baseball bat by your side. And a therapist on speed-dial.

Normally, I like to think a bit about a book before I post on it. That is not the case with Blood of My Blood, the third and final book in Barry Lyga’s Jasper Dent trilogy. No, I have to get my thoughts on this book out right now…and then watch a Disney movie or look at pictures of baby pandas before I try to go to sleep.

To say that Blood of My Blood is horrifying and upsetting is a gross understatement. That being said…it was a great book and completely lived up to its predecessors. It continues the story of Jasper Dent and his search for the truth about his father, one of the world’s most prolific serial killers, Billy Dent.

When last we left Jasper (also known as Jazz), his girlfriend Connie, and his best friend Howie, each of them were facing life-threatening situations. Jazz was seriously injured and trapped in a storage unit. Howie, a hemophiliac, was bleeding out on the floor of Jasper’s grandmother’s house. And Connie had just come face-to-face with her worst nightmare–Billy Dent himself. But that’s really just the beginning of the horrors to come.

Things are looking bleak for Jasper Dent. Yes, he’s helped the NYPD track down a team of serial killers, but at what cost? An FBI agent is dead, and fingers are starting to point at Jazz. His father, the infamous Billy Dent, is on the loose, and some are beginning to wonder if father and son are working together. Jazz can’t convince the police of his innocence–even when it is revealed that his girlfriend has narrowly escaped Billy’s clutches–so he does the only thing he can think of. He goes in search of Billy himself.

Jazz tries his best to disconnect from everything he’s ever loved in his hunt for Billy, but his past keeps creeping in. He thinks of his loyal best friend, Howie, and Connie is never far from his mind. Jazz also thinks about his mom, a woman who left when he was just a child but who may now be in Billy’s grasp once again. Can he protect all of these people, do what he feels needs to be done, and still hold on to his humanity? Is that even a possibility anymore? Or is Jazz really turning into his father’s son?

As Jazz gets closer and closer to Billy, pieces of his past are becoming clearer, and neither Jazz nor those around him may be prepared for what is eventually revealed. It seems that Billy is not the worst evil to be encountered. No, a malignant force called the Crow King is bearing down on Jazz and will change everything he’s ever believed about his father and himself.

How will it all end? I’ll leave that for you to find out…

_______________

After reading the first two books in this series (and thoroughly enjoying them), I knew I had to read Blood of My Blood. While I’m glad I finally found time to devote to this book, I have to say that I thought it was the most disturbing of the entire trilogy. At times, I really had to resist the urge to throw up. It wasn’t that the imagery was particularly graphic–although it was at times. No, what really got to me were Jazz’s traumatic memories. I won’t go into details here, but I will say that this kid never really had much of a chance. From Billy’s “teachings” to the other snippets of a horrible childhood, it’s a wonder Jazz didn’t turn into a raging psychopath.

I don’t know what more I can say about this trilogy as a whole. If you like psychological thrillers or enjoy shows like Criminal Minds, this might be the series for you. I warn some readers that the content can be upsetting. I doubt I’d recommend this book for middle grade readers or those who scare easily.

If you’d like to learn more about Blood of My Blood and the other books in this trilogy, check out author Barry Lyga’s website.

Now, I must watch a light-hearted Disney movie to get all these thoughts of murder and serial killers out of my head. (And now that I’m thinking about it, there aren’t many Disney films without crazed killers. Maybe I’ll just watch a few episodes of Friends on Netflix.)

Published in: on February 28, 2015 at 10:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Timepiece

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t already read Hourglass by Myra McEntire, stop right here. This post is all about the second book in the series, Timepiece, and I will definitely spoil the first book for you if you keep reading. You’ve been warned!

Sometimes, second books in series leave much to be desired. They often seem like filler until we make it to the big finale. I’m happy to say that I didn’t feel that way with Timepiece, the second book in Myra McEntire’s Hourglass series. Yes, a lot happened that carried over from the first book, and that stuff will likely be resolved in book three, but Timepiece, thanks largely to an entirely new narrator, felt like a book with its own important story.

In this second installment, we see the action unfold through the eyes of Kaleb. You may recall that Kaleb is the son of Liam, the leader of the Hourglass, an organization devoted to those with special abilities related to time (and time-travel is just a small part of that). When we left Kaleb in Hourglass, we saw a young man who was dealing with a great deal of turmoil–the return of his father, his mother’s precarious mental state, his growing feelings for his best friend’s girl, and his own devastating personal demons. In Timepiece, Kaleb is facing all of those issues and many more…

Kaleb Ballard may seem sure of himself on the outside–kind of cocky, tattoos and piercings to emphasize his tough-guy image–but he’s really a whirling mess of self-doubt. His ability to feel the emotions of others makes him seek numbness at the bottom of a bottle, but circumstances are unfolding that will require Kaleb to maintain laser-like focus.

Jack Landers, the very man who attempted to destroy Liam, Kaleb’s father, and took his mother’s memories is back once more, and now the stakes are even higher. It’s made perfectly clear that Jack, the fiend who is ripping time apart, must be stopped before he can inflict anymore pain.

Kaleb want to do his part to bring Jack to justice. Kaleb’s dad, though, wants to keep Kaleb out of this fight. Liam confides in Michael and seeks out his assistance, and that grates on Kaleb. Why can’t his dad trust him with everything that’s going on? Is he that much of a disappointment? Surely there’s something Kaleb can do to prove to his father that he can help in finding Jack and fixing whatever damage has been done to the splintering space-time continuum.

Soon enough, Kaleb finds himself embroiled in the quest to find the elusive Jack Landers. He’s not alone, though. He receives support from Michael, Emerson, and, oddly enough, from Emerson’s best friend, Lily (who has her own supernatural abilities). Not too long ago, Kaleb was plagued with feelings for Emerson, but Lily is changing everything. She doesn’t buy into his bad boy image, and that allows Kaleb to actually be real with a girl for the first time. But it’s hard to build a future with a girl when time itself is unraveling around them.

Time is ripping apart all around Kaleb and his friends. If they don’t do something fast–find some way to stop Jack in his mad dash for power–everything they know will be torn to shreds. Can they foil Jack’s plans and restore the memories he’s stolen from so many? Or will their search for truth put them in even more danger? Read Timepiece, the thrilling second book in the Hourglass series, to find out!

_______________

I’m the first to admit that time-travel fiction messes with my head, and Timepiece is no different. It confused the crap out of me, and I have to say that it wasn’t an entirely unpleasant feeling. Anything that makes me think is good in my book. Also, I love the “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” quality of this entire series. It’s all very Doctor Who (which makes sense because the author is a fan of the show). I am a die-hard Whovian myself, so anything that reminds me of The Doctor is simply fantastic.

Even though Timepiece had a fair amount of resolution at the end, questions still abound. The final moments of the book indicate that things are going to get much more confusing before any clarity shines through. The search is now on for the mysterious Infinityglass, the one thing that could stop Jack’s machinations and finally repair time once and for all. I’m confident that the search will not be an easy one, and things will get much worse before they get better for Kaleb, Lily, Emerson, and Michael. I can hardly wait to see how everything plays out!

Luckily, I don’t have to wait long to see what happens here since Infinityglass, book three in the series, is already out. I’ve just got a few other books to finish, and then I’ll devote some time to wrapping up this intriguing series.

For more information on Timepiece, the other Hourglass novels, and Myra McEntire, check out the author’s website, Goodreads, and Twitter. Happy reading!

Hourglass

Last year, at YALLFest 2013, I heard a charming, entertaining author speak*, and I’ve been meaning to pick up her books ever since. That author is Myra McEntire, and I finally made time to dive into Hourglass, her first novel, this weekend. It didn’t take long for me to get sucked into the world created by Ms. McEntire, and I can hardly wait to read more. (There are now three books in the Hourglass series, and I plan to devour the others during my upcoming holiday break. Woohoo!)

*I should also note that Ms. McEntire was so entertaining that I recommended her as a guest author at the annual conference of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians. Wonder of wonders, she accepted SCASL’s invitation, so I’ll get to see her once again in March!

Emerson Cole is not exactly a typical seventeen-year-old girl. In fact, almost nothing about Emerson is what one would consider “normal.” When her name pops up, “crazy” is the word most often used to describe this troubled girl.

And why is Emerson so troubled? Nothing big, really. She simply sees ghosts of the past nearly everywhere she goes, she’s traumatized by her parents’ deaths, and she’s recently decided to go off her meds because they make everything feel all fuzzy. Emerson has tried nearly everything to help herself cope with the strangeness that is her life, but she’s never really thought about embracing what makes her different. At least, not until Michael enters her life…

Michael Weaver, a guy not much older than Emerson herself, works for an organization known as the Hourglass, and he’s been hired by Emerson’s older brother to help her through some of her issues. What her dear brother doesn’t know, however, is that the mysterious Michael hasn’t come into the picture to make Emerson “normal;” he’s here to show Emerson the true depth of her power.

Soon after meeting Emerson, Michael explains that her encounters with ghosts are much more than what they seem. They are, in fact, ripples in the fabric of time, and Emerson has the unique ability to actually travel to the past, even change things if she wishes to. Michael wants to help her do just that.

Emerson is soon dealing with some fairly unbelievable information, things that make her question everything she thought she knew about herself and the universe. And as if that’s not enough, she’s also confronting some pretty inconvenient feelings for Michael. There’s this weird electrical charge whenever they touch, and their pull toward each other is undeniable, but Michael rebuffs her at every turn. Why? Is it simply because her brother hired Michael to help Emerson? Or are there other things–other people–getting in the way of a possible relationship between Emerson and Michael?

As Emerson learns more about herself, her abilities, her past, Michael, and the secretive Hourglass organization, she comes face-to-face with some truths that are at once horrific and seemingly impossible. Does she really have the power to change her fate and that of those around her, or have other forces already manipulated Emerson’s life and abilities to achieve their own ends?

Well, as they say, time will tell…

_______________

Hourglass really puts a different spin on the whole time travel concept, and it’s one that I think a lot of readers will enjoy. There’s way too much time travel fiction out there that just glosses over the physics behind the concept. This book doesn’t do that. It actually takes a look at things like the space-time continuum and how changing one thing in the past could have devastating consequences in the present and future. The science nerd within me is rejoicing over this…and trying to decipher what the book’s conclusion could mean for time itself.

Aside from all of the time travel stuff, Hourglass has a flawed, totally relatable protagonist. Emerson is far from perfect. She has huge errors in judgement all the time, but I truly believe that her heart is in the right place. She wants to do the right thing, but it’s not always clear how to do that. And when she finds herself floundering, she does what so many YA characters don’t–she talks to the adults in her life, tells them the truth about her situation, and listens to (even if she doesn’t always follow) their advice. Also, she’s like a mini-ninja, so that makes me like her even more.

So, we’ve got time travel, and we’ve got a likable main character. What am I forgetting? Oh yeah! The totally infuriating (in a good way) love story! The push-pull between Emerson and Michael was both wonderful and exasperating. Every time I thought they were about to confess their feelings for each other, I was thrown for a loop. (So was Emerson, by the way.) I didn’t know which way to turn, or even which way I wanted to turn. And when another swoon-worthy guy entered the picture, I was even more confused. Who should Emerson really be with? Should she be with anyone? It’s all very confusing…for both Emerson and the reader. And the book’s resolution, while it does kind of resolve this one big thing, also makes it clear that Emerson’s immediate future will likely be anything but moonlight and roses.

_______________

If you’re looking for a riveting YA read, I urge you to give Hourglass a try. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

For more information on Hourglass, its sequels, and Myra McEntire, check out the author’s website, Goodreads, and Twitter. Ms. McEntire is also a contributing author in the holiday anthology My True Love Gave to Me, so you may want to give that fabulous book a read as well!

Suspicion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________

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

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

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

Published in: on December 2, 2014 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

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!

_______________

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  
Tags: , , , , ,

I Am the Mission

Caution! It is imperative that you read I Am the Weapon, book one in Allen Zadoff’s Unknown Assassin series, before continuing with book two, I Am the Mission. This message will self-destruct in 3…2…1…

Just kidding. This message won’t do anything. But seriously, read the first book.

As you’ve probably gathered, I recently read I Am the Mission, the nerve-wracking sequel to I am the Weapon. This second installment picks up shortly after the conclusion of book one, and it is quite the page-turner.

I Am the Mission came out on June 17th, and some of you may have seen it under a couple of different titles: The Lost Mission or Fearless. (Thanks to NetGalley, I read a digital proof of the book with The Lost Mission as its title.) No matter what the title, though, the book is gripping and continues to follow the life of young man who works as an assassin for a group known only as The Program. This teenager moves from one identity, one assignment, to the next, and his only concerns are to eliminate his targets and protect The Program at all costs. During his last mission, however, he began to question his orders, and that tiny seed of doubt is creeping in once again…

After going off the grid for a bit–to come to grips with his last mission and to get his head on straight–this boy, who we’ve previously known as Ben, is pulled back into The Program. His loyalty is being questioned, and he knows he’ll have to suppress his doubts to keep his handlers from deciding he’s too much of a threat to their organization. One way to do that is to complete the next mission he’s given.

When another operative for The Program is seemingly terminated, our boy–who now goes by Daniel–is tasked with completing this lost mission. His job is to kill Eugene Moore, a man who runs Camp Liberty and appears to be amassing an army of young people for the express purpose of overthrowing the government and/or committing acts of domestic terrorism.

The job should have been an easy in-and-out, but things quickly grow complicated, and Daniel finds himself being led to Moore’s training camp with no way of getting word to The Program. His only option now is to become a part of Camp Liberty, get close to Moore’s kids, and look for another opportunity to eliminate this new threat to national security. It isn’t easy, though. This camp takes its own protection very seriously, and not everyone trusts the new guy sniffing around.

As Daniel learns more about the camp and its leader, he tries to get word to The Program about what is going on…but his efforts amount to nothing. He cannot reach anyone, and, after a harrowing episode at what should have been a safe house, Daniel seriously questions what has happened to The Program. Has their security been breached? Has this secret organization been disabled? Or is there something much more sinister at work? Something, perhaps, targeted at Daniel himself?

Questions abound for Daniel on this chaotic mission, but he remains determined to carry out his orders…even when he learns that The Program has not exactly been truthful with him. Daniel must act without mercy against those who would seek to do harm to the country. To do that, he will have to put aside fear, potential friendships, and his own safety to see this mission to its explosive end. Will Daniel’s efforts be enough? Will he uncover The Program’s secrets in the process? Only time will tell, and that may be running out for young Daniel…

_______________

I think I mentioned in my post on I Am the Weapon that our protagonist in this series can’t really be called a hero. If anything, I’d label his as an anti-hero. In the end, yes, he does demonstrate some heroic tendencies, but Daniel–or whatever you want to call him–has questionable loyalties sometimes, he’s been known to blindly follow orders, and he is, let’s face it, an assassin. Even when he has doubts about how someone fits into what’s going on, he kills them if they get in his way. (If you couldn’t tell, one of the deaths in this book kind of bothered me. I didn’t think this person needed to die. Daniel felt differently.) With all of that, though, I still found myself rooting for him. I wanted him to question his orders. I hoped he would put an end to the brainwashing going on at Camp Liberty. I wished for him to come out of everything unharmed. Unharmed, but determined to finally uncover the truth about The Program. For the most part, I think I got what I wanted.

For those considering purchasing this book–and its predecessor–for personal or school/classroom libraries, I feel I must give a word of caution. This series is, in my humble opinion, written for a young adult audience. It is violent at times (which fits with a protagonist who is an assassin), and there are a couple of sexual situations. Language was true to the setting, but some younger readers (and their parents) may have problems with it. Also, there are some political issues in this book that require some serious, intense thought and knowledge of the current political climate in the United States. For all of those reasons, I would recommend this series to readers in tenth grade and up. These books are written for an audience with some maturity. (No offense intended to anyone reading this who is a ninth grader or younger.)

If you’re interested in The Unknown Assassin series or other books by Allen Zadoff, check out his website.

There’s no word yet on when we can expect the next book in this series, but, given how things ended in I Am the Mission, I hope it’s soon!

Published in: on July 1, 2014 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Manhunt

Warning: Read Kate Messner’s Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek before proceeding.

Thanks to NetGalley and Scholastic, I was fortunate enough to read Manhunt, the third installment in Kate Messner’s mystery series for young readers, just a little early. The book won’t officially come out until June 24th, but I was too eager to wait that long, especially since the first book in the series, Capture the Flag, is nominated for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award this year. (My hope is to promote the entire series when I encourage my students to pick up the first book.) I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, and I suspected that the third would be no different. How right I was!

In Manhunt, Henry, Anna, and Jose are once again embroiled in the business of the Silver Jaguar Society, the secret agency tasked with protecting the world’s most valuable art and artifacts. This time, the adventure begins in Boston after it’s discovered that the Serpentine Princes, the bitter enemies of the Silver Jaguar Society, have somehow managed to steal priceless art from museums around the world. How did they manage to pull this off without alerting anyone? And what could be their next target?

Soon enough, the quest for answers takes our trio and their guardians to Paris…and that’s where things really get complicated. It seems that someone within the Silver Jaguar Society is passing information on to the Serpentine Princes, so no one really knows who can be trusted.

One thing is clear, though. Something big is happening in Paris. We’re talking huge here. The bad guys, led by the horrible Vincent Goosen, are trying to get their hands on the Mona Lisa, arguably the most famous painting in the world. While the adult members of the Silver Jaguar Society go off to figure out what to do, they leave Henry, Anna, and Jose in a Parisian bookstore with an enigmatic young man named Hem.

Now, Henry doesn’t quite trust Hem, but he can’t deny that this kid definitely knows his way around Paris…and when the adults mysteriously disappear, Henry and his friends will need Hem’s knowledge to solve their biggest mystery yet. Where is the Mona Lisa, and, more importantly, where are the senior members of the Silver Jaguar Society?

This epic adventure takes these young people all over–and under–the bustling city of Paris, and danger lurks around every corner. These kids will have to evade enemies, decipher clues–written in French–navigate an unfamiliar city, and face their fears to make sense of what’s going on. But what happens when they are betrayed by a supposed ally? When they are separated, and the success of this operation depends on just one kid, one who makes it clear that he just wants to go home?

Can the junior members of the Silver Jaguar Society solve one more mystery? Can they battle treachery, terror, and nearly crippling self-doubt and emerge victorious? Will the Mona Lisa be restored to its rightful place and the Serpentine Princes vanquished? For these answers and more, join Henry, Anna, and Jose on a manhunt like no other!

_______________

Any reader who enjoyed the first two books in this series will find another winner in Manhunt. And, while the previous book cured any desire I ever had to visit Costa Rica, this one definitely made me want to spend some time in Paris. (It doesn’t hurt that the other book I’m currently reading, Just One Day, also takes place in the City of Light.) I hope to make it across the pond eventually, but I hope I don’t have quite the adventure that Henry, Anna, and Jose did!

In a stroke of serendipity, I will be attending an IB conference next week, and I have been asked to bring with me a book that illustrates the IB learner profile and/or elements of international mindedness. I fully intend to share this entire series with my fellow librarians. This series has already taken us to several destinations in the U.S., as well as Costa Rica and France. People from all over the world work together to protect art and artifacts, and, if that doesn’t illustrate international mindedness, I don’t know what does. Hopefully, my colleagues will agree.

Manhunt, like Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek, is a highly recommended purchase for any elementary or middle school library. I hope that we’ll see more of the Silver Jaguar Society in future books. In my opinion, these books illustrate just how much a group of kids can accomplish when they use their wits and work together. This latest book may even inspire readers–no matter their ages–to face their fears and do something great.

For more information on Manhunt and other books by the brilliant Kate Messner, visit her website at http://www.katemessner.com/.

Published in: on June 14, 2014 at 11:15 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Oblivion

Last night, I finally finished reading another book that came to me through NetGalley. This book, Oblivion by Sasha Dawn, came out on May 27th, and I honestly should have finished reading it before the release date, but I just couldn’t do it. It took me three weeks to get through this book, and that is rare. The premise of the book was interesting, but the book itself just didn’t hold my interest. It was very easy to put down.

Callie has been plagued by graphomania (an extreme need to write) for the past year, ever since her father, Reverend Palmer Prescott of the Church of the Holy Promise (a very cult-like “church”), disappeared with Hannah, a young girl from the church. Authorities–and even Callie herself–think Callie knows more about the supposed abduction than she’s told them. Buried somewhere in her memories are clues to what really happened. All Callie really knows is that she was found after the disappearance with the words “I killed him” scrawled on the walls of a shabby apartment. What really happened that night? And does Callie hold the keys to unlocking the truth of a young girl’s whereabouts?

The anniversary of this terrible event is fast approaching, and Callie’s graphomania is taking on a life of its own. The words are pouring out of her, but what do they mean? Callie seeks answers from her mentally disturbed mother, but it’s often difficult to separate lucidity from insanity with her mom.

A guy at school, though, may be able to help Callie. John has followed this case–and another related one–and he seems to be triggering some latent memories in Callie’s fragile mind. He’s helping her make sense of the words plaguing her, and Callie is growing closer to the truth of what really happened.

Is Callie ready for what the truth will reveal? What will it mean for her life now? And what will happen when it becomes clear that someone is willing to do anything to keep some secrets buried forever?

_______________

Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, I did like a couple of things about it. I found the entire concept of graphomania to be intriguing. It’s not a condition I’d ever heard of before, and I now find myself wanting to know more about it. Trying to decipher what Callie’s words really meant was both frustrating and engaging, and when things finally coalesced at the end, those words made a strange sort of sense.

Watching Callie and John work together to uncover the mystery surrounding Palmer and Hannah was interesting at times. They had a few setbacks, and Callie’s words led them on some wild chases for answers, but they persevered and eventually found the truth. Were they the answers the duo expected? Not always, but I think their relationship was strengthened by the journey together.

I think my biggest issues with this book had to do with pacing and characters. The story seemed to drag on and on until the big conclusion, when everything went at a frantic pace. The ending actually took me by surprise because it came on so suddenly. I was expecting a little more of a build-up, especially considering how slowly the rest of the book went. So, although I found the end to be exciting, disturbing, and fitting, I also found it to be rather abrupt.

As for the characters, I must say that I didn’t particularly like any of them. Even Callie, our protagonist, was kind of hard to like sometimes. Yes, I rooted for her and wanted her to uncover the truth, but I didn’t think she was very relatable, and she made some pretty bone-headed choices (which I know would be expected for someone in her situation, but a little common sense would have been nice). The character I disliked the most was probably Lindsay, Callie’s foster sister. That girl was horrible! I’m still trying to figure out why Callie put up with Lindsay’s wide array of crap (bullying, drug use, lying, etc.). There were a few other major characters in this book, and I’m sad to say that I found none of them–save maybe Hannah–to be especially sympathetic.

I read an uncorrected proof of Oblivion, so it’s possible that some changes were made to make the book a bit better before final publication. If you happen to read a final copy, please let me know what you think! I feel that this book had so much potential to be great, but, in my opinion, it just fell short.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 255 other followers