Now I Rise

Notice: You MUST read And I Darken, the first book in Kiersten White’s Conqueror’s Saga, before proceeding with this post. You’ve been warned.

If it’s not readily apparent, I recently finished reading Now I Rise, the sequel to And I Darken. This series focuses on Lada and Radu Dracul, the children of Vlad Dracul, the inspiration for Dracula. Like I mentioned in the post on book one, this series presents an alternate history of this family. Vlad is not the brutal leader of legend here…but his daughter is.

In And I Darken, Lada and Radu were dealing with their complicated feelings for each other, their circumstances, and the new sultan, Mehmed. In Now I Rise, the complications continue. Lada has left Mehmed’s side to reclaim the throne of Wallachia. Radu, on the other hand, has stayed with Mehmed, and that presents its own set of difficulties.

Lada Dracul is determined to be Prince of Wallachia. It does not matter that she is a woman. She’s the rightful ruler, and she will take what’s hers, by force if necessary. And it looks like force–and lots of it–are necessary. In her quest to rule, she strikes down anyone who gets in her way. She forges alliances that make her sick. She betrays those close to her. All of this to get her closer to the Wallachian throne. Yet even as she is on the cusp of achieving her goal, she misses her brother, Radu, and even Mehmed.

Lada knows that Radu’s silver tongue and gift of diplomacy would get her closer to the throne. As for Mehmed, her feelings for him are a bit more complex. She misses how he makes her feel, but, at the same time, she refuses to place her future in a man’s hands. Also, she doesn’t fully trust Mehmed. He has seemingly thwarted her grab for power, and Lada knows he will do anything–including betray her–to further his own ends. She both loathes and respects that about him. After all, has she not done the same?

As for Radu, he remains completely loyal to Mehmed and the sultan’s desire to conquer Constantinople. Radu does whatever he can to further the Ottoman cause, and, when Mehmed asks Radu to become a spy within Constantinople’s walls, he reluctantly agrees. While Radu does not wish to be parted from Mehmed, he will do as Mehmed asks even as he ignores his sister’s plea for help in her endeavors. Radu knows his feelings for Mehmed will likely never be returned, but he will continue to prove his love and loyalty to Mehmed…no matter what it costs.

While in Constantinople, Radu becomes more and more conflicted. Even as he’s relaying information to the Ottomans, he’s growing closer to those fighting for Emperor Constantine. How can he betray these people who have taken him in, shown him kindness, and trusted him? But how can he turn his back on Mehmed, who he loves more than all others? He’s given up nearly everything for Mehmed, but is he willing to give up his very soul so that Mehmed can conquer a city that seems to be dying anyway?

Both Radu and Lada Dracul are wrestling with questions of loyalty, love, faith, and sacrifice. What are each of them willing to do to achieve their goals? What will they find themselves capable of? Betrayal? Murder? And what will be lost along the way?


Everything I said about And I Darken also applies to Now I Rise. I don’t feel like writing all that again, so read the end of my post on And I Darken to get my full take on both of these books. In short, though, these books raise all sorts of questions on what a person is willing to do to serve their own ends, how love makes a person both strong and weak, what it means to be feminine, and how women who do not subscribe to societal expectations are viewed. And that barely even touches on the religious and historical aspects of the book. It’s a lot to take in, and all of this stuff makes both And I Darken and Now I Rise as sumptuous as two decadent pieces of dark chocolate.

So…how does Now I Rise differ from And I Darken? Well, we get to know both Lada and Radu a bit more. These two characters get more complex with each page, and I’m sure that will continue in the next book. The biggest difference, though, is the elevated brutality. Radu is in the middle of a war zone, and he both witnesses and commits atrocities true to what is happening around him. Lada, in her quest for power, cuts down anyone in her path and leaves a trail of bodies behind her. There’s nothing pretty, delicate, or civilized about her path to the Wallachian throne. She’s vicious, brutal, and without mercy. She has to demonstrate to all that she is no pushover, and she’s not shy about shedding blood to prove her point.

In case you’re wondering, I would recommend both And I Darken and Now I Rise to a mature teen or adult audience. I doubt most middle grade readers are developmentally ready for books like these. They deal with political maneuvering, sexuality, betrayal, and the horrors of war, and I think reading and discussing these issues require a certain level of maturity. You may have a different take, but I urge you to read the books yourself before you make that determination.

Now I Rise will be released on June 27th. The third book in The Conqueror’s Saga should be out next summer. To learn more about And I Darken and Now I Rise, visit the series’ official website.

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And I Darken

Yesterday, Kiersten White’s newest book, And I Darken, was released into the world. I was lucky enough to get an early copy via NetGalley, but I didn’t manage to finish the book until last night. You know how it is–vacation, work stuff, naps–all of that got in the way.

Anyhoo, I did finish this first book in a planned trilogy last night, and I can say with absolute certainty that it’s unlike anything I’ve read in recent memory. It is a batcrap-crazy ride, and I mean that in the best way possible. And I Darken defied all of my expectations, and I cannot wait to see what awaits the characters I encountered in this book.

So…what’s it all about? While some sources have And I Darken listed as fantasy, I wouldn’t be so quick to attach that label…at least to this first book. There is no fantasy involved…unless you maybe want to call alternate history a type of fantasy (which I don’t). This story takes place during the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and it is the tale of the children of Vlad Dracul (the inspiration for Dracula, of course).

Now, in this telling, Vlad is not exactly the fearsome ruler of legend. He’s still in charge of Wallachia (part of Romania), but he’s weak and under the thumb of the Sultan. He essentially offers his children, Lada and Radu, as collateral to the Sultan.

Radu is a gentle, handsome boy who goes virtually unnoticed by others…unless they’re pointing out his apparent weakness. Forgotten by his father, Radu seeks solace in Islam and finds a measure of peace in his new circumstances.

Lada is fierce and sees being a woman as a liability. She knows that she is equal–if not superior–to any man. She is at once Radu’s protector and tormentor, and, even though she hates that her father has abandoned them to the Sultan, she remains loyal to her homeland of Wallachia.

Eventually, the siblings encounter another child who would become central to their lives. This boy is Mehmed, and he is the Sultan’s heir. Radu is immediately drawn to Mehmed, and the two quickly become friends. Radu is tormented by his feelings for Mehmed and confused about what those feelings might mean.

As for Lada, she soon becomes Mehmed’s confidante. He can drop his shields around her and simply be himself. Yes, he will be Sultan soon, but with Lada, he can simply be Mehmed. Lada resists getting involved with Mehmed. After all, attachment and emotion are signs of weakness. Her primary goal is survival…by any means necessary. As time passes, though, Lada and Mehmed grow closer, and Lada realizes he is becoming an essential part of her life. She does wonder, however, if she is equally important to him.

Set against a background of political maneuvering, betrayal, fighting, and even murder, Radu and Lada must decide what each of them are willing to lose to achieve their own ends. Will Radu be able to suppress his own desires and give up his only family to remain by Mehmed’s side? Will Lada abandon her goal of returning to (and ruling) her beloved Wallachia to form some semblance of a life with Mehmed (and his harem)?

Love and loyalty will be tested in these tumultuous relationships. What–or who–will be sacrificed in the process? Read And I Darken, the first book in The Conqueror’s Saga, to find out.


Like so many before it, this post doesn’t come close to capturing just how rich, dark, and satisfying this book is. (I almost feel like I just described a piece of dark chocolate.)

And I Darken is an intense read that makes a person think about just what they’d be willing to do to serve their own ends or even the good of those around them. Would you be willing to betray the person who means the most to you? Give up your family, faith, or future? Walk away from everything and everyone you’ve ever known? Kill? Those are just some of the things facing the characters in this book, and these situations and how they play out could lead to some very profound discussions.

Other discussions might come when talking about the characters themselves, especially Radu and Lada. In Radu’s case, there’s the issue of coming to terms with his sexuality in a time and place that didn’t even address anything other than heterosexuality. (Apparently, it’s okay to have multiple wives and concubines, but being gay is taboo. Another potential topic to explore there.) How have things changed since the time of the Ottoman Empire? Have things changed at all in certain parts of the world? Is being gay still considered being something “other” even in the so-called “modern” world? So many questions to ponder.

And then there’s Lada…

Lada is a warrior. She buries her feelings deep and displays very few outward signs of weakness. She is vicious and determined to get what she wants. She does whatever she must to survive and protect those she cares for, but she knows that her ultimate goals conflict with those of Radu and Mehmed, and she has to decide what to do about that. Lada is a complicated character, one who rarely even understands herself or her motivations, but she is absolutely fascinating to read about. Lada’s character could lead to many discussions on what it means to be feminine; how women have been viewed historically and in the present, especially as it pertains to fighting, defying expectations, and dealing with patriarchal societies; and even something like negative reactions when women put their own needs and desires first.

I’m curious to see what will happen with Lada in the next two books, and if she’ll truly become the brutal inspiration for a very different legend of Dracula. Should be interesting.

Speaking of future books, I have no idea what the title of book two will be. I’m assuming it will be released about this time next year, but that’s just a guess at this point.

If you’d like to learn much, much more about And I Darken, please visit the book’s official website. I’ve only explored it a little, but it has lots of information to offer, including character descriptions, a book trailer (which I’ve also included below), an author bio, and more.

Lastly, for those wondering if And I Darken is a good pick for the middle grade crowd, I would have to say no. While this book is extremely compelling, I think many of the themes and situations are more suited to a high school crowd. As always, though, read it for yourself to determine if it’s a good fit for your students/patrons.

Fake Mustache

Sometimes, in my role as an elementary school librarian, I’m introduced to books that are completely ridiculous. Some of them are, shall we say, less than great. Others, like my latest read, make me laugh hysterically and think of ways to highlight this book and recommend it to my students.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that Fake Mustache fell in the latter category. It’s by Tom Angleberger, author of the absolutely fabulous Origami Yoda series. That’s the reason I picked the book up, after all. In Fake Mustache, Angleberger once again uses humor to tell a captivating story that, hopefully, will make kids of all ages think. Yes, readers will have to suspend reality just a bit, but anyone who gives this book a try is in for one crazy, entertaining ride!

Our story begins with two best friends, Lenny and Casper, visiting Sven’s Fair Price Store in their hometown of Hairsprinkle. Lenny purchases a sticky stretchy hand, but Casper…well, Casper, after spending a lot of money on a suit, purchases the Heidelberg Handlebar Number Seven, the world’s greatest fake mustache. This mustache is made from real human hair and has the power to make people do strange things…as Lenny is about to find out.

Shortly after Lenny and Casper make their fateful purchases, a short, suited man with a handlebar mustache begins robbing banks. Lenny is sure that Casper is the culprit, but no one believes him. Even when he tips off the police as to the identity of the robber, no one takes him seriously…no one except Casper–now known as the powerful, rich, and enigmatic Fako Mustacho–who makes Lenny into Public Enemy Number One.

Fako Mustacho seems to have everybody fooled. Bands of people are going around the city doing his bidding. Only a few people are immune to the power of the Heidelberg Handlebar Number Seven. Lenny is one of them, and, surprisingly, one of the others is Jodie O’Rodeo, former teen cowgirl queen. These two kids join forces to put a stop to Fako Mustacho’s shenanigans. But how can they battle the brainwashing power of the Mustache?

Join Lenny and Jodie as they try to figure out how to stop a criminal mastermind from taking over the country. What dangers will they have to face? Will anyone ever believe them? Find out for yourself when you read Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger!

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If you’re looking for a hilarious, totally unbelievable book to recommend to kids in upper elementary or middle grades, Fake Mustache is a great choice. It could even open up some discussions with older kids on why people choose the leaders they do. (This is something especially timely right now. Maybe some of our Congressmen are controlling people with fake mustaches. Makes just as much sense as anything else.)

Pair Fake Mustache with I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil, and I Want to Be Your Class President for readers who are interested in just how much other kids can get away with. Both books will leave them laughing uncontrollably.

If you’re interested in Fake Mustache and other books by Tom Angleberger, check out http://origamiyoda.wordpress.com/. Have fun!

I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil, and I Want to Be Your Class President

This is probably one of the best titles I’ve come across lately.  The entire book is even funnier than the title suggests.  Imagine, if you will, Family Guy‘s Stewie Griffin in middle school.  That is the book’s main character in a nutshell.  It’s awesome.  I wish I had been more like this kid when I was in middle school.  (To be perfectly honest, I wish I were more like this kid now.  Not that I want to be an evil genius or anything, but the whole limitless power and always getting what you want thing definitely has its appeal right now.)

In Josh Lieb’s I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil, and I Want to Be Your Class President, we are introduced to Oliver Watson.  At first, you might think he is a slightly idiotic seventh grade boy.  (Do we know what redundant means, boys and girls?)  Appearances, however, are deceiving.  Oliver is an evil genius and the third-richest person in the entire world.  He makes Lex Luthor look like an absolute amateur.  In short, he’s pretty awesome, and he knows it (even though nobody else does because he has a figurehead who is the face of Oliver’s evil empire…It’s kind of hard for a seventh grader to be taken seriously as one of the most powerful people in the world).  He thinks of people as tools for his amusement, and he will stop at nothing to ensure that things, including world events, horse races, and the lives of those around him, play out exactly as he wishes.

Let’s look for a moment at Oliver’s views on children.  Keep in mind that Oliver is technically a child himself, but I think we can all agree that Oliver is definitely not the norm.

“When they are not laughing (too lound and for no reason), they are screaming (too loud and for no reason).  And when they’re not doing either of those things, they’re whining (too loud and for no reason).  I would say they’re like monkeys, but monkeys are cute.”

Frankly, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  (Also, according to Oliver, anyone younger than eighteen is a child, so his view is especially true when you consider that.)

You may think that Oliver has it all.  To some degree, you’d be right.  But there is something missing.  He has a somewhat strained relationship with his dad.  It’s always been like this, and Oliver is making it a priority to make his dad (1) miserable and (2) proud of him.  (Not that Oliver cares what a peon like his dad thinks…he just wants to rub something in his face.)  Oliver gets his opportunity in the form of elections for eighth grade class president.  He will stop at nothing to win…absolutely nothing.  (He’s evil, for crying out loud!  Of course, he’ll stop at nothing.)  But how can he win a school election (i.e. popularity contest) when everyone around him believes he’s one of the most pathetic creatures to ever exist?  I guess he’ll just have to bring out the big guns.  I’ll leave it to you to decide if these “guns” are literal or figurative.  Can his evil empire stay as is when all of Oliver’s focus is going into winning a school election?  Will anyone ever discover that he’s an evil genius masquerading as a middle school moron?  Read I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil, and I Want to Be Your Class President to find out.