A Darker Shade of Magic

It’s extremely rare for me to take more than a month to read a book, but that’s what happened with A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. This book took so long partly because it’s been a crazy busy time at work. (November is looking to be no better.) When I get home, it’s all I can do to stagger to the couch and stare blankly at the TV. When I do make time to read, I want something light and fluffy, and those words definitely do not apply to this book. Also, I’ve had several other books that, for whatever reason, took precedence over A Darker Shade of Magic, so I had to put it on the back-burner.

During the past week, though, I devoted a fair amount of time to this first book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic series. While it took me a while to really get invested in this book, once I did, it was full steam ahead. I was captivated by the characters, their complicated personalities, and the worlds that both drew them together and very nearly tore them apart. As a long-time comic book reader, the concept of multiple or parallel universes isn’t exactly unfamiliar, but A Darker Shade of Magic had a different spin on the concept, and I look forward to exploring it further in the rest of the series.

Kell is one of the last of his kind. He is an Antari, a blood magician with the ability to travel between the different versions of London. Kell is from Red London, a land of prosperity and magic. He travels to Gray London, a city without magic, and White London, a brutal place ruled by the sadistic twins, Athos and Astrid. Only Black London, a city consumed and destroyed by magic, is closed to him.

Kell was raised in the palace of Red London, alongside Rhy, the heir to the throne, but he’s not exactly a member of the royal family. Kell knows he’s useful to the throne, but he also uses his power and position for his own ends. You see, he’s something of a smuggler, and he’s been known throughout Red, White, and Gray London to provide glimpses of magic for a price.

During one particularly dangerous and sobering trip to White London, Kell comes into contact with an object that should not exist. It’s a piece of Black London, and the power within this artifact is both repulsive and seductive to Kell. He knows he must be rid of this object–even as he thirsts for its power–but he’s also determined to find out who placed it in his hands…and what their endgame is.

Before Kell can get the answers he needs, however, he travels to Gray London and comes into contact with Lila Bard, a girl whose greatest aspiration is to be a pirate. Lila, brilliant pickpocket that she is, steals the piece of Black London from Kell, not knowing what she’s nabbed or the events she’s set in motion.

When Kell and Lila reunite, it becomes clear that they’ll have to work together to do what needs to be done. But what treachery lies ahead? Can they trust those around them or each other? Who is pulling strings to harness the power of Black London, and can Kell and Lila stop them in time to save their worlds…or themselves?


The worlds within A Darker Shade of Magic are rich, stark, complicated, and convoluted…much like the characters that inhabit those worlds. I’m actually glad it took me so long to read this book because I feel like I really got to know and spend time with Kell, Lila, Rhy, and the entire supporting cast–some of whom I think I’ll see again. I’m also looking forward to seeing more of each version of London in this story, perhaps even Black London as well. We shall see.

The second book in this series, A Gathering of Shadows, is already out, so I’ll hopefully make my way to that book soon. Book three, A Conjuring of Light, is expected to be released on February 21st, 2017.

For those wondering if A Darker Shade of Magic is suitable for purchase for school libraries, I would say it’s okay for high school collections. Not so much for middle schools. This series isn’t a YA series*, but I think many teen readers, particularly fans of fantasy, will enjoy it.

*According to the author, if her books are written as V.E. Schwab, they are written for an adult audience. If the first name is Victoria, it’s for middle grades or young adults.

If you’d like more information on A Darker Shade of Magic or other books by V.E. (Victoria) Schwab, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

Atlantia

Atlantia, a stand-alone novel by Matched author Ally Condie, had been sitting on my bookshelf for while. A few weeks ago, I decided to finally read it. It was not quite what I was expecting. I wanted to like it as much as I did the Matched series, but something held me back…and I’m not even sure what it was. For whatever reason, I just didn’t connect to this book. Maybe I’ll be able to work that out throughout the course of this post.

Rio longs to be Above. She’s lived Below, in her underwater home of Atlantia, for her entire life, but she’s never really felt like she belongs here. Even though she’s promised her sister, Bay, that she’ll stay with her Below, a part of her longs for the sand, sun, and sky Above.

It’s understandable, then, that Rio feels a sense of betrayal when her sister makes the stunning decision to go Above herself. Left Below alone, Rio is adrift, torn from the last person who truly knew her and her secrets. You see, Rio is a siren–one of the last of these powerful beings–and she’s always hidden her true voice from those around her. Could this secret have something to do with her sister’s abrupt departure? And could it be the key to Rio finding her way Above?

Eventually, Rio comes to realize that she’s not as alone as she thought. Her aunt, also a siren, is determined to help Rio find her voice and get in touch with her true power. Why though? Can this woman, who was never before part of Rio’s life, be trusted? Does Rio even have any choice in the matter if she wants to be reunited with her sister? What exactly is her aunt’s agenda?

As Rio comes to terms with her own power and her family’s actions, she uncovers some terrible truths about Atlantia itself. It seems that terrible forces are at work that will ensure the destruction of not only Atlantia but every siren who still exists. It also appears that Rio may be the only hope to stop these horrible events from occurring.

What can Rio do to turn the tide? How can she, an untried siren, possibly thwart the powers that would seek to destroy her? Who can she rely on to save herself and the only home she’s ever known?


I would categorize Atlantia as science fiction…even though it’s billed as fantasy. It seems obvious to me that the entire concept of this underwater city comes about because of the damage done to the environment Above. The societies in this book found a way to build a fully-enclosed, underwater city where people could live free of pollution. Once there, sirens–and others with special abilities–evolved due to their new surroundings. Industry revolved around keeping the city intact, and there was a certain amount of interdependence between Above and Below. Even religions changed (or were formed) to explain these new dynamics. Now that I’ve had time to reflect on all of this, I find it fascinating, and it helps me to have a more positive outlook on this book as a whole. (I’m still not overly fond of Rio or the somewhat forced romance in the book, but that’s probably my issue.)

Atlantia, in my opinion, is a good fit for libraries that serve middle grade and teen readers. There are some interesting family dynamics, a decent mystery, supernatural elements, and a bit of romance…something for everyone, I guess. It may not be my absolute favorite book, but it makes me think, and that’s all I can really ask for.

To learn more about Atlantia and Ally Condie, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

These Broken Stars

These Broken Stars, the first book in the Starbound series by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, has been out for a few years. For whatever reason, I just managed to read it recently (even though I think I bought it soon after it came out). It took me a little while to get invested in this first book, but, once I did, it took me on quite the thrill ride. I actually finished the last two-thirds of the book today. I can’t tell you what else I accomplished today because I was so invested in this incredible piece of YA science fiction. Good times.

Wealthy socialite Lilac LaRoux and soldier Tarver Merendsen are both passengers aboard the Icarus, a luxurious spaceship making its way across the galaxy. These two young people, separated by class, are very different, but circumstances are about to force them together in a way that neither of them could possibly anticipate.

When the Icarus is thrust out of hyperspace, Lilac and Tarver end up together on an escape pod, and they crash into the planet below. They are the only survivors.

Tarver’s primary focus upon landing is survival. As a soldier, he’s been in adverse situations before, and he seems to know exactly what to do. Lilac isn’t so certain. She’s faltering, but she finds the strength she needs to keep moving, even when it’s obvious that Tarver expects her to break down.

Breaking down becomes a very real possibility as Tarver and Lilac make their way across this unfamiliar, desolate, and virtually uninhabited world. Their goal is to somehow make it to the wreckage of the Icarus…and the slim hope of rescue. But there’s something else going on here as well. Strange whispers seem to be guiding these two, leading them toward something. Are these whispers friends or foes, and what are they trying to tell Tarver and Lilac?

While Tarver and Lilac look for answers on this odd planet–and the hope of rescue grows dim–they also begin to look past their differences and form a nearly unbreakable bond. Maybe rescue isn’t what they want at all anymore. Returning to their old lives could tear them apart, and neither of them is ready for that.

Ready or not, forces are at work that have the power to destroy everything. Tarver and Lilac will face losing their minds, each other, and everything they ever believed about their place in the universe. Will they be able to face what’s coming and stay together? Or will they survive certain disaster only to be torn from each other’s arms?


Some of you are probably wondering if this book is appropriate for middle grade readers, and I’m honestly not sure. Portions of the book are rather intense, given the circumstances the characters find themselves in. There’s also the matter of Tarver and Lilac exploring their physical relationship. There’s nothing gratuitous, but it’s obvious what’s going on. Personally, I think These Broken Stars is fine for readers in eighth grade and up, but I doubt I’d put it in the hands of a sixth or seventh grader. Do with that what you will.

If you like Beth Revis’ Across the Universe series (Across the Universe, A Million Suns, and Shades of Earth), I think you’ll definitely enjoy These Broken Stars…and probably the rest of the Starbound series.

Speaking of the rest of the series, book two is This Shattered World, and it introduces a new couple. Book three, Their Fractured Light, brings together the characters from books one and two while also giving readers a new duo to root for. There’s also an ebook novella, This Night So Dark, which focuses on Tarver and Lilac and bridges the gap between books one and two. All of these stories are already out, so I don’t have to wait to dive right in. Yay!

For more information on the Starbound series, visit Amie Kaufman’s website or Meagan Spooner’s site. You can also find out how to connect with them on social media on their respective sites.

Masterminds

Hello, dear readers. I bring greetings from the comfort of my home during my gloriously uneventful spring break. So far, I’ve managed to finish a couple of books, watch way too much TV, and see two rather boring movies. (The movies were Batman vs. Superman and Allegiant. Not impressed with either of those films.)

Anyhoo…let’s move on to one of the books I recently finished, Masterminds by Gordon Korman. This book is another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, and it’s the first book in a trilogy. (The second book, Criminal Destiny, is already out.)

I feel fairly certain that the Masterminds series will be a hit with most upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s full of action, suspense, mystery, a bit of science fiction, and a bunch of kids who discover that their entire lives are basically lies. Good stuff.

The town of Serenity is a lot like Mary Poppins–“practically perfect in every way.” There’s no crime, no poverty, no conflict of any kind. Every backyard has a pool, and no one really wants for anything. Sure, it’s kind of boring sometimes, but that’s to be expected in a town of only thirty kids. Serenity is almost completely closed off from the rest of the world, and most of the residents like it that way.

Most of them.

One day, Eli Frieden and his best friend Randy decide to do a little exploring outside of city limits. They don’t make it far before Eli is doubled over with some weird illness and rushed back to town. When Eli wakes up, he learns that Randy is leaving Serenity to live with his grandparents. Eli doesn’t really know what’s going on, but he’s sure that Randy isn’t telling him everything…and he’s right.

Eli begins to do a little digging, and he discovers that Randy wasn’t sent to live with his grandparents. But if that’s true, where did his best friend go? Why the big secret? What exactly is happening in this small, seemingly perfect town?

Eli enlists the help of a few friends in his quest for answers, and they begin to uncover the horrible truth about their town. Nothing is what it seems in Serenity, not even their own families. What does all this mean for Eli and friends? And what is the town’s strange connection to some of the most vicious criminals in the country?

Can a bunch of kids find out what’s going on, escape the lies surrounding them, and find help in the world outside of Serenity? Discover the truth for yourself when you read Masterminds by Gordon Korman!


Masterminds will probably not be a hard sell with my students. I won’t have to say much more than “a group of kids figure out that they’re parents are totally lying to them about their whole lives, the kids have to discover the truth, and deal with the fact that *spoilers* they have a weird connection to a bunch of criminal masterminds.” The books will fly off the shelves.

Most of my students–and many others, I guess–enjoy a good book that depicts kids getting the jump on adults, especially when those adults are doing something kind of horrible. I think readers who like Masterminds may also enjoy the Runaways graphic novels by Brian K. Vaughan and others. These books follow the children of supervillains. Awesome.

If Masterminds sounds like your cup of tea, you can learn more on author Gordon Korman’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Instagram.

The Fate of Ten

If you haven’t read the following books in the I Am Number Four series, stop reading this post. It will likely make zero sense if you’re not completely caught up.

Now, let’s turn our attention to The Fate of Ten

A few of my librarian colleagues are dismayed that I like this series and, even more, that I’ve stuck with it this long. What can I say? Once I got hooked on the first book (but not the horrible movie adaptation), it was all over. I simply had to know what happened next. I’ll admit that I’m kind of surprised that the series is still going nearly six years later, but, with this latest book, the end is at least in sight.

I read the bulk of The Fate of Ten last night. Even though I started the book about four weeks ago, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to keep reading until yesterday. For some reason, I was in the mood for the literary equivalent of a Michael Bay film. I wanted action, conflict, destruction, and a bunch of kick-butt aliens. That’s exactly what I got.

The Fate of Ten picks up right where The Revenge of Seven left off. (It also includes a bunch of stuff from Rebel Allies, so it’s important to read those stories as well.) It is essentially a couple of huge battles, with the Garde working to make their way back to each other.

Some of the Garde we’ve come to know in previous books are fighting the Mogadorians outside the Loric Sanctuary in Mexico. Six, Marina, and Adam, a reformed Mog now helping the Garde, are wondering what power they’ve just freed and what impact it will have on the war with the Mogs. They’re also preparing for a showdown with the big bad villain himself, Setrákus Ra. What Setrákus Ra wants with the Sanctuary, they’re not sure, but they know they must do whatever they can to protect themselves and whatever’s inside. Reinforcements may be on the way, but will they get there in time…and will they be enough for the fight to come?

In New York, John and Sam are dealing with a full-scale Mogadorian invasion. They’re on the hunt for Five and Nine, but they don’t know where to begin. Surviving from minute to minute is a struggle, and they’re looking for Mogs with guns around every corner. On top of that, Sam is learning to use his brand-new Legacies, and it seems that he’s not the only one. John and Sam run into a girl who’s developing powers of her own. How is this possible? How many other humans now have Legacies, and what is their role in the war between the Mogs and the Loric Garde?

With all of this going on, there’s still the question of Ella (Ten) and what exactly the evil Setrákus Ra has planned for her. What is to be her fate in this war, and can this one girl do anything to turn the tide?

Is there any way for the Loric Garde to defeat Setrákus Ra and his Mogadorian army? What surprises are still in store for this battered–but still fighting–group of young people? And who will they lose in their quest to save the only home they have left?


If I say much more, I’m going to give too much away, so I’m going to try to wrap things up quickly.

Even with all of the surprises this book threw my way–or maybe because of them–I enjoyed The Fate of Ten. It kept my interest the whole way through, and it satisfied my need for a good “shoot-em-up” experience. I look forward to seeing how things are resolved in what should be the final novel, United As One.

United As One is set to be released on June 28th this year, so the wait is not too long. In the meantime, I know we’ve got at least a couple more Lost File novellas to get through. The Lost Files #13, Legacies Reborn, came out in November, and #14, Last Defense, was released on February 23rd. Both of these were published as ebooks. I’m not sure at this point if there will be another novella, but I’ll be on the lookout. If the series stays true to pattern, it’s probably necessary to read the novellas before picking up United As One.

If you’d like to learn even more about this series, go to the I Am Number Four Fans website. Also, take a peek at the official The Fate of Ten book trailer below. It touches on something that I just glanced over in this post. Enjoy!

 

Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall!

Marvel and Tom Angleberger, the author who brought us gems like Fake Mustache and the Origami Yoda series, have joined forces to create a new series that follows the adventures of my favorite Guardians of the Galaxy, Rocket and Groot. (For those unfamiliar with these characters, Rocket is basically a moody space raccoon, and Groot is a walking, talking tree who says just one phrase, “I am Groot.”) These new adventures are written for a young audience and are a great addition to the world of the Guardians. (Many younger readers may not be quite ready for some of the adult humor in the movies.)

The first book in a 3-book series, Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall!, comes out on March 8th, and will likely be a necessary purchase in many elementary and middle school libraries. In addition to focusing on two wildly popular comic book characters, the book is easy-to-read, entertaining, and a perfect fit for reluctant readers.

Let’s take a closer look…

After a bunch of space piranhas destroy their ship, Rocket and Groot, famed Guardians of the Galaxy, find themselves stranded on a strange planet. In an effort to find water, food, and some rich soil for Groot, the pair–accompanied by their totally awesome tape dispenser, Veronica–explore this planet that seems to be one huge strip mall.

It doesn’t take long for Rocket, Groot, and Veronica to realize that something is not quite right about this place. Is it the overly friendly robots working in each store? Is it the robots’ insistence that they use the toilet as soon as possible? Or is it the toilets that want to swallow them whole? Yeah…it’s mostly that last one.

The situation is growing desperate for our Guardians and their truly fabulous tape dispenser. Can they figure out what’s going on before they’re torn apart by robots or flushed for good? How can they possibly escape the horrible Planet Strip Mall? Find out when you read this exciting new book by Tom Angleberger!


Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall! is a super-fast read with illustrations throughout–most of them drawn by Rocket. (In the final version of the book, there are supposed to be some illustrations by Groot, but those were not included in the NetGalley copy I was fortunate enough to read.) The text in this book reads almost like a script, which will provide a very different, interesting experience for many readers.

I do think that some familiarity with Guardians of the Galaxy would be helpful before starting this book. Those who know at least a little about Rocket and Groot would at least know to expect a lot of snark from Rocket, and they would realize that the words “I am Groot” can have many, many meanings.

As for me, Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall! is going on my next book order, and I look forward to talking to many of my students about this entertaining read.

If you’d like to learn more about this book and others by Tom Angleberger, I urge you to check out his website.

Until next time, this is your friendly neighborhood Knight Reader signing out!

Rebel Allies

Turn back now if you haven’t read the following books in the I Am Number Four series:

I read I Am Number Four almost six years ago. If I had known that the series would still be going strong all these years later, would I still have picked up this book? Probably. Sometimes, I’m simply in the mood for some alien adventure, and this series definitely delivers.

This weekend, I devoted some time to reading the latest collection of novellas in the I Am Number Four (or Lorien Legacies) series. This collection, Rebel Allies, contains stories 10-12, and it really adds to the series as a whole.

The first story in this collection, The Fugitive, takes a closer look at a familiar character from this series, Mark James. You might remember Mark as the cocky football star–and Sarah’s ex-boyfriend–from the first book, but his life changed drastically when a bunch of shark-faced aliens (the Mogadorians) blew up his high school. Since then, Mark has been trying to figure out exactly what is going on with both the Mogs and the Loric Garde trying to defeat them.

Now, Sarah is missing, and Mark is determined to track her down. He’s sure that she’s either with Four and the Garde, or the Mogs have captured her. He’s not sure which, but he’ll do whatever it takes to find her…even if it means fighting evil aliens and the government agencies aiding them.

Mark, however, isn’t completely alone. A mysterious figure known only as GUARD provides assistance when Mark needs it the most. Who is this guy, and how does he know so much about Mark, the Loric, and the Mogs? Can GUARD be trusted? Well, Mark will soon find out…


The second two stories, The Navigator and The Guard, introduce a fairly new character in this series, the one known to Mark as GUARD. This person has played a part in both The Fugitive and some of the other stories in the series, but these two novellas delve a bit deeper.

Without giving too much away, I will say that GUARD is not a man as Mark assumed. She is a woman, and she is from Lorien. She was there when the Mogs attacked, and she managed to escape to Earth. Now, this brilliant hacker is doing whatever possible to protect her new home from suffering her planet’s fate.


If the series stays true to pattern, the stories of Rebel Allies lead directly into the next full-length novel, The Fate of Ten. This book was released in September, so I plan to dive right in as soon as I wrap up this post. I feel certain there will be one more novella collection* sometime this year, probably before the final book, United As One, comes out on June 28th.

*If you can’t wait for the print version of the next novellas, one of the stories is already out in ebook form, and another is coming next month. Story #13, Legacies Reborn, was released in November, and story #14, Last Defense, will be out on February 23rd. I don’t know yet if there will be a 15th story.

For much more information on this exciting series, go to the I Am Number Four Fans website. Enjoy!