Zane and the Hurricane

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been almost nine years since Hurricane Katrina hit. I can remember the feelings of horror when everyone learned of the devastation on the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans. I recall watching the news reports, donating to food and supply drives, and seeing new people–those who had lost their homes in the storm–move into the apartment complex I was living in at the time.  In many ways, Katrina opened everyone’s eyes to the damage that Mother Nature was capable of…and how the best and worst in people could be revealed from such a tragedy.  Even now, we wonder when the next big storm will hit and if the lessons learned from Katrina prepared people–especially the powers-that-be–for the worst.

After Katrina, many books, both fiction and nonfiction, were written talking about people who made it through the storm. Until yesterday, I had only read one of those books, Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi.  That book showed YA readers what it may have been like for someone who had to take refuge in the Superdome. The language was a bit rough in that book, but I felt it did adequately reflect everything about that situation.

My latest read, though, comes at things from a different perspective.  Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick, looks at Katrina from a twelve-year-old boy’s perspective. This book, suitable for upper elementary and middle grade readers, doesn’t have any coarse language, but it paints a very realistic picture of the peak of the storm and it’s tragic aftermath. I think it’s accessible to young readers–many of whom have no memory of this bleak point in American history–without being too graphic. At the same time, Zane and the Hurricane doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  It shows readers that this was a time of fear, pain, prejudice, and even hope.

Zane Dupree, a twelve-year-old kid from New Hampshire, is not exactly thrilled about spending a week in New Orleans. He’s never been there, he’s never met the great-grandmother he’ll be staying with, and he doesn’t really know what to expect from his visit. At least he gets to take his dog, Bandy, with him.

At first, things aren’t as bad as he thought they would be. His great-grandmother, Miss Trissy, might be an older lady who walks with two canes, but she sings like an angel, and she’s got a story or a song for everything. But stories and songs won’t prepare anyone for the storm about to hit the city. Hurricane Katrina is on her way, and Zane, Bandy, and Miss Trissy need to get out of New Orleans fast.

It should have been a simple evacuation, but Zane’s frightened dog leads him right back into the city that is soon to be destroyed. As Zane and Bandy hole up in Miss Trissy’s house, the storm hits. Winds scream through the long night, and, as morning dawns, Zane watches as water overtakes much of New Orleans. Their only hope is to make it to the sweltering attic and hope that help will come soon.

Help comes in the form of a canoe, a musician named Tru, and Malvina, a young girl with a joke for even the most somber of occasions. As Zane, Bandy, Tru, and Malvina navigate the waters that have flooded the city, they are confronted with death, destruction, and both the best and worst in humanity. Some people are willing to give aid to others even when they don’t have much themselves. Others either look to exploit the situation or only worry about themselves or saving things as inconsequential as Oriental rugs.

There seems to be no real rescue coming from any source, so it’s up to this foursome to save themselves. Zane and company have to stick together, even when it would be easier to leave someone behind, if they’re to have any hope of making it out with their sanity–and their humanity–in tact.

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Zane and the Hurricane is a story that pieces together very real stories from the catastrophe that was Hurricane Katrina. It addresses the lawlessness that plagued New Orleans, the absence or apathy of law enforcement, lack of medical care, the fear and prejudice against poor African-Americans who were just trying to survive, and the horrible conditions both outside and in the Superdome, also known as the “shelter of last resort.” It also highlights that there were people who behaved like true heroes. People who rescued others from flooding homes, people who gave freely of what little water and food they had, and people who stood up for those who were doing everything possible just to make it one more day in grim circumstances.

This book, I think, shows readers young and old, a small glimpse of what this storm did to New Orleans and other cities impacted by Katrina. Local and federal governments failed their people. Prejudice made a nasty appearance when the largely African-American Ninth Ward was submerged and survivors sought help. No one was prepared for this massive storm, despite warnings that something like this was possible. If anything positive came from Katrina, I think it opened eyes and made this city and others like it really examine how it should respond to disasters, both natural and man-made. (And even though Katrina was a natural disaster, the actions–and inaction–of man, in my opinion, made it so much worse.)

Like I mentioned previously, I think Zane and the Hurricane is a good read for upper elementary and middle grade readers. I plan to add this book to my own school library. It is a very realistic portrayal of a dark time in our recent history, and I think it could lead to some deep conversations about the impact of catastrophic events and how humans respond to them.

For more information on this book and others by Rodman Philbrick, check out his website, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Published in: on April 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sever

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read the first two books in Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy (Wither and Fever), do so now! This post will focus on Sever, the third and final book in the series.

Nearly two years ago, I began reading Wither, the first book in The Chemical Garden series, a dystopian trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. From the start, I was mesmerized–and often horrified–by the world presented in this series. Fever, book two, only increased my horror at the world that Rhine, our protagonist, is forced to navigate. And now, I’ve finally made my way to book three, Sever. In this book, Rhine continues on her quest to save herself and those around her, but, as they so often do, circumstances seem to conspire against her.

As Sever begins, Rhine continues to struggle with the experiments Vaughn, her vile father-in-law, has done on her. She is trying to cope with the knowledge that he has killed others before her, and she knows that he’s not done with her.  Rhine is also eager to find her twin brother, Rowan, and get back to Gabriel, the boy she left behind in Manhattan.

With the help of Linden, her former husband, Cecily, her sister wife, and Reed, Vaughn’s estranged brother, Rhine is, at the very least, able to avoid Vaughn’s clutches for a while. Rhine also learns a bit more about her brother’s activities. He believes her to be dead, and he has become the leader of what can only be called a terrorist group. He is blowing up scientific research facilities. He appears to believe that they are wasting their time experimenting on young people and looking for a cure that just doesn’t exist.

(You may recall that young people are doomed to die early in this world. Young men don’t live past age twenty-five, and women die at age twenty. Vaughn, Rhine’s father-in-law and Linden’s father, has become something of a mad scientist in his quest for a cure.)

Everything, though, is not as it seems. Vaughn has far-reaching power that follows Rhine wherever she goes. But Vaughn’s many deceptions will soon be uncovered in a very unlikely place. In Rhine’s quest to find her brother, she returns to the hellacious carnival that was once her prison. Secrets are revealed here that will not only lead Rhine to her brother but may also lead to Vaughn’s undoing.

As Rhine learns more and more about Vaughn’s research, her parents’ work, her brother’s supposed rebellion, and her own place in the world, she realizes that everything is much more complicated than she ever believed. And when she factors in her tumultuous relationships with Linden, Cecily, Rowan, and others around her, Rhine is more befuddled than ever.

How can Rhine hope to make sense of what’s going on around her when she can’t seem to come to terms with what’s happened to her and those she cares about? Lives have been lost and promises broken in this mysterious quest for a cure, but is it worth it? Why is Rhine so important to this search, and, if a cure is found, what then? Is Rhine doomed to be a prisoner forever? Or is there a way out? A way that not even Rhine would dare to dream of?

Questions will be answered and secrets revealed soon, but is anyone prepared for what will be uncovered? Unravel the mystery when you read Sever, the gripping conclusion to The Chemical Garden trilogy.

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Now that I’ve read the entirety of this series, I must confess something. I’m still not quite sure what a chemical garden is. It was sort of explained in Sever but not to my satisfaction. I know it had something to do with the genetic experimentation done by Rhine’s parents, but why were their experiments referred to as a chemical garden? I may have to do my own brand of research to figure this out. (Not a problem, really. I’m a librarian. Research is kind of my thing.)

I do think that the action in Sever was a bit slow at times, but I still found myself enthralled by the story. I do wish, however, that we had seen more of Gabriel and Rhine’s relationship with him. Even with the way the book ended, that story feels kind of unfinished.

When I first started this series, I couldn’t stand the character of Cecily. In Sever, however, she definitely showed an inner strength that most women–never mind fourteen-year-old girls–don’t possess. She survived so much and grew into a young woman with a core of steel. Even Rhine was surprised by how much her sister wife had matured in such a short time. Cecily grew from an annoying little girl into a young woman capable of enduring unimaginable grief and tribulations. Out of all the characters in this series, I think she changed the most. She went from an easily manipulated pawn into a queen taking charge of her own destiny.

If you want a rather disturbing view of what the future could hold, I suggest you give Wither, Fever, and Sever a try. You may like this trilogy; you may not. Every reader has his/her own taste, and that’s okay. (I say this because another blogger called me out for daring to give Fever a positive review. She’s entitled to her opinion, but I stand by my view that this is definitely a series worth reading.) This series does deal with some mature themes, so I would caution you before recommending it to middle grade readers.

If you enjoyed series like Delirium, Matched, or The Selection, then The Chemical Garden may be right up your alley.

For more information on this series or other books by Lauren DeStefano, check out the author’s website, FacebookTumblr, and Twitter. You may also want to take a quick look at the Sever book trailer below. Enjoy!

Published in: on April 11, 2014 at 2:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Raft

Books about survival have never really been my thing (which is odd considering that the only reality TV I watch is Survivor).  I can remember reading Hatchet in middle school and hating every minute of it. I’ve read a several I’ve enjoyed, but, more often than not, those books were science fiction. One notable exception was Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. I loved everything about that book.

Anyway, my latest read, The Raft by S.A. Bodeen, may force me to reevaluate my feelings on survival books, particularly when they are fairly realistic. This book was gripping from start to finish, there were twists that I honestly didn’t expect, and I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would ultimately happen to the main character. I also found this book to be especially timely. When one watches the news and sees the continued search for answers about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, it’s difficult not to wonder if there could still be survivors, and, if there are, how have they found the strength to fight the elements and the odds stacked against them.  That’s the story we get in The Raft.

Robie Mitchell is no stranger to travel. Her parents are researchers on the island of Midway in the Pacific Ocean, and, when Robie needs a break from Midway, she takes off to stay with her aunt in Honolulu. That’s where we first meet Robie. She enjoys a certain freedom with her aunt that doesn’t exist wit her parents…but maybe she has a little too much freedom. When Robie’s aunt goes out of town for a bit and leaves Robie on her own, the girl discovers that maybe she’s not quite ready for so much freedom, responsibility, and just being alone. So Robie decides it’s time to head back to Midway and the comforting arms of her parents.

It should have been a simple, short flight. She’s taken it dozens of times before with no problems, but this time things are different. The plane encounters some rough turbulence, and, before she knows it, the aircraft loses its engines. The copilot, Max, tosses Robie, an emergency raft, and a few basic supplies out of the crashing plane and into the churning water below. Max follows her and pulls Robie onto the raft, and the real fight for survival begins.

In the days that follow, Robie encounters thirst, hunger, her worst fears, and hopelessness. One minute, Robie prays for rain so that she can quench her thirst. The next minute, she’s hoping the rain will stop so that she can get dry enough to avoid hypothermia. The only food available is Max’s precious bag of Skittles. Vicious tiger sharks are real threats in the water, and Robie’s only real protection is a flimsy rubber raft.

Through everything, Robie relies on her own strength, intelligence, and conversations with Max to get her through this horrible ordeal, but will it be enough to survive? Is anyone even looking for her? And when Robie confronts the truth of her situation–that she may not make it out of this alive–how will she cope?  How would you?

_______________

You might be wondering why I picked this book up in the first place if it’s not a typical read. Well, it’s a nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Junior Book Award. I like to read as many of these titles as I can to see which may be appropriate for my 4th and 5th grade students. (For the record, some of them may be able to handle this book. I’m still debating whether or not to put it in my school library. At the very least, though, I will recommend it to certain students who I know will like it.) This leads me to lots of books–many of them gems–that I might not otherwise read. The Raft is one of those gems.

The Raft highlights what one girl is capable of when her back is against the wall. Robie is a very strong female character that I think any reader will be able to respect. Yes, she rages about her situation, and she wants an easy way out of it. Who wouldn’t? But, ultimately, she finds the strength within herself to do what she must to survive. She even references Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games in her struggles. (Robie points out that Katniss had it easy compared to herself.) Robie is definitely a character to be admired.

If you’re thinking that Robie’s story sounds familiar, you’re probably not alone. It reminded me of the movie Castaway. Instead of Tom Hanks, though, we have a teen girl. The characters’ experiences are very similar.

I highly recommend The Raft to readers who are looking for a gripping–and very realistic–survival story. It may lead to some conversations about how readers would react if found in similar situations. As for me, I doubt I’d make it out alive. Maybe you’d fare better!

For more information about The Raft and other books by S.A. Bodeen, visit http://www.writersabodeen.com/. You can also follow the author on Twitter.

Published in: on March 28, 2014 at 12:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The 5th Wave

Every once in a while, I come across a book that absolutely blows my mind. Some of my favorites are: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, American Gods, Watchmen, the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games, anything by Cassandra Clare, and a few others. Now, I can add another book to the list–The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. I read one of Mr. Yancey’s other books, The Monstrumologist, a few years ago, so I had an inkling that I was in for quite the roller coaster. That’s an understatement. At times, The 5th Wave was absolutely excruciating to read (in a good way). It was disturbing, exciting, anxiety-inducing, and a fine example of what really good science fiction should be. Yes, the book is about an alien invasion, but, in my most humble opinion, it also forces the reader to examine his/her own humanity.

No one knew what to expect when the Others arrived. It soon became clear what they could expect–the worst.

The first wave knocked out power. The second wave brought massive tsunamis and eliminated all coastal cities. The third wave delivered disease that would wipe out most of who remained. The fourth wave silenced many of the survivors. What will the fifth wave bring?

That’s a question that plagues Cassie, a young girl who has become a warrior to survive. Just a short time ago, her only worries were getting her crush, Ben Parish, to notice her, and getting decent grades. Now, though, she’s lost nearly everything thanks to the Others…aliens who are systematically destroying her home. She doesn’t know why they’ve come–and, at first, she doesn’t really care–but she does know that she must do everything in her power to find the one person she has left. Her little brother, Sammy. But even Cassie isn’t prepared for what–or who–she’ll have to face to get back to her brother. She’ll discover just what she’s willing to do–and who she’s willing to trust–to get back to what really matters to her.

Cassie isn’t the only one asking questions about what the aliens are really after and what they have planned next. A boy nicknamed Zombie is being trained as an alien-killing soldier. He’s not the only one. Kids all over are being gathered and trained to think about nothing but killing. But why? Why kids? When Zombie, who was once a carefree kid with everything going for him, begins to question what’s going on around him, he’ll arrive at some upsetting and game-changing conclusions. It seems that the fifth wave has already begun. Is there any way to stop it…or have the Others already taken too much from humanity for any hope of its survival?

If you’re paranoid like me, The 5th Wave will make you extremely uncomfortable (like all the best books do). This disquieting story, in my opinion, is a much more realistic alien invasion tale than many of the others I’ve read. All that “We Come in Peace” crap is stupid. If aliens really came to Earth, do you really think they’d be friendly or diplomatic? Would we? I don’t think so.

Though The 5th Wave is being marketed as a young adult novel, I actually think the wider appeal will be to adults who have grown up with stories like Invasion of the Body Snatchers,  AlienIndependence DayDistrict 9Terminator, and other tales of alien invasions that aren’t even close to the loving E.T.-type stories that give us the warm fuzzies. The 5th Wave is not a happy book, and, since it is the first book in a planned trilogy, even the ending doesn’t really provide a ton of closure…but this book is an amazing work of science fiction and should be experienced by any fans of the genre.

For those that want to know more about this exhilarating book, check out the official website at http://the5thwaveiscoming.com/. The site contains loads of information on the book, including the official Facebook and Twitter pages and several book trailers that totally capture just how intense this book really is. (I’ve embedded one of them below.) If you decide to experience The 5th Wave, I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I did.

Published in: on June 16, 2013 at 9:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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Shades of Earth

Warning! Read Across the Universe and A Million Suns by Beth Revis before proceeding. I just finished reading the last book in this trilogy, and I will spoil things for you if you’re not caught up!

As you’ve gathered by the oh-so-subtle warning above, I’ve finally finished Shades of Earth, the final book in Beth Revis’ Across the Universe trilogy. While I’m sad that this journey is over, this finale, like the two books that preceded it, was nothing short of stellar. It was action-packed, it introduced some intriguing new (and not-so-new) characters, it addressed some societal issues we’re currently facing today (without being too preachy), there was lots of death and stuff blowing up, and, of course, the complicated relationship between Amy and Elder was further explored. I guess the big question is this: Am I satisfied with how things ended? The short answer to this question is yes. There was definitely a sense of closure when I read the final words, but what happened at the end opened up a whole new set of questions for me. I won’t go so far as to tell you what happens at the end, but I think a lot of readers will be hoping for even more from the characters we’ve come to care for in this series.

Amy and Elder are no longer within the walls of Godspeed. They–along with the frozens and shipborns willing to accompany them–are about to make a home on Centauri-Earth. But no one is really prepared for what awaits them on this strange and often frightening new planet. Large, reptilian birds roam the skies seeking prey to devour. Beautiful flowers emit toxins that render humans comatose. Oddly sophisticated ruins provide shelter for Centauri-Earth’s newest residents, but who created these dwellings (that seem to be ideal for human settlements)? There’s something–or someone–else in this strange new world. Something that is determined to destroy the new inhabitants. What could be out there, and what do they have against the newly arrived humans?

As Amy and Elder search for answers, they must also reevaluate their roles in this new home. Amy has gone from being an outsider to being the daughter of the military leader of the settlement. (Her father, now reanimated, is now the highest ranking military officer among the Earthborns. Her mom is one of the lead scientists.) Amy struggles with balancing her love for her parents with the loyalty she feels toward Elder and the shipborns. A new guy, who seems to have her father’s approval, only complicates matters even more.

Elder, on the other hand, must consider the welfare of his people over all else. He’s still wary of the Earthborns, and he continues to hear Orion’s warnings in his head. Elder is trying to do everything in his power to keep his people from being made into soldiers or slaves, but Amy’s father may have other ideas. It’s clear that the Earthborns–especially those in the military–view the shipborns as dispensable and as little more than animals. It’s up to Elder to look out for his people’s best interests because it’s becoming apparent that no one else will. How can he worry about his relationship with Amy when so much else is weighing on him? (He manages, by the way.)

Dangers abound on Centauri-Earth, and secrets, lies, and treachery are making this new home even more perilous. Some of the answers to the true purpose for this settlement are right in front of Amy and Elder’s eyes, but some are frustratingly out of reach. Amy and Elder will seek clues to what is really going on here–often at risk to their own lives–but will they be prepared for what they find? Or who their true enemies are? And will the search for truth bring them together or drive them apart…forever? Is the concept of making this planet a true “home” even possible when so much has gone horribly wrong? Seek the truth when you read Shades of Earth, the thrilling conclusion to Beth Revis’ Across the Universe trilogy.

As I indicated above, Shades of Earth is just as amazing as the first two books in this series. It threw some curveballs at me, and, to be honest, I’m still reeling from a couple of the things that happened in this book–and I really hope that the author decides to explore more of Amy and Elder’s story. I had the privilege of meeting Beth Revis at Fiction Addiction on Tuesday (as part of the Breathless Reads tour), and, while she didn’t indicate whether there would be more books in this series, she did say that she’d be open to the idea of more novella-type stories that explore other characters. (There’s already one, As They Slip Away, linked here, and I plan to read it as soon as I’m done with this post.) That’s something, I guess.

One thing that the author said on Tuesday really stuck with me as I was reading Shades of Earth. She said that, when she’s faced with writer’s block, she kills somebody off or blows something up, and that usually gets her back on track. (Of course, this made everybody in the audience laugh…and with good reason. Beth Revis is freakin’ hilarious.) As I was reading this final book, though, I had to think that writer’s block must have been an issue here. There was A LOT of death and explosions. (It was kind of awesome most of the time.  Other times, though, it brought on intense cases of the feels.)

There’s also some sexy-times in this book. Nothing gratuitous or graphic, but, if you’re planning to promote this book to middle-schoolers, you should probably be aware of this. (I don’t think the scene took up more than a page, but it’s pretty obvious what was going on.)

If I have any real complaint about this book, I must say that it’s the cover change. I know the author had no say in this, but why would there be a cover change after two books are already out–with beautiful covers, by the way? Some of us use books in our decorating, and when the third book in a series looks NOTHING like the previous two, the entire aesthetic is thrown off. While I don’t hate the new cover, I would have preferred something more like the covers for the previous two books. (If you’re curious, the paperback versions of the first two books also have the new cover designs, but I’m not buying copies of books I already have just so my bookshelves will look pretty.)

You know what does look pretty, though? Autographed books! Here’s a quick pic of my autographed copy of Shades of Earth! (I got the other books in the series autographed, too.)

Shades_of_Earth

Awesome, right?! For even more awesomeness from Beth Revis and the entire Across the Universe trilogy, visit the author’s website. Go to the “Contact” page for all of the various ways you can connect with this amazing author!

Published in: on February 18, 2013 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Kill Order

While it’s not absolutely vital that you read the entire Maze Runner series (The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure) before reading this prequel, it is highly recommended! Like Star Wars, this is a case where knowing what happens later helps people make sense of the horror unfolding before their eyes (and I’m not just talking about Jar Jar Binks).

Way back in January of 2011, I began reading James Dashner’s Maze Runner series. I finished the third book, The Death Cure, in December of that same year. Well, it’s now January of 2013, and I’ve finally finished reading The Kill Order, the prequel to this exciting–and completely terrifying–series. Maybe I’m not remembering just how awful (in a good way) the first three books were, but it seems to me that The Kill Order was much more graphic and intense than its predecessors. This prequel tells readers what happened in the immediate aftermath of the sun flares, and I, for one, was extremely disturbed by the description of events. (I should note that I’m a little paranoid, so it was all too easy for me to imagine these things actually happening…especially when you consider how rapidly the climate is changing.) Like the original Maze Runner trilogy, reading The Kill Order was like watching a car accident. You know it will probably give you nightmares and/or scar you for life, but you just can’t look away from the devastation.

Mark remembers what it was like when the sun flares hit. He remembers wondering if his family was okay, what was happening in other parts of the world, and if he’d make it out alive. He remembers…but he wishes he could forget. As nightmares of the past plague him, Mark lives day-to-day in the post-flare world. He has journeyed from his home in New York City to western North Carolina with a few fellow travelers:  Trina, his best friend; Alec and Lana, former soldiers who’ve been key to the group’s survival; and a few other fellow refugees from what was once the most thriving city in the world. They’ve made some semblance of a life for themselves, but even the decimation of the world they once knew cannot prepare them for the destruction that is to come…

When Mark and his friends first see the Berg in the sky, they think that maybe help is on the way. When people in Hazmat suits start shooting those below with darts, however, it becomes clear that help is the last thing they can expect. As Mark sees those around him struck–and possibly killed–by these mysterious darts, he knows that his only hope is escape…or maybe getting on that Berg to find out what’s really going on. So that’s what he and Alec do, but they never expected to find that the darts that seemingly came from nowhere held a highly contagious virus. What purpose could anyone possibly have for shooting people with a deadly virus? And can Mark and Alec save the friends they left behind?

When the Berg they boarded unexpectedly crashes, Mark and Alec break away from the wreckage and make their way back to their camp. The find their friends, but they’re not exactly prepared for what else they find. The darts shot from the Berg killed many people in their settlement immediately. Some, however, seem to be suffering from the strange virus that was contained in the darts. People are going mad, losing their grip on sanity in a matter of days, hours, minutes. And the virus is spreading. Mark doesn’t know how many of his friends are infected–or if he is infected himself–but he, along with others, become determined to leave behind the closest thing they had to a home and discover just what is going on…and how they could possibly stop it before it claims one of them.

Mark and company encounter unspeakable horrors on their journey, including a cult-like group (most of whom have been infected by the virus and driven mad) that believes that the virus was sent by demons. The group is suspicious of anyone around them, including a little girl, Deedee, who is somehow immune to the virus that has laid waste to nearly everyone else. Mark and his friends take the little girl with them, but that doesn’t stop these people from wanting to harm her–and those who would protect her–for being unaffected by the virus.

Eventually, Mark and Alec get separated from those remaining in their small party:  Trina, Lana, and Deedee. As they try to reunite with their friends–before the dreaded virus claims one of them as its next victim–Mark and Alec find the place that serves as headquarters to the Bergs that wreaked havoc on their former settlement and their friends. It is here they learn more about this virus…and the intent behind its creation. As they learn more and more about this virus–and how it is mutating–they realize that their hope of survival is almost nil…but there is someone who has a small measure of hope. If they can get Deedee to people who’ll know what to do with her immunity, there may be some hope for all of humanity. If they don’t, the virus that is driving everyone insane will spread exponentially, and all of humankind will be lost.

Can Mark and his friends do what needs to be done to possibly save the world? And what will happen if they succeed? What will become of Deedee? Just how important is an immune child in a world ravaged by disease, and what will be done to her in the quest to reverse the damages done? Begin answering these questions and so many more when you read The Kill Order, the thrilling prequel to James Dashner’s Maze Runner trilogy.

Just like the other books in this series, I really liked The Kill Order. Yes, it was extremely dark and the violence was the very definition of graphic, but the book kept me on the edge of my seat (and even managed to induce a couple of nightmares). It definitely made me think about how our current society would react if something similar were to happen. I honestly don’t think we would fare much better.

*Note:  According to School Library Journal, The Kill Order is okay for grades seven and up, but I would add a word of caution to middle school librarians considering this book. Readers who devoured the original trilogy should be fine with the events in this book, but those who are experiencing The Kill Order first may have some issues with the graphic descriptions of violence, insanity, and disease in this book. Some kids (and adults) simply won’t be able to handle this book.

If you’d like more information about James Dashner and all of his books, visit his website or follow him on Twitter. You may also want to check out this creeptastic book trailer for The Kill Order from Random House. Enjoy the madness!

Published in: on January 15, 2013 at 11:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Dog’s Way Home

I’m happy to report that I just finished reading the last of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees.  I’ll admit that I was reluctant to read this final book, A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron.  Even though most of my students absolutely love “dog books,” I confess that they aren’t my favorites.  These books are almost always heart-breaking, and, contrary to popular belief, I’m extremely tender-hearted, and I can’t stand starting a book knowing that there probably won’t be a happy ending…especially for the poor animal around which the book is centered.  (I blame Old Yeller for this.  That book/movie scarred me for life.)  So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I began to read A Dog’s Way Home, and I was right about this book being a heartbreaker, but, unlike so many other “dog books,” this one offered a fair amount of hope that dog and owner would somehow find their way back to each other, even when so many obstacles were in the way.

Abby’s best friend is her beloved Shetland sheepdog, Tam. The two are always together, and they even compete in agility competitions (which they usually win because they seem to read each others’ minds). On the way home from a competition in Virginia, however, a horrible accident on the treacherous Blue Ridge Parkway separates Abby and Tam. Abby is sure that her precious dog is still alive and trying to find his way back to her…all the way home to Harmony Gap, North Carolina.  Even when Abby and her family move to Nashville (something Abby is not happy about), she never loses hope that she will be reunited with Tam one day.

Tam is lost and alone for the first time in his life.  He has only two goals:  survive and find his way back to his girl.  As Tam makes his way south toward where he’s sure he’ll find Abby, surviving is becoming more difficult.  Winter is on its way, and Tam must rely on all his instincts–and the help of some surprising new friends–to live through the season.  As the days, weeks, and months pass, Tam begins to forget much about his old life as he becomes more like a wild animal and less like the pampered dog he once was.  But, somehow, he always remembers that he belongs somewhere else, and he is doing everything he can to get back to the place–and the girl–that is his true home.

Both Abby and Tam are facing new situations and dangers they never expected, but these two friends have a bond that transcends everything.  It’s this bond that helps both of them hope for the day when they’ll see each other again.  Even though hundreds of miles separate them, Abby and Tam are determined to find each other…and they’ll stop at nothing to make that happen.  Find out how Tam makes his way home to Abby’s welcoming arms when you read A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron.

I’m confident that my students will devour this book.  Books about dogs are not exactly a hard sell in my library anyway, but I think this one stands out from the crowd.  A Dog’s Way Home is told from both Abby’s and Tam’s perspectives, so it shows how strong the relationship between pet and owner can truly be.  Anyone who’s ever had a pet will appreciate this.

There are so many things to love about A Dog’s Way Home–the setting, the relationships, the will to survive, and the love between Abby and Tam.  I sincerely believe that my students will enjoy this book as much as I did (even though I really didn’t expect to).  I highly recommend this book to all readers, especially those in 3rd-6th grades who have a special bond with their own pets.

For more information about this heart-warming book and author Bobbie Pyron, visit http://www.bobbiepyron.com/.  Enjoy!

Enclave

What better way to celebrate Easter than reading a piece of post-apocalyptic fiction that will probably give me nightmares!  After spending the better part of the day with my family, I came home to my humble abode, and, after taking a much-needed nap, I immersed myself in the terrifying world created by Ann Aguirre in Enclave.  To call the future envisioned in this book bleak would be an understatement.  It kind of makes the world of The Hunger Games look like a romp through one of Mary Poppins’ magical paintings.  Enclave does, however, share some things with The Hunger Games.  Young people are fighting to survive, those in power will do anything to keep it, food is scarce, there’s an understated love story, and the main character, Deuce, is a strong, kick-butt female who can go toe-to-toe with any guy standing in her way.  And Deuce needs all the strength she can muster to face what’s coming her way…

Deuce was born in an enclave below the earth’s surface.  All she’s ever known is life below the ground, and all she’s ever wanted is to become a Huntress, one who protects those who live in the enclave.  She finally achieves her dream, and she’s paired with Fade, a Hunter who was born on the outside, one who is not quite trusted by those who govern the enclave.  While Deuce isn’t exactly thrilled with her new partner, she will do as she is told and work with him to hunt for food while watching out for the ferocious Freaks (half-human, half-beast, feral creatures) who roam the tunnels and kill anything that crosses their paths.

As Deuce and Fade begin to work together and trust each other, Deuce’s eyes are opened—for the first time—to what is really going on around her.  Fade has shown her that the elders of the enclave have one purpose and one purpose only—to keep the people in line and ignorant.  They don’t care that the Freaks are getting smarter and finding ways through their defenses.  They don’t care that other settlements are being wiped out.  They don’t care that there’s a bigger world that they know nothing about.  No, the elders are only concerned with keeping things as they are—ordered, controlled, and predictable.  Fade helps Deuce realize that this failure to see what’s really going on will be the end of the enclave if something is not done.  Unfortunately, Deuce may be powerless to do anything to save the only home she’s ever known.

When Deuce realizes just how corrupt the leadership of the enclave has become, she makes a shocking decision that will force her to do something she never thought possible.  What’s more shocking?  Fade decides to make the journey with her.  Where will they go?  How will they survive?  Well, these two are stronger than anyone gave them credit for, and they’re determined to find some way to stay alive…and together.

Deuce and Fade will face certain death and horrors they’ve never encountered in order to make it to a better future.  Along the way, they’ll encounter more Freaks, injury, new allies (in very unexpected places), and knowledge that they never had before.  What will they do with this new knowledge?  Can they figure out what brought the world to its current state?  Can they find some place that offers a promise of new life?  Will their journey to safety bring them closer together?  Or will it drive them so far apart they’ll never find a way back to each other?  Read Enclave, the gripping first installment in Ann Aguirre’s Razorland trilogy, to find out!

I thoroughly enjoyed Enclave (which shouldn’t surprise anyone, since I love most dystopian fiction), and I look forward to reading more about Deuce’s world in Outpost (due out on September 4, 2012) and Horde (expected sometime in 2013).  I will admit that it took me a little while to get into Enclave, but, once I did, the outside world ceased to exist.  I was totally focused on what Deuce was going through, and I couldn’t wait to see what happened to her and Fade.  I’m still anxious to see how their story plays out.

If you still want to know more about Enclave and author Ann Aguirre, visit http://www.annaguirre.com/, follow the author on Twitter @MsAnnAguirre, and check out this creeptastic book trailer for Enclave by MacmillanChildrens on YouTube.  Enjoy!

Published in: on April 8, 2012 at 10:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fox Inheritance

Caution:  Read The Adoration of Jenna Fox, the first book in Mary E. Pearson’s Jenna Fox Chronicles, before proceeding.  Also, if you read the first book nearly three years ago (like me), you might want to skim through it before opening The Fox Inheritance.

I first read The Adoration of Jenna Fox way back in 2008. I was still a high school librarian, and I can remember giving dozens of booktalks on this book to my students. I loved the book, and I was intrigued by its core subject matter–the thought of where science and medicine could take society in the future. I think some of my students were as well. We talked about things like cloning, preserving human consciousness after bodies have worn out, and government control of science and medicine. In short, The Adoration of Jenna Fox generated some fairly intense discussions. The sequel, The Fox Inheritance, is sure to follow in those footsteps. You see, Jenna Fox was not the only person whose mind was “saved” and put into a new and improved body. It just took a little longer–about 260 years–for her friends, Locke and Kara, to “wake up.”

Locke has been in limbo for 260 years.  260 years of total darkess, with nothing but his thoughts.  Thoughts of the night he and his friends, Jenna and Kara, were in a horrible accident.  Thoughts of his past and how he would do things differently.  Thoughts of the world that has surely forgotten him and continued to go on.  Thoughts that seem to connect with Kara, his friend who is just as trapped as he is.  They have no bodies, and their minds are imprisoned in a small box…until they are finally released. 

After a dark, horrifying 260 years of nothingness, Locke and Kara now have new and improved bodies.  They can finally feel, taste, hear (something other than the noise of their own thoughts), communicate, and live their lives.  But what life do they really have?  They are seemingly stuck in an altogether different type of prison.  Dr. Gatsbro, the man who “saved” Locke and Kara, is using them to further his own agenda.  The entire world has changed in the 260 years they missed.  Everyone they knew is gone…except for Jenna Fox.

Kara and Locke soon escape the clutches of the nefarious Dr. Gatsbro, and venture out into a world that is totally unfamiliar.  The country they were born into has split in two, robots perform many tasks once reserved for humans, and no one can be trusted.  Gatsbro and his goons are hot on their trail, and Locke and Kara are forced to seek help from unexpected sources.  Dangers lurk around every corner, but the two escapees have just one goal–get to Jenna Fox. 

Their reasons for reaching Jenna, however, are very different.  Locke wants answers to questions and wishes to be reunited with an old (and I mean really old), dear friend.  Kara, though, seeks her own brand of justice.  Why was Jenna saved so soon and not them?  What was so special about Jenna that she got to experience life for the past 260 years while they were left forgotten on a shelf?  Why didn’t she come back for them?  Why did she let them suffer for so long?  Well, Kara is determined that Jenna will suffer just as much as she and Locke did.

As Locke and Kara travel across the country, they once again face the past that has always haunted them.  When they come face to face with Jenna, will they let the past destroy their present, or will they rush headlong into a future filled with possibilities?  Read The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson to find out!

I’ve glossed over a lot of details in this post.  I didn’t even begin to touch on the science and technology featured in The Fox Inheritance–and even The Adoration of Jenna Fox–or how those “advances” seem all too possible in our world.  I’m a little paranoid, so it’s very easy for me to imagine that someone somewhere is working on being able to transfer a mind into a computer and then back into a fabricated body.  (I thought about Robocop, Blade Runner, and movies like that when I was reading this book.)  It’s very disturbing to think about.  What are the implications here?  Can–or should–society or governments do anything to stop science and technology from going as far as they can?  What will the role of bioethics be in the future?  Think about it.  I know I will.

If you’d like more information about author Mary Pearson, the Jenna Fox Chronicles, and other books, please visit http://www.marypearson.com/index.html.  According to her blog, we can look forward to a third and final book in the Jenna Fox Chronicles.  There’s no word yet on what the title is or when the book will be released.

Published in: on February 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Prized

If you haven’t already read Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, do that before proceeding with this post.  Prized is the amazing sequel, and you definitely need to read these books in order!

I just finished reading a book that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I loved the first book, Birthmarked, and I had a feeling I would feel the same about the second, Prized. In many ways, I was not disappointed. Like Birthmarked, Prized is set in a dystopian society and follows Gaia, a strong female character. Two big pluses in my book. Prized also made me think about topics that any society tends to have issues with–abortion, oppression, equal rights, etc. Another plus.  The only problem I had with this book was the convoluted love story.  Gaia is torn in three different directions, and, while this does add some tension to the book, I felt it took away from the strength of Gaia’s character.  I also wasn’t crazy about how she knuckled under when things got rough.  (She later redeemed herself, but it still bothered me that she kowtowed in the first place.)  Would I have done things differently in Gaia’s position?  Probably not, as I am a wuss of the highest order.  (Honestly, I would have given in much faster.)  The question is:  would Gaia have done things differently had she known what the outcome would be?

After fleeing into the wastelands with her baby sister, Gaia is certain that death is imminent for both of them.  When nearly all hope is lost, salvation appears in the form of a rider from Sylum, the society that was once ruled by Gaia’s grandmother.  When Gaia arrives in Sylum, however, she fears that she’s escaped one corrupt society only to become part of another.  Sylum is ruled by women–who are largely outnumbered by men–and child-bearing is the most important thing in this world.  Women who cannot or choose not to have children are considered second-class citizens.  (Doesn’t sound too different from our society, does it?)  Men have virtually no rights at all, and kissing a woman out of wedlock is enough to have a man convicted of attempted rape…whether the woman wanted the kiss or not.

After Gaia’s sister is taken from her, and someone from her past is imprisoned without cause, Gaia resists the new rules placed upon her.  Eventually, however, she comes to believe that she must submit to the Matrarc, the ruler of Sylum, if she has any hope of seeing her sister or having anything resembling a happy life.  And for a while, Gaia thinks she could be happy in Sylum.  Two very handsome brothers are vying for her attention, she’s a highly valued midwife once again, and, whereas she was shunned in the Enclave, she’s prized in Sylum.  It’s a new and heady feeling for Gaia, one she’s not sure she wants to give up…

…until Leon, the boy who helped her escape the Enclave, makes it clear that he misses the old Gaia, the one who fought like a woman possessed for what she believed in.  He wonders where that Gaia has gone, and, after a while, Gaia wonders the same thing.  How could she possibly so concerned with her own happiness at the expense of those around her?  She sees what’s going on in Sylum, even when those in power would turn a blind eye.  But what could she possibly do to turn things around?  Is she willing to sacrifice relationships, both old and new, for the sake of justice?  Will it be enough?  Read Prized, the captivating sequel to Caragh M. O’Brien’s Birthmarked, to find out!

Prized is a fairly intense read, and, like I said before, it definitely makes you think.  It made me examine my own views on reproductive rights, gender equality, environmental impact on human growth and development, criminal justice, and what gives one group the right to impose laws on another.  Prized is a very timely book that I think will raise some discussions about issues that are facing us today.

Birthmarked and Prized are, you guessed it, part of a trilogy.  The third book, Promised is due out in the Fall of 2012.  Personally, I can hardly wait to see where Gaia’s story is going, especially considering the way it ended in Prized.  I have a feeling things are going to get a lot more complicated. 

If you’d like more information about this trilogy and author Caragh M. O’Brien, visit http://www.caraghobrien.com/.  Enjoy.

Published in: on February 19, 2012 at 5:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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