Cover Impressions: This cover is so beautifully intricate. It is not the type of cover t...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: This cover is so beautifully intricate. It is not the type of cover that jumps off the shelf but it is the type that encourages the reader to stop and study it. I am already intrigued to see the artwork for the next in the series.
The Gist: The kingdom of Goredd holds a tenuous balance between it's human citizens and the dragons who can take their form. As the 40th anniversary of their peace treaty approaches it seems that someone is determined to tip the scales and renew the old conflicts. Seraphina straddles the line between humans and dragons. When a member of the royal family is found beheaded, she becomes an integral part of the investigation - if only to try and keep her own secrets hidden.
Review: Oh God. These are always the hardest reviews for me to write. I can rant all day about books that I hate, pointing out the slow plot, annoying characters and writing that would fit quite well in my stack of grading from grade 7. Those reviews are my bread and butter, they flow through my fingertips like water, gracing the page with WTF's and FFS!'s.
Every now and then, however, I come across a book that was just so fan-fucking-tastic that I can barely put into words why. Seraphina was one of those books. The world building is complete and unique. The characters are fully developed, sometimes flawed and remarkably human (even when they are not). The writing is polished and elegant, begging you to savor every word. The plot never lags or races but maintains a pace that keeps the reader enthralled (seriously - as soon as the baby went to bed I begged my husband to just leave me alone and go watch sports or something so that I could read).
Seraphina is easily one of my favorite characters thus far this year. She is intelligent, talented, brave, vulnerable, and loyal. She struggles with her own self worth and undergoes remarkable growth. The secondary characters are also not to be missed. Hartman has not allowed for one dimensional characters here. Between the members of Seraphina's garden, the dignitaries at court and the dragons in human form, there was always someone intriguing to watch and someone else to wonder about.
Hartman creates a world that is wonderfully strange yet oddly familiar. Though the people and dragons of Goredd negotiated a peace treaty nearly 40 years ago, there is still a great deal of animosity and racism on both sides. The hatred and anger between these peoples was palpable and created some of the most tense scenes in the novel.
The writing in Seraphina flows beautifully. The one thing that I did not enjoy (and this is a criticism of fantasy in general rather than this book in particular) is that choosing not to explain certain terminology in the text and to rely on a glossary is fine in a physical book, but I find it becomes rather tedious while reading an e-book.
This novel easily makes the list as one of my top books of 2012. Now, when is that sequel coming out???!!!
Age: 13 and up Gender: Both Sex: Implied at Violence: Death by be-heading, Knifeplay, Swordplay, Death by Poisoning Inappropriate Language: Bastard Substance Use/Abuse: Drinking of Wine(less)
Cover Impressions: The colors here are beautifully muted and soft. The scrollwork adds a...moreThis and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: The colors here are beautifully muted and soft. The scrollwork adds a delicate detail and reflects the lace curtain. The image of the little girl hiding in lace is just creepy enough to set the tone, without over-doing the "freak out" factor.
The Gist: Alexis lives in the quintessential Halloween Haunted House. She has always liked it, until her sister starts acting strangely. Suddenly the house appears much more sinister and Alexis must enlist the help of those she least expected in order to save her sister and banish the evil that surrounds her.
Review: This is my second time reading Bad Girls Don't Die. Even so, I could only read it in bed if my husband was there. Katie Alender does an excellent job of creating that delicious sense of suspense that only truly great scary stories can achieve. She is also incredibly skilled at writing scenes that begin with the easily explained and end with the truly terrifying.
The story falls on the shoulders of Alexis who is, at best, a deeply flawed character. She is usually callous and sometimes mean. She often goes out of her way to spread rumors about those who have hurt her in the past. This is not the character you root for from the beginning. This is the character that you realize has a lot of growing up to do and hope that she does. I have encountered these types of character before, but I am very pleased that in Alexis' case, all of her growing up does not occur within the first book. She continues this development and I hope by the third book in the series will have become a character I can be proud of.
Alender also does quite a good job of painting realistic relationships, between Alexis and her "arch enemy", her crush and her sister. The cheerleader is not all villain, there is no insta-love and the sisters do not bond over boys and shopping. Instead, we see these relationships grow and develop (albeit under extreme circumstances) and Alexis begins to see the value in each, especially the love for her family.
There are far too few truly creepy YA books out there. We tend to gorge ourselves on this genre in younger years, with Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark, but we seem to lose it as we get older. Thank you Katie Alender for bringing me back to those childhood moments of sneaking a flashlight into my room and reading beneath the covers.
Age: 13 and up Gender: Both, though leaning a little more toward the females Sex: A kiss Violence: Attempted poisoning, death by gas, fire Inappropriate Language: None Substance Abuse: None
"Preps are like cheerleaders, only with less jumping"
"A Kasey-size shadow as way back in the darkest corner of the room, near the long-abandoned tool bench, making clanking noises as it dug through piles of discarded junk. Werewolf, my brain said. Zombie!" (less)
Cover Impressions: This cover fits really well with the first in the series. The girl ha...moreThis and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: This cover fits really well with the first in the series. The girl has a seriously intense and chilling stare and begs the reader to ask whether she is emerging from the door or protecting what is within. While her expression is dark and menacing, her outfit is sweet and child-like, presenting a wonderful contrast. The scroll work on these covers always adds a delicate detail that adds interest.
The Gist: Alexis has spent the last few months in blissful normality. That is, until her sister Kasey is released from the mental hospital and promptly finds a group of friends who are a little too perfect. Worried that Kasey may be in over her head again, Alexis and her friend, Megan, join the Sunshine Club in order to protect her. The girls quickly learn that you never get beauty, poise and a launch up the social ladder without sacrifice.
Review: Alender really knows how to write her ghosts. First the evil doll-obsessed little girl and now a spirit that feeds on the teenage obsession to be pretty and popular. The novel starts off slowly, as each girl takes small steps towards "self-improvement" but features some truly chilling moments once the girls begin to depend on supernatural influences and to forget how they survived without them (the scene with Emily in the bathroom - HOOO BOY, that freaked me out a little).
Alexis is still a fairly unlikeable character. She mistrusts her friends and is reluctant to make any gestures of compassion and friendship towards her sister (she just got out of a mental hospital - invite her to some parties and don't make her eat lunch by herself - it is not that hard!). At one point she even asks herself when she turned into "The kind of person I claimed to hate" but doesn't appear to change her behavior. This gets worse as she begins to think and act like a teenage Stepford wife. Alexis' continued flaws did, however, allow me to see things from Lydia's point of view which may or may not play out in her favor in the final book.
Though this novel is the middle book in a series, I believe it could stand fairly well on its own. It does not suffer the same flaws as many middle books - where big secrets are rarely revealed and the plot only serves to prepare for the last novel. Here we have a real clear ending to one story, and the hint of the beginning of the next which made me want to jump right into As Dead As It Gets. Which is exactly what I am going to do as soon as the sun goes down!
Age: 13 and up Gender: Female Sex: Kissing Violence: Self harm with curling iron, hand to hand fighting, knifeplay Inappropriate Language: None Substance Abuse: None
“Rule one: Don’t be friends with ghosts.”
“I felt the oddest combination of emotions – happiness and apprehension at the same time. Like my heart inflated and then ran away and hid under the bed.”
“Look on the bright side, I told myself. It might not be ghosts. Maybe it was just drugs. Or blackmail.”(less)
**spoiler alert** This is not so much a review as it is my thoughts upon re-reading The Hunger Games. I'm going to assume that nearly everyone who had...more**spoiler alert** This is not so much a review as it is my thoughts upon re-reading The Hunger Games. I'm going to assume that nearly everyone who had any interest in reading this novel has done so already so beware of SPOILERS!
This book is fantastic. You know that, I know that and (hopefully) after the movie release next week, the rest of the freaking world will know that.* The first time around, I was so caught up with anxiety and fear for Katniss' life that I missed some of the more subtle nuances of this incredibly intricate book. I discussed some of these points with my book club but I wanted to get some feedback from other people.
1. SHOW, DON'T TELL: Collins really got this one right. This was clear right from the start when Katniss spoke about Prim's cat. The startlingly powerful image of a young girl attempting to drown a worm-ridden kitten because she didn't need "another mouth to feed". We are never bogged down with info-dumping or forced to listen to Katniss whine about her circumstances (even though some whining is probably warranted).
2. ACTION: There is very rarely a dull moment in this book. The only time that I can think of it even slowing is while Katniss and Peeta are in the cave. Instead, this is where a lot of the relationship building occurs and where we learn even more about both of the characters.**
3.HAYMITCH: The first time I read this book, I saw only the surface character of Haymith: the bumbling drunk who was jaded by watching years of unsuccessful tributes meet their death in the games. After re-reading, I was able to see the intelligence in Haymitch. I no longer believe that his falling off the stage was an accident and now see it as a carefully orchestrated move to distract from the fact that Katniss was about to cry after receiving the salute from the crowd. The way that he communicated with Katniss via what he did or didn't send was pretty incredible. I was really able to see the parallels between the two characters and it was a little chilling to have a constant reminder of what Katniss could become if she didn't have the influence of her friends and family.
4. ROMANCE: The romantic arc in this story is very well done. There is no insta-love and it is made very clear that Katniss has difficulty separating her feelings for Peeta from her actions as part of the game. Even though we do see evidence of a love triangle, the two boys are never in direct competition and Katniss shows fierce loyalty to both of them but undying love to neither.
5. AUDIENCE: I am constantly looking for books to recommend to my male students. The hardest sell is usually grade 9. Last year, I suggested The Hunger Games to one boy and he went on to rave to his fellow students about how "Awesome" it was. Shortly thereafter, nearly all of the class, boys and girls, had read the books and I was able to interest many of them in other books like The Giver and The Maze Runner. There is an old trope that boys will not read books about girls (rumor has it this is why J.K Rowling chose a male protagonist in Harry Potter) but Suzanne Collins crushes this when she created a world that interested both genders and a character that all readers can root for.
So, what do you think? Do you agree with my points? Disagree? For those who have re-read, did notice anything new the second time you read it? Are you ready to cheer Katniss on when the movie is released (not to mention ready to bawl your eyes out when Rue dies)?
*Seriously, have you seen the trailer? I say "trailer" because I am so excited that I have limited myself to only watching the first one so EVERYTHING is new to me when I finally get to see it.
**I wonder if we had been given a chance to get to know Gale this early on, would we have been more split in who Katniss should end up with?
In this sequel to The Hunger Games, Katniss is forced to live with the consequences of her actions within the arena. While starving to death is no lon...moreIn this sequel to The Hunger Games, Katniss is forced to live with the consequences of her actions within the arena. While starving to death is no longer an issue, violence, anger, rebellion and the emotional fallout from her pseudo relationship with Peeta, are.
The first 1/3 of this book are rather slow going. If you are reading the books back to back, this is a difficult change of pace from the action of The Hunger Games. Instead of defending her life from other competitors, we watch as Katniss attempts to reconcile with Gale and deal with not only an ever increasing violent presence within District 12, but also with her own expanded understanding of just how bad things are under the rule of the Capitol.
The action eventually picks up again and the reader is left questioning each character's motives and wondering what exactly is going on. The plot holds many twists and turns and things do not become clear until the last few pages. As the middle book in a trilogy, Catching Fire does a fantastic job of leaving you yearning for the third book. The first time I read it, this was infuriating. The second time around it is less so (mostly because the third book is waiting for me rather than forcing me to chew my nails for months wondering what is to become of my beloved characters).
Age: Grade 8-9 Gender: Both Sex: None Violence: Lots. Multiple Beatings, Fights, Murders. Inappropriate Language: None Substance Abuse: Continued heavy drinking by an adult character. One instance of heavy drinking by a teen character (followed by a painful hangover).
How does one even begin to sum up the emotional roller coaster that is the end to the Hunger Games series? In this book, we find Katniss safely enscon...moreHow does one even begin to sum up the emotional roller coaster that is the end to the Hunger Games series? In this book, we find Katniss safely ensconced within the walls of District 13, the headquarters for the rebellion against the Capital. Once again, Katniss is expected to play a role in other people's agendas and, once again, she refuses to play by anyone's rules but her own. As the rebellion wears on, Katniss struggles against the capital, her own inner turmoil and the morality of what she must do.
Within the pages of this book, more so than either of the others, we trespass on Katniss' inner thoughts, feelings and fears as she faces the suffering brought on (at least in part) by her actions. Unlike many in the YA genre, Suzanne Collins presents a character who is often unstable, emotional and all together, human. It is this that sets her apart from many YA authors. Her characters have realistic weaknesses that they overcome not once but over and over again, facing the very worst in themselves and crawling, bloody and broken from abyss of self-loathing in order to fight for the people that they love.
Mockingjay does not shy away from the big issues, exploring humanity, and our ability to inflict pain and suffering of the highest caliber in the name of whatever cause we believe to be just. In forcing the reader to question their own belief system, Collins displays a confidence in her reader's ability to think critically. She never panders to young adults or assumes that she needs to spell out her message so that they will "get it". An increasing number of YA authors and publishers do not show this same level of respect for their readers.
Mockingjay not only presents an action packed and emotional ride, but it also forces us to examine our view of the world and the atrocities that play out every day in our own backyards and around the globe.
Age: Grade 8-9 Gender: Both Sex: None Violence: Beatings, Use of guns and other weapons, many, many deaths due to violent means. Inappropriate Language: None Substance Abuse: Alcohol abuse by an adult. Discussion of addiction to painkillers. Other Issues: Contemplation of suicide
Title: Fog Magic Author: Julia L. Sauer Publisher: Puffin Release Date: 1943 Rating: 5/5
Cover Impressions: This is my favorite cover of this book and the...moreTitle: Fog Magic Author: Julia L. Sauer Publisher: Puffin Release Date: 1943 Rating: 5/5
Cover Impressions: This is my favorite cover of this book and the one that I remember. It gets the old fishing village just right and has the beautiful, soft and ethereal quality of the fog.
Review: When I was a little girl I discovered this book on the shelf of my tiny school library. I read it at least twice a year for the rest of my time at that school. It was my go-to book when I was feeling sad or lonely (which, to be honest, was quite often) and I was the perfect book for a foggy, Newfoundland day. Recently, while perusing the shelves at my favorite second hand bookstore, I came across Fog Magic and just about squealed in delight. I am so happy to get to read this wonderful story again.
Fog Magic is the Newberry Award Winning book of Julia L. Sauer. It is set in rural Nova Scotia in a tiny fishing village. The main character is an eleven year old girl named Greta. Greta has always had an unexplainable fascination with the fog. From the time she could walk, her mother was constantly trying to stop her from wandering off into the mist. While walking one grey, foggy day, Greta discovers that the fog doesn't simply hide her from the world, it also reveals a new world to her. The fog allows her entrance to Blue Cove, a place that holds only remnants of a community in the bright sunshine but is alive with the hustle and bustle of life within the fog.
I always love the magic behind Fog Magic. I grew up in the fog, I saw how it will creep and sneak along the ground one day and roll in as if swallowing you up the next. I loved the idea that you could walk into the mist and come upon something that was never there by the light of the sun but could exist in that liminal space that fog can create. Sauer does an excellent job of describing the mystery of the fog and the rules of this world are fairly well defined. The fact that Greta can only reach Blue Cove through the fog and that time is different there allows the story to move quickly through a year without being bogged down with day to day details.
The story is a simple one, but is enchanting in its simplicity. We are able to see some of the key events in the lives of the people at Blue Cove and can really feel Greta's sense of other-worldliness in having prior knowledge of the outcome of these events but no way to change them. She develops a simple and sweet friendship with Retha and becomes close with her family, who appear to know more about this mystery that Greta does herself. I do wish that some of the minor mysteries, like what happened to make everyone leave Blue Cove or who Anthony really is, were answered as these are the questions that keep me wondering and wishing there was a sequel to this book.
This book will always be a favorite of mine and it makes me happy simply to see a copy resting on my shelves, awaiting the next grey, foggy day.
Notable Quotables: "Most of us live in two worlds - our real world and the one we build or spin ourselves out of the books we read, the heroes we admire, the things we hope to do."
Cover Impressions: I really like this cover. The 'eye in the sky' grabs your attention a...more This and other reviews can be found on Reading Between Classes
Cover Impressions: I really like this cover. The 'eye in the sky' grabs your attention and works well with the color scheme. The city and marshland add to the tone and set this novel clearly as a dystopia. In my physical copy, the title and author's name are raised, giving the book a polished, expensive, feel.
The Gist: The world has split into factions based on what each group values above all else. Each teenager will be tested for aptitude in each of factions and then must choose one. This means leaving behind everything they have ever known, including family. Beatrice Prior makes this choice and struggles to conform to a new set of ideals in a world that isn't as secure as she once thought.
Review: Tris (Beatrice) is not your typical YA character. She doesn't wait for the boy to save her, she doesn't plot and scheme or use her womanly charms to survive. She kicks ass and takes names. She doesn't start off as strong, she doesn't have some special ability that lets her play with the big boys, she works at it, she practices and this is why I love her. Tris walks the line between compassion and ferocity. She is able to empathize and show mercy one moment, while being hard nosed and unforgiving in the next. Her reactions speak to me as Human, no where near perfect, but trying to survive while upholding her own set of morals. Some of the other characters are not featured as well and do come off as a little one-dimensional, but I have hopes for redemption on this point as the trilogy continues.
Roth creates a very distinct and interesting world. It is one that appears calm and orderly on the outside but, after further investigation, begins to show the cracks underneath. Once those flaws begin to be revealed, the novel moves from slow and steady tension building to all out downhill run. The last 100 pages or so are impossible to put down (unless, like me, you have an infant who waits for the best part of the book to decide that he needs you NOW NOW NOW!). There are scenes that are hard to read, there are deaths that I wish didn't happen and others that I wish did. There are also a few things that I found unbelievable (but can't discuss without spoilers) but I was able to move past them and concentrate on the action.
This book was hyped. And I mean HYPED with all caps. I believe it deserves some of that hype. It is not the be-all, end-all of dystopian novels, but it really is a fun, exciting and exhilarating read. Both boys and girls will love the adventure and the fast pace. I do have some concerns about the level of violence and would not recommend it for young readers. The groping scene has caused some controversy but I do think it was written well, though I would have liked to see Tris reflecting on it now and then.* The kissing scenes get a little steamy but nothing above PG13 (I will be reviewing Insurgent later and have a feeling that things may get a little more racy).
Age: 16 and up Gender: Both Sex: Kissing, Unwanted groping Violence: Death by falling, knifeplay/stabbing, death by drowning, gunplay, execution-style murder, mind control. Inappropriate Language: None Substance Abuse: Drinking
* For those teachers out there, Veronica Roth wrote a blog post about it, discussing the mistakes that writers make, that may be interesting for older students to explore. It can be found HERE
Closing Thoughts: This is my second reading of Divergent and I enjoyed it just as much this time around. Veronica Roth has gained a fan in me and I am sure I will continue to read anything that she decides to write. (less)
Title: Wildefire Author: Karsten Knight Publisher: Simon & Schuster Release Date: July 26, 2011 Rating: 3/5
Cover Impressions: Oh so pretty. I absolute...moreTitle: Wildefire Author: Karsten Knight Publisher: Simon & Schuster Release Date: July 26, 2011 Rating: 3/5
Cover Impressions: Oh so pretty. I absolutely love this image. The colors are dark, but stunning and the unassuming title font doesn't take away from the beauty of the smoke curls. Even better, the physical book feels almost velvety to the touch. I have no idea what treatment they used on the book jacket, but I love it.
This is a re-read for me and I seem to remember enjoying it a whole lot more the first time around. Perhaps my tastes have changed or, perhaps, most of the allure of the book comes from not knowing what is going to happen next.
When this book opens, we meet Ash, who seems, at first glace, to be a badass. We are quickly shocked by her sister, Eve, who swoops in a creates a great deal of havoc and seems to thrive on violence. It bothered me that, despite the fact that Eve becomes a very important character, we never really get to know Eve's backstory or why she is so angry with the world. In the wake of Eve's destructive powers, Ash escapes to a private school and we jump forward several months to see her partaking in a night of debauchery. When a mysterious call for help is only heard by a select group, she discovers that she may not be quite as ordinary as she thought.
I really enjoyed watching the kids as they stepped into their powers and using my (somewhat limited) knowledge of mythology to try and guess which teen would be which god. I did think that the kids seemed to accept this whole god thing rather quickly and they went from using their powers during one catastrophic event to using them skillfully and at will. I would have enjoyed seeing some of this progression as they practiced these newfound skills. They also seem to jump straight from complete and total strangers to a tight knit group of friends a bit too quickly to seem realistic. Even my beloved Raja, queen of the withering looks, morphed into a dress-lending, advice-giving uber bestie.
Some of the kids are awesome and I had entertained the thought that perhaps the next book would follow a different teen (come on Raja!) but, alas, we are to leave those kids behind and continue to listen to Ash whine. She is not a particularly interesting character and I quickly bored of her woe is me attitude and her lackluster flirting. The relationship between her and Colt is not exactly insta-love but it does progress rather quickly and I could not quite get over the fact that he is an adult man and she is a 16??? year old girl. That is far too creepy for me.
I am definitely on board for the next book, Embers and Echoes because I have a copy of the third book waiting for review.
Age: 16 and up Gender: Both Sex: Sexual Activity (no intercourse) and vulgar language Violence: Violent Death Scenes, Gunplay, Knifeplay Inappropriate Language: Piss, Bitch, Whore, Pussy, Fuck, Dick, Ass, Bastard, Shit, Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking (less)
I read this for the second (or third) time for my student book club. Looking at it through their eyes, I can see how it would be confusing. This is an...moreI read this for the second (or third) time for my student book club. Looking at it through their eyes, I can see how it would be confusing. This is an amazing book for a book study because it is so full of symbolism and metaphor, but that is the same reason that it might be inaccessible for the average teen reader. I am excited to see how much of the deeper meaning my students actually got, having read it on their own without a teacher to explain as they went (the way that I had it for my first reading.)(less)