WHAT I LIKED: 172 Hours on the Moon is one of the creepiest, most chilling books I've ever read. After the first 100 pages, I finished the rest of it in one sitting. Gripping and suspenseful, 172 Hours is one of those books where you constantly ask yourself, "How can they possibly get out of this?"
I must give props to the translator, Tara Chace. If the front cover did not tell me 172 Hours was a translation (from Norwegian), I would never have known. With smooth flow and a story that grabs you and won't let go, I frequently forgot that I was reading rather than experiencing.
Illustrations, advertisements, maps, and photographs sprinkled throughout add to the story and help readers visualize places only a very small number of humans have ever visited. Despite numerous illustrations, Harstad describes the horrific evil inhabiting the moon without any visuals, which would probably have taken away from the horror of it anyway. Imagining what lurks out there is far more scary than any photograph or drawing could ever be.
I have seen a few reviews that complained about the ending, but I really liked it. It was such a cool twist that I went back and reread a couple of parts to see how they worked with that ending.
Be ready to sleep with the lights on!
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Initially, the three teens are really not all that likeable. They seem bratty and spoiled, and they all believe their lives are terrible and could be better elsewhere. Antoine is nothing short of an obsessed stalker, and Mia's rude treatment of her parents, while believable, does not make her likeable. They did eventually grow on me though, and their moments of remarkable courage in a dire situation helped to redeem them.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Original, eerie, and intense, 172 Hours on the Moon is page-turning craziness that will stay with readers long after the shocking and heartbreaking conclusion. Not for readers who don't like scary thrillers with a healthy dose of violence.(less)
WHAT I LIKED: May I please move to Candlewax? The world-building in this book is incredible! From majestic castles to burning forests of Candlewax trees to the unforgiving land of Cinna, the fantasy world is breathtakingly beautiful and cold and evil at the same time.
Well-paced. I was sucked into the story right away and, for the most part, had a hard time putting it down. Sims provides plenty of conflict to keep the story moving; there were times when I wondered, "How on earth are they going to get out of this mess?"
Strong characters. Princess Catherine, Bessie, and Cyril are all likeable, brave, and clever. Readers will love to hate thoroughly evil characters such as Kallik, Warren, Julia, and Magnus. Even though King Cyril is a bit of a "golden boy," I liked him anyway. His feelings for Catherine are so obvious and shy and sweet, and I especially love how Cyril is not the typical "bad boy" love interest so prevalent in today's YA literature. Though their romance is fairly new, Cyril and Catherine seem to be the kind of couple that lasts.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: The battle scene at the end is a little drawn-out, and I found myself skimming the last 40 pages or so. I like how the story wraps up but leaves a few loose ends for the sequel, Tebrek. Maybe Bessie will find love in that one; I felt kind of sorry for her, always having to look on as Catherine and Cyril grow closer and closer.
BOTTOM LINE: Despite a slightly sluggish ending, fans of Cashore's Graceling or Golding's Dragonfly will love this!(less)
The first half of Take Me There focuses on Dylan and how as a young boy, he moved frequently, got into trouble, landed in juvenile detention, got out, and is now making real effort to turn his life around. The unlikely romance between bad boy Dylan and wealthy, unattainable Jess is sweet and reminds me of Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry books. Dylan's character is believable and easy to like, and his insecurities about being illiterate help humanize Dylan despite his shady past. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Dylan is a handsome, sensitive poet; teen girls will swoon over Dylan's beautiful poetry and unwavering desire to stay out of trouble.
The romance of the first half is much more engrossing than the mystery of the second half. Once Dylan unintentionally commits two crimes in the same night and runs off to Texas, the story becomes overly dramatic and much less interesting. The focus turns to Dylan's past, particularly his father's incarceration for murder eleven years ago. For me, the murder mystery part of the story isn't nearly as compelling as Dylan's struggles to maintain a simple, honorable life and get the girl. For a while, Jess is almost completely out of the picture except in Dylan's thoughts. Dylan's loyal but naive friend Wade makes a series of stupid decisions, and somehow, he is allowed to ride off into the sunset guilt-free simply because he abruptly "finds God." The (predictable) murder mystery and ensuing drama detract from what was an uplifting, realistic story of redemption and moving on from past mistakes. At times, I also sensed the author was pushing an anti-capital punishment, pro-religion agenda. It isn't overt, but I noticed it.
Without giving away the ending, I'll just say I found it depressing and kind of pointless. For a story that is initially uplifting and hopeful, the ending really stinks.
THE BOTTOM LINE: I ordered Take Me There before I finished it, thinking it would be a great read for my Perfect Chemistry fans, especially since it contains less language and sexual content than PC. While Dean's writing talent is clear, the story's dual personality makes me wonder exactly whom I would recommend it to. My romance readers would like the first half, but my mystery fans would prefer the second half. I wish it had been more consistent, or better yet, two separate stories. (less)
REVIEW: As a librarian, I get book recommendations from students and teachers all the time. I really do try to...more YA reviews and more at Mrs. ReaderPants.
REVIEW: As a librarian, I get book recommendations from students and teachers all the time. I really do try to read at least some of them, especially if the recommendation comes from a student whose taste in books is similar to mine. A few weeks ago, a sweet sixth grade girl recommended Sweet Venom to me, saying she really, really loved it. A big Tera Lynn Childs fan, I'd been wanting to read SV for awhile anyway, and my girl's recommendation gave me the push I needed.
I really liked this one! I tend to enjoy mythology-influenced stories anyway, and Childs's Forgive My Fins was one of my favorite books on the 2011-2012 Lone Star Reading List. While for me, Sweet Venom lacked the charm of Forgive My Fins, I found it mostly well-paced with a gruesome cast of mythological monsters and a fun premise.
I liked the triplet characters of Gretchen, Grace, and Greer, but I do think the three girls' alternating voices were not distinctive enough. If I stopped reading mid-chapter, I would sometimes have to read a several paragraphs before I could tell which girl's story I was reading. Greer, Grace, and Gretchen are very different characters, and I wish their "voices" were more unique to them.
The book is well-paced for the most part, but the story really picks up once the third triplet, Greer, is introduced. Greer is hands-down my favorite character, and her inclusion adds an element of sibling-rivalry that I did not expect. Being the oldest in a sisterly trio myself, I enjoyed reading how the girls find each other and learn to get along.
I was a little disappointed in the male characters in the story--they are all pretty standard stock. Cute, popular, outgoing, yada yada. I am hoping they develop more fully in the sequel Sweet Shadows. I think the romance is a big part of what I loved about Forgive My Fins and missed in Sweet Venom. Romance is there, but it takes a back-seat to the sisters' story.
Overall, Sweet Venom is a fun read that will appeal to middle school girls big-time. Book talking it in my library will be a breeze (even without a good book trailer at this time), and I have decided to include it on my 2012-2013 Lone Star Plus list for my school. My ARC of Sweet Shadows (due out in September) taunts me at this very minute...
THE BOTTOM LINE: Romance takes a backseat in this cute story of three sisters battling mythological beasts. Perfect for middle school girls!
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We currently have two copies of Sweet Venom in my library, which I am going to add to next year's Lone Star Plus list for my school.
READALIKES:Oh. My. Gods. (Childs); any of the Rick Riordan mythology books; Forgive My Fins (Childs)
Appeal to teens: 5/5
Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
Sexuality: very mild--one girl's boyfriend alludes to "staying overnight," but it does not happen and is not a big deal
Violence: mild-medium--some non-scary mythological monster attacks; the three sisters have retractable fangs
Drugs/Alcohol: very mild--a few references to one sister's previous foster parents, both violent drug/alcohol abusers
WHAT I LIKED: A cute, fun little read. I'm not gushing with tears glittering in my eyes as I do with some books, but I will definitely recommend it to my middle school girls. While Chloe can be annoyingly pert at times, her voice is genuine and many readers will relate to her. Even better, Chloe knows she talks too much and that it irritates people sometimes. I like that even though she is a talk radio host, Chloe learns that great friends are also great listeners.
I really love Duncan's character. Incredibly hard-working and aloof, Duncan's life is spiraling nearly out of control. He sleeps through first period and has difficulty opening up to other people, but when readers find out what he is dealing with at home, his behavior makes complete sense.
Love the relationships between Chloe and the adults in her life, particularly her grandmother and the two sisters who own Dos Hermanas Mexican Restaurant. The grandmother's Brad Pitt obsession is especially cute.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: It's kind of hard to picture a hot boy wearing scarves. Maybe that's just not the fashion here in Texas, but every time I read about his wearing frayed scarves, my mental picture of Duncan got a little sillier. I kept picturing a nerdy, high school version of Steven Tyler. Not exactly the sexy character Chloe makes him out to be.
I would have liked to have seen the radio station characters fleshed out a bit more. Pregnant Haley's story seems especially interesting and sad. What's her story? Why doesn't Chloe reach out to her more? She clearly needs someone to talk to. Also, Clementine is supposed to be a high school junior, but for awhile there, I thought she was an adult helping out with the station. Her voice and behavior make her seem so OLD, but readers really never discover why she behaves that way. Does she also have some junk going on at home? Is her story lying in a heap somewhere on the editor's floor?
THE BOTTOM LINE: While not the most profound or important book I've ever read, Welcome, Caller is a cute read with a sweet little romance and a positive message about becoming a better friend. Well-paced with an interesting character mix, this one will be easy to sell to middle school girls who love fun, funny chick lit.(less)
WHAT I LIKED: Brace yourselves because I'm gonna say it...(deep breath)...I liked Blood Red Road even better than The Hunger Games. GASP! Who thought it would be possible? HG is my favorite YA book Of. All. Time. In the three years since I read it, nothing has even come close touching the greatness of HG. Wow.
So what did I like about it? For starters, I was gripped right from the first couple of pages; I could have easily swallowed it in one sitting if it weren't for the need to work, take care of my kids, do laundry. The action never stops, and there are enough plot threads to keep readers interested. To those boys in my library who only read a book when they are forced to, who aren't completely sold on reading anything, I have two words: Cage Fighting. WOW.
Second, the mystery of the setting itself is a huge part of the story. I am assuming the story takes place in the U.S., possibly in the desert Southwest, but who knows? It really could be anywhere considering the distant-future setting. How did the world get this way, and when did everyone become so barbaric? It's clearly very far into the future. Books are virtually nonexistent; Saba does not even recognize a book when she sees one, calling it a "leaf with squiggly lines." Characters clamor for items from the distant past; old tires, sheet metal, and other forms of junk from our current civilization (interestingly named the "Wreckers") are considered valuable and somewhat rare artifacts that people use as barter.
The simple, slang-infused writing style takes a couple of pages to get used to, but it really adds to the story. Books no longer exist, and none of the school-age characters attend school. Basic technology including telephones, computers, and television sets are also completely absent. Without written communication, it is easy to see how spoken language would quickly deteriorate.
Though the story is somewhat resolved at the end, Young leaves several loose ends open for a second installment. With multiple engaging characters and utterly unique world-building, the story could go many different directions and be told from several different viewpoints. Wouldn't it be interesting if the sequel were from Emmi's point of view, maybe seven or eight years later? Hmmm...
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Not one thing. As close to a perfect piece of YA fiction as I've ever read.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With fast-paced with engaging characters and unique world-building, Blood Red Road is sure to be a hit with fans of The Hunger Games. I have little doubt that this one will be a movie within the next few years; Blood Red Road will resonate with readers and get people talking. I can't recommend this book highly enough.(less)
WHAT I LIKED: Sigh. Katana really had so much going for it. Samurai warriors. Reincarnation. Kicking butt with a side of romance and eternal love. Sounds like my kind of paradise. I give Gibsen major props for an original premise; I love the idea of past lives melding together and making us who we are today. Ever since I saw the movie Dead Again with my baby-doll Kenneth Branagh back in the 90s, I've been in love with the idea that we are constantly reincarnated. I love the idea that we encounter the same souls in every lifetime, that our souls have the same friends, enemies, and lovers every time, no matter where fate decides to take us. Even though I didn't always understand them, I enjoyed reading about Rileigh's dreams of 15th Century Japan. Katana's premise has huge potential, and I am really so sad that I disliked it as much as I did.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I did not like one character. Not a single person. I disliked self-absorbed, naive Rileigh so much that even the spelling of her name bothered me. She and her best friend Quentin only talk about Rileigh's problems, relegating poor Quentin (who might have otherwise been an interesting character) to stereotyped sidekick status, his only raison d'etre being to support/ analyze/ comfort/ fawn over Rileigh.
Supporting characters are equally aggravating. Rileigh's mother really has no business even having a child; she is a selfish, stupid hag of a mother who truly possesses not one redeeming quality. Love-interest Kim, who somehow owns a successful dojo at age 18, is simply creepy. He stalks Rileigh at her home, her job, in the hospital; I cannot for the life of me fathom why Rileigh would trust him or do anything but run fast in the opposite direction.
The other love interest, Whitley, is equally creepy. Why would Rileigh, who had just been attacked a few days before, 1)wait for weirdo Whitley outside, alone, in the dark and 2) stick around for more than two seconds after Whitley says he feels "drawn to her" on their first coffee date? Ugh. Add incredibly stupid to the list of reasons Rileigh gets under my skin.
Characters aside, how many corny cliches can we fit into one book? We have the news report that alerted the bad guys to Rileigh's powers, the ransacked room (that mom never notices), the stolen artifact, the conveniently-left-behind wallet, the mysterious box delivered by UPS (yet opened anyway despite numerous physical attacks--seriously?), a bad guy who gives away all his plans on the cell phone right outside Rileigh's open window. Not to mention the damsel-in-distress, the flamboyantly gay best friend, the fighting biker chicks, the protective boyfriend-stalker, the absent and irresponsible mother...
THE BOTTOM LINE: Despite tremendous potential and originality, Katana's irritating characters and numerous cliched "plot twists" make reading it almost as exhausting and obvious as watching an hours-long marathon of Scooby Doo. Just say NO.(less)
WHAT I LIKED: The characters depicted in this diverse, small town community remind me a little of Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts. For unique voice, setting, and character development, I give Jill Alexander major props. Reading Sweetheart makes me want to move from my big Texas city to a small Texas town. The people in the town are certainly interesting, their characters clearly drawn and believable. Even though I'm not jumping out of my chair over Sweetheart, I can't deny Jill Alexander's writing talent, and I plan to read her second novel, Paradise in the very near future.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: It's not that I didn't enjoy this book; I just don't see what all the fuss is about. Sweetheart has won numerous book awards and was included on last year's Lone Star List (not an easy feat), so I went into this one with high expectations. Despite beautiful writing and unique characters, I felt bored by the story. I did not care about Austin or her silly dream of riding on the hood of a parade car to one-up the nasty bully tormenting her. Very little actually happens in the story, and it was just too easy for me to put down. I didn't dislike it, but I didn't like it, either. Considering all Sweetheart's literary praise, I just expected more.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Literary recognition and great writing talent don't always make an engrossing read. While it's not a page-turner, I still strongly recommend middle school librarians, especially those in Texas, purchase Sweetheart for its characters and slice-of-life depictions of life in a small Texas town.(less)
With all the right ingredients for a popular fantasy romance, I have no doubt that Firelight will be very popular at my school. The story starts very quickly, setting up the dynamics of the dragon pride, Jacinda's family, and the potential romance within the first 30 pages. Several entangling plot lines keep the story interesting, and a potential love triangle will appeal to Twilight fans. The action rarely slows, and the premise of a girl dragon who attends high school with dragon hunters is unique. A cliff-hanger ending will entice readers to invest in the second installment, Vanish.
Most of the characters are likeable, though they are somewhat typical of the post-Twilight YA genre: teens with secrets, star-crossed lovers, absent parents, two hot boys longing for the same girl. Lots of "I can be with you"/"I can't be with you" wavering gets irritating at times and professions of love come far too quickly, but teen readers won't likely care. While I am not a huge fan of Jacinda's mother, the only character I really dislike is Jacinda's twin sister Tamra, who is the very definition of a shallow, selfish, whiny teen girl. I truly do not care a lick what happens to her, but it will be very interesting to see if she changes her tune in Vanish.
Great for both middle school and high school libraries, Firelight will be a hit with students who love books like Twilight. Regarding mature content, middle school librarians have nothing to worry about beyond a handful of kissing scenes. (less)
REVIEW: This is more of a 3.5 star book for me. I enjoyed it well enough and thought it was cute, but I doubt I'll re...more More reviews at Mrs. ReaderPants.
REVIEW: This is more of a 3.5 star book for me. I enjoyed it well enough and thought it was cute, but I doubt I'll remember much about it by next week. Hadley's character is understandably furious with her father, who abruptly left Hadley and her mother after falling for another woman during a 4-month professorship at Oxford.
I have absolutely no sympathy for Hadley's father, whom Hadley has not seen in the two years since he left. Despite his pleas to Hadley to come visit him in London, Hadley does not want to do that, and I do not blame her one bit. Her father is the adult and the one who moved in the first place; if he was really that desperate to see hid daughter, he would have traveled to visit her. So, please, don't act all hurt when she is less-than-excited about your wedding. I am glad that she went to the wedding and learned to make the best of things, but that is what makes her the hero. It really was the right thing to do, even if the whole situation was forced on her and she really didn't want to do it.
Oliver is likeable as well, but I don't feel his character is as developed as Hadley's or even Hadley's father's character. Hadley's mother is a ghost of a character who is portrayed as an involved mother, even though she never answers her phone while her minor daughter travels overseas (and alone) for the first time.
I would have loved to have seen this from alternating or multiple perspectives (Oliver and Hadley and maybe even Hadley's parents).
THE BOTTOM LINE: An okay read for me, but I think lots of teens will identify with Hadley's family situation and her feeling about her father's nuptials.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: It's brand-new in our library and just got checked out yesterday for the first time (other than my checkout). Content is just fine for middle school, and I recommend it for purchase in most MS and HS libraries.
Beautifully written with plenty of action, Trafficked hooks readers quickly and keeps them riveted all the way to the heart-pounding finale. Hannah is a believable and sympathetic protagonist, but she is also strong-willed and determined to escape her dire situation. It is easy to see how despite being warned all her life about human trafficking, Hannah is excited for the opportunity to work in America--after all, it's a suburb in AMERICA. Hannah is used to working hard, and there are laws against human trafficking in America, right? The villains, particularly Paavo and Lillian, represent evil at its purest; like Hannah, readers will suck in their breath when Paavo or Lillian enter the room.
I actually expected the children, Maggie and Michael, to be spoiled and mean-spirited, but like Hannah, they are innocent victims of Lillian's cycle of wrath and neglect. I especially appreciate how Colin, the teen boy next door, is not described as a drop-dead gorgeous, fearless hero (as the boy so often is in YA books). Although his life is not nearly as complex as Hannah's, he is a normal American teenager who has problems and insecurities of his own. Colin's frustrations with his parents contrasts with Hannah's constant struggle to keep her mind and body intact, which may cause American teens to question whether their own family situations are really as bad as they make them out to be.
An author's note at the end includes statistics about human trafficking and lists resources for further information.
Middle school librarians, the sexual content is, in my opinion, too high for the general collection. I am pretty liberal with the books I buy for the library, and I do not plan to include this one.
For high school librarians, I recommend it highly. It will be easy to "sell" to students, including reluctant readers. High school librarians concerned about the sexual content might want to read it first, but if I were a high school librarian, I would definitely include it. Teens need to be aware that human trafficking occurs and that situations that seem "too good to be true" probably are.
READALIKES:Nanny Diaries (Emma McLaughlin); Sold (Patricia McCormick)
REVIEW: In some ways, Lies Beneath is pretty typical of the YA paranormal romance genre. You have the secretive-but-hunky boy/stalker/fish who is trying to control his predatory urges. There's a girl who marches to her own beat and doesn't realize or care that she's mind-numbingly beautiful. Suspicious townspeople and lurking mermaids threaten to forever separate the star-crossed couple. Add to that lots of Victorian poetry and an eerily beautiful Lake Superior setting, complete with lake monsters, watery caves, and 10,000 years of buried history, and Lies Beneath starts to gain some substance.
The two major characters--Calder and Lily--are likeable, if a little boring. Despite several instances of outright stalking (he's a predator, after all), Calder is an unlikely hero trying to control his nature, break free from his mer-sisters' tight grasp, and protect those blissfully ignorant humans. The three sisters, particularly Maris, are deliciously wicked and would make interesting stories on their own. The story reads quickly and will easily hold the attention of teen readers on the constant look-out for their next paranormal romance.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Despite a somewhat typical setup, Lies Beneath is a fun and unique paranormal romance told, atypically, from the boy's viewpoint. Teen readers--especially the girls--will squeal for more Calder and Lily and look forward to the planned sequel. Middle school librarians fear not; sexual contact is limited to a few sweet and beautifully-written kissing scenes. I have no worries purchasing and promoting Lies Beneath in my library.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: I've already been talking up Lies Beneath in my library and plan to purchase it when it debuts in June. (less)
REVIEW: Aaannnddd...I'm done. No more YA angel novels for me, at least not anytime soon. Immortal City was my fourth paranormal romance featuring angels, and I just can't take anymore. So many of my library girls have gone angel-crazy over books like Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush, Smith's Eternal, and Kate's Fallen, so I am constantly on the lookout for well-reviewed angel romances. But while I am hardly a spiritual person, I can't help but wonder, what does God think about all these reckless angel-hunks shirking their heavenly duties and falling for the wrong girl? Does He condone guardian angels selling their services to the highest bidders?
I had hoped Immortal City might be different from the other angel romances I've read. In alternating viewpoints (love!), readers learn about Maddie and Jackson separately, within their own lives and relationships, before their fateful first meeting. I love the uniqueness of the whole angel-for-hire program. Non-altruistic angels? Um, okay! Despite the interesting premise, Immortal City ultimately put me to sleep. I had to force myself to finish it, and then only by skimming the last 75 pages.
Characters and events are typical of the paranormal romance genre, complete with beautiful immortals, a "normal" human girl, love-at-first-sight, an annoying best friend, a vindictive ex-girlfriend, a spoiled little sister, and no parental guidance to speak of. I'm really getting bored with the "instant, inexplicable love connection" stuff going on in recent paranormal romances. Maddy and Jackson's courtship begins abruptly and smolders despite the fact that neither character really knows anything about the other; in fact, the pair seems more interesting separately than together. The predictable murder mystery seems tacked on simply to add intrigue to a plot that features too many angel-crazed teenage girls and reads like an extended episode of TMZ.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Slow-paced, shallow, and predictable. Recommended only for the most die-hard angel romance fans.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We don't have it, and I have no plans to purchase it. Content-wise, middle school librarians have nothing to worry about beyond a little language.
REVIEW: Combine the movies 13 Going On 30 and The Butterfly Effect with Lauren Oliver's novel Before I Fall, and you'll likely get something like The Future of Us. This sweet romance about two feuding best friends will cause readers to consider how every little decision--even something as benign as what to eat for dinner--can alter the future. Through Josh and Emma's alternating perspectives, readers learn about the futures of their families, high school friends, and classmates. Multiple references from 90s pop culture, news events, and technology are fun but a little heavy-handed. Teen readers may not get every 90s reference or sarcastic jab, but adults will chuckle as they reminisce about a time before every home had an internet connection and every teenager a cell phone.
While it does grapple with meaty issues including teen pregnancy, homosexuality, and stepfamilies, the story's plot stays fairly light-hearted and grounded in Josh and Emma's fragile friendship. Characters are varied and realistic; skater Josh, track star Emma, brainy Kellan, immature Tyson, and popular Sydney will give many teens someone they can relate to.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Although the plot slows a bit in places, The Future of Us has a fun premise that will be a hit with middle and high school students AND their parents nostalgic for "the good ole days."
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: On order. This one will be popular in my middle school library, but there is one scene I worry a little about with my sixth graders (Emma's boyfriend pushes her sexually and puts his hand inside her shirt and underneath her bra). The scene is necessary to the story, and it is not overly graphic or descriptive.
REVIEW: When I finished Legacy, I was not certain I wanted to read its sequel. If it weren't for my love for the character of Steldor and the surprising twist at the end of Legacy, I probably wouldn't have bothered with Allegiance at all. And that would have been a shame. Like Legacy, Allegiance is overlong and needs serious content editing; however, Allegiance has far better pacing than its predecessor. The story moves along at a (mostly) decent clip, and I frequently had a difficult time putting it down. Allegiance has lots of action, and I loved the way the characters of Alera, Steldor, Miranna, and Temerson change over time. Surprisingly, Alera and Steldor's constant quibbling and "marriage of convenience" reminded me a little of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler. Rhett loved Scarlett all along (as Steldor loves Alera), and Scarlett realizes only too late that, despite everything, she loves Rhett back (as Alera will discover in book 3?). Hmmm...
Kluver's copious attention to detail, while at times a bit much, really gives readers a sense of setting, time, and character. I still love Steldor and rooted for him for the entire book, and I have difficulty understanding how Alera can so easily forgive Narian for his part in the Overlord's atrocities. Even though the Overlord forces Narian's hand and Narian really is trying to minimize the damage, it should have been more difficult for an 18-year old girl to get over his role in so much death and destruction. While Steldor's character is very well-defined in both books, Narian barely appears in Allegiance until the very end, making his character more difficult to understand or care about.
I really enjoyed how spoiled, pampered sisters Alera and Miranna finally get the chance to grow up and experience the world. They are both far less annoying and whiny in this book, and Alera's transition to becoming a strong queen is a refreshing change. The NetGalley version of Allegiance includes the Prologue to the third book in the Legacy trilogy, but I am not certain a third book is necessary. It seems most everything is resolved at the end of Allegiance, and I am once again wondering if I will read the next book.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Though still a bit overlong, Allegiance is a (mostly) fast-paced story of forbidden love, undying friendships, and a kingdom at war. While it is not a must-read, Kluver's beautiful attention to detail and richly-drawn characters make it a worthy investment for libraries and readers who love being swept up in castles, royalty, and romance.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: The book is not yet published, but I do plan to purchase both Legacy and Allegiance for my library. I do have some mild concern about the references to marriage consummation, but the references are infrequent and no sex ever takes place, either on or off the page. Middle school librarians with concerns about sexual innuendo are urged to read the books first.
READALIKES:Graceling (Cashore); The Seer and the Sword (Hanley)(less)
REVIEW: Unique and action-packed! I enjoyed Rot & Ruin thoroughly, and my students have been checking it out like...more More reviews at Mrs. ReaderPants.
REVIEW: Unique and action-packed! I enjoyed Rot & Ruin thoroughly, and my students have been checking it out like crazy. We currently have seven copies, and all are checked out. We also have seven holds for it, so I have ordered four more from Scholastic. Zombies are huge right now (can I say "I told you so"?), and at least for me, there just isn't enough zombie lore out there right now for middle school audiences. The inclusion of Rot & Ruin on the Texas Lone Star Reading List could not be more timely.
The story has plenty of action, gore, and even a little romance. I love how Maberry incorporates sympathy for the witless, bite-obsessed zombies. Though they will try their best to kill you, they are not the bad guys.
Personal relationships and character growth are driving forces in Rot & Ruin. Maberry takes his time developing Benny's character from an ignorant, spoiled child to a thoughtful, mature young man. I always love stories featuring complex, realistic sibling relationships, and this one fits that bill nicely. As for the girls, Nix and Lilah are not your typical teen queens. Survivors by design, both girls kick butt and never back down or let their fear get the best of them. The conflict Benny experiences between the two girls will be interesting to watch in Dust & Decay and Flesh & Bone.
If I had any complaints, I would say Rot & Ruin is a little slow at times, and readers will need to be patient with the storyline occasionally. To those readers, I would also say that those slower points are very necessary to plot development. Crafting such a unique world with extraordinarily developed characters takes time. Also, it is a zombie book, so gore comes with the territory. If gore bothers you, I doubt you'd be reading a zombie book anyway, right?
THE BOTTOM LINE: If you like post-apocalyptic books that take their time developing character and world-building, you'll love Rot & Ruin. With plenty of zombie-gore and murder, it's definitely not for the squeamish.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have seven copies, all checked out. Seven holds at present, and four more copies on-order. I have three copies of Dust & Decay, all checked out as well. Flesh and Bone just came out, and we have three copies on-order. I guess you could say it's POPULAR!
READALIKES:The Enemy (Higson); Ashes (Bick); The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Ryan); Strange Angels (St. Crow)
Appeal to teens: 5/5
Appropriate length to tell the story: 4/5
Language: mild-medium; some language is lightly-sprinkled throughout (no F--- or Sh-- that I remember)
Sexuality: mild; some kissing, the drawing of The Lost Girl Chase Card shows her sporting very large breasts and ripped clothing
Violence: very high--plenty of murder, gore
REVIEW: As a sort of high school version of The Hangover, From What I Remember is a fun, adventurous romp through Mexico with (mostly) likeable characters, an idyllic tropical setting, and plenty of action and romance. The story centers on Kylie Flores, an uber-responsible and serious high school senior who is too busy planning her future to have any real fun now. Kylie ends up inadvertently stranded in Mexico with a cute boy but without a passport, cell phone service, or a car. The premise is kind of silly, the plot is full of holes, and the is story about 150 pages too long, but, surprisingly, I liked it anyway.
The characters are all over the place while the authors attempt to tackle everything from Asperger's Syndrome and homosexuality to white-collar crime and cancer. Kylie's character is an exercise in contradictions, which sometimes makes her difficult to relate to. She's smart enough to be valedictorian but it never occurs to her to back-up her screenplay. She has no confidence in social situations but has no qualms chasing a thief and climbing into the back of the bad guys' truck. She is patient with her brother's Asperger's Syndrome but has a hot-temper and overreacts when she discovers her father's history, which doesn't really seem all that shocking. Kylie's flamboyantly gay best friend Will gets irritating at times, but in the end, does not wind up as stereotyped as I thought he would. Max's arrogance and passivity make him far from flawless, but they help dilute the image of perfection that so many YA romances love to slap on the male romantic lead. Would Kylie have fallen for him so quickly if he were overweight and covered with pimples? I doubt it.
From What I Remember's plot holes are difficult to ignore. (view spoiler)[ Do all teenagers in San Diego have current passports in their rooms? How does Juan get over the border so easily without a passport? Is anyone in Juan's family aware that he is crossing the border when he leaves with Will? And isn't border-crossing kind of a big deal? How does a police officer get official clearance to run lights and siren just to get some teenagers to their graduation? Does cell phone service really die as soon as you enter Mexico? If Kylie and Max could text from the back of the U-Haul, why didn't they just call the police? How/why do Kylie's parents have such a dramatic change in perspective after Kylie is gone for 24 hours, especially when, for much of that time, they don't realize she is missing? How does Kylie go from not really knowing Max to "loving" him in just a day? How did the "bad guys" even remember what Kylie and Max looked like when they saw them again and gave chase? (hide spoiler)] I could go on and on.
Last, my NetGalley copy has 490 pages, but I noticed that Goodreads states the book has 331 pages. I sure do hope it's closer to 331 because 490 pages is entirely too long for this type of book. At around page 275, I thought maybe my NetGalley copy had 150 blank pages at the end or that there was some error in my page count. Sadly, there wasn't. The story should have ended within 50 pages of the "morning after." Some substantial editing of the last 150 pages would improve the book tremendously.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A fun, cute little story, From What I Remember has potential, despite some plot holes and interminable length. Librarians and parents should be aware of mature language and sexual content.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
WHAT I LIKED: Page-turner alert! Diana Peterfreund has really pulled off something incredible here: a post-apocalypti...more More reviews at Mrs. ReaderPants.
WHAT I LIKED: Page-turner alert! Diana Peterfreund has really pulled off something incredible here: a post-apocalyptic version of Jane Austen's Persuasion? Yes, please! I love the way Peterfreund weaves the secret letters from forbidden childhood friends Kai and Elliot as a way to bridge the gap between the past and present. I'm not sure the exact setting, only that it is on an island and it is sometime in the future.
Peterfreund takes her time developing characters and underscoring their contrasting beliefs and social stations. Elliot is a super-strong and determined female lead, and heartthrob Kai will make the girls swoon. The political and social environments take some time to develop, but the plot mostly moves along at a steady clip. A large cast of well-developed characters and a few connected subplots will keep readers turning the pages right up to the end, making For Darkness Shows the Stars a solid choice for middle and high school libraries.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: For much of the book, I thought I would give it a solid 5-star rating. So why the 4-star rating? The book slips just a bit in the last 60 or so pages, and there just isn't enough Kai toward the end to keep me happy. I really, really wanted to see Elliot and Kai attempting to make a go of it long before they actually do, and when it does finally happen, it doesn't sizzle like I had hoped. The constant cycle of bickering and avoidance just goes on a little too long for me.
THE BOTTOM LINE:For Darkness Shows the Stars is a smart page-turner that will no doubt be a hit with strong middle and high school readers. No content concerns for middle school libraries.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: At the middle school level, For Darkness Shows the Stars is best for stronger readers. I have no doubt that by the end of this year, For Darkness Shows the Stars will be on several "Best of" lists, but struggling, reluctant, and "less savvy" middle school readers may have difficulty with philosophical concepts that are not spelled out immediately. Still, there are plenty of middle schoolers who will love this one (see the Readalikes listed below), and I plan to buy it for my middle school library when it comes out in June.
READALIKES:The House of the Scorpion (Nancy Farmer); Incarceron (Catherine Fisher); Divergent (Veronica Roth); Ship Breaker (Paolo Bacigalupi)
Appeal to teens: 4/5
Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
Sexuality: very mild; some references to forced sexual relationships between master and servant, but they so mild that younger teen readers may miss them altogether.
Drugs/Alcohol: mild; at a party, some guests drink and get drunk
So much potential for this one! Starters really does have everything going for it: a beautiful front cover, an interesting trailer, a great premise. Indeed, it started out very interesting, and I got sucked into the story easily. Callie is a well-drawn character whose motives for donating her body are completely understandable. She is tough and does what is necessary for survival. I love the world Price has built and how teens and children are second-class citizens with no rights and, in some cases, no freedom. The technology in the future setting is interesting--holos, Zinging, computerized masks--all very cool and different.
But as I got deeper into the story it kind of fell apart for me. I had to suspend some serious belief to begin with--the technology of swapping the consciousness of donors and renters is really out there--but the events following Callie's waking in her own body are just too much for me to believe. For example, why would some Enders be out to help the donors, even as they are renting teen bodies? If they really wanted to help, why did they not use their money to get involved on a community or political level? And while Callie's character is well-defined, none of the other characters receive the same treatment. Michael is barely in the story at all. Tyler is just the whiny, dependent little brother. The only thing we really know about Helena is that she is looking for her granddaughter. Sara is a little interesting, but she isn't really a major character. And then there is empty-headed, pretty-boy Blake. He is so dull and clueless, and I had no idea why Callie would have any interest in him. And the ending? Ugh.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Overlong and unbelievable, Starters seriously was not for me, despite my love for post-apocalyptic sci-fi. I do, however, believe many, many middle school students will love it.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: I booktalked this to my students today, and WOW. They were so into it! I have ordered it for the library. I will have a very difficult time recommending it, even though I am sure my students will be interested. Middle school librarians, this one will be a hit, and I have no content concerns at all.
REVIEW: When I started this book, I could not stop talking about it! I love the writing style (similar to The Knife of Never-Letting Go and Blood Red Road) and the constant struggle for survival in the snow. About 70 pages into the story, I added it to my Goodreads account and was surprised/saddened to see the mediocre average Goodreads rating. I was bummed; surely if that many reviewers did not like the book, I must be wasting my time reading it. After skimming some of the reviews, I saw that many reviewers did not finish the book or did not like the writing style. Since I did like the writing style and the story, I continued reading, and I am so glad I did.
A character-driven story, After the Snow does have a few slow spots, but it never lasts long. Willo finds himself in plenty of tight-spots where escape seems impossible. Willo's insightful inner-dialogue and unending resourcefulness make him a superhero in my eyes; no matter what mess he finds himself in, Willo has the brains to escape it. I especially love how Willo is no bare-chested, brooding "hottie" so common of male leads in YA fiction. Quite the contrary, he's an odd little duck who wears a dog skull, talks to a dog in his head, and spends lots and lots of time observing nature. Love!
I really, really hope that poor reviews do not discourage potential readers (or worse, the publisher or first-time author). Crockett's writing style is brilliant--simple, insightful, and beautiful. Willo and Mary make a great team, and it seems the story only scratches the surface of these two unique characters and the world they live in. As the months pass and Willo matures, he discovers just how much his parents protected him up in the mountains, away from the filthy, corrupt city. The world-building is slow, and Crockett leaves lots of unanswered or partially-answered questions for both Willo and the reader. The ending does wrap up some loose ends, but it leaves plenty of unfinished pieces for a sequel, which I hope hope hope comes soon. As of this writing, I can find no information about a planned sequel.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Readers who like the style of books like Blood Red Road and the Chaos Walking trilogy should try this little gem. Great characters, world-building, and a sweet potential romance all have me looking forward to a sequel.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY (GRADES 6-8): On order. Yes, it contains some language and crude sexual references, and yes, I am somewhat concerned about that. However, I have a pretty decent audience of smart students--particularly boys--who crave post-apocalyptic science fiction, and I cannot deny them access to this book. After the Snow will be a hit in my school, though I will be careful who I recommend it to because of the content. (less)
With realistic characters and a believable story, Unbreak My Heart is a standout among realistic fiction for teen girls. Author Melissa Walker does not simply tell the reader about Clem's depression, she skillfully allows the reader feel it as well. And while not all teens may experience Clem's self-loathing, plenty of close girlfriends stumble when a boy comes between them. As someone who works closely with teens every day, I know how volatile even the strongest teen friendships can be, especially when two girls are fighting over a boy they both like. Many, many female readers will relate the emotional trauma of Clementine and Amanda's argument; while neither girl is totally blameless, their actions and behavior are completely normal and occur in high schools every single day. Walker's sensitive treatment of Clem and Amanda's fragile friendship avoids casting either girl as catty or 100% at fault. Both girls care deeply for one another and are hurt by Clem's betrayal.
I love how Unbreak My Heart focuses on the importance of family and friendship. Clem and James both love their parents (imagine that!) even though they sometimes get upset with them or need time away. Clem's emotional outbursts are numerous, but her family handles them tenderly without feeding into her self-pity. Clem's sister Olive is the complete little sister; she is a funny, sensitive, sometimes pouty, intuitive little girl who adores her big sister and always wants to tag along. Even though much of the story focuses on Clem's romance with James, family and friendship are what really helps Clem get through this dark time in her young life.
THE BOTTOM LINE:Unbreak My Heart's realistic portrayal of teen friendships, guilt, depression, and divorce are spot-on portrayals of real teen life. Lots of teens will relate to Clem and Amanda's pain after a boy that tears their friendship apart.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: I will purchase this for the library when it comes out in May. Realistic, beautifully written, and utterly relatable. (less)
REVIEW: Honestly, Transcendence was just okay for me. It has some page-turning moments (mostly toward the end), but it a...moreMore reviews at MrsReaderPants
REVIEW: Honestly, Transcendence was just okay for me. It has some page-turning moments (mostly toward the end), but it also has some really slow moments (mostly the first 2/3 of the book). The story starts quickly on the steps of the Tower of London, where Cole has her first vision and meets Griffon. That part had me looking forward to the rest of the story. Once Cole returns to San Francisco, however, barely anything happens for quite awhile save a LOT of info-dumping conversations that really could have been more spread out.
Cole's character is okay to me, though her insecurity and whining did get on my nerves. While Griffon's mother Janine seems pretty trustworthy, I had trouble with Griffon's character almost immediately. Like many YA romantic male leads, Griffon displays stalker tendencies. For example, he first meets Cole in London but just happens to live within minutes of Cole's San Fransisco home. He turns up in the background of several London vacation photographs, which clearly demonstrates he has been following Cole around. When Cole and Griffon start dating each other, he disappears for days at a time with only a cryptic explanation of his whereabouts. He is caught listening outside her window on more than one occasion. He warns her away from a close friend, saying she is dangerous and not to be trusted. When Cole doesn't want Griffon to carry her expensive cello, Griffon retorts, "Now you don't trust me enough to carry your cello?" While these odd behaviors do bother Cole some, she dismisses them easily when Griffon gives her a weak explanation. For such a smart girl who knows she may be in danger, Cole sure doesn't question much.
The concept of remembering previous lives is unique and interesting, but I had difficulty believing that so many lives from the exact same time and place more than 400 years ago converge in this particular San Francisco location, at this particular time, among people who just happen to run into each other randomly. Griffon explains to Cole that Ahket can live at any time, any place in the world. So why are so many of them teenagers who live in San Francisco right now? Why were all of Cole's visions from one specific past life when she has presumably had multiple past lives?
For much of the book, I was unimpressed with the characters and the story; however, about 60 pages from the end, the mysteries of the past and present converge, making for a page-turning and suspenseful finale. The story can stand alone, but Omololu leaves a few intriguing loose ends open for a possible sequel. Despite my boredom with a good portion of the book, one particular plot thread has piqued my interest enough that I might actually read the sequel.
THE BOTTOM LINE: An interesting concept isn't enough to completely save this unevenly-paced paranormal thriller, but now that readers have the basic background, a possible sequel has potential. I recommend Transcendence as an additional purchase for most middle and high school libraries. (less)
REVIEW: "There used to be more of us. I'm certain of this. Not enough to fill a sports staduim or even a movie theater, but certainly more than what's left today. Truth is, I don't think there's any of us left. Except me. It's what happens when you're a delicacy. When you're craved. You go extinct," (p. 1, first paragraph).
Seriously, with an opening paragraph like that, how could I not love this book? Andrew Fukuda has an engaging storytelling style peppered with descriptions that really make readers experience the action. The Hunt is loaded with descriptions and events that make this surreal story come alive.
I love how narrator Gene stops the story to explain the concepts of sweat or singing, as if like the vampires, we readers are so inhuman we couldn't possibly understand those things. I love vampires "liquefying" in the sun and impaled by daggers that "disappear like a spoon into soup" (169). I love heper-hunting horses whose "nostrils gape wide, like a wet, silent scream" (6) when they catch a human's scent. I love the weird vampire rituals like scratching one's wrist to indicate apology or when deferring dominance to another vampire. The armpit/elbow sexual ritual is one of the oddest things I've ever read in any book, but will I remember it? You bet.
The story is mostly well-paced, but it does slow in parts. I had to suspend some serious belief during the final confrontation scene at the end. The surprise at the very end is more of a "huh" moment than a shock. It's as though some editor told Fukuda he needed to add shock-value at the end, even if it didn't make any sense with the rest of the story. Really, how is that last sentence even possible?
While I loved Fukuda's writing style and the story's unique flavor, I will say the characters are not as developed as they could have been. I never really cared for Ashley June, though I could not really say why. She seems okay, but I never connected with her. Sissy seems alright also, but again, I couldn't really say much about her specifically. Gene comes off as cocky and superior at times, and his motives kept me scratching my head. Gene is doing everything he can to simply survive, and at times, I honestly couldn't figure out why. The future holds nothing for him; he can't even smile or laugh or sweat without giving himself away. He lives in total darkness and deals with weird elbow/armpit sexual rituals. What is there to live for except an endless supply of fear, lies, darkness, and nasty raw meat? Just call me vampire kibble; I would never have the iron will required to survive all that.
THE BOTTOM LINE: One of the more unique and memorable stories I've read in recent years, The Hunt is a stand-out in a YA fiction market flooded with post-apocalyptic survival novels. Well-paced and engrossing, The Hunt will be a hit with teens and adults who love intense action and don't mind plenty of gore.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: I am on the fence about including The Hunt in my library. On one hand, I know it would appeal to my zombie-loving, post-apocalyptic fiction fans (also known as 8th grade boys). On the other hand, it is incredibly violent and has lots of gore. Will I get it? Probably, but it's definitely not for everyone.
READALIKES:The Knife of Never-Letting Go (Ness); The Hunger Games (Collins); Ashes (Bick)
REVIEW: On the surface, Vicious Deep has all the ingredients that I love to see in a YA novel: a male protagonist, a seemingly unattainable romance, mermaids and an assortment of mythological sea creatures, snarky humor, a quest to find an oracle... but I can't say I loved this book. For one thing, it took me THREE WEEKS to finish reading it. I kept putting it down, falling asleep after three pages, reading other books "in between." Why did that happen? Why was I so disconnected with the characters and the story? I absolutely adore mermaid literature, and male protagonist/ unwitting merman Tristan is likeable and funny. While Layla kind of irritates me with her never-ending spunk, the characters are mostly pretty likeable and clearly-drawn.
So why didn't I like the book? One word: pacing. Very little actually happens in the novel's 380 pages. There is a lot of talk about what's going to happen, what's happening to Tristan's body, what's going down in the mermaid community. I would have loved to see more connection between Tristan and Layla. On one hand, Tristan loves Layla more than just about anything, but he also checks out the female mermaids quite frequently. He's an insatiable flirt who knows girls find him attractive, and he sometimes uses that to get girls to do what he wants them to do. That may be realistic, but it doesn't make me really root for Tristan to end up with Layla.
I wish there were fewer instances of gratuitous language and references to Tristan's "junk." Profanity does not bother me (my husband likes to call me "Captain" because I "cuss like a sailor"), but I think the profanity usage in Vicious Deep is unnecessary. Even though I didn't love the pacing, I would have put Vicious Deep in my middle school library if it weren't for the frequency of the F-word and references to Tristan's "junk." I do have many books in my library that include profanity and sexual references, but I hate it when mature content seems thrown in just for the heck of it.
All that said, I have no doubt Vicious Deep will be a successful book. The cover is gorgeous, there's a male protagonist, and mermaids are hot right now. All the reviews I've seen praise it highly, and the Goodreads rating is well over 4-stars. It's not bad or terrible; it just didn't do much for me.
THE BOTTOM LINE: While for me, Vicious Deep has serious pacing issues and too much unnecessary profanity, I believe it will be a successful novel that will appeal to many teens. For middle school librarians concerned about mature content, check out Lies Beneath.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: I can't get this one for middle school; see content advisory below. Highly recommended for high school libraries.
READALIKES:Lies Beneath (Anne Greenwood Brown)
Appeal to teens: 5/5
Appropriate length to tell the story: 2/5
Language: medium-high; includes multiple instances of sh** and fu**
Sexuality: medium; multiple references to Tristan's manhood (Such as where does "it" go when he transforms, feeling "heat" in his pants); a few mild kissing scenes
Violence: mild-medium; some sea creature deaths (somewhat bloody/gory but also kind of funny); two human deaths (gory but not too descriptive)
Drugs/Alcohol: mild; a couple of scenes where teens drink (one unknowingly gets drunk). Neither scene is a big deal unless you are completely opposed to teen drinking in YA books.
REVIEW: Olivia has become introverted since her dad's sudden death two years ago. Fatima makes jokes to cover up her t...more More reviews on Mrs. ReaderPants
REVIEW: Olivia has become introverted since her dad's sudden death two years ago. Fatima makes jokes to cover up her true feelings about her weight gain. Following her parents' recent divorce, Vanna struggles with her less-privileged socioeconomic status and her mother's new-found social life. Teachers, librarians, and parents: Do these girls sound like any middle schoolers you know?
I'll admit it--I read Deep in the Heart of High School because I had to. Author Veronica Goldbach was nominated for the Spirit of Texas Reading Program this year, and being a member of the committee, this one was on my reading list. While I never would have chosen Deep in the Heart of High School for myself, Goldbach will definitely be getting my vote. This short novel is perfect for middle school girls.
Deep in the Heart of High School is realistic fiction at its most real, featuring normal, nice girls encountering the normal problems of normal teens. Are they perfect? No. All three girls make mistakes in judgment, but it is all part of growing up. The story is never melodramatic, and thankfully, no one is suicidal or cutting or acting out inappropriately. Fatima, Vanna, and Olivia actually sound like teen girls, blessedly without all the LOLs and OMGs. Parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends are important to the girls, more important than possessions or popularity or clothes. The thing is, I know these girls. I recognize them in the girls who come into my library, recognize them in myself.
As a Texas librarian, I love the San Antonio setting. If you haven't been there, you really should make it a point to go. San Antonio is a fun place to visit with a culture all its own. Many of my students have visited San Antonio and will be thrilled to read about landmarks they have visited (The Alamo, The Riverwalk, Downtown). I would be surprised if the author did not live in San Antonio at some point; she clearly loves the area and knows it well. I also love the infusion of Spanish language within the text. Spanish words and their definitions flow naturally within the dialogue, and it makes sense that Spanish-speaking characters from Hispanic families in Texas would think and speak in both Spanish and English. Once again, my students will identify.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With no language and very mild sexual content, I will be recommending Deep in the Heart of Texas all over town. A MUST for middle school libraries, particularly those in Texas.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: On order. This will be popular because I loved it and will recommend it often.
REVIEW: What's not to love? Shadow and Bone has everything I crave in a YA fantasy: magic, romance, extravagance, goo...more More reviews at Mrs. ReaderPants.
REVIEW: What's not to love? Shadow and Bone has everything I crave in a YA fantasy: magic, romance, extravagance, good versus evil, darkness and light, supernatural powers, incredibly unique world-building.
Diverse characters with varying motives will keep readers guessing about just who Alina can trust. Even though this is a good-versus-evil fantasy, Shadow and Bone never resorts to stock characters with either altruistic or nefarious motives. The "evil" characters seem to truly believe they are doing the right thing, complicating Alina's sense of right and wrong and causing her to constantly question herself. I love love love that no character, including the protagonists, is perfectly good or evil; as in real life, every character houses some good and some evil inside. Bardugo leaves her characters to make their own decisions about what to do, what to believe, who to trust.
Even though the "I-secretly-love-my-best-friend" storyline has been played over and over, I really believed in both protagonists' friendship and romance. Their tender moments didn't make my toes curl as do some other books' romances, but I rooted for them anyway. Some very sweet stuff there.
And now for the world-building--I saved the best for last! As I was reading, I kept thinking of the unique world-building in Roth's Divergent and Young's Blood Red Road. As with those two, I can think of no book that features a world like this one. The story takes place in war-torn Ravka, mainly within the extravagant royal court where the Grisha hone their supernatural abilities in order to serve the king. The Shadow Fold reminds me of "The Nothing" in The Never-Ending Story, a dark, barren area dividing Ravka in half. The Shadow Fold is incredibly dangerous and plagued with winged monsters called Volkra who feed on any who attempt to cross the sandy bleakness of The Unsea. Bardugo details every scene beautifully; I could easily picture the characters, the volkra, The Unsea, the snow, the clothing, the movement of magic. Yet despite the abundance of vivid detail, Bardugo's descriptions never weigh-down the story or stop the action. Like The Darkling's magic, the details simply "curl" and "unfurl" themselves into the action, allowing the reader to savor every second. Just WOW.
THE BOTTOM LINE: I have zero doubt that Shadow and Bone will appear on several "Best of 2012" lists by the end of this year. Beautifully written with complex characters and unique world-building, Shadow and Bone is a must-read for anyone who loves a fast-paced fantasy romance.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: On order. While it is well-paced, I don't think Shadow and Bone is for every reader. Give this one to more advanced readers who can be patient with a slow, suspenseful build-up where things are presented but not explained right away. I would not recommend Shadow and Bone to struggling or reluctant readers.
Appeal to teens: 4/5
Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
Language: very mild; one a** and one bi***
Sexuality: mild-moderate; some kissing, one intense kiss that involves thigh-groping, a few round-about references to "having some fun" with pretty girls
Violence: mild-moderate; a man is magically cut in half, two bloody confrontations with the volcra (winged monsters)
Drugs/Alcohol: mild; adults drink "kvas" (a Russian beer)
REVIEW: Let's start by saying that, in this case, I am a biased reviewer. I read my first Lurlene McDaniel novel as a...moreMore reviews at Mrs. ReaderPants
REVIEW: Let's start by saying that, in this case, I am a biased reviewer. I read my first Lurlene McDaniel novel as a sixth grader, around 25 years ago. I loved her then, and I love her now. McDaniel has decades-long staying power for a reason: she knows how to make readers feel her stories. I recommend McDaniel's books in my library frequently; being short, interesting, and full of romance, her books are an easy sell for girls looking for problem fiction.
Red Heart Tattoo will not disappoint readers who love serious circumstances infused with hope and healing. While inspirational, Red Heart Tattoo is not religious or secular; it makes no mention of God or church, which helps to widen its general audience. McDaniel holds back lots of surprises and gives just enough hints for many readers to figure them out before they are revealed. I love the way Morgan tackles her blindness and, despite some moments of weakness, doesn't let it hinder her goals. I also love how some characters adjust to their new disabilities better than others, but eventually, all the characters work toward healing.
While Red Heart Tattoo started off a little slowly for me, I had difficulty putting it down once the bomb detonated. The first 80 or so pages give multiple characters' back-stories, and it is a little hard keeping them straight. I kept wondering whose story was the main one (I initially thought it would be Kelli's story), but that resolved itself after the bomb detonation. The characters are pretty stereotypical (the popular girl, the jock boyfriend, the troubled cheerleader, the "bad" boy, the goth chick, etc.), but readers will grow to care about the them, especially as some manage to break out of their stereotypical roles.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Despite stock characters and a somewhat slow first section, Red Heart Tattoo ends up a page-turner with characters that readers will care about. An inspirational with a message of hope after a life-changing and senseless tragedy.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: Oh, I will so be getting this book when it comes out in July. The development of "good" girl Morgan's relationship with "bad" boy Roth makes this a great middle school alternative to Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry, which I believe is too racy for most middle school libraries.
READALIKES: anything by Lurlene McDaniel, Hate List (Jennifer Brown), Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult), Shooter (Walter Dean Myers)(less)
SUMMARY: Sheridan Wells's father is about to hit the bigtime: his own cooking show, "The Single Dad Cooks," set to debut on a cable cooking network. But Sheridan is far from happy about it; her father's new fame means Sheridan gets lots of unwanted attention. It also looks like Sheridan and her father will have to move from their beloved Michigan town to New York City. But moving far away would mean Sheridan would have to leave her grandmother, her successful cake-decorating business, and her two best friends behind. Even worse, Sheridan knows if they move, her mother may never be able to find her again.
REVIEW: Ingredients for a middle school realistic fiction novel for girls:
--Angst-filled girl who doesn't really know how beautiful/ talented/ smart/ desirable she really is. Seems to believe the whole world revolves around her problems, even though everyone else thinks she is uber-sweet and supermodel gorgeous. Cluelessness essential.
--Guy best-friend who Angst-filled girl grew up with. Must be both incredibly hot AND secretly in love with her, even though girl does not realize either.
--Hot, popular boy toy who Angst-filled girl falls for. Must be total mismatch for girl, sexually experienced, former boyfriend of popular mean girl, and of course, incredibly wealthy. A red corvette helps.
--Popular mean girl. Must be wealthy, beautiful, and inexplicably cruel. Has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Exists only to counter Angst-filled girl.
--Observant and loyal best friend. Serves only to shed light on Angst-filled girl's love life. Has neither a personality nor a life of her own.
--Loving grandmother who knows how to boogie with the teenagers. Must have a special relationship with granddaughter. Must encounter a near-death experience in the middle of story, leaving Angst-filled girl questioning everything.
Check, check, check, check, check, and check. Did I hate this book? Not at all. It is kind of cute and may be just the thing for middle school girls dealing with an absent parent. It just feels like I've read this one a few times before. There is very little to set it apart from other novels like it, and literally nothing comes as a surprise.
Sheridan's character grates on my nerves. She is understandably annoyed with her father, who really does seem more wrapped up in his "brand" than in his daughter. But is it necessary to shout at him in front of the television crew and at a completely inappropriate time? I wanted to choke Sheridan at her complete lack of a CLUE. Really? You never, ever considered your hot best friend as a possible dating option? And it never occurred to you that maybe your mother is a flake who selfishly moved on with her life? Are you seriously considering staying with a boy because "he's just so cute"?
THE BOTTOM LINE: Neither terrible nor amazing, The Sweetest Thing may appeal to middle school girls who haven't yet read the plethora of realistic fiction published for girls with normal life problems. Predictable, but pleasant enough.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: I don't have it, but I am not opposed to getting it. I have lots of others like it.
READALIKES:The Kissing Diary (Judith Caseley); Along for the Ride (Sarah Dessen), Hope Was Here (Joan Bauer), Girlfriend Material (Melissa Kantor)
Appeal to teens: 3/5
Appropriate length to tell the story: 4/5
Language: mild; a handful of "asses" and one "bitch"
Sexuality: mild; some kissing and a failed attempt at "second base"
REVIEW: I really enjoyed River Run, but I wish it were about 300 pages longer. That's right, folks, I actually think...more More reviews at Mrs. ReaderPants.
REVIEW: I really enjoyed River Run, but I wish it were about 300 pages longer. That's right, folks, I actually think a book should be much longer! That never, ever happens--if I complain about a book's length at all, it is usually to say it was overlong. But as I approached the books final pages, I found myself disappointed that it was ending. I wanted to know more about how the world ended up so horrible, how Freya got to the basement in the first place, what happened to Kat before, during, and after she lived in the basement. I love the characters of Freya and Finn, and I have tons of questions about what happens next. The ending does wrap-up the story, but Finn and Freya's adventures are nowhere near finished by the last page.
I love Deirdre Black's simple-yet-descriptive writing style. I'm not sure what has happened to the U.S. before Freya's escape, but I am going to guess it was something apocalyptic because times are really quite desperate. Even in cities, people live in makeshift tents, and money appears to be nonexistent or at least has no value. Oil and gas and food are valuable, and slavers capture and sell both men and women, young and old, either for work or sex or both.
I couldn't help noticing the nod to Twain's classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It surely could not be a coincidence that the boy protagonist is called Finn and that, for a large part of the story, they are floating from the upper-Midwest in a canoe on (presumably) the Mississippi River towards the deep south. Or that, like Huck, Freya escapes a life of abuse early in the story. As in Huck Finn, the woods surrounding the river are dangerous and full of slavers attempting to capture the protagonists. The only safe and free place for Freya and Finn is on the river or along its muddy banks.
THE BOTTOM LINE: I really did enjoy reading River Run, but I wish wish wish it were longer and more in-depth. Interesting story, endearing characters, and a well-paced plot.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We don't have it, but I will get it. I think my MS students will enjoy the story, and more reluctant readers might give it a shot because of the pacing and short length.
READALIKES:River Run makes me want to reread The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain) to see what other similarities I can find. Kind of a cool connection that I didn't expect.
Overall: 4/5--could have easily been a 5 if more developed and longer
Appeal to teens: 5/5
Appropriate length to tell the story: 2/5
Sexuality: mild; hand-holding, a very chaste top-of-head kiss, some vague references to sex slavery
Violence: medium--slavery, kidnapping, murder by gunshot