Monday, July 30, 2012

MMGM: ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Title: ONE FOR THE MURPHYS
Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books (a Penguin imprint)
Release Date: May 10, 2012
Number of Pages: 224
Source of Book: Borrowed from Library
A moving debut novel about a foster child learning to open her heart to a family's love

Carley uses humor and street smarts to keep her emotional walls high and thick. But the day she becomes a foster child, and moves in with the Murphys, she's blindsided. This loving, bustling family shows Carley the stable family life she never thought existed, and she feels like an alien in their cookie-cutter-perfect household. Despite her resistance, the Murphys eventually show her what it feels like to belong--until her mother wants her back and Carley has to decide where and how to live. She's not really a Murphy, but the gifts they've given her have opened up a new future.
A heart-breaking and heart-warming debut book from Lynda Mullaly Hunt, ONE FOR THE MURPHYS is a beautiful story of family perfect for middle grade readers (and adults!). It's about hope and unsureness and loss and love and friendship and caring and happiness and sadness and possibility and belonging and what it really means to be family. Carley and Toni and the Murphys are all a fantastic cast of characters who I just wanted to hang out with and hug. Adore Michael Eric and Adam - there's something about well-drawn brothers in books that always gets to me (probably because I have two of my own). And the way in which this story is written, with each chapter being its own kind of vignette of something that happens after Carley is sent to be fostered by the Murphys, is astounding in its ability to draw the reader into the story emotionally. The chapters are short and the whole story takes place over 80 days, but it is utterly impactful. One of the strongest themes throughout the book is the idea of an everyday person being a hero in someone's life. The ways in which you can be a hero to someone else are endless, and it's a gentle call to arms to do so. I love how this is prevalent in the book, but in a non-preachy kind of way.

Although I don't know from personal experience, what left an impression was how real and honest the emotions and feelings of this character felt for what I imagine a child in foster care would be going through. I adored this story, and the Carley, from the very start and my heart warmed and broke along with her as she traveled this journey of self-discovery and acceptance and finding strength and love. I want to hand this book off to every teacher and parent I know and I imagine there will be so many students for whom this type of story will resonate. Although Carley is in 8th grade, this book can definitely be read younger as well. Who doesn't want a family to love and take care of them? If you haven't yet read ONE FOR THE MURPHYS, I recommend you do yourself a favor and get to it soon.

I look forward to seeing what Lynda Mullaly Hunt will write next, and according to her website, her next middle grade book will be ALPHABET SOUP releasing in spring 2014. I'll definitely be reading that one after enjoying ONE FOR THE MURPHYS so much.





Friday, July 27, 2012

ENTICE by Jessica Shirvington

Title: ENTICE (sequel to EMBRACE)
Author: Jessica Shirvington
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Number of Pages: 464
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at ALA
Violet Eden is Grigori - part angel, part human. Her destiny is to protect humans from the vengence of exiled angels.
Knowing who to trust is key but, when Grigori reinforcements arrive, it becomes clear everyone is hiding something. Even Lincoln. The only thing Violet does know: Phoenix's hold over her is more dangerous than ever.
The race to find the one thing that could tilt the balance of power brings them all to the sacred mountains of Jordan, where Violet's power will be pushed to the extreme. And the ultimate betrayal exposed.

Enticed is the second compelling book in The Violet Eden Chapters.
Those of you who have read my blog may remember that I was obsessively enamored of EMBRACE when I read it back in January. So I was super-excited to see that Sourcebooks would have advanced copies of it at ALA because I was dying to find out what would happen with Violet an Linc next. Five pages into ENTICE, I was, once again, drawn into this well-imagined world of the Grigori and didn't want to leave. ENTICE was just as enthralling and energizing and engaging as EMBRACE was for me. After all that happened to Violet in the first book, especially with her decisions at the end, I knew things would have changed for her, and they had, but more so within herself and how she could manage to deal with the events leading up to her embracing her angel side. As she is trying to figure out how all of this is going to continue to affect her, she is thrown into the middle of a psychological battle between light and dark as they search for something that could change the seat of power for all.

Along with that, she's trying to figure out what to do with her feelings for Linc. My favorite part of this second book was actually the secondary characters. The best friend, Steph, had a much larger role to play and she is great at what she does. In addition, the new characters who were introduced added a larger dimension to this world in which Violet is now living and training. They all add something more to the story, but I especially loved Spence. Some of the old favorites are there as well, and as plot driven as these stories are, and as creative and intricate as the world-building is, and as destined as the romance seems to be, it's still the characters that make it what it is as they are enjoyable to read about. If you read and enjoyed EMBRACE, you'll want to get ENTICE in September for sure. And then, when you read the end, you'll likely be eagerly anticipating EMBLAZE, the next book in this four book series,  just as much as I am now.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas

Title: THRONE OF GLASS
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 416
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at IRA
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men—thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the kings council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.
THRONE OF GLASS was a thrilling, exciting epic fantasy book with magic, action, intrigue, secrets, lies, manipulations, romance, friendships, assassins and some unexpected elements. Sarah J. Maas has written an enthralling book, which, while dense, was a page-turner. I was happily surprised by some of the twists and turns that I didn't see coming, which made it even more interesting as I discovered truths along with the characters. It's an interesting mix of magic within a medieval fantasy type of story. The magic is alluded to at the beginning, but doesn't come in again until a bit later. There is a fully realized fantasy world within these pages-both with the elements of the king and his endeavors to take over the kingdom and the magical elements of the Wyrd and forests beyond. *Note: As this was an ARC, there was no artwork, but I imagine the final book may have a map of some sort that would enhance understanding of this world.

From the very start, 18 year-old Celaena is endearing and inspiring as a strong, determined, kick-butt heroine even after being locked up for slave labor for the past year. She's so smart...and lethal within seconds. Her ability to be the renowned assassin she is at such a young age, along with her determined nature drew me into this story even more. Yet, her vulnerability and desire for acceptance in the midst of her strength and intelligence is perhaps what drew me to her the most. She is constantly thinking and analyzing escape routes, but is a teen girl who just wants to have a friend at the same time. There seems to be a little something extra to Celaena that we have yet to discover. Interestingly, the book is written in third person; although, it mostly felt as if we got to know what Celaena was thinking more than any other character, so it did at times seem as if she was narrating. As we see her struggles to regain strength and figure out how to earn her way to freedom, we also see her ability to fight any man (or beast) and win along with her cunning mind that led to her becoming the kingdom's most feared assassin by the age of 17. Beyond just her journey, we're also given insight into the struggles that Prince Dorian is having with his father's style of being king, and Chaol's struggles to remain impassive as the Captain of the Guard against his blooming trust of Celaena as he gets to know her more. These two, along with other secondary characters, add an element of humanity to this story beyond just the magic and champion's competition. And, yes, it's another YA book with a love triangle-ish storyline, but for some reason, it didn't bother me in this book. Although, I was definitely pulling for one of the guys to edge the other one out in the end.

Even with the element of romance and a female main character, I think there's enough action, fighting, political intrigue, and gruesomeness to hand this one off to guys as well (don't let the cover deceive you). I can see the Game of Thrones for the YA set comparisons - especially with the strength of the elements of the political maneuvering with the king along with the hidden magical elements. It was a thoroughly enjoyable book, but it wasn't necessarily a quick-read. I did feel that it was a little densely written (just requiring more attention and thinking-not a bad thing) and the unfamiliar names caused me a little trouble in the beginning until I could get comfortable with a pronunciation in my own head. *And, of course, as I was writing this post, I found this pronunciation guide on the author's website. Overall, a definite should read for me to recommend to others and I can't wait to see what's coming next for these characters and this world!

While you're waiting for THRONE OF GLASS to release on August 7th, you can read the four novellas that tell the backstory of Celaena Sardotheien: The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, The Assassin and the Desert, The Assassin and the Underworld, The Assassin and the Empire. I enjoyed reading them even after I read the whole book. They give a greater depth and insight into Celaena's character and what has made her who she is.

Monday, July 23, 2012

MMGM: GOLD MEDAL SUMMER by Donna Freitas

Title: GOLD MEDAL SUMMERAuthor: Donna Freitas
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (a Scholastic imprint)
Release Date: June 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 240
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at NCTE
Just in time for the Olympics: A gymnastics novel to flip for!

Joey Jordan loves gymnastics: the thrill of performing a backflip on the beam, the cheers of the audience when she sticks a landing. But even with all her talent and style, she's never quite made it to that gold medal stand.

Now big changes shake up Joey's life in and out of the gym. Joey wants to break out some daring new beam and floor routines--but she'll have to defy her strict coach to do it. Her best friend, Alex, is thinking about quitting gymnastics for good. And an old friend named Tanner just moved back to town, and he's suddenly gotten very, very cute. Can Joey handle all the challenges coming her way, and make her gold medal summer happen at last?

Drawing on her real-life experience as a competitive gymnast, acclaimed novelist Donna Freitas delivers both a terrific gymnastics story and a classic novel about stretching some limits, bending the rules, and finding your balance.
I really enjoyed Donna Freitas' first book, THE POSSIBILITIES OF SAINTHOOD, and I expected a similar style of a fun, contemporary, romantic book with a teen girl coming into her own and finding her own strength in becoming confident in herself. GOLD MEDAL SUMMER met that expectation in a great middle grades story that is very timely with the summer Olympics coming up this summer. This book was a quick read because it is definitely written on a level for 5th-8th grades, but it touches on a lot of themes throughout. It's a sports story, but it's also a story about family and friendships and young romance.

I really enjoyed the realism of the whole story. There was no unnecessary drama, it all just felt true to what these young girls would have been going through. There's also a great guy character as the romantic interest who is just a sweetheart. The insiders view of competitive gymnastics was intriguing, and made all the more interesting by knowing that the author was a competitive gymnast herself when she was younger. I completely bought into the family dynamics in this story as well. Joey is struggling with her relationships with her older sister and both of her parents, but she is able to come to terms and deal with them in a mature way.

When I met the author at NCTE, she said that she wrote the book she would have wanted to read when she was 12. I can see how that's true and think many other girls will feel the same way. Overall this was an enjoyable book that I will definitely be handing off to my students in the fall. I imagine the girls will be reading and passing this one on to each other.


Friday, July 20, 2012

COLD FURY by T.M. Goeglein

Title: COLD FURY
Author: T.M. Goeglein
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (a Penguin imprint)
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Number of Pages: 320
Source of Book: ARC from editor after IRA Convention
Jason Bourne meets The Sopranos in this breathtaking adventure

Sara Jane Rispoli is a normal sixteen-year-old coping with school and a budding romance--until her parents and brother are kidnapped and she discovers her family is deeply embedded in the Chicago Outfit (aka the mob).

Now on the run from a masked assassin, rogue cops and her turncoat uncle, Sara Jane is chased and attacked at every turn, fighting back with cold fury as she searches for her family. It's a quest that takes her through concealed doors and forgotten speakeasies--a city hiding in plain sight. Though armed with a .45 and 96K in cash, an old tattered notebook might be her best defense--hidden in its pages the secret to "ultimate power." It's why she's being pursued, why her family was taken, and could be the key to saving all of their lives.

Action packed, with fresh, cinematic writing, Cold Fury is a riveting and imaginative adventure readers will devour.
COLD FURY is a non-stop action-packed thrill-ride of a novel with an intelligent heart. I wasn't totally sure what to expect from this mob-based story, but it was more than I anticipated. At it's heart is sixteen-year-old Sara Jane, who knows nothing about The Outfit and what her family really does at the beginning. She is just a private, introverted teenager who happens to have a talent for boxing. As we get to know her through the beginning of the book, we see a girl with some insecurities, but also a really likeable character who is highly intelligent. That is part of the strength of this book. If Sara Jane wasn't so likeable, it wouldn't have the appeal that it does as she finds her own strength. She's also surrounded by a fantastic cast of secondary characters who are entertaining and loveable (sometimes) in their own right. The "Al" chapter is one of my favorites and had me laughing out loud.

I enjoyed the style in which this book is written. At the beginning, the chapters feel as if each one is a sort of vignette of something that has happened that has led to Sara Jane being the kind of person she has become. Each chapter provides a little bit of background, but is told as it's own little story. The book then really starts to move once Sara Jane's family goes missing and she starts to learn what her family has really been up to all this time. It moves toward more a traditional story arc at this point, but interspersed with entries and learning from "the notebook." This is when the mobster-type of story gets going and as she is running for her life and trying to find a way to save her family, it becomes very hard to put the book down. T.M. Goeglein has created an intriguing version of the Chicago mafia's evolving style and methods that seems well-researched and highly realistic. I found myself really enjoying some of the scenes and ways that Sara Jane uses her Outfit connections to try to put things back in order and find her place and way of keeping herself safe.

I would recommend this book to those looking for a strongly written character, mafia-type story with action-packed writing, and even though it has a female main character, I think it will have guy appeal (and especially those with ties to Chicago). With references to classic movies (especially mafia ones) and secret passages throughout Chicago, this is a book with lots of intelligence and action. Overall I enjoyed reading it; however, the ending felt a little bit abrupt to me because it seemed to leave it wide open for a sequel, which I wasn't expecting. Going into it, I didn't know it was the first in a trilogy-which would have been good to know so the ending wouldn't have left me wanting a little more closure. I'll definitely be getting the next two books to see how Sara Jane works out her balance and control of this world she's fallen into.

*If you don't want to wait until Tuesday to get started, you can read the first chapter for free right here from the author's website!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

#summerthrowdown Wrap-Up

A month ago, you may remember, we started our first ever #summerthrowdown Librarians vs. Teachers. I'm still blown away by how many more participants and number books were read than I ever imagined when we started this whole idea. I'm amazed at what a group of awesome readers will do when they get a little challenge for extra incentive/motivation. It was great fun and had such a positive result, so we all wanted to share the outcome with you.  *You can see posts from the other team leaders here: Brian (@brianwyzlic), Kathy (@thebrainlair), & Sherry (@libraryfanatic).

A little math to put it all in perspective...
Number of participants: 161
Number of days: 30
Number of books* read: 2,871
Average # of books*/person: 17.8
(*Well, actually a few more books than that because picture books under 50 pages=1/4 point & books from 50-150 pages=1/2 point)

Round 1 went to the #LeagueofLibrarians (18.82 books/person), but #TeamTeacher (16.65 books/person) had a strong showing as well. That's more than a book every two days!
From my perspective, everyone came out of this a winner because we all read SO much! 
Congrats everyone and thanks for playing with us!
Oh, and don't forget to go enter the raffle to win a book if you haven't yet!

If you want to join in the fun again, or if you missed it the first time, round 2 is starting on Sunday. We've made some adjustments based on the feedback we got from everyone this round, so be on the lookout for a kick-off post from our fearless librarian leaders Sherry & Kathy soon.
Also, the four of us thought it might be fun to have a few participants share a Top 10 (or 5 or 3 or 1) Books read on each of our blogs, so we're looking for 4 #summerthrowdown participants who would be interested in writing a post on their favorite books read during this time. If you think you'd like to do so, please fill out THIS FORM and we'll randomly select four readers to share (We will be in contact with you if you're one of them). Thanks! Yay reading!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NEVER SURRENDER Blog Tour

Today I'm welcoming Elana Johnson (author of POSSESSION) to the blog as the next stop of her Never Surrender Blog Tour for the sequel, SURRENDER which released on June 5th, with a guest post from Jag Barque about how he'll never surrender... 
About POSSESSION: Vi knows the Rule: Girls don't walk with boys, and they never even think about kissing them. But no one makes Vi want to break the Rules more than Zenn...and since the Thinkers have chosen him as Vi's future match, how much trouble can one kiss cause? The Thinkers may have brainwashed the rest of the population, but Vi is determined to think for herself.

But the Thinkers are unusually persuasive, and they're set on convincing Vi to become one of them...starting by brainwashing Zenn. Vi can't leave Zenn in the Thinkers' hands, but she's wary of joining the rebellion, especially since that means teaming up with Jag. Jag is egotistical, charismatic, and dangerous--everything Zenn's not. Vi can't quite trust Jag and can't quite resist him, but she also can't give up on Zenn.

This is a game of control or be controlled. And Vi has no choice but to play.
About SURRENDER: Raine has always been a good girl. She lives by the rules in Freedom. After all, they are her father’s rules: He’s the Director. It’s because of him that Raine is willing to use her talent—a power so dangerous, no one else is allowed to know about it. Not even her roommate, Vi.
All of that changes when Raine falls for Gunner. Raine’s got every reason in the world to stay away from Gunn, but she just can’t. Especially when she discovers his connection to Vi’s boyfriend, Zenn.
Raine has never known anyone as heavily brainwashed as Vi. Raine’s father expects her to spy on Vi and report back to him. But Raine is beginning to wonder what Vi knows that her father is so anxious to keep hidden, and what might happen if she helps Vi remember it. She’s even starting to suspect Vi’s secrets might involve Freedom’s newest prisoner, the rebel Jag Barque…. 
 
Jag Barque Will Never Surrender!
A guest post by Elana Johnson

Okay, so Jag Barque here. I’m the leader of the Resistance in Elana Johnson’s POSSESSION and the newly released SURRENDER. There have been so many times in my life where I wanted to quit. I mean, you don’t take on the entire government without a few setbacks, you know?

Mostly I’ve lived my life in black and white. There’s right, and there’s wrong. There’s good, and there’s bad. There’s keep going, or give up. And usually, giving up means you’re not breathing anymore.

Sometimes never surrendering is the simple refusal to roll over and die. It’s lasting through one more day, one more trial, one more night in jail. I’ve done all of those, but the experience I want to talk about today happened in the desert.

And most of us know it’s hot in the desert. Really hot. It takes me about nine hours to cross the desert from the Badlands to the Goodgrounds, and once I left without any provisions. I had just sort of had a fight with my brother, and well, sometimes I’m not thinking all that rationally. And I was young, and hotheaded, and some people say I’m always freaking out and flying off.

This time, I guess they were right, except I left my hoverboard at home. After the first hour, I wanted to go home, but I knew the situation there would be just as toxic as the desert sand and wind and heat. If I made it to the Goodgrounds, I’d have water, and shelter, and I’d hidden some food in one of their abandoned houses.

If I made it.

Every step was agony, and every minute I kept going was a minute where I could evaluate what it is I wanted. What it was that made me so angry about what my brother had said. What it was that drove me to fight this underground war against a government that seems unbeatable.

And I learned a lot about myself on that march across the sand. I could’ve given up. Let the elements take me. Submitted my soul to the sun.

But I didn’t. I didn’t surrender, and the sight of all that water in the Goodgrounds had never looked sweeter. It’s an experience I reflect on when I feel like my enemies are crowding at every side. When there doesn’t seem to be an escape.

I remember that day of walking across the desert, and I remind myself that because I did that, I can survive whatever task lays before me now.

Visit Elana on the web...
Meet Elana Johnson: Elana's work including POSSESSION, REGRET, and SURRENDER is available from Simon & Schuster wherever books are sold. She is the author of From the Query to the Call, an ebook that every writer needs to read before they query, which can be downloaded for free on her website. She runs a personal blog on publishing and is a founding author of the QueryTracker blog. She blogs regularly at The League of Extraordinary Writers, co-organizes WriteOnCon, and is a member of SCBWI, ANWA and LDStorymakers.

She wishes she could experience her first kiss again, tell the mean girl where to shove it, and have cool superpowers like reading minds and controlling fire. To fulfill her desires, she writes young adult science fiction and fantasy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

MMGM: CAPTURE THE FLAG by Kate Messner

Title: CAPTURE THE FLAG
Author: Kate Messner
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: July 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 240
Source of Book: ARC from IRA Convention
Three kids get caught up in an adventure of historic proportions!

Anna, José, and Henry are complete strangers with more in common than they realize. Snowed in together at a chaotic Washington D.C. airport, they encounter a mysterious tattooed man, a flamboyant politician, and a rambunctious poodle named for an ancient king. Even stranger, news stations everywhere have announced that the famous flag that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner" has been stolen! Anna, certain that the culprits must be snowed in too, recruits Henry and José to help catch the thieves and bring them to justice.

But when accusations start flying, they soon realize there's more than justice at stake. As the snow starts clearing, Anna, José, and Henry find themselves in a race against time (and the weather!) to prevent the loss of an American treasure.
I absolutely adore Kate Messner's writing. I really enjoyed EYE OF THE STORM and CAPTURE THE FLAG was no disappointment either. One of the things I like most about Kate Messner's books is that she writes smart, honest, real characters. In this book they read, they write, one is a genius at video games, but they all have many layers to their characters without getting overly emotionally involved as would happen in more young adult books. Her cast of characters is also multicultural allowing more kids to relate to the teens they're reading about in the books. I also appreciate that although there is a main female character, there are two male characters in prominent roles also, so there is gender-neutral appeal to this book.

Another great thing about her books is the cross-curricular connections she makes. Especially in CAPTURE THE FLAG where there are many social studies/history ties to be made. In this book she has written a multilayered story with an intriguing mystery. I figured it out early on, but it is written for 3rd-7th graders, and I think it will appeal to them-especially if they're fans of heist stories. It's a fun story as the group is stuck overnight in an airport and as the kids band together to try to find the stolen flag, scene after scene builds up tension and humor as they find their way into all sorts of hidden places within the airport. It also has an exciting secret society aspect to it. I could see this turning into a great series. I know there's a sequel, but I hope there will be more than just one more book in this series. These could be characters who could solve these National Treasure (the movie) type mysteries in all different kinds of situations and meet other members of the society.

Kate Messner just has great writing. There are wonderful descriptions of things and exciting scenes/action, but still written at a level that middle schoolers will easily understand. CAPTURE THE FLAG has a great title and cover design sure to appeal to the intended audience. If you haven't read a Kate Messner book yet, and you're interested in middle grades books, I encourage you to do so soon, and CAPTURE THE FLAG would be a great start!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ENDLESSLY by Kiersten White

Title: ENDLESSLY (Book #3 in PARANORMALCY trilogy)
Author: Kiersten White
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Number of Pages: 385
Source of Book: ARC from friend
Evie's paranormal past keeps coming back to haunt her. A new director at the International Paranormal Containment Agency wants to drag her back to headquarters. The Dark Faerie Queen is torturing humans in her poisonous realm. And supernatural creatures keep insisting that Evie is the only one who can save them from a mysterious, perilous fate.

The clock is ticking on the entire paranormal world. And its fate rests solely in Evie's hands.

So much for normal.
I've thoroughly enjoyed reading Kiersten White's trilogy starting with PARANORMALCY, then SUPERNATURALLY, and now ENDLESSLY. This last book provides a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy and allows Evie to truly become the young woman she wants to be in the normal life she craves. The characters are once again entertaining from faeries to water elementals to vampires to werewolves to selkies, and all the others who make this series so fun. But most of all, there is Evie - the pink-loving, girly, take-no-crap, strong, decide-my-own-fate, sassy, tell-them-how-it-is girl at the center of this whole world. She's torn between two worlds: the normal one she wants to have with her boyfriend Lend, and the paranormal one that needs her special abilities to save all of them.

This is the kind of book that has fun, conflict, romance, sass, and takes everything right to where it needs to be to provide the happy ending we're hoping for as readers who have taken this journey from IPCA (the International Paranormal Containment Agency) with Evie. We've seen her go from being unaware of the outside world beyond what she sees on television to making her own choices and deciding her own fate. She comes into her own in this story, and it's an entertaining journey for her to get there. The plot provides the necessary and understandable conflict, the world gets explained more deeply than imagined, the characters are fun, the writing is entertaining, and it has a sense of finality to Evie's story who we've spent so much time with and rooted for. if you're read the first two books, you'll definitely want to get this final book to complete Evie's story. I, for one, look forward to seeing what Kiersten White will have in store for her readers next.


Monday, July 9, 2012

MMGM: KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES by Shannon Messenger

Title: KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES
Author: Shannon Messenger
Publisher: Aladdin (a Simon & Schuster imprint)
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Number of Pages: 488
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at ALA
In this riveting debut, a telepathic girl must figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world--before the wrong person finds the answer first.

Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit into her life. She's skipped multiple grades and doesn't really connect with the older kids at school, but she's not comfortable with her family, either. And Sophie has a secret--she's a Telepath, someone who can read minds. But the day Sophie meets Fitz, a mysterious (and adorable) boy, she learns she's not alone. He's a Telepath too, and it turns out the reason she has never felt at home is that, well...she isn't. Fitz opens Sophie's eyes to a shocking truth, and almost instantly she is forced to leave behind her family for a new life in a place that is vastly different from what she has ever known.

But Sophie still has secrets, and they're buried deep in her memory for good reason: The answers are dangerous and in high-demand. What is her true identity, and why was she hidden among humans? The truth could mean life or death--and time is running out.
*I was going to hold off on this review until a little bit closer to the release, but I'm so excited to share my love of it that I just couldn't wait! And, since it's my first Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post, it's only appropriate that it's Shannon Messenger's book. It could have all just been gush, gush, gushing recommendation, but I tried to format it in a little bit more productive way.

A few months from now you'll be able to get this book, and you should (especially if you live or work with middle schoolers in any capacity)! KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES blew me away. I knew I really liked Shannon Messenger from following her on twitter and on her blog, and then when I heard she had a middle grades and a young adult book coming out as her debut, I was really looking forward to reading them-especially when I read the summary of each. As a middle school teacher, I was hoping I would like KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES, and I am happy to say that I loved it! I would definitely recommend this middle grades magical fantasy to fans of HARRY POTTER and THE UNWANTEDS. It is a long book, but as it is written so well for the middle grades level, it isn't overwhelming. There is something just so engaging and fun and entertaining in Shannon Messenger's third person, descriptive, writing style, and I devoured this book in two days and didn't want to stop reading until I knew what would happen to these characters and world I wanted to be a part of.

Let's talk about Setting: Shannon Messenger has created an astoundingly creative fantasy world within KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from the summary alone, and I never expected the "place that is vastly different form what she has ever known" to be so well-developed and thought out. As I was reading an advance reader copy, it was missing the map artwork, so I look forward to getting a finished copy to enhance the reading experience even more. The world of the elves (and not what you ever pictured elves to be) is filled with fantastical creatures (especially love Iggy!), magically evolved elements, and cities built with beyond-this-world materials. This parallel world is such a discovery, not only for Sophie, but for the reader as well. The way it is described made me want to go live there as well. Beyond the Lost Cities within the elven world themselves, there is also Foxfire, which is the school for the nobility that Sophie ends up in. It is a school where she will be trained in her special ability and where she discovers people, places, things, strength, and friendships beyond what she ever would have imagined, and what I would have imagined as well.

We have to talk about Characters: KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES is full of interesting, multidimensional characters. The only thing that threw me a little bit as I read this book was the number of characters because their names are not ones we're used to hearing, so it did take awhile to keep track of who was who in the beginning. Not only do we get Sophie who has to make some tough decisions and look for people to support her, but we also get Fitz and his family, along with a multitude of other characters throughout the elf world. We see some of the most interesting jobs as Sophie meets these characters which adds to our understanding of how this world works. As she goes to school, we also meet Dex and Keefe among other classmates, and these two become some of the most entertaining characters to interact with Sophie. I kind of adore Keefe myself. He is the snarky guy who brings the humor that Sophie so desperately needs as she adjusts to her new life, and deep down, he is a really good, caring boy. We get some hints as to deeper things going on with Keefe, and I hope we get more of him in the next book. I also really adore Sophie. She has core values that I admire and fights for what she believes and knows is the right thing, even if it means she might get into trouble. I rooted for her as she is a young girl with so much strength and determination to do the right thing and help those she cares about. She is a strong character for the audience of this book.

Talking about Family is important: Sophie has to leave her family to join this hidden world where she actually belongs, and that means she is in a new place, realizing everything she thought she knew is not the way the world actually works, and has no family to rely on and call her own. When she gets placed with guardians to take responsibility for her, she has a whole new set of relationship dynamics to work on. In the end, the storyline with Sophie searching for family and her understanding of loss, adds such depth to the character and the overall book, and adds a dimension that I think many kids will relate to. I know these elements of searching for family to love her and support her and call her own brought some of the most poignant moments of the story for me. Because what child doesn't want a family to feel safe with and loved by? There was much more of an emotional element to this book than I expected going into it, and that's a great thing.

Now let's talk about Plot: While all of the subplots going on in this book add depth and interest to the story, the overall conflict at hand is a mystery as to why Sophie was living in the human world. Unfortunately, as Sophie is so young, the adults looking into things don't want to include her in the search, but as the clues build up, Sophie has to take it upon herself to try to find out what's happening and why and who is behind it. Messenger has written a novel with a tightly woven plot strongly balancing small elements, character development, descriptive details, world-building information, and enough action to keep things moving at an engaging pace.

I want to talk Sequel: I know a sequel is coming, and I can't wait to read it! Although I knew there would be a book following this one, I still feel that this book wrapped up its storyline in a satisfying way. There are no major cliffhangers here, but it still sets up where the second book will go for the next school year. I appreciate this so much because I don't feel like I've been left hanging, but I'm left with enough of a love for this book/world/characters that I definitely want to get my hands on the next book asap, and I hope you'll feel that way about this one, too!

I think this book will be a big middle grades hit for those who like fantasy and mystery books. From the Preface at the very start, I was hooked on the story as I was instantly pulled into what would have happened to get Sophie to this point. As the story wound it's way toward that time near the end, it became even more engaging. I think if you are a teacher or librarian or parent of middle school age kids, you and they will feel the same. I absolutely recommend you get KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES in October.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

52 REASONS TO HATE MY FATHER by Jessica Brody

Title: 52 REASONS TO HATE MY FATHER
Author: Jessica Brody
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (a Macmillan imprint)
Release Date:  July 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 335
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at IRA
Being America’s favorite heiress is a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

Lexington Larrabee has never to work a day in her life. After all, she’s the heiress to the multi-billion-dollar Larrabee Media empire. And heiresses are not supposed to work. But then again, they’re not supposed to crash brand new Mercedes convertibles into convenience stores on Sunset Blvd either.

Which is why, on Lexi’s eighteen birthday, her ever-absent, tycoon father decides to take a more proactive approach to her wayward life. Every week for the next year, she will have to take on a different low-wage job if she ever wants to receive her beloved trust fund. But if there’s anything worse than working as a maid, a dishwasher, and a fast-food restaurant employee, it’s dealing with Luke, the arrogant, albeit moderately attractive, college intern her father has assigned to keep tabs on her.

In a hilarious “comedy of heiress” about family, forgiveness, good intentions, and best of all, second chances, Lexi learns that love can be unconditional, money can be immaterial, and, regardless of age, everyone needs a little saving. And although she might have 52 reasons to hate her father, she only needs one reason to love him.
When I read the summary of this book, I figured it would be a fun read, and since I thoroughly enjoyed Jessica Brody's last book, MY LIFE UNDECIDED, I decided to pick this one up on a break from fantasy books.  It was a little bit predictable, but like a good chick flick, it was a comforting read.

22 Reasons to Enjoy Reading 52 REASONS TO HATE MY FATHER
1. It's a cute contemporary book
2. It has a splash of celebutante fascination culture, but looks at it with a critical eye
3. There is a sweet dash of romance with a really good guy
4. The writing is straight-forward in Lexington's head, which is a fun place to be
5. Characters figuring out their relationships with their families and fixing the damage
6. True friends who are dedicated, honest, and there for each other (even if they were very secondary characters and not around too much)
7. Ronaldo. No, really, he is deserving of his very own number and I wish there had been more of him in the story.
8. Ronaldo's family
9. Horatio & Kingston (notice the help)
10. The scene where Lexi takes Luke shopping (and stares)
11. The video message status update transcripts
12. The video message non-status-update transcript from Luke
13. The video message transcript ending wrap-up from Lexi
14. The family being truly at the heart of the story-more so than expected
15. Lexington's phone call with her brother Cooper
16. The list of the 52 jobs (hilarity can and will ensue) and eye-opening nature of how hard people work
17. The moment when we find out the why of those 52 jobs (so smart!)
18. It's clean enough for 7th grade, but will appeal all the way to beyond high school
19. The spy mission at the end
20. The heartfelt father/daughter moment
21. Lexington's self-discovery of her own strength of character
22. It's sassy, sarcastic, sweet, humorous, heart-warming, heartfelt, enjoyable, entertaining, and engaging personality

I've come to rely on Jessica Brody for these kinds of light, easy to read, engaging, fun books. Pick up 52 REASONS TO HATE MY FATHER the next time you're in the mood for that kind of read. I look forward to seeing what she'll have for us next!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Picture Book Praise: ISABELLA: GIRL ON THE GO by Jennifer Fosberry

Title: ISABELLA: GIRL ON THE GO
Author: Jennifer Fosberry
Illustrator: Mike Litwin
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Release Date: February 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 32
Source of Book: Hardcover from publisher at ALA
The precocious, purple-haired traveler spends the day playing with her dad as she pretends everyday things (like the sandbox) are extraordinary places (like the desert and the pyramids of Egypt). Isabella ends the day in her own home-sweet-home, the most wonderful place to be.
I have not read MY NAME IS NOT ISABELLA, but I've heard good things about this purple-haired girl, so when I saw that Jennifer Fosberry would be signing copies of this sequel, ISABELLA: GIRL ON THE GO, at the Sourcebooks booth at ALA, I knew I had to go check it out. I'm so glad that I did. Isabella is a fun, sassy, and smart young girl. As her father keeps asking her to help with the various chores on their list for the day, Isabella continually says she's not in the place he thinks, but in some special place around the globe that is somehow related to the ordinary place she's standing in her backyard.

Jennifer Fosberry has created picture books which have stories kids can laugh about, but also include social studies related terms and ideas that are incorporated throughout-this time with significant global locations. Even better, especially for use with older kids, is the glossary at the back that includes extensive detailed explanation of each of the places that is mentioned in the story. The illustrations are endearingly adorable as well, and further highlight the strength of the relationship between Isabella and her father in this story. He has unending patience for her imagination and plays along each time she switches to a different place she claims to be. I appreciated that the father is willing to let her be creative and helps show how important creativity can be to learning.

I will share this with my nieces and nephews, but can also see using it in the classroom as a jumping off point for students to create their own stories modeled after Isabella highlighting important places around the world that they've learned about in social studies class.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

INSIGNIA by S.J. Kincaid (repost) - One week away

I first posted this review in November after I read INSIGNIA. I'm reposting now because it comes out in one week and I don't want you to miss it!

Title: INSIGNIA
Author: S.J. Kincaid
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (A HarperCollins imprint)
Release Date: July10, 2012
Number of Pages: 464
Source of Book: ARC sent from editor
IT'S WORLD WAR III.
THE ENEMY IS WINNING.
WHAT IF THE GOVERNMENT'S SECRET WEAPON IS YOU?

More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.
INSIGNIA is one of those books that was really hard to stop reading at night to go to sleep-I never wanted to stop turning the pages as it was a nonstop thrill ride in a virtual reality, corporate-sponsored, dystopic future.  At first, I was a little intimidated by the world the author created – because there are some corporations and sponsors and military terms that I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep track of, but it ended up being surprisingly easy to follow. This is definitely a plot-driven book, and at 464 pages, there’s a lot of plot. I was worried I’d get to parts where I didn’t really care or they felt slow, but that never happened! There was always some sort of action (either virtual or real) that kept the pacing moving forward at a perfect speed. The descriptions of the settings were perfectly done, and I especially liked all of the historical (including mythological) references in all of the virtual reality training scenarios. It was such fun to see how the characters interacted with these simulations, and nicely provides some subtle history lessons for students reading this book as well.

This book has elements of a fish out of water story (kind of in a Harry Potter way of discovering a new “school” and people and how you’re changing because of it), corporate and political intrigue, an awkward teen wanting to be accepted, friendship, power, control, life or death fights, and the fate of multinational corporations and alliances hanging in the balance (no pressure there!). The author wielded a deft hand at balancing the action, technological, and teen self-esteem/friendship elements of the story in a way in which none felt over or underdone. There were also some great comedic moments to balance it all out as well.

The characters really make this book though. All the action and excitement and plot an author could add, won’t make a difference if I don’t care about or like the characters. And in this book, I loved the characters. I adore Tom and was rooting for him the whole way, and the secondary characters who are his friends were so entertaining. There were some great teen girl supporting characters as well, and what I really liked was that they were actually some of the better computer programmers. And Vik, as Tom’s roommate at the new school, provides great comic relief in the midst of serious situations. INSIGNIA is just an exciting book, and a scary look at a future that might not be too far off. 


I absolutely loved it and can't wait for more people to read it and start talking about this fabulous debut! This is a book that my students (especially boys) who are into gaming or computers will love. I will be adding it to my “you liked this, try this...” list with BRAIN JACK by Brian Falkner, TEEN, INC. by Stephen Petrucha, and EPIC by Conor Kostic. I’d also recommend it to those who liked DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth (both books have the same editor at HarperCollins!). I'm so glad to hear this one is going to be a trilogy because I can’t wait to see what happens after the big finale of this one (but thankfully, no cliffhanger ending)! Make sure to add this one to your list of July releases you’ll want to read!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Halfway #summerthrowdown update

There has been SO much reading going on over the last two weeks for
#summerthrowdown Librarians vs. Teachers!!!
My co-conspirator/#throwdown originator/Sister Classroom teacher, Brian Wyzlic, has the details on his blog post today (and if you haven't read any of his reviews yet at Wyz Reads, I recommend you do so-they're highly entertaining!). Go check it out and then go read!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater (early recommendation)

Title: THE RAVEN BOYS
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Number of Pages: 416
Source of Book: ARC from ALA
“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.
I'm a huge Maggie Stiefvater fan. I've read all of her books and was eagerly anticipating THE RAVEN BOYS from the minute I heard about it. This was the first book I went to find at ALA and it was the first one I read on the plane when I flew home from the conference. I was not disappointed. I can say, without hesitation, that this is my favorite Maggie Stiefvater novel so far. She has once again outdone herself with an utterly original world, characters, and storyline that left me clamoring for more.

I've always appreciated Maggie Stiefvater's lyrical writing style, and it continues in this book; however, it almost seemed a little more accessible in this book, but with the typical Maggie flourishes and beautiful descriptions. I get lost in the world of her writing. Maggie has again created a setting that comes alive in the magical town of Henrietta, Virginia. There are places in this town that have more to them than what appears at first glance, and exploring them is part of the fun of this story. Discovering the supernaturally magical elements of this story is even more fun. I appreciated how seamlessly these magical elements were woven into the thread of this narrative and town and characters, and that made them seem so normal and realistic that I never questioned any of the things that were happening to or around them. Everything is explained just as much as I need it to be for me to understand and go along with it as it was happening. Ultimately, there is a type of quest to this story that I believe is going to carry through the whole series. Although this book is clearly setting up the series in a strong way, it still felt like a complete story on its own and I never felt like it was just exposition for the whole series. I was left with questions, but even more so, I was left with wanting to spend more time with this characters and find out what will happen with them next.

Once again Maggie Stiefvater has written characters that I love spending time with and discovering more about. Blue is a strong female character who is confident in herself and doesn't let what anyone thinks bother her. She is her own person and owns it. She also has some issues within her family she has to come to terms with as she learns more throughout this story. The Raven Boys from Aglionby Academy; Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah, are each endearing in their own way, and they're all a little bit broken. I truly felt for the boys in this story. Their bond and way of looking out for and supporting each other was admirable, yet they didn't always do what I hoped they would, but they did what seemed so right for their characters. Oh, how I adored these boys. I just really wanted to swoop in and fix everything for them. There is so much more depth to them than there at first seems, and it is revealed so slowly and masterfully as to make me feel for them even more. There is a bit of a romantic element to this story what with Blue not being able to kiss her true love or he will die, and some interest with a couple of the boys, but I think part of what I loved about this book is that it was about so much more than that. Because of everything else going on with the magical elements, and the boys' backstories, and the mystery elements, it became about so much more. And all that more was really great.

THE RAVEN BOYS is a unique book, and it's one that I dearly hope other readers will fall in love with as much as I did. There was just something about this one that struck a chord with me, and I hope it will for many more readers as well. I'll leave you with one important warning if you are a person who typically peeks at the end of a book before you start-don't do it in this one! The last line is brutal-both revealing a major secret/revelation, but also making me just want to keep reading-unfortunately, there's not another book yet (although there will be four in the series). I will be eagerly anticipating book two in The Raven Cycle, as I hope you will too after reading THE RAVEN BOYS when it comes out in September.


 
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