Everything you see is something we've read. No hearsay or rumors to be found! Be sure to check out our "We Recommend" list where we break books down for all types of readers. We love comments, questions, and recommendations, so don't be shy! We promise we won't bite (the internet is a strong preventative barrier).
Thursday, March 31, 2011
The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
(Review based on Advanced Reader Copy.)
There seems to be an abundance of strong middle-reader fantasy books lately! John Stephen's debut novel, The Emerald Atlas, has a great magical tingle to it. If you combined the Chronicles of Narnia, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, Fablehaven, and the Lord of the Rings, to name a few, you would have a really good feel for the spunky fun, adventure, and depth of The Emerald Atlas.
Atlas features three "orphaned" siblings--Kate, Michael, and Emma--who were long ago sent away for safe keeping by parents they hardly remember, and they are still waiting, years later, for their parents' return. Kate and her siblings find themselves shuttled from orphanage to orphanage until they end up in a forgotten-looking mansion in a desolate-looking town with a strange old man as their caregiver. Upon searching the house, they find a magic book that resembles an album, and when Michael puts a picture in it, all three kids are magically transferred to the time and location of the photo!
Suddenly the town is full of anguished parents and kids, separated by a cruel but beautiful sorceress (with the requisite simpering sidekick) who oppresses the people in a search for the very book that brought the children back in time. As the adventure continues, we learn that this ancient, magical tome allows users to alter history and even rewrite the creation of the world as we know it.
Through separation, hardship, and the making of both friends and enemies, the three children find themselves caught up in an adventure 30 years before they were born, trying to prevent disaster, protect themselves, and figure out their own past along the way. They travel through thick forests, down steep cliffs laced with waterfalls, deep underground into ancient magical cities. I found it particularly refreshing to see the space-time continuum used in such a detailed way in a middle-reader book--not to say it hasn't been done before, but in The Emerald Atlas it's done with a specific attention to consequences of actions, changing of events, and responsibility. The deeper they get in the quest they're on, the more involved the siblings become with the magic they've unleashed, and it's up to each of the brother and sisters to learn about it and themselves to survive, all the while unlocking secrets to their past.
The first in the Books of Beginnings trilogy, Atlas is full of intriguing characters, mostly unique, though some generalized through cliche characteristics (the occasional dwarf, for example, though adamantly idolized by Michael, seems a bit familiar from other fantasy tales). Overall the children's adventures make an exhilarating story full of epic battles and snarky, humorous bickering among siblings. The blurb on my galley copy of the book said I would laugh and cry; I did, which tells me that I was emotionally invested in the characters Stephens introduced, a laudable feat. Smart, funny, and full of adventure--it's hard to go wrong with that combination!
The Emerald Atlas hits shelves on April 5th.
Copyright April 2011
Available as an eBook (at publication)
Image from www.goodreads.com
Monday, March 21, 2011
(Review based on Advanced Reader Copy of book.)
If I could tell you (the adoring public) to read a book and know--absolutely know--that you would pick it up and actually read it, this post would read "Divergent by Veronica Roth comes out in May. Read it. The end."
Sadly, my every whim does not typically get carried out by the rest of the world, so here are some plot points and other fun facts.
The world has changed into one none of us would recognize. In order to avoid wars and the negative aspects of humanity that go along with them, a dystopian American society has broken up into five distinct factions, each one a representative of a virtue that some people think can keep conflict at bay. In Candor, members strive to only tell the truth, hurtful or uncomfortable as it might be. Dauntless is for the brave, the protectors. Amity lifestyle is that of peace, no matter how it is obtained, while Erudites value knowledge above all else. And, lastly, there is Abnegation, dictating a plain, selfless lifestyle, others first at all times.
Having grown up in Abnegation, Beatrice has always lived a quiet, subservient life, though not a bad one. On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, she and her brother enter a simulation, rather like a career test, to tell them in which faction they most belong. Beatrice, though, is Divergent--for her there is no answer, and for her own protection, she can tell no one. Surprising even herself at the choosing ceremony, she walks away from her family and all she knows to join the dangerous, studded and tattooed Dauntless group, the daredevils and action-seekers of her world.
What follows is a dangerous, passionate ride through which our protagonist learns strength, freedom of spirit, and independence as she works to prove herself in a faction that might never accept her for her prior lifestyle. These punk-rocker types jump off of buildings, hurl knives at one another, and face their darkest fears in realistic simulations in order to grow stronger, better, and fearless, and it is a grueling process for everyone, including the reader. Some fellow Dauntless initiates become friends while others become feared opponents, and even their instructor, Four, makes Beatrice's new life confusing as she finds herself both repelled and drawn to his rock-steady attitude and frustrating ways.
Throughout her journey, Beatrice must put up with verbal abuse about her home faction and a steady stream of published insults from one faction to another, and tensions rise throughout the city. Is another war coming, or will everything settle down? What defines loyalty, bravery, and equality? What role will Beatrice play in her new Dauntless family, and is it worth everything she has lost and left behind?
This action-packed, thrilling book is full of interesting characters and intense plot turns. While Beatrice occasionally fumbles and works to deal with her own insecurities, she is a strong female protagonist, working hard to prove her worth, not just to others but also to herself. Occasional cliches pop up--I have yet to read a book without at least one or two--but Roth's writing is such that as a reader, I don't actually care. It's just so good!
Divergent is awesome. Really. If you're a fan of the Hunger Games/Post-apocalyptic/Perfect-society/Science-fiction world, you will enjoy it.
Available as an eBook (at publication)
Image from www.harpercollins.com
Friday, March 18, 2011
This book is a riot!
As Henry Mosely states pompously to his two friends Riley and Reed, "We may be the most boring twelve-year-olds on the planet." Whether or not that's true, the rambunctious trio agrees that something must be done so that they may become "Men of Action and Daring" in order to better "Impress Girls" and "Alter the Course of History."
The first course of action, obviously, is to tie their friend Reed to a bicycle and have him attempt to ride down a neighbor's roof, somersault in mid air, and bounce off of the swimming pool diving board unharmed, all in the name of creating a new world record. (Kids: do not try this at home!) While Reed is amazingly uninjured by the stunt, he does end up deep in a dumpster and smelling pretty gross. (It turns out this is a theme.)
One crazy stunt follows the next as Henry, the architect and the logistics planner; Riley, the meticulous observer-and-reporter of all attempted manly exploits; and Reed, the hapless guinea pig, try their hands at bigger and better things, all followed by Manly pronouncements on Adventure and Fame (from their directing supervisor Henry, of course). Paulsen breaks the chapters down into individual adventures, three of which are based on previously published short stories for Boy's Life magazine. There is an attempt at outdoor survival with only school supplies at hand (and an escaped circus animal), solving a local hundred-year murder mystery (in a haunted house), and being rodeo cowboys at a family ranch (involving a great deal of smelly manure), to name a few.
Masters of Disaster is a great boys-will-be-boys adventure full of slimy, smelly, ridiculous fun that even girls--as they shake their heads in disbelief at the antics of adolescent boys--will enjoy. In fact, I challenge any reader, kids and adults alike, to not laugh out loud multiple times while reading this book.
Masters of Disaster is one of my new middle-reader favorites. Try it out with just about any age group and wait for the giggles and guffaws to begin!
Paperback copies will be available August 9, 2011.
Copyright August 2010
Available as an eBook
Image from www.randomhouse.com
Thursday, March 17, 2011
... and no, these vampires don't sparkle in sunlight.
Cal is a 19-year-old Texan vampire living in New York City. Okay, so technically he's a carrier for the parasite that makes people into full-fledged vampires, so as far as being infected, he's sane and in control. Cal works for the Night Guard, an organization deep underground that tracks down Parasite Positives or "Peeps" for short (the preferred term for vamps) and medicates them so that they are no longer a threat to society.
Signs you may be infected? See in the dark: check. Start craving extra-rare meat: check. Shun the things you once loved: check. Of course, the eventual cannibalism and lack of conscious communication are pretty good giveaways too. Oh yeah, and the flock of rats, also carriers, that make up your brood. Pretty sexy lifestyle, right?
Cal is following a trail of his progenitor and of those individuals he accidentally turned (the parasite is transferred through saliva, blood, and sex-ed related bodily fluids). Once he tracks down his ex-girlfriends and some tenants who mysteriously disappeared from the same floor in a swanky apartment building, he starts to notice some anomalies: some of these Peeps talk, and some even seem to recognize him, which shouldn't really be possible. Throw in a red-eyed, gloating cat that commands a group of thousands of rats in a subterranean complex and the unmistakable smell of ultimate evil. Then add the fact that only one out of one hundred people are supposed to be "immune" like Cal is, but somehow he finds four in the same contamination group, and Cal starts questioning everything he's ever been told.
Oh, plus there's the enforced-celibacy thing: how is he supposed to deal with Lace, the too-smart and too -interested human who won't let him off the hook? It is, to say the least, kind of distracting.
Part supernatural, part action/adventure, part medical thriller, and part dopey-kid-trying-to-figure-things-out, Peeps is a fun, smart, and compelling read. Westerfeld weaves evolutionary theory throughout the action. Every other chapter addresses the existence of a real-life parasite--it's life cycle, evolutionary strategy, world impact--in a snarky way that makes it both gross and interesting. In addition, Westerfeld includes recommended additional reading (non-fiction!) and a helpful list in the back on how to avoid parasites; here's my favorite:
"If your burger oozes red,Westerfeld's fun and action-filled style keeps the plot rolling, and twists and turns along the way are smooth and effective. If you're looking for a supernatural/vampire book that doesn't include an over-stressed love triangle, this is definitely a keeper. I really enjoyed it. (Kirkus Reviews agreed with me and gave it a starred review... very wise of them.) The sequel, The Last Days, was published September 2006.
Send it back; them worms ain't dead."
Age 14+ (some mature content, mostly glossed over)
Copyright September 2005
Available as an eBook
Image from www.scottwesterfeld.com
Monday, March 14, 2011
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Ruby's take: Katsa was only eight years old when she killed for the first time. She is one of the "Graced," a person who is distinguished by their eyes, which are different colors. She has the Grace of fighting and is used by her uncle, King Randa, to be his "lady killer," to carry out torture and killings to satisfy any wrongs (right or otherwise) done to him.
In order to bring some good from her Grace, Katsa and her friends form the "Council" to help people throughout the seven kingdoms who have been unjustly punished, imprisoned, or abused. Through this secret council, Katsa rescues an elderly man who turns out to be a prince from a neighboring kingdom. His grandson, Prince Po, comes looking for him in the kingdom of Middluns.
Po is also Graced with superior fighting skills and is a welcome fighting partner for Katsa. The two form a close friendship...which turns into more. Both are pulled into a plot that starts with the kidnapping of Po's grandfather and turns into something far more dangerous. Po and Katsa have to rely on each other and their Graces to survive.
This is one of the best books I've read this year. I had put off reading it, but when I found out that a third book (Book 2 is Fire, and the third is tentatively titled Bitterblue) will be coming out later this year, I had to hurry up and read it. Cashore's writing is fluid, descriptive, and utterly delightful. She really knows how to bring the story to life. All the characters are relatable, but the focus of the story is Katsa, and what a woman! Being graced with the ability to fight while controlling her anger is one of the many challenges she faces, but she does so with great courage and strength. Prince Po is definitely a great match for her, as he respects her abilities and who she is. Best line in the whole book: "If there's anyone I wish to stun at dinner, I'll hit him in the face." All in all, a great first novel.
Jenny's take: My turn! I read Graceling about a year ago and loved it. I'll leave the summary bits out for the most part (since Ruby covered it above), but I will say that a vital part of Katsa's struggle is internal as she comes to terms with not only her grace and how to handle herself but also her response to those around her (including those with other graces). Her physical journey turns into an emotional one as she starts, for the first time, to allow others into her heart and mind. And the best part? She kicks butt the whole time. Think of a female gladiator/Robin Hood/progressive princess/avenger/assassin, and you've got a pretty good vision of Katsa.
Cashore has found a way to combine about a billion genres into one fantastic book: action, fantasy, survival, epic journey, romance, and mystery, to name a few. To cap it all off, she did an amazing and fluid job; her writing style grabbed my attention from the start and kept me captivated all the way through. Fans of The Hunger Games trilogy will enjoy the independent fighter Cashore has created, along with the in-depth and beautiful fantasy world that completes the package.
As a follow-up, read Fire, also by Cashore. It's a prequel of sorts, though there is only one overlap character and the story takes place in a different part of the world with monsters and people of an entirely different nature. It makes for another great read!
Publisher: Graphia (September 2009)
Also available as an eBook.
Image from www.bn.com
Wynne-Jones weaves together the lives of three young people who were born into different worlds sharing the same blood. Wynne-Jones entangles love, hate, fear, lust, affection, and romantic confusion as Mimi, Jay, and Cramer meet each other first as strangers and friends and then as family. Each chapter alternates in perspective, and while this could be confusing, it instead adds to the reader's understanding of each person in turn.
The Uninvited is all set against the beautiful and whimsical background of "the Snye" where Mimi's father started the journey for all of them, finally culminating in tragedy and then rebirth. Sometimes dark, sometimes flirtatious, the characters are thrown into a strange family drama, but this is no soap opera. It's a suspenseful and emotional story with some creepy overtones thrown into the mix. A solid emotional drama that embraces forgiveness, understanding, personal flaws, and overcoming isolation.
Age 14+ (mature content: sexual allusions/curse words/violence)
Copyright May 2009
Available as an eBook
Image from www.tower.com
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
*Great for fans of Percy Jackson and mythology!*
Through Gryllus' narration--cheeky, self-important, and more than a little exaggerated--Shipton keeps the laughter and action going along the whole adventure. Awesome, snarky lines will have kids and adults alike rolling on the floor, such as "puzzlement crossed the big lad's face, like a cloud across the moon on a night when the moon is looking especially puzzled" and "[he] wasn't the brightest--clearly several Spartans short of the full three hundred."
Though history isn't told in complete accuracy (we meet the creator of sliced bread and the splitting of the atom, and the historical figures are mish-mashed as needed, despite the era), it's smart, sarcastic, funny... and, well, really smart, sarcastic, and funny. This is one of those books that somehow got published under the radar and has stayed there ever since, despite its brilliance. Kids who flew through Percy Jackson's epic adventures, along with any other mythological reads, will delight in Gryllus' story and in the way he tells it. Paul Shipton has created a fun read for kids of all ages, grown-ups included. Highly recommended!
Follow Gryllus on additional adventures in his second book, The Pig Who Saved the World.
Copyright August 2007
Image from www.candlewick.com
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Here's to eating too much cake, opening excellent presents, and enjoying the one day of the year that everybody has to be nice to you. Enjoy, m'dear!
And, because no birthday is complete without, here's a link to the Beatles' birthday song.
- Jenny (obviously)
Many many thanks fellow partner in crime! I did have a very excellent day! Thanks for the song. No birthday is complete without it.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Additional books in the series cover nouns and adverbs, to name a few.
Copyright March 2010
Image from www.librarybooks.com
Copyright October 2010
Available as an eBook
Image from www.inarascott.com
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Fourteen-year-old Manjiro is full of questions, questions that irritate the elder fishermen. Manjiro must learn his place, but Manjiro dreams of one day becoming a samurai. That dream is impossible though, because he comes from a family of fishermen and that's all he thinks he will ever be.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Copyright April 2010
Images from www.silverdolphinbooks.com
Copyright April 2008
Available as an eBook
Image from www.us.macmillan.com