Archive for the ‘Romance’ category

United We Spy by Ally Carter

October 18th, 2013

I’ve folowed the series from start to finish now, which is tough when trying to keep up with so many series being launched each month in YA fiction. Part of it is because of Ally’s visit to our school when the series first started out, but part of it is that the series has stayed classy without resorting to too many trends or gimmicks. It’s been about spies and sisterhood, and that continued through to the end.

While there are many girl power moments in the book, I appreciated when Cammie realized that Zach had friends – that not every aspect of his life revolves around her. That’s been true of Cammie, which has been so refreshing. The books haven’t really been about getting the boy and, despite some fan complaints, Zach is not Cammie’s main protector. It’s all about the Gallagher Girls.

What’s great is seeing that tradition pass on to the younger girls of the academy. My students that were at Ally’s visit to our school have now graduated high school. They are now outside in the wide open world and, much like the Gallagher Girls, must decide what to do with the rest of their lives. One important transition is understanding the need to train up the next generation, to give back. Cammie matured throughout the series, no doubt about that, but matured in ways that matter. Again, I can’t stress enough how much I appreciated that the romance plotline was present but was not Cammie’s main hero journey.

The Circle of Cavan is still at it and the Gallagher Girls must stop chaos from erupting around the world. Having read the whole series from start to finish, it was pretty cool seeing details from the other five books show up, whether it was antagonists popping up again or Cammie reliving a moment from the first book but from a different perspective. I also appreciated the title. I know how much Ally struggled with following up I’d Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You, but United We Spy is the perfect wrapping up of the series in both title and plot. The last three chapters read like a season finale of Alias, which is great because Ally has mentioned that Alias made her question what it would look like to train a whole school of spies. I could hear the theme music playing and then the fade to black as the credits roll.

Ally, nice job on the series. I know that you don’t need my approval, but it takes some skill to maintain a six book series and I’m glad that I was there to see the whole thing play out.

Nevermore by James Patterson

August 18th, 2012

I just finished Nevermore  by James Patterson and feel like I have come to an end of a journey. I remember when the first one came out while I was in the classroom and pretty much any student that I recommended it to enjoyed it. The series isn’t as big as it used to be at our school, but this is an enjoyable end to the series.

It is the end, right? It says so on the cover. It even comes with a sticker that says “Maximum Ride R.I.P.” Side note: Nevermore should be one word, so why did they hyphenate it? I guess now that the most recent books are one-word titles (Max, Fang, Angel), it’s tough to stick with the current layout/font scheme.

So, to tell you much about the book would give away a ton of spoilers. This person switches loyalties, this person comes back from the dead. What I can tell you about is the character development. The focus of Max’s last book is on her choosing between Fang, her friend from the beginning, or Dylan, a boy genetically-engineered to be her perfect match. You know, the usual.

Since Max’s chapters are from first-person POV, we do see her struggling with the choice of who she wants to run away with. I know the conflict has been building throughout the series, but she definitely was more concerned with the safety of her flock than her own happiness in the first books. I guess that’s a sign of the other characters proving themselves, which is a life situation many can relate to as they grow up.

Some things don’t change, though. When Max fights, she still slaps Erasers on the ears and breaks their eardrums. That combat move has been used over and over throughout the series. So are the high-flying dips and weaves. That’s who Max is, though.

That’s the other conflict of the book. It was foretold that Max would save the world, but as you come to the close it seems like that won’t happen. Like I said, anything more would be a spoiler, but I will say that it kept me sorta guessing (I knew there were probably one of two outcomes to the book) as the pages flipped by.

And it’s a James Patterson book. The chapters are short and well-paced. It didn’t take me too long to finish the book, despite what anxious students and teachers have said as they tracked my bookmark’s progress. That’s a good sign that even though interest in the series has waned, there are still fans who will appreciate a good ending to a YA empire.

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

May 7th, 2012

I am convinced that Ken Oppel is required by contract to have at least one weird creature in his books. We’ve had flying cats, lonely bats, and maybe even mutated rats (that last one I may be wrong on, but it rhymes, so I’m keeping it).

In This Dark Endeavor, though, the creatures are real. Some are rare, but they still exist. That’s what I love most about the book. Yes, it’s a prequel to Frankenstein and it’s all about alchemy, but the chemistry and the biology stay pretty realistic.

Victor Frankenstein, creator of the famous monster, is the protagonist and the narrator. What is interesting is that Victor is deeply brooding – which, little known fact, is also a requirement by contract for YA characters. Oppel does a good job setting up the man who will try to conquer death itself through science. I guess that’s part of the trend of the “when they were young” books that are coming out; we get to see the origins of well-known characters.
The downside of that trend, though, is that those books sometimes rely too heavily on prior knowledge from the original source. While I benefited from having read the original Frankenstein, students that have read only This Dark Endeavor were still able to understand and appreciate what was going on. In fact, some went on to check out the original.

Having a semi-villain for a protagonist makes for an interesting romance. Normally, you cheer for the hero to win their love, but this time he’s trying to steal from his brother, we know he’s making things worse, and can’t quite endorse what he’s doing. It’s definitely not your normally love story.

Oppel succeeds in making the Frankensteins seem like a real family from history and the characters are the backbone of the story. Students who like adventure stories and won’t be daunted by an 18th-century setting will enjoy it.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

April 17th, 2012

I’ll be honest. It’s pretty tough to convince me that the world needs another Cinderella re-telling, especially since so many stories out there are rags to riches. Re-tellings of fairy tales are huge right now, which makes sense because literary agents were actively seeking fairy tale re-tellings a few months ago. The fact that there are two Snow White movies competing in the theaters at the same time is evidence enough of the trend.

How does Marissa Meyer stack up in a world already dominated by Gail Carson Levine and Robin McKinley? What does she bring to the table?

Simple. Cyborg Cinderella.

Those two words have been all that I have needed to get students excited about the book. What’s fun is that Marissa Meyer is a Cinderella story herself. She started out by posting Sailor Moon fan fic to the Internet and then went all the way to sell Cinder, her NaNoWriMo project. I can support that.

But is the book more than just cyborg Cinderella? Gimmicks can only last so far.

The characters are interesting takes on the traditional story. By changing the setting to a future where the Earth dominions are at war with the Moon, there is a purpose behind the ball at the end – more than just, “Eh. Prince Charming needs to get hitched.” Prince Kai is a round character who is diplomatically fighting to protect Earth from a Lunar invasion. He’s not shallow by any stretch of the definition. Cinder is an accomplished mechanic that is trying to save her step-sister and can’t be bothered by going to a dance.

The relationships are definitely the focus of the novel. The Lunars can control minds, and there are some cool stand-offs using those powers, but for the most part they’re spiteful and covert. Since this is book one in a four-book series, maybe we’ll see some more overt uses.

It always amazes me in a sci-fi book/movie when the audience (myself included) connects to an alien/robot and sees humanity in them. For example, E.T. is ugly. He’s weird. And yet we love him, we care for him, and we don’t want him to see harm. Marissa Meyer wrote in a robotic sidekick that I really was rooting for. Yeah, I know. But it does go to show her talent in characterization.

This is also an interesting experiment in imagery. When I read a book, I tend to picture the setting and characters on the grittier side. I’m sure that the author of Watership Down would be surprised at the amount of battle scars the rabbits had when I read the book. Why I bring it up is that I started reading Cinder and pictured it a little on the grim (Grimm? Get it?) side. We meet Cinder when she’s detaching her foot, after all. When the Lunars show up, though, they’re straight out of anime in their descriptions. I could see them menacing Sailor Moon or the Gundam Wing pilots. No complaints from me, it just was something that caught me off guard.

Cinder looks to be a popular book. With testing going on, I haven’t been able to booktalk it, but the handsell will be easy. The cover is amazing and even caught my youngest daughter’s attention. “Dad, why is that girl’s foot evil?” “She’s not evil. She’s just a cyborg.” And that, my friends, sums up the whole conflict of the book in two sentences.

Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter

March 14th, 2012

“And I remembered ‘normal’ might never be the same again.”

That, in a sentence, is the theme of the series and the core idea woven throughout the entire plot of the fifth book in the Gallagher Girls series. Cammie Morgan is a senior in a high school for spies. She still worries about what boys think and if her friends like her, but now more than ever her bigger worry is why people are trying to kill her.

Students and adults who have talked to me about what they enjoy about the series always share one common factor: Ally Carter’s ability to expertly portray the voice of a teenaged girl. Not once does Cammie sound unauthentic. What’s really cool is that, in book five, the importance of loyalty to sisterhood is emphasized and plays an important role at key plot points. A number of students I’ve talked with have been let down/ignored/backstabbed by friends and to have a main character who remains loyal even through conflict is promising.

Cammie’s view of herself is also challenged in book five. What makes her special is her ability to blend in, earning the nickname “Cammie the Chameleon”. Within the first few pages of the most current book, her concept of herself is thrown out the window and she has to figure out anew who she is. Yes, that’s a common theme in YA novels, but there’s a reason. During junior high and high school, students are trying to figure out who they are. Ally Carter continues to explore Cammie’s perception of herself without it being redundant or too conceited.

I’m a fan of spy stories. Alex Rider was one of the first book series that got me hooked on YA. The issue with having a main character as a spy is that he or she will be put in life or death situations. Spies sometimes use guns in those situations. What I appreciated in Out of Time is that an instructor says that a spy needs to know about guns but that “…weapons make you lazy”. Keen senses are what keep you alive. Ally Carter, Batman applauds you. (And, as I’m sure you’re aware, George Clooney once played Batman.)(Even though I like to block that from my memory.)(Do I hear music?)

Just like how when people talk about Hunger Games, they talk about other stories that had arena fighting first, Out of Sight had elements found in Bourne Identity and Chuck. The key, though, is in taking those elements and remixing them to make something new in the context of the Gallagher Girls. It’s something that I realized when I read the gazillionth dystopian book or superhero story (and yet still enjoyed Legend, Divergent, and The Unwanteds). The spy stuff that happens in Out of Sight is the next logical progression, which is a good thing, and is rewarding for fans of the series.

Students like an antagonist to cheer against and we definitely have that in book five. There is a ton of information revealed about character backstories, which should make longtime fans of the series happy. There are also references to conversations and lessons from book one, which is great at unifying the series. I also appreciated the fact that the school library was integral to the plot.

Side note: readers who have family in the military will appreciate when Cammie says, “When in doubt, find a marine.” I think I may have also caught a Brennan-Black author duo reference in there.

The series needs no recommendation from me, but I give it. It’s been a fun new tradition to read the books while on Summer/Spring Break. I started it at 10 this morning and finished it a little before 10 tonight. It was an enjoyable read and has a great lead into the sixth and maybe final (Cammie is a senior, after all) book of the series. Librarians, you know what to do. Stock up.

For a history of real spies in the United States, check out The Dark Game.

Legend by Marie Lu

February 2nd, 2012

I finished Legend by Marie Lu last night. (The last 100 pages really flew by – especially since I had my dystopian Pandora playlist pumping through my headphones. Getting ready for today’s booktalk was also a productive motivator.)

Legend is set in a dystopian future where the United States no longer exists. (Does that sound familiar?) Thankfully, only a few times did it tread into Planet of the Apes/Battlefield Earth “We were on Earth ALL ALONG?!?” territory. What really drives the storyline are the characters.

Day is 15 years-old but a master criminal a la Robin Hood, stealing from the Republic and giving to the citizens of the poor sectors. June is a master tracker, a police officer in the style of Javert from Les Mis. Day is accused of killing June’s brother and she vows to track down the criminal…by the stars (I couldn’t resist a Les Mis reference).

Romantic tension and a jealous third character? Check.
A hero driven to save his/her sibling from the evil government? Check.
Fighting with wits instead of a big gun? Check.

I like how Lu worked in some of those standards for a dystopian YA novel. The guns are so advanced that they track which user is firing them. If a criminal is on the run, he doesn’t want a gun blaring his location to government computers. I do appreciate that Lu did her research when it comes to hacking the computers. She describes what privileges the user needs (instead of just having the character say, “I hacked into the computers”), but doesn’t go into detail with how to do it. This isn’t The Cuckoo’s Egg.

In a sea of current dystopia, Legend stands out. Gone is whiny angst, replaced by action stars that threaten the existence of the Republic and the Colonies. The pacing matches that of a Hunger Games, a decent balance between dialogue and jumping off of a building. There are decent plot twists and turns that go beyond “The evil government is evil.” The sectors seem real, like actual people live there, and definitely have the Les Mis vibe.

The book is already being adapted for the big screen and its producers are Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, the people who brought you a few movies about some book called Twilight.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that you’ll hear more about Legend as it gets bigger. It definitely has the makings for a series.

Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald

December 9th, 2011

This is a funny book for a librarian to carry around.

This is a funny book.

Charlie Joe Jackson has avoided reading a book for all of the years that he’s been in school. He has paid off his friend, Timmy, to read books for him: one ice cream sandwich per book. At the start of the story, Timmy raises his price until finally he refuses. Charlie must create an elaborate scheme in order to finish the final project of the year, a position paper where he must read a lot of books and write a big essay, and yet maintain his non-reading streak. His fans would expect nothing less.

The voice in this book is awesome. Charlie definitely sounds like a non-reader, which then helps non-readers read the book. Sometimes I have to sell a book’s concept to a student so that they’ll endure to the end because they trust that I know what I’m talking about. Charlie Joe Jackson speaks with authenticity that needs no help from me. Also a bonus are the short chapters, illustrations, and the 25 tips that give funny sidenotes to the story. My only nitpick is that sometimes the descriptions didn’t line up with the illustrations. No big deal, but I thought it was a little odd.

Librarians, read the book. It’s an easy recommendation to students that accomplishes what it set out to do – getting non-readers to read, despite Charlie Joe Jackson’s best efforts. This is not a sappy book, though. Greenwald pulls no punches in making fun of other books and airing complaints from reluctant readers.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

December 1st, 2011

I just finished The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s the story of Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick, two teens on a small Celtic island that is visited by man-eating horses every year.

Yeah, I said it: man-eating horses.

If you’ve heard of kelpies or water horses, you’ve heard of the capaill uisce. Every November, the small island of Thisby holds a race in honor of the water horses.

Yeah, a race course full of man-eating horses.

While this may not seem like the smartest idea, it’s all about tradition and connection with Thisby’s roots. There is a definite conflict between those who want to follow the old ways and those that want to get off of this crazy island.

Surprisingly enough, the protagonists want to preserve the old ways, which is cool. Normally YA heroes are rebellious, and there is a tinge of that. Puck is the first girl to race and there are a few scenes that deal with inequalities between men and women. Puck also has to figure out how to be a strong woman without becoming too much like the crass men of Thisby. Yet Puck doesn’t want her brother to move to the mainland and leave behind their history. Sean is the most capable jockey because he knows the traditions behind raising capaill uisce.

The actual race is only a small portion of the story, which I was a little disappointed in. It’s one big race, so I guess there are no quarterfinals, semifinals, and all that to progress through. The race is quick and that’s how it’s described in the book.

The pacing of the book is a little bit slower because you follow Puck and Sean around on a small island. They keep running into the same characters during the build-up and training before the race, but those characters are described very well. You can tell what motivates each of the island inhabitants.

While the pacing is a little slower, that does not mean that there aren’t enough suspenseful moments to break up the routine. One of my favorite scenes is Puck being caught outside at night by a capaill uisce and her trying to escape.

There is a romance that develops between Puck and Sean that is interesting because the first-person narrative switches back and forth. I’m glad that both characters are focused on more than just each other, an example other YA heroes could learn from, so getting inside their brains was not all obsessive inner monologues.

The rich mythology that Stiefvater has built up is what makes the story, even if she did pick and choose with the myths. Thisby seems so real. I also missed which time period the book takes place in, but small details like the types of radio programs people are listening to or the types of outfits helps place the setting.

It’s worth a read. I’ll booktalk it on Monday and see if junior highers are interested in horses that will eat your face off.

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

October 3rd, 2011

If I told you that a book about cancer patients was funny, you might call me disturbed, crass, or several versions of inappropriate. But After Ever After is funny despite the very serious subject.

This is a sorta sequel to Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. Jeffrey, the younger brother from the first book, is now the main character. He is in remission and has been labeled a cancer survivor. Even though he’s a survivor, cancer could still come back and that’s a fear Jeffrey and his family deal with each day. He makes friends in elementary school with a boy named Tad who also survived cancer. This is part of what sets After Ever After apart from other books that deal with cancer.

The two major players in the book deal with cancer through humor but have very different attitudes towards others. Tad is extremely defensive to the point of being downright mean to everyone in the school. Jeffrey is constantly coaching him on how to be nicer while Tad pushes Jeffrey to never give up.

Cancer is the big force of the book, yet standardized testing is the looming conflict. Jeffrey is doing better in Math, but his efforts could be meaningless if he doesn’t pass the state test and is held back. Methotrexate treatments have made it tough for Jeffrey to stay focused for extended periods of time. The fact that his girlfriend could go on to high school, and high school boys, without him adds to the distraction.

None of this sounds funny, right? What balances the book is a sarcastic narrator. Sonnenblick took a risk making his main character so flippant about life-threatening decisions. It reads as if Jeffrey has truly endured and learned what to take serious and what is out of his control.

Like how Okay for Now made me want to go back and read Wednesday Wars, After Ever After makes me want to read Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. This is a must-have addition to any library.

Here’s another reminder of HopeKids, an organization that helps families with life-threatening illnesses. Good friends of mine run one of the branches. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

September 12th, 2011

If you read my review of Matched, you’ll know that I’m starting to get worn out by my favorite genre. I love dystopian sci-fi, but, like eating Hot Pockets for a month, it starts to get old.

With that in mind, Divergent had to work really hard for me to get over preconceived notions. Yes, there were maniacal government workers. Yes, there was a secret the protagonist had to hide on penalty of death. Where Divergent exceeds, though, is in what Veronica Roth did not do.

Tris did not have to choose between her childhood friend and the wild, mysterious boy. The development between her and Four is paced really well. The other boy that tries to make advances is awkward and almost provides a little comic relief.

So yes, many of the plot elements have been done before, and done recently (I could have sworn I’ve seen that ending before), but it’s still a fun story. Dystopian sci-fi used to be my favorite genre, but now the plotlines are very, very similar. There were still parts that caught me off guard, which is why I can give it my recommendation. The Dauntless scenes were great and I loved what Roth had to say about life. It was every jumping off of a train or diving into a simulation that kept me going.