Prodigy (Legend, #2)

First Lines: Day jolts awake beside me.  His brow is covered with sweat, and his cheeks are wet with tears.  He’s breathing heavily.

This is a book I constantly see my students reading…but it’s been 3 years since I read Legend.  Oops?  Still, in order to connect with what my students like, I decided I had to get back into this series.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

It’s been seven days since June and Day barely managed to escape Los Angeles with their lives.  Day is still believed to have been executed and June is the most wanted traitor in the Republic.  Together, they are grieving the losses of their families.  Desperate, they turn to the Patriots for help.  But can they trust the Patriots or have they just become pawns in a new game?

Admittedly, I *may* have forgotten a few things about Legend before I picked this up, but I felt like I jumped back into the story quickly enough.

And boy, was it worth the wait.

This really did feel like a breath of fresh air in a dystopian genre that is so saturated that nothing feels new anymore.  But this, even though it had a number of things in common with other dystopian books, still felt new.  Like it added a different twist on the tropes and cliches.

I think part of it comes from the combined perspectives of June and Day.  June is like a young Sherlock Holmes.  She notices everything.  She questions things that don’t quite add up.  And I loved that about her.  Day is charismatic and dangerous.  Being from a lower class (while June is from an upper class) allows him to really see the truth behind things that June sometimes misses.  So the combination of the precise and meticulous June with the rebellious and eager Day really made the book.

There are some really cool twists in the story as well.  Some that I didn’t see coming.  And some of them were heartbreaking.  There was once I had to just pause in my reading and just stare at the page for a moment.

I think it’s safe to say I’m not going to be waiting 3 years to read the next book.

Ink (Paper Gods, #1)

First Lines: I made it halfway across the courtyard before I realized I was still wearing my school slippers.  No lie.

This was on my to-read list for a while, and I wanted to read it for its originality.  Set in Japan, I was so ready to learn more about the culture.  Because frankly, I know as much about Japanese culture as I do about flying a rocket ship.  I figured this would be a nice introduction to the culture in an interesting story.

A family tragedy forces Katie Greene to move halfway around the world to live with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan.  Alone and lost, Katie doesn’t understand the language, can’t use chopsticks, and can’t get a handle on taking her shoes off before entering buildings.  One day, Katie gains the attention of Tomohiro, the mysterious and aloof star of the school’s kendo team.  She’s fascinated by him…but too much digging gets Katie in trouble.  She notices his drawings moving, and there’s no denying the truth: Tomo has a connection to Japanese gods and something about Katie sends his powers spiraling out of control.  If anyone notices, they could become targets…

I will say that this was a nice introduction to Japanese culture and mythology.  And the language!  There’s actually a lot of the language in this book, so much of it that the glossary in the back is nearly 10 pages long.  (I wish I’d known this was there when I was actually reading the book!  It would’ve saved me some confusion.)

And the idea behind the plot was quite creative.  Drawings coming to life, Japanese gods.  I mean, this is basically the same thing I read about with Greek mythology.

But the story just didn’t quite work.  The characters killed the story for me.  Tomo is your typical mysterious/aloof/dangerous/secretive hero whose mood-swings are wild enough to make a PMS-ing Bridezilla jealous.  He’s more hot and cold than the guy in Katy Perry’s song.  It was actually really ridiculous.

And Katie wasn’t any better.  She was obsessive about Tomo.  Stalker obsessive.  Just days after meeting him, she is literally following him through the streets of Shizuoka.  Now, I don’t know much about Japanese culture, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t ok over there either.  It just kind of creeped me out.

I also felt that the plot line sometimes lost its thread, like the plot just disappeared to talk about something else for a chapter or so.  Which was strange and annoying.  Also, Katie should not have been the first one to realize there was something odd about Tomo.  I mean really.

Maybe some of this can be attributed to this being the author’s debut novel, but it just didn’t work for me.  I had such high hopes for it and it never came together right.

Rose Daughter

First Lines: Her earliest memory was of waking from the dream.  It was also her only clear memory of her mother.

Yes, this book is older.  Yes, it’s also a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which happens to be my favorite fairy tale in the history of ever.  So was I going to be able to pass it up?  …No, no I was not.  Like a dieter in a chocolate factory, I couldn’t help myself.

Beauty used to live a charmed life, daughter of a prominent businessman who two older sisters who loved her.  But things changed when her father lost everything and the family was forced to leave the only home they’d ever known.  Just as Beauty is making a new life for herself, she’s forced to save her father by living with a Beast in a palace.  This Beast has a request for Beauty: bring his dying roses back to life.  They are the heart of the palace.  The question isn’t whether Beauty can do it, but whether she’ll be able to leave after she does…

Happy sigh.  If there’s anyone who’s going to get a Beauty and the Beast retelling right, it’s Robin McKinley, who writes many fairytale retellings.  And this one was pretty stunning.

Having previously read McKinley’s Beauty, which is probably her most famous book and her first BatB retelling, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one.  A friend of mine had once told me that Beauty was better than Rose Daughter, and I had that mental image in my head as I went into this.

But truly, I think I liked this one better.  I liked Beauty, I liked her relationship with her family, and I liked the Beast.  It was a great, well-rounded retelling.

This is a pretty faithful tale to the original story.  Pretty girl, dad in distress, girl sacrifices herself, Beast keeps her prisoner…you get the idea.  There’s nothing really new with the plot.  Sure, there are some slight differences in how exactly the plot is pulled off, but it’s basically the tale as old as time.  Every now and then you just need a classic fairytale, you know?

Normally I’m not much of a fan of the backstory in BatB retellings.  I’d rather just skip right to the girl with the Beast.  But this time around, I was interested.  Beauty came from a close-knit family that struggled and overcame obstacles together.  And that alone was vastly different than like 80% of fairytales.

But, as usual, it’s Beauty’s time with the Beast that really won me over.  Sigh.  This was perfect.

I have noticed that as McKinley’s writing matures, she gets wordier.  Her descriptions of things get longer and more drawn-out.  I frequently found myself unconsciously skipping paragraphs to get past the details and back to the plot.  When I’d catch myself doing that, I’d have to go back and reread those sections because I usually missed some important detail.  It was frustrating for me, and I think it’s just something stylistic about McKinley’s writing that I’m just not fond of.  But I do like her storytelling, so I put up with it.

Overall, it’s a great fairytale retelling.  It’s got all the charm of a BatB story and it’s a must read for fans of the story.

Spotlight Friday (128)

Hey guys!  I’m officially on Spring Break (FINALLY!!) which means I’ll be doing a lot more posting in the next week or so!  I’ve already got a few reviews lined up to start coming out and I’m currently reading a few goodies.  🙂  We’re in for some fun!

Forged (Taken, #3) by Erin Bowman

Release Date: April 14, 2015

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Summary (from Goodreads):

Gray Weathersby and his group of rebels must make their final stand in the epic conclusion to the Taken trilogy, which New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu called “an action-packed thrill ride from beginning to end.”

The Order is building an unstoppable army, with every generation of Forgeries harder to detect and deadlier than the one before. It’s time for Gray and his fellow rebels to end the Order’s world of lies. But when the most familiar faces—and even the girl he loves—can’t be trusted, Gray will have to tread carefully if he wants to succeed. Or survive.

What’s To Like: I remember thinking the first book in this series just smoked its competition out of the water.  It was an original tale, one that had action and intrigue from beginning to end.  The second book I didn’t like as much.  It was still a good story, but not as good as the first.  So I’m curious to see how this rounds out the trilogy.  Is it going to be action packed and mysterious like the first?  Or is it going to be more psychological and dangerous like the second?  I guess we’ll see.

Play On by Michelle Smith

Release Date: April 14, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the small town of Lewis Creek, baseball is everything. Especially for all-star pitcher Austin Braxton, who has a one-way ticket out of town with his scholarship to a top university. All that stands between him and a new start is one final season. But when Austin starts flunking Chemistry, his picture-perfect future is in jeopardy. A failing grade means zero playing time, and zero playing time means no scholarship.

Enter Marisa Marlowe, the new girl in town who gets a job at his momma’s flower shop. Not only is Marisa some home-schooled super-genius; she’s also a baseball fanatic and more than willing to help Austin study. As the two grow closer, there’s something about Marisa that makes Austin want more than just baseball and out of Lewis Creek — he wants a future with her. But Marisa has a past that still haunts her, one that she ran all the way to South Carolina to escape.

As Austin starts to peel back the layers of Marisa’s pain, it forces him to look beyond the façade of himself and everyone he thought he knew in his town. What he sees instead is that in a small town like Lewis Creek, maybe baseball isn’t everything—maybe it is just the thing that ties them all together.

What’s To Like: I grew up in a sporty family, and I played softball for 12 years myself.  So I love when books cover sports like baseball or football (which are really the only two sports that I feel I completely understand backwards and forwards).  I’m really excited because this sounds like not just a sports story, but a love story.  A story about real people in a real small town that may be hiding a few secrets.  I love this concept.  I’m so excited to try it out!

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke (Prisoner of Night and Fog, #2) by Anne Blankman

Release Date: April 21, 2015

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Summary (from Goodreads):

The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives with a kindly English family, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel Cohen, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.

But then, Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside-down. And when she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she’d escaped-and return to her homeland.

Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture and recognition, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel’s name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time-or will Hitler discover them first?

What’s To Like: Even now, I can’t escape the Holocaust books!  But that’s ok because I love them.  And this series in particular is super interesting.  Gretchen used to be a girl who saw Hitler as a kindly uncle figure until she fell in love with a Jew.  It’s so fascinating because this series focuses more on the German side of the story, but also on the German history that goes largely ignored in the face of their atrocities.  Like the Beer Hall Pusch, which helped make Hitler famous and featured heavily in the previous book.  My history nerd side is showing…

Popularity Isn’t Everything

Personal Post Thursday!  I actually got off to a start with this in school, where I allowed my students to ask me any question they wanted to, as long as it was school appropriate.  (I got the typical “what’s your favorite movie/book?” but I also got the creative “If you were a hotdog, what condiment would you want on you?” and the ever-more pressing “If you spilled wine on the floor, would you clean it up with Oxiclean or a Sham-Wow?”)

But one of the questions that came up ended up being more eye-opening for me than it was for the kids.

“Were you popular in school?”

I can answer this in one swift statement: I was once nicknamed the “Walking Encyclopedia”.

In other words, no, I was not popular in school.  I think it would’ve taken an act of God to make me popular in school.  I was physically incapable of separating myself from my books and morally opposed to trashing my values to be popular.  I was pretty straight-laced in school, a result of having perfectionist tendencies and being raised Catholic.  And I was so outspoken about my intelligence (or what I thought was intelligence) that I actually intimidated people.  I’ve had guys break up with me because I’m “too smart.”  (Speaking of, that is always a reflection on them, never on you.)

It wasn’t that people didn’t like me.  They did.  (Or, at least, I think they did.)  I had friends.  I was involved in different clubs and activities.  I just wasn’t the kind of person that anyone ever actually noticed or remembered.

True story.  Yesterday, I bumped into a high school classmate at Walmart and after the Hi, how are you‘s, she proceeded to ask if I moved away after 8th grade.  …I went to high school with her for 4 years (with a class size of roughly 190).  Needless to say, she was a little embarrassed not to remember that.  But that’s just how it was for me.

It wasn’t like I didn’t try to be popular; I think I’m hardwired against it.  I spent my entire junior year trying to ingratiate myself with the more popular kids.  I sat at their lunch table, I went to a couple of holiday parties with them, and I went to prom with them.

And I hated it.

It didn’t feel like me.  I was miserable.  I wasn’t enjoying myself at all and I knew that the second I walked away, those kids would forget all about me.  They weren’t my friends.

The next year, I embraced myself more and found really close friends with a group of band geeks who could always make me laugh.  They may not have been popular, but it was worth it to find people I could really call my friends.

So it was really funny when my students asked me if I was popular in school.  I laughed and replied, “No.  Not even close.  I was once nicknamed the Walking Encyclopedia because I knew a little about a lot of topics.”

Their responses startled me.

Two of the most popular girls in that class looked at me and said, “Do you know what I would give to be smart like that?”

I blinked at them.  These were two girls I would’ve watched in school, trying to get them to notice me.  And in a weird twist, I find out that the popular kids want to be smart like the scrawny, nerdy girl I was in school?

I started reevaluating the kids I knew in school.  Was it possible that some of them avoided me because they were possibly jealous of how smart I was?  Was it possible that some of those kids I looked up to looked up to me too?

It’s too hard to picture.  I’ve cemented the picture of my high school experiences in my head, and I’m having trouble trying to see them from a new light.  But it did, at least, let me look at my students in a new light.  Just because someone’s popular doesn’t mean they have everything.

So just be yourself!  Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

Peace!

Holly

Captive (The Blackcoat Rebellion, #2)

First Lines: Somewhere nearby, Benjy was waiting for me.

I grabbed this off of the library shelf because I wanted to keep up on this story.  I wasn’t really looking for a dystopian, but something with a bit of a mind game?  Yeah, I could go for that.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

For two months, Kitty Doe has been living a lie.  She’s been forced to impersonate the Prime Minister’s niece, Lila Hart.  But in the middle of trying to learn more about her own past, Kitty is accused of treason and is forced to go to Elsewhere, her greatest fear.  It’s a prison with no escape.  As one shock leads to the next, Kitty learns she can trust no one.  Kitty wants to believe she’s willing to give everything for the rebellion she believes in, but is she really willing to pay the ultimate price?

The first note worthy of noting is that it didn’t take much to jump back into this storyline.  I had notes from the previous book and I remembered some things, but it really wasn’t hard to remember what was going on and get caught up again.  So that was good.

I thought it was interesting that Kitty is starting to feel like she’s losing herself in Lila.  She’s been Lila for months and it’s so hard for her to remember who she was as Kitty.  Thematically, I thought it was cool that she struggled so much with identity.

There were still a lot of cool twists in this story.  It is still a mind game, but I started seeing them.  It wasn’t as surprising this time around.  I knew to expect the big surprises, the big reveals this time around.  I didn’t know that last time, so it was cool.  This time…well, it was still cool but not as shocking.

I liked Kitty.  Or, well, I guess I should say I respected her for her bravery and courage.  Sometimes I didn’t quite agree with her decisions, but I respected her.  I didn’t really feel that any other characters had that big of a role this time around.

I was intrigued by this being set in Elsewhere.  It was an nice change of scenery and a new way to view their society.  It added depth to Kitty’s world.

It was a good book.  I was into it, but I wished it had been a little more surprising or had more familiar characters in it.

The Book Thief

First Lines: First the colors.  Then the humans.  That’s how I usually see things.  Or at least, how I try.

I was actually shocked to find the other day that I had never reviewed this book!  I was reading it for the third time (since some of my students are reading this in the Holocaust unit) and I was browsing my reviews, only to find this one wasn’t there!

In 1939 Nazi Germany, Death has never been busier.  Yet one day, a little girl at her brother’s graveside catches his attention.  The girl, Liesel, picks up something from the ground.  It’s a book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and it’s her first act of thievery.  With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and begins to steal books whenever she gets the chance.  But Nazi Germany is a dangerous place to break the rules.  When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world opens and closes at the same time.

I think this will be partly obvious because I’ve read this book three times, but I love it.  I will certainly admit that it starts off quite slow.  I saw that myself again with this reread and through my students, who keep asking when it’s going to pick up.  (I also get other awesome questions like, “Are you sure Rosa likes Hans?  Why haven’t they gotten divorced yet?”)  But I promise if you can get past the slower stuff in the beginning, it gets so much better.  I cry every time I read this.

This is also the first time I’ve read the book since the movie came out, so it was interesting to see it in context of that.  I think the movie really helped me understand the characters as I reread the book.  Rosa, or “Mama”, is a vastly more interesting character when you can understand her motivations, and the movie totally helped me see that better.  I found with this reread that I liked her infinitely more than I used to.

But even though I appreciated Mama more, it’s Papa who steals my heart every time.  Well, Max too, but I don’t want to say too much about him for spoiler reasons!  Papa is that kind-hearted, understanding, and patient parental figure that I know I used to picture as a kid when my parents were too busy to pay attention to me.  Papa is just who Liesel needed to help her grow.

And, of course, I love Liesel and Rudy too.  Rudy is an exuberant, lively boy who is obsessed with Jesse Owens.  He’s a charmer, and I find that adorable.  Liesel is a lot like all readers: fascinated by words and the power they wield.  I think avid readers, or at least readers who acknowledge themselves as readers, understand this.  Her fascination with words brings a different spin to the story, especially when you factor in how dangerous words could be in Nazi Germany.

The plot is more of that of a life narrative rather than a clear-cut suspense story or anything.  With Death as the narrator, he sees things differently and constantly bounces around.  He even spoils the ending a few times, intentionally.  He says he doesn’t see the point of suspense.  But even though you might know the ending ahead of time, it still gets me every time.

I’m not kidding.  Every reread, every time I rewatch the movie, I turn into a mess.  So if you’re someone who is sensitive or cries easily, you might want to keep the tissues close on this one.

*happy sigh*  I love this story.