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Unstoppable: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Hello!

Is there an author who, in your opinion, can do no wrong? That author whose books you always enjoy. Ally Carter is this author for me. Everything she writes is awesome — her Gallagher Girls series is one of my favorites and Heist Society is really fun too. I was really excited to hear about Embassy Row, her newest series, and had high expectations, so I read All Fall Down, the first book in the Embassy Row series and as I mentioned before Ally Carter didn’t let me down! She is unstoppable!

Overview

Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:All Fall Down by Ally Carter

1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her–so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door who is keeping an eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands. Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace–no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . .  and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world all stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

My Thoughts

I had high expectations for All Fall Down, I was also nervous that I’d be disappointed because it wasn’t a Gallagher Girls novel, which are still some of my favorite books ever. As I started listening to the audiobook I was quickly rewarded with an interesting main character, and a plot full of family secrets and political intrigue, which is exactly what I was hoping for!

That interesting main character is Grace, who is carrying some deep wounds and insecurity. Grace knows her mother is dead, feels alone within her own family and is struggling to feel normal. On top of all that she is dealing with the fact that she is alone in her belief that her mother was murdered. Grace is definitely flawed – she makes some majorly questionable choices and hurts a lot of people while trying to prove she is capable and normal. Isn’t that what makes her interesting though?

One of my favorite things about Ally Carter’s novels is that they’re set in a contemporary time, but are located in a special place that makes the story feel more fantastical.Take the Gallagher Girls series, for example, which is set in today’s United States but takes place in a secret boarding school to train young spies (super cool right?). All Fall Down is similar in that the story happens in today’s world, but it is set in a fictional European country and even more specifically in the very unique setting of the Embassy houses. Because the story takes place in the embassies of many different countries, Grace’s story is placed in the middle of political intrigue and high society events, which makes it that much more captivating! I mean seriously mystery abounds…there are secret underground tunnels! For realz!

I am so relieved and happy that All Fall Down turned out to be a great start to what seems like a fun series! Ally Carter…she will not let you down! Book two, See How They Run, is set to release in January 2016 and I’m so excited I can’t wait!!excited

Have you read All Fall Down —What’d you think? Who, in your opinion, is that unstoppable author that can do no wrong? Please leave your comments below, I love reading them!

Details

Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Scholastic Press (January 20, 2015)
Format: Audiobook
Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
Length: 8 hours and 32 minutes
Series: First in a series
YA/MG: YA

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Satisfyingly Fun: Sisters’ Fate by Jessica Spotswood

Hiya!

Moving Sale

Our first yard/moving sale earlier this month.

So, things are getting pretty chaotic around my house! We make our big trans-Atlantic move in less than three weeks and the house is a mess of boxes, not to mention all the stuff we’re selling! Selling most of your things is strange in two ways. First getting rid of it all has mad me understand that yes, it is all just stuff that can be replaced. However, I have also seen myself go all “Gollum” about certain objects! For example, I have these two naked New Kids on the Block dolls (Joe and Donnie for those of you interested) from childhood and Husband gently tried to get me to throw them away. I responded in a very “precious my precious” kind of way and now, needless to say, they are safely inside a box that has been taped up and is going on our shipping pallet.

Somewhere in the midst of all the chaos and NKOTB doll hoarding, however, I managed to find time to read the concluding book in The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Sisters’ Fate! I had been looking forward to this final installment in the series for so long and I’m glad it was able to be my relaxing read in the midst of the transition and change!

Sisters' Fate by Jessica SpotswoodOverview

A fever ravages New London, but with the Brotherhood sending suspected witches straight to the gallows, the Sisters are powerless against the disease. They can’t help without revealing their powers—as Cate learns when a potent display of magic turns her into the most wanted witch in all of New England.

To make matters worse, Cate has been erased from the memory of her beloved Finn. While she’s torn between protecting him from further attacks and encouraging him to fall for her all over again, she’s certain she can never forgive Maura’s betrayal. And now that Tess’s visions have taken a deadly turn, the prophecy that one Cahill sister will murder another looms ever closer to its fulfillment.

My Thoughts

I am not specifically drawn to witches when reading but definitely to any storyline where characters have special magical abilities. I can’t help it! I just am a little obsessed with fantasy! Spotswood’s alternate history series mixed with fantasy is one of my favorite because its just a fun read and a good conclusion to the series. Honestly, sometimes I am let down by the concluding book in a series (ahem… we shall not name some of those infamous let downs here), but none of that happened with Sisters’ Fate. This installment picks right up where book two left off—I would have freaked if it hadn’t—which means that there is pretty much a ton of things happening at all times! We have secret meetings, memory erasing, romance, fighting, angry mobs, prison breaks, fires, pestilence…and did I mention romance?! *winky winky*

Interestingly enough Sisters’ Fate doesn’t read like your average final installment. There wasn’t this sense of things being closed down throughout like in most final books in a series. In fact I found myself wondering just how Spotswood would end everything because there was so much going on! I even checked Goodreads to double check that it was, in fact, the last book. This a unique quality for the end of a series because it shows that Spotswood didn’t check out of the storyline early — she instead continued to bring the same action that we found in the first two books and doesn’t begin tying things up until the last quarter of the story. In the end, some relationships were healed and some weren’t. Some loose ends were tied and some were not and I enjoyed that it wasn’t all tied up in a pretty package!

To be fair however, sometimes I did get annoyed with the back and forth bickering between Maura and Cate…and even sometimes Tess. Maybe this is normal for sisters? I don’t know because I don’t have any. It did seem as though a spat between Cate and Maura punctuated every cool action the storyline had for us and at times I felt like some of the arguing could have been reduced, but it does all play a roll wrapping the story up so I guess I really shouldn’t complain. Either way, the sisterly arguments, while maybe annoying at times, didn’t seriously interfere with my enjoyment of seeing the Cahill sisters’ stories come to conclusion.

Don’t read Sisters’ Fate unless you have read the first two books in the Cahill Witch Chronicles, or else you’ll be utterly and totally confused. But, if you did read and enjoy Born Wicked and Star Cursed than I definitely think you’ll find this to be a satisfying end to a fun trilogy!

Want to win this book? Check back tomorrow morning for my interview with author Jessica Spotswood and a giveaway of Sisters’ Fate!

Details

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Publisher:G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (August 14, 2014)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 368 pages

Series: Third/Final book in The Cahill Witch Chronicles

YA/MG: YA/MG

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Not What I Expected: The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford

Hey there!

For my birthday in 2013 my husband sent me to YALL Fest in Charleston with a bunch of money to buy books. And boy did I buy books! The only problem is that I bought so many books it has taken forever to get to them all, which is why I just recently read The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford!

Overview

Laura Reid goes to Leningrad for a semester abroad as Cold War paranoia is peaking in 1982. She meets a young Russian artist named Alexei and soon, with Alexei as her guide, Laura immerses herself in the real The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie StandifordRussia–a crazy world of wild parties, black-market books and music, and smuggled letters to dissidents. She must keep the relationship secret; associating with Americans is dangerous for Alexei, and if caught, Laura could be sent home and Alexei put under surveillance or worse. At the same time, she’s been warned that Soviets often latch onto Americans in hopes of marrying them and thus escaping to the United States. But she knows Alexei loves her. Right?

As June approaches–when Laura must return to the United States–Alexei asks Laura to marry him. She’s only nineteen and doesn’t think she’s ready to settle down. But what if Alexei is the love of her life? How can she leave him behind? If she has a chance to change his life, to rescue him from misery, shouldn’t she take it?

My Thoughts

Okay, so I apparently did not read the summary of this one at all before buying it! A few pages into reading The Boy on the Bridge, I posted about it on Instagram and a friend asked me what it was about. My response was “I’m only 5 pages in but it takes place in Cold War era Soviet Union. I think there will be spies!” This is hilarious to me now that I’ve read it. There are no spies! I just assumed that there would be since it was set during the Cold War. haha OOPS!!

All, that to say this book was not what I expected, but that doesn’t mean it was bad! This book is historical fiction, but it’s too contemporary to be my usual type of historical fiction. I honestly didn’t know a single thing about what life was like in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but Standiford’s writing drew me in so quickly and it was really eye-opening to learn more about the time period. I had no idea that average Soviet citizens were under strict food rationing while any visiting foreigners shopped at stores that sold the best of the best. Laura’s experience with her friend Alexei allows the reader to discover this divide in lifestyle alongside the Laura

Although, this is historical fiction, it is also a romance through and through! The way Laura meets Alexei is the perfect meet-cute when he saves her from being taken advantage of by a gypsy woman on a bridge. They quickly become language conversation partners before they blossom into full on romance and the best thing about this romance is that it is realistic. Standiford succeeds at making the reader feel the obsessiveness and all consuming nature that often characterizes first love.

In the end, The Boy on the Bridge was not what I originally expected, but I enjoyed it anyway! Romance lovers high school age and older will most likely enjoy this book the most so if that’s you go ahead and get your hands on this one!

Details

Author: Natalie Standiford
Publisher: Scholastic Press (July 1, 2013)
Format: Print (hardcover)
Length: 256 pages
Series: Standalone
YA/MG: YA/NA (New Adult)

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Positive Feelings: Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios

Hi!

A little while back Harper Childrens’ Audio was kind enough to send me a review copy of Heather Demetrios’ first book in the new Dark Caravan series, Exquisite Captive. This book was inspired by Arabian Nights, which is not a story you see popping up in YA fiction that often, so I was pretty interested from the beginning.

Overview

Exquisite Captive by Heather DemetriosNalia is a jinni of tremendous ancient power, the only survivor of a coup that killed nearly everyone she loved. Stuffed into a bottle and sold by a slave trader, she’s now in hiding on the dark caravan, the lucrative jinni slave trade between Arjinna and Earth, where jinn are forced to grant wishes and obey their human masters’ every command. She’d give almost anything to be free of the golden shackles that bind her to Malek, her handsome, cruel master, and his lavish Hollywood lifestyle.

Enter Raif, the enigmatic leader of Arjinna’s revolution and Nalia’s sworn enemy. He promises to free Nalia from her master so that she can return to her ravaged homeland and free her imprisoned brother—all for an unbearably high price. Nalia’s not sure she can trust him, but Raif’s her only hope of escape. With her enemies on the hunt, Earth has become more perilous than ever for Nalia. There’s just one catch: for Raif’s unbinding magic to work, Nalia must gain possession of her bottle…and convince the dangerously persuasive Malek that she truly loves him. Battling a dark past and harboring a terrible secret, Nalia soon realizes her freedom may come at a price too terrible to pay: but how far is she willing to go for it?

My Thoughts

Overall, I have positive feelings toward Exquisite Captive. The story, although feeling similar to some other stories I’ve read recently, was for the most part unique. The idea of a genie being enslaved to its wish maker (master) is one I had never really given much thought to, usually assuming the genie doesn’t mind granting wishes. But duh! Of course the genie would hate being entrapped by someone else even if that someone else treats you like a princess giving you all the material things you’d want.

Nalia’s backstory, which unfolds as the story progresses, also opens up the door to a world entirely separate from our own. Most of Exquisite Captive takes place in our contemporary world, but with Nalia’s back story we learn more about the Dark Caravan and the home she has left behind. I’m excited at the prospect of exploring the world of Arjinna as the series continues as well.

One thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the love triangle between Nalia, Malek, and Raif. I have to admit we’re not given much to ship in this love triangle. Malek, Nalia’s sometimes kind, sometimes cruel master is incredibly confusing in his behavior and treatment of Nalia, while Raif is pretty boring. This causes me to feel conflicted over who I should be cheering on! Malek is a mean, although good-looking, slave owner and Raif is a boring, also good-looking, jinni rebel. Honestly I think I’m leaning towards Malek – at least he’s interesting!

Conflicting love triangle aside, I do have mostly positive feelings toward Exquisite Captive. The story is interesting and unique and I will mostly likely pick up book two, Blood Passage, when it releases later this year. In the end I believe that Exquisite Captive would be best enjoyed by paranormal romance fans (it feels more like paranormal romance than fantasy) would enjoy this read!

Details

Author: Heather Demetrios
Publisher: Balzer+Bray (October 7, 2014)
Format: Audiobook
Length: 13 hours and 44 minutes
Series: First in a series
YA/MG: YA

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An Art History Mystery! Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Hiya!

It was recently announced that Under the Egg, a debut by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, is on the 2015-16 South Carolina Junior Award Book list! I read it this past fall and I  can tell you that this art history mystery definitely deserves the recognition!

Overview

When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgeralddiscovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

My Thoughts

Two topics of history that my students are always interested in are World War II and the Holocaust. Under the Egg is a middle grades mystery with quirky characters that includes a little bit of WWII, Holocaust, and art history tidbits in it. These history tidbits are definitely an intriguing side story to the WWII narrative, one that might not be known to many middle grade readers.

One thing that makes Under the Egg such a fun book is the quirky characters and friendships formed between them. Theo, our main character, is not your average thirteen year old – she has been raised mostly by her grandfather, who has recently died, has a mother who requires more care than Theo can give, and because of her family’s financial situation worries about how to make ends meet and wears the strangest clothes. Theo doesn’t realize that she’s lonely until she meets Bodhi, the daughter of two movie stars who lives in the neighborhood, who is also quirky and also lonely. The friendship that unfolds between Bodhi and Theo while they attempt to solve the mystery of the painting is one of the things that makes this book so special because neither girl realized just how much they needed companionship. The supporting cast of characters are also eccentric and each (An Episcopalian priest, the local diner owner and a helpful librarian) play an important role in uncovering the truth behind Theo’s painting. Characters like these are just plain fun to read!

Overall Under the Egg is a really quick read. I finished it in less than a day because I was so fascinated by the painting’s puzzle. Middle grade readers who are interested in World War II history or those who are just looking for a quality mystery with a witty, smart, and resourceful heroine will most definitely enjoy this one. Also if fans of other art related mysteries like Shakespeare’s Secret, Masterpiece, and Chasing Vermeer will find Under the Egg just as entertaining!

Details

Author: Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Publisher: Dial Books (March 18, 2014)
Format: Hardcover
Length: 247 pages
Series: Standalone
YA/MG: MG

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Epic Fantasy: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Hi there!

In preparation for little Colin’s entrance into the world I scheduled a few blog posts ahead of time. Today we’ll be taking a look at my thoughts on Morgan Rhodes’ Falling Kingdoms.

Overview

In the three kingdoms of Mytica, magic has long been forgotten. And while hard-won peace has reignedFalling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes for centuries, a deadly unrest now simmers below the surface. As the rulers of each kingdom grapple for power, the lives of their subjects are brutally transformed… and four key players, royals and rebels alike, find their fates forever intertwined. Cleo, Jonas, Lucia, and Magnus are caught in a dizzying world of treacherous betrayals, shocking murders, secret alliances, and even unforeseen love. The only outcome that’s certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?

Princess: Raised in pampered luxury, Cleo must now embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of magic long thought extinct. Rebel: Jonas, enraged at injustice, lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country cruelly impoverished. To his shock, he finds himself the leader of a people’s revolution centuries in the making. Sorceress: Lucia, adopted at birth into the royal family, discovers the truth about her past—and the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield. Heir: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, firstborn son Magnus begins to realize that the heart can be more lethal than the sword.

It’s the eve of war…. Choose your side.

My Thoughts

I feel like Morgan Rhodes wrote this book (and series) for me. But then again, I feel like most fantasy novels were written for me because I can almost always get completely lost in this genre! Falling Kingdoms has all the characteristics I love in a quality fantasy novel. There is secret magic waiting to be reawakened, political intrigue and murder, action, power struggles, romance, and a cast of intriguing characters. There is no doubt that this series is an epic YA fantasy!

With all of those things happening in one story at once, Falling Kingdoms could have been bulky with too many plot layers, especially when shifting between four main characters in a fantasy world as deeply created as Mytica is . However, I feel like Rhodes has really done a fabulous job with keeping the story accessible and just layered enough to be interesting and exciting without being overwhelming and confusing.

Often times when a book shifts between the different characters in each chapter, I can get confused as to who’s perspective I’m reading or I get bored and want to skip ahead to the more interesting characters. Not so with this book! Each character (Jonas, Cleo, Magnus and Lucia) is fascinating in their own way (although I do have my favorites) and their individual chapters all fit into the story in such a way that makes you feel like you can’t miss anything anyone says or does!

If you’re a fan of high fantasy then you should definitely pick up Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes (and the sequels) because I swear it’s so engrossing you won’t want to put it down!

Details

Author: Morgan Rhodes
Publisher: Razorbill (December 11, 2012)
Format: Audiobook (Penguin Audio)
Length: 11 hours and 35 minutes
Series: First in the Falling Kingdom series
YA/MG: YA

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Immense Like: A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Hello!

I just recently taught a lesson in my library to a digital arts class about book cover design. One of the things we discussed was the things that draw us individually to book covers and I shared with them about my love for covers with pretty gowns on the front.  It’s a sign of how girly I really am! I am almost always drawn to a cover that has a gorgeous dress on the cover whether it be fantasy, historical fiction, or another genre.

Knowing this, it’s no surprise why I first picked up A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller.

Overview

Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Walleroverwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

My Thoughts

Historical fiction is a genre that I usually always enjoy, being the history nerd that I am and I was pretty much immediately a fan of A Mad, Wicked Folly when I began listening to the audiobook. The story introduces us to Vicky, a student in Paris taking secret art classes to further her love for drawing. Vicky makes a choice regarding her art which immediately sends her back to her enraged parents in England who swiftly engage her to a wealthy man still willing to have her. In the meantime we see the political atmosphere in England, specifically London getting more and more tense as the Women’s Suffrage Movement is gaining speed. What I love about this book is that you see Vicky’s small-scale revolution in her own private life set up against the backdrop of a much larger, although similar, social revolution.

As a main character Vicky is believable, if not naive. Throughout the whole book Vicky is struggling. She wants to please herself and pursue her own interests and talents, but is stuck in the mire of society’s constraints. Her actions are often incredibly naive, but who can really blame her when all she knows is the way in which is brought up which was in a world of black and whites. As Vicky begins to mature she starts to see that the world is full of grays as well and that decisions and right versus wrong is not always so cut-and-dry. I liked her immensely!

What I also liked immensely is the romance! Ohhhh the romance! There is a small love triangle in A Mad, Wicked Folly and it is pretty common with its rich guy versus poor guy theme, but that doesn’t alter how enjoyable it is. This romance was one of the sweetest I’d read in a while and was one of the best things about this book!

I also have to say that I learned so much from this book! After finishing it, I immediately went online to find more information regarding the Suffragist Movement in the United Kingdom! There were parts of the suffragette experience examined in this story that sickened and shocked me and I had to figure out what was fiction and what was fact. In my mind, if you’re lead to research more about a specific topic after finishing historical fiction, the author has done his/her job! Tidbit: the title of the book was inspired by a quote from Queen Victoria calling politicians to speak out against Woman’s Suffrage…interesting!

See?! There is more to A Mad, Wicked Folly book than a pretty gown on the cover! There is have romance, suffragettes, Victorian England, art, and self discovery! Due to the detailed and pretty disturbing accounts of specific suffragette experiences, I (highly) recommend this one to fans of YA historical fiction who are 8th grade and older. I just liked this whole book immensely!

Details

Author: Sharon Biggs Waller

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (January 23, 2014)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library Audio)

Length: 11 hours and 13 minutes

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: YA

 

 

 

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More Than Zombies: Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi

Hi friends!

Welcome back! So, this past year I was on a committee to chose the titles that would go on the state middle grades award list and I read Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi while on this committee. So let’s talk about what I read!

Overview

The apocalypse begins on the day Rabi, Miguel and Joe are Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Pacigalupipracticing baseball near their town’s local meatpacking plant and nearly get knocked out by a really big stink. Little do they know the plant’s toxic cattle feed is turning cows into flesh-craving monsters…ZOMBIES!!! The boys decide to launch a stealth investigation into the plant’s dangerous practices, unknowingly discovering a greedy corporation’s plot to look the other way as tainted meat is sold to thousands all over the country. With no grownups left they can trust, Rabi and his friends will have to grab their bats to protect themselves (and a few of their enemies) if they want to stay alive…and maybe even save the world.

My Thoughts

First of all, isn’t this cover completely perfect for middle school? I know what when my boy students see it, they’re going to eat it up! But let’s not let the lighthearted (and hilarious) cover fool us, because while Zombie Baseball Beatdown is full of baseball, zombies and boys being boys, the author has also packed in a conscious and some social issues he’d like us to consider.

One thing I liked about this book right off the bat was the diversity among the characters. Ravi, our main character is Indian American, his friend Miguel is Latino American and his friend Joe is just American.  I’m a huge proponent of the We Need Diverse Books movement and it was refreshing to see these three very different boys and each of their different experiences with life in small town USA and how they relate to one another. I think my students will notice too (they’re always watching even when we think they’re not).

Although the plot line is full of boys being boys, chasing and killing zombies the author manages to pack in a social awareness into the story, which although I think a good thing, was a little heavy handed at times. Ravi and his friends are not just dealing with bullies, rude baseball coaches, and zombies, but they’re also facing racism, immigration issues, ethics in the meat packing industry. While each of these topics relate strongly to the story line, I wish Bacigalupi had been a little more creative in bringing them up. I did find myself rolling my eyes at times because these ethical plot points were pretty thinly veiled and I’d argue that his own opinion comes through strongly rather than letting the reader make their own decisions on things. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he adds these themes to the story, I just think it could have been done in a less “preachy” way at times.

All that said regarding the socially conscious themes, I enjoyed Zombie Baseball Beatdown (although it’s not the type of book I’d normally choose for myself), and I feel strongly that my middle school students, mostly the boys, will enjoy this very different zombie/sci-fi read. I’m excited that many of them will see themselves in these diverse characters.

 

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Completely Captivating: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Welcome Back!Twizzler Bites

I’m sitting here at my dining room table munching on Twizzler Bites (YUM) and enjoying the pretty sunlight coming in through the window while I work on this post. South Carolina winters are strange. One morning it’ll be a frigid 23F and five hours later it’ll be a comfortable 64F. I have the front door open (with the doggy gate up of course) and Miles the Pup is lounging on the rug. I’m pretty pleased with today overall!

Overview

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

I adore this cover…le sigh…

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

My Thoughts

A new fantasy series?! Yes please! I tried to get my hands on The Winner’s Curse all summer and fall but the waiting list at my local library was seriously a mile long! Finally it popped up on Overdrive, so I was able to listen to the audiobook. Although this book is classified as fantasy, I’d say it has more of a political intrigue plot with some fantasy elements woven throughout. Whatever it is, The Winner’s Curse is completely captivating and I couldn’t help but lose myself in the setting, characters, and story!

The world Kestrel lives in is well thought out and seems to resemble the Roman Empire in a lot of ways. Kestrel is member of the ruling Valorians and her people are the ruthless conquerors who have enslaved the Herrani people and treat them as cattle sold at auction. Despite the similarities to the Roman Empire, however, Kestrel’s world has its own qualities that give it a unique presence on the page, not to mention the political intrigue that begins to unwind! It is a well set up world that I am excited to visit more in the following books!

The romance between Kestrel and Arin, her newly acquired slave is subtle at first. It is slow to build as every interaction between the two in wrought with cords of romantic and emotional tensions. I didn’t feel rushed with this forbidden romance like one sometimes does in popular YA fiction, but every scene did leave me wanting more.

Recommended For

Because The Winner’s Curse is a slower paced read, with not a lot of action until the later half, I’d recommend it for older middle school readers and above, especially those who love a good romantic fantasy. I question whether  younger readers would have the patience to appreciate the slowly growing heat that is The Winner’s Curse. If you are one who can appreciate the gradual building of a good story, however, then you’ll enjoy this one like I did!

Details

Author: Marie Rutkoski
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (March 4, 2014)
Format: Audiobook
Length: 8 hours and 24 minutes
Narrator: Justine Eyre (one of my faves!)
Series: First in a trilogy
YA/MG: Both

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It Stands Out: Gated by Amy Christine Parker

Hiya!

I hope your week is going well bookish friends! Today we’re going to talk about Gated by Amy Christine Parker, a book I read back in September. I’m doing a little bit of catch up (not with all of the books I’ve read, but a few that stand out to me).

Overview

In the Community, life seems perfect. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pioneer invited Lyla’s family to join Gated by Amy Christine Parkerhis group and escape the evil in the world. They were happy to be chosen, happy to move away from New York and start over in such an idyllic gated community. Now seventeen, Lyla knows that Pioneer is more than just their charismatic leader, he is their prophet . . . but his visions have grown dark.
Lyla is a loyal member of the Community, but a chance encounter with an outsider boy has her questioning Pioneer, the Community—everything. And if there’s one thing not allowed in the Community, it’s doubt. Her family and friends are certain in their belief. Lyla wishes she could feel the same. As Pioneer begins to manipulate his flock toward disaster, the question remains: Will Lyla follow them over the edge? From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand why anyone would join a cult. But Gated tells the story of the Community from the inside looking out, and from behind the gates things are not quite so simple.

My Thoughts

Let’s be honest here. What other dystopian novel out there today deals with the idea of religious cults? Not too many! Gated, although not most well written book out there is pretty unique and stands out amid the multitude of YA dystopian titles out there.

As I said, the writing had flaws. Lyla, our main character, was a little confusing at times. We see her struggling with and questioning the world she knows but don’t really understand why she is different from her friends in this. Our villain is pretty obvious from the beginning, so no real surprises there, although I am interested in knowing more about this character and the motivation behind it all. There is some major instalove and the plot doesn’t stray much from what we assume will happen.

Despite all of this I was riveted to Gated – completely unable to put it down! Most popular dystopian fiction worlds are very different to what we know in our real world today, but Parker places her story in the decade following 9/11 allowing us to imagine this sub culture within our contemporary world. Plus, cults and why people join/stay in them are inherently fascinating topics! Overall, the story moves quickly forcing you to keep reading “just one more chapter!”, and I’m pretty sure I read it in about two days.

Recommended For

Despite its flaws, those interested in a unique take to the dystopian fiction genre will enjoy Gated. I believe that it works for a wide range of readers because of its distinct plot, fast pace, and psychological thriller ambiance (so go ahead middle grades, high school and older readers!).

Details

Author: Amy Christine Parker
Publisher: Random House Book for Young Readers (August 6, 2013)
Format: Hardcover
Length: 352 pages
Series: First in a series
YA/MG: Both