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When Will I Learn? Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Hello!

Okay, so I’ve been trying to figure out why I haven’t been reviewing books recently. and I came to the conclusion that I was feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the amount of books I had read and not yet written reviews for, but also by the time it takes to write a review.

I decided to try something new. Over the next few weeks you may see reviews pop up with different formats and lengths. I’m trying to figure out what is sustainable for me. I’ve also decided to forget about all of those unwritten book reviews piling up and start fresh. So bear with me!

Leviathan by Scott WesterfeldOverview

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men. Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered. With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

My Thoughts

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

This was the cover that kept me from this book for so long.

To be fair, I held off on Leviathan for years. I was intrigued by the story, but the cover was killing me slowly every time I saw it at my local library. I know I shouldn’t let that stop me from reading a potentially enjoyable book, but alas, it did. Everything in me revolts at this cover…I think it’s that protruding forehead bone. But I digress…

In need of a new audiobook, I found this one available on my library’s Overdrive account (if you haven’t started using Overdrive you should!) and finally decided to give it a go. I am so glad I did because Leviathan was such an interesting mix of alternate history and steampunk adventure. It reminded me a lot of Kenneth Oppel’s Matt Cruse trilogy, which I loved. The characters are interesting and are found in unique situations (by choice and not) and both are forced to deal with their own prejudices and misconceptions of others.

The steampunk/alternate history setting had me scouring the internet for more information. Of course I know the basics of how World War I began (thank you Social Studies teachers and Jeopardy!) but I had to know more about the details, which I then compared to Westerfeld’s version. Weaving in the Clankers and Darwinists was a brilliant way to illustrate the clash between eastern vs. western ideals that played a part in the start of World War I. Scott Westerfeld, you get mucho points on the world building scene!

Recommended For

Leviathan is not the book for every reader. If you’re already a fan of the steampunk sub-genre, than this one would get your little steam engine going right away. That being said if you haven’t delved into this sub-genre I think Leviathan’s story is strong enough to be a quality introduction. If you enjoy audiobooks, this was the perfect book to listen to and it was narrated by the amazing Alan Cumming. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and am embarrassed by how long it took me to actually read it…when will I learn?!

Details

Author: Scott Westerfeld
Publisher: Simon Pulse (October 6, 2009)
Format: Audiobook
Length: 8 hours and 20 minutes
Series: First in a series
YA/MG: Both
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Not What I Hoped For: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Hello!

As a librarian I’m always on the look out for multicultural and diverse YA fiction as a general rule, but especially since my school is an International Baccalaureate school. I had high hopes for My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman, but in the end I was left disappointed.

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than herMy Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.

Overall, My Basmati Bat Mitzvah was entertaining and sweet, but the writing was just average, which is where I was disappointed.

As a main character Tara is both sympathetic and extremely annoying at the same time. There is a lot going on in Tara’s life and while she’s balancing everything she’s having some serious questions of faith. I love how Freedman portrays this push and pull between cultures through the religious/faith side of things, because one’s spiritual faith is, I think, often overlooked in YA and MG fiction, which bothers me sometimes because I believe preteen and teen readers are often searching and trying to make sense of their spiritual surroundings. In this I believe that teen readers will appreciate and even see themselves in Tara.

And although many may also see themselves in Tara’s failings as well, I just feel that Freedman handled these weaknesses (ie: the things I found very annoying) irresponsibly. Tara had big anger issues and is willing to physically fight over nothing more than a glance from her “enemies”, and while I am incredibly aware that this is a common struggle for many teens, I hated the way Freedman wrote it and just kind of left it there. Tara didn’t ponder her actions and no one seemed to question it. I don’t mean to say that I expected some sort of moral lesson to wrap up Tara’s flaws, it was all just poorly written, in my opinion.

In the end although it was not as good a read as I had been hoping, I did purchase My Basmati Bat Mitzvah for my library because I think that most of Tara’s struggles and voice are real enough for readers to connect with and the subject matter is incredibly relevant for today’s world.

Author: Paula J. Freedman

Publisher: Amulet Books (October 1, 2013 )

Format: Hardcover

Length: 256 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

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How It Should Be Done: Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Hello!

In high school photography was kind of my thing. I took a photography class and was even the head photographer of my yearbook staff for a few years. There were even these little freshman boys who had lockers near mine and used to call me “Camera Girl”…I loved it! I’d read Cynthia Lord before but was really interested in Half a Chance when I realized that Lucy, the main character, was an aspiring photographer!

When Lucy’s family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera’s lens, as her father has taught her — he’s a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet Half a Chance by Cynthia Lordhis high standards? When she discovers that he’s judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special — or only good enough.

As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn’t want to see: his grandmother’s memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives . . . including her own.

Half a Chance is one of those middle grades novels that deals with difficult topics, but does it exactly how it should be done. Often times in middle grades fiction difficult topics are dealt with using a heavy hand, but Cynthia Lord manages to handle hard subjects with a perfect mix of sweetness and gentleness. What we see is Lucy struggling to get her father’s attention and help her new friend Nate’s family come to terms with their grandmother’s growing illness. All of this difficult stuff is approached through Lucy’s camera lens and creates a book that isn’t heavy handed in it’s struggles.

Lucy is your quintessential middle school girl who is constantly riding that line between self discovery and lack of confidence. Her father is this world renown photographer who is rarely home, she is the new girl in town who is starting to have a crush on her new friend and who isn’t too sure about the girl across the lake who hasn’t been very welcoming. I understand Lucy in the midst of all of this and she’s a very likable character.

The summer lakefront setting just adds to the gentle way Lord approaches Lucy’s story. The morning sunrises over the lake and the haunting calls of the loons (who play a major part in the story) create that kind of hazy summer setting that always seems to find itself in coming of age stories. It makes me wish I spent summers in a lake house!

I would highly recommend Half a Chance to any middle grade readers looking for a quick contemporary and even to parents interested in finding a way to open the conversation about an ill grandparent.

Author: Cynthia Lord

Publisher: Scholastic Press (February 25, 2014 )

Format: Hardcover

Length: 218 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

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Fantasy Fest: The Song of the Lioness (Books 1-3)

Well hello there friends!

If given the choice between a whole array of books of different genres, I’d most likely choose the one that is fantasy. I’m a huge fantasy fan and am always on the lookout for my next fantasy read.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora PierceFor years everyone had been telling me I could not call myself a fantasy fan unless I’d read the Song of the Lioness books by Tamora Pierce. I rolled my eyes and thought, yeah whatever, those old covers are so unappealing. Well, I finally decided to give them a go, so I started with Alanna: The First Adventure and could not believe I’d wasted so many years not having these books in my life! I quickly devoured book one, and did the same with In the Hand of the Goddess and The Woman Who Rides Like a Man!

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And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Though a girl, Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Disguised as a girl, Thom heads for the convent to learn magic; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page.

But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Piercealso learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies. Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna’s first adventure begins – one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and the magical destiny that will make her a legend in her land.

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If you call your self a fantasy lover and you haven’t yet read this series, you really need to add them to your reading queue. Pierce, a master of fantasy and storytelling, fills these books with magic, romance, intrigue, evil villains, humor, and many mystical happenings (like a talking cat…yes.). As a character, Alanna is a predecessor to Katniss in all of her strengths and weaknesses. She is bold, sassy, stubborn, courageous, determined, kind-hearted, naive, unsure of herself, and smart. Alanna has faults and failings, but is an admirable heroine and I just can’t help but want to read more about her and her adventures.

The world of Tortall only expands as the series continues. At first it seems that Tortall could be any medieval European setting, but as Alanna matures the world building does as well. Pierce begins to give us more of Woman Who Rides Like A Man by Tamora Piercethe cultural details of Tortall and we learn more about the gods and goddesses, mysterious sorcerers, desert dwellers and even shamans. Although these books are pretty short reads, Pierce manages to pack them full of so much action and adventure that you don’t actually realize how short the books are until the end.

I haven’t yet gotten my hands on the fourth book in the series, Lioness Rampant. As soon as I do, however, you can bet I’ll rip through it as quickly as I did the first three. So, yes, the Song of the Lioness quartet comes highly recommended by one fantasy lover to all of you other fantasy fans out there!

Author: Tamora Pierce

Publisher: First published 1983, 1984, 1986)

Format: Hardcover

Length: Alanna: The First Adventure, 274 pages

In the Hands of the Goddess, 264 pages

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, 284 pages

Series: Song of the Lioness Quartet

YA/MG: MG/YA

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One of the Best: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Happy Sunday everyone!

Writing reviews when I truly enjoyed/loved a book can either be difficult (fear of too much gushing) or really easy (the love just flows). Writing my review for Doll Bones by Holly Black was incredibly easy. This book is that good.

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Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining Doll Bones by Holly Blacka magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity.

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If you asked me for one of the best titles to introduce you to middle grades fiction, Dolly Bones would be the book I pressed into your hands. Everything about this book is well done. This is quality middle grades fiction right here people!

As I look back on some of the best middle grades books I’ve read (and coming of age tales in general) I’m noticing a major commonality between them; that perfect yet strange mix of realism and fantasy mixed together (think the Sandlot with “the beast” for example). When a book succeeds at weaving both the realistic and fantastic together what you get is a blindingly beautiful portrayal of that preadolescence stage in life where you’re stuck in limbo between childhood and the teen years. The characters, Zach, Poppy and Alice are each exploring (in different ways) their new teenage interests, yet are still clinging to the comforts of childhood, like imagining and playing games. This struggle is exemplified so flawlessly well on the cover. I love how this cover sets the stage for a coming of age story (yes the kids are on a physical and emotional journey) set in and spurred on, by the atmosphere of a ghost story.

Another major factor in this whole coming of age theme is realizing that adults, specifically your parents, are human being with flaws. We see this primarily in the strained relationship between Zach and his father. Because it hurts so much to realize that his dad isn’t perfect Zach longs for the days when his father wasn’t there; its easier to ignore him than face the truth. When in reality this often painful father/son relationship is caused by a hurt man doing the best he knows how with a son he doesn’t quite understand. There is just so much truthful emotion going on here!

There are some slightly creepy goings on in Doll Bones, but it is completely appropriate for middle grade readers and up (perhaps even a mature fifth grader) who crave a good adventure tale. The audiobook would make for a good family listen as well, so if you haven’t read Doll Bones yet, please get it added to your (or your reader’s) TBR stack; you wont be disappointed.

Author: Holly Black

Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry Books (May 7, 2013)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library)

Length: 5 hours and 15 minutes

Narrator(s): Nick Podehl

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

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Sadly, Not Much to Offer:The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

Welcome back friends!

I was lucky enough to met author Gordon Korman a few years ago, and he was such a friendly and humble individual! He’s one of my librarian crushes, I have to admit.  My students adore his books, mostly because he is a good storyteller and writes interesting and funny characters, but I was a little disappointed with The Hypnotists.The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

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Jackson Opus has always been persuasive, but he doesn’t know that he’s descended from the two most powerful hypnotist bloodlines on the planet. He’s excited to be accepted into a special program at the Sentia Institute — but when he realizes he’s in over his head, Jackson will have to find a way to use his powers to save his friends, his parents, and his government.

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The world Jax (Jackson) lives in mirrors our own but with one big difference, some people have hypnotic powers. Overall, The Hypnotists was an interesting idea, but was also completely unbelievable and what it was lacking is the follow through to make be believe it.

The pacing of the story was quick and a lot of action happens, especially in the first few chapters where we meet Jax on a seemingly out of control bus speeding through the city streets. Adventure and action scenes like this are one of Korman’s strong points but unfortunately it’s the only thing that this book has to offer.

I’m sad to say that the majority of the characters, Jackson included, are not well developed, which is unusual for Korman. Jackson goes from being naive to knowledgeable and wavers between the two the whole time. I found myself more than halfway through the book when I suddenly realized that I just didn’t care about Jax or saving the world from evil hypnotists. Really. And because I had read so much of the book already, and I feel loyal to the author, from that point on I was skimmed the pages just so I could finish it.

I was disappointed in my usually awesome Gordon Korman, but The Hypnotists just doesn’t have much to offer the reader other than a few exciting action scenes and I wouldn’t make this book your introduction to Korman’s books. I do think some of my students will still enjoy anything written by this author because of his normally great track record, and the quick pacing might really appeal to reluctant readers, but I doubt that I’ll be doing much recommending of this one in my library, which is a shame.

Author: Gordon Korman

Publisher: Scholastic Press (August 1, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 232 pages

Series: First book in The Hypnotists series

YA/MG: MG

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Excessively Diverting: Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore

Hi!

Who doesn’t enjoy Downton Abbey-like upstairs/downstairs drama?!

Okay, there are probably some people out there who don’t enjoy it like I do, so if it’s you then Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore is most likely not the book for you.

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The year is 1911. And at The Manor, nothing is as it seems. Lady Charlotte Edmonds: Beautiful, wealthy, and sheltered, Charlotte feels suffocated by the strictures of upper-crust society. She longs to see the world Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshorebeyond The Manor, to seek out high adventure. And most of all, romance.

Janie Seward: Fiery, hardworking, and clever, Janie knows she can be more than just a kitchen maid. But she isn’t sure she possesses the courage — or the means — to break free and follow her passions.

Both Charlotte and Janie are ready for change. As their paths overlap in the gilded hallways and dark corridors of The Manor, rules are broken and secrets are revealed. Secrets that will alter the course of their lives. . . forever.

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Take one guess as to why I was immediately drawn to Manor of Secrets.

Here, I’ll help you out: 1. pretty gown, 2. the word “manor”. Either guesses would have worked. Both signs point to “YES” for Tina! My reading preferences are pretty predictable.

Overall, Manor of Secrets was a fun and amusing read and sometimes you just need an uncomplicated story to tumble into for a while. Although there were definitely weaknesses, I enjoyed the story so much I can overlook them. For the most part the writing fell much more on the “telling” instead of “showing” side of things and the plot twist was spotted clearly from a mile away! Additionally, other than a few basic descriptions of the manor and the characters, there was nothing strong about the setting, it is kind of invisible. The book really could have taken place in any British manor house in any historical era because it was lacking in anything that specified this was 1911.

The relationship that grows between Charlotte and Janie is the story’s strong suit. Although the characters themselves are nothing new (we have a poor-little-rich-girl constrained by her upbringing and a rags-to-riches Cinderella), the friendship that is being forged between the two makes for interesting growth in both girls. You have Charlotte learning (a little bit) about the seriousness of world and how her actions can affect others, while Janie is learning more about what family really is. Add in all of the secrets, flirtations, and deception going on amidst Charlotte and Janie’s growing friendship and you have a book that is so excessively diverting you can’t help but enjoy yourself.

As mentioned earlier, I can overlook the weaknesses in Manor of Secrets because the story is just so fun and I’m always interested in the whole upstairs/downstairs thing. If there was a sequel planned, which I don’t think there is, I would definitely pick it up although I don’t think I’d rush to get my hands on it. In the end, I can identify some of my students who would really enjoy this read, mostly middle school girls who already enjoy Downton Abbey and books with pretty dresses on the cover.

Author: Katherine Longshore

Publisher: Point (January 28, 2014)

Format: e-galley

Length: 320 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

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Ups and Downs: The Flame in the Mist by Kitt Grindstaff

Welcome back BookTasty Friends!

I’ve been working pretty hard to get caught up with my book reviews, because as of now I’m still a month or two behind! *GASP* I just read so much faster than I can write a review, which isn’t really a problem! haha

Today’s review is for fantasy read, The Flame in the Mist by Kitt Grindstaff.

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Set in an imagined past, this dark fantasy-adventure is for fans of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass and features Jemma, a fiery-headed heroine held captive in Agromond Castle, yet destined to save mist-shrouded Anglavia.

Fiery-headed Jemma Agromond is not who she thinks she is, and when the secrets The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaffand lies behind her life at mist-shrouded Agromond Castle begin to unravel, she finds herself in a chilling race for her life. Ghosts and misfits, a stone and crystals, a mysterious book, an ancient prophecy—all these reveal the truth about Jemma’s past and a destiny far greater and more dangerous than she could have imagined in her wildest fantasies. With her telepathic golden rats, Noodle and Pie, and her trusted friend, Digby, Jemma navigates increasingly dark forces, as helpers both seen and unseen, gather. But in the end, it is her own powers that she must bring to light, for only she has the key to defeating the evil ones and fulfilling the prophecy that will bring back the sun and restore peace in Anglavia.

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Fantasy is most definitely my favorite genre. I just love the idea of different worlds where magic is the norm! Because so many of my favorite books are fantasy, so I was excited to pick up The Flame in the Mist. In the end this book had it’s ups and downs. I didn’t love it, nor did I totally hate it either.

First of all the pacing of Jemma’s story is pretty slow, which was a struggle for me because the book is well over 400 pages (which makes for a long audibook!). It’s not that I don’t have the attention span for slowish story-lines, but Jemma makes two perilously long journeys that just felt like they dragged on and on at times. These journeys were necessary and many significant events occurred on them both, but I found myself thinking that the story could have been condensed a bit to make it seem less sluggish.

Jemma is one of those characters that are, from the beginning, pretty easy to cheer for. Her life has been full of so many secrets and betrayals relating to her detestable family that the reader turns every page with the hope that the Agromonds will get what’s coming to them. Although Jemma is easy to root for however, she isn’t that multifaceted a character, which makes the cast of secondary characters all the more exciting because they all (mostly) are surprisingly complex, especially some of Jemma’s family members. In fact, I believe that one of this book’s strongest qualities is it’s characters. Also, let’s not forget about Jemma’s two sidekick rats, Noodle and Pie – I loved them!

The Flame in the Mist is definitely a middle grades fantasy novel, but will appeal to older fantasy lovers as well. As with most fantasy novels magic is a common theme in this story, but there are times where I wonder if some of the said magic is too dark and creepy for younger middle school readers. Although this wasn’t the best fantasy I’ve read, it was still a fun audiobook to listen to and it kept me entertained.

Author: Kitt Grindstaff

Publisher:  Delacorte Press (April 9, 2013)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library)

Length: 13 hours and 29 minutes

Narrator(s): Rosalyn Landor

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

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Completely Underwhelmed: Icons by Margaret Stohl

Well hello there!

I hope everyone had a fun-filled Fourth of July!

After celebrating my Husband’s birthday on the 3rd with a shin-dig at our house, we spent the holiday hanging out with friends and basically just relaxing. That’s what summer is made for!

Now, on to more bookish things. Sometimes I disappoint myself. There are way too many awesome books out there for me to stick with one I’m just not that into. Do I follow my own advice though? Nope! I tend to stick it out until the end because I hate putting down a book. Well, recently I stuck with Icons by Margaret Stohl until the bitter end…there very bitter end.

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Everything changed on The Day. The day the windows shattered. The day the power stopped. The day Dol’s family dropped dead. The day Earth lost a war it didn’t know it was fighting. Since then, Dol has lived a simple life in the countryside — safe from Icons by Margaret Stohlthe shadow of the Icon and its terrifying power. Hiding from the one truth she can’t avoid. She’s different. She survived. Why?

When Dol and her best friend, Ro, are captured and taken to the Embassy, off the coast of the sprawling metropolis once known as the City of Angels, they find only more questions. While Ro and fellow hostage Tima rage against their captors, Dol finds herself drawn to Lucas, the Ambassador’s privileged son. But the four teens are more alike than they might think, and the timing of their meeting isn’t a coincidence. It’s a conspiracy.

Within the Icon’s reach, Dol, Ro, Tima, and Lucas discover that their uncontrollable emotions — which they’ve always thought to be their greatest weaknesses — may actually be their greatest strengths.

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The idea behind Icons is kinda cool. One day alien ships visited earth, everyone but a small few died, leaving those behind to fight for humanity. Sounds cool right? Well, I think what we have here is a classic case of poor execution. This interesting premise was not matched with strong writing or characters. As a reader, I just felt completely underwhelmed.

Honestly, it took me a while to figure out that I just wasn’t into this book so when I finally did I felt like I was too far along to quit. The dystopian setting Stohl has created is not bad, especially with the insertion of poems, government documents and letters which give the reader more insight and context for the type of world this story takes place in. But that was pretty much it. I just didn’t care enough that these alien creatures were oppressing humanity at large.

This lack of connection also carried into the characters as well. The characters and their relationships were so flat and predictable that there was nothing that made me like, hate, or relate to them. I just didn’t care and on top of that I really didn’t understand why these characters were doing the things they did. They fight, love, follow, trust and betray each other all too easily. I get the feeling the characters are supposed to group together like the the kids in Captain Planet to save the world “with their powers combined”, but in the end I actually am still not completely sure what exactly the four main characters can do.

It really is a shame because there was a lot of potential in Icons, (and I really liked Beautiful Creatures) but for me, it just fell flat. I’ve read other reviews where the readers absolutely loved it though, so don’t ignore Icons on my account if it sounds like something you’d really enjoy. I just think there are much better dystopian, sci-fi titles out there for you to sink your teeth into.

Author: Margaret Stohl

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (May 7, 2013)

Format: Audiobook (AudioGO)

Length: 9 hours and 30 minutes

Narrator(s): Therese Plummer

Series: First in the Icons series

YA/MG: YA

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People Are Like Plants: Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

Bonjour!

Today is my Husband’s birthday! I think he’s pretty awesome so Happy Happy Birthday to him!

HusbandOkay, on to more bookish things! Since my school is an International Baccalaureate World School, I’m always on the lookout for titles that have a global focus. TSerafina's Promise by Ann E Burghis is why I had high hopes when I started reading Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg.

Serafina has
a secret dream.

She wants to go to school
and become a doctor
with her best friend, Julie Marie.

But in their rural village
outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti,
many obstacles
stand in Serafina’s way–
little money,
never-ending chores,
and Manman’s worries.

More powerful even
than all of these
are the heavy rains
and the shaking earth
that test Serafina’s resolve
in ways she never dreamed.

At once heartbreaking and hopeful,
this exquisitely crafted story
will leave a lasting impression
on your heart.

Serafina’s Promise gets points for being a beautifully written novel. But it also get’s points for having an international (non USA) setting, and extra points for being a novel in verse! This book has it all…a librarian’s dream!

This book is set up into three clearly cut parts. To start out, we meet Serfina a preteen Haitian girl living in extreme poverty. Serafina is responsible for hiking to gather the family’s daily water provision but we quickly learn that she deeply desires to go to school and one day become a doctor. I’m impressed with the way Serafina is written because it’s impeccably realistic. Serafina is very innocent, yet she struggles with jealousy toward her friend who can afford to go to school. She deeply loves her family and sick baby brother yet is resentful towards her worried mother’s strictness. Despite living in a different setting Serafina’s realistic character allows teens from more privileged circumstances to connect with her.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is the setting. The descriptions of Serafina’s home, the flood scenes, and the city details after the earthquake, it is clear that this story takes place in Haiti, not just any random developing nation. The Haitian Creole words sprinkled in throughout the verse only add to that already strong sense of place. Sometimes non English words in a story can distract the reader, but these fit in well and are usually easily understood based on context, however there is a Haitian Creole glossary in the back of the book to help with this further (*the educator in me cheers in delight!*).

And to make this book that much better, while reading I stumbled upon a few short lines that immediately became one of my favorite quotes ever. To set the scene Serafina is working on a garden with the help of Gogo, her grandmother who praises Serafina’s hard work with the plants.

“Gogo’s word make me feel taller.

People really are like plants -

kind words make them grow.”

Serafina’s Promise is one that is strongly recommend to middle grade readers because it is such a sincere and well written story. I also think it could be a very powerful book in a classroom or book group setting, so teachers and librarians…have at it!

Author: Ann E. Burg

Publisher: Scholastic Press (September 24, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 304 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

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