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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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Complex Relationships: Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

Hello friends!

It’s always nice when a book pleasantly surprises you. I didn’t go into reading Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.

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On the winter day Little Hawk is sent into the woods alone, he can take only a bow and arrows, his handcrafted tomahawk, and the amazing metal knife his father Ghost Hawk by Susan Coopertraded for with the new white settlers. If Little Hawk survives three moons by himself, he will be a man.

John Wakely is only ten when his father dies, but he has already experienced the warmth and friendship of the nearby tribes. Yet his fellow colonists aren’t as accepting of the native people. When he is apprenticed to a barrel-maker, John sees how quickly the relationships between settlers and natives are deteriorating. His friendship with Little Hawk will put both boys in grave danger.

The intertwining stories of Little Hawk and John Wakely are a fascinating tale of friendship and an eye-opening look at the history of our nation. Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper also includes a timeline and an author’s note that discusses the historical context of this important and moving novel.

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I started Ghost Hawk, expecting to be underwhelmed, but quickly realized that I was turning page after page to find out what would happen next. I was completely riveted to this story of an unlikely friendship between two boys from vastly different worlds. Woven between this story of friendship is the turbulent history between colonial New Englanders and the Native Americans of the region detailing one of those difficult and change ridden era in American history. The complexity of the relationship between these two wildly distinct cultures is handled well here. Cooper doesn’t over simplify the overlapping layers of mistrust and kindness, but it is also written appropriately for middle grade readers to grasp to basic themes.

However, I do wonder if this is truly a book geared towards middle grades readers. It is already a struggle to get my students to pick up a historical fiction title, and there is at times a slowness to the story (that isn’t a negative thing just an observation). Due to the sometimes complex themes, I don’t know if any of my students would enjoy and completely understand the whole story and context of Ghost Hawk while reading it independently. I feel like it would be best read, and enjoyed, in a guided group setting (for middle school readers at least) so that they can discuss the story and it’s depth with other readers.

When I read other online reviews of this story, most people complained that they lost interest once the narration switches primarily to John’s life, instead of Little Hawk’s. It seems that people thought the pacing slowed done and the story just kind of plodded along, but I totally disagree. Maybe it’s because of my own preferences with regards to historic events, but I enjoyed reading about the Puritans and John’s experience so much more and this book became more interesting to me as it progressed. I was especially intrigued by the “rebel” Puritan and his breakaway colony, so much so that I’ve spent some extra time researching a little more about it.

In the end Ghost Hawk is a hauntingly beautiful story of friendship and tolerance of those who are different than ourselves. These themes are as important for adults to be reminded of as well as younger readers, so I think that readers of all ages (who enjoy historical fiction) will get something out of this book.

Author: Susan Cooper

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (August 27, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 336 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

Buy the Book:

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Creepy Chills and Gatsby: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Hi!

For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in the Roaring 20s. My mom bought a history of fashion books when I was a little kid and I remember paging through it and always stopping on the 1920s fashion plates. I begged my mom to let me be a flapper for Halloween in 6th grade (I was an age appropriate flapper), and anytime there is a costume party, the 20s flapper is one of my go-to dress up eras!

Although I had head that it was pretty creepy, once I realized that The Diviners by Libba Bray was set in New York in 1926, I knew I wanted to read it.

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Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the oThe Diviners by Libba Brayccult. Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

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Libba Bray rocks my socks off. Her Gemma Doyle trilogy (set in Victorian England) is one of my favorite YA series ever and she definitely didn’t disappoint me with The Diviners! One of the best things about The Diviners is the setting. Evie’s story is set smack dab in the middle of New York City at the height of the Roaring Twenties, a decade that was made for excitement, drama, pleasure, and parties. Spiritualism was quite the trend at the time so what better place to set your paranormal thriller than in this era of heightened experiences? Bray delves so deep into the period that the story just drips with flappers and jazz!  Everything from the catch phrases to fashion and dancing, and as the history nerd I am I really enjoyed seeing tidbits of other social issues like prohibition, eugenics, and cultism in response to society’s loosening structure….it’s all there!

Our main character Evie, is the 1920s personified. Evie is your small town girl searching for love, life, and excitement in the big city. I just love her! Yes, she is annoyingly rebellious, stubborn and overly ready to get her way, but she is also endearing and loyal and all around fun! Sometimes she creates drama where drama needn’t be…like in a creepy basement where murders may or may not have happened, but in the end Evie is a girl who wants to feel everything and is constantly seeking ways to make life even the teensiest bit more intoxicating. She’s definitely the kind of girl you want in your group of friends because life is always interesting with Evie! The supporting characters are all really engaging as well, especially Memphis and Theta! I assume we’ll get even more of them as the series progresses, which is good because there is some weird stuff going on with this group of friends!

The Diviners is super long (550+ pages) but is so well paced you just can’t stop reading (or listening in my case) and I never once felt like the story was dragging in any way. Yes, there is the fun flapper aspect to the story, but with Naughty John, The Diviners is also a dark, frightening paranormal thriller complete with the occult, ritualistic killings, and characters who have mysterious supernatural gifts. This story definitely has enough creep factor to make you keep all the lights on at night!

For those of you (eighth grade and up) who enjoy paranormal thrillers and want a book that will give you chills while also make you want to throw a Gatsby themed party, The Diviners is absolutley, pos-i-tute-ly a must. One warning though, it will leave you wanting so much more! Since this is the first in a series there are tons of unanswered questions and plot points that have yet to fully unravel! I can’t wait for Lair of Dreams!

Author: Libba Bray

Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (September 18, 2012)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library)

Length: 18 hours and 14 minutes

Narrator(s): January LaVoy

Series: First in the Diviners series

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book:

 

 

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Falconer

Hello!

It’s time for another Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine) and today I’m showcasing The Falconer by Elizabeth May.

Edinburgh, Scotland, 1844. Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined for a life carefully planned around Edinburgh’s social events – right up until a faery killed her mother. Now it’s the 1844 The Falconer by Elizabeth Maywinter season and Aileana slaughters faeries in secret, in between the endless round of parties, tea and balls. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, she sheds her aristocratic facade every night to go hunting. She’s determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city’s many dark alleyways.

But the balance between high society and her private war is a delicate one, and as the fae infiltrate the ballroom and Aileana’s father returns home, she has decisions to make. How much is she willing to lose – and just how far will Aileana go for revenge?

I’m always in the mood for a fantasy read and The Falconer sounds like it could be a good one! I love the fact that this one takes place in 19th century Scotland because you know, I just don’t think there are enough books that take place in Scotland! Haha

Is anyone else excited for The Falconer?  If so, you’ll have to wait until May 6 to read this one…May is soon right?!

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Naturals

Happy Hump Day!

We’re only a few days away from the weekend…WHOOT! WHOOT!

Each week I participate in Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine) where I get to put the spotlight on a book I’m trying to wait patiently for.

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn BarnesThis week I am waiting on The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, which seems like a paranormal thriller and sounds like it could be similar to Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series (which I LOOOOVED!)

Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want. But it’s not a skill that she’s ever taken seriously. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they’ve begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie.

What Cassie doesn’t realize is that there’s more at risk than a few unsolved homicides— especially when she’s sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own. Sarcastic, privileged Michael has a knack for reading emotions, which he uses to get inside Cassie’s head—and under her skin. Brooding Dean shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but keeps her at arm’s length.

Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms closer than Cassie could ever have imagined. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive.

Yeah, I think this one sounds like it has a ton of potential to be awesome. The Naturals is scheduled for release on November 5 by Disney-Hyperion.

What do you think? Are you interested in The Naturals or is there another book you’re waiting on today?

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Waiting On Wednesday: The Clockwork Scarab

Hey there!

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme I participate in (hosted by Breaking the Spine) because it gives me the opportunity to showcase some “coming attraction” books.

Today, I’m particularly interested in The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason! Just read this summary and you’ll find out why!

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen GleasonTwo young women of similar age and standing have disappeared: one found dead and the other still missing. The only clue to connect them is a small Egyptian clockwork scarab. Only Miss Stoker and Miss Holmes are well-positioned enough—similar in age and stature as they are to the victims—to investigate. An unlikely pair, the fierce Evaline Stoker and logical Mina Holmes must follow in the footsteps of their infamous families—Miss Holmes has inherited her Uncle Sherlock’s keen investigative skills, while Miss Stoker has accepted her family calling as a hunter of the undead. The partners must find a way to work together, while navigating the advances of a strange yet handsome American, a clever Scotland Yard investigator, and a cunning thief, to solve the mystery of the clockwork scarabs.

Guys! The Clockwork Scarab is set in London…steampunk London! Also, literary references: the families of Holmes and Stoker? YES PLEASE! Plus this cover is just so gorgeous!

I hope this one turns out to be a good read because it’s supposed to be a series!  It’s due to release on September 17, only a few short days away!

 

 

 

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Waiting on Wednesday: Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

Welcome back!

Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine) was created to allow book bloggers a space to highlight upcoming new releases.

This week I’m shining the spotlight on Uninvited by Sophie Jordan.

UninvitedThe Scarlet Letter meets Minority Report in bestselling author Sophie Jordan’s chilling new novel about a teenage girl who is ostracized when her genetic test proves she’s destined to become a murderer.

When Davy Hamilton’s tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS)-aka the kill gene-she loses everything. Her boyfriend ditches her, her parents are scared of her, and she can forget about her bright future at Juilliard. Davy doesn’t feel any different, but genes don’t lie. One day she will kill someone. Only Sean, a fellow HTS carrier, can relate to her new life. Davy wants to trust him; maybe he’s not as dangerous as he seems. Or maybe Davy is just as deadly.

Talk about in intriguing summary! I love the description as a mashup between The Scarlet Letter and Minority Report! thriller and it totally creeps me out – the idea of being able to predict a homicidal tendency gene! I still haven’t read Jordan’s Firelight series (even though I own the first book) but I hear such good things about her books that I’m excited for this one! Also, did you pay attention to the cool DNA hair on the cover?! WHAT!!

Uninvited is scheduled to release on January 28 from HarperTeen.

 

 

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Sound

Welcome back BookTasty friends!

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.

This week I am showcasing The Sound, and upcoming summer release by Sarah Alderson.

When aspiring music journalist Ren Kingston takes a job nannying for a wealthy family on the exclusive island of Nantucket, playground The Sound by Sarah Aldersonfor Boston’s elite, she’s hoping for a low-key summer reading books and blogging about bands. Boys are firmly off the agenda.

What she doesn’t count on is falling in with a bunch of party-loving private school kids who are hiding some dark secrets, falling (possibly) in love with the local bad boy, and falling out with a dangerous serial killer.

I saw this one on featured on another blog recently, and I was hooked! I want to read this book really bad. I love books set in high-class  summer vacation spots like Nantucket. There is something so mysterious about places like that already, then adding a serial killer?! YES!

But I am a little confused. Everywhere I check online says this book is a UK release (slated to come out on August 1) with no details on a US release.  Does anyone have any insight towards this? Will it be in bookstores here on the same date?

Are you waiting for The Sound today too?

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This Happened: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Welcome Back!

I try to stay away from books that want to make me cry. We’ve talked about this before. I don’t like to cry when I’m reading, that’s not a fun part of the reading experience for me. Sometimes though…just sometimes…I hear such wonderful things about a book that crying or not I have to read it (no matter how much it intimidates me!). So, I read Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta SepetysLina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

I really am speechless and have no idea what to say about this book that will do it justice. Between Shades of Gray is haunting. The story itself is incredibly intense and horrific.

Guys. This happened.

I had no idea that the Soviets went into the Baltic states and just took people from their homes and shipped them off to Siberia to die. I mean I knew a little, but the happenings of World War II often get eclipsed by the Jewish Holocaust, Hitler and the Nazis, so I had no idea to what extent Stalin’s damage had on the people of countries such as Lithuania. Interestingly enough, now that I’ve read this book, I’m remembering my mom telling me about one of the priests at the church I grew up in. Father Palis was born in Lithuania, was in seminary when the Soviet’s invaded and had to escape to Germany in secret. Personally knowing someone who went through parts of what Lina experienced makes the story in Between Shades of Gray that much more tangible.

Ruta Sepetys’ writing is beautiful. The horrors that Lina and her family witness and experience take on an almost lyrical quality, which made me continue turning the pages even though my heart hurt so much. You want to know what happens to this remarkable, vulnerable, bitter, kind and brave teenage girl. You want to know that she gets to go home and be a normal teenager who goes to school, flirts with boys and imagines her future as an artist. Sepetys’ writing just makes you get completely caught up in these characters.

It is interesting to see how the others in Lina’s group of deportees respond to the harsh circumstances. Some, like Lina’s mother, show amazing courage and kindness, while others are so broken that they become hard and bitter. Lina touches on these reactions throughout the story, and Lina herself struggles with alternating feelings of hatred and anger versus love and grace.

If you haven’t read Between Shades of Gray yet, you need to add it to your TBR list as soon as possible. It is so well done (and the audiobook narrator is fabulous). The story of what Lina and her people are forced to bear with will cause you to wonder why our history textbooks don’t teach us more about what happened in the Baltic states during Stalin’s rule. As an educator, I believe this book could be (and should be) taught as a supplement to any history or language arts curriculum at the middle school level and up (if it’s not already…but it probably is). Parents note that there are very disturbing scenes of death and violence and you should read it along with your middle schooler.

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Philomel Books (March 22, 2011), Penguin Audio

Format: Audiobook

Length: 7 hours and 47 mins

Narrator(s): Emily Klein

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

Buy the Book: Between Shades of Gray

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Waiting on Wednesday: Prep School Confidential

Welcome back BookTasty Readers!

It’s time to showcase another upcoming new release for this week’s Waiting on Wednesday.

This week I’m waiting for the release of Prep School Confidential by Kara Taylor.

Prep School Confidential by Kara TaylorAnne Dowling practically runs her exclusive academy on New York’s Upper East Side—that is, until she accidentally burns part of it down and gets sent to a prestigious boarding school outside of Boston. Determined to make it back to New York, Anne could care less about making friends at the preppy Wheatley School. That is, until her roommate Isabella’s body is found in the woods behind the school.

When everyone else is oddly silent, Anne becomes determined to uncover the truth no matter how many rules she has to break to do it. With the help of Isabella’s twin brother Anthony, and a cute classmate named Brent, Anne discovers that Isabella wasn’t quite the innocent nerdy girl she pretended to be. But someone will do anything to stop Anne’s snooping in this fast-paced, unputdownable read—even if it means framing her for Isabella’s murder.

This summary sounds fabulous and the cover even reminds me a little bit of the Gallagher Girls books by Ally Carter (which I LOVE!). I have always been a big fan of boarding school books and they’re even better with a good mystery thrown in. Plus the tag line is awesome: “Rick Kids Can Get Away with Murder”…I love it!

So Prep School Confidential,which seems to be the first book in a new series, is scheduled to release on July 30…only a short few weeks away!

Does Kara Taylor’s debut sound like one you’ll be waiting on or are you patiently waiting on something else this week?