Saturday, December 31, 2011

UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi

Author: Veronica Rossi
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 384
Source of Book: ARC from NCTE Convention

Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction.

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions.

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephew’s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love - one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY.
Something about this book has gotten under my skin. UNDER THE NEVER SKY is one of those books that grows on you. The more I sit here thinking about it (because I can't stop thinking about it now that I've finished it) the more I keep thinking how good it really was. It has a quiet impact that builds slowly until I realized that this story really got to me. Aria and Perry are both well-drawn characters who are fighting to do what's right, find answers, and keep themselves safe in a scary world where they often feel alone. They face fears, follow a journey, surmount obstacles, and literally fight to live while learning about each other and themselves. This book is equally both of their stories-told in third person but from alternating points of view (indicated first through the chapter headings of Aria or Perregrine). This story was so much more meaningful and layered because we got both of these perspectives.

The future world that Veronica has created is a scary place, and it's not survivable without friends and supporters, but who can be trusted in the wild unknown? Certainly not the ones you've been taught to be scared of your whole life...right? Aria finds out more than she expected to when she ends up in "The Death Shop" after a tragic event in the Pod where she has lived her whole life. In the Pod she has the newest technology and inventions that made life easy-much of it was spent in the "Realms" which are the virtual worlds in which they experience what it might be like outside, but can virtual ever be as good as real? And can one who has spent her life being scared of outsiders, come to trust them for her survival? And then there's the differences that these "savages" have. The elements of the senses that are enhanced in certain people added a layer that I really enjoyed reading about, and added conflicts that will greatly affect these characters. It also added some of the most beautifully written parts of the book in talking about how people's "tempers" look and smell. The conversations between Aria and Perry were engaging and drew me into their building relationship.

There are plot twists and reveals and secrets and insights that I did not expect throughout this book, which was a really good thing.  The pacing of the plot starts off letting us get used to this world, and then steadily increases as Aria and Perry set out on their journeys to save themselves and find those they love, until I found myself holding my breath at parts hoping for the best for these characters I enjoyed spending time with. This story is about strength and change and fears and subtle bravery and honesty and doing what's right no matter how at odds it seems with what you should be doing. There are touching moments and scary moments and heart-pounding moments and and exciting moments and tear-evoking moments and romantic moments and gasp-worthy moments and laugh out loud moments to lighten the mood (mostly provided by Roar). It's a quiet, subtle book in the way that it captured me into the story, wrapped around my heart, and wouldn't let me go - in the way of the Aether storms that they're all running from which are destroying the outside world.

The ending of this first book was beautifully conceived, and although it sets things up for what will need to happen in the next book, it still provided an ending to the main character's journeys in this first book that left me with a sense of completeness and contentedness for the journey they took in this book-and exemplified the strength they both discovered in themselves through each other. If it hadn't provided that ending, I would have been disappointed with a cliffhanger, but, thankfully, Veronica didn't do that to us, so I was able to end with a sense of peace and hope. I'm highly anticipating where this trilogy is going to head in the next book, and I can't wait to spend more time with Aria and Perry (and hopefully Roar and Cinder and Talon too!).

Friday, December 30, 2011

CINDER by Marissa Meyer

Title: CINDER (Lunar Chronicles #1)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (a Macmillan imprint)
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 400
Source of Book: ARC from NCTE Convention
Author's Website:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

In this thrilling debut young adult novel, the first of a quartet, Marissa Meyer introduces readers to an unforgettable heroine and a masterfully crafted new world that’s enthralling.
I liked CINDER a lot - it was one of those books that kept me turning pages because of the well-paced plot and I didn't want to stop reading it. It was a little predictable, but also exciting. There were parts I thought I knew what was going to happen, and they ended up a little different, but overall I felt like I knew many of the big things were going to happen before they occurred. Now, because this is a retelling so has a basic structure of familiar things sI would look for, that's to be expected, but I wanted more of the big moments to be more a surprise to me. However, I still really enjoyed reading it, and can see that this would actually be good for my middle school students.

This book is full of political intrigue, suspense, action, and not knowing what would happen next or how things would work out. There is an intergalactic battle brewing and it adds another whole element to the tension of the story beyond just what is going to happen to Cinder. There was strong world-building as I felt as if I was there with the characters and understood what was happening and why they were dealing with the things they were, but it wasn't overly drawn out with lengthy sections for exposition. It was worked right in and pieces were slowly revealed to the reader as the characters learned them. There are androids and cyborgs and netscreens and hovercrafts and all kinds of technological advancements which add a great science-fiction element to the story as well.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the characters. Cinder is just a warm-hearted character - I was really pulling for her to make it through all of her difficulties. I liked her and I wanted her to come out on top in the end. She is kind and caring even though she has not received this same treatment from others in her life. She is brave, but she has no idea how brave until she is faced with some difficult choices, and realizes what she would and can do to help save people. She is finding her strength throughout this book, and she does it all with an integrity of character that is admirable. She may not be physically 100% human, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't have the feeling and thoughts of one (contrary to what some might believe).

There were some great secondary characters (Peony, Ito, Kai) who were endearing as well and made it possible to believe that Cinder would have the will to get through some of the stuff she's going through. And, there are also the requisite evil characters who I really hated (as I was supposed to). Prince Kai is actually my favorite character and he has the start of a sweet romance going on, but he has a whole lot of other issues to deal with as well. I have to say that I would have liked even more of Kai; although, the third person writing style gives us a lot of insight into his character and feelings, but mostly from Cinder's perspective. Kai is strong and sweet and young and looking for something to help him through as he is forced to grow up really fast, and I was definitely supporting him throughout.

The ending was intense...I'm not sure where this story could go next. It was previewed a little bit in the final conversation, but I'm still not sure what to expect from the second book. I'm glad this is going to be a quartet of books, but can't believe that means we'll have to wait until 2015 to get the end of the story! I will definitely be picking up the rest of the books though to see what happens with Cinder and Kai next!

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Welcome to my 2nd Annual Best I've Read post! 
It's always fun to reflect back on the awesome books I read over the course of a year and think about the ones that really stuck with me. I read a lot of great books this year (84), and it was really hard to narrow it down, (but I've always liked to do things my own way) so I decided to do a roundup of the top books and authors (with a separate middle grades category) I read.
This list is based on books I read this year, not necessarily books that were released in 2011, but any future releases I read will be saved for next year's list. 
I hope you'll find some inspiration on this list!
Happy New Year and Happy Reading!
 (In no particular order) (* indicates a series book)
Best I've Read 2011
THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin* (psychological thriller with a paranormal twist & debut)
DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor* (urban fantasy & paranormal romance)
DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth* (dystopian & debut)
SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi* (dystopian & debut)
RIVAL by Sara Bennett Wealer (contemp & debut)
FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB by Antony John (contemp)
SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi (dystopian)
LEGEND by Marie Lu* (dystopian & debut)
HOURGLASS by Myra McEntire* (sci-fi, time-travel, suspense-mystery, romance & debut)
WHERE SHE WENT (sequel to IF I STAY) by Gayle Forman* (contemp)
LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins (contemporary romance)
DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver* (dystopian, romance)
BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray (contemporary, satire, adventure-survival)
FORGOTTEN by Cat Patrick (contemporary romance, mystery, supernatural)
FOREVER* & THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater (I couldn't possibly choose one Maggie book over the other) (fantasy, supernatural, mythology, romance)

Best Middle Grades Books I've Read
THE UNWANTEDS by Lisa McMann* (dystopian, fantasy)
BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu (fantasy, fairy tales, friendship)
THE EMERALD ATLAS by John Stephens* (fantasy, science-fiction & debut)
THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angleberger* (contemp, humor & debut)
THE FOURTH STALL by Chris Rylander* (contemp, humor, mystery & debut)

Best Authors with Multiple Books I've Read
(I would buy and read any books these authors write in the future)
Elizabeth Eulberg
Kiersten White*
Daisy Whitney*
Andrea Cremer*
Maggie Steifvater*
Stephanie Perkins
Lauren Oliver*
Lisa McMann*
Cassandra Clare*
Rick Riordan*

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

TIMEPIECE by Myra McEntire

Title: TIMEPIECE (sequel to HOURGLASS)
Author: Myra McEntire
Publisher: Egmont USA
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 336
Source of Book: Borrowed ARC from bookseller friend Rani
Author's Website:

A threat from the past could destroy the future. And the clock is ticking...
     Kaleb Ballard's relentless flirting is interrupted when Jack Landers, the man who tried to murder his father, timeslips in and attacks before disappearing just as quickly. But Kaleb has never before been able to see time travelers, unlike many of his friends associated with the mysterious Hourglass organization. Are Kaleb's powers expanding, or is something very wrong?
      Then the Hourglass is issued an ultimatum. Either they find Jack and the research he's stolen on the time gene, or time will be altered with devestating results. 
     Now Kaleb, Emerson, Michael, and the other Hourglass recruits have no choice but to use their unusual powers to find Jack. But where do they even start? And when? And even if they succeed, it may not be enough...
     The follow-up to Hourglass, Timepiece blends the paranormal, science fiction, mystery, and suspense genres into a nonstop thrill ride where every second counts.
My first recommendation is that you go back and reread HOURGLASS before starting TIMEPIECE (or at least the end of the first book with all of the reveals). If I had done that, I probably wouldn't have felt as confused by this sequel. The backstory that Myra has created in this series about time travel is extensive, which is a great thing to keep me thinking, but it also requires that I pay attention so I can follow along with what's happening. At the end of the first book which Emerson narrates, the Hourglass organization and the time-travel aspects were explained clearly, but I read that one awhile ago, so as I was thrown right back into the middle of it with TIMEPIECE, I was feeling a little bit lost because there were some specific details I couldn't remember that were referenced often in this book as they were the impetus for everything that happens. So, go reread the end of the first book and then jump right into the continuing plot in this one.

Since the second book starts right in the middle of the action, it makes it even more exciting than the first one because the characters and reader now know the basics of the time-travel aspects and the "battle" that is going on with the villains (or are they?). This book is nonstop action and suspense as the Hourglass kids try to figure out what is really going on so they can fix the time-space continuum that is a little off kilter right at the moment. This is all done within the context of the quaint setting of this small town of Ivy Springs again with some of the same loveable cast of characters.

However, (and I didn't know this going into it) this second book has a narrator switch, and this time we get to hear Kaleb's voice talking us through the story. I loved this change as he is an entertaining (and highly snarky) and deeply layered character who is often misunderstood. Seeing his empathy abilities from his perspective created depth to this book that added an emotional core to the science-fiction story. I loved getting to know him better and feeling for him and his situations even more. Emerson's best friend Lily also plays a larger role in this book which was fun because she's a great character too. Myra has a distinct ability to make us fall in love with her characters and to fall in love with others as they do in the story. It seems so realistic because we're enmeshed in the emotion with them as they struggle with their feelings and we take the journey with them.

This book has lots of reveals, lots of suspense, lots of entertainment, and lots of thinking to it, and I enjoyed reading it. There is a feeling of an ending to this book, but it also sets things up for the next book really well at the end. Although this is a second book, it still had action and resolution to things so avoided that "second book in a trilogy" drudge that some trilogies I've read have. I'm intrigued to see where this story will go, and especially who might be narrating the next book in the series. Definitely add this one to your summer reading list.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

HALLOWED by Cynthia Hand

Title: HALLOWED (sequel to UNEARTHLY)
Author: Cynthia Hand
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: January 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 416
Source of Book: Borrowed ARC from the very kind Heidi at YA Bibliophile
Author's Website:

For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought. Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning. In this heart-wrenching sequel, Cynthia Hand expertly captures the all-consuming joy of first love—and the agony of loss.
In this second book in the trilogy, Clara is trying to find her place in the world as a part angel (which she discovered in the first book) while reconciling the fact that she doesn't think she fulfilled her "purpose" from the first book when she went to save her boyfriend, Tucker, instead of staying with Christian (another part angel). Meanwhile, her brother is being difficult and withdrawn ever since she saw him after the fire and she has no idea why, and her mother is holding back information which is frustrating to Clara because she doesn't totally understand what is happening. While that all worries her, she is so focused on herself because of the new visions she is having and what they might mean - and which boy is and which boy isn't there. She is struggling with not only her new angel self, but her non-angel boyfriend who she truly loves, but feeling drawn to Christian and not understanding why he seems to "get" her so well and how they can communicate. So, is it a triangley romance? Yes, but it's much more than that too.

I don't want to give too much away because part of the goodness of this book was discovering pieces of information along with Clara. When Clara gets it, we as the reader start to have more pieces fall into place, and we feel along with Clara. I can say that it is heart-breaking toward the end, which the whole book is leading up to, and there were tears for me. However, Clara does learn more about her family - both biological and friend and angel - and I am left with hope that she will have the support she needs to get through anything. This book is about Clara's struggle with being pulled in two directions, and whether she can find the strength to do what she wants or what she was meant to do. It's an inner struggle of how much free will does she wants to exert.

I really enjoy the characters in these books, both main and secondary. I also really enjoy the interactions between them. I especially like the introduction of Clara's father and everything that goes along with him being in her life again. There is a little bit of snark and sass and humor to the writing that keeps me entertained and helps take away from some of the heaviness of the book. I also like the way that there are times where it seems as if Clara is talking right to us as the reader. There were some very snarkily humorous direct references to other very popular teen books and the way in which some of the characters act. Clara's asides about how she never thought she'd be "that girl" but is anyway make me laugh.

As much as I like Cynthia's overall writing style, the one thing that throws me off is how time passes in her books. This book takes place over the course of a school year, but some times have many more events and much more detail, and others don't. But sometimes I would flip to a new chapter and not realize that we had jumped forward in time so much. Because of the transitions not being there, I felt confused at some times right when they chapters started. Overall, I really enjoy this series, and will be anxiously awaiting the third book to find out what will happen with Clara now that high school is over, but I also appreciate that this book didn't end on a cliffhanger, but just me wanting to stay with Clara a little longer.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater

Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: October 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 404
Source of Book: ARC won from the fabulous Lori at Pure Imagination
Author's Website:

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

I have to be honest - I'm a little bit torn about this book. I LOVE Maggie Stiefvater's writing and all of her other books, but THE SCORPIO RACES was a little harder for me to get sucked in to. I had so many teacher friends whose opinions I really trust tell me this was a fantastic book, but I couldn't quite get into the can't-put-this-book-down type of feeling.....until I got about halfway through the book (and it's a pretty long 404 pages), and then I got so hooked into it and didn't want to stop reading until I got to the exciting conclusion of this standalone story. But it did take me a couple of starts & stops to get there. So, if you feel the same way at the start, give it time and a chance. Maggie continues her beautifully lyrical writing in this book, but it seems to be in an even more sophisticated mood-provoking and descriptive way. This is a quiet book, but Maggie's research into the various water horses mythology stories and English cliff settings is apparent throughout in the emotion and feeling her words evoke.

The way the setting is used to create the mood in this book is done with such a deft and subtle hand that it instantly draws the reader into the story from the start. The setting is a character of it's own right in this book, as it needs to be. And the water horses are one of the most interesting mythological/fantasy/paranormal elements I've read about in awhile. It's a heart-wrenching story of friendship and family and what love means and what really, truly matters for people. It's about courage and dedication and loyalty and figuring out who people are and where they're meant to be that really matters. It's about having the courage and strength to go after those things that one wants and the bravery and dedication to see it through to the end no matter how difficult. It's about finding your place in the world and doing everything to keep it yours.

It's a book with a sweet romance and dedicated families and intriguing mythology and people discovering who they want to be and what makes them who they are - and then living that life. The romance is quiet and subtle and innocent and meaningful and heart-warming. The loyalty of not only people, but horses also, pulls the tears out at the end, but in such a way that it's sad and hopeful at the same time because everyone wants someone who understands them completely and would be dedicated to staying with them no matter what. THE SCORPIO RACES is different from everything else I've read out there in the mood that is created by the setting and writing, and it's an achingly beautiful read (even if it takes a little while to get into it).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

OF POSEIDON by Anna Banks

Author: Anna Banks
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (a Macmillan imprint)
Release Date: May 22, 2012
Number of Pages: 352
Source of Book: ARC from NCTE
Author's Website:

Emma and her friend Chloe are spending vacation in Florida. When Emma (literally) runs into a hot guy named Galen on the beach, little does she know he’s a prince of the Syrena. Galen and Emma both feel something strange – is it attraction? – and Galen suspects that Emma might well be the girl he’s heard of – a human who can communicate with fish.

What follows is a deadly scene with a shark in which Galen witnesses Emma’s gifts. He must know more about her, and follows her back to New Jersey, and high school, to find out for sure if she’s the key to saving his kingdom. Soon, Emma can’t deny her feelings for him, but can’t explain them, either – and both she and Galen must learn more about where she comes from and what her powers are before they can trust one another and their feelings.
This book was not what I was expecting, but ohmysweetgoodness I really enjoyed it. This might actually be the first mermaid story I’ve read. I picked it up because I thought it might fit into the mythology books I was pulling together, and it has slight references, but was more about the world of the Syrena (mermaids/men). It pretty much pulled me in from the beginning with one of those “girl meets someone who she’s drawn to but doesn’t know why” kind of starts. But it doesn’t end up continuing in quite that way because by chapter two, we’re switched to the boy’s perspective and get a whole new view on who he is. We also get a romance that builds on it’s own and it’s insta-attraction, but not insta-love. I appreciated the alternating perspectives with each chapter, although it did take me a little while to get used to Emma’s chapters being in first person and Galen’s chapters being in third person. Because it switched points-of-view so often, I did feel like each time I started a new chapter it took me a few sentences to readjust my mindset; however, I did like the way in which it was written.

The humorous moments in this book are plenty, and really add to the reader being engaged with the story. Emma is innocent and has no idea what’s going on with the world of Syrena in the beginning (and I do love a feisty and snarky main character) who doesn’t take crap from anyone, and Galen is flustered and confused and trying to figure it all out - both the human world and the situation that’s going on. Galen is just such a good, sweet guy too - the surprise date is one of the sweetest I’ve read. There is also a little sense of political intrigue with the backstory of the division between the Triton Syrena and the Poseidon Syrena and how Emma fits into it all. But it’s the characters that really make this book as fun and engaging as it is. They are written in a way that makes me want to go hang out and laugh with them, but also in a way that makes me totally feel for them as they try to work things out with each other.

I did have a couple of things that pulled me out of the story a little bit, and I’m not sure if it’s because I was reading an advanced reader’s edition (knowing changes can still be made in copyedits) or just some terminology that this author uses, but there were a few wordings of things that threw me off. When I come across something that takes me out of the story for a minute to try to figure out what it means, it interrupts the flow for me. My big complaint, though, is the ending. It happened really fast and made the story feel incomplete to me. I understand the use of cliffhangers at times, but the way this one was done it just felt to me like the story stopped at a chapter ending instead of a story ending. There is too much more to know and find out and be said, so I’m sure there must be a sequel, but it will feel like a really long wait for it because of how this one seems to end too quickly and right in the middle of something.

Overall, it was a keep-wanting-to-turn-pages to see what happens next kind of book with engaging and endearing characters (Galen’s sister and best friend are so entertaining), a touch of humor, a bit of fantasy/supernatural world, and a sweet romance. These poor characters are put through a lot in this story, but I enjoyed going through it with them. I will definitely be reading the next book to find out what happens next (thank goodness she's writing a second book)!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

2011 YA Story Scavenger Hunt (Question #35)

I'm today's hunt stop for the 2011 YA Story Scavenger Hunt!

Follow the hunt every day during the month of December! Answer the daily trivia questions from MG and YA books published during 2011 to be entered into the YA book giveaway.

Today's question is from Shine by Lauren Myracle.
Question #35: What does Wally illegally sell?
Remember to fill out your answer in the form at Most Important Letter here!

Are you a YA book lover?

Then you might want to try out the 2011 YA Story Scavenger Hunt. 62 trivia questions on 62 different YA books (published in 2011) on 31 blogs on all 31 days of December!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Announcing: Essay Contest for Aspiring Writers of YA/MG Fiction

Just got this announcement for a contest today for aspiring YA/MG writers! Sounds like a great opportunity to get feedback on a manuscript! Good luck!
Win a literary agent or acclaimed author's feedback on your unpublished manuscript for young adult or middle grade readers.  This rare opportunity is being offered to the six winners of an essay contest recently announced by the literacy charity Book Wish Foundation.  See for full details.

You could win a manuscript critique from:

  • Laura Langlie, literary agent for Meg Cabot
  • Nancy Gallt, literary agent for Jeanne DuPrau
  • Brenda Bowen, literary agent and editor of Karen Hesse's Newbery Medal winner Out of the Dust
  • Ann M. Martin, winner of the Newbery Honor for A Corner of the Universe
  • Francisco X. Stork, winner of the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award for The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
  • Cynthia Voigt, winner of the Newbery Medal for Dicey's Song and the Newbery Honor for A Solitary Blue
All that separates you from this prize is a 500-word essay about a short story in Book Wish Foundation's new anthology, WHAT YOU WISH FOR.  
A stellar collection from Newbery medalists and bestselling authors written to benefit Darfuri refugees
With contributions from some of the best talent writing for children today, WHAT YOU WISH FOR is a compelling collection of affecting, inspiring, creepy, and oft-times funny short stories and poems all linked by the universal power of a wish - the abstract things we all wish for - home, family, safety and love.
From the exchange of letters between two girls who have never met but are both struggling with the unexpected curves of life, to the stunning sacrifice one dying girl makes for another, to the mermaid who trades her tail for legs, to the boy who unwittingly steals an imp's house, and to the chilling retelling of Cinderella, WHAT YOU WISH FOR brings together a potent international roster of authors of note to remember and celebrate the Darfuri refugees and their incredible story of survival and hope.
Essays are due Feb. 1, 2012 and winners will be announced around Mar. 1, 2012.  If you win, you will have six months to submit the first 50 pages of your manuscript for critique (which means you can enter the contest even if you haven't finished, or started, your manuscript).  You can even enter multiple times, with essays about more than one of the contest stories, for a chance to win up to six critiques.

If you dream of being a published author, this is an opportunity you should not miss.  To enter, follow the instructions at

Good luck and best wishes,

Logan Kleinwaks
President, Book Wish Foundation

(ISBN 9780399254543, Putnam Juvenile, Sep. 15, 2011) is a collection of short stories and poems about wishes from 18 all-star writers: Meg Cabot, Jeanne DuPrau, Cornelia Funke, Nikki Giovanni, John Green, Karen Hesse, Ann M. Martin, Alexander McCall Smith, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Joyce Carol Oates, Nate Powell, Sofia Quintero, Gary Soto, R.L. Stine, Francisco X. Stork, Cynthia Voigt, Jane Yolen.  With a Foreword by Mia Farrow.  Book Wish Foundation is donating 100% of its proceeds from the book to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to fund the development of libraries in Darfuri refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

BLOODROSE (NIGHTSHADE #3) by Andrea Cremer

Title: BLOODROSE  (Last in the trilogy of NIGHTSHADE (#1) and WOLFSBANE (#2))
Author: Andrea Cremer
Publisher: Philomel (a Penguin imprint)
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 414
Source of Book: ARC sent from Penguin after NCTE (mostly because I was stalking it and drooling over the one copy they had at their booth in the exhibit hall!) Thanks, Penguin Peeps!
Author's Website:

The Ultimate Sacrifice.
Calla has always welcomed war. But now that the final battle is upon her, there’s more at stake than fighting. There’s saving Ren, even if it incurs Shay’s wrath. There’s keeping Ansel safe, even if he’s been branded a traitor. There’s proving herself as the pack’s alpha, facing unnamable horrors, and ridding the world of the Keepers’ magic once and for all. And then there’s deciding what to do when the war ends. If Calla makes it out alive, that is. 
In the final installment of the Nightshade trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Andrea Cremer creates a novel with twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat until its final pages. A dynamic end to this breathtaking trilogy.

This is a tough one to write without spoiling anything, so let me first say, if you've read NIGHTSHADE and WOLFSBANE, you'll definitely love the ending to this trilogy, but if you haven't - go read, seriously, go get them now! NIGHTSHADE was my book obsession of 2010 and as soon as BLOODROSE showed up on my doorstep, I dropped all my other books, and things I should have been doing, and read it for a day and a half straight until I finished. I'm bummed my time to spend with Calla and her pack is over, but I'm satisfied with the resolution to this trilogy and thankful to have experienced this journey and world that Andrea Cremer created for us to enjoy.

This final book in the trilogy is really all about Calla's journey - finding her strength and ability to be in control of her own life/choices/decisions. Calla is a strong character, but I don't think she realized how strong she can be in fighting against the life that she was born into until the events at the start of this book. She really has to come into her own as an alpha in this book. I enjoyed spending time with Calla during this time of upheaval in her life and struggle to balance both sides of her dreams and wants and personality. However, it was tough for me because although it's not all about the boys, it still is a little, and my preferred one did not end up being the one in the way I would have wanted, but I also understand why the story couldn't have ended up that way. It was heartbreaking to me, but I do understand as Andrea tweeted me: she's "bound by blood and bone to the story." Unfortunately, I think deep down as I was reading, I knew it would end up that way, and so the whole time as much as I wanted to love it, I felt myself pulling back a little because I didn't want to read the part I knew was inevitably coming.

This book had quite a bit of suspense as the search is on for the remaining parts of the Scion's sword and action as the war between the Keepers and the Guardians/Searchers came to it's battle-filled conclusion. I enjoyed the suspense and action as well as the characters. The way that the pack dynamics were written drew me into all of the characters even more, and some of my favorites were highlighted in this book. Having other couples and friends dealing with real emotions and relationships (family and pack and Searcher, both friendship and romantic) added a juxtaposition to the search and war situations which kept the reason for the war at the heart of the story. And I enjoyed Connor's comic relief again and the ultimate end to his story. Andrea has an innate intelligence to her writing that I really appreciate. I can tell she knows her history when reading her books and she has created a complex world for us to share for a little while.

I was very satisfied with the ending to this book. In fact, I really loved the very last chapter-it might have been one of my favorites especially because of whose perspective it is told through. There was redemption for many characters and relationships and I felt a sense of a deep breath of satisfaction at the end in knowing everyone was where they should be, living the lives they should be, with the people they could be with. You definitely need to get your hands on this one January 3rd - and make sure to block out some time to read it because once you start, you won't want to stop until the very last word (and even then, you'll probably wish it wasn't over)!

Monday, December 12, 2011

OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy

Title: OyMG
Author: Amy Fellner Dominy
Publisher: Walker & Company
Release Date: May 10, 2011
Number of Pages: 256
Source of Book: Bought the hardcover
Author's Website:
Jewish girl. Christian camp. Holy moly.

Ellie Taylor loves nothing better than a good argument. So when she gets accepted to the Christian Society Speech and Performing Arts summer camp, she's sure that if she wins the final tournament, it'll be her ticket to a scholarship to the best speech school in the country. Unfortunately, the competition at CSSPA is hot-literally. His name is Devon and, whether she likes it or not, being near him makes her sizzle. Luckily she's confident enough to take on the challenge-until she begins to suspect that the private scholarship's benefactor has negative feelings toward Jews. Will hiding her true identity and heritage be worth a shot at her dream?

Debut author Amy Fellner Dominy mixes sweet romance, surprising secrets, and even some matzo ball soup to cook up a funny yet heartfelt story about an outspoken girl who must learn to speak out for herself.
I’ve been wanting to read this one ever since I first heard about it, and I’m so glad I finally did. It’s a cute, easy read, and I’m glad to find a book that will be appropriate for my younger middle school readers, but doesn’t feel so “middle grades”. The overall plot arc is a little predictable, but kind of like a good chick flick-you know what I’m talking about, right? The one you really want to go see because you just need some comfort watching and pure entertainment even if you know how it’s all going to go in the end? It follows a safe formula for reluctant readers, while adding in elements of religion and needing to be true to self that make it resonate on a deeper level and send the kind of message I want my students to read.

Secondary characters are fun, but this book really focuses on Ellie and what she’s going through. I have to say, I’ve never read a book about speech students, but it added a new twist that gave some unique depth to the story. Ellie is a fun character who really goes after what she wants. There is, of course, a boy, and a best friend, and a family, and one hilariously entertaining grandfather involved. Right wins out in the end by standing up for oneself, and there are some really strong messages throughout about prejudice and trying to fit in and doing things for the right reasons and making sure that you are comfortable with your actions. OyMG is just a fun, cute, light read that I will definitely be handing off to my students right away. I look forward to reading Amy's next book as well!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

In My Totebag (43) NCTE/ALAN Wrap-Up Part 1: The Books

I've been debating this post: should I do it, how can I word it, can I fully explain how/why I feel so overwhelmed by generosity and appreciation this week without sounding like I'm bragging, is it going to send the wrong message to bloggers who aren't teachers or librarians and make them want to try to "crash" our convention, etc, etc, etc... Why was this so difficult? Because I am an educator, and I was lucky enough to be able to attend the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Convention and the ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) Workshop two weeks ago. Did I pay to go? Absolutely (registration, lodging, meals, travel). Was it worth it? Without a doubt - even if I hadn't gotten a single book the knowledge I gained and the relationships I built will help me become better at my job working with kids every day. 

Why this IMM (or totebag as the case may be)? Because I decided I wanted my convention experience to include time spent in the exhibit hall also. I talked to publishing reps about what books they're excited about that they have coming up. I asked them for middle grades suggestions. I discussed books I like with them. I got some advanced copies of books they wanted to share with me to take back to my students. I waited in line to buy books to have signed by the authors who were in the exhibit hall. I spent money on buying many books and shipping multiple boxes home and I want to share them with a broader audience than just my classroom. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the school and library groups at these publishers, and came away with such an appreciation for them and how they support teachers (in a time when we're not always given the best public support) and how thankful they are that we get books into the hands of kids who read them.

Ultimately, I came to this decision: If I'm getting books in my role as an educator, I also feel bound by my role as a blogger to at least mention them on the blog and get the names out there because even though they weren't given to me in my role as a blogger, I still want to show my thanks by helping get the word out and publicize them. However, due to the number of books (120!) there was still the question of how to do this this week's IMM is a little different - the pictures of the book stacks are here instead of individual covers and I'm not listing each title individually with links because it would take way too long (I have other reviews to write and books to read and papers to grade) and make a huge post, but I am linking to goodreads for the titles that I'm most excited about. I hope you enjoy seeing some upcoming titles and can appreciate the intent of this post. And, if you're an English teacher or school librarian or soon-to-be-teacher, NCTE will be in Las Vegas next year, and it is one of the most incredible professional development opportunities I've ever had, and I encourage you to try to go!

In My Mailbox is a posting idea run by Kristi at The Story Siren (read all about it here: In My Mailbox) for bloggers to share the books they've gotten that week to help publicize as many titles as possible. It's a little preview on what book reviews to anticipate along with a way to build excitement about new titles coming out. All titles link to goodreads so you can add books to your "to-read" list.

The Books
AFTER OBSESSION by Carrie Jones & Steven E. Wedel
THE FUTURE OF US by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler
LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins
PAGE BY PAIGE by Laura Lee Gulledge (graphic novel)
THE FAERIE RING by Kiki Hamilton
ILLUMINATE by Aimee Agresti (March)
BLACK HEART by Holly Black - Book 3 Curse Workers series (April)
LEGEND by Marie Lu
THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson
BUNHEADS by Sophie Flack
EVERNEATH by Brodi Ashton (January)
SHOOTING STARS by Allison Rushby (February)
DARKER STILL by Leanna Renee Hieber
STICK by Andrew Smith
THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen (April)
PURITY by Jackson Pearce (April)
BREAKING BEAUTIFUL by Jennifer Shaw Wolf (April)
TAKE A BOW by Elizabeth Eulberg (April)
THE LIST by Siobhan Vivian (April)
THE DROWNED CITIES by Paolo Bacigalupi - Companion to SHIP BREAKER (May)
PANDEMONIUM by Lauren Oliver - Book 2 DELIRIUM (March)
STUPID FAST by Geoff Herbach
EMBRACE by Jessica Shirvington (March)
REASONS TO BE HAPPY by Katrina Kittle
GOLD MEDAL SUMMER by Donna Freitas (June)
WHEN YOU WERE MINE by Rebecca Serle (May)
A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHTMARE by Kody Kepplinger (June)
UNDER THE NEVER SKY Veronica Rossi by (January)
DITCHED: A Love Story by Robin Mellom (January)
THE RIVALS by Daisy Whitney - Book 2 THE MOCKINGBIRDS (February)
CINDER by Marissa Meyer (January)
SLIDE by Jill Hathaway (March)
EYE OF THE STORM by Kate Messner (March)
A WORLD AWAY by Nancy Grossman (July)
WELCOME, CALLER, THIS IS CHLOE by Shelley Coriell (May)

Not Pictured
BLOODROSE by Andrea Cremer - Book 3 in the NIGHTSHADE series (January)
FRACTURE by Megan Miranda (January)
CLOCKWORK PRINCE by Cassandra Clare - Book 2 Infernal Devices (December)
DEAD TO YOU by Lisa McMann (February)
THE WAY WE  FALL by Megan Crewe (January)

I cannot say enough how thankful and grateful I am for the overwhelming generosity of the publishers to teachers and librarians who spend so much of their own money to provide books that will be of interest to kids to help get them reading.
Thank you, thank you, thank you...most especially to these publishers who really took the time to excitedly talk books and share titles with me: Sourcebooks, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Bloomsbury, HarperCollins, Macmilian, & Little Brown!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

2011 YA Story Scavenger Hunt (Question #4)


I'm today's hunt stop for the 2011 YA Story Scavenger Hunt!

Today's question (#4) is from Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton.
What is the name of the mental institution where Ari looks for clues about what happened to her mother?

Remember to fill out your answer in the form at Most Important Letter here!

Are you a YA book lover?

Then you might want to try out the 2011 YA Story Scavenger Hunt. 62 trivia questions on 62 different YA books (published in 2011) on 31 blogs on all 31 days of December!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WHEN YOU WERE MINE by Rebecca Serle

Author: Rebecca Serle
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 304
Source of Book: ARC from NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Convention
Author's Website:
*There is no cover for this book yet, so no picture is included, but will be added once the cover is revealed.

Goodreads Summary:
Rosie knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. They are best friends, next door neighbors, and the soon-to-be cutest couple in their senior class. Rosie has been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her--and when he finally does, it's perfect. But just before their relationship becomes completely official, Rosie's cousin Juliet moves back into town. Juliet, who used to be Rosie's best friend. Juliet, who now inexplicably hates her. Juliet, who is gorgeous, vindictive, and a little bit crazy...and who has set her sights on Rob. He doesn't even stand a chance.

Rosie is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet. This is not how the story was supposed to go. And when rumors start swirling about Juliet's instability, her neediness, and her threats of suicide, Rosie starts to fear not only for Rob's heart, but also for his life. Because Shakespeare may have gotten the story wrong, but we all still know how it ends.

I was really excited to see an advanced reader copy of this book at the convention because I had heard about it/seen the summary, and it sounded really good. It ended up not being exactly what I was expecting from the summary that I had read, but I did like it; although, I was a little bit unsure in the beginning. We all know Shakespeare's version of Romeo & Juliet, but this book says Shakespeare may have gotten it all wrong because it's really a drama, and Rosaline who loved Romeo is kind of an overlooked character once Juliet shows up - in fact, she may be the wronged party in this whole equation. So in this book, we get Rosaline's side of the story. Intriguing, right? But, what I didn't realize, was that this book would be told as a completely contemporary story.

In Act I, I was a little unsure because it was feeling a little bit like a generic high school drama/popularity book, but once we got into the later acts, I started to feel the need to keep reading and not stop until I finished four hours later. I almost put it down after Act I, but still felt there was something about this book that I was really going to like, and needed to keep reading to find it. So, what I'm saying is, if you aren't sure of it in the beginning, keep going because it gets really good.

This very contemporary high school romance book has the obvious (and some more subtle) references to Romeo & Juliet which makes it a great tie-in to hand to students to compare and spot the connections. I can see it being very popular in high schools. It was a fun read, a little angsty, but it's Romeo & Juliet, so that's expected. However, Juliet in this book, is not the same Juliet you remember from the original version! And, this is actually a good story on friendship and family, which at the start I didn't think it would be, but ended up being my favorite part of the story.

Overall, it was feeling a little surface level to me in the characters - maybe because there were so many secondary people (and I found it jarring to my reading each time they used the first and last names of all these people), but as the book continued, we got to delve deeper into the motivations of these characters later in the book. That's when it turned really good to me. When we found out more about Len, and some of the reasons the girls were acting how they were, it started to get way more interesting to me.

Towards the end, there were some really strong themes and messages as Rosaline starts to move beyond her feeling that Rob is "the one" for her. It talks about reacting to what happens in life because we can't control it and having choices and needing to make them and that is what determines how we look at life. By the end, in Acts 4 and 5, I was really into it and felt it evolved beyond the typical and was something deeper that I was really enjoying reading. So, give this one a shot in May, you'll find a fun read with a sweet boy and a girl who has to go through some deep looking at herself to come out on the other side realizing what's really important in life and how to make the most of it.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Publisher: Poppy (an imprint of Little, Brown)
Release Date: January 2, 2012
Number of Pages: 256
Source of Book: ARC from NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Convention

Goodreads Summary:
Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan's life. She's stuck at JFK, late to her father's second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon to be step-mother that Hadley's never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport's cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he's British, and he's in seat 18B. Hadley's in 18A.

Twists of fate and quirks of timing play out in this thoughtful novel about family connections, second chances and first loves. Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver's story will make you believe that true love finds you when you're least expecting it.

I don't know if I can adequately express how much I adored this book. I was super-excited to get an advanced copy (and in fact waited in a line for 45 minutes to pick just this one) as I had heard the title (and seriously, how cute is that title?) and read the summary and it sounded just like the kind of book I would want to read - and it was! I started it just to get a feel for the author's writing style, intending to just read the first few pages as I was in the middle of another book, and I ended up finishing the book that night - I couldn't convince myself to go to sleep (no matter how tired I was or how early I had to get up the next morning) until I read all the way through to the end of this endearing story.

This book is a "one day in the life of" kind of story. Hadley is on the way to London for her father's wedding to a woman Hadley has avoided and never met. Hadley is still not over her parents' divorce and is not accepting of this new woman. When she misses her flight by a mere four minutes, she knows she'll be stuck in the airport for awhile. Everything is going wrong for her that day, and then Oliver steps in to help her with her suitcase. It turns out Oliver is a student at Yale, but is also returning to his hometown of London for something to do with his parents as well. Hadley and Oliver seem to hit it off right away, but neither one is really sure exactly of the other person. There are moments in the airport, moments on the plane, and then a moment in the customs line in London. And then each has to get to where they're going, but neither can stop thinking of the other. And then, someone says something to Hadley, and as she's trying to process through this wedding that is happening that she doesn't like, she realizes something about why Oliver might be in London, and she tells her dad she has to leave to go take care of something and she heads out to find the guy from the plane.

This story is somewhat told in alternating viewpoints, but in third person, so it's a little different than what I'm used to reading, but I really enjoyed the writing style. It kept moving in large and small ways that made me keep turning pages to find out what would happen next and how it would all end. I was just drawn in to these characters and what they were dealing with in their lives. I felt for them and the difficulties they were going through, and their draw to each other. It's a love story, a romance, and a story of healing through the support of others. This story has a lot of heart.

Hadley is processing through her issues with her father and her parents' divorce, and meeting Oliver and what she goes through seems to give her a journey to the healing and acceptance that she needs. Oliver was a character whose humor and heart and personality I really enjoyed. Hadley was a realistic portrayal of someone who has been hurt and a teen who is rebelling in her own way. I think that's what I liked most about it - I really cared while I was on this journey with these characters - and I felt like I was there on the sidelines rooting them on and hoping they could end up finding each other again in London. And they felt real to me. This book reminded me of some other books and movies that have the same "one night in the life of" type of meeting situations, and it was just a comfort to read and an endearingly heart-warming story. Since it's coming out in January, it will be a great post-holidays, cold weather, curl up in front of a fire with a good book read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Friday, November 25, 2011

THE RIVALS by Daisy Whitney

Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 6, 2012
Number of Pages: 352
Source of Book: Requested ARC from publisher
Author's Website:

Goodreads Summary:
When Alex Patrick was assaulted by another student last year, her elite boarding school wouldn't do anything about it. This year Alex is head of the Mockingbirds, a secret society of students who police and protect the student body. While she desperately wants to live up to the legacy that's been given to her, she's now dealing with a case unlike any the Mockingbirds have seen before.

It isn't rape. It isn't bullying. It isn't hate speech. A far-reaching prescription drug ring has sprung up, and students are using the drugs to cheat. But how do you try a case with no obvious victim? Especially when the facts don't add up, and each new clue drives a wedge between Alex and the people she loves most: her friends, her boyfriend, and her fellow Mockingbirds.

As Alex unravels the layers of deceit within the school, the administration, and even the student body the Mockingbirds protect, her struggle to navigate the murky waters of vigilante justice may reveal more about herself than she ever expected.

THE MOCKINGBIRDS was one of my absolute favorite books of last year, and I absolutely recommend it to everyone if you haven't read it yet (which, if you haven't, you need to go do immediately!!!)! And, Daisy is really fabulous - she even did a skype visit with my students after I was raving about her book on twitter. So, I was really excited to get an advanced copy of this sequel to read the continuation of Alex's story after the events she went through in the first book. Now, as the leader of The Mockingbirds (since she was helped by them in the first book) she has a whole new set of struggles to deal with.

Alex is a great teen girl character. She has a lot of integrity, but is still a real girl with doubts, insecurities, hopes, mistakes, and the desire to do right. She stands up for what she believes in no matter what and is a truly loyal friend. Her honesty and desire to do what's right is inspiriting. It was great to read this book and get to watch Alex continue her recovery from last year's (book's) date rape and rediscover and recognize the strength she has in herself. It's not an easy journey for her, but with the help of true friends and others who are willing to stand up to those who are wrong, she makes the right choices in the end.

The Mockingbirds is an evolving entity in this book, as it needs to be. It is the only organization that is providing a safe outlet to those who have been wronged. There are interesting lessons on government, power, and human nature in this book. It really delves into what can students do when they feel adults won't help them - and I appreciated the message that there are some adults who will stand up and do what's right when they see kids needing help - even if the kids don't see it at first. It's an interesting journey of realizing you don't have to go it alone.

Although it deals with some heavy topics, Daisy Whitney's writing is the comfort food of my reading life. There's just something so comforting in her contemporary style imbued with profound lessons in a non-preachy way, oh, and there's always kissing thrown in. It's all about who we choose to be in these books and how to find the courage to change our ways, be who we should, and do the right thing. That is true strength, bravery, and justice. It's about integrity, standing up for what's right, going for what you believe in, and doing right even in the face of adversity. All strong messages for teen girls.

I highly recommend Daisy Whitney's books if you haven't read them yet, and I'm so excited to know that she has several more different books in the works so we'll be able to continue reading her books for a long time.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

INSIGNIA by S.J. Kincaid

Author: S.J. Kincaid
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (A HarperCollins imprint)
Release Date: July10, 2012
Number of Pages: 464
Source of Book: ARC sent from editor
Author's Website:

Goodreads Summary:

More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.
INSIGNIA is one of those books that was really hard to stop reading at night to go to sleep-I never wanted to stop turning the pages as it was a nonstop thrill ride in a virtual reality, corporate-sponsored, dystopic future.  At first, I was a little intimidated by the world the author created – because there are some corporations and sponsors and military terms that I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep track of, but it ended up being surprisingly easy to follow. This is definitely a plot-driven book, and at 464 pages, there’s a lot of plot. I was worried I’d get to parts where I didn’t really care or they felt slow, but that never happened! There was always some sort of action (either virtual or real) that kept the pacing moving forward at a perfect speed. The descriptions of the settings were perfectly done, and I especially liked all of the historical (including mythological) references in all of the virtual reality training scenarios. It was such fun to see how the characters interacted with these simulations, and nicely provides some subtle history lessons for students reading this book as well.
This book has elements of a fish out of water story (kind of in a Harry Potter way of discovering a new “school” and people and how you’re changing because of it), corporate and political intrigue, an awkward teen wanting to be accepted, friendship, power, control, life or death fights, and the fate of multinational corporations and alliances hanging in the balance (no pressure there!). The author wielded a deft hand at balancing the action, technological, and teen self-esteem/friendship elements of the story in a way in which none felt over or underdone. There were also some great comedic moments to balance it all out as well.
The characters really make this book though. All the action and excitement and plot an author could add, won’t make a difference if I don’t care about or like the characters. And in this book, I loved the characters. I adore Tom and was rooting for him the whole way, and the secondary characters who are his friends were so entertaining. There were some great teen girl supporting characters as well, and what I really liked was that they were actually some of the better computer programmers. And Vik, as Tom’s roommate at the new school, provides great comic relief in the midst of serious situations.
INSIGNIA is just an exciting book, and a scary look at a future that might not be too far off. I absolutely loved it and can't wait for more people to read it and start talking about this fabulous debut! This is a book that my students (especially boys) who are into gaming or computers will love. I will be adding it to my “you liked this, try this...” list with BRAIN JACK by Brian Falkner, TEEN, INC. by Stephen Petrucha, and EPIC by Conor Kostic. I’d also recommend it to those who liked DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth (both books have the same editor at HarperCollins!). I'm so glad to hear this one is going to be a trilogy because I can’t wait to see what happens after the big finale of this one (but thankfully, no cliffhanger ending)! Make sure to add this one to your list of July releases you’ll want to read!