Slayer is a new YA book by Kiersten White that is set in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer world. Yes, you read that correctly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer! For anyone that is a fan of Buffy, I must strongly recommend this book. If you have never faced Buffy before, I still strongly recommend it if you love action filled paranormal reads with a very strong female lead.
The story is set in a world where Buffy has destroyed magic in the world. That means no more portals into the demon realms and no more future slayers. Not all evil has been banished. Those demons living on this plane are still here and a threat. Athena (Nina) and her twin sisters have grown up in the world of the Watchers (a group that protects and trains a slayer). One day, when an attack happens on their home, Nina's slayer abilities come to the front.
Nina, a person that has always hated Buffy (her father was killed protecting her), is torn. She has always wanted to be a medic, but now as a slayer, her life seems to be about taking lives and not saving them. At the same time, he mother is doing everything she can to prevent Nina from understanding her new powers and her twin sister begins to grow apart because it appears she is jealous that Nina got to be the slayer.
If you are familiar with Buffy, you will appreciate the layers of complications that fill Nina's life. You will also appreciate the snarky fight lines that appear in the tale, keeping with the general feel of the original Buffy show. The plot has several twists in it that keep you guessing with the main character as to what is actually happening. The character's are fun, but come off as a little shallow in their development. I don't think this is a negative, because it fits with they characters were developed on the Buffy show. There are several references that only someone that has watched Buffy would be able to understand; however, they won't prevent you from enjoying this book.
I recommend this book for anyone that is looking to slay some time and escape into an exciting ride on the dark side.
It has been a while since I have posted any book reviews. This past year, the library established a book club that went through several titles. So, it is not due to a lack of reading some wonderful books. I will try and catch up by reviewing some of the books that were read last year and over this summer. We have a lot of new titles coming into our library, and I hope to establish a podcast of the book club's reviews of the books that were read.
Far from the tree by Robin Beneway
This is a family drama about a family that never knew they were a family. Sound confusing? If you are Grace, an only child that was adopted at birth to a caring upper middle-class family, it gets incredibly confusing when she goes on a search for her birth mother and discovers that she has two other siblings: a younger sister and an older brother. Her sister, Maya, was adopted into a family of redheads (she is a brunette) and has always struggled to feel like she fits in when everyone else looks so different. Her older brother, Joaquin, has had a much tougher time since the siblings were taken from their mother. He has spent his entire life in the foster system and has always found it difficult to trust anyone.
This book is a wonderful exploration of family dynamics and what the word family really means. Grace, who starts this journey after she decides to give up her new born child for adoption, but this book is not about Grace. Each sibling brings their own life struggles, and for me, that is what is truly fascinating. Beneway masterfully creates these characters traversing all the difficulties of life only to face a new challenge of integrating other people into your understanding of family. I really enjoyed Joaquin's story and how he struggles with trust and the idea of couple wanting to adopt him at the age of seventeen. There is a reason that this book the National Book Award for Young People's literature. Read it, you will not be disappointed.
Warcross by Marie lu
Marie Lu's book Warcross is one of the 2018-2019 South Dakota YARP (Young Adult Reading Program) books for the middle grade. It is an interesting dystopian book set in the future, where the world has become obsessed by the Warcross video game. The main character, Emika Chen, is a brilliant, but struggling bounty hunter (despite being 16) that hunts down bounties of illegal players of Warcross. Using her hacking skills to break into an international Championship event, and gets discovered after glitching into the game. Instead of getting in trouble, she ends up getting recruited by the Warcross game creator for a special mission to track down a threat to the entire Warcross world.
As a fan of games like League of Legends, Overwatch, and Fortnite, I get the kind of desire people might have following something like this. It always has qualities similar to Ready Player One where the world has given themselves to a virtual reality world. So the action scenes involving the game competition was of interest in the book, I enjoyed Emika and some of the memories she has with the loss of her father. I felt that the story was under-developed. I thought the RL world and the VR world were both lacking detail that could pull me into the story. I think that the story will appeal to many teens, because the idea of video gaming replacing traditional sports and the idea of avatars and creating a different life in a new world is not new to them. If I had to rate the book on a scale of 1 to 5, I would have to give this book a solid 3.
What would you do if you witnessed a man beating a teenage boy? What would you do if that teenage boy was black and the man was a police officer? What would you do if you realized that the teenage boy was a classmate and the police officer was a surrogate brother that looked after you when you father was killed?
The answers are not so easy, but it is what the reader is forced to deal with in the book All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The book is told through the viewpoint to two young men: Rashad, an artist, a junior ROTC cadet at high school, and a black, young man whose wrongfully accused of attempted stealing of a bag of chips and beaten so badly by a police officer who happened to be in the store that Rashad ends up in a hospital for several days; and Quinn, a basketball star, son of a army hero killed in action, and a white male who witnesses the beating of Rashad as he is being taken into custody by his best friend's brother and a man that Quinn had admired and looked up to after the passing of his father.
This books allows us to explore the issue of systemic racism in our society and in our lives from two completely different angles. I really enjoyed that the book allowed for the characters to explore what they were feeling and how they were confused about the world that they thought they lived in. Both Quinn and Rashad discover information about people in their life that force them to evaluate how they must face life. I want to gush and gush about all of the moments that we as a reader must also ask ourselves about our own preconceived prejudices, but I don't want to give away anything. If you are thinking that this is a book that will preach to you how to think and feel, you would be incredibly wrong.
At a time when the news is filled with images of police brutality and shootings of unarmed men and women, this book hits on a note that, for me, struck very true. First, it doesn't matter if you are a young, black man or a police office risking your life on the streets, everyone is a human being. It is when we make people something other than human (thug, hero, troubled, white-trash...) that we all ourselves to do harm. Second, that when we don't speak out against wrong doing, we allow that behavior to continue. The saddest thing right now is that as I write this review, the country is dealing with shootings and violence that have happened in Minneapolis (Philando Castile), Charlottesville (Heather Heyer), and Saint Louis (Anthony Lamar Smith), and years from now, we will unfortunately have a much longer list of new examples of racism to fight until we all decide to take a stand.
In the end, this is a book everyone should read. It is not just for YA, it is not just for people living in a big city, it is for everyone.
I love good superhero stories. The mix of science and the unexplained powers with the frailness of the human being has always been what brings me back to the genre. Zeroes is an excellent example of exploring how a person with powers is still a person first and that is more important than the things they can do.
The story is ambitious as it looks at six powered teens. Five of the teens had attempted to form a group of powered people that they have nicknamed Zeroes. These kids are not your typical comic book superheroes. The powers all vary and as one point that comes up time and time again, these powers come with a cost. Because of that the group can not last and they go their separate ways.
The story starts with one of the Zeroes Ethan- a.k.a. Scam- who ends of getting in some serious trouble thanks to his power. He eventually ends up at the police station and calls the former leader of the Zeroes, Bellweather (also called Glorious Leader by the group) to help get him out. After the team gets together to get Ethan out, they have to continue to struggle with keeping Ethan safe and their own personal demons.
Because there are so many characters to bring in and a need to understand how the universe works, I felt the book was a bit slow at times. The most enjoyable part of the book was to see the downside to all of the "gifts" the characters had. You have Crash, whose power is the ability to interact and destroy devices and electrical signals. Those same signals also cause her pain. In a world where everyone carries around a mini-computer in their phone, it is a clear burden. The person I feel most for in Anonymous. His power is to be forgotten. When people lose focus on him, they forget him completely. This includes parents, friends, anyone. Forced to leave home because his own parents would forget that he exists, his power is probably the hardest to deal with in my opinion.
I encourage you to give the book a try.
It is about time to get back to school (waits for the mixture of groans and cheers). One of the fun things to look forward to is the release of the South Dakota YARP books list. The list is full of great titles. In this review, I read on of the books on the high school list: Gutless by Carl Dueker.
Gutless focuses on a young man, Brock Ripley, about to enter high school. He has a lot of athletic ability, but never really got involved in team sports until he was talked into going out for the soccer team. While on the middle school team, Brock discovered he had great hands. Then one day he gets asked to catch some footballs from the future high school starting quarterback. He gets the bug and as a freshman, he has a chance to make the varsity team.
He loves football, but the one thing that holds him back is that he is afraid to get hit. Even as a goalie, he was afraid to take a hit from a hard kicked ball. He soon finds out that this fear of getting hit is a big problem. He soon get demoted to the freshman team and is rarely used. While all of this is happening, Brock must handle in his life. His father is dealing with a debilitating muscular disorder. A new friend that has become the target of bullying by the varsity members of the football team. He struggles with how he fits in the world as a student, a friend, and a son. Can he find the courage to do the right thing? Can he get through high school unscathed?
This was a very good story that anyone that has been involved in sports or watched someone get bullied and wondered if you should say something or do something. Many times we think it is easy and say we would always stand up against wrong doing, but it is not always that simple. The story from Carl Dueker is similar to his popular book Gym Candy. If you like stories that connect to sports, you will not want to miss this one.
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham gives us story about a fifteen year-old girl, Scarlett that has all ready graduated from high school and is now running a detective agency. The story starts with a young girl asking Scareltt to investigate her older brother because she thinks he may have caused someone to commit suicide. As Scarlett begins to investigate, she is pulled into a deeper conspiracy involving an ancient symbol, King Solomon's Knot, an ancient story involving djinns and ancient prophecy, and a group of dangerous people that may be connected to Scarlett's past. Scarlett can only hope to survive with the help of her friends, including the handsome young man named Decker.
The story is told with a noir feel to it, which provides something different than most mystery novels for YA. Scarlett also must balance the life of a detective and being a teenage girl with her Islamic faith (this part is done fairly well as it fits some aspects of modern life with myths). In the end, I never really got pulled into the story. The fact that she is a fifteen year-old girl going on thirty made it well-beyond concepts of believable. Mix in with a noir style that seemed to fade in and out, the story felt, for lack of a better word, cheesy. Lines like "Seeing Emmet always reminded me that I wished I could see him more." (pg. 97) remind me of Humphrey Bogart, but then it will switch back to classic teenage sass.
In the end I can only recommend this book if you are looking for something different in the mystery genre, or you like a sassy teen character that is way tougher and knowledgeable beyond her years.
“Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They're gonna come and eat you all.
Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.
Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They're gonna come and eat you all!”-- Song from This Savage Song
Victoria Schwab's 2016 novel This Savage Song is a unique world that is filled with monsters and not all of them are human. In the this world, monster are born from great violence and cruelty. The Corsai remind me of werewolves, the Malchai remind me of vampires, and the Sunai are something unique altogether. The city is divided into two halves. In this story we meet Kate Harker whose father controls the northern half of the city with a powerful fist and August Flynn, a Sunai who lives with Harper Flynn, a human who controls the Southern part of the city.
Kate Harker is a young girl that has worked very hard to get kicked out of six different schools to make sure that she was back in the city with her father. Her mother, killed in an accident, has left Kate with only one role model to look up to; her father. She strives to become as ruthless and powerful as he is, but he seems to want nothing to do with his daughter.
August Flynn is one of the most powerful monsters; a Sunai. The Sunai feed on the souls of sinners (people that have committed murder) and are considered by many invulnerable. August lives with two other Sunai, Ilsa and Leo, alond with the Flynns, a family that controls the southern half of the city by working together to protect people. August desperately wants to become more like his parents--human.
There paths cross when August is secretly enrolled into Kate's school in the north sector of the city. Soon the two are forced into a life and death situation that risks not only their lives, but the future of the city. In this struggle, they must come to grips about who they truly are.
I enjoyed this novel. I did feel a little confused at first as I struggled to figure out the rules to the world. The monsters and how they came to be took some time to figure out. The true power of the novel is the question that it explores--how does one come to grips with who they are, even if it means that includes being a bit of a monster. As I got settled into the world and the book really allowed the characters to explore this issue, it sucked me in to the point I didn't want to leave. The book is part of a series, so the ending leaves things hanging. If you like creative worlds that have a darker fantasy setting that explores the questions of what makes a person good or evil (human or a monster), then this is the book for you!
One of the books on this year's South Dakota YARP (Young Adult Reading Program) list is Tunnel Vision by Susan Adrian. In this book, Jake Lukin, an average eighteen year-old boy with all of the normal teen issues has a secret he has been hiding from others. He has a type of psycometry that allows him to touch and object and see, experience, and locate the person most connected with the object. He calls it tunneling. Only a few other people knew anything of his abilities, his best friend and his little sister, because his father who passed a away in a plane crash had always warned him of letting anyone know of what he could do.
After showing his talents to a few classmates at a party, Jake life gets turned upside down when DARPA shows up saying that the government will protect him and his family if he works for them and uses his gift to help other government agencies. Jake reluctantly agrees to protect his family, but soon realizes that DARPA doesn't really want to help him, but use him. Jake is forced to try and figure out how he can get out of DARPA's control and keep his family safe.
This story is a very good action thriller with several twists in it. While at times I felt that it was underdeveloped with everything that Jake was put through, the challenges he needs to overcome, keep the plot moving. I would have liked more development of Jake's character, but the character's in his family like his sister Myka and his Russian grandfather gave me something to hold my interest into the story. This is a fairly quick read that will draw the reader in and provide several hours of enjoyment. If you are looking for a deep-thinking book that will force you to contemplate different ideas of humanity, then this is not the book for you.
Gone by Michael Grant is a book that mixes sci-fiction with horror in a way that reminds me of several of Stephen King novels. It does this in a way that avoids the graphic style of Stephen King, but maintains the mystery and intrigue of a new and horrifying world.
In the story, all of the residents fifteen and older instantly vanish. Everyone else is left trapped in a large dome like structure that prevents them from leaving. The older children must find a way to help the really young children (prees) to survive and cope with this new world. In the book children already have or are developing special powers that range from telekinesis, energy blasts, healing, teleportation, and more. The older ones also get divided into groups with the school bullies enforcing control on everyone else. As the book progresses, we are introduced to mutant snakes, a evil, phasing cat, and talking coyotes that serve The Darkness.
There is another problem that the characters are forced to deal with. When a person reaches their fifteenth birthday (the exact moment that they were born), they vanish (poof) from existence. The characters will need to figure out how this is happening if they hope to survive in their new world they call the FAYZ.
Overall, I thought that this was a solid read. I am a big Stephen King fan. I did have a difficult time not trying to compare it to Stephen King's book The Dome. Like The Dome I enjoy they mystery of how the world came into being, how human beings will react in such difficult positions, and the battle between the good versus evil. I don't feel as confident about my reactions to the character development in Grant's novel. It fells a bit shallow and the characters never really got there for me. I was also frustrated by the issue of not dealing with the horror of everyone over the age of fifteen disappearing and the chaos it would cause (car accidents, abandoned children/babies unable to fend for themselves for example). It touches on the idea, but its attempt to keep it on the low end of the horror scale, left me wanting something more. I am hazy on if this is supposed to be more science fiction suspense of science fiction horror.
In the end, if you are looking for an engrossing book that explores concepts of good and evil in world of monsters (where the bullies are some of the worst monsters), special powers, and a sense of youthful empowerment, then you will enjoy this book. If you are looking for something with a bit more of an edge to it, then go for the Stephen King books of Charlie Higson's Enemy series.
This week was National Teen Read Week and to kick it off, the South Dakota Library Association opened voting for South Dakota's YARP (Young Adult Reading Program) books. Some people may think that young adult books are just for kids, they must be simple books, that the books have nothing for adults. You couldn't be further from the truth. YA books may have characters that are the younger, but the action, the decisions, the complexities that they struggle with are something all ages can relate.
One of the books on the YARP list for high schoolers is Six of Crows by Leigh Burdargo. The main character is Kaz Brekker that is already a criminal mastermind. He gets offered an opportunity to break into a fortress to bring back a man producing a drug that enhances special powers. To accomplish this task, he gathers up five other people (some who would like to kill each other) and develops a plan to break into the impossible.
The story is set in a world that reminded me of great fantasy books like The Ranger's Apprentice, Wheel of Time, and Fellowship of the Rings. The plot is full of twists and turns as would be expected with a good crime novel. The author is also very deft at mixing in the back ground of the different main characters to allow you to create a picture of who they are without being overtly obvious and allowing for a continued level of mystery even in the end. It was wonderful to see the development of the group as well as the individual characters.
Like any new world, it did take a little bit to begin to understand the rules surrounding the book. At times I did feel that some of the twists were artificial and a few were of the expected variety, but that did not take away from the action and the unique way that the characters sought to deal with it. On the whole, I recommend this book to any one that likes fantasy mixed with action or a good crime book.