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Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

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Rossi, V. (2012). Under the never sky. New York: Harper. ISBN: 9780062072030

Annotation: Aria has spent her entire life living in the Reverie Pod, having adventures in the virtual Realms. When she gets blamed for starting a fire in an abandoned section of the Pod, she’s exiled Outside and has to rely on an unfriendly Outsider to survive.

Reaction: With all the concern about boys not reading, I think this is a book that really would have crossover appeal for both boys and girls. The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Aria and Perry, giving the reader both the female and male viewpoints. There’s plenty of action as Aria and Perry travel across the barren, dangerous Outside. They have to fight off cannibals and wolves and avoid deadly Aether storms. And they have a romance that, in my opinion, develops naturally. And it’s nice that there’s no love triangle to deal with (why do we have to be excited about this?), though the shadow of the inevitable end of their romance adds a sense of urgency and sweetness to their love.

By the end of the book, Aria has really become a strong, courageous young woman, and I’m excited to read the next book in the series.

Author’s Website

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The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

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Image from Goodreads.com

Carson, R. (2011). The girl of fire and thorns. New York: Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 9780062026484

Annotation: Elisa is God’s Chosen One. She is also a terrible princess, fat, and married for political alliance. When she is kidnapped by zealots, she has to figure out how she can help save the kingdom.

Reaction: I really enjoyed this book, and Elisa has a great voice. I love how frank she is and how determined she is to become a good queen. Carson does a great job of showing the atransformation Elisa goes through to become a leader, and though she does go through a physical change, the biggest changes are mental and start even before her appearance changes.

And while there is some aspect of romance in the story, it is almost incidental to the rest of the plot. I was a bit concerned when Carson seemed to be setting up a love triangle, but let me tell you, she took care of that in the most shocking way I’ve ever seen.

I want to read the rest of the series, and I hope that they are as enjoyable as this one.

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The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool

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Image from Goodreads.com

Catchpool, M., & Jay, A. (ill.). (2012). The Cloud Spinner. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN: 9780375870118

Annotation: A young boy has the ability to spin the clouds into beautiful cloth, only ever using as much as he needs. When a greedy king sees the cloth, he demands that the boy make clothes for him, with disastrous results.

Reaction: I was drawn to this book because of the spinning. I love the idea of creating your own yarn through the simple act of twisting it together, despite the fact that I’m terrible at practicing it. So I love to see spinning and knitting and other fiber arts represented in children’s books.

This is a sweet, quiet fairy tale featuring the traditionally foolish king and wise, hardworking peasant. The art is beautiful, and the crackle varnish adds age and gravitas to the illustrations. I love the shapes Jay draws in the clouds and the faces she gives to the houses, hillsides, clouds, sun and moon. These details add a touch of whimsy to the art.

This story isn’t action packed or funny, but it would appeal to lovers of fairy tales and fiber arts.

Materials used: Alkyd paint & crackle varnish on thick cartridge paper

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Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan

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Image from Goodreads.com

Fagan, D. (2011). Circus Galacticus. Boston: Harcourt. ISBN: 9780547581361

Annotation: Trix sort-of-accidentally runs away with the circus when her school takes a field trip. Along the way she discovers that the universe is a much bigger place than she ever realized, and the meteor her parents gave her to protect is something much more special.

Reaction: This book is great fun; I love a good novel about the circus! And adding in SPACE only makes it better. Trix’s adventures with the Circus Galacticus are all about finding one’s place in the world and making friends. She is an angry teen, but her angst is totally relatable for anyone who ever felt left out or picked on, and she starts to mellow out as she finds Her People. She doesn’t take crap from anyone, but she also learns about accepting responsibility for her actions and grows into a more mature teen along her journey.

My regular library has it shelved in the children’s area, though it is more appropriate for the teen section, being about a 16 or 17 year old high school girl. There’s nothing in this that would be inappropriate for middle school readers, and it would probably appeal to a pretty wide range of ages.

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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Image from Goodreads.com

Taylor, L. (2011). Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Little, Brown Book for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780316134026

Annotation: Karou is an art student living in Prague, but she is also the errand girl for the wish monger Brimstone, whose shop is through a portal into Elsewhere. When all the doors to Brimstone’s shop are destroyed, Karou sets out to find another way to him.

Reaction: This book is delightful. Laini Taylor reminds me a lot of Sarah Rees Brennan, with great characters and sharp dialogue. I’d wanted to read this book since I first saw that gorgeous cover, but I didn’t get around to it until after the second book was released. When the third and final installment in the series was released in April, I decided to do a re-read of the first two before I dove into the last one. I am so glad I took this opportunity to experience the lushness of Taylor’s creation all over again.

Laini Taylor does something really interesting & unique with the idea of angels and devils in this series, and she does it really well. I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted by the fallen angel trope, and I am leery of anything that uses it. Taylor’s angels and devils, though, are different races from an alternate world rather than actual supernatural beings, which I find really refreshing. Her characters aren’t limited to a good versus evil dichotomy or a struggle against their “true nature” the way you often see in other books featuring angels. These characters are individuals and some of them are good while some of them are bad and most of them are somewhere in the middle trying to live their lives and survive the war that’s been raging between the two races for the last thousand years.

In the first book, she weaves mystery around these two races, using Karou’s journey of discovery to take the reader on a fantastical journey to figure out what is going on. Her writing is dreamy and magical, and the story is compelling. Taylor’s style is one that I love to read, full of beautiful descriptions that make me long to live in her world and enough plot development and suspense to keep the story moving forward at all times. At no point in this trilogy did I ever want her to just “get on with it,” because it was never boring or slow. And I love her characters! Zuzana totally needs to be my new BFF. But everyone is smart and snarky and super enjoyable, and the villains really make my skin crawl with how wonderfully vile she has made them.

I listened to the audiobook, and I loved the narration, though the voices of some of the characters are not as distinct as in some other books to which I’ve listened. The second I finished the first one, I downloaded the sequel from Audible, and I had the third on preorder in anticipation of its release. The narrator of this series, Khristine Hvam, has become one of my favorite favorite narrators, and I’m always excited to see that she’s reading something I’ll be listening to. Hvam’s voice does an excellent job of capturing the tone of Taylor’s writing, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to read the text without hearing her voice in my head.

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The Selection by Kiera Cass

Cass, K. (2012). The Selection. HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780062059932

Annotation: In a dystopian America post World Wars III & IV, seventeen year old America Singer is chosen to participate in The Selection, a Bachelor-like competition for the honor of marrying the crown prince. Unfortunately, none of America’s plans for her life included dating a prince alongside 34 other girls, and she’s determined to get back to her normal life just as quickly as possible.

Reaction: (Fair warning, this review is going to talk a little bit about the entire Selection series and will include minor spoilers for the books.)

Let’s talk about The Selection, shall we? I finally picked this up to read because it was chosen for a book club I will be attending, and I was not sure that I would enjoy it. From the first few pages, I felt like I could predict the path of the entire triology, let alone this first book. To a certain extent, I was right. There is nothing surprising or terribly original in The Selection. Obviously, the pretty, nice, smart, talented main character finds that she likes the prince much more than she expected but then! Her boyfriend from back home turns up after being drafted as a soldier! This naturally complicates matters, as she still has very strong feelings for this guy, in addition to her burgeoning feelings for the prince. Not to mention that she’s up against 34 other beautiful, smart, talented women who are almost all more prepared for this situation than she it. Hijinks ensue. I was, honestly, a little bored, already less than 10% into the book.

But then…I read the entire trilogy in three days. Let me just assure you that this is something I never do. I have so many books checked out from the the library and sitting on shelves waiting to be read that it generally takes me forever to get around to a sequel, if I’m even interested in continuing with the story in the first place. It’s probably been a year or more since I was engrossed enough in a story that I jumped my queue to read the sequels. So…that happened.

In actuality, while I found the plot of the first book predictable, I really enjoyed the characters of the prince, Maxon, and America. I found them very engaging and funny, and I really wanted to know what happened to them, even if it was just what I expected to happen.

And then the second book happened. Let me tell you, friends, that second book is a test of your interest and dedication to America’s story because I was sick of her stupid love triangle 30% of the way through the book, and it didn’t end until the very last possible moment. And I’m not a love triangle hater; Katniss/Gale/Peeta didn’t bother me, but this! Every other page America’s heart flip-flopped between Maxon and her hometown love. Maxon would be kind of a douche, and America would run back to Aspen. Then Maxon would be sweet, and she was totally in love with him again. It was exhausting! And annoying! By the end, I really wanted America to choose herself and leave both boys in the dust.

Also, she was such a weenie in the second book; every time she would do something awesome and crazy and, let’s be honest, badass, she’d freak out because Maxon didn’t think it was amazing and totally apologize and grovel for forgiveness. Stand up for yourself, girl! Don’t apologize for being awesome! (Seriously, ladies, stop apologizing so much.)

But the third book ended up being awesome! The ending was surprising and emotional and pretty fantastic. I super enjoyed it, and I really recommend that anyone interested in this series or these characters just push through the annoying second book to get to the awesome conclusion. Each book on it’s own was a really fast read for me, and though I wish Cass would have skipped 95% of the second book, the third made up for it.

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Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

DaCosta, B., & Young, E. (ill.) (2012). Nighttime ninja. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN: 9780316203845

Annotation: Late at night, when everyone is asleep, a ninja creeps through the house on a secret mission.

Reaction: This is an exciting adventure story that highlights a child’s imagination and ability for creative play. Throughout the story we see the ninja as he sees himself, and it’s not until the end when he’s busted while on his mission that we see him as he really is. I love the way his mother plays along with him and gives him a new “back-to-bed mission” rather than scolding him or ignoring his play.

The illustrations are what really make this book outstanding. Young’s use of paper, cloth and string add texture and depth to the images and really make the story come alive. Dacosta’s text is simple and plain and allows the illustrations to do most of the heavy lifting.

I think this book could inspire kids do some of their own creative play and let their imaginations create new personas and adventures.

Winner 2013 Children’s Choice Book Awards

Media Used: Cut paper, textured cloth, string and colored pencil

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website