I thought this book was kind of like a Davinci Code for tween and teen readers. There is a lot of mystery, tons of action, and a “bigger picture” that readers catch glimpses of throughout the story. (This is the first in a series.) Although I feel this book probably could have been edited down to be quite a bit shorter, I think the fast-paced action is likely enough to keep even reluctant readers turning pages. Plus, the movie rights have been bought by Reliance Entertainment and Kintop Pictures, so I have a feeling this book will be in high demand as soon as the trailer starts making the rounds.
Will West’s parents constantly remind him to be as average as possible. They won’t tell him why, but they think it is very important for him to fly under the radar. So, he stays in the middle of the pack in cross country, he gets average grades, and he doesn’t do much else. All his careful calculating is wasted, though, when he slips up and scores off-the-charts high on a national standardized test. As a result, he gets invited down to the principal’s office for a meeting with a woman named Dr. Rollins, who extends an offer for a full scholarship to a secret, elite prep school… and men in black also start following him. When his mom starts acting like a robot/zombie and his dad sends strange text messages, Will decides he needs to run for it. With the help of a local taxi driver, who assumes Will is on the run from the police, he makes a mad dash for the airport — where he boards a plane for the secret prep school with the hope that he will soon begin to make sense of what is happening to him.
18-year-old Becky Randle, a recent high school graduate, works for a local grocery chain and lives in the trailer she inherited when her mom died (from complications of diabetes/being morbidly obese). One day, Becky thinks she hears her mom’s ringtone and, while searching for the phone, unearths a phone number on a scrap of paper inside an otherwise empty jewelery box. She wonders if the phone number has anything to do with the cryptic thing her mother said on the day she died — “[S]omething is going to happen to you. And it’s going to be magical.” So Becky decides to take a chance and calls the number. It’s almost too good to be true when the person on the other end of the line offers her $1000 and a plane ticket to New York City, but she has nothing to lose and decides to check it out.
Upon her arrival in NYC, she is brought to see fashion designer Tom Kelly, who offers to make her three dresses and to transform her into the most beautiful woman in the world. Becky doesn’t believe him at first, but her best friend Rocher uses some extremely colorful language to convince her to go for it. (Rocher’s expletive-laden exclamations were often hilarious, and one was so good that I actually pulled over and recorded it with my cell phone so I could later play it back for my husband. AFTER the kids had gone to bed, of course!) Anyhow… Tom comes through and works some sort of crazy magic and Becky really is transformed! She becomes Rebecca — who is tall, thin, and gorgeous, with perfect skin and hair. She can eat anything she wants without gaining an ounce, and this gives her loads more confidence than Becky ever had. The only problem is that Rebecca needs to fall in love and get married within a year or everything will go back to the way it was before.
I was initially going to read this by myself, but I had to keep stopping to read things out loud to my son because he kept asking, “What’s so funny?” After a few chapters he asked me, “Can you just start over and read that book out loud to me? It sounds really good!” Well, I couldn’t say no to that! And, I must say, even though this book is cataloged as YA, it really didn’t have anything in it that made me uncomfortable reading it out loud to an 8-year-old.
15-year-old Jennifer Strange works as the manager for Kazam Mystical Arts Management. Since wizidrical power has been dwindling for quite some time, wizards are reduced to using their power for more mundane purposes, like delivering pizzas and rewiring houses. Jennifer spends her time and energy trying to find enough work for the Kazam employees, but demand seems to be drying up just as quick as magic. Until, suddenly there is a magical surge and people start whispering about the possibility that Big Magic is involved. When “precogs” start picking up on the impending demise of the last dragon, Maltcassian, everyone in the UnUnited Kingdoms starts going mad about claiming a portion of the untouched Dragonlands — and Jennifer learns that SHE will become the Last Dragonslayer. Reluctant to believe that she will have to kill Maltcassian, since he hasn’t yet done anything to break the Dragonpact, Jennifer does her best to wield her power as Last Dragonslayer with integrity. This book has a winning combination of a strong female character with a good moral compass and plenty of wry humor. I can see this book being a hit for fans of Harry Potter who want a lighter fantasy read.
I know I am always telling people not to judge books by their covers, but I am certainly guilty of this infraction from time to time. Somehow, I saw the cover of this book and thought it would be more fantastic than it was. Maybe it was the banner that says “Believe in the unbelievable…” Maybe it was the castle in the background. But, somehow, I had my mind set that those kids would be involved in mystical time travel. Yeah… Not so much! Although, there were chapters that took readers back to the early 1900s to discover the history of the Water Castle and the ancestors of the main characters, those main characters most definitely did not travel through time themselves. And that was OK. Even though this story wasn’t what I thought it would be, I still thought it was extremely cool.
Ephraim Appledore-Smith’s family relocated to Crystal Springs, Maine, after his father had a stroke. Though his mother had inherited the house quite some time ago, Ephraim and his siblings had never been there before. His mother decided to move to Crystal Springs because she had hopes that a specialist who lived in that area would be able to help her husband with his recovery. After their arrival, though, Ephraim became obsessed with the possibility that the local water had special, mystical properties and that he could use it to cure his father. After all, that was how the “Water Castle” came to be in the first place; his ancestor, Orlando Appledore, built the house because he was convinced that the Fountain of Youth was in Crystal Springs. After floundering to find his niche in the new town/school, Ephraim became part of an unlikely trio — with Mallory Green, whose family has always worked as caretakers of the Appledore property, and Will Wylie, whose family has long feuded with the Appledores. First brought together by a polar explorers research project, the three banded together with a determination to find the fountain of youth themselves.
People have been telling me to read this series since the first book came out. And, although I trust the opinions of the people who kept recommending it, I kept thinking about how often I get frustrated waiting for the next books to come out in all the series I read. I get so caught up in the characters that waiting for the next book in a series is like waiting to reunite with a friend who just moved away and won’t be home to visit for at least another year. I don’t get desperate, per se, but it’s not fun to have to keep on waiting all the time! So, I purposely waited to even get started. For real. I just refused to start this series until I knew the third book was almost out. And, boy, am I glad I decided to wait!
Beatrice Prior was born into a society divided into five factions — Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). Although she was born into Abnegation, her society came up with a selection process by which teens could choose to stay in their given faction or to move to a different faction. In preparation for making her choice, Beatrice went through a simulation that was supposed to narrow down which faction would be the best fit. Something went wrong, though, and Beatrice’s test proctor informed her that her test results were anything but definitive; Beatrice was Divergent. She didn’t know what it meant, but the proctor made it quite clear that being Divergent was dangerous and that Beatrice should not tell anyone about her results. I don’t know that I can summarize the rest of the series without getting into spoilers, so I will just wrap things up by saying that fans of other dystopias like The Hunger Games and Delirium will not be disappointed.
It’s no secret that I read to my children all the time… I’m a former teacher who became a librarian, so books and reading are kind of my thing! When I report that my son loved a book or a book series, some people take it with a grain of salt. They say, “But he loves everything!” Well, he kinda does… And that’s OK. For the people out there who haven’t yet convinced their children how awesome books and reading can be, though, THESE BOOKS might be a breakthrough! Not only does Adam Gidwitz trust that many kids can handle the gory old versions of the Grimm fairy tales, but he also understands just how often to give little reassurances and asides [as the narrator] to take the edge off for kids who might get a little nervous about what is going on in the story.
Here are a few things you need to know before reading these books:
1) You don’t necessarily have to read them in order, since each book has different main characters — though you may want to read A Tale Dark and Grimm before The Grimm Conclusion, because the latter references the Hansel and Gretel’s stories in the former.
2) If you plan to read these stories out loud, you may want to establish a separate “narrator” voice, so the listeners can tell when the narrator is interjecting without you having to say so every time. (Especially because it happens A LOT!)
3) These books are HILARIOUS… in a dark and disturbing way. My son has inherited my sick sense of humor, so he and I often found ourselves cracking up so hard that we had to put the book down and just laugh [or risk losing our place]. We were even scolded a few times because my daughter was trying to sleep and we were being too loud!
I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because I’m afraid the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation is hacking my brain to hijack my book reviews! ;-) Seriously, though… Listening to this story made me wonder how close we are, technologically, to having nanobots capable of invading people’s brains to control the things they do and say. A lot of this story was pretty gross — with graphic descriptions of nanobots “down in the meat” — but it was so intriguing that I just couldn’t stop listening!
The basic premise is that there’s a nano-war being fought — with Charles and Benjamin Armstrong [conjoined twins and owners of the Armstrong Fancy Gift Corporation] on one side and a bunch rogue teens who call themselves BZRK on the other. The Armstrongs are fighting for a better world, if you believe what they say — but their plan involves mind control and the removal of free will. BZRK is fighting for people to remain free from mind control, even if it means that some people will make bad decisions that lead to war and general unhappiness. Nothing is ever black and white… especially when it comes to gray matter.
As you might recall, my son and I absolutely LOVE to check out all the incredible pictures and stories in these books! When I brought this latest edition home, he was actually disappointed that we had to sit down to eat dinner instead of going straight to the couch to check it out.
Some of our favorite wacky and creepy items in this edition were:
- “Fake Family” [p. 26] — Alice Winstone has spent nearly $20,000 creating a nursery for 50 lifelike baby dolls that she “feeds,” bathes, and even sleeps with.
- “Corpse Bride” [p. 48] — though the owner of the bridal shop says it is only a mannequin in the front window, many people believe that she is really the preserved corpse of the previous owner’s daughter.
- “Speared Skull” [p.110] — a 3D scan of construction worker Eduardo Leite’s skull after a 6 foot long metal bar fell and pierced through his hard hat and his skull. Amazingly, Eduardo lived and was not even paralyzed!
- “Triathalon Juggler” [pp. 170-1] — Joe Salter of Pensacola, FL, completed a triathalon… while juggling the entire way!
- “Candy Magic” [p. 204] — an artist named Jason Mecier created a portrait of Harry Potter using only red and black licorice.
- “Lickable Wallpaper” [p. 215] — inspired by Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, this wallpaper featured cake-flavored stickers — each of which was replaced by an attendant after someone licked it to avoid the spread of germs.
- “Webbed Wonders” [p. 237] — workers from Clearwater’s High Rise Window Cleaners dressed in Spider-Man costumes to clean windows at the All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL. Talk about a great way to raise morale!
I could go on and on… but, really, you just need to get your hands on a copy and check it out for yourself!
Other than the fact that I had to listen to some of the dialogue bits twice to understand what the Wee Free Men were saying in the audiobook (because they speak with a very thick Scottish brogue), I loved this book! Tiffany Aching is a young witch who has to rescue her young brother, Wentworth, from the clutches of the evil Queen of Fairyland. Though Tiffany doesn’t actually know any magic, her teacher/mentor, a witch named Miss Tick, reassures her that having a keen eye and an attention to detail is often more practical than magic. After witnessing her attack on a monster, using only a frying pan, the Wee Free Men [aka the Nac Mac Feegle] decide they would like to help Tiffany on her quest. And, while it sounds awesome for Tiffany to have a band of men to help her out, you have to consider that these particular “men” are six inches tall and best known for their sheep-stealing, drinking, and fighting. If you enjoy fantasies and/or stories that make you laugh out loud, you should definitely check this one out.
Cent [short for Millicent] is a 16-year-old girl who, despite being homeschooled in the remote Canadian wilderness, has seen more of the world than many people will see in a lifetime. She sometimes takes off at a moment’s notice to go shopping or surfing half way around the world, but her parents don’t own a private jet or helicopter. In fact, the helipad on their property is so overgrown with weeds it’s barely recognizable. How do they get there, then? They jump. All they have to do is concentrate on where they want to go and they can teleport themselves. Though unable to jump herself, Cent has always been brought along by one of her parents. Until one day, while snowboarding without permission, when she nearly gets caught in an avalanche and accidentally learns how to jump herself. Cent gets excited by all the possibilities her jumping has opened up to her… but it terrifies her parents. Not only do they have the usual parental worries of their daughter getting hurt in the usual ways, but they’re also worried that Cent could wind up kidnapped by the scientists who once held her father captive in an attempt to discover how jumping actually works.