Sam’s Review of The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison

trtmihWhen I first started reading The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison, I have to admit that I was pretty excited. The cover art was lovely and the summary on the back was enough to get me started.  The story sounded right up my ally.

The plot from Goodreads:

Ailsbet loves nothing more than music; tall and red-haired, she’s impatient with the artifice and ceremony of her father’s court. Marissa adores the world of her island home and feels she has much to offer when she finally inherits the throne from her wise, good-tempered father. The trouble is that neither princess has the power–or the magic–to rule alone, and if the kingdoms can be united, which princess will end up ruling the joint land? For both, the only goal would seem to be a strategic marriage to a man who can bring his own brand of power to the throne. But will either girl be able to marry for love? And can either of these two princesses, rivals though they have never met, afford to let the other live?

The fantasy genre has long been a favorite for readers – magic, romance, princesses, ancient prophecies, etc.  It might start to feel like it’s all be done before, but thankfully this story is different. Harrison has gone to great detail and effort to create a world that is new and never seen before.  There are two types of magic here. One is Anger and Death, given to men: taweyr. The other is Nature and Beauty reserved for women: neweyr.   In order for there to be a happy kingdom there must be a balance of both magics.

The two main characters Ailsbet and Issa are just delightful in this carefully crafted story. It is clear from the onset that Ailsbet, the musically gifted princess of Rurik, would be a great leader. She is passionate and kind, clever and careful. Yet, because she is a woman with no magic she is unable to rule. As the story goes on a secret is revealed about Ailsbet’s magic, one that even she wasn’t expecting. This secret has the power to threaten not only her chances at the throne but also her life. I found myself really drawn to her as she struggled with her new identity. In many ways she was already trapped by her title as princess, one without magic. But once she truly comes into herself she has to make some choices that have implications beyond herself.

Issa is a princess from the other island. The journey from Ailbet’s castle to Issa’s takes a long and dangerous month. In her kingdom, Issa has been in charge of the feminine magic in her lands since the passing of her mother. She would like the opportunity to lead in her own kingdom, but it doesn’t seem possible for her. Ailsbet’s father has more power and thus more control. When Kellin, a handsome messenger, arrives with a proposal of marriage from Ailsbet’s kid brother, Issa knows what she must do, for everyone’s sake.

Much of the plot is driven by what the ladies have to do for political advancement. As a reader I liked seeing the girls struggle with the decisions they had to make because it really grounded them. Ailsbet’s father, the terrible King Haikor of Rurik, is obsessed with his power and magic and often taxes men a portion of their magic, which he sucks from them in quite a grotesque way. Ailsbet’s mother, Queen Aske, has been asked for years to suppress her own magic so that the magic of men would be stronger still. This leaves Anger and Death to run rampant in Rurik. With these two as parents, Ailsbet takes on quite a bit of responsibility for her brother, Edik, often putting his needs and political strategy ahead of her own. She knows that a marriage with Issa will unite the two kingdoms but she struggles with whether this would be good or simply an invitation for her father to increase his power and realm at the expense of Issa’s people. Issa has to grapple with just the same problem with an added layer, she has fallen in love with a Duke of Rurik. Should she choose love? Can she? It’s this question that both women really have to consider. Who’s happiness is more important and at what cost?

What I really loved is the balance between the seriousness of the prophecy and decisions both ladies have to make and the sweetness of the romance mixed in. Issa’s love story unfolds slowly at first, then all at once. This was one of my favorite parts of the story, and I’m not really a romance girl! I never felt overwhelmed by it or that that piece of the puzzle overshadowed any other part. I admit that it initially worried me based on the cover! That girl looks like a damsel in distress if I’ve ever seen one!

Really, my only complaint was that the language was a bit much at first. Harrison invents many words to describe her magical world and if you’re not paying close attention you might miss a meaning and become totally lost. As I kept reading I got more and more used to the strangeness of the language and found that eventually (after two or three chapters) I slipped easily into the zone.

I realized just a few pages from the end that I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to these characters yet. It’s always a good sign when that happens! All in all it’s a solid, girly, summer read!

4 out of 5 Stars

The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison
EgmontUSA (2013)
Hardcover: 400 pages
ISBN: 9781606843659

Special thanks to EgmontUSA for my review copy!

Sam’s Review of Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

tgfEvery day our lives intersect with those of countless others. There’s the lady on-line at the grocery store, the parent of another child at the school pick-up line, the man who bumps into you as he hurries up the street. Most of these people are and remain strangers. Some we exchange pleasantries with, then part ways. Rarely, a few become lasting fixtures in our lives. They might turn out to be lovers, confidantes, life-long friends. But, what happens when one of these chance meetings turns into something we regret, leaving us wishing we’d never even met in the first place?

Such an encounter serves as a catalyst for the action in Jamie Mason’s Three Graves Full. Jason Getty meets a stranger one day by chance at the gas station. In an effort to spread a little good karma Jason offers to fill his tank with gas. A relationship that starts out interesting and amicable soon turns sinister when the man drives Jason to commit a crime he never thought himself capable of: murder.

Scared of what he has done, Jason quickly buries the body in his yard where he hopes it will never be found. Jason then slowly starts to put back the pieces of his life to try to move on. Over a year has gone by since the murder when Jason finally feels comfortable having some landscaping done on his property. He carefully watches the workers to make sure they maintain a distance from the dark secret that lurks just beyond the edge of the yard. To Jason’s shock, the workers uncover something…a human skeleton! Sure that his secret has been discovered, Jason follows the men out the yard to have a look. What he sees there is indeed a human skeleton, but not the one he buried in the yard! What’s more, a second body is discovered.

As police are called to the scene to investigate the bodies, Jason begins to unravel. The investigation persists and the reader is introduced to a lively cast of characters, each connected in some way to Jason and the bodies in his yard.

This book made me reflect a lot on our relationships with other people. How well can you really know someone? How much influence do we have over the actions of others? At what point does a person break and become something or someone they never dreamed possible?

Three Graves Full is an exciting mystery thriller that kept me guessing with each turn. Mason does a fantastic job creating characters that leap off of the page and keep you wanting to read just five more pages. I really enjoyed the well-balanced combination of his detailed writing style and fast-moving plot. Infused with tensity and dark humor, this is a book that simply can’t be missed!

4 out of 5 Stars

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason
Gallery Books (2013)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781451685039

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!

Sam Asks: What About Biographies?

biologoBiographies. I have been thinking a lot about this genre lately and have come to the conclusion that there really needs to be better definition within the biography genre. Let me explain.

Last week I went into the biography section at the library and I was frankly puzzled by what I found. Biography isn’t a genre that I tap into much, so I haven’t been in that part of the library in quite some time.

I’m not sure if I’m way off base here, but I just don’t like the idea of Justin Bieber’s biography sitting on the same shelf as Madame Curie, Mother Theresa, William Shakespeare, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Beethoven, etc. My expectation of biography is that the person being written about has done something truly special to earn themselves a place in the library. This is not to say that these celebrity type people have asked for their biographies to be written, as they are of course authored by others. I’m also not saying that there isn’t any value in knowing exactly what Sandra Bullock’s childhood was like…because I’m sure it was fascinating. I would just like a section for “famous people who are very popular because we see them everywhere” and a section for “people who made a difference.”

I think there is something to be said for a person like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. who put their lives on the line for what they believed in. Who stood up and said something that many people didn’t have the courage to say. I think that those innovators and inventors like Edison, Einstein, and even Bill Gates have accomplished feats of greatness that deserve a certain level of respect. For me, seeing the One Direction crew in the company of people such as these makes me pause for a moment.

I still remember my 5th grade biography project. It was 1997, so the US Olympic Gymnastics team from Atlanta was still a pretty big deal. Obviously, I chose to read about Dominique Moceanu. I remember reading about her life, diet, and training schedule and thinking about how cool she was. Cool. I think that pretty much sums her up. She is a really talented, athletic, cool person. I think she is definitely biography worthy. However, I don’t think that she’s of the same caliber of biography as Winston Churchill.

What I’m trying to say is that the biography genre generally needs to be more specific. Within fiction there are categories: fantasy, science fiction, realistic fiction, and so on. I suppose biography is a sub genre of non-fiction, but I think we can do better. So far I propose these categories:  cool people, famous people, people who changed the world (so broad, I know…I’ll work on it!)

What do you think? Is one huge biography category enough? Who was your elementary school biography project about?

Sam’s Review of The Bracelet by Roberta Gately

thebThe Bracelet by Roberta Gately follows Abby Monroe, a young woman searching for herself following a difficult breakup. She thought she had found “the one” in long time boyfriend, Eric, but when Eric is offered a job across the country he decides to go on without her.

So, heartbroken and lost, Abby does what any girl would in that situation: join the United Nations and take off half way around the world to Peshawar, Pakistan. Here Abby, a trained nurse, looks at statistical data from a refugee camp and reports her findings to the UN. The goal of their mission is to aid in any way possible the vaccinations of the refugees (mostly women and children) who come there.

One of Abby’s colleagues in Peshawar is Najeela, a bubbly, beautiful young woman originally from Afghanistan. Her family left Afghanistan as her father wanted different opportunities for his wife, a college professor, and his daughter than what would have been allowed had they stayed. Despite the appearance of progressive thinking, Najeela mentions several times that her father can be quite violent and closed-minded at home, but wants to be seen as forward thinking to the public. Thus Abby begins to learn what is going on behind closed doors in her new city.

Of course, because this is a story of a heartbroken young woman there must be a love interest. Enter Nick, a handsome, rugged reporter sent to Peshawar to write a story about the UN’s involvement there. Part of Nick’s assignment is to interview Abby. At first they are at odds. Abby doesn’t want to be interviewed and resents Nick’s arrogant attitude. Nick reveals to her that he considers his interview with her “fluff” and his real angle is to write about human trafficking, which is a major problem in the refugee camp, as well as the city itself. It’s a problem that Nick is passionate about exposing, and one that he feels is being ignored. Abby is shocked to hear about this from Nick and is also hurt at being thought of as “fluff.” Predictably, as they begin to work together their feelings change.

Perhaps the most interesting plot point comes in the very first chapter of the novel where Abby bears witness to a heinous crime. While training in Geneva for her mission in Pakistan, Abby sees a woman being pushed out of a building and falling to her death. What Abby remembers most about the nightmarish scene is a beautifully crafted bracelet on the woman’s arm. With no one around, Abby goes back to her hotel to get help. By the time she brings aid to the crime scene, it has been cleared and no one believes what Abby saw. This experience changes Abby and continues to haunt her throughout her journey.

Gately’s story reads sort of like a Lifetime movie (please know I LOVE Lifetime movies.) It’s easy to follow and surprisingly light given the intense content of human trafficking. I really enjoyed the balance between the love story, friendship, and the healthy dose of reality. Human trafficking is a huge problem in our world, one that deserves attention.

I think that Gately handled her content well, exposing just enough to make her point, but not so much that it was difficult for me to read. I think it is worth bearing in mind the seriousness of the content before you pick up this book as your reaction to those themes/ scenes might be totally different from mine.  All in all a nice, quick read.

3 out of 5 Stars

The Bracelet by Roberta Gately
Gallery Books (2012)
Paperback 336 pages
ISBN: 9781451669121

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!

Sam Asks: What’s Your Balanced Reading Diet?

In Ms. Gati’s 6th grade reading class, we follow a strict reading diet. This is in an effort to facilitate healthy growth of our thinking and schema. Favorite or “default” genres, authors, and topics are put into the category of “doughnuts” and “pizza,” while challenge genres, authors, and topics are our “broccoli.”

Earlier this year I shared with my students that for me science fiction is a “doughnut” genre and Rick Riordan is a definite “pizza” author. I decided that in order to lead by example, I would participate in my challenge to them: read three “green veggie” genres, authors, or topics in between each of my favorite ones.

So far, it’s been a bit of a challenge! As readers I think our natural inclination is to pick up books that have familiar aspects. My students have found that in reading different genres, they have been able to extend their thinking about certain themes. They have noticed that topics and lessons transcend genres and have been able to draw some very insightful conclusions.

As a group we have seen ourselves grow. In the beginning, we all abandoned far more books than we do now. I think we were afraid of trying something new. We didn’t like the idea of powering into a text that we would have previously thought of as boring or not interesting.

I try to check in with my students as often as possible to make sure that they are reading a broad range of text. In turn, they check in with me. It has gotten to a point where they insist that I leave the book I’m reading on my desk each week so that they can inspect it for genre, author, and topic. I have had to sneak a few science fiction books in on my Nook to avoid being scolded!

Thus, in an effort to hold up my end of the bargain I have moved into a genre that I rarely read, realistic fiction. The Bracelet by, Roberta Gately is a book that deals in current events. Not only is this book “green veggies,” but it was also written for adults (I typically read YA). My students were so proud!

At the close of this post, I have a question and a challenge for you:

Question: What is your reading junk food? What is your green veggie?

Challenge: Next book you choose – let it be something outside of your comfort zone. Balance your reading life, it’s challenging and fun 🙂

Kim and Sam Review Shades of Earth (Across the Universe Trilogy #3) by Beth Revis

shadesI get REALLY nervous when I start reading the first book in a trilogy.  Not because I think it’ll be bad, but because I’ve had the luck where I get sucked in by the first two books, read the third, and find myself incredibly disappointed.  This happened to me with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games ( 1, 2, 3), Tessa Dare’s Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, and Lauren Royal’s Flower Trilogy just to name a few.  Now this isn’t to say that I’ve had bad luck with ALL trilogies, I had just enough of the above experience happen to cause a nervousness when an author announces a trilogy.

When I first heard about the Across the Universe trilogy by Beth Revis I’ll admit I was excited at the prospect of a dystopic sci-fi adventure in space.  When I finished Across the Universe and A Million Suns my nervousness hit an all time high.  A Million Suns had blown book one out of the water for me.  I was so impressed with the new heights that Revis had taken Amy and Elder to, that I knew she had set an unattainable (in my eyes) precedent that book three just would not be able to reach.  Now that I’ve read book three, I’m happy to say that Revis has proven me wrong.  I’ve asked fellow staffer Sam to join me today to discuss Shades of Earth, book three in the Across the Universe trilogy.  I hope you’ll join our discussion below!

From Goodreads:

Amy and Elder have finally left the oppressive walls of the spaceship Godspeed behind. They’re ready to start life afresh–to build a home–on Centauri-Earth, the planet that Amy has traveled 25 trillion miles across the universe to experience.

But this new Earth isn’t the paradise Amy had been hoping for. There are giant pterodactyl-like birds, purple flowers with mind-numbing toxins, and mysterious, unexplained ruins that hold more secrets than their stone walls first let on. The biggest secret of all? Godspeed’s former passengers aren’t alone on this planet. And if they’re going to stay, they’ll have to fight.

Amy and Elder must race to discover who–or what–else is out there if they are to have any hope of saving their struggling colony and building a future together. They will have to look inward to the very core of what makes them human on this, their most harrowing journey yet. Because if the colony collapses? Then everything they have sacrificed–friends, family, life on Earth–will have been for nothing.

Kim: I am so (x 100) impressed with Shades of Earth.  I think it’s the most beautifully written of the three and the most mature.  I don’t say mature as a bad thing (like risqué content), I say mature because we see Amy and Elder in these massively responsible roles, with the weight of a new society on their shoulders.  The people of Godspeed look to them to help transition them from “space folk” to “Earth folk.”  Not only is this massive transition happening, but people are going missing, strange animals are popping up, people are having weird reactions to the natural fauna, etc.  Throughout all of this they must deal with their own personal relationship and how it fits into their new lives.

Sam: My biggest problem with trilogies is that they tend to be a major letdown by the third book. However, like Kim, I was very impressed and satisfied with Shades of Earth. What I really enjoyed about the writing was that Revis stays true to herself as a science fiction writer. She didn’t disappoint with her beautifully crafted alien planet. Every detail that she included was purposeful and painted a clear picture of a world unknown.

Kim: I have to agree with your statement about the alien planet being beautifully crafted.  Revis’ descriptions of the flowers, the mountains, the lake, etc were exquisitely detailed.  The world visually came to life right before my eyes.  I especially liked the first rainstorm and how all the Godspeed folk thought the sky was exploding.  Their responses to things that we as “Earth folk” just “know” was humorous but also eye-opening.  It made me think, gee, if I had never been outside before how would I react to rain, snow, thunder, or lightening?  Not only was the world beautifully crafted, but the characters were too.

Sam: I was the most taken by Elder’s evolution. In this book he becomes a true leader in his own right, the one that all of his people needed and that I as a reader really wanted him to be. In the previous installments we see him training to be a leader, then trying desperately to actually be one without much guidance. When Amy shows up in his life, all of his thinking starts to change. By book 3 we see him taking what he’s learned from his leadership training and fusing it with what he now knows to be true. This book is the first time that we see Elder making his own decisions without someone prompting him. I like that way that his people seem to follow him, not just because he’s the Eldest, but because he has finally earned the title. He can hold his own now and his merit as a leader is clearest when we realize all of the sacrifices he is willing to make for those who love and respect him. I think that’s what I love most about this character.

Kim:  Ditto to everything Sam said about Elder.  I think that I’ve seen him evolve so much in the past two books and Amy so little, that I expected Amy’s transformation to take center stage in Shades of Earth.  Revis does an incredible job of maturing Amy.  Amy has seemed super selfish at times in the past two books (and in the beginning of Shades of Earth).  Here, dealing with all she is forced to, she begins to see things in a new light and begins thinking of how much she’s grown, changed, and learned.  At one point her father (now unfrozen) asks her what she’s learned during her time awake in space.  Her response (below) definitely shows a new, mature Amy.

I learned that life is so, so fragile. I learned that you can know someone for just days and never forget the impression he left on you. I learned that art can be beautiful and sad at the same time. I learned that if someone loves you, he’ll wait for you to love him back. I learned that how much you want something doesn’t determine whether you get it or not, that “no” might not be enough, that life isn’t fair, that my parents can’t save me, that maybe no one can.

I think that Amy’s transformation is due in part to two things. 1. She sees how much Elder has taken responsibility for and tries to emulate him. 2. The way her parents treat her when they wake up definitely impacts her future behavior   Her parents just continue to treat her like a spoiled brat and ignore the changes she knows have personally happened.  When her parents refuse to see the changes she’s made, that’s when I think she realizes that maybe those changes aren’t so visible after all.  Maybe she needs to work on herself just a bit more.

Sam: One theme that really resonated with me was the idea that no one is ever completely trustworthy. No matter how much Amy tries to find someone who she can confide in and really rely on, they always seem to let her down. Even Elder keeps certain truths from her in an effort to protect her. The one character who seemed to be the most likely to betray Amy and Elder, was Orion. Yet, in the end, it was his knowledge and wisdom that helped them discover the truth about Centauri Earth.

Kim: I have to agree here.  It’s the old adage of don’t judge a book by its cover.  Orion is definitely the one in A Million Suns that you just wanted to smack by the end.  The scavenger hunt (while awesome as a plot device) was so frustrating for Amy and Elder.  Orion refuses to cooperate and just help.  I found it interesting that he always made you earn the knowledge he had.  Every time I think about him, I think that he would have made a horrible Eldest.  Had he truly cared about the people on Godspeed he would have shared all the knowledge he had, instead of slinking around everywhere making Elder and Amy search for clues.  And even when they did figure out what the clues meant, he still wouldn’t be upfront. (Can you tell he frustrates me!?!)

Sam: “To be a Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light or give off darkness. Be a candle, or the night.” I am not going to go so far as to say that Orion is Yoda in this book, however, I think that Elder never would have made the choices he did if Orion had simply told him what was happening below Godspeed. I think that he had to lead Elder on that scavenger hunt, to uncover the truth. As a good leader, Elder had to choose. Be the candle to lead them all to the unknown, or, like so many Eldests before him, be the night that kept them “safe” in the shadows. Perhaps he would have been a horrible Eldest, but I think he was a pretty decent if not slimy mentor.

Kim: Damn. You’re good.

Sam: I was disappointed in the way that Amy’s parents, particularly her father, couldn’t see how much she had grown and changed. He didn’t take the time to see that she was an equal in terms of leadership capabilities. As Kim mentioned before, Amy has matured a lot on this voyage. She has completely transformed into such an intelligent woman. I think her father didn’t know quite how to handle that.

Kim: Yes! Amy’s dad was THE WORST.  When he’s initially unfrozen and finds out that Amy’s been awake for a few months he freaks. Instead of taking a few minutes and letting her catch him up on what’s been going on, he delegates her to a corner to just sit quietly.  He refuses to accept that his daughter and her teenage boyfriend could have any knowledge or authority that could help him.  He was extremely nazi-like to be honest.  I get that he just woke up after being frozen for hundreds of years, but have some faith in your daughter.  His complete dismissal of anything she said from beginning to end of the novel really irked me.  And his attitude toward Elder? COMPLETELY uncalled for.  He deserves everything he got.

Amy’s mom on the other hand seems incredibly naive.  She can’t even fathom that Amy’s father is hiding things from her and the others.  At times she reminded me of a battered woman.  Her husband’s word was law and there was no disputing it.  She focused on her research and Amy, two things that served to be the beginning foundation towards her “new” life.

Sam: I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know what it was about Elder that bothered dad so much, given the company that he was keeping. Also, mom. I think Kim said it all. She was so absorbed in her research that she couldn’t see anything that was going on around her, and there was A LOT to take in. This family just doesn’t really stand a chance for getting back together. They’ve moved so far away from each other even though they had been just inches from one another for hundreds of years.

The elephant in the room is of course, Chris. From the moment he waltzed up behind Amy’s Dad and totally stepped into Elder’s territory, I did not like him. He did NOTHING to try to redeem himself throughout the story, and in the end turned out to be even worse than I wanted to imagine. So what if he has big blue eyes, Amy! This is not the man who helped you survive for three months without any family, or protected you from ridicule, or loved you for you. This is just some guy your father is obsessed with because he’s some kind of super soldier tech guy.

To her credit, Amy does figure this out eventually. But it took far too long if you ask me. I was not a fan of her whole “what if Elder wasn’t the last guy on Earth” routine.

Kim: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.  I found myself getting so angry with Amy at multiple sections of this book. My biggest yelling out loud moment? The time she leaves Elder’s house and goes for a stroll with Chris and kisses him. WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU, YOU BIG HUSSY? Elder has protected you, saved you, trusted you, shared himself with you, and basically (in essentials) given his life to you. Do you disregard the value of his love so much that you can just turn your back on him and go for midnight strolls with anyone giving you attention!? Jeez.

Sam: Absolutely! The other part, and I still don’t know how I feel about it, is that Elder just lets it go. He spies on them, gives her space, but never once makes her feel bad about blatantly flirting with Chris, sometimes RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM. On the one hand I respect Elder for letting her be her own woman and trusting Amy that much. On the other hand, come on… stand up for yourself, Elder!

Kim: This is just another example of why Elder is the better guy.  He never tries to force Amy to make a decision to be or not to be with him.  I find it interesting that the people of Godspeed had no religious belief.  Interesting, because Elder has a lot of faith that things will be ok and will work themselves out.  He lets Amy have her space and do what she wants with it, knowing that his love is the strongest and will win.

Sam: I wasn’t going to go for the religious belief stuff, but since you mention it 🙂 I really loved that Amy’s faith was so strong in this series. There were so many references to her cross and her faith in something more. I think that it was that faith that helped her stay strong and really gave her something to latch on to. In this series, Revis asks these characters to have a lot of faith in things unseen. Planets and people far away. I think that Amy was better prepared to handle the faith in something unknown because of her religion. As for the people of Godspeed, I found that in the absence of religion they put all of their faith in the “Eldest” system. The Eldest was the one person who was going to make choices and decisions for them all, he was the one they looked to when they weren’t sure of their fate.

Kim: Exactly! The “Eldest” of the time became their deity and the one they looked to for guidance and leadership.  Their faith didn’t have to follow a sight unseen rule as Amy’s did.  I actually think that theirs might have been a more difficult road to follow.  If something happened that wasn’t to their benefit or how they wanted it to be, they could directly go to their “deity” and complain and wish it wasn’t so.  They could tangibly make their “deity” change things for their benefit or their detriment.  If the Eldest didn’t change it for you, the road stopped. No matter how much you “prayed” on it, it wouldn’t change. I believe that this in essence is a more difficult faith to have, because your life (and the control to change it) is completely out of your hands.

Sam: Earlier we talked about Orion’s little scavenger hunt for Elder and Amy. In that he gave them clues to try to find a deeper meaning, to uncover the truth about what was really going on with Godspeed and Centauri Earth. Ever since Revis released the title of this third book, Shades of Earth, I’ve felt a little like Elder. I am a VERY BIG fan of the Beatles so I noticed right away that the lyric wasn’t quite right. It’s meant to be “shades of life.” Why would she just go for it with the Beatles lyric in the first two and then change it up for the last book? Now, maybe there’s nothing to it, but maybe, just maybe it means something.

This whole series really centers around what it means to be alive, really living. Amy can’t really cope with life on Godspeed. To her it is too confining. She can’t run. Can’t feel the real sun on her face or the real rain on her skin. In that way, it is just a shadow of a life. For Elder, he can’t really cope with being the only one his age, groomed for his position as Eldest. His life without a true companion and confidante is a shadow of a life that he desperately wants. So there are the dark shades of their lives.

But, what about the light parts? First, Amy’s bright red hair. A color so vibrant that all at once it makes Elder come to life and he has to know her, to unfreeze her and see such a color for himself up close. Next, the adventure. A shade of life that both terrifies and excites them. Finally, their love for each other. All of these elements combined create the canvas of a life so bright, yet dark that it seems to mirror one of Harley’s haunting yet beautiful paintings. The shades of their life together. The life that they are going to create here on Centauri Earth, which is merely a different shade of the same planet they left behind.

Kim:  Fellow readers, there you have it.  Sam couldn’t have said it any better.  The Across the Universe trilogy is filled with amazing imagery, exquisite characters, thrilling plots, and above all else, depth.  Beth Revis may have written these books with the young adult crowd in mind, but she has written with such vitality that she’s hooked the adult crowd too.  This trilogy defies convention and refuses to be boxed in for a certain genre or age group.  Sam and I both highly recommend it.  There is so much more within these novels than what meets the eye.  Give them a shot and see what you make of them.

Kim’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Sam’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

This is my first completed review for the Color Coded Challenge

Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
Razorbill (2013)
Hardcover: 369 pages
ISBN: 9781595143990

Sam Asks: The Thing That Makes You Come Alive


Me and Dad

On Friday, my father came into my classroom to tell my students about his Norwegian upbringing. He shared stories from his childhood, facts about his country, and even passed around a few wood carved trolls. Through it all, my students listened intently, asked wonderful questions, and absorbed what he was telling them. They were delighted by his accent and his larger than life presence.

But, no part of the presentation had them more captivated then when he read to them from a book of Norwegian folk tales. He held their attention as he acted out each story with enthusiastic facial expressions and spot on voice characterizations. They giggled and gasped, and at the end erupted into applause. The pure joy on their faces was priceless.

One student raised his hand and asked, “how did you get so good at reading like that?”

My father answered, “I have had a lot of practice, I read to my kids every night before they went to sleep.”

At this response, I could see that some of my students were surprised. As my father was packing to go, one little girl came up to me and wanted to know, “did your dad really read to you every night?”

“Yes he did,” I answered with a smile, “just like he did for you today.”

“Wow,” she breathed, “you are so lucky.”

As I looked at her awe-struck face, it was all I could do not to cry. Me? Lucky? Because my dad read to me?

Now, I am not so naive to think that all parents read to their children. I get enough parent letters about the 30 minutes of reading I assign each night to know that isn’t so. But, in my opinion, reading is a gift. There are so many people out there who have never been taught to read, who will never know the words of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.K. Rowling, or even Dr. Seuss.

Somewhere along the way reading has gotten a reputation of being “boring,” a “chore,” an “assignment.” I have always read because I wanted to, not because I had to.

In my life, some of my most important life lessons have come from books. I have become who I am because of what I have seen in books that delight or disturb me. My best memories are of reading, being read to, and sharing literature.

I will always remember the book that started it all for me. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I read it for the first time in the 5th grade. I read it for the 100th time just last week. Up until I read Ella I had been read to. Stories had been pre-selected for me by parents and teachers, and I have to say that I LOVED them all. But, Ella Enchanted was different. I went into the bookstore with my mom to look for a book on my summer reading list. As she paid for a short stack of books at the register, I continued to browse. My fingers gently outlined the bindings. I read title after title, smiling to myself at how much I looked forward to reading them all! At last, my finger landed on a brownish spine that it has landed on so many times since. I gently removed it from the shelf and opened to the first page. I was already finished with the first chapter by the time my mother found me.  It was there, with that book that I found my voice as a reader. I don’t know if I would have been able to do that if it weren’t for my parents making reading a part of the fabric of our lives.

As I think back to the little girl in my class, the opening lines of The Great Gatsby come to mind:

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. 

Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.

Today I am reflecting on these words and have come to this conclusion:

My advantage in life has been having a father who read to me. If he hadn’t stayed up night after night reading “just one more page,” I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. I wouldn’t be out there every day trying to spark in other young minds the same love that has been sparked in me.

I had a professor in college who said to us, “I am here because I want to help you find your passion, the thing that makes you come alive. Find that. Do that. Know success.” I will never forget those words. I repeat them to my students, help them find their passion, show them that mine is reading. Teaching makes me come alive, and I never would have known that if it hadn’t been for my first teacher, my father, who read to me every night before bed.

So I suppose, dear readers, what I’d like to know from you is:

The book that started it all.

Your advantage.

The thing you do that makes you come alive.

Sam’s Review of Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo

redcloakI want to preface my review today by saying that I know this author. She was an English teacher at my high school and although I never took one of her classes myself, I really really wanted to! She has an incredible way about her, which carries seamlessly over into her writing. Her writing voice is charming, witty, and funny. I may or may not gently stalk her blog, which is how I found this book! (A full year after it was published… I never said I was a good stalker…)

In Chantel Acevedo’s young adult novel, Song of the Red Cloak, two young princes, born to separate houses, cling to their mothers. Neither knows it yet, but only one will grow up to be king of Sparta. A prophecy from the Gods declares that one boy will go on to betray the other. So, it is decided that there will only be one prince, and the other baby must be sacrificed to the Gods for the good of the people of Sparta.

Fast forward 16 years where we meet Galen, a helot (slave). He is a kitchen boy at the local school where Spartan boys train to become strong and cunning warriors. Galen dreams of one day wearing the red cloak of the Spartans into battle, however such things are impossible for a boy in his station. The closest he can ever hope to get to being a true warrior is to spar and practice with the Spartan boys at the agoge (school).

Luckily for Galen he has found a unique friendship with prince Nikolas, heir to the Spartan throne. Their friendship allows Galen certain privileges that other helots simply would never have. Others in Sparta are troubled by the boys’ bond and have a hard time accepting that two who are so different could be so close.

In the book Nikolas and Galen find their friendship tested in a way neither could have anticipated. Nikolas’ family holds the power in Sparta, but the other royal family wants their turn to rule. Their son, Acayo, attends school with Nikolas and makes every effort to assert dominance.  In addition to scheming royals, there are also two young ladies who threaten to come between Galen and Nikolas. The mysterious and powerful Zoi and Korinna have secrets that threaten not only the boys’ friendship, but also Sparta itself.

Prophecies. Sacrifices of blood. Gods and goddesses. As a reader I couldn’t have been more captivated by the story. I have always been fascinated by Greek myth and Ancient Greek culture. This book blended the elements of Greek study that I love with elements of Spartan life that I have never known before. Acevedo does a wonderful job of explaining the rituals and giving background on the time period without making it sound like a lecture. Each historical fact is woven carefully into the story, which makes it all the more interesting to read.

Galen is a truly heroic main character. His loyalty to Nikolas combined with his bravery in the face of a fight and dream of one day wearing the red cloak, regardless of his station in life, makes his journey exciting to watch. With each chapter it becomes more and more clear just how Spartan he really is, despite the class in which he was raised. By the end, Galen has truly earned his red cloak and as a reader I found myself rooting for him every step of the way.

However, as I read I found it harder and harder to keep up with all of the action. There is a complicated sequence of events that leads Galen to discover something within him he could never have imagined to be true. The pace of the story was fantastic because it urged me to keep reading and I honestly didn’t want to put it down. But, I found that with this pace and all of the information I was getting occasionally meant that I glossed over some really important pieces of the puzzle. I found myself re-reading to pick up a breadcrumb or two that I lost along the way.

Once I had all of the pieces the story fell neatly into place and I was back to being a happy reader. I love that this story was mostly about friendship. It was about two boys, who against all odds become brothers. It was a journey of self-discovery. Figuring out who you are as a person and who you are among your people. Personally, as a young woman who is searching for her place in this world, I found myself totally attached to Galen’s quest.

This story is epic. It has everything! Packed with action, romance, adventure, and even magic there is so much to love!  As I read I kept track of all the new facts I had learned. I was inspired to read more about Sparta, which allowed me to create an even better picture in my mind of Acevedo’s intricate and beautifully described world. That world made me love the story even more. I am so glad that I stumbled across this book. I sincerely hope that you consider picking it up…mostly because I really need someone to talk to about the ending!

P.S. As if she weren’t bad ass enough…this book was self-published. Super cool. Super brave. If you want to know more about the reason she chose to do that, you too can gently stalk her awesome blog here.

5 out of 5 Stars

Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo
CreateSpace (2011)
Paperback: 310 pages
ISBN: 9781463719319

Sam’s Review of Matched (Matched #1) by Ally Condie

matchedYou wake up in the morning and dress in the same outfit you wear every day. You come downstairs to find your family dressed identically, in a house identical to all of your neighbors. As you exchange good mornings, your breakfast arrives in a slot near your kitchen. Each meal has the name of the family member to whom it belongs. The calories have been counted carefully, the nutritional value balanced so that you may stay healthy, fit, and strong. After your meal you grab your pill container. It’s small, holding just three tiny pills.

Blue, you have been told, will help you survive for three days should you run out of food and water. Green helps calm you down if you are feeling anxious. Finally, Red, the mysterious final pill which no one seems to ever remember taking. It is rumored to bring death. But why would The Society want to do that?

With your pills safe at hand, you head out the door to an air train station where you meet all of your friends, with whom you head to school. Your classes are carefully prepared and planned, all containing the same curriculum: the 100’s. 100 poems, 100 songs, 100 paintings, 100 books. All have been pre-selected by the origins of society as the only works needed. As you work and play you are being watched. Always watched.

This is life for Cassia, a teen growing up in Oria under the restrictive rule of The Society, the ruling party in Ally Condie’s dystopic novel Matched.  Everything is decided for Cassia. Her every move is recorded by The Officials so that The Society might find her the perfect Match. The Matching Ceremony is the most important of all functions of The Society, as it makes the rest of one’s life possible.

For her matching ceremony Cassia wears a spring green dress and carries a valuable and prized possession, an artifact. It’s a silver compact that once belonged to her grandmother in the times before The Society. Such things are rare in Cassia’s world. Sameness is not only encouraged, but demanded. The Matching Ceremony is the only occasion where it is appropriate for citizens to dress elegantly, so Cassia’s bright green dress is in sharp contrast to her parent’s plain clothes.

The Matching Ceremony is truly a special occasion. Boys and girls from all over the country gather in halls fitted with large screens to await their match. The screens give the first glimpses of the person they are to spend the rest of their lives with. Once your match is revealed, you receive a micro card with all of the data you need to know about your match. Everything from physical appearance to favorite color. Then come the chaperoned digital meetings, carefully planned by The Officials, until finally, you meet in person. All of this excites Cassia as she nervously awaits her match.

As the screen pulls up the face of her match, she is shocked to see her very best friend Xander staring back at her. It is a statistical improbability to not only know your match, but to already be so close. After the shock, Cassia is happy that The Society has made such a perfect choice for her and she can hardly wait to get home and look at the micro card to see if there’s anything she doesn’t already know about her beloved friend. But as she puts his card into her computer port, a very odd and unexpected thing happens. The face of another boy, Ky, pops up on her screen. Ky Markham also lives in her town, and also attends school with Cassia. Could there be a mistake? Is Ky her match? Can the Society even make mistakes? And thus Cassia begins to do the very thing The Society never wants; she begins to question.

She seeks out Ky Markham, gets to know him, and finds out all she can about him. She realizes just how much they have in common, how happy she is when they are together, and how much she wishes that she had the power to choose.

In Matched ( the first book in the trilogy), Ally Condie sets up a world we all hope will never exist. A world where computers and data dictate our every move. A world where the illusion of free will is being passed off as the real thing. Together, Cassia, Ky, and Xander begin to question the world they have grown up in, in the hopes of finding others who are doing the same.

I really enjoyed the concept of this book. It is dystopia at its most extreme. As readers we are introduced to a world that seems to function perfectly on the surface. So long as the citizens never question, never wonder “what if,” it all proceeds smoothly. Once that seed of doubt is planted though, everything begins to unravel in an exciting way!

I also have to say, as a girly girl at heart, I was a complete sucker for the romance aspects. It was sweet, innocent, and completely heartwarming. If you’re interested in a healthy dose of teen romance with your dystopia, Matched is your book!  And if you’re anything like me you’ll be happy to know that there is no need to worry about waiting for the next two to come out! All three books (Book 2 is Crossed and book 3 is Reached) in the trilogy have been released.

5 out of 5 Stars

Matched by Ally Condie
Penguin Group (2011)
Paperback: 400 pages
ISBN: 9780142419779

Sam’s Review of When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

When I fall for a book, I fall hard.  I can barely think about anything else.  I become consumed.  When I’m not reading the book, I’m researching things that the book makes me think about, or I’m texting my sister to tell her to pick up a copy, or I’m talking my husband’s ear off about one part or another.  It’s a sickness, really.  As of yet, I’ve found no cure for a good book, though admittedly I haven’t really been trying.

This happened to me most recently with a book called When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan.  It’s a tale of forbidden and doomed love set in a future where the right-wing religious folk have finally gotten their ducks in a row long enough to elect the right (but oh so wrong) people into power. Together, these people have criminalized abortions, deeming it murder, and have invented a nifty little drug that can actually pigment the skin. What this pigment allows them to do is change the color of a convicted criminal’s skin to match their infraction. For example for a misdemeanor, you become yellow, child molesters are blue, and the murderers are a dark scarlet red.

Enter Hannah Payne. A good girl who has fallen hopelessly and passionately in love with her Reverend, one Aiden Dale. Aiden is a sort of religious rock star, known and beloved by both his own Texas congregation and the entire God-loving world. But alas, Reverend Dale is already taken by the lovely and sweet Mrs. Alyssa Dale. Despite the obvious reasons why not, Ms. Payne and the good Reverend embark on an affair that leaves Hannah in quite a predicament. Pregnant, scared, and in love she does the only thing she can think of to save Aiden from the shame of exposing him for what he truly is. She gets an illegal abortion rather than bear his child and face the scrutiny of an angry public. When her crime is discovered, Hannah is arrested and forced to stand trial. Through it all she refuses to name both Aiden as the father and the man who preformed the abortion. Her sentence is sixteen years as a Red. Every four months for sixteen years Hannah will be injected with a virus that gives her skin the outward appearance of what society believes her to be, a murderer.

Hannah loses everything.  Her child, her love, her family, her dignity, and even her  faith in God.  And this is only the beginning.

It only takes a sentence or two to make the not so subtle connection between When She Woke to the beautiful and classic novel The Scarlet Letter, but Ms. Jordan’s story stands well on its own. The reason you still find The Scarlet Letter in classrooms today is that the story is still very real. Our society thrives on creating and ridiculing outcasts. Ms. Jordan shows the reader how a story conceived and distributed so long ago is still a part of our present and future.

As a reader I found myself fascinated by Aiden Dale. He has countless opportunities to expose himself to his wife and followers for who he truly is, but time and time again he begs Hannah to do it for him. He wants her to be the one to name him when she is questioned by police, when she is on trial, when she is running for her life. He cannot bring himself to tell the truth despite the fact that he knows it will bring him peace. He bears the weight of the world. When everyone looks to him to help them find salvation in God, he looks to Hannah to show him the way. She had to sacrifice their child and herself in order to save him. She gave everything. She knew he wouldn’t expose the truth. Knew that she had to protect his wife, his congregation. Hannah knew that their faith in Aiden was more important that their love. And so she bore the weight of their judgment. She let everyone hate her. She laid down the life of her baby so that the rest of the world could have Aiden Dale and believe.

As I said, I fell for this book. Hard. There is so much to think, wonder, question. I think I will go back to this story again and again. My next job will be to reread the original version of this story and bring to it this new perspective. I love that about reading.

Thank you Hillary Jordan for giving me a new look at an old favorite.

I’m giving this 4 out 5 stars. Partially because I can’t help but feel there’s something missing, and partially because I’m heartbroken that our relationship ended so soon.

4 out of 5 Stars

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2012)
Paperback: 368 pages
ISBN: 9781616201937