The Earth has been horrifically damaged by the Seven Stages War. Water supplies are contaminated by nuclear waste, vegetation obliterated and mutations of animals and humans roam the wild charred remains of North America. There are 18 colonies of survivors throughout the land who are governed by the United Commonwealth, with the mission of regenerating the Earth and improving the quality of life. Their method for choosing the future leaders of the land is simple, selecting only the very brightest students from each colony, they offer this elite group an opportunity for The Testing. If successful, they go on to University where they will learn skills to continue improving their world. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau chronicles these challenges as faced by Cia Vale, and her specifically chosen peers.
Cia has always tried her best in school in the hope that she may qualify for The Testing, and a University education just like her father. When she learns she has been picked to go to Tosu City she is overjoyed, although her father’s reaction is much more reserved. He tells her about terrible nightmares of events he thinks may have taken place, but because of the mandatory mind wipe he has never been certain what was real. The only words of advice he can offer are “trust no one.” 120 students have been selected for Testing, yet only 20 will be offered coveted positions at the University, and failure in any of the four stages has severe consequences. Cia quickly learns that more is on the line than her future education, her very life is in danger.
Readers who enjoyed The Hunger Games will not want to miss this debut book from Charbonneau, which is also the first of a trilogy. The Testing requires more than intelligence and instinct to survive, and some of the students will do whatever it takes in improve their odds. Cia’s optimism and altruistic values in the face of the United Commonwealth’s sinister methods are also endangered. Will she ultimately sacrifice her humanity in order to pass The Testing?
Two novels explore the impact sudden death has on loved ones left behind, particularly the wives. Despite the weighty premise, both authors offer portraits of realistic women dealing with grief, coping with untenable situations and finding the courage to begin again.
Georgia Silver-Waltz’s life is turned upside down following her husband’s sudden death. The Widow Waltz by Sally Koslow explores the grief, betrayal, hope and renewal experienced by the newly widowed Georgia and her daughters, Cola and Luey. Georgia and Ben’s marriage was perfect. They lived in a lux apartment in Manhattan and enjoyed a vacation home in the Hamptons. Georgia was happy. And then Ben was gone. And with him went the money. Georgia takes charge of her life, finds a job, starts selling everything, and slowly steps into the dating pool. Cola and Luey are both forced to grow up as each deal with life-changing decisions. Koslow beautifully writes of a changing family dynamic and three women made stronger and brought closer despite their loss.
“It occurs to me that you and your two children have been living with your mother for two whole years, and I’m writing to see if you’d like to be rescued.” Upon receipt of that letter, Libby Moran leaps at the opportunity to turn her life around in The Lost Husband by Katherine Center. The past two years were spent working a dead-end job and living with her narcissistic mother. The move to Aunt Jean’s goat farm means a job, a change of scenery and perhaps a taste of bliss for Libby and her children. Life on Aunt Jean’s goat farm means hard work, but it’s also peaceful and the handsome farm manager is a nice diversion. As Libby slowly sheds her mantle of grief, she realizes that she has created a happy home for her family. This is a heartwarming story of love, family and forgiveness in a country setting complete with quirky small-town characters.
There is much to be afraid of in the dark. Michael wakes to screams and discovers that his little brother is not in the Pokémon sleeping bag next to him. He must be sleepwalking again, but there is more than one dark shape moving around their camp, and the screams do not sound human; at least not living humans. Thus begins the nonstop action in The End Games by debut novelist T. Michael Martin, a zombie apocalypse thrill ride with a strong brotherly bond at its center.
On Halloween the world as we know it came to an end. What replaced it was something that 17-year-old Michael calls "The Game." Survivors play by a series of rules laid down from the “Game Master” in order to reach the safe zone. Michael and his 5-year-old brother, Patrick, have now been playing The Game for weeks, battling strange zombie-like monsters called “Bellows,” in hopes of reaching safety and reuniting with their mother. Unfortunately, The Game is starting to change, and there are other players who don't play by the rules.
Yes, there are zombies. Yes, there is thrilling action. Yes, there are evil villains and multiple plot twists and turns. But the heart of this story is the love between the brothers. Michael’s only thoughts are to protect Patrick morning and night, day after day, until the end. Martin gives enough glimpses into the past, before The Game, for the reader to understand the very special and unique relationship between the boys even then. Their struggle to survive is a heart-wrenching one, so keep a tissue handy. Recommended for fans of zombie fiction, action-adventure or stories of unique sibling bonds.
At its heart, Sara Farizan's contemporary coming of age novel If You Could Be Mine is a love story about the romantic relationship between two teenage girls from Iran and the complex decisions they face. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, there are no public displays of affection between the sexes, no Facebook, no women in football stadiums. But for best friends Sahar and Nasrin, it never mattered. They had their stolen kisses and untested promises. They had each other. Since they were small, Sahar never doubted she wanted to marry her best friend, Nasrin.
Unfortunately, relationships like Sahar and Nasrin’s must be kept secret in a country where any one gay is an enemy of the state. So, when 18-year-old Nasrin decides to do what society expects and marry a young male doctor because "he makes sense," Sahar can hardly breathe. She searches for a way they can be together openly. She believes she has found it with sexual reassignment surgery, a legal option in Iran. The problem is that Sahar is not even sure she wants to be a man. "She needs to know this isn't a game. It isn't something you just try on," a transgender acquaintance she meets through her cousin explains.
Farizan, an Iranian American who was born in the U.S., exposes in her simple writing style the absence of choices for young women while weaving in historical perspective. She does not condemn Iranian culture. "I respect a woman's decision to cover up as long as it is the woman's decision," Sahar says. It shows the naïveté, impulsiveness and self-deprecating humor that define youths who are still defining themselves. Mature teens and adults alike will find a tender yet compelling read in this fresh debut.
Welcome back to the hilariously fractured fairy tale realm of Christopher Healy’s Thirteen Kingdoms. A good deal has happened since the adventures encountered in The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom and the four lovable Princes Charming are back for another caper in The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle. When last we left the princes – Gustav, Liam, Duncan and Frederic – our noble heroes had just formed the League of Princes and had finally gained some recognition beyond the Prince Charming moniker. Now disaster once again looms on the horizon, and it’s up to the league to prevent a certain magical jewel from falling into villainous hands.
Despite having set the bar high with Saving Your Kingdom, Healy’s return to the Thirteen Kingdoms is as triumphant an extension of the story started in its predecessor as one could hope. The characters first introduced in Saving Your Kingdom begin to come into their own in this second helping of heroism. While the fast paced, catchy dialogue and imaginative scenarios still evoke plenty of chortles, the real strength of Storming the Castle lies in the progressive character development of the princes and their famed princess counterparts. Not without their flaws, each of these heroes and heroines have obstacles to overcome and a lot to learn about themselves along the way. Their distinctive personalities and developing friendships will leave the reader eager for the next in the series: The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, coming in spring 2014. Recommended for middle grade readers and above.
Detective Rick Zengo is a rookie working on his first case with a new partner. What starts out as a seemingly simple missing person case turns into a mystery involving organized crime and some high-ranking government officials. Writer Jarrett J. Krosoczka has put together an interesting cast of characters in The Frog Who Croaked, his first offering in the Platypus Police Squad series. Krosoczka is best known for his Lunch Lady graphic novels, and this book is full of his amusing illustrations. Anthropomorphic animals abound in this intriguing story with plenty of humor to appeal to both young and mature readers.
Zengo, who still lives with his parents, is trying to prove himself both to his fellow cops and to his family. He is the grandson of one of the most revered detectives in Platypus Police Squad, so he feels a lot of pressure to do his best. He wants to be taken seriously as a good cop on his own merit, but it takes a hard lesson from his more seasoned partner Corey O’Malley before Zengo can do so. The dynamic between Zengo and O’Malley may remind some readers of many cop show partners including Starsky and Hutch or Friday and Gannon. Krosoczka lays the groundwork in The Frog Who Croaked for more good-natured bickering and interesting adventures with this pair of detecting platypuses.
Star Wars: Jedi Academy is a great new graphic novel by Jeffrey Brown. Roan Novachez has dreamed of being a starfighter pilot like his father. His brother attends Pilot Academy Middle School, so Roan feels certain that he will go there too. When his friends receive their acceptance letters, he begins to worry. Roan is crushed when a rejection letter arrives with the recommendation that he attend Tatooine Agriculture Academy. What could be worse than going to plant school?
All is not lost. Master Yoda has sensed Roan’s potential. “Strong in you, the Force is – Jedi, you may be.” Even though most students begin their training as toddlers, Roan packs up and leaves Tatooine to attend Jedi Academy on the distant planet of Coruscant. He will face all kinds of new challenges, from learning how to lift objects with the Force to deciphering what Master Yoda is saying. There are also the usual issues that every middle school student will encounter, like dealing with the class bully to that first crush.
Fluctuating between prose and comic book style, this book will appeal to the upper-elementary age children who liked The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate series. But you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this book. Star Wars fans of all ages will get a kick out Star Wars: Jedi Academy.
Football season is about to kick off, and these three books are sure to get kids ready to cheer on our hometown Baltimore Ravens! Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens: Super Bowl XLVII by Michael Sandler brings kids facts from Flacco’s life and career, and also features highlights from the Ravens’ Super Bowl win in February. Photos and statistics make this an entertaining read for elementary school-age kids who want to know more about the Super Bowl champion Ravens.
Football fans will love Sports Illustrated Kids Big Book of Who: Football, which includes some astounding statistics and the stories behind them. Several favorite Ravens players make appearances in this fun read. Kids can flip through the pages to find out more about the most amazing accomplishments of their favorite players. With plenty of pictures and informative and entertaining notes, this appealing and fun book reads like a magazine. Sports trivia fans won’t want to miss it.
Highlight Reel: The Top Plays in Super Bowl History by K. C. Kelley brings readers the most exciting Super Bowl plays of all time. This book is filled with pictures of the action and fun facts from Super Bowl history. Ravens fans will be pleased to see that Jacoby Jones’ record-breaking kickoff return from Super Bowl XLVII makes the cut in this engaging book for kids.
It’s that time of year again. With kids going back to school there are no doubt many new and exciting experiences. Chamelia is back to school as well and she is in for a surprise. Checkout Chamelia and the New Kid in Class by Ethan Long for that student in your life.
Chamelia has always been the center of attention and as the star of her class she’s not used to sharing the spotlight. On her first day of school she is stealing the show with an engaging story of her summer vacation when, much to her chagrin, a new boy is introduced to the class. Suddenly, attention is focused on someone other than Chamelia and she has to learn how to deal with the new class dynamic. Will she rise to the occasion or sink to new lows in order to regain her status as the center of attention?
This book is great for kids getting back into the groove of school, though it’s not the first book about this endearing character. If your child likes this book, checkout the book titled Chamelia as well.
The Ludwig Conspiracy by Oliver Pötzsch is a fascinating voyage through time to the historic death of King Ludwig II. King Ludwig II, also known as the Fairy Tale King, the Swan King or Mad King Ludwig, was the King of Bavaria starting in 1864. His fairy tale castles have inspired many, and one is even the inspiration for the Walt Disney World logo. Ludwig’s death was under extremely suspicious circumstances and, to this day, sparks debates among theorists.
Pötzsch mixes fact with fiction in this novel that, though set in modern day Munich, depicts the final months of the king and unravels a story about what may have happened that led to his downfall and death. Steven Lukas is an antique book seller who stumbles upon a treasure chest containing photos, a lock of hair and, most importantly, the diary of Theodore Marot. Marot is the assistant to the king’s personal physician and friend to the king himself. Marot’s account of Ludwig’s final months is highly sought after, and Lukas finds himself rushing to uncover the diary’s secrets before he meets a fate similar to the king.
This novel is a race against time to discover the truth and rewrite history. The tale will motivate you to do your own research to find out where the fiction ends and the truth begins. If you liked Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series you will not want to miss this stand-alone book by Pötzsch.