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Along the Silk Road

3 Jun

As an end of the year project, our 6th graders always write China folk tales. They need to incorporate some of details we learned in class about Ancient China and create a pop-up book. It is a fun project and many os their stories are set along the Silk Road, which is the last topic we cover in class.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to discover a YA fantasy novel, set along the Silk Road. I read it this weekend, just to be sure it was worth putting in my library. There is a smidge of romance and one kiss, but otherwise it is very chaste.

The Candle and the Flame, by Nafiza Azad, beautifully illustrates the cultural diffusion we talked about in class as people (and creatures) from many different places converge along the Silk Road.

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Publisher’s Summary:
Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population — except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar. But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.

Nafiza Azad weaves an immersive tale of magic and the importance of names; fiercely independent women; and, perhaps most importantly, the work for harmony within a city of a thousand cultures and cadences.

A little YA historical fantasy this time

16 May

I make no secret that I love historical fiction.

Julie Berry’s newest novel, Lovely War, mixes two love stories set during the First World War with Greek mythology to come up with an amazing story.

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Publisher’s Summary: They are Hazel, James, Aubrey, and Colette. A classical pianist from London, a British would-be architect-turned-soldier, a Harlem-born ragtime genius in the U.S. Army, and a Belgian orphan with a gorgeous voice and a devastating past. Their story, as told by goddess Aphrodite, who must spin the tale or face judgment on Mount Olympus, is filled with hope and heartbreak, prejudice and passion, and reveals that, though War is a formidable force, it’s no match for the transcendent power of Love.

 

It might sound impossible to mix the two stories, but in doing so, Berry turns a good love story into something so much better.

I listened to the audiobook and it was fabulous. Whether you read the print version or listen to the audiobook, you will not be disappointed.

Transmutation

17 Jan

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When one thinks of  transmutation, alchemists turning lead into gold is the natural first example that comes to mind. Rumpelstiltskin is a classic fairy tale that involves the transmutation of straw into gold. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Island of Dr. Moreau are all 19th century novels that look into human transmutation. The results are always disastrous.

In The Strange Case of The Alchemist’s Daughter,  by Theodora Goss, we see a transmutation of a different sort. Goss has transmuted these stories, plus the less well-known Rappaccini’s Daughter, into a wonderful tale that also involves the greatest detective of the time: Sherlock Holmes. The result is a delight to read.

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Publisher’s Summary: Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.

Beowulfish

25 Oct

Yesterday, I taught my students the word euthanasia. I’d given them a new list of Latin and Greek stems and eu – meaning good – was on the list.

The eponymous Boneless Mercies of April Genevieve Tucholke’s new books are tired of their lot in life – giving a good death to people. In this loose retelling of Beowulf,   we get to learn the story behind each of the Mercies as they make their way towards the monster.

The book had a bit of a slow start for me, but it picked up about halfway through. Although there is a lot of death, it isn’t gory – that would have been a dealbreaker for me. The actual Beowulf  homage only takes up the last eighth of the book. The setting of the story is Norse -ish. The people are called the Vorse. Grenfell is Logafell. You get the picture, but it gives Tucholke to alter the plot to suit the story she wants to tell.

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Publisher’s Summary: Frey, Ovie, Juniper, and Runa are the Boneless Mercies—girls hired to kill quickly, quietly, and mercifully. But Frey is weary of the death trade and, having been raised on the heroic sagas of her people, dreams of a bigger life.

When she hears of an unstoppable monster ravaging a nearby town, Frey decides this is the Mercies’ one chance out. The fame and fortune of bringing down such a beast would ensure a new future for all the Mercies. In fact, her actions may change the story arc of women everywhere.

16 May

I don’t know that Katherine Applegate will ever write another book that will touch my heart the way The One and Only Ivan did. That puts her in a difficult spot because everything else she has written since, just pales in comparison.  On the upside, it means that I will always read what she has written because I know I am in for a journey that has depth and meaning, like her newest book Endling: The Last the first book in a series.

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Publisher’s Summary: Byx is the youngest member of her dairne pack. Believed to possess remarkable abilities, her mythical doglike species has been hunted to near extinction in the war-torn kingdom of Nedarra.

After her pack is hunted down and killed, Byx fears she may be the last of her species. The Endling. So Byx sets out to find safe haven, and to see if the legends of other hidden dairnes are true.

Along the way, she meets new allies—both animals and humans alike—who each have their own motivations for joining her quest. And although they begin as strangers, they become their own kind of family—one that will ultimately uncover a secret that may threaten every creature in their world.

Byx’s journey is a hero’s journey. It begins with tragedy an reader’s know it will end with some sort of triumph, but we will have to keep reading into the next book to find out what form that triumph will take.

One of my favorite characteristics of the dairne is that they can tell when a person is lying. I don’t think that Applegate was thinking about the present political situation, but the idea of fake news popped onto my head as I read. This morning as I was getting up, I was listening to the news and heard about the murder of another Mexican journalist. It can be dangerous to speak truth to power and the dairne do just that.

Applegate’s world building is meticulous and I truly felt as though I was journeying along with Byx. Endling: The Last  is a wonderful journey for middle grade readers.

 

 

A break from poetry for zombies

19 Apr

Faithful readers know I don’t do scary. Normally, I wouldn’t read a book about zombies. But the cover of Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation was just too enticing.

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A work of alternate history, the book is set in a world where slavery has been abolished Despite that,  Native Americans and African-Americans aren’t treated much better than before the war and the rise of the zombies.

Ireland’s word-building is great. I was totally immersed in this new America. I was especially grateful that the book wasn’t scary and  descriptions of the killing of zombies weren’t graphic or gross. They were treated rather matter-of-factly, which was just right given the tone of Jane’s narration.

The story bogged down a bit in the middle when we were transported out of Maryland and into Summerland, Kansas, but I kept going because I really liked Jane. A few mature topics, like prostitution, are mentioned obliquely, but I feel very comfortable putting this one in my classroom library.

Publisher’s Summary:Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

When I first picked it up, I thought it was a stand alone. Although the ending is satisfactory, as I approached it, I realized this was the  first book in a series because no way were all the loose ends going to be tied up. So, I will have await the second book to find out if Jane will ever get to see her mother again.

OMG!

15 Feb

Today, during independent reading, I will finish Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman.

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I thought about bringing it with me to Denver, but didn’t want to be distracted from my work. I love it that much.

I wrote about it o February 5th, so I won’t go into details about plot. Let me just say that Shusterman surprised me, and as someone who reads a lot, that doesn’t happen often. He has also managed to add new characters that take this second book in the series to a completely new level.

Neal Shusterman will be a Powell’s Books in Beaverton tonight at 7 pm. See the details below.

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What I’m reading now

5 Feb

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Publisher’s Summary: Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the chilling sequel to the Printz Honor Book Scythe from New York Times bestseller Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

The Thunderhead cannot interfere in the affairs of the Scythedom. All it can do is observe—it does not like what it sees.

A year has passed since Rowan had gone off grid. Since then, he has become an urban legend, a vigilante snuffing out corrupt scythes in a trial by fire. His story is told in whispers across the continent.

As Scythe Anastasia, Citra gleans with compassion and openly challenges the ideals of the “new order.” But when her life is threatened and her methods questioned, it becomes clear that not everyone is open to the change.

Will the Thunderhead intervene?

Or will it simply watch as this perfect world begins to unravel?

I am savoring this one and reading it at school. I get 15 minutes in each Humanities class and 20 more minutes every other day, when I have an Enrichment class. This is too good to rush through.

A few new characters are added, and, in this book, the journal entries come from the Thunderhead itself, giving us some insight into its mind and thinking, if AI can possess such things. A couple of students have read Scythe and they are eyeing my library copy enviously. Maybe I tease them with it a little, waving the cover at them. I did tell them that Neal Shusterman will be at the Powells in Beaverton on February 15th. I hope that makes up for the teasing.

R.I.P. Ursula K. LeGuin

24 Jan

I think Neil sums up nicely why fans are mourning.

Gimme a second

17 Jan

Second books in series are sometimes disappointments. Not so the second book in David D. Levine’s Arabella Ashby series, Arabella and the Battle of Venus.

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Publisher’s Summary:  Arabella’s wedding plans to marry Captain Singh of the Honorable Mars Trading Company are interrupted when her fiancé is captured by the French and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp on swampy Venus. Now, Arabella must find passage to an enemy-controlled planet in the middle of a war, bribe or fight her way past vicious guards, and rescue her Captain. To do this she must enlist the help of the dashing privateer, Daniel Fox of the Touchstone and build her own clockwork navigational automaton in order to get to Venus before the dread French general, Joseph Fouché, the Executioner of Lyon.

Once on Venus, Arabella, Singh, and Fox soon discover that Napoleon has designed a secret weapon, one that could subjugate the entire galaxy if they can’t discover a way to stop Fouché, and the entire French army, from completing their emperor’s mandate.

I love the mix of actual history and fantasy. The Napoleonic Wars have spread to space. Despite many obstacles, Arabella remains a plucky heroine with a can-do attitude. Cameo appearances by Napoleon and Admiral Nelson made me grin and willingly suspend my disbelief. Of course they went to Venus!

Although written with an adult audience in mind, I have added this series to my 6th grade classroom library and boo-talked the series this week. I think I hooked a few kids!

Alas, i will have to wait until next year for the next volume,  Arabella the Traitor of Mars.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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