Arc of the Scythe Series (books 1 and 2)

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe, #1)Scythe by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2)Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and takes great risk so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

My Review

This is one of those series that enveloped me immediately and I didn’t want to put down until I’d read every last word. Having to wait for the third book is torturous. I found the portrayal of human nature in this fictional case study intriguing, disturbing, frustrating at times, and just a great read. The author suspended my disbelief well, creating a world and scenario that felt plausible and the character’s actions and reactions fit too. Despite the amount of death and killing I did not find the descriptions to be gory or gratuitous with violence. If you liked The Hunger Games definitely give these books a try.

Age Recommendation: Some pretty heavy philosophical ideas and situations centered around death, immortality, perfection, and murder that make this book for mature readers.  I would say 16 and older.

Appropriateness: The author is skilled at telling this story fraught with moral dilemma and murder in a way that evokes deep thoughts and emotions without just being gross or praising corruption.

Book Club or Classroom Use: It would be fascinating to see the discussion that these books would spur in a book club or high school English class setting. The story would be an interesting sociology read as well.

Other Book Recommendations: If The Arc of the Scythe series interests you then I think you would also enjoy The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins, The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfield, Eruption and Reclamation by Adrienne Quintana, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and The Winner Series by Marie Rutkoski.

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Among the Hidden

Among the Hidden (Shadow Children, #1)Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

Luke has never been to school. He’s never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend’s house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend. Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He’s lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family’s farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside. Then, one day Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he’s met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows — does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford “not” to?

My Review

This was the perfect third grade read-aloud book. It had everyone (girls and boys) engaged from the first chapter, gave plenty of discussion material, and was completely age appropriate. The writing is easy to read without being dumbed down.

This is the one of the few dystopian fiction books I have read that is actually written for middle grade and younger. Most other books I have read from the genre are for young adults and older, but Among the Hidden breaks that mold and it does it perfectly.

When I first saw the book I was intrigued and excited about the idea of introducing my students to a new genre, but also a little concerned that it might get to intense or disturbing for 8 and 9 year olds. But after reading the first few chapters I was enthralled in the plot and certain that it would be just the right amount of dystopia to spur some new thoughts and ideas in my students without traumatizing them.

The world of the Shadow Children is full of injustice and unfairness. The government is corrupt and overly controlling. The main character, Luke, and his family have very little control in their lives as farmers, but Luke’s biggest problem is that he shouldn’t be alive in the first place, at least according to Population Law. Families are allowed to have 2 children, no more; and Luke is a third child. These are all pretty heavy issues, but the author presents them through the eyes of a child, a very sheltered and inexperienced one at that, so I found there was nothing inappropriate, nothing that I couldn’t read and discuss with 8 and 9 year-olds.

We had productive discussions on the role of government, the validity of information from certain sources, times when rules/laws should and shouldn’t be broken, and how to better appreciate the world we live in. We were also able to look at what ways our world might be similar to that of the book, and how we can avoid the problems getting worse.

Each time I closed the book at the end of read-aloud time there were groans of disappointment and displeasure. The author has a real knack for cliffhangers at the end of every chapter. My class is begging me to read book 2 in the series as our next read-aloud, but I want to introduce them to other genres this year, so the rest of this series will have to wait. I can assure you, however, that I will be picking up the other books in the series to satisfy my own curiosity and hunger to find out what happens next.

Age Recommendation: My third graders were at a perfect age to enjoy this book.  There is nothing that would be inappropriate for younger readers, but I’m not sure younger than 8 would understand the context fully. As an adult the plot and storyline was intriguing and I enjoyed the read, though the writing was more of a middle grade level.  I think readers from ages 8 to 14 would be the target audience.

Appropriateness: In reading this book you have to be prepared for pondering government corruption, the consequences of naivety, the idea of mass killing (though not described in any detail), and the general discomfort of a dystopian society. However, it is all told without profanity and with sensitivity for the ages for which this book is intended.

Other Book Recommendations: If you are interested in Among the Hidden you might also enjoy The Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda, Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Beyonders series by Brandon Mull, and the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage.

Classroom Use: As described in my review, there is a lot of class discussion material in the book.  Some applicable discussion questions could be

  1. What change causes Luke to finally feel dissatisfied with his life to the point that he risks be seen?
  2. How does the government control the people in Luke’s world?
  3. Do you think the books and media reports we read are always accurate?
  4. How would knowing the true facts of history help the people in Luke’s world to solve some of the problems with which they are faced?
  5. How are Luke and Jen alike? How are they different? How do their differences affect their reactions to their situations?
  6. What do you think of the laws in place in Luke’s world?
  7. The Barons seem to be able to break a lot of rules and laws. Is this fair? What about if the laws are unfair?
  8. What do you think would be the hardest part about being a shadow child?

We also used this book to practice writing book reviews. Students were required to state whether or not they liked the book and why.  They gave a basic summary, and then stated whether or not they would recommend the book to others and why. You could also integrate this book into science and social studies by studying renewable sources of energy and food, and finding ways students could help with hunger or injustice in today’s world.

Reclamation

Reclamation (Eruption, #2)Reclamation by Adrienne Quintana

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads):

Jace Vega wakes up three years after the eruption of Mount Hood where she and the man she loves, Corey Stein, tried to use time travel to release Victor Trent’s powerful hold on the world. But life is even greater turmoil. The future seems to be unchanged and Corey is missing. Nothing about her other relationships feel right.

As Victor Trent continues to amass power, using information terrorism Jace knows she doesn’t have much time if she’s going to stop him. Jace’s reawakening begins a race to the place where it all began: the Point of Origin. If she can only remember where it is.

My Review

I waited so long for the conclusion to this story and it was completely worth it. I actually re-read the first book in the series, Eruption, right before beginning Reclamation and that was a great choice. I enjoyed reliving the suspense of the events in Eruption, and the refresher on all of the details was helpful. Reclamation picks up exactly where Eruption ends, and I loved being able to put one book down and immediately pick up the next without interruption.

I love the smart prose, imagery, and powerful description in the writing. I am so impressed and fulfilled by the author’s ability to weave current events, social issues, social media and technology, psychological examination, and even spirituality into a seamless, colorful, and thoughful storytelling tapestry. And she does it without being preachy; rather her keen expression and description says just enough and leaves the intellectual work up to the reader. There is plenty of opportunity for that “aha” moment as you connect the text and characters to your own life, while at the same time the thrills and suspense of their lives keep you turning pages as fast as you can. The sequence of events flows naturally, and all of that is accomplished while presenting a complex science fiction plot involving volcanoes and time travel.

I loved the main character and narrator, Jace Vega, in the first book with her smarts and maturity and her flaws. She continues to evolve, learn, and change in Reclamation, but she stays consistent, believable, and lovable. I really grew to care about all of the characters and their relationships. Even the “villain” has a “human” side that makes him relatable in some sense.

For me, there is really a lot of pressure on the endings of books with complex and plots and deep characters such as in the Eruption series. Even when events and suspense are so well paced throughout a book, endings can ruin it all if they are rushed or do not tie up all the loose ends. But that was not a problem in Reclamation. The ending was timed well; I had no unanswered questions; it made sense within the flow and the events of the story, and most importantly it felt complete and good. Such a satisfying ending will keep me pondering these books and the layers of lessons and meanings for days to come.

If reading were a meal, Eruption and Reclamation would leave you full and satisfied, and dreaming about the next time you could savor those unique and perfect flavors.

Age Recommendation: The complicated plot and some of the themes will be best understood by mature readers, likely 16 and older.

Appropriateness: There is nothing objectionable in this series. Clean language and high moral standards along with plenty of excitement and tension. These books would give plenty of material for book club discussions regarding coping mechanisms, the purpose of tragedy and suffering, our reliance on technology, and the consequence of choices.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the sound of Reclamation and Eruption I recommend you also read The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, Graceling by Kristin Cashore,  The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale,  The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley, and Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath.

An Uncommon Blue

An Uncommon Blue (Colorblind, #1)An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)

In Télesphore, the glowing color of a person’s palm determines their place in society, and touching hands with another mixes the colors permanently. When sixteen-year-old Bruno accidentally kills a royal soldier, he goes from favored to fugitive. Now Bruno’s only chance at survival is to become someone else. That means a haircut, a change of wardrobe, and most important, getting rid of his once cherished Blue. Now he’s visiting parts of town he never knew existed, and making friends with people he would’ve crossed the street to avoid only weeks ago. At the last minute, Bruno’s parents arrange a deal to clear his name and get his life back. All Bruno has to do is abandon those in the Red slums that look to him as a leader and let an innocent Green boy die in his place.

My Review

The first word that comes to my mind to describe An Uncommon Blue is fast-paced. It starts out with the action and conflict right away and it just keeps moving. I was enthralled at the get-go and I didn’t want to put it down until I had read the last word. This is absolutely a dystopian novel, but the world created in it is unique and fresh; it stands out in the very popular genre.

I appreciated a main character worthy of admiration, one who is trying to do good and make a difference as he faces the harsh realities of his world. However, I did feel there were some holes in his character motivation and development that left me wondering why, exactly, he was so generous and cared so much for the unfortunate people he met. With his privileged upbringing and naivety when it came to the “lower classes” in his society, I would have thought it would have taken him more time to be ok with sacrificing his privilege for the sake of those beneath him. But he was willing to risk his reputation and coming to bodily harm right from the beginning, even for the kid that had pretty much just ruined his life. Just made me wonder how he got to be so caring, especially while it was also clear that his main concern up to that point had been keeping his privileged status and easy life as a star athlete.

This unclarity in character motivation didn’t keep me from devouring every page, however. The writing style is simple, no stand-out prose, but it’s well-done. I wasn’t distracted at all by awkward phrasing or overly flowery description. Easy to read. The rules of the fictional world were conveyed through the story-telling; I appreciated that I didn’t have to get bogged down or interrupted from the story to read long explanations. In fact, the story may have even moved a little too quickly for me. I would have like a little more time spent on introducing the world and its rules, and the people and their motivations. There is a sequel so I hope that more will be explained because there were quite a lot of unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries at the end. I will definitely be getting my hands on the sequel quickly after it is released.

Overall though this is just a fun, fast, interesting, read. If you are looking for a book to get lost in for a few hours, I recommend An Uncommon Blue.

Age Recommendation: I suggest 15 and older. There is some killing and harsh inequalities in the book, and while the description isn’t graphic it could be disturbing to younger readers.

Appropriateness: Clean with great examples of selflessness and kindness. It would be of particular interest to boys. It has great book club discussion material too. The prejudices and inequalities based on the color of a persons’ light in their hand gives an interesting way to talk about the difficulties in our society as well. The sacrifices and rewards of selflessness and kindness would also be fitting topics.

Book Recommendations: If you like An Uncommon Blue you should read The Uglies series by Scott Westerfield, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, Beyonders series Brandon Mull, and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.

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Eruption

I can’t wait to get this book in the mail this week! The official release is Jan. 13 but you can preorder at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

You know when you discover something and you just know in your gut that it’s going to be a big hit? It’s so amazing and you just can’t wait to share it with other people and you feel so cool for finding it before it becomes all the rage. I have felt that way twice in my life so far; the first time was in college when I heard Michael Buble on David Foster’s online radio. The second time was a little less than a year ago when I got to read a draft of my friend Adrienne’s book. She was preparing to send it to publishers and I knew someone would snatch it up, and if they didn’t then the publishing world was just plain stupid.

But of course publishers wanted it and now in just a few short days I will hold the real thing, all bound and with cover art, in my hand.  If you like to read, or if you have ever read anything in your life, even if it was just a street sign, you should read this book. In fact, if you have a pulse you should read this book. I feel confident saying that without even having read the final draft. The revisions and edits of the last year can only have improved upon an already unique and engaging story. Go here to find out more about the book.

Then go here to find out more about the author. You will love the book all the more after you find out how witty, adventurous, and real she is. She is the one that inspired me to start a book blog and gave my confidence the nudge it needed to actually do it. So it’s only fitting that her book is the first to be reviewed. I’ll hold off posting my official review until I have actually read the published  copy, but spoiler alert – it’s gonna be a positive one.