Review: The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

The Wild Robot The Wild Robot
by Peter Brown

ISBN-13: 9780316381994
Publication: April 5, 2016 from Little, Brown BYR
Purchased by me
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When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. Why is she there? Where did she come from? And, most important, how will she survive in her harsh surroundings? Roz’s only hope is to learn from the island’s hostile animal inhabitants. When she tries to care for an orphaned gosling, the other animals finally decide to help, and the island starts to feel like home. Until one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her…

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The Wild Robot by Peter Brown is a class favourite. It has taken a number of years to find decently long chapter books that are suitable as read alouds for my grade one/two class – children aged 5-8 (it’s quite a range!) and The Wild Robot is a winner. It’s written in amazingly kid friendly language using a fantastic mix of “big” words and simple sentences in a vivid visual manner, and the narrator often speaks to the audience. The story doesn’t shy away from the often harsh aspects of life for wild animals (and wild robots) living on a wild island. It speaks of death plainly and matter-of-factly, but also the beautiful moments of living in and with nature.

I read The Wild Robot near the end of the school year, around March – my kiddos are more mature and I leave myself enough time to read the sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes if they ask for it. And they always do. Students become attached to Roz and Brightbill and the other animals of the island, and need to know what happens after the end.

I found this story perfect for helping students visualize, infer and predict. Chapter titles help students predict what will be happening next, and they use their knowledge of the characters and the island to read between the lines in many scenes. The illustrations are nice additions to their own visualizations.

The Wild Robot is a book that is here to stay in my classroom!

Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious Vicious
by V.E Schwab

ISBN-13: 9-780765-335340
Publication: September 2013 from Tor
Source: BEA 2013
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
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Victor and Eli started out as college roommates — brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find — aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge — but who will be left alive at the end?

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Vicious by V.E Schwab is fantastic. One of the best books I’ve read lately, different from my current usual, it was just what I needed. Sometimes a nice break away from the young adult and middle grade is just what the doctor ordered. Sci-fi/fantasy with a superhero twist and unreliable heros and villians (heros who ARE the villians!), Vicious delivers amazing characters, world-building and writing.

Our cast of characters is few, but oh man. They are large! Victor and Eli are our two main hero/villians. Friends from university, everything starts to go pear-shaped when research into the relationship between EOs (ExtraOrdinary people) and near-death experiences results in, well, near-death experiences. In the end, Victor goes to prison and Eli doesn’t. As the story progresses, we pick up Mitch and Syndey on Victor’s side, and Serena on Eli’s. All of them with secrets, four of them with powers, and some really crazy views on what makes a hero or villian. Told in alternating past and present chapters, we see how Eli, Victor, Sydney and Serena wind up connecting and colliding in a show down that is both awesome and frightening.

5 heart

I am completely enamoured with V.E. Schwab’s take on superpowers. She has created a world in which EO’s exist, but not because of radioactive spiders, or meteors, or mutant genes, etc. Instead, they’re gifts come from a flirt with death and having their body completely traumatized. So what begins as a fascination for Eli and Victor, turns into confusion, a little hatred and a sense that really, EOs are wrong and unnatural (on Eli’s part, anyway). The present story in Vicious takes place over two days, while the past talks about events ten years prior. I would love to read more in this world; to know what happens after the end – because oh, what an end! – and get another glimpse into the characters lives.

ARC received at BEA 2013 through an author signing.

Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front alt Storm Front
by Jim Butcher

ISBN-13: 9-780979-074943
Publication: November 2000 (original)
Source: purchased (audiobook)
Rating: 4 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. I’m a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under Wizards. Believe it or not, I’m the only one there.

With rent past due and a decent meal becoming an issue of some importance, Harry needs work, and soon. A call from a distraught wife, and another from Lt. Murphy of the Chicago PD Special Investigation Unit makes Harry believe things are looking up, but they are about to get worse, much worse. Someone is harnessing immense supernatural forces to commit a series of grisly murders. Someone has violated the first law of magic: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Tracking that someone takes Harry into the dangerous underbelly of Chicago, from mobsters to vampires, while he himself is under suspicion of the crimes. One thing is certain, if he can’t stop whoever is on this killing spree, Harry will be the next victim

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Not going to lie, a big reason I purchased this audio book is because James Marsters narrates. And because I’d always heard good things about the series and had been meaning to try it for a while now. James Marsters was just that last little push I needed. Storm Front by Jim Butcher is the first book in a series following Harry Dresden, wizard, as he gets himself into the worst possible situations by helping solve murders and mysteries in Chicago.

I adored Harry Dresden. The books are written in first person, so the reader really gets to see inside Harry’s head and learn who he is and what makes him tick. While not always the nicest or best of people, Harry has a pretty good moral code going on. He’s a generally and genuinely decent person who uses his skills as a wizard to act as a Private Investigator and help out the Chicago PD in any cases that seem to be because of supernatural means. Karrin Murphy is the head of the Special Investigation unit and kick-ass. It’s nice to see a strong female cop leading the way. Harry’s got a great wit to him, and there’s just something about the way he views himself and the world that I really liked. It helps that Jim Butcher’s writing style plays to the old type PI storyline and characters very well. Throw in a mix of vampires, the White Council that governs magic, and some pretty crazed magic users causing gruesome murders and Storm Front is an intense first book.

4 heart

Trying to figure out how all the characters and pieces fit together was great. Jim Butcher drops hints throughout the book and we solve the case as Harry himself is solving the case. There are some bloody fights and even bloodier deaths, a very cool introduction to the background of magic in Harry Dresden’s version of the world, and hints as to a darker past for Harry. Also a wee bit of romance, which you know is going to show up again in later books (hopefully, at least). Harry gets beat around quite a bit but he always bounces back and kicks major butt. Storm Front by Jim Butcher is a great start to a series, and James Marsters voice does wonderful things for bringing Harry Dresden to life!

Review: Wide Open by Deborah Coates [blog tour]

Wide Open
by Deborah Coates

ISBN-13: 9-780765-328984
Publication date: March 2012 from Tor
Rating: 4.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I really liked it!

When Sergeant Hallie Michaels returns home to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days’ compassionate leave, her sister Dell’s ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.

The sheriff says that Dell’s death was suicide, but Hallie doesn’t believe it. Friends and family think Hallie’s grief is interfering with her judgment. The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere Hallie goes and helps her when he doesn’t have to.

As Hallie pushes for answers, she attracts more ghosts – local women who disappeared without a trace – and discovers a disturbing patter. Now she needs to not just figure out what happened to Dell but to make sure no one else shares her fate, even as it becomes clear that someone who wields an unimaginable and ancient power is working against her, and will stop at nothing to prevent her from finding out the truth.

Deborah Coates’ debut novel Wide Open will leave you rushing to turn the pages too fast as you try to work out the mystery surrounding Hallie Michaels’ sister Dell’s death. This book was un-put-downable. Not a word, I know, but I devoured this chilly ghost story in one sitting and was constantly kept on the edge of my seat trying to put all the pieces together.

Hallie has arrived back Stateside on compassionate leave from the army after learning of her sister’s death. She exits the plane with ghost in tow, and is soon joined by a second – the ghost of her sister, Dell. Rumoured to be suicide, Hallie is stubborn and clings to the belief that her sister would never commit suicide. She has only ten days to figure out her sister’s death, and there are more threads to the case than she thinks she can ever put together. Add to that the strange storms and lightening that are plaguing her Prairie home, the ghosts of missing girls that keep appearing, and a handsome Deputy Sheriff that has the knack of popping up in the right place at the right time (or the right place at the wrong time, if you ask Hallie), and Hallie feels her ten days slipping through her fingers.

Hallie is stubborn, capable and determined. She doesn’t need to rely on anyone else to do what needs doing, but she’s not too proud to eventually accept help when she needs it. Her sister has died and she’s determined to figure out what happened, and she keeps that determination throughout everything that happens to her over the course of the book. Deborah Coates’ writing drags you into the story with vivid description and emotion. The descriptions of the cold ghosts, the fire that’s plaguing the prairie and Hallie’s thoughts at these times are tingling and so vivid. And our deputy sheriff! Deborah does a great job in keeping you wondering if he’s involved or not. He’s so mysterious!

Wide Open by Deborah Coates is a murder mystery with ghosts and magic wrapped up in it. I loved working through the mystery of Dell’s death with Hallie. Though it’s one of those book where you’re pretty sure you know who done it, the little details and clues that Hallie finds along the way pointing her in the right direction were often complete surprises – until she finds it, and you’re like “ohhh, should have seen that coming!” Although sometimes it felt like she found her clues a little too easily, the end result is that there are people involved that were a bit sloppy, and Hallie is a smart woman that takes everything she’s given and runs with it. Wide Open is a wonderful debut that will keep you ready long into the night and checking over your shoulder for ghosts every time you feel a chill in the air.

Find Deborah:
Website | Goodreads | Twitter

Hardcover copy provided by Tor Books as part of a blog tour in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: Nightingale by David Farland

Nightingale
by David Farland

ISBN-13: 9-781614-757870
Publication: October 2011 from East India Press
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it

Bron Jones was abandoned as a newborn. Thrown into foster care, he is rejected by one family after another, until he meets Olivia, a gifted and devoted high-school teacher who recognizes him for what he really is — what her people call a “nightingale.”

But Bron isn’t ready to learn the truth. There are secrets that have been hidden from mankind for hundreds of thousands of years, secrets that should remain hidden. Some things are too dangerous to know.

Bron’s secrets may be the most dangerous of all.

Nightingale by David Farland is an intriguing fantasy novel presented in a very unique package – an enhanced e-book, with pictures, animations, music, video interviews with the author and more. My review will of the story itself goes along with my 3 heart rating. I’ll talk about the presentation of the story at the bottom, since I feel the format needs to be mentioned.

Our main narrator is Bron Jones, a foster kid who’s been shuffled through the system into increasingly unsuitable home situations. But it’s not until he comes to live with Olivia that his entire world changes, and not really for the better. Bron is a masaak – not human, he has powers available to him that he can only begin to control. When he stumbles across others like him, Bron and Olivia are in a race against time to hide their whereabouts and discover just who Bron really is, and what he can do. The chapters alternate between Bron, Olivia and a few other characters. The ones narrated by a character other than Bron tend on the shorter side and give glimpses into how Bron’s presence is affecting those people around him.

I found it difficult to connect with the characters in Nightingale. Bron is very hard to pin down, and though we see most of the story through his eyes you’re never quite sure of his motivations or mindset. Olivia does what she thinks is right, and the best course of action, but I think she’s in over her head and making decisions for Bron that may backfire when he finds out the extent of her ‘helping’. The two female characters that are, of course, immediately in like with Bron are just that – in like with Bron. There’s a sinister male classmate, Bron’s father and mother and a few more characters who advance the plot and are probably important down the road. I enjoyed the story but felt some parts were a little rushed, or missing details that would have given a better picture of some events. A few of the details about masaaks, their powers and such were a bit confusing. I definitely enjoyed the story and want to see where it goes – especially with Bron, since he seems to be something new to the masaak groups (Aels and Draghouls) – but it didn’t suck me in and keep me hooked from page to page, and the ending was a bit too abrupt for my tastes. I’m thinking the sequels will delve more into Bron and his decisions regarding the two factions of masaaks and the main villains big plans.

I think Nightingale has a strong young adult/adult crossover appeal, and that the enhanced web/iPad version of the book is amazing – but not the best for my reading experience. I don’t own an iPad, so had to read the web version. Which means that I had to wait until when I had long enough moments to sit in front of my computer to read it. I really loved the chapter heading illustrations, music and animations and then the fact that the rest of the chapter was regular e-book. The videos from David Farland were informative, as were the highlighted words or sentences throughout the story that could be clicked on to provide information from the author about why that particular word or phrase or thing is in the book – but they could be distracting and break the flow of reading. Eventually I just stopped clicking and kept reading. Also, by about half way around the book, the chapter headings were just blank white pages with a quote. This may be because I was reading an advance view of the book, but it left me unable to fully appreciate the media aspect of the story.

Although I did not connect with the characters as much as I would have liked, and the format of the story was not my favourite (I still prefer traditional print over e-books), Nightingale by David Farland is a fairly solid fantasy that I think will appeal to fans of Davids other work and those who enjoy a fast-paced, detailed fantasy world.

Online copy provided by East India Press in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!