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: Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

Unbreakable Unbreakable
by Kami Garcia

ISBN-13: 9-780316-210171
Publication: October 2013 from Little, Brown BYR
Source: BEA author signing
Rating: 3 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it
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I never believed in ghosts. Until one tried to kill me.

When Kennedy Waters finds her mother dead, her world begins to unravel. She doesn’t know that paranormal forces in a much darker world are the ones pulling the strings. Not until identical twins Jared and Lukas Lockhart break into Kennedy’s room and destroy a dangerous spirit send to kill her. The brothers reveal that her mother was part of an ancient secret society responsible for protecting the world from a vengeful demon – a society whose five members were all murdered on the same night.

Now Kennedy has to take her mother’s place in the Legion if she wants to uncover the truth and stay alive. Along with new Legion members Priest and Alara, the teens race to find the only weapon that might be able to destroy the demon – battling the deadly spirits he controls every step of the way.

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Unbreakable by Kami Garcia is a creepy, intense ride full of demons, ghosts, kidnappings and fear. There were some amazing moments in this book that had me worried our characters might not make it.

Kennedy’s decent into the supernatural begins after her mother has been killed in their home. Thinking it was natural causes, Kennedy soon learns the difference when twin brothers Jared and Lukas break into her home one night and save her from having her breath stolen by her ghost-possessed cat. She goes on the run with them and two other teens, Priest and Alara, after being told about the Legion and how she is a part of it and must help save the world from the demon Andras. Kennedy is pretty tough. She doesn’t think she belongs and that the brothers are wrong about her being part of the Legion, and she accidentally makes some blunders but she steps up to help when needed and doesn’t back down.

I enjoyed the backstory of Andras and how the Legion came to be formed, and the scenes with the ghosts (all of them, from the creepy well to the terrifying prison) are wonderfully suspenseful and heart-stopping. Unbreakable is one of those books where things may not be what they seem, and characters have to trust their instincts and hope they’re not screwing things up. There is a bit of a romantic sub-plot going on with Kennedy and the brothers, but it doesn’t distract from the action or overall plot of Kennedy and the others trying to find a weapon that will put away Andras for good. The ending tied up book one and set up book two very nicely.

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Honestly, I think I would have enjoyed Unbreakable a bit more if so many aspects of the brothers, ghosts and how they’re killed, the demons and the hunting didn’t remind me of Supernatural (I know these things are not unique to Supernatural, but I draw comparisons). If you’ve never seen Supernatural, than Unbreakable by Kami Garcia will be an incredibly refreshing look at the paranormal genre – it does deliver some awesome action and interesting characters. However, if you have seen Supernatural, you will probably make the same comparisons I did. But you’ll also understand me when I say that Jared? He has Dean levels of guilt over something he did in the past and is keeping secret from Kennedy. I enjoyed Unbreakable and will definitely be on the lookout for the sequel, since the final scenes threw a wrench in everything we had known up until then and I’m curious to see it all play out.

ARC received at Book Expo America through an author signing at Little, Brown. Thank you!

Review: Half Lives by Sara Grant

Half Lives Half Lives
by Sara Grant

ISBN-13: 9-780316-194938
Publication: July 2013 from Little, Brown BYR
Source: Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
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Seventeen-year-old Icie’s parents have given her $10,000 in cash, a map of a top-secret bunker, and instructions to get there by any means necessary. They have news of an imminent viral attack and know that the bunker is Icie’s only hope for survival. Along with three other teens, she lives locked away for months, not knowing what’s happening in the outside world or who has survived. But one day, Icie discovers a shocking secret deep in the bunker. Are they safe there after all?

Generations in the future, a mysterious cult worships the very mountain where Icie’s secret bunker was built. They never leave the mountain, they’re ruled by a teenager…and they have surprising ties to Icie.

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Where to start with Half Lives by Sara Grant. I can honestly tell you I had very little idea what to expect from this book, but I was hopeful, and it surpassed any expectation I could, or did, have. I was stunned and crying by the end of the book, and amazed at how Sara Grant managed to blend together two completely separate yet intricately linked story lines.

Icie narrates a good half of the book, telling her story of how she is given cash and supplies and told by her parents to find a mountain outside Las Vegas where an abandoned toxic waste bunker that was never used will hopefully keep her safe from an imminent viral attack. On the way, she encounters a cheerleader, Marissa; a twelve-year-old wanna be rockstar, Tate; and mysterious Chaske. Together in the bunker, with no idea how the outside world is faring from the attack, Icie and the others try to survive. Icie is so much stronger than she thinks. She goes through crazy heartache and horror while trying to keep herself and the others alive, and wait for her Mum and Dad to come find her as they said they would. And while she may be terrified and has no clue what she’s doing, she keeps it together and survives as best she can.

The other half of the book is narrated generations in the future, primarily by Beckett, the teenage leader of a society that lives on the mountain that Icie fled to, but also by a few other characters who help flesh out the action and Beckett’s story. Surviving on the mountain, Beckett’s people fear the terrorists of the outside world, the broken city they call Vega just on the horizon both helping them survive and a source of worry. Beckett is the direct link to their god, the Great I AM, who once walked the mountain and gave the society their Just Sayings, their Facebooks and the hope of one day that Mumanda will come to save them all. The chapters are interspersed with each other and I was always so excited to see something that Icie and the others did become the direct influence of the language and culture of Beckett’s society. By the end of the book I was a mess of tears at all the pain Icie, Beckett, Marissa, Tate and everyone went through, but also because of revelations that Beckett has that nearly broke my heart, and the hope Icie still held. I am just in awe of how the two story lines blended together, and how much I came to care about these characters.

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Half Lives by Sara Grant is a book about one girl’s journey to save herself in the face of impending disaster, and how choices she makes affect the lives of hundreds throughout the coming generations. It’s about finding strength in yourself to continue on, about making the hard decisions but also the right decisions, about confronting your fears and believing in your faith (whatever it may be). It’s about love, and sacrifice, about realizing what matters in the long run and discovering yourself through hardship. Half Lives is also about the threats we face every day through fear, weapons, secrets and lies. It’s about change and growth and the human need to survive and live. All tinged with an innate humour of how culture and language can change and reflect a caricature of words, phrases and things that what we have today in our society. Guys, I want nothing more than to dive right back in to Half Lives and live it again. I love this book like crazy, and I hope you do too.

ARC provided from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

Boy Nobody Boy Nobody
by Allen Zadoff

ISBN-13: 9-780316-199681
Publication: June 2013 from Little, Brown & Co.
Source: Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 3.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I liked it
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Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinkgs much about. He shows up in a new high school, in a new town, under a new name, makes a few friends, and doesn’t stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend’s family to die – of “natural causes.”Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, moving on to the next target.

But when he’s assigned to the mayor of New York City, things change. The daughter seems so much like him; the mayor reminds him of his father. And when memories and questions surface, his handlers at The Program are watching. Because somewhere, deep inside Boy Nobody, is somebody: the kid he once was; the teen who wants normal things, like a real home and parents; a young man who wants out. And who just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program’s mission.

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Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff turned out to be something I was not expecting – in a pretty good way. A teen assassin, “Ben” through most of the book, is sent on yet another mission by his handlers at The Program, but this one is different. With a timeline of only five days to get close enough to the mayor of NYC in order to kill him, he has to act fast. But the daughter, Sam, complicates his mission. As well as some unexpected followers, most certainly enemies but who and why? I was unsure through most of the book how I felt about it, but the ending saved my opinion. It went in a direction I was not anticipating at all from the synopsis. It was awesome.

So the book takes place over a very short time period – five or so days – in which Ben, our Boy Nobody, goes through a mini-crisis over his role in The Program and what happened to his life and his parents, and whether he wants to continue or go back to a normal life away from all things killing. Meeting Sam kind of starts pushing him in that direction, enough that he hesitates to complete his mission to kill her father. Ben is very cold and driven, since he’s been conditioned that way, but you get to see glimpses of the boy he must have been before The Program. Lets say that his morals start to shine through a little bit. While he manages to keep mostly on track for his mission (mostly), he does start to go beyond The Program’s back a little bit, firstly and mostly by enlisting the aid of a teen hacker. Ben’s starting to plan a way out, methinks. The action was swift and intense, and I loved the descriptions of NYC, especially places I knew. But even if you’ve never been, it is very descriptive and easy to paint a picture of places and events.

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Most of Boy Nobody is spent with Ben figuring out how to complete his mission, finding out who the people following him are, and quick flashbacks to a past that start to tell us why he may be having second thoughts about his “career choice” (as well as a visit from an…old friend). The book is like a quick snapshot into his life, and while there is a very fast romance start-up (two days?) it went in no direction I ever thought it would. The ending kind of comes out of left field (kind of) and is very awesome in the sense that it fits the feel and tone of the book and I am so glad it happened (but sad). I think anything different would have been disappointing, honestly. Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff is a fairly quick, entertaining book that I think will definitely appeal to mystery and thriller readers, and anyone wanting to step into that genre. I’m interested for the sequel!

ARC received from Hachette Book Group Canada in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Review: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood and Starlight
by Laini Taylor

ISBN-13: 9-780316-133975
Publication: November 2012 from Little, Brown BYR
Series: book 2 in Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!
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Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living – one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.

Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was a like a jewel-box without a jewel – a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.

This was not that world.

Spoilers for Daughter of Smoke and Bone!

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor is more than you could ever wish for in a sequel. Taking the reader through forbidden love, betrayal, questioned loyalties and strong friendships, Days of Blood and Starlight will have you on the edge of your seat gripping the book for dear life.

One of the major reasons that I love this book and series is the writing. Laini Taylor has a beautiful, lyrical style of writing – descriptions are extremely vivid with particular attention to detail and intense emotion from characters and situations. Karou is with Thiago and the other surviving Chimaera in the human world while Akiva is back with his brethren in the other world. War is in full swing and both warlords are kind of crazy. We get to experience multiple aspects of the war through multiple point of views – not just Karou and Akiva, but Zuzana and Mik, and refugee Chimaera fleeing the Angels. With each point of view change comes a completely different way of looking at the situation and an almost new feel to the story. New emotions, outlooks and descriptors. Character voice is perfect, especially so with Karou. She is so changed from the beginnings of Daughter of Smoke and Bone and yet still the same girl deep down. It’s an interesting look at how new knowledge and revived memories can alter a personality but have the new experiences and recent memories leave their mark as well.

The plot in Days of Blood and Starlight hits the ground running. There are plans within plans within plans and it seems that no one can be trusted. Every move is questionable, no one is safe and what you think you know can be completely wrong. Akiva and Karou are both being manipulated and there is more going on behind the scenes of the war between the Angels and Chimaera than they are privy to. Laini Taylor hits hard with ideas surrounding love, friendship and loyalty – Karou and Akiva had forbidden love, Zuzana and Mik are so in love. Zuzana would do anything, and indeed she kind of has, for Karou while Akiva manages to earn a grudging friendship with two of his siblings. Karou showcases a sense of loyalty to her people born of guilt and fear, while Akiva’s loyalty to the cause is sorely tested and even broken. The question for both of them is whether to do what is right or what is easy and always been done – and then even if they do the right thing, it tends to blow up in their faces. Sometimes literally.

The ending of Days of Blood and Starlight is ridiculous in such a good way. Shit has well and truly hit the fan. Oh look, apocalypse. How fun! I was so tense during the ending of the book and more than just a little excited (it scares me sometimes how much I enjoy a good apocalypse story). I seriously don’t know how I can wait for the next book after that ending. There are so many twists, cliffhangers and “holy crap” moments that the story is always surprising and gripping. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor is one of those books where you need to know what happens next and each moment leads to the other and flows so seamlessly together you won’t be able to find a good spot to stop and just keep turning pages until before you know it, it’s 2am and you’ve just finished the book. This series is absolutely captivating.

e-ARC provided by Hachette Book Group Canada through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!