The Defiant

Rarely will I ever read a book series out of order. Reading a series out of order can be a recipe for disaster. You risk the plot not making sense. You risk missing key character points. And truthfully, you’re losing the overall effect of the author’s storytelling. But every so often I will come across a book that is so interesting that I fall to the temptation of starting a series in the middle. The Defiant just had too many of my interests to pass up. It’s historical fiction, it takes place in ancient Rome and it has strong female characters that kick butt and take names. And it’s written by Lesley Livingston, who wrote The Wondrous Strange series which I adored. I was so thrilled when I saw it; I dove right in without reading the first book.

Set in ancient Rome during the reign of Julius Caesar, The Defiant tells the story of Fallon, the daughter of a Celtic King.  Her homeland was attacked by Roman forces and she was taken captive. Sold as a slave to a ludus (a gladiator academy) she now fights as a gladiatrix named “Victrix.” Over time she wins the love of the crowd but earns the ire of those she has defeated. She finds herself in a violent feud with a rival ludus and one night her academy falls under attack. Fallon and the other gladiatrices escape, however their survival as fugitives is uncertain.

Although there are records of female gladiators during Roman times, very little is known about them. Male gladiators were depicted in artwork all across the Empire, while only one example of female gladiators exists. Nothing is known about their training or fighting styles. This leaves the narration of their story wide open. Author Lesley Livingston makes good use of this creative freedom. Fallon’s fighting style is so formidable, I found myself silently cheering her on as I read.  There is a tight comradery between Fallon and her fellow warriors that isn’t common to read. Most often stories will pit woman against woman in a rivalry for success. In this story, these gladiatrices will gladly die for one another.

The Defiant may be the second book in the series but I didn’t find myself lost or confused. The back story was blended into the plot so well that I could navigate the story without missing anything. As soon as I finished the book, I put a copy of The Valiant (book #1) on hold, only to discover that there is third book (The Triumphant) in the series set to be released this spring.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction, action based stories, ancient Rome or women who kick butt.

— Lesley L.

 

The Next Great Teen Read

As a Library Assistant, there is nothing I find more encouraging than having a teenager approach my desk looking for something to read. With Tumblr, Snapchat, WhatsApp and whatever other social media outlets out there that I’m far too old to understand it’s awesome to know that there are still so many teenagers who enjoy reading a good old fashioned book.

The best reader’s advisory questions I get are from high school students looking for their next great read. I always make sure I have a running list of the latest teen fiction to suit which ever genre appeals to them. This can be tricky, however, when faced with those keen readers that have already finished all of the popular teen titles in our collection. For this reason I was thrilled when The Echo Room by Parker Peeveyhouse crossed my desk.

In The Echo Room, Rett wakes up in an abandoned building. There is no food and no water. He has no memory of how he got there. There is blood on his clothes. There is blood on his hands. The only clue is the phrase “Scatter 3” written on the wall.

Stumbling through empty rooms, he comes across a girl named Bryn. She also claims to have no memory. As they explore, danger arrives. Their memories erase and the day repeats. And it repeats again. And again. Every time the day repeats, the reader learns a little more about Rett and Bryn’s situation.

The outside world is failing. Crops are making people sick. Parents are forced to work off their medical bills at government run facilities. Their children are being left to be raised in orphanages. As Rett and Bryn make their way through the abandoned building, they discover that surrounding area has turned into a wasteland- nothing but rocks and ruined structures. As the days keep repeating, Rett and Bryn begin to recall tiny parts of their former lives and they must put all the pieces together if they want to survive.

I am so excited to have another excellent title to recommend to those enthusiastic teen readers who come to my desk. The Echo Room will appeal to fans of The Maze Runner series, yet it offers a whole new take, combining all of the elements of a thriller, survival and science fiction book into one. Teen readers this IS your next great read.

— Lesley L.

Magic, Pirates & Princes

Lots of fantasy novels have magic. Some have brave warriors carrying long swords. A few might even have pirates sailing on wooden ships on the open sea. These Rebel Waves by Sarah Raasch takes fantasy to a whole new level by combining all three. The story is told from the point of view of three different characters, alternating the narrative from chapter to chapter: Adeluna (Lu) is a soldier who fought to bring down the oppressive forces who once controlled her country. Vex is a notorious pirate, who holds no allegiance to any government. He trades in the forbidden magic of Grace Loran. Benat (Ben) is heir to the throne of Argrid and finds himself torn between his loyalty to his father and secretly supporting the use of forbidden magic.

These Rebel Waves begins after Grace Loran’s revolution has ended. The fighting may have stopped but the battles continue. Instead of the clashing of swords, the conflicts have transformed into orchestrated plots to undermine anyone with any connections to magic. The storyline loosely mirrors the events of the Spanish Inquisition. Anyone accused of using magic are labeled as heretics and burned to death.

The first part of the book moves slowly. I’ll admit I didn’t feel particularly drawn into the story at first. The early chapters are dedicated to laying out the political atmosphere and are rather disjointed. The second half of the book, however, had me hooked! The plot begins to move full steam ahead. Lies are exposed and masks are uncovered and a chess match of political moves begins. It’s a race to see who can out maneuver who.

Several times I found myself peeking at how many pages were left and hoping the plot wouldn’t end abruptly. But of course, it is Book One of the series and the ending left me dangling with anticipation. Book Two (These Divided Shores) will be released in 2019, so it will be an entire year before the fate of Lu, Vex and Ben is discovered. Luckily, author Sara Raasch has another series, Snow Lie Ashes, to keep me busy until then.

— Lesley L.

People Kill People

An Outlook Into Gun Control

An elderly man purchases a gun. His mental health is not called into question. He takes excellent care of his gun until the day he shoots an intruder. When he sells the gun, no questions are asked about the buyer’s history. No questions are asked about their knowledge of weapons use. In Arizona, you don’t have to be a licensed dealer to sell a gun. And there are no laws requiring a background check for the buyer.

Since 2014, gun related deaths have increased significantly in the United States and mass shootings are becoming more widespread. In her author’s note, Ellen Hopkins explains that she wrote her novel People Kill People as a way to understand why someone would resort to pulling the trigger. Why do people hate? Why do people fear? Why do human beings go out and kill each other?

Using inspirations from the news, Hopkins developed six young characters that all have different life experiences and different points of view. Each of them has a reason to be angry. Anyone of them could be capable of gun violence.

Camilla is a young mother married to Rand. She is a stay at home mom to her three-year-old son but dreams of returning to the nightlife with other girls her age. She prefers to live in the moment rather than be saddled down with responsibly. Her rash actions often complicate her marriage.

Rand is married to Camilla. He works long hours and is studying to enter into the police force. In contrast to his wife, he doesn’t like to party. In childhood he suffered a trauma that he keeps hidden from his family. Despite his best efforts to keep it buried deep down, the memories rise up in unexpected ways.

Ashlynn grew up in a house full of violence. Her mother tried her best to shield her from it but the memories of her father’s brutality haunt her all the same.

Noelle was once an honour student with a world of opportunities ahead of her. She was the good girl, the responsible teen. A random act of gun violence left her injured and prone to seizures, taking away her promising future.

Silas wears steel-toed shoes just in case he’s in a fight. As his mother puts it – some people are just born angry. His temperament only worsened with his parent’s divorce.

Daniel is the product of an affair between a successful, married corporate attorney and a young Honduran housekeeper. His mother was deported when he was young and Daniel was sent to live with his father and step-mother. After his father passes, his step-mother raises him but with great resentment.

Author Ellen Hopkins brilliantly develops these characters as their stories start to intertwine. The decisions made by one character can affect all of the others, even if they don’t realize it. The story becomes so intermixed it’s easy to see how one action can cause a cascading effect until there is a powder keg just waiting to explode.

People Kill People is not without controversy. It contains violent actions and some very racist points of view. It is never gratuitous; however, it is always done to illustrate a point. It fits with the unstable upbringing of certain characters. Gun control is a widely debated subject in North America and People Kill People will make for very lively discussions in book clubs.

— Lesley L.

Back to Reading

A List of Classics You May Have Missed from your Childhood

Ever since I finished my formal education, September has been an odd month. Gone are the days that September connotated a new beginning with new timetables, assignments, and renewed optimism. Now that I’m out of school, I find myself with plenty of free time after work, time that I can finally devote to reading what I want to read rather than what I need to study. It’s liberating, but it can be a bit overwhelming. When I try to determine what I feel like reading, I am left asking myself: Where do I start?

I did what any diligent bookworm would do. I went on Goodreads and consulted my TBR (To Be Read) list. I saw books of all genres from fiction to non-fiction, mystery to historical fiction, but what I noticed at the beginning of my list were children’s books. And then I remembered why I started this TBR list in the first place. I wanted to record a list of children’s classics that I missed during my childhood. Some titles included Inkheart, Maniac Magee, Julie of the Wolves, and Stuart Little. The list was long, and I thought to myself, why not start with these books?

There’s something to be said for reading a children’s story as an adult. Children’s stories can remind us of our youthful wonder, a freeness to experience the fullness of our vulnerability and innocence while asking life’s greatest questions. It’s never too late to read a children’s book. It shouldn’t be taboo either.

WPL’s children’s collection offers a variety of old and new favourites to revisit or discover. Here are a few books that I’ve revisited and enjoyed as an adult recently:

1. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Twelve-year-old Jonas is living in a seemingly ideal world until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memories. During his training, he begins to understand the dark secrets behind his fragile community. Lowry has continued this series with three other books: Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son.

2. Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen
After Cole’s anger erupts into violence, he agrees to participate in a sentencing alternative that is based on the Native American Circle of Justice to avoid going to juvenile prison. Cole is sent to a remote Alaskan island where an encounter with a huge Spirit Bear changes his life. This gripping and graphic survival story offers a poignant testimony to the power of pain that can destroy and may also heal.

3. Holes by Louis Sacchar
What begins as a family curse becomes an inevitability for Stanley Yelnats the Fourth as he is unjustly sent to Camp Green Lake where the Warden makes boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging a five-foot-wide by five-foot-deep hole. Holes is a deceptively complex mystery that questions fate, luck, and redemption all while being rolled into a multi-generational fairy tale.

4. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
When 10-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles upon the Tuck family’s secret, she learns that drinking from a magic spring could doom or bless her with eternal life. The Tuck family takes Winnie away for a couple days to explain why living forever is less a blessing then it may seem. This slim novel packed with vivid imagery will leave you asking: would you want to live forever?

5. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
This thirteen-book series follows the turbulent lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire in the aftermath of their parent’s death in a fire. The Baudelaire’s are placed in the care of Count Olaf, a relative, who orchestrates numerous disasters that they must flee from. While the books offer a dark and mysterious tone, they are both clever and full of literary allusions, dark humour, and sarcastic storytelling that would be an excellent revisit or introduction for adults.

There are countless more classic children’s books that can be enjoyed by readers of any age. Are there any books from your childhood that you always wanted to read but never got around to? Check out the WPL Catalogue and/or the shelves at your local branch. You’ll never know what magical wonder you may find.

— Eleni Z.

The Winnowing

The trickiest questions I’m asked at WPL’s Information Desk often come from vivacious teen dystopian readers. They have already read all the popular titles. They were captivated by The Hunger Games long before it was popular. They were engrossed in Divergent long before it was made into a movie. They devoured Lois Lowry’s books before they even got to high school. So what’s left to recommend? Thankfully, Canadian author Vikki VanSickle has come to the rescue with her latest title, The Winnowing.

The Winnowing offers a retelling of history, mixed with conspiracy and science fiction. After World War II the world faces a spreading infertility crisis. No children have been born since the end of the war and the human race faces extinction. Fast forward to 1989 – the small town of Darby, New Mexico is home to a group of scientists who have miraculously found a way to reverse the crisis. The cure is now administered to all children.

The book begins with a young woman, Marivic, having vivid nightmares of running through burning lava. The dream seems so real that it feels as though her feet are truly being scorched. This is the first sign of ACES (Adolescent Chromosomniatic Episodes), the side effect of the cure that all teenagers experience during the onset of puberty. Next, they will develop extraordinary abilities that stretch beyond human limitations. If they do not undergo a procedure called The Winnowing, they become a danger to themselves and those around them. Those who complete the winnowing are left with hazy memories, unable to recall any specific details of the procedure.

Like all teenagers in Darby, Marivic is sent to a medical centre to be treated for her ACES. Her best friend Saren is already there, having started treatment sometime earlier. Together they encounter a suspicious young man who claims to have information linking The Winnowing to more sinister events.

Science fiction enthusiasts will notice various references to famous sci-fi creators sprinkled throughout the novel, the most notable being the character of Dr. Roddenbury (a nod to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenbury).

The Winnowing, which is a Red Maple Fiction Award nominee, will appeal to vivacious dystopian fans, as well as those who enjoy a good conspiracy theory.

— Lesley L.