Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

"Where will love find you?"

On September 1, all of New York City was struck by a blackout. Lucy Patterson didn't know that the entire city was in the dark because she was stuck in an elevator in the building where she had lived her entire life. She wasn't alone. Also in the elevator is the teenage son of her building's new superintendent. He and his father had just moved in about a month ago. Lucy had watched them carry in their furniture while sitting in a coffee shop. The doormen in the building wouldn't give her any information about him. Even if she was a confident girl, he seemed too aloof to approach. Lucy is a wealthy girl from the upper floor who attends a private all girl school. Her brothers have just left for college and her parents are on a trip to Paris. She is truly alone for the first time in her life. She had just run downstairs to check the mail and grabbed the elevator. When the two of them realize that they will probably be stuck for a while, they attempt to have a conversation. Lucy finds out that Owen, who lives in the basement apartment, isn't a fan of the city. His father's job was an unexpected detour. When she asks him why he was going up, he shows her a key and says he was heading for the roof.

Having lived all of his life in Pennsylvania, Owen is having a hard time in New York City, as is his father. Turns out, his mother died in a car accident while trying to light a cigarette. His father was out of work and a cousin offered him the position in one of his buildings. Now, instead of waking up to sunny window and the birds chipping, he sees a mold stained, cracked ceiling and a sliver of light bleeding through the barred window at the top of the wall. The city is closing in on him and the roof of the apartment building is the one place he feels free. It's not too long before they hear someone knocking on the elevator doors. Owen gets up and knocks back. The elevator door is opened and Lucy and Owen crawl out. They find out that not only is the city in a blackout, but it looks like it may be part of the Eastern seaboard. They head towards the stairwell and are reluctant to part. Lucy offers Owen a flashlight, but he declines. Hearing her footsteps fading away, Owen changes his mind. He runs back up and Lucy meets him. He does want that flashlight. The two of them climb to Lucy's apartment.

Finding only one flashlight, the two of them head back down and into the city to get some supplies. New York is so different in the dark than what Lucy is used to. They find some water and batteries and stand in line for free ice cream, since it's melting anyway. Owen shows her the stars unobstructed by the city lights and Lucy is fascinated. Heading back to their building and make the climb to her apartment. It’s hot and they lay on the tile kitchen floor. Owen notices that the refrigerator is covered in postcards. Her parents send her one from every trip they go on. They soon head for the roof to get some air. The two of them talk about the constellations and all of the postcards on Lucy's refrigerator that her parents have sent her over the years. Lucy asks Owen if he could go anywhere in the world, where would it be. It is a question Owen has often wanted to ask. He talks about wanting to head off for college on the West Coast while she would like to visit all of the places on her postcard collection. Lucy watches Owen fall asleep before her eyes drift closed.

Lucy awakes the next morning to the bright daylight and finds Owen gone. She heads back to her apartment but the power isn't on yet. She debates going to the basement to find Owen but doesn't. When the electricity comes back on, her parents call. Instead of coming home to check on her, they have made arrangements for her to fly and meet them in London. She will be flying out in a couple of days; she doesn’t see Owen again before she leaves.

It turns out that Owen’s father is suffering from heat exhaustion after trying to get back home during the blackout. Their cousin, the building’s owner isn’t happy that Owen’s father was MIA during the blackout. The water pumps need to be able to pump water to the upper floors. Owen handles the tools while his father tells him what to do. The two head out to sightsee in Times Square when the building is back in order. Stopping in a souvenir shop, Owen buys a postcard to send to Lucy in the heat of the moment. Meanwhile in London, Lucy does the same thing. She buys a postcard and sends it to Owen. When Owen and his father arrive back at the building, they see their cousin and a plumber. Turns out the basement flooded because the water pumps weren’t tightened. Sam fires Owen’s father. The two men decide that this is their chance to head west

Back at home, Lucy is checking the mailbox when she sees Owen. She finds his postcard and laughs. She tells him that she will be moving to London. Her parents’ are keeping their apartment so she will be back for summers. Owen keeps quiet that he had his father are leaving. She tells him that he should be on the lookout for a postcard as well.

After just one night, Owen and Lucy cannot keep their minds off of one another. Even though they should be growing closer, geographically, they are moving away from each other. Postcards turn out to be the way the keep in touch. Will something come of their continued relationship or will the increasing distance drive them apart?

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Taking by Kimberly Derting (The Taking book 1)

"What if the life you are living is not your own?"

"A flash of white light ... and then ... nothing."

After a fight with her father over her future, Kyra makes him stop the car by the side of the road so that she can get out. She will call her boyfriend Austin to come and pick her up. Kyra runs and falls on the asphalt. Picking herself up, she brushes the dirt and gravel from her clothes. Suddenly, all she can see is a blinding, white light. She hears her father screaming. Kyra feels dizzy and weightless, then, nothing.

Kyra wakes up with her head pounding, the feel of asphalt at her back and the smell of gasoline in the air. Realizing that something is hitting her in the head, she opens her eyes to blinding daylight. She sees a little boy and finds herself at the Gas 'N' Sip. Not knowing how she got there, Kyra sees that she spent the night behind a dumpster. She decides to call Austin because he and her parents are probably freaking out over her disappearance. She is shocked to see that her cell phone says “No Service.”

She begins to walk the short distance to her house and has a strange since of déjà vu. Her house looks the same but also different. The door is locked and the key is gone from over the doorway. She knocks on the door and a small boy peeks out of the window. Kyra is confused since she is an only child and her parents dote on her. Finally, an unfamiliar man opens the door and she is even more confused. The furnishings are different and the man offers to call for help. Confused, she looks across the street to Austin's house and notices his mother' car s in the driveway. She crosses the street and knocks on the back door. Austin answers and Kyra falls into his arms. Relieved, she hears Mrs. Wahl ask Tyler who is there. She pulls back to speak to her when Mrs. Wahl drops her coffee mug. Austin tells his mother that Kyra is there but Kyra notices that something is off about Austin’s voice. She looks at the arms around her waist; they aren't tan like they should be since Austin had just completed his lifeguard certification for the summer. She looks up at Austin's face and he has to catch her for a second time. Kyra isn't in the arms of her seventeen year old boyfriend Austin’s. She is in the arms of his younger brother, Tyler, who yesterday was twelve. Now, Tyler looks seventeen.

Kyra wakes up in Austin's bed. The general decor hadn't changed but things don't seem lived in. Mrs. Wahl tries her best to explain that five years have passed since Kyra went missing. Looking at Tyler, Kyra seems to believe her but when she looks at herself, she is confused. Kyra is still dressed in her softball uniform from the championship game, ribbons still woven in her hair from last night. She even still has the bruise on her leg from the previous night when she wrestled her best friend Cat for the remote. Mrs. Wahl tells her that her mother is on the way and hopefully she can explain things better. Kyra is watching out the front window when Tyler comes up behind her. He comments that things must be weird for her. Kyra sees her mother is driving a different car. She has the door open before her mother can knock and is in her arms. Her mother makes her promises and she asks where her father is. Before her mother can answer, the man who answered the door at her house comes up to them, with the toddler boy following along behind. Her mother endearingly calls the man "Grant.' He apologizes to her mother that he didn't recognize Kyra from the pictures. The little boy climbs into her mother's arms and says "Mommy!" Kyra immediately knows that her parents have continued on with their lives, separately, while she was supposedly missing. Her mother tells her that she didn't want her to find out this way. Kyra asks for her father. Her mother lets her know that he is on his way. Kyra goes back inside the Wahl's house, leaving her mother and new family outside.

Kyra goes back to Austin's bedroom and Tyler follows. She asks him if there is anything else she needs to know. He teases her and she wonders why she mistook him for his brother at first. She asks Tyler if she can call Austin. Tyler sits down beside her on the bed and he tells her that there is no need. His mother has already called him but she had to leave a message. She asks him how long her parents have been divorced. Tyler isn't sure but her father moved out a year after she disappeared. The police looked into the case, to no avail. Rumors started circulating that her father had something to do with her disappearance. Kyra is adamant that her father had nothing to do with it. His father, a policeman, believed that her father was innocent. Tyler asks; What did happen? Where has she been for the past five years? Kyra has no answers.

Kyra soon realizes that life has gone on without her. She is now a legal adult even though she looks the same as she did five years earlier. Her parents divorced over her father's theories over her disappearance. Her mother has started a new life and family while her father has a drinking problem and believes Kyra’s disappearance is because of alien abduction. Austin has moved on with his life, with her best friend, Cat. Tyler, who had a crush on Kyra when he was younger, is the one person who she can count on.

What really happened the night Kyra disappeared? Where was she for the past five years? Why is she unable to remember? How come she hasn't aged? What happens when Kyra begins to lean on Tyler more and sparks begin to fly? Will she ever find out what really happened? Was Kyra abducted by aliens?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“Okay? Okay.”

I am possibly the last person on Earth who hasn’t read The Fault in Our Stars. I purchased my copy as soon as it was published but stashed it away in my bedside table. I never found the right time for me to read it after everyone told me how gut wrenching it is. With the movie on the horizon, I promised many of my students that I would finally read the book. (I had already seen a spoiler on Facebook one day. Ugh!) I am not going to go into too much detail about the book because almost everyone knows what it is about. Having read everything else by John Green, this one breaks the mold even more than An Abundance of Katherines. (My personal favorite because the audio version is absolutely hilarious.)

“Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.” Taken from Goodreads, because who could say it any better.

The movie opens on June 6. Visit the official movie website.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The One by Kiera Cass (The Selection trilogy book 3)

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, The Selection and The Elite, Stop! I don’t want to ruin one of my favorite series for you.

It all began with 35 girls competing for Prince Maxon’s heart and to become his wife. For America Singer, it meant leaving behind her family and the love of her life, Aspen Ledger. When she first arrived at the palace, her heart was broken but she soon became friends with Prince Maxon. She stayed for the money for her family and to offer Maxon advice. Then, Aspen arrived at the palace as a member of the royal guard. America soon found herself struggling with her feelings as her heart was torn between two boys. As part of the Elite and with only four girls left, America decides to fight for Maxon’s heart, even though King Clarkson is dead set against her.

Who will be The One for America Singer; Prince Maxon or Aspen Ledger?

Fans of the series will be eagerly waiting to see how America’s story ends.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski (Winner's Trilogy book 1)

“Winning what you want may cost you everything you love.”

While visiting the market with her friend Jess, Kestrel ends up at an impromptu gambling table. With Jess off looking, Kestrel knows that she will be in trouble with her father, General Trajan, the highest ranking general in the Valorian army, for being unattended. She finds Jess at a vendor booth looking at a pair of Topaz earrings. She hears the price and before thinking, publically calls the woman out for lying; the Topaz stone is really glass. Seeing the attention she has raised, Kestrel backpedals so as not to get the vendor, a freed Herrani slave, in trouble. She pays full price for the earrings and everyone’s attention is diverted. Jess sees that Kestrel is down and offers to buy her some sheet music in the hopes of raising her spirits. She tells Kestrel to close her eyes and grabs her hand. When Jess expectantly stops, the two girls discover that they have expectantly ended up at the slave market. 

Kestrel and Jess find themselves pinned in with no hopes of leaving. The first slave brought out is a young man of nineteen. His hair is brown but his skin is dark from having worked outside. The auctioneer says that the young man would make a fine house slave and the audience laughs at his joke. The bidding starts low. The auctioneer says that he was trained by a blacksmith and the bidding increases but is still low. Kestrel feels ill and Jess promises to get her out as soon as they can leave. The auctioneer asks the audience once again if they think he would make a fine house slave since he can sing. The auctioneer asks him to sing but the slave refuses. Everyone witnesses the request. The auctioneer is furious. Kestrel looks up at the slave and places a high bid. Everyone there sees that the bid was placed by the general's daughter and the bidding skyrockets. Kestrel finally bids fifty keystones, a hefty price, and buys the slave. It is more money than she has on hand and feels sick. The woman standing beside her remakes that she has the Winner's Curse. She got caught up in the moment only to regret it in the end.

Heading down to make payment, Kestrel is surprised that the auctioneer is waiting on her. He says that he couldn’t let anyone else wait on a customer as important as her. Jess asks is she can speak to some friends of her father’s and goes to the other side of the room. Kestrel tells him that she cannot make full payment at this time. She tells the auctioneer that she can pay the rest later. Kestrel is afraid if she leaves the slave behind that the bruise on his cheek now won’t be the only one he has when she returns. Too clever, the auctioneer offers to accompany Kestrel home with her purchase and she reluctantly agrees. Jess and her father’s friends watch them leave and Kestrel knows that she will hear about this from her father. She hates the conformities of her society and the rules she is expected to follow. She also knows that any of her father’s soldiers would lay down their lives for hers. Her father expects her to join the military as well, but that is not what she wants out of her life. At her home, Kestrel sends the housekeeper off to fetch the steward, Harman. She counts out the remainder of the money she owes him and says that there shouldn’t be any fresh marks on Smith, the name of the slave. The auctioneer thanks her for her business and leaves. Harman demands to know how much this new slave was and Kestrel says that she will tell her father. Harman wants to know what to do with him but is pleasantly surprised to find out that he is a blacksmith. He is ready to send him to the forge but Kestrel wants to know if he will sing. Smith says “no” in her own language and turns away, his hair hiding his face. Kestrel tries to appear unfazed and tells Harman to see to it that he has a bath and cuts his hair. When she feels Smith starring at her, it dawns on her that contempt is what she sees in his eyes.

At dinner with her father, Kestrel asks him about his day. General Trajan has been working with the new recruits. He questions where Jess is if she accompanied her to the market earlier in the day. She didn’t and before she explains why, she admits that she spent fifty keystones today. He is more concerned over the fact that she was unaccompanied in the city again and not happy to hear that the auctioneer and slave were her escorts. Kestrel claims she doesn’t need an escort and her father agrees that she wouldn’t if she enlisted. A woman solider is trained to defend herself. She is tired of following customs that she deems absurd. Her father wants her to be a soldier so that she can strategize not fight with him. He reaches for her hand and tells her that the rules belong to the empire. If she joins the fight, she will gain her independence. Don’t and she must accept its constraints. She must live by the law and not complain. Kestrel quietly stands and leaves. She goes down the hall to the room that houses her mother’s piano. She opens the French doors to the night air and breathes in. She begins to play.

After a luxurious bath, the slave spends three days alone without a task assigned to him. He spends his time surveying the general’s estate, memorizing the layout and comings and goings. While sitting on a hill, he notices Harman, the steward, huffing towards him, irritated. He takes him to the forge where another Herrani slave is waiting. He has noticed her at meals and knows that she works in the house. She is flustered by having to translate for Harman. He has decided that since Lady Kestrel cannot be bothered by him, he will put him to work. Today, he will start by making horseshoes. The test will be to see how many he can make in a day. Also, since he knows how to shoe horses, he will be doing that tomorrow. The slave decides to pass the test he has been given. He proves his worth but makes sure that the job takes all day. He does just enough to satisfy but not enough to draw attention. About one week after the auction, Jess sends Kestrel a note asking for her advice on what to wear to Lady Faris’s picnic, the social event of the summer. She ends the note by saying that her brother has been asking about her. Before she can reach the stables, Harman wants to know who her escort will be; her father has left orders. He then asks her what her plans of employment will be for the slave she bought. Kestrel claims to have forgotten him. Place him wherever you see fit.

While working in the stables on afternoon, Kestrel asks Smith to look at her horse’s shoe. It is a huge war horse that she named Javelin. She speaks Herrani well and it unnerves him. Smith speaks before he can think and asks about the horse’s name. When she explains what the Valorian word means, he inadvertently tells her that he knows that. She tells him that she named the horse when she was young and he says that it suits the horse. Kestrel comments that his name doesn’t suit him. He tells her that his name is really Arin. Later, Kestrel goes to see her former nurse, Enai, who she freed. With her mother dead, Enai is who Kestrel seeks for comfort. Kestrel knows Enai has already heard the rumors of her buying Arin. She breaks down to the old woman, admitting that she made a mistake.
Walking back to the barracks one night, Arin hears someone playing the piano and he realizes that he hasn’t been dreaming. He goes to investigate even though it means that he will be late for curfew. Walking around the house, he sees Kestrel playing the piano. With the room lit up, he knows that he can safely watch her from the shadows.

Kestrel takes Arin as her escort to Jess's house. Instead of sending him off to the kitchens, she has him remain in the parlor with her. Dressed for the part, Arin almost blends in with the wall but Kestrel finds him hard to ignore. His clothes hide the scars of ten years' worth of labor but she finds herself thinking that he was hiding much more than scars. Looking bored, she suspects that he was able to follow every word of the Valorian conversation. Gossiping over the picnic, Jess hears that Lady Faris will be presenting her new baby to society. Kestrel thinks it is a bold yet perfect move for her since she suspects that the baby is illegitimate. Shocked, Jess asks why she thinks that. Kestrel has seen the baby and it doesn't look anything like Faris's older children. Jess makes the comment that the god of lies must love her. Kestrel hears the sharp intake of breath from Arin before he says in perfect Valorian, for Jess to repeat herself. She means the Herrani god of lies since the Valorians don't have gods. Kestrel stands up and remembers Arin's actions during the auction and orders him to stand down. He is furious and questions Jess of how she knows that his god loves Kestrel. Trying to play off the situation, Jess comments that "Kestrel sees the truth of things so clearly." Arin doubts that and Jess wants Kestrel to do something with her property. Arin tells her that she sees the truth because people let her believe she does. Thinking back to the day she bought the topaz earrings, Kestrel asks Jess if she can borrow them. She and Arin leave.

Kestrel takes the earrings to a jeweler to see if they are real or not. Arin asks to leave her at the store while he visits a friend. Turns out he goes to see Cheat, the slave auctioneer. Cheat asks Arin to report on everything he has learned at the general's house; layout, the general's comings and goings and any mentions of the military. It seems that Arin has been set up as a spy. He wants to know why Cheat didn't tell him Kestrel was a musician. He did think it seemed relevant. Arin heads back to Kestrel. In the meantime, Kestrel discovers that the earrings are really just glass. She is relieved.

Who was Arin before he became a slave? Why did Kestrel buy Arin? Can he really sing? Why does she consider her purchase a mistake? Who was Arin before he became a slave? Why is he spying on General Trajan? Will Kestrel be able to break from the customs of Valorian society? What happens in Kestrel and Arin’s relationship may cost her everything?

Readers will be eagerly awaiting book two, The Winner’s Crime in 2015.
Book 0.5, Bridge of Snow,  is a free short story that is almost s fairy tale but gives the reader insight into what Arin's life was like when he was a child. It can be found at: http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/01/bridge-of-snow-marie-rutkoski