Reading Rabble Review: "Portals of Infinity" book 2 "The God Game" by John Van Stry

4 Rabbles with an R for excellence in a wonderful sequel.

Will’s life has definitely changed since that day he went hiking in the woods of Pennsylvania. He’s discovered that reality is a lot bigger and stranger than he had ever imagined. Learning about the portals that link the infinite number of worlds opened his eyes to that wider reality. Learning that he was being groomed to become the Champion of a God in one of those realities was an even more startling discovery. 

But now it’s time for him to pay the bill for his ‘recruitment’. Just as the Gods on a single world fight and jockey for power and position, the older Gods from the many different spheres of the infinite play a much larger and more complicated game. The Goddess Aryanna has a quest she needs completed, and William and four other Champions are the ones tasked to do it. 

What bothers Will however is what could a Goddess possibly need? And why would it take five Champions to retrieve it?

Another great book from author John Van Stry. The "Portals of Infinity: Book Two: The God Game" is a well written and exciting sequel. I have enjoyed this series tremendously! In this story, our hero Will is asked to take part in a quest with four other champions. Since Will is on very friendly terms with Aryanna, the god who needs his help, he agrees. Will is only in his first year as a champion to the god Feliogustus and is not very experienced with the portals and the worlds to be encountered. Therefore, other champions will accompany him on the journey. All have various levels of experience and the leader of the group is someone from Will's past. This leads to some interesting situations and plot developments.

Led through multiple worlds, each with their own challenges and dangers, our champions must use brain and brawn to continue their quest. In each new world, our heroes can find themselves 'changed' into the forms of the people found on that world. This leads to some fascinating and sometimes downright funny situations. More on this would spoil the story, but trust me it is well worth reading just to see the 'changes'.

Readers of classical literature, (no hints here) will definitely recognize the origin of this story. The author took a classic hero's journey story and brought it to life with an original plot. There is humor, violence, and sex to be found galore in this next installment of the "Portals of Infinity" series. Just like in the review for the first book, I would be remiss if I didn't mention those aspects of the book. Just as in the first book though, none of the 'mature content' is too graphic or out of place to warrant a negative rating, but gatekeepers will want to take a teen's maturity level into consideration when recommending the 'Portals' books. Reluctant Readers will find themselves hooked on this story. It continues the easy reading and exciting action found in the first book "Champion for Hire".

4 Rabbles with an R is easy to give this excellent sequel.

Time to Rabble Back! Have you been surprised and delighted by a series?


Reading Rabble Review: "The Testing" by Joelle Charbonneau

4 Rabbles with an R for good storytelling

The Testing
By Joelle Charbonneau

It’s graduation day for sixteen-year-old Malencia Vale, and the entire Five Lakes Colony (the former Great Lakes) is celebrating. All Cia can think about—hope for—is whether she’ll be chosen for The Testing, a United Commonwealth program that selects the best and brightest new graduates to become possible leaders of the slowly revitalizing post-war civilization. When Cia is chosen, her father finally tells her about his own nightmarish half-memories of The Testing. Armed with his dire warnings (”Cia, trust no one”), she bravely heads off to Tosu City, far away from friends and family, perhaps forever. Danger, romance—and sheer terror—await.

Only a few pages into the reading of this book and I thought that I was reading the script for "The Hunger Games". It bears striking resemblance to that now famous series. I have yet to read "The Hunger Games" but I have seen the movies and I was astonished at the similarities. Once past the shock, however, I buckled down and began to enjoy the story. 

The further I went into this book the more I liked it. Although the basic plot is close to "The Hunger Games", "The Testing" storyline takes it's own twists and turns. I cannot say anything for the originality but as a story it is very well done. Our hero Cia, differs from the Katniss character of "The Hunger Games". She is somewhat more thoughtful, very much human, and less inclined to violence. This is where the differences between these two stories is most evident, the development of the heroine character. In "The Testing" our hero is sent on her journey not for some sadistic entertainment but to weed out the weak and find the best and the brightest for entrance into "University", there to be taught and groomed for future leadership in the colony structure.

Though the basic plot line of "The Testing" and "The Hunger Games" and many other YA books ("The Maze Runner" also comes to mind), Joelle Charbonneau has created what turns out to be a very good story that can stand on its own. I also have to remember that for those of us in the 21st century to say almost any hero journey story is original is itself a falsehood. We have been copying the Greek and Roman storytellers for centuries. Lucky for us they didn't invent copyrighting! 

The Reading Rabble will very much enjoy this book. It's easy to read and, quite frankly, I couldn't put it down. It was so addictive. Reluctant Readers will find this one easy to get into! Especially those of you who have read "The Hunger Games" or seen the movies like I have. I almost took away points for what I at first saw as a lack of originality, but with the progression of the story it takes to its own place as a good work of dystopian YA fiction. 

4 Rabbles with an R for Reluctant Readers for "The Testing"

Time to Rabble Back! Have you found any 'Copies' of other stories that you also enjoyed?

Reading Rabble Review: "Prisoner B-3087" by Alan Gratz

4 Reluctant Rabbles for a frightening but necessary story

Prisoner B-3087
By Ruth Gruener, Jack Gruener, Alan Gratz

Survive. At any cost.

10 concentration camps. 

10 different places where you are starved, tortured, and worked mercilessly. 

It's something no one could imagine surviving. 

But it is what Yanek Gruener has to face. 

As a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, Yanek is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has, and everyone he loves, have been snatched brutally from him. And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner -- his arm tattooed with the words PRISONER B-3087. 

He is forced from one nightmarish concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined, but also sees surprising glimpses of hope amid the horror. He just barely escapes death, only to confront it again seconds later. 

Can Yanek make it through the terror without losing his hope, his will -- and, most of all, his sense of who he really is inside? 

Based on an astonishing true story.

Difficult - in one word the review is complete. There is no way to prepare for a book like "PRISONER B-3087". It's such an important event that the world must never forget, yet it is also very difficult to read about. This story about the survival of Yanek Gruener is one of the hardest books I've read for the Reading Rabble. I don't mean that in the sense that it was hard to physically read. The writing and vocabulary are very easy and aimed at the younger YA audience. It easily introduces the today's youth to the monumental events that make up the Holocaust. I mean it in the sense that it's just hard to read about one of the saddest chapters in human history.

There have been so many mass tragedies in recent history - Nanking, Cambodia, Serbia to name only a few - and the Jewish Holocaust of World War II is one of the most well known and thoroughly documented. This particular book is the story of one young man's survival of that human tragedy. It compares easily with seeing the movie Schindler's List. While not nearly as graphic as that film, I couldn't help having flashbacks to the scenes portrayed in the movie while reading this "PRISONER". Perhaps that is why it took so long to read. I had to put the book down at times to give my imagination and emotions a rest. It is all to real and disturbing to take in large chunks.

Given my description of this book, you may be wondering why I am giving it 4 Rabbles with an R for reluctant readers. The reason is simple - knowledge. This is one of those books that you need to read to understand what happened to the Nazi's victims. No part of it is too graphic that younger readers will be overly disturbed, however its importance as a vehicle for knowledge cannot be understated. We ALL share in the guilt of what our fellow human beings experienced under the lash of Hitler's maniacal reign and we ALL need to be aware of what happened there. This is an easy introduction for younger readers to the reality of the holocaust.

There is not a lot that the Rouser can say that is good about this book. It is one of those stories that you do not necessarily read for pleasure, but for knowledge. Reluctant Readers will find the book easy to read and understand. They may find the subject hard to take, but once again it is something that we all need to remember.

Some of the concentration camps were left as reminders of the evil acts of mankind. You can go to Poland and Germany and see these places. Every person who visits these places comes back with stories of overwhelming horror at what man is capable of doing to his fellow man. Many pictures and stories are available online as well.

4 Rabbles with an R for reluctant readers for this gripping personal narrative about one of humanity's gravest and darkest chapters. 

We Must Never Forget!

Rabble back: What books or films have made a lasting - if grim - impression on your life? 

Reading Rabble Review: "Portals of Infinity" Book 1 "Champion for Hire" By John Van Stry

4 Rabbles with an R for great and inventive storytelling!

William is just your typical engineer fresh out of college with a stressful job, a boring life, and not a lot of prospects of anything better in the future. 

Until one weekend while hiking in the woods he stumbles across a portal to another time, or perhaps another place. The more he investigates this new world the more he realizes that it may just be able to offer him a lot more than the one he's been living in. 

However, there are forces at work beyond anything that Will has ever come across before and the local Goddess seems to have taken a liking to him. Will may soon find himself getting an offer and cannot afford to refuse. 

This story was a chance pick on the amazon YA pick list. Sometimes the Rouser takes a chance on a book based solely on the title or the way the cover looks, sometimes based on the short description given. Whatever the case may be, I was glad that I chose this series by John Van Stry as it has turned out to be a real winner.

The main character, William (Will) is a young man who is at that point in life where his is drifting between childhood and adulthood. Having finished college but not yet embarked on a career path, he spends some free time exploring the wilderness. That's where he stumbles upon the "Portals", gateways between worlds that are controlled by the "gods". As these stories go, only certain people are able to access the portals - and Will is one of them.

At first not knowing much about these parallel worlds and even less about the gods who control them, Will tries to take advantage of the difference in levels of technology.  He takes ancient weaponry from the alternate world and sells it in our world, and takes modern weapons from here to sell in the ancient one. Will's somewhat shady scheme quickly establishes him in this new world as somebody with money and influence.

Before long, Will is approached by one of the mysterious 'gods' and offered the chance to become a Champion. Interested in the opportunity and the chance to explore more of these Portals, Will accepts and the adventures are on. All of this takes place early on in the book and unveils the vast majority of the story as a really cool action and adventure.

In the interest of not spoiling any more of the story, I won't reveal any more of the plot. However, it goes without saying that the story is fast paced and very enjoyable. The vocabulary is easy to read so Reluctant Readers will not get confused or frustrated at any point.

Now, I do have to say at this point that there is a little bit of adult language in this book. It's not excessive nor out of place. What little there is fits in with the story line and enhances it. I am not one to endorse too much cursing in literature - especially YA - but it's not like young people don't know these words and if they are used in the proper way it can make the story better - and in this book it does.

There is another aspect to this story which I feel like I should mention. There are several mentions of the lead character's sexual activity in this story. None of the sex is graphic and the details are almost nonexistent. It all completely fits with the storyline and, like the language, enhances the story. I found the story completely enjoyable, but I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention this aspect. In this respect - and taking into account the age of the hero - "Portals of Infinity" leans a little toward the category now known as "New Adult", though it doesn't have the "adult" details that category is known for.

For these reasons I would recommend this book to the older end of the YA scale. Older teens will thoroughly enjoy this story without being shocked or offended by the content. That's not to say that a mature younger teen couldn't enjoy it, but parental or educator discretion is advised. Sometimes "edgy" content can engage a kid who might not otherwise read. 

With those caveats in mind,  I highly recommend John Van Stry's "Portals of Infinity". It is very enjoyable and very well written. Reluctant Readers will like this one tremendously! The action is fast-paced and the characters are extremely likable! I am looking forward to more from this series. 

4 Rabbles with an R for this excellent story!

Time for the Rabble to get back to us! What do you think of content in stories that's "on the edge" of adult storytelling?


School Is Where the Heart Is

What I said to the Virginia Association of School Librarians - Clinch Regional Conference

Signing books for librarians and their readers. 

Signing books for librarians and their readers. 

Last Saturday I was honored to speak to school librarians in Southwest Virginia. This year's theme is "The Library: The Heart of the School". I took the opportunity to connect with librarians on issues they all face like budget and time pressures, steeply curving technology, and dealing with struggling and troubled students (of which I was one). 

Pull-out quotes: 

We live in a world where it seems that we have all the information we could ever want or could have ever hoped to have practically at our fingertips. Of course, you librarians know that’s not exactly true. Our students still need good guidance in using the incredible resources available to us. 

Click the headphones icon to HEAR THE FULL SPEECH at SoundCloud. It's about 30 minutes long. (please forgive any sound quality issues)

Click the headphones icon to HEAR THE FULL SPEECH at SoundCloud. It's about 30 minutes long. (please forgive any sound quality issues)

Librarians - Media Specialists are required to know all this technology and guide students into this new world of education. 

Every time we discover something, we discover MORE. Every time we make an advance it turns into something bigger. Every time we think we know it all we discover that there’s even more to know. This is an amazing and rapidly expanding world and universe. And it just keeps expanding. It requires us to make a lot of choices.

The library is the "heart" not just because of the information that’s there, but because of what’s happening there. 

You as librarians are transitioning – slowly or rapidly, depending on demands – from being a keeper of information to being a traffic director for curious minds, from being an educator to being the enabler of the development of those young people who will eventually step out into the larger world. That is a whole-person endeavor. 

You’re facing budget issues – budgets that are shrinking or, at best, staying flat. And you’re being asked to do more with those budget, up to and including buying, enabling, and supporting technology. 

You are the go-to professionals in your schools. ... librarians often carry at least a part-time class load – often full time classes – and get to run a library in your spare time, as if it’s not a full-time job in itself.

The steep curve of our material and informational world is like a roller coaster that you ride on a daily basis, sometimes ahead of your students.

You’re required to focus on what’s new and next even before what’s “now” is fully mastered – and by the time you know the “old next”, the “new next” is already on top of you.

Because of these budget issues, school administrations and communities are looking to technology as a “cheaper” or budget-saving alternative to printed books and traditional libraries. This creates a real push-and-pull where our young learners and you librarians seem to be in the middle of a tug-o-war. 

The librarian is trying to teach and is expected to be a technology resource, but at the same time we need our kids to demonstrate and educate adults on how to use the tools. 

It’s a very difficult task to adapt rapidly enough and keep up with the private-sector resources that kids have access to and are bringing into schools every day.

People and organizations outside the school don’t have to go through a multi-level bureaucratic and budget process to sample, test, and implement these resources. So the librarian is left behind and struggling to catch up and keep up with what’s available outside the school. 

I sincerely hope that there will soon be a bridge between what you’re trying to do in the library to what’s available and happening in the “outside world”.

There is one thing that I see and that I love very much: even among all these mind-boggling changes and challenges, in every school I go to and every community I visit THE LIBRARY IS OPEN.

I grew up in a very tumultuous home ... where learning was not particularly valued. I came to school every day with a bad attitude, probably not enough sleep, not enough resources to concentrate and overcome the natural learning difficulties that I had. I was often marginalized as a reader and learner and as a “discipline problem”.

Some of my favorite people are librarians. They kept the doors open until I was ready to dive in.

Some of my favorite people are librarians. They kept the doors open until I was ready to dive in.

My life was changed by a dedicated teacher. It was like a light switch was turned on and a whole new world opened up to me when I was fifteen years old. 

I spoke recently at a jail for teen boys and explained my experience like this: “I was mad at my parents and I wanted out of that situation, but in response I was working on throwing away my education.” 

... it’s not just the good kids who are paying attention. You librarians matter to us – the reluctant and struggling kids – too. We’re watching and it makes a difference what you say and do.

“The Library: The Heart of the School.” What that means to me is that the “heart” is the place where all of the vital material flows through at one time or another. Information, educational materials, books, DVDs, laptop computers, concepts, programs, services, and even the school culture all pass through the library. That makes the library a vital organ with vibrant activity happening. 

I think it’s important to point out that even among us reluctant and struggling students, the library is still a SACRED place. I really believe that a kid’s attitude changes when they walk into a library. 

I believe that the heart BEAT of the library is the people, the students, the children and teens, the young learners – the compliant, the seekers, the freakers, the frightened, the lost. Everyone comes to the library eventually. That is your heart BEAT. 

If the library is the heart of the school and the people are the heartbeat, then what beats the heart? There is a power that keeps the life’s blood flowing through the school. There is a power that sets the pace of what happens, maintains the health of the library and therefore the health of the school. That power that beats the heart is the LIBRARIAN.

It doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen when you’re not there. It happens because YOU are there and you are dedicated to making sure that the heart beats and that the life’s blood flows. 

Your task is vital to the survival of our schools, to the development or our communities, even our nation and our world – by influencing the young people you serve with very few conditions on your relationship with them: “Behave yourself. Ask for help if you need it. Come and dive in.”

In a conditional world you have very generous terms with young readers. 

You have served more than my mind. You’ve served my spirit and you’ve served my heart. 
So, to me, the library is the heart of more than the school. And you are much more than librarians to me.

Thanks to the VA librarians for having me!

Rabble back! How are your schools fairing in the current budgetary and technological climates?