Top Ten Anticipated 2014 Debuts


Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Top 10 2014 Debuts

I interpreted this as 2014 debuts by debut authors. It’d definitely be a challenge for me to read these, because I tend to stick to my comfort zone – my favorite authors in my favorite genres, or new books I’ve relied on others trying and loving before me. ūüôā

SteeringTowardNormal10. Steering Toward Normal by Rebecca Petruck

Really Brief Synopsis: Drama abounds at the Minnesota State Fair when Diggy and Wayne discover they are half brothers.

Why I Want to Read It:¬†This story looks to be a great combination of silly/humorous and dramatic. ¬†I hate to put too much (or any) faith in a book based on its cover, but c’mon. Look at that thing. I love it!

ninja9. The Ninja Librarians by Jennifer Swann Downey

Really Brief Synopsis: Middle grade novel about siblings who inadvertently discover a secret society of ninja librarians who protect free speech.

Why I Want to Read It: I mean, ninja librarians. NINJA librarians.


breakfast8. Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs 

Really Brief Synopsis: A teen girl goes to a camp for talented and gifted high schoolers after her grandmother passes away.

Why I Want to Read It:¬†Well, it has ‘breakfast’ in the title is one. Also, it features a protagonist who is labeled as ‘talented and gifted’; for several years, I’ve taught gifted students, and I’m always looking for more books with characters they can relate to (in this aspect, anyway)..

caminar7. Caminar by Skila Brown

Really Brief Synopsis:¬†A novel in verse about a boy trying to survive Guatemala’s civil war.

Why I Want to Read It: I’d like to read more novels in verse; the more I try written in this style, the more I like and the more I like poetry in general. History and poetry are two genres I want my students to try out more, as well.

doll6. Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

Really Brief Synopsis: A girl moves in with her grandmother during the Civil Rights era and discovers her family has many unexpected secrets.

Why I Want to Read It:¬†I feel like I don’t read enough historical fiction. I’m not sure why because many of my favorite books of all time come from that genre. ¬†Although this is more of an adult historical fiction novel, those that tell more of a coming-of-age story sometimes translate to teen readers.

pointe5. Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Really Brief Synopsis: Theo, a serious ballerina, is conflicted about how to help her friend Donovan when he comes back into her life after being abducted.

Why I Want to Read It:¬†I used to dance but don’t really anymore. I have yet to find a really¬†fantastic book that features a dancer. Maybe this will be the one! Also, I have tons of students who are really serious about dance, and I think they would appreciate a good dance-focused fiction novel as much as me.

falconer4. The Falconer by Elizabeth May

Really Brief Synopsis: In 19th century Scotland, Lady Aileana Kameron balances her social life with faery slaying.

Why I Want to Read It:¬†For some reason, I’m eagerly anticipating multiple books that have some strong similarities (or at least it seems that way) to Graceling¬†by Kristin Cashore. But that makes sense because I loved that book, my girl¬†and¬†boy students loved that book, and I haven’t read anything like it in quite a while. Hopefully¬†The Falconer lives up to the high bar that story set.

end times3. End Times by Anna Schumacher

Really Brief Synopsis:¬†Strange things are happening in Daphne’s new Wyoming town. Locals claim it’s the end of the world. Is there another explanation?

Why I Want to Read It:¬†The setting, a Wyoming boomtown, is one that would be totally new to me. I’m also intrigued by the idea of a town taken with the idea of the Rapture approaching. There is something about religious extremism in fiction that fascinates me. My students and I love dystopian and apocalyptic fiction, too.

 Night and Fog2. Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Really Brief Synopsis:¬†A teen girl growing up in 1930s Germany finds out there may be more to the story of her father’s death: Was he really sacrificing himself to protect Hitler?

Why I Want to Read It:¬†I have a DRC of¬†Prisoner of Night, and the first few chapters have me really impressed. ¬†I have some other titles I have to read first, but I can’t wait to get back to it. Blankman is a pretty obviously talented writer. My students read any and everything dealing with WWII that they can get their hands on. I like Blankman’s unique angle, and I hope she’s pulled it off!

Cruel Beauty1. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Really Brief Synopsis: Nyx and Ignifex are characters in a twist on Beauty and the Beast, but with romance and assassins!

Why I Want to Read It: Publishers are touting this as, “Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast.” I¬†loved¬†Graceling, and¬†Beauty and the Beast happens to be my favorite Disney movie. ūüôā Mostly, what grabbed my attention is that Nyx, the “Belle” of the story, is a trained assassin who is expected to seduce then murder the “Beast” character. Love a good badass chick story, and I sure wouldn’t mind having more titles with these types of protagonists for my students to read.

What debuts are you or your students looking forward to this year? Any of these that you’ve already read?


Review – Ashfall by Mike Mullin


Summary + Review

In the opening pages of Ashfall, readers are introduced to¬†Cedar Falls (Woo! I went to college there!) teen Alex Halprin who is relieved when he gets out of his family’s weekend trip to Warren, Illinois. Mere pages later, Alex’s world is turned upside down when his house partially collapses! After escaping to his neighbors’ house, ¬†more strange occurrences threaten his life: relentless thunder nearly bursts his eardrums, power and cell signals go out, and then ash begins to fall from the sky like rain. After the immediate threats subside, Alex finds out that the cause of the chaos was the eruption of the Yellowstone volcano. He grabs some provisions from his house and sets off to try to reconnect with his family.¬†

The plot follows Alex through a few minor stops and conflicts, but most of the story takes place after Alex is nearly killed by a prison escapee and he stumbles into the home of Mrs. Edmunds and her daughter, Darla. Mrs. Edmunds is the warm-hearted, nurturing mother figure Alex needs to recover and prepare for the rest of his journey to Illinois. Darla, however, is stubborn, impatient, smart, and critical of Alex; of course, he likes her immediately. ūüôā

The three work to maximize their food resources and brace themselves for what looks to be a cold, ash-filled, treacherous winter-come-early. However, despite their preparations, nothing can ready them for all the dangers they will face in the post-eruption U.S.


I had predicted that Alex and Darla would somehow end up on their own; I do think Mullin did a nice job of not letting the plot become predictable, though. I haven’t read the sequel, and I’m intrigued to see how the FEMA/government issues are dealt with in Ashen Winter. I’m also excited to see if/when Alex and Darla journey back to Cedar Falls. I do hope Mullin lets other characters in on whatever treks they make because I would hate to see the series become all about the romance. >:/¬†

spoilers over

Mullin’s writing style, as well as the survivalist focus of¬†Ashfall, remind me a lot of the Unwind ‘dystolgy’¬† by Neal Shusterman, the Gone series¬†by Michael Grant, and¬†The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. These books all have that fantastic action- and setting-related description but lack much character-centered or mood-creating detail. For many readers, this is a good thing; others (I’m one of them) like a little more character development with our world building! ūüôā Anyway, those books would make great read-alikes.

Because of this writing style, it took me a few chapters to warm up to the story. I also think the end is dragged out a little unnecessarily, as well. I think a few of the secondary characters blended together, without much to distinguish one from the next. Finally, as far as issues with the book go, I thought that Alex and Darla were just a little too brilliant in the self-preservation department. In a novel that is totally focused on survival, I am willing to let this go a bit. However, I think it did end up taking away some of the sense of the two ever really being in true peril: after all, they would figure something out. Other than these minor problems, I really loved this book. Where apocalyptic and dystopian fiction novels are a dime a dozen right now, Mullin has brought a new, unique idea to the table. It also must be said that, as far as the science part of the science fiction, Mullin seems to definitely know his stuff. The parts of the book that focused on the natural disaster elements were some of my favorite to read.


Sentence structure is very simple throughout¬†Ashfall.¬†Mullin uses some bigger vocabulary but not often enough, in my opinion, to turn away reluctant readers. For me, this had a bit of a slow start…but that could just be me. For a longer book (456 pages!), I think Mullin does a nice job of maintaining a fairly brisk pace. And while the science content is well-explained, I wouldn’t say it was shoved down my throat. (Some of my student readers complain about the over-emphasis of complex scientific concepts in some science fiction.)


To my surprise, Ashfall¬†contains references to both consensual sex and a sexual assault. I guess this shouldn’t surprise me: if the world is ending, people are gonna try to procreate. The sexual assault, without getting into spoilers, is arguably necessary to the plot. I wish Mullin hadn’t spent so much time and focus on the other. Not because I think it limits the reading audience (I think it’s handled maturely), but because it detracts from the main conflicts. But whatevs.¬†Ashfall also has some pretty gruesome violence and mild profanity.

Instructional Uses

-Independent reading or student-choice book clubs

-Science inquiry. This book has tons of potential for students to research scientific plausibility: Yellowstone Volcano eruption likelihood; silicosis; human survival necessities; effects of volcanic eruptions on weather, climate, nature, etc.

-Discussion. Lots of great potential topics for discussion around this book, even outside of the great science connections. Ask students, what they would do to survive. Would their decisions align with Alex’s and Darla’s? Do they think Mullin’s ideas about how communities and government agencies deal with the disaster reflect what would happen in real life?

-Predicting. Prediction is a pretty basic reading skill, but the beloved (hee hee) Common Core contains ELA standards that deal with proving inferences with text evidence. See a couple different grade levels here, here, and even here. Ashfall would really lend itself to predicting and backing up predictions with evidence from the story (or evidence from research, if the predictions deal with the scientific components of the story).

Book Talks/Promotion

Recommended passage(s) for book talks:

“Then the explosions started.
The sound hit me physically, like an unexpected gust of wind trying to throw me off my feet. Two windows in the house next door bowed inward under the pressure and shattered. Darren stumbled from the force, and I caught him with my left hand.
I used to watch lightning storms with my sister. We’d see the lightning and start counting: one Mississippi, two Mississippi…If we got to five, the lightning was a mile away. Ten, two miles. This noise was like when we’d see the lightning, count one–and wham, the thunder would roll over us–the kind of thunder that would make my sister run inside screaming.
But unlike thunder, this didn’t stop. It went on and on, machine-gun style, as if Zeus had loaded his bolts into an M60 with an inexhaustible ammo crate. But there was no lightning, only thunder”
(Tanglewood Publishing 2011 hardcover, pages 18-20)
¬†It was getting cold, which worried me. I thought for a moment and figured out it was the last day of August The volcano must be messing with the weather somehow. How cold would it get? I had no way to answer that question, so I ignored it for the moment. I put on one of Dad’s long-sleeved shirts over a T-shirt.
I slept in my parents’ bed that night, fully clothed. Under the oppressive smell of sulfur, I caught a hint of my mom–a faint whiff of the Light Blue perfume we bought her every year for Mother’s Day.
Lately I’d been so consumed with fighting with Mom that it never occurred to me what my life would be like without her. Without Dad’s benevolent disinterest. Without the brat, my sister. Who would I be, if they were all gone?
I clenched my eyes shut and refused to cry. Would I see them again? Yes, I decided. If they were alive, I would find my family. There was no way they could come home to get me. Nothing short of a bulldozer would be able to move in all that ash. And if the gang that had invaded Joe and Darren’s house was any indication, Cedar Falls would only get more dangerous. Tomorrow, I’d set out for Warren to find my family. The journey might be impossible, but I had to try. I had to find my mother. With that resolution, I drifted off to sleep
(pp. 55-56)

Mike Mullin on Ashfall: The author talks about his inspiration behind Ashfall, the book A Short History of Nearly Everything, and he reads a passage from the book. (The read-aloud is great!)

Web Resources:

Hooray! Turns out, an eruption of the supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park is highly unlikely.



Ashfall should be diagnosed for readers feeling sick and tired of the same old recycled YA apocalyptic plots. It will be an especially potent read for those preferring world-building detail rather than character-centered narration. Overall, this is a well-researched, exciting science fiction novel.

Rating: 4/5