Jun. 13th, 2012

Hex Hall

Jun. 13th, 2012 11:46 am
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Hex HallHex Hall by Rachel Hawkins.

Sophie Mercer, age 16, is a witch. She’s lived all her life with her normal mother and never met her father, the warlock who passed on his powers. Like all Prodigium, Sophie’s had her powers since about age 12, but only now has she flaunted them in front of humans enough to be banished to Hecate Hall. Hecate Hall, popularly known as Hex Hall, is a boarding school/juvie center for magical teens off the coast of Georgia. The term Prodigium encompasses witches, were, shapeshifters, fairies and vampires, and Hex Hall has them all. But just because they’re all magical doesn’t mean they all get along, as Sophie finds when she’s assigned to room with Jenna, the school’s lone student vampire (though Lord Byron is one, and teaches English here.) Right away, Sophie finds herself in the middle of high school social drama. She’s saved from an out-of-control werewolf by the cutest boy in school, Archer. Archer’s dating the superficial but beautiful and popular Elodie, who wants Sophie, whose powers are strong if undeveloped, to join her coven, which needs four members. The coven’s previous fourth member, Holly, died last year under highly suspicious circumstances – drained of blood, with two small holes in her neck. It’s widely suspected that Jenna, who was Holly’s roommate, is responsible, but Jenna is scared and depressed and seems to be sincere when she claims that Holly was her best friend. Meanwhile, Sophie is finding that she knows nothing about the magical world that all the other kids have been raised in. She didn’t even know that her father was head of the Council, and as the Council is responsible for banishing teens and some adults to Hex Hall, that makes her pretty unpopular. Also, though she’s told that she has potential for great power, she can’t seem to control it. The plot thickens as more witches on campus start turning up dead or nearly dead. But if Jenna is innocent, who is really responsible? Were Elodie and her coven successful in their attempt at raising a demon last year, or has L’Occio del Dio, one of the ancient groups founded to wipe out all Prodigium, found a way to penetrate Hecate Hall’s formidable magical defenses? If Sophie doesn’t both learn how to control her powers and find out who is behind the killings soon, it will be too late: the killer is targeting the school’s most powerful witches, and she’s next up on the list. This reminded of Buffy in the very best Demonglass way, with the felicitous combination of magic, almost-typical high school experiences and snappy dialogue, even if Sophie is on the other side of things. As an example, at one point Sophie is trying and failing to charm herself a ball gown, and describes one failed attempt as looking like “the really slutty bride of Cookie Monster.” Though it has spycraft instead of magic, the Gallagher Girl books have a similar combination of boarding school setting, danger and fun dialogue.

The second book in the series, Demonglass, intensifies everything, as Sophie travels to London with her father and has even less idea who might be trustworthy. But if Sophie might be somewhere on someone’s hit list in Hex Hall, in Demonglass, she’s clearly at the very top of at least one and possibly more, with, you know, the fate of all Prodigium instead of just the Hex Hall students at stake.
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Puff FliesPuff Flies by Sally Grindley. Illustrated by Valentina Medicino.
Queen Ella’s Feet by Sally Grindley. Illustrated by Sandra Aguilar.

I’m always on the lookout for easy readers that work for my smart dyslexic boy. He needs books that introduce new sounds and words slowly while retaining his interest, and many series, alas, do only one or the other of these. These two books from the My Phonics Readers series fit the bill perfectly. (The cover images from my usual source, my library catalog, clearly showed preliminary art, and I'm just noticing that the Puff Flies image from Amazon shows a different series name. I have no real answer for this one.) Queen Ella's Feet They’re both rated as Level 3, which seems to mean introducing vowel blends, a different one for each book. The back has a key of the phonemes used in the book, with spelling and pronunciation guide, and all non-phonetic words are bolded. Most of these are what my son’s school calls sight words, those most commonly used words like "was" or "where" that ought to be simple yet often aren’t. Both stories are funny, while working within the tight constraints of one or two short sentences a page, super-simple words, and featuring the same one and only one vowel blend on every page. In Puff Flies, a chubby baby dragon uses a kind witch’s spell for his first short flight, with lots of “spied” and “replied” before he gets it on his own. Dragons are always a hit, and cute baby ones are just as good as the deadly type. In Queen Ella’s Feet, poor Queen Ella’s feet are sticking out from under her blanket. King Alex asks for a sheet to cover them up, but the maid mishears, and goes seeking a sheep. In both of these, the story and bright art came together to make a book attractive enough that the two-year-old wanted them every day, too. As far as I can tell, Level 3 is as high as the My Phonics Readers goes, which is a pity.

I’m sharing this post with the Carnival for New Readers over at Perogies and Gyoza.

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