Monday, June 17, 2013

The Night She Disappeared Book Review

Author: April Henry. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.. ISBN: 9780805092622.

Annotation: Gabie blames herself when her coworker, Kayla, disappears one night after trading shifts with her at a local pizza parlor. Sure that she is still alive, Gabie struggles as more and more time passes with no sign of Kayla.

Personal thoughts: I’d never heard of April Henry before picking up The Night She Disappeared, but having blown through it from cover-to-cover in a day I think I can safely say that I will definitely be reading more mysteries from her in the future!  I really enjoyed the novel, and found the pacing to be excellent. The combination of different narrators, evidence and all the other tidbits the author threw in really made it read like an episode of an intriguing true crime TV show. I would highly recommend this story to a reluctant reader because it is so interesting from start to finish. I’m looking forward to reading another one of April Henry’s creations!

Plot summary: High school senior Gabie Klug lives a fairly quiet life in Portland, Oregon. She studies hard, has a few friends at school and is looking forward to finding out who she is at Stanford next year. Like her surgeon parents, Gabie has everything in order, and never thought that her part-time job at Pete’s Pizza would throw her life into disarray. Gabie usually works Wednesday nights, driving her Mini-Cooper to deliver pizzas in the area. One day, however, Gabie’s beautiful, popular coworker Kayla asks to trade shifts with her. On that Wednesday evening, a man calls to order three pizzas and asks if the girl who drives the Mini-Cooper is working. Kayla goes out to deliver the pizzas and never returns. Now the hunt is on: the man who called in the pizza order gave a fake address, and all that has been recovered of Kayla is her car which was found by the bank of the Willamette River. Since the man asked if the girl who drives the Mini-Cooper was working, Gabie knows that she was the original target of the abduction; Kayla was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wracked with guilt, Gabie struggles as more and more time passes with no sign of Kayla. Certain that she is still alive, Gabie and her coworker, Drew, wonder what they can do to help find Kayla before it’s too late.

Review: Mystery writer April Henry delivers a page-turning thriller with The Night She Disappeared.  Set in the author’s home of Portland, Oregon, the novel reads like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, complete with evidence, police reports, and missing person’s flyers that accompany the narrative. The book is extremely fast-paced and difficult to put down, particularly since the chapters are from the viewpoints of several different characters. The main narrators, Gabie and her coworker Drew, are both likable and relatable. Gabie comes from a well-to-do family but feels stifled by her doctor parents, and Drew is the son of a junky who needs the money he earns from Pete’s Pizza to keep the lights on in the crummy apartment he shares with his mom. The two bond over Kayla’s disappearance, and both evolve as they become more and more embroiled in the hunt to find their missing coworker. There are some unsavory moments in the story, which is to be expected, as details of Kayla’s abduction come to light. The novel is still very much appropriate for a teen audience, however, and would be a particularly good choice for a reluctant reader who wants something that will grab and hold their attention quickly and from beginning to end.  

Genre:  Mystery

Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: Girl, Stolen, The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die and other titles by April Henry, Lark by Tracey Porter, On the Fringe by Courtney King Walker, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins.

Themes:  Mystery, kidnapping, abduction, danger, guilt, police, crime.

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from VOYA, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.

Series Information: N/A  

Discussion questions:

-         What mistakes do you think Kayla made that lead to her abduction? Is there something she could have done differently to keep herself safe?

-         If you were Gabie, would you feel guilty about Kayla getting abducted and not you? Why or why not?

-          What do you think brought Drew and Gabie together in the aftermath of Kayla’s abduction?

-         Why did Gabie want to experience what Kayla went through when she was abducted? Do you think it helped or made things worse?

-          What was the importance of the psychic in the events of the story? How would things have been different had she not been hired?

-          In the end, would you have done what Gabie and Drew did? Why or why not?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Origin Book Review

Author: Jessica Khoury. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Razorbill. ISBN: 9781595145956.

Annotation: Pia is perfect: the sole member of a race of immortals created deep in the jungles of the Amazon. She has spent her entire life behind the walls of the secret compound of scientists who made her and doesn’t know anything about what lies beyond the cage she calls home. Everything changes, however, when she discovers a hole in the fence and ventures into the jungle where she meets Eio, a boy her age from the outside world.      

Personal thoughts: I really liked the concept of this book and, although I had some trouble reading through some of the parts pertaining to animal testing, overall, I enjoyed it. Pia is a very likable character and it was interesting watching her grow and become more “human” as the story progressed. While I don’t think this novel is for everyone, I would definitely recommend it to science-fiction fans who want something a little different from the norm.   

Plot summary: Pia is perfect. The only member of a race of immortals created deep in the jungles of the Amazon, she has spent her life in the walls of the compound of scientists who have dedicated their lives to engineering more people like her. Pia knows that her destiny lies in one day joining the scientists in discovering how to quickly create more immortals; currently the process takes five generations and Pia is the result of work that began in 1912. Everything changes, however, when Pia discovers a hole in the fence that surrounds her home and ventures out into the jungle. There she meets Eio, a handsome boy who lives in a neighboring village of natives. Pia has never seen someone her age and is fascinated by Eio and the rest of the villagers. Although she knows it’s wrong, she continues to visit Eio and the village, learning more about the outside world than she ever thought possible. The more she discovers, however, the more she begins to realize that not everything inside her compound of scientists is what it seems and that the truth behind her creation might be deadlier than she ever imagined.

Review: From debut author Jessica Khoury comes this Michael Crichton-esque novel for young adults about science, danger and, of course, romance. One of the best things about Origin is that the author does her best not to dumb down the scientific aspects of the plot for the reader. Pia’s creation isn’t paranormal: she was engineered by the very group of scientists that are the only family she has ever known. Some aspects of the operations of Little Cam, the compound Pia calls home, might be difficult for readers to make it through, particularly the elements pertaining to animal testing. Part of the story, however, is showing how Pia’s humanity despite her immortality impacts the events of the novel, and her growing separation from the scientists of Little Cam becomes more evident as she grows and changes. The romance that develops between Pia and Eio, the handsome eighteen-year-old from the neighboring village of natives, is enjoyable and not over-the-top, making the book relatable for teen boys and girls alike. Overall, a well-written and thought-provoking novel from an author with a lot of promise.

Genre:  Science-Fiction

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Michael Crichton novels (Jurassic Park, Next, etc.)    

Themes:  Science, genetic engineering, the Amazon, duty, immortality, danger, secrets, romance, betrayal.   

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Kirkus and Booklist.

Series Information: N/A  

Discussion questions:

-          Why do you think the scientists of Little Cam kept the outside world a secret from Pia? Do you think it was the right choice?

-          How do you explain the “tests” that was Pia was put through? What was Uncle Paolo hoping to accomplish with the tests?

-         Why do you think Pia was so intrigued by Eio?

-         Why did it take Pia such a long time to warm up to Aunt Harriet?

-         Would you have been able to do what Uncle Paolo asked Pia to do to Sneeze? Why or why not?

-          Do you think Pia made the right choice in the end? Why or why not?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Scorch Book Review

Author: Gina Damico. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Graphia. ISBN: 9780547624570.

Annotation: Now that Zara has stolen her power to Damn, Lex has become an outcast in Croak, with the townspeople all convinced that she is responsible for the murderous rampage that Zara is now on. With Croak no longer safe, Lex and her friends must travel to the DeMyse, the Las Vegas of the Grimsphere, to escape Zara and learn more about a mysterious book that might put an end to Zara’s killing spree.    

Personal thoughts: I absolutely loved Croak, so I was super excited to pick up the sequel and continue with the fun and laughs. Unfortunately, I didn’t experience very many of either when I was reading Scorch. The storyline was very bleak, and I felt like everything whimsical and enjoyable about Croak just wasn’t present. I still like the characters and think that there is potential for the author to improve, but Scorch was a bit of a sophomore slump for me.  

Plot summary: After Zara stole her power to Damn souls to an eternity of torment, Lex has become an outcast in Croak. The townspeople don’t seem to understand that Zara killed Lex’s sister, Cordy, to get to her and that she never meant for her power to transfer to Zara; they only know that Zara is on a murderous rampage and that Lex is responsible. Determined to put a stop to Zara’s killing spree, Lex, her friends, and Uncle Mort begin to research the Wrong Book, a mysterious text that is held in an impenetrable cabin in the woods surrounding Croak that holds the key to some of the Grimsphere’s most elusive secrets. The only problem? Zara wants the Wrong Book for herself and begins Damning innocent people around the country, convinced that Lex has the book in her possession and is hiding it from her. With the townspeople getting more and more hostile and the threat of an attack from Zara looming, Lex and her friends decide to travel to DeMyse, the Las Vegas of the Grimsphere. There they hope to learn more about the Wrong Book and stay safe long enough to figure out if the information it contains can put an end to Zara’s reign of terror.

Review: Picking up where the first book left off, Scorch, the second installment in Gina Damico’s Croak series, proves to be a decent sequel to what was a stellar beginning in the previous novel. While the author does a lot to expand the world she created in Croak, introducing new characters, backstories and locations, a lot of what made Croak such an enjoyable novel is, unfortunately, absent. The dry humor that permeated the first book is almost completely gone, replaced with a storyline full of tension as Lex and her life in the quirky town of Croak crumble. The plot is far more serious in Scorch, with Zara, the surprise antagonist in Croak, going around the country murdering innocent people. The town of Croak itself, which played a big part in the first novel, is also replaced by various new locations, such as DeMyse, a shallow, Las Vegas-esque city run by an over-the-top mayor. Some of the relationships begun in Croak are expanded, particularly that between Lex and her boyfriend Driggs, but the majority of the novel is dedicated to Lex’s life getting worse and worse as Zara wreaks havoc on the Grimsphere. Overall, Scorch is not nearly as fun as Croak, but the series still has lots of potential, especially since the author does a good job of world-building and creating a storyline that can carry through to another novel. Hopefully the third novel, Rogue, can continue the series in a positive direction when it is released September 10, 2013.

Genre:  Science-Fiction/Fantasy

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Croak by Gina Damico, Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake, Revenants series by Amy Plum, Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent.    

Themes:  Grim reapers, the afterlife, murder, revenge, death, danger, secrets.  

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Kirkus and School Library Journal.

Series Information: Second installment in Croak series. First installment, Croak, released in 2012. Third installment, Rogue, set to be released September 10, 2013.  

Discussion questions:

-        Do you agree with Zara using her powers to Damn criminals, even if it wasn’t their time to die? Why or why not?

-         Why do you think Lex became an outcast in Croak after Zara stole her powers?

-        Do you think Cordy is happy in the Afterlife? Why or why not?

-         Why do you think Zara wants the Wrong Book so much?

-       Do you agree with the decision Leroy made to keep DeMyse safe? Why or why not?

-         How would you explain what happened to Driggs at the end of the novel?

-          What would you like to see happen in the third novel, Rogue?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Something Strange and Deadly Book Review

Author: Susan Dennard. Release date: 2012. Publisher: HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780062083265.

Annotation: After her brother goes missing and the Dead start rising in Philadelphia, sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt turns to a team of Spirit-Hunters to help save her brother who, she fears, is being held captive by the necromancer that is raising the Dead.   

Personal thoughts: I had a difficult time deciding whether I liked this novel or not. It was a bit schizophrenic for me, almost as if the author wanted the story to be many different things that there wasn’t one thing that was done really superbly. The zombie element kind of came and went in importance, Eleanor’s plight to find a good marriage wasn’t really executed fully, and the support characters weren’t as developed as they could have been. I think the author definitely has the makings for a good series, but some editing and focusing of where the story is going and what the main themes are would help the reader to stay more engaged.

Plot summary: After her father’s death several years earlier, sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt, her brother, Elijah, and their mother were left with next to nothing. Eleanor knows that it is up to her to improve their fortunes by marrying well, something her mother reminds her of daily. After her brother mysteriously disappears, however, and the Dead begin to rise in her hometown of Philadelphia, Eleanor has a lot more than marriage to a wealthy bachelor on her mind. It seems that a necromancer is operating in the city, raising the Dead to do his bidding. Sons of well-to-do families in Philadelphia society are being murdered and Eleanor fears that Elijah, who she believes is being held captive by the necromancer, might be next. To help save her brother, Eleanor turns to a team of Spirit-Hunters operating out of a lab out of Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition. The Spirit-Hunters, consisting of a man named Joseph who can sense the supernatural, a handsome scientist named Daniel, and a young but fierce Chinese woman named Jie, are on the hunt for the necromancer themselves. Can Eleanor and the Spirit-Hunters save Elijah and end the reign of the necromancer and his army of the Dead before it’s too late?

Review: Part historical fiction, part zombie thriller, Something Strange and Deadly, the first installment in a series for teens by debut author Susan Dennard, is a decent selection for readers who like supernatural novels with a bit of a twist. Set in 1876 Philadelphia, much of the story focuses on the plight of leading lady, sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt, in securing a marriage to save her family’s hemorrhaging finances. The rest of the novel deals with the supernatural elements, like zombies, ghosts and necromancers and the mystery surrounding exactly what is causing the Dead to rise. While many will enjoy this combination of history, mystery and horror, readers who want something that is only historical fiction or just about zombies and the supernatural might find themselves disappointed that the novel solidly identifies itself in one genre. Not enough focus is given to any element in the story to make it really appealing to fans of a specific type of book, so only readers who are interested in a combination of themes will enjoy reading the novel. Eleanor is a likable enough protagonist, but not enough depth is given to the support characters to really engage the reader in her interactions with them. A small romance does blossom, but not really in any way that feels organic. The story does have some promise, however, so hopefully the author can strengthen the characters and plot in the next installment, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, set to be released July 23, 2013.

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Science-Fiction

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Magic Most Foul series by Leanna Renee Hieber, Gone With the Respiration series by Lia Habel, Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury.  

Themes:  Zombies, necromancers, dark magic, ghosts, séances, spirits, Philadelphia, historical fiction, mystery, duty, marriage, murder.

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and VOYA.   

Series Information: First installment in Something Strange and Deadly series. Second installment, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, set to be released July 23, 2013.

Discussion questions:

-         Do you think Eleanor’s mom truly cares about her daughter’s well-being, or is she only focused on improving the family finances? Why?

-          Why do you think Eleanor’s father passed away? How did his death impact the Fitts?

-        Do you think Clarence had feelings for Eleanor? Why or why not?

-         Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?

-        The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 actually took place in Philadelphia. Research the Exhibition. Did the novel do a good job of describing it? What was the importance of the Exhibition in the story?

-         Were you surprised to learn the identity of the necromancer? Why or why not?

-        What would you like to see happen in the sequel, A Darkness Strange and Lovely?

Monday, April 29, 2013

The 13th Sign Book Review

Author: Kristin O’Donnell Tubb. Release date: 2013. Publisher: Feiwel & Friends. ISBN: 9780312583521.

Annotation: After she accidentally invokes Ophiuchus, the thirteenth Zodiac sign, thirteen-year-old Jalen must battle the other twelve signs who are determined to make sure that Ophiuchus doesn’t remain a permanent part of the Zodiac.

Personal thoughts: I have always been interested in the Zodiac and found many of the character traits it assigns to be fairly accurate, so when I heard about The 13th Sign I was immediately intrigued. The book is a very quick read and I would easily be able to recommend it to an upper elementary/early middle school-er who wants something fun and fast-paced. I do somewhat wish the author would have developed the characters a little bit more, but the lack of depth works if it’s simply being read for entertainment purposes. I’m looking forward to seeing what Kristin O’Donnell Tubb comes up with next!  

Plot summary: Every year on her birthday, Jalen and her grandmother, Nina, visit Madame Beausoleil’s shop and have a horoscope reading. This year, her thirteenth-birthday, Nina is in the hospital battling breast cancer, so Jalen and her best friend, Ellie, have decided to continue the tradition and get Jalen’s horoscope read. While exploring the books in Madame Beausoleil’s quirky shop, Jalen discovers a mysterious book hidden at the back of a shelf called The Keypers of the Zodiack. She and Ellie purchase the book and take it home where they discover that it contains not twelve but thirteen Zodiac signs. The thirteenth, Ophiuchus the serpent, would be Jalen’s actual Zodiac sign were it included in the calendar. Jalen doesn’t realize she is about to find out exactly what it means to be an Ophiuchus, however, when she and Ellie accidentally unlock the thirteenth sign and the entire Zodiac calendar shifts. Everyone now has a new sign, causing personality changes around the world. Surgeons are now timid, unable to perform their jobs, once brave policemen hide in the shadows and airline pilots are afraid to fly. Jalen, Ellie and Ellie’s older brother, Brennan, now find themselves in the middle of a battle between the other twelve Zodiac signs who have descended from the stars to make sure that Ophiuchus doesn’t come into power and make the calendar shift permanent. Can Jalen return Ophiuchus to its rightful place and prevent the world from being irrevocably altered?

Review: Historical fiction author Kristin O’Donnell Tubb ventures into the realm of fantasy with her latest novel, The 13th Sign. Set in the already mystical town of New Orleans, the author weaves an interesting and unique story of Zodiac signs gone rogue. The bulk of the novel is dedicated to the consequences Jalen, Ellie and Brennan must deal with after Jalen accidentally invokes Ophiuchus (a constellation that does actually exist), causing the personalities of everyone on Earth to shift. Readers who aren’t interested in the Zodiac or don’t put much stock into its ability to predict or guide a person’s life will likely not find much in the novel to enjoy. There is a limited amount of backstory to Jalen and her relationship with her mother, grandmother and the father that disappeared years earlier. There is also a very tiny bit of romance between Jalen and Brennan, as well as a small amount of development in Jalen’s friendship with Ellie. Apart from these tiny subplots, however, the plot surrounds Jalen battling the various Zodiac signs. Readers who find this intriguing will enjoy the different ways the author introduces familiar names like Gemini, Leo and Capricorn, as well as the methods Jalen must use to defeat them. Since the novel never really gets too deep and is, instead, more of an action/adventure story, it is a good choice for older elementary/early middle school readers who want something fun and entertaining. The book might also be a good extra credit project in a science class to spark interest in astronomy and the history of constellations.

Genre:  Fiction/Fantasy

Reading level: Grade 5+

Similar titles: N/A  

Themes:  Zodiac, horoscopes, adventure, danger, friendship, cancer, New Orleans.

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Kirkus and Booklist.   

Series Information: N/A

Discussion questions:

-         Do you think the Zodiac is accurate? Why or why not?

-          Why do you think Jalen was unhappy with being a Sagittarius?

-         Research the constellation Ophiuchus. Is anything that the author mentions in the book about the constellation true?

-         Look at the two different Zodiac calendars in the back of the book. Would your sign have changed when Jalen involved the thirteenth sign? What would it have changed to? Do you think it would have impacted your personality?

-          Which of the Zodiac signs was your favorite in the book? Why?

-         Do you think Jalen did the right thing with Ophiuchus’ stone? Why or why not?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ten Book Review

Author: Gretchen McNeil. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Balzer + Bray. ISBN: 9780062118783.

Annotation: Meg and her best friend Minnie have been invited to the party of the year at the isolated vacation home of the uber-popular Jessica Lawrence. Everything seems to be set for a spectacular weekend of fun, but after the guests begin to die in mysterious “accidents,” Meg and the rest of the partygoers must find out if there is a killer in their midst before it’s too late.

Personal thoughts: When I read the book jacket for this novel I was super excited to pick it up. An Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery for teens isn’t something you see every day. Unfortunately, while I found the book to be well-written and there were some creepy moments, I found the mystery to be far too predictable. I am by no means a mystery novel buff or an expert at figuring out who did what, but I had the plot figured out a few chapters in. I’m not sure if the mystery was intentionally not too complicated, but there really was no suspense. I do think that this book might be a good choice for a reluctant reader or for a teen who has never experienced a murder mystery novel, but other than that I would skip this one.   

Plot summary: Meg and her best friend Minnie have been invited to the party of the year at the isolated vacation home of the uber-popular Jessica Lawrence. Jessica’s family owns a mansion on Henry Island off the coast of Washington, and only a select group received the invitation to stay at the parentless house for the weekend. Meg is used to being in Minnie’s shadow, especially when it comes to handsome football-star T.J. Fletcher.  Minnie has been trying to get with T.J. for years, but Meg has never told her that she is secretly in love with him as well. To Meg’s surprise, T.J. was also invited to Jessica’s party, along with his best friend, and Minnie’s ex, Gunner, and nine other people. Although there’s a storm raging outside and they’re the only house around, everything seems set for a weekend of fun. Meg soon realizes, however, that the party is not what it seems. The guests begin to die in mysterious ways one-by-one, each death accompanied by a slash painted in dripping red on the wall. It soon becomes clear that everyone who was invited to the party is there for a reason, and that there is a murderer in the house who is seeking vengeance. But what is the link between the partygoers, and can they survive long enough to determine who the killer is?

Review: In the vein of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None comes this story by veteran author Gretchen McNeil. Murder mysteries are not something you find too often in young adult literature, and the McNeil puts up a valiant effort in transforming this concept for a young adult audience. While there are some genuinely creepy moments in the novel and it is well-written, the mystery of the killer’s identity and why the party guests were invited to the house on Henry Island is, unfortunately, very obvious from the beginning of the story. Since the primary objective of the book is to keep the reader guessing as to how the events will unfold, the fact that there isn’t much mystery diminishes the good points of the novel. The relationship between Meg and her best friend Minnie is interesting, particularly since Minnie struggles with bipolar disorder and Meg is her self-imposed caretaker. Expanding on this aspect of the story would have added a lot more depth, but the author never really gets into it at more than a surface level. The romance between Meg and T.J. is also enjoyable, but never gets a chance to truly blossom either, with the author focusing more on the murders. For teens who have never read a mystery or who want something that goes by quickly, Ten is a good option that will, at least, keep them entertained. For readers who want something with a little more depth, however, there isn’t enough meat on the bones of this novel to make it a worthwhile read.

Genre:  Mystery

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Empty Coffin series by Gregg Olsen, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga.  

Themes:  Murder, mystery, revenge, friendship, suicide.

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from School Library Journal and Booklist.  

Series Information: N/A

Discussion questions:

-         How would you describe Meg and Minnie’s relationship? Have you ever had a friend like Minnie?

-          If you were Meg, would you have gone to the party? Why or why not?

-         Do you think Meg did the right thing in not going to Homecoming with T.J.? Why or why not?

-         Who was your favorite of the partygoers? Your least favorite? Why? Do you think any of them deserved to be killed?

-         Were you surprised to learn the identity of the killer? Why do you think they did what they did?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Masque of the Red Death Book Review

Author: Bethany Griffin. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 9780062107794.

Annotation: The world is in ruins after a deadly plague has killed most of the population. Araby and other wealthy members of society who can afford masks to protect them from the contagion spend most of their time in darkened clubs, trying to pretend like the outside world isn’t full of death. Araby’s world changes, however, when she meets Elliott, her best friend April’s older brother, who has a plan to free the city from the ruthless Prince Prospero.

Personal thoughts: I hadn’t heard much about this book prior to picking it up, but I am a big fan of reinvented pieces of classic literature so I was excited to learn about the influence of Edgar Allan Poe on the novel. Although I did, in general, enjoy the book, unfortunately, I can’t say it was one of my favorites. I thought the author did a great job establishing a really tense, uncomfortable atmosphere, which fit the events of the story perfectly, but, for me, that was the best part of the book. I didn’t really get Araby having a romance with either Will or Elliott. I found Araby’s parents, her friend April and even Prince Prospero to be interesting characters, but the novel focused more on Will and Elliott so that didn’t really help much. I would probably recommend this novel to teens who are interested in post-apocalyptic and dystopian reads, but there are others I would likely suggest first.  

Plot summary: After a deadly plague has killed most of the Earth’s population, society is left in ruin. Araby Worth and the rest of the city don’t know if they’re the only ones left alive, but, thanks to Araby’s scientist father, the wealthy are protected from the contagion by specially designed masks. While the poor continue to die, Araby and her best friend April live in the penthouse of one of the city’s nicest buildings, spending most of their time at the Debauchery Club, a darkened den full of drugs, alcohol and sex. Despite her life of relative luxury, Araby is haunted by the memory of her brother, Finn, who caught the sickness before her father invented the masks and died years earlier. Everything changes, however, when Araby meets Elliott, April’s older brother. April and Elliott are niece and nephew of the ruthless Prince Prospero, the city’s ruler who lives in an isolated castle and kills anyone who questions his authority. Elliott is determined to stage a revolution against his uncle, providing masks to everyone in the city along with food, clean water and proper shelter. Elliott needs Araby’s help to bring his plan to light, but Araby is conflicted when she becomes close with Will, the handsome and mysterious manager of the Debauchery Club.

Review: Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story of the same name, Masque of the Red Death is a tense start to a dystopian series for young adults. Set in the not-so-distant future, the post-apocalyptic world of Araby Worth is gritty, bloody, and cold. High-school English teacher turned author Bethany Griffin does a good job of creating a very uncomfortable atmosphere for the story to take place in. Puss oozes from the open sores of the sick, dead bodies are unceremoniously tossed into the carts of corpse collectors, and even the luxurious lives of Araby and her best friend April are bleak. The author is also successful at developing the character of Araby herself. Araby’s life is completely dominated by thoughts of her brother Finn whose death she feels responsible for. Araby prefers to spend her time in a drug-induced stupor where she can escape her painful memories, but she begins to grow and change after she gets to know Will and his younger siblings and when she becomes involved in Elliott’s plot to overthrow Prince Prospero. Where the novel is somewhat lacking, unfortunately, is in developing the other characters in the story and their relationships with Araby. Will and Elliott are somewhat explored, but their romances with Araby are fuzzy. Does she really like either of them? Why? Araby’s parents are two characters who hold a lot of potential to be interesting, but aren’t given enough page time to really be flushed out. Araby’s best friend, April, is arguably the most successfully developed support character, but really doesn’t have much of a role in the story. Overall, Masque of the Red Death proves to be a bit of a mixed bag, with a strong setting and central character but a weaker plot and supporting cast. The sequel, Dance of the Red Death, is set to be released in June 2013.   

Genre:  Science Fiction/Dystopian

Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, Legend by Marie Lu, Starters by Lissa Price, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi.

Themes:  Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, plague, death, grief, rebellion, romance.  

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Kirkus.   

Series Information: First installment in Red Death Saga. Second installment, Dance of the Red Death, set to be released June 11, 2013.

Discussion questions:

-         Read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, Masque of the Red Death. How is this novel influenced by Poe?

-          Explain the vow Araby made after Finn’s death. How does it impact the events of the story?

-         Why do you think Araby blames herself for the death of her brother?

-        Compared to much of the city, Araby’s life is luxurious and safe. Explain why this doesn’t make Araby happy. Do you think that money can buy happiness?

-        Who do you think Araby feels a stronger connection with: Will or Elliott? Why?

-        Describe the relationship between Araby’s mother and Prince Prospero.

-         Were you surprised to learn the identity of Malcontent? Why or why not?

-         What would you like to see happen in the sequel, Dance of the Red Death?