Monday, November 28, 2011

The Shadowing: Hunted Book Review

 Author: Adam Slater. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  EgmontUSA. ISBN: 9781606842614.
Annotation:  Callum Scott has been able to see ghosts his whole life, a “gift” he’s tried to keep hidden from the rest of the world. After a bizarre string of gruesome murders wreaks havoc near his English village, however, Callum fears that he is being hunted by something not of this world, and that only his supernatural powers can save him.  
Personal thoughts:  I love a good ghost story, and I was definitely surprised (but pleased!) with how creepy this book was, especially since it is less than 200 pages. Although it is full of British lingo (kitbag, motorway, etc.), I think this novel would be great for reluctant readers, especially boys. The story gets going immediately, wasting little time between scares. It does manage to establish an interesting setting and cast of characters, however, providing opportunities for discussion or critical thinking. I look forward to picking up the second installment, both for the potential scares and the possibilities the series holds for sparking an interest in reading for young adults.
Plot summary: Callum Scott has been able to see ghosts his whole life. When he was younger, he would often embarrass himself by trying to talk to people no one else could see. Now he is in high school and has taught himself how to hide his “gift” from others: his friends, his teachers, and his Gran, who he lives with in a small cottage outside of his English village. One evening, however, Callum suddenly discovers that his powers have taken a startling turn: he now has the ability to see the future, sensing lurking danger when a tingling sensation overpowers his body. It also appears that the ghost population of Marlock has increased in size, with specters from all walks of life floating nearby wherever he goes. To make matters worse, Callum senses something evil. A bizarre and gruesome series of murders nearby have the village on edge. As more and more teenagers are killed, Callum begins to fear that whatever is hunting them is after him as well. Will Callum be able to use the powers he’s kept hidden for years to save himself and the people he loves from this new evil?
Review:  Short but creepy, this first installment in a new horror series for young adults packs a powerful punch for a book of its size. Author Adam Slater’s enthusiasm for the genre is evident throughout the novel. Suspense is built effectively throughout the story with genuinely scary moments, the right amount of gore, and an overall feeling of dread. Callum Scott is a likable protagonist, generally keeping to himself in school but still managing to be popular and easygoing. His relationship with his Gran is very pleasing, as are the descriptions of their quaint and cozy cottage in the woods. Juxtaposed with these more heart-warming aspects of the novel is the horror that is The Hunter. The Hunter narrates the book from time to time, describing in detail how it relishes murder and enjoys toying with Callum. Some of the scenes in the story are more than a little creepy and will certainly cause the reader’s eyes to dart around looking for signs of a monster lurking in the corner. Thrown into the mix are references to supernatural folklore, including chime children, churchyard grims, and various methods of warding off evil. Since it is so short, this novel would be especially appealing for reluctant readers who will respond to the quick pacing and entertaining story. It will also be equally enjoyable for both teen and adult horror fans as well. The second installment, The Shadowing: Skinned is set to be released in 2012.
Genre: Horror
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Damage by Anya Parrish, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, The Nightmarys by Dan Poblocki.
Themes:  Ghosts, demons, haunting, psychic abilities, murder, England.   
Awards/Reviews:  N/A  
Series Information: First installment in The Shadowing series. Second novel, The Shadowing: Skinned to be released in 2012.  
Discussion questions:
- Do you think Callum’s ability to see ghosts is a gift or a curse? Why?
- Research some of the supernatural folklore in the novel. Where does it get its roots? Is the novel true to the history?
- What do you think happened to Callum’s father?
- What would you like to see happen in the sequel?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tankborn Book Review

Author: Karen Sandler. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Lee & Low Books. ISBN: 9781600606625.
Annotation:  Kayla and her best friend Mishalla are both GENs, genetically engineered non-humans, living in the strict caste system of the human colony on the planet Loka. Now that they are fifteen, they will receive their work assignments and likely be separated forever. But when both become unwittingly involved in a plot to liberate the GENs from their lives of servitude, Kayla and Mishalla face a danger that could mean being separated for good.
Personal thoughts:  I found the description of this book to be intriguing, but when I first started reading it I almost put it down. There is a lot of lingo in here that I found really annoying and I was wondering why the author didn’t tone it down a bit. As I continued to read, however, I began to really enjoy the novel and forgot completely about my initial irritation with all of the acronyms and phrases. I think this is one of those novels that could easily be misunderstood or given-up on when only reading the first few chapters. I encourage readers to plow through any initial misgivings because the result is a very entertaining story that has the potential to be a wonderful trilogy.  
Plot summary: Best friends Kayla and Mishalla are both fifteen-years living in Chadi, one of the sectors home to GENs, or genetically engineered non-humans. Centuries earlier, the people of Earth fled their broken home planet and set up a new human colony on Loka. Since its creation, Loka’s society has developed into a rigid caste system with “trueborns” of various statuses at the top, and GENs at the very bottom. GENs like Kayla and Mishalla are treated like slaves, destined to lives of hard labor and servitude. In their fifteenth years, each GEN receives an Assignment: a work placement that will determine how they spend the rest of their lives. Since GENs are given a special skill when they are created, the Assignment is specially selected to suit the individual GEN. As a strong GEN, Kayla is assigned to care for Zul Manel, an elderly, high-status trueborn in a neighboring sector. Mishalla, a nurturing GEN, is sent to Sheysa, another sector close to Chadi, where she cares for low-status trueborn children in a decrepit orphanage. As Kayla and Mishalla settle into their new lives, however, it appears that there are more to their assignments than they originally suspected. The children Mishalla cares for are mysteriously taken each night, with new ones returning in their place each day. Kayla soon learns that Zul and his great-grandson, a handsome and kind teen named Devak, are involved in a plot to liberate the GENs that has been decades in the making. Mishalla and Kayla seem destined to cross paths again, but when they do, what dangers will they face at the hands of people who see them as nothing more than animals?
Review:  Originally meant to be the screenplay for a science-fiction movie in the 1980s, Sandler’s Tankborn creates a whole world of adventure that works even better in novel format. Understanding the intricacies of Loka and the human society that inhabits it takes quite a bit of time. At first, all of the acronyms, phrases and names of the various sectors, objects and individuals on Loka is confusing to the point of irritation. Sandler thrusts the reader headfirst into the world she has created, leaving little time to become accustomed to the “lay of the land.” After the lingo is better understood, however, the novel becomes quite enjoyable. The caste system concept harkens to Hinduism quite a bit. The “untouchables” of Loka are the GENs, who’s treatment and oppression is very reminiscent of the 19th-century slavery system of the United States. Although Kayla and Mishalla are presented as both being the focus of the book, Kayla is by far a more developed character and, essentially, the protagonist. Her budding romance with the great-grandson of her charge, Devak, will be pleasing to many teen readers and doesn’t detract from the more serious science-fiction aspects of the storyline. Indeed, Tankborn is best suited for teens and adults who are more serious science-fiction fans; anyone with only a small interest in the genre will likely be lost in the first few chapters. Sandler has announced that Tankborn is the first installment in a trilogy, the next two novels focusing more on Kayla and Mishalla’s attempts to improve life for the GENs.
Genre: Science-fiction
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Across the Universe by Beth Revis.
Themes:  Genetic engineering, slavery, caste system, social status, dystopian, courage.   
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal.  
Series Information: First installment in Tankborn trilogy.
Discussion questions:
- Do you think there are any groups of people currently in American society who’s treatment is comparable to the GENs? What about in other parts of the world?
- Why did Devak’s friends refuse to talk to him after he stood up for Kayla and Jal? Do you think that this sort of behavior happens in our lives?
- If you had a sket, what would you want it to be? Why?
- Why did you first thing that Pia was stealing the children from Mishalla? Were you surprised to learn the truth?
- Do you think that Kayla and Devak have a future together? Why or why not?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Poisoned House Book Review

 Author: Michael Ford. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Albert Whitman & Company. ISBN: 9780807565896.
Annotation:  Abi Tamper is a scullery maid in 1850s London who wants nothing more than to escape her life of hardship and abuse. When she suspects her ghost has started to haunt Greave Hall, however, Abi won’t stop until she uncovers the truth about her mother’s death a year earlier.
Personal thoughts:  I have to admit that the cover of this novel was really what drew me in to reading it. As a huge fan of both historical fiction and ghost stories, however, I was just as pleased with what I found in the pages. Ford did a wonderful job of crafting a very succinct but enjoyable novel with a well thought out plot and characters. I also enjoyed the story being from the perspective of the servants, which isn’t as often the case in young adult historical fiction novels. I look forward to seeing what else Ford comes up with.
Plot summary: Fourteen-year-old Abigail “Abi” Tamper wants nothing more than to escape the hardship she lives through every day as a scullery maid in 1850s London. Orphaned after her mother’s death a year earlier, Abi suffers constant abuse from Mrs. Cotton, Greave Hall’s housekeeper and sister-in-law to Lord Greave. Some of the small consolations in Abi’s life include Lizzy, her best friend and fellow scullery maid, Adam, the kind coal delivery boy, and Sammy, Lord Greave’s only son who has been like a brother to her for most of her life. Abi’s mundane existence is turned upside-down, however, when a ghostly presence begins to make itself known in the dark rooms of Greave Hall. Mysterious handprints, strange noises, and missing objects are just a few of the strange happenings that plague Abi and the rest of the staff. Abi is convinced that the ghost of her mother is haunting the mansion, trying to warn her that she is in danger. What secrets will Abi uncover as she tries to discover the truth about her mother’s death?
Review:  This fast-paced story makes for a quick read that manages to be enjoyable both as a historical fiction and horror novel. Despite its small size, The Poisoned House dives deeply into the hardships of life as a servant in 19th-century London, which is as important to the plot as the ghost story elements. Abi, an easily likable protagonist, is subjected to constant physical, mental and emotional abuse at the hands of Mrs. Cotton, the cruel and sadistic housekeeper. Mrs. Cotton’s antics are often difficult to read (from beating Abigail, to drowning kittens), but are, in all likelihood, an accurate portrayal of how the downtrodden would have taken advantage of any opportunity to demonstrate their power over the weak. The supernatural presence in Greaves Hall serves as a way for Abi to not only discover the truth about her mother’s death, but to escape the toil of her everyday life. The conclusion of the novel is quite satisfying as both an end to a creepy ghost story and to Abi’s constant abuse. Overall, The Poisoned House is as easily enjoyable for both teen and adult history buffs or horror fans.
Genre: Historical Fiction/Horror
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury.
Themes:  Ghosts, 19th century, London, servants, murder, oppression, abuse.  
Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from School Library Journal.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
- Do you think that Abi’s life as a scullery maid is an accurate depiction of what it was like to be a servant in 19th century England? Why or why not?
- Why do you think Mrs. Cotton was so cruel to Abi? What, in your opinion, was the worst thing she did to Abi?
- What do you think the significance was of each of the ghostly occurrences (i.e. the ripped scarf, the upturned room, etc.)?
- Were you happy with what happened at the end of the novel? Why or why not?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Misfit Book Review

Author: Jon Skovron. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Amulet Books. ISBN: 9781419700217.
Annotation:  Jael Thompson is just like every other sixteen-year-old girl except for one small thing: she is half mortal, half demon. Pursued by the evil demon Belial who murdered her mother, Jael must use her newly developing supernatural powers to save the people she loves.   
Personal thoughts:  I wasn’t overly excited about reading this novel, but once I started it I was surprised to find how much I liked it. It really is easy-to-read and the characters are all likable and not over-done. I liked how the author included a lot of mythology and theology in the plot as well. Overall, this novel is simply difficult to not  enjoy.
Plot summary: Jael Thompson has known since she was eight-years-old that she is half mortal, half demon. Her father, a Catholic professor of religion, fell in love with her mother, an ancient and beautiful succubus named Astarte. Shortly after Jael was born, Astarte was killed by an evil demon named Belial, and Jael’s father has told her very little about her mother. Now Jael is fifteen and wondering more than ever what Astarte was like and how being half demon is anything but a burden. Constantly pursued by Belial, Jael and her father have spent their lives on the run, moving from place-to-place. Now in Seattle, Jael is finally making friends and even has a boyfriend, a geeky skater named Rob. On the night of her sixteenth birthday, Jael’s father gives her a strange gift: a beautiful amulet that her mother left her. But this amulet is more than just a necklace: it contains Jael’s demon half. Once Jael reincorporates this part of herself into her body, she begins developing extraordinary supernatural powers. But the presence of the new demon power attracts the attention of Belial, who now knows where Jael is hiding and is coming to destroy her and everything she loves.  
Review:  This breezily paced and entertaining novel forms a very promising start to an enjoyable new series for young adults. Demons are a commonplace character in teen paranormal fiction, but Skovron manages to keep the genre fresh with an original storyline. The novel is full of flashbacks that explain Jael’s beginnings, from how her parents met, to their days fighting rogue demons, to her mother’s sacrificing her life for her. The story also manages to delve into the topics of Catholicism, religion and faith to some degree, which isn’t often broached in this genre. The support characters, including Jael’s math obsessed, skater boyfriend and her lovable, fish-shaped uncle Dagon add to the fun. Look for a sequel to this novel being released sometime in 2012.
Genre: Fiction/Paranormal/Supernatural
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Soul Screamers series by Sarah Vincent.
Themes:  Demons, Hell, Catholicism, religion, murder, loss, father-daughter relationships, Seattle.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.
Series Information: First novel in Misfit series by Jon Skovron.
Discussion questions:
- Much of the storyline in Misfit is told via flashback. How do you think flashbacks add to the novel? Do you think they are important in literature? Why or why not?
- Why do you think Jael’s father was so reluctant to talk to her about her mother? Do you think it was the right thing for him to do?
-  Why was it so important to Belial to kill Jael?
-  What would you like to see happen in the sequel?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dark of the Moon Book Review

Author: Tracy Barrett. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Harcourt Children’s Books. ISBN: 9780547581323.
Annotation:  The myth of the Minotaur has taken many forms since its creation in ancient times. In this version, Ariadne is a reluctant priestess in training who is fiercely protective of her older brother, Asterion, whose deformities and childlike nature have given him the reputation of being a monster.
Personal thoughts:  As a huge fan of both historical fiction and mythology I was really excited to read this book. I was glad that I did! Although I love historical fiction, I often find that the pacing can be a little slow. That was not the case with Dark of the Moon. Changing perspectives between Ariadne and Theseus was a good move on the part of the author in terms of keeping the plot moving forward. I also really enjoyed how in-depth the character development was, even for the more minor characters. I look forward to seeing if Tracy Barrett published more myth re-tellings.  
Plot summary: In the ancient Krete, teenage Ariadne is in training to become a goddess of the moon, as her mother, mother’s mother and so on have done for centuries. Ariadne, known as She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess, spends most of her life confined in the palace walls, cut off from the world by the fear the people of Krete feel at offending the Goddess. Ariadne takes comfort in the love she feels for her older brother, Asterion. Although Asterion was born with severe deformities and a childlike nature, Ariadne is fiercely protective of him. The people of Krete greatly misunderstand Asterion, whose complete ignorance of his own strength causes him to accidentally hurt or even kill those who are offered up as his companions. In an effort to avoid the wrath of Krete’s navy, neighboring countries frequently send gifts to the island in the form of goods, luxuries, and human sacrifices. One day, Theseus, a prince of Athens, is sent by his vengeful stepmother to become a companion to Asterion, who the Athenians refer to as the “Minotaurus.” Ariadne encounters Theseus by chance shortly after his arrival and is surprised to find that he is actually friendly with her, unlike the rest of the palace residents who want nothing more than to avoid her presence. Ariadne enjoys her friendship, and budding romance, with Theseus, but senses that there is danger lurking. In the original telling of the myth of the Minotaur, Theseus kills the monster before marrying Ariadne. Will the same fate befall Asterion, Ariadne and Theseus in Dark of the Moon?
Review:  Bringing to life a centuries old myth and making it relevant to young adult readers is no small-feat, but one that author Tracy Barrett manages to accomplish in Dark of the Moon. The story of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur are likely to be somewhat familiar to most young adult readers, even if it is limited to fleeting images of a vicious monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull. The myth is actually quite interesting in its own right, but Barrett’s re-telling brings a level of poignancy not found in the original tale. The narration of the novel changes between Ariadne and Theseus throughout the novel, allowing each character to be given a rich back-story and appropriate amount of development. Instead of being a lumbering soldier who uses his brute force to slay the evil monster, Theseus is actually a young man who struggles with confidence as a result of years of bullying and neglect from his mother and the people in his small village. Ariadne is not merely a mystical priestess, but a teenage girl who doubts that she has the ability to follow in her mother’s footsteps and bring prosperity to Krete by becoming the human incarnation of the moon goddess. Almost as interesting as the primary characters are Asterion, the lovable Minotaurus himself, and Prokris, a scheming Athenian girl who accompanies Theseus to Krete with a plan to overthrow the “barbarians” in charge. Overall, Dark of the Moon is a multi-layered and entertaining take on an old tale; certain to be equally enjoyable for adult as well as teen readers.
Genre: Historical Fiction/Myth
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs, Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter.
Themes:  Myths, Krete, minotaur, Ariadne, Theseus, duty.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.
Series Information: N/A   
Discussion questions:
- Read the original myth of the minotaur. How does it compare to the novel? Do you like the way the novel re-told the myth?
- Why do you think everyone thought Asterion was a monster? Do you think he was?
- Why do you think Ariadne felt so lonely?
- What do you think Ariadne’s visions of Prokris and Theseus meant?
- Do you think that Theseus' choice at the end of the novel was the right thing to do? Why or why not? What would you have done?

Monday, November 14, 2011

You’ll Like it Here (Everybody Does) Book Review

Author: Ruth White. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Delacorte Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780385739986.
Annotation:  The Blue family is forced to suddenly abandon their home in North Carolina when the residents suspect the truth about them: they are originally from the planet Chroma. Seeking a new place to live, the Blues end up in Fashion City, where everything appears harmonious and they are told over and over, “You’ll like it here. Everybody does.” But as they learn more about their new home, they realize that not everything is at it seems.
Personal thoughts:  I have to admit that the title of this novel is really what grabbed me. The creepiness of that phrase really elevated my hopes for the story. I was not disappointed! I really enjoyed You’ll Like it Here (Everybody Does) for many different reasons. It was an incredibly quick read, and I found myself unable to put it down, something that doesn’t often happen for me. I really found the author’s writing-style to be appropriate for young readers but far from juvenile. There are also many references in the novel that only older readers will be able to pick up on, making it even more interesting for parents, teachers or librarians who want to familiarize themselves with the story. I hope that this title makes school reading lists because I really think it has the potential to be a modern classic.
Plot summary: Eleven-year-old Meggie Blue and her older brother, thirteen-year-old David, love their lives in North Carolina. They live with their mother and loving grandfather who they call Gramps on a big ranch in the countryside. After a tragedy strikes their small town, however, the residents begin to suspect the truth: the Blues are not exactly human. Originally from the planet Chroma, they have been forced to relocate after pollution and disease caused their planet to become uninhabitable.  Now the Blues must flee again in the device that brought them to Earth, a “glass rocket-ship” called the Carriage. The Carriage brings them to their new home, a place called Fashion City. At first, everything about the city seems to be harmonious. They are given food, shelter and clothing and told over and over again, “You’ll like it here. Everybody does.” The population of Fashion City may be a bit drab, but the Blues are welcomed into their new lives of factory work, school, and frozen meals. It seems that in Fashion City, violent crime has been eradicated and, in its place, people are punished for things like uniqueness, daydreaming and ambition. As Meggie and David learn more about Fashion City, and the mysterious Fathers who the population praises as ensuring the survival of their town, the Blues begin to wonder if the place is truly as harmonious as it seems.
Review:  Calling to mind such classics as The Giver, Fahrenheit 451 and To Kill a Mockingbird, Ruth White’s You’ll Like it Here (Everybody Does) is a quick but very thought-provoking novel for young readers. The story is told in alternating voices between eleven-year-old Meggie and thirteen-year-old David. Meggie begins narrating the story, and, for the first several chapters, it is not evident that the Blues are, in fact, aliens. The discovery of the truth makes for just one of many exciting twists in the plot. As adult readers are bound to pick up on, there are definite literary references in White’s description of the “utopian” Fashion City. The residents seem to be perpetually locked in a muted, communistic way of life devoid of any creativity, self-expression or ambition. Elders are rounded up for Vacation 65, a form of retirement that takes those who are no longer useful in Fashion City to a tropical paradise. The sinister overtones of the oppression in Fashion City will not be lost on younger readers. At one point in the book, a friend of Meggie’s describes how all of the pets in the city were recently rounded up as animals were found to be carriers of disease. Although the novel does take some dark turns, it doesn’t dive too intensely into the horrors of absolute control and oppression, making it a very appropriate introduction for tweens into dystopian fiction. Overall, You’ll Like it Here (Everybody Does) is a very satisfying and entertaining read for tween, teen and adult readers alike. This title would be especially interesting for a classroom discussion or book group.
Genre: Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 4+
Similar titles: The Giver by Lois Lowry, Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle.       
Themes:  Uniqueness, being different, aliens, oppression, race, dystopian, coming-of-age, perfection.  
Awards/Reviews:  Written by Newbery Honor Award winning author.
Series Information: N/A   
Discussion questions:
- Find out what the phrase “unreliable narrator” means. Would you describe Meggie in the first few chapters as an unreliable narrator? Why or why not?
- Were you surprised to learn that the Blues were not from Earth?
- Name four historical figures that appear in Fashion City. Why were they important to society in real life? What do you think the author included them in the novel?
- Which character did you like better: Meggie or David? Why?
- When did you realize the truth about Vacation 65?
- Would you like to read a sequel to this novel? What would you include in a sequel if you were writing one?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

After Obsession Book Review

Author: Carrie Jones & Steven E. Wedel. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA Childrens. ISBN: 9781599906812.
Annotation:  Seventeen-year-old Aimee Avery is still struggling with her mother’s death years before, especially because she is worried that her prophetic dreams and strange healing abilities will make people think she’s as crazy as they thought her mother was. Her recent dreams have been pointing to impending danger in her small Maine town and the arrival of a boy with dark hair and tan skin. When Alan Parsons moves from his home in Oklahoma and meets Aimee, she soon realizes that he is the one she has been dreaming about, and that he is in danger.
Personal thoughts:  Although I did find myself genuinely spooked out from time to time, my overall feeling after finishing After Obsession was that it was simple okay. I really liked the River Man/possession concepts, but I was a little too distracted by the overwhelming hokey vibes that Alan’s Navajo rituals/traditions gave off. As a huge fan of Navajo culture, I think it would have been much more pleasing to not chalk up Alan’s faith in his heritage to frequent visits to websites that apparently instruct readers in how to be a proper Native American. I really felt like this put a damper on Alan’s powers, and since they are such an important part of the plot, kept me from really enjoying the novel. As a sidenote, the Cheeto in the shape of Marilyn Monroe was utterly out of left-field in an otherwise serious storyline.  
Plot summary: Seventeen-year-old Aimee Avery’s seemingly happy existence is a facade: still struggling to cope with her mother’s apparent suicide years before, Aimee must now help her best friend, Courtney, who has just lost her father in a tragic fishing accident. To make matters worse, Aimee’s often prophetic dreams have become more and more intense: she senses that danger is lurking nearby, ready to pounce on everyone living in her small Maine town.  Aimee has also been dreaming of a boy her age with dark hair and tan skin, someone who is important but in as much danger as she is. In the meantime, seventeen-year-old Alan Parsons has just moved from Oklahoma with his mother to help his cousin, Courtney (Aimee’s best-friend), and Aunt Lisa following the death of Courtney’s father. Alan immediately stands out in the small Maine town: he is half Navajo, has long dark hair, tan skin, and wears a medicine pouch full of sacred items at all times. Like Aimee, Alan can also sense what’s coming with the help of his spirit guide, a cougar he calls Onawa. Onawa has been showing him visions of a girl his age with red hair and piercing green eyes. When Alan and Aimee finally meet in school one day they realize the truth: they have been dreaming of each other. Despite their immediate attraction, they also realize that their meeting signifies that the danger they both sense is also real. It seems that the small Maine town has been plagued for decades by an evil spirit, one many refer to as simply the “River Man.” Aimee is convinced that the River Man is the one who killed her mother, and, when Courtney begins acting strangely, that he has decided to possess her best friend next. Will Aimee and Alan be able to use their powers to stop the demon once and for all?
Review:  Told in alternating voices between its two protagonists, After Obsession offers an often muddled but frequently creepy collaboration between two successful authors. The high and low points of the novel are easily distinguished. An appropriate amount of suspense is created by the many spooky moments in the story: dark figures appearing in windows, phantom dust storms, knives standing on end and spinning, and more. The gradual deterioration of the town is also unique: it seems that the evil entity does not limit itself to one person, but instead affects everyone in the vicinity. These positives, however, are a bit hampered by some of the weaker elements of the plot. In terms of character development, Aimee and Alan live a bit to be desired. Aimee’s strange abilities never seem to be explained, only that she thinks they might be genetic. Alan’s transformation into a Navajo warrior is chalked up to a heavy amount of internet research into the practices of his “ancestors.” The romance between the two seems a bit forced at times. At the start of the novel, Aimee is described as having dated her boyfriend, Blake, for “a long time.” After Alan arrives, however, she quickly shrugs off her steady beau (fortunately, he makes some racist remarks that justify the break-up), and immediately begins to date the new guy in town. In fact, the events of the entire story transpire over roughly a week, making the intense “spiritual connection” between Alan and Aimee seem unlikely, even for a young adult novel. Thrown into the mix are some other oddities as well: there is a running plot line about a Cheeto in the shape of Marilyn Monroe, for example. Despite the moments of lag, After Obsession does, when it is all said and done, prove to be, at the very least, entertaining. No mention is made of a sequel, though the ending does leave it somewhat open to continuation.
Genre: Fiction/Horror
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Soul Screamer series by Rachel Vincent, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake.        
Themes:  Ghosts, demons, possession, death, murder, supernatural powers, rivers, Maine, Navajo, dreams.  
Awards/Reviews:  Written by best-selling authors.   
Series Information: No mention of sequel.   
Discussion questions: 
- Did you like the dual perspectives style of narrative in the novel? Why or why not?
- Which character did you identify with more: Alan or Aimee? Why?
- Do you think that Aimee’s mom was crazy? Why or why not?
- Alan is described as having learned most of his Navajo traditions and rituals online. Do you think the internet is a reliable source of spiritual information? Why or why not?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ingenue Book Review

Author: Jillian Larkin. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Delacorte Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780385740364.
Check out my review for the first novel in this series, Vixen, if you haven't already read it!:

Annotation:  Gloria Carmody and Jerome Johnson have fled Chicago and are now struggling to make ends meet in 1920s New York City. Lorraine Dyer, Clara Knowles and Jerome’s sister, Vera, also find themselves in New York’s world of gangsters, speakeasies and jazz.
Personal thoughts:  I enjoyed the first novel in the series very much, but found myself liking Ingenue even more after the first few chapters. Where the first book had its moments of lag, the plot of Ingenue rolled forward like a freight train for most of the story. I liked the addition of Vera as one of the narrators, although it was, at times, a bit confusing since the novel was told from four different perspectives. Other than having to double-check who I was reading about from time to time, I found Ingenue to be a very satisfying second installment in a fun series! I’m looking forward to the release of Diva.    
Plot summary: Picking up right where the previous novel, Vixen, left off, eighteen-year-old Gloria Carmody finds herself struggling to make ends meet in New York City with the talented piano player, Jerome Johnson, she left Chicago to be with.  After being forced to kill one of the associates of Chicago mobster, Carlito Macharelli, in self-defense, Gloria and Jerome are being extra cautious to avoid the eventual retribution that they know is coming their way. In the meantime, Gloria’s best friend turned enemy, Lorraine Dyer, is also living in New York and is working for none other than Macharelli in one of his gin joints, the Opera House. Lorraine promised Carlito that she would help him locate Gloria and Jerome, getting her revenge for the humiliation that Gloria put her through back in Chicago. Gloria’s cousin, Clara Knowles, and her now boyfriend, Marcus Eastman, are also living in New York before Marcus begins college in the fall. Clara is trying desperately to convince Marcus that she has given up the flapper-lifestyle, but finds herself back in the world of liquor, jazz and parties when she lands a job as a reporter for an up-and-coming New York magazine. Vera Johnson, Jerome’s sister, and Evan, one of Jerome’s former Chicago bandmates, have also travelled to the Big Apple hoping to find Jerome and warn him that he and Gloria’s fears are not unfounded: a dangerous assassin has been hired to find the pair, and Vera doesn’t want to imagine what their fates will be when their lives in Chicago finally catch up with them.
Review:  Like the first novel in Larkin’s Flappers series, Ingenue is told in alternating voices, this time with Vera contributing to the story along with Vixen’s Gloria, Lorraine and Clara. Those who have not read the previous novel beware: the storyline of Ingenue is quite complex and would make little to no sense if the characters were not already firmly established in the first installment. Fans of Vixen, however, will find the four girls’ adventures in Ingenue to be as enjoyable, if not more so, than the previous novel.  Gloria, Lorraine and Clara have shed any of the “debutante” pretense that made up so much of the plot of Vixen, leaving three fearless flappers in their place. Vera also makes an interesting addition to the mix, giving Larkin the opportunity to explore even more of the social inequalities between blacks and whites in the early 20th century. Gloria and Jerome’s trouble romance is, of course, the most stark example of society’s segregation in the 1920s, but other, more subtle parts of the novel will definitely resonate with readers who are attune to these struggles. Another major theme of the story is the role of women during the time period. Clara finds herself wanting to pursue a career in journalism, but discovers that she might be limited to petty gossip columns, the more serious stories being left to the men. The mobster/speakeasy/revenge parts of the novel are what move it along, but it is Larkin’s attention to the realities of the 1920s that really makes Ingenue shine as an exciting historical fiction read for young adults. The third novel, Diva, is set to be released in 2012.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Vixen by Jillian Larkin (first installment in series) and Bright Young Things series by Anna Godbersen.       
Themes:  1920s, flappers, speakeasies, gangsters, interracial relationships, revenge, racism, role of women.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from  
Series Information: Second installment in The Flappers series. First novel, Vixen (2011), third novel, Diva, set to be released in 2012.  
Discussion questions: 
- What setting did you like better: Chicago in Vixen or New York City in Ingenue? Why?
- Did you like the addition of Vera as a narrator in the novel? Why or why not?
- How do you think the characters changed between Vixen and Ingenue? Who changed the most? The least?
-Why do you think race was such an issue in the early 20th century? Do you think it still is?
- Do you think that Gloria and Jerome would be accepted in today’s society?