Saturday, July 30, 2011

Impact Book Review

Author: Douglas Preston. Release date: 2010. Publisher:  Forge Books. ISBN: 9780765317680.
Annotation:  A cast of characters have vastly separate lives that converge following a mysterious meteor strike in Maine that may not be a meteor at all.  
Personal thoughts:  This is a very enjoyable book that would work well as an adult-teen crossover. It does contain a fair amount of cussing, but nothing gratuitous or anything beyond how normal people would react in the situations in the book. Preston does a good job of combining the science-fiction and thriller genres. An excellent recommendation for older teens ready to move on from young adult sci-fi.
Plot summary: Ex-CIA agent Wyman Ford is asked by the government to undertake a mission to the jungles of Cambodia to discover the truth about a mine that seems to be producing radioactive gem stones. Twenty-year-old college dropout Abby Straw and her friend Jackie look for a mysterious meteorite that struck an island off the coast of their small hometown in Maine. Scientist Mark Corso receives a classified hard drive stolen from the National Propulsion Facility from his former professor and mentor who was killed in an alleged home invasion. All of these events seem to be random and not connected but, in fact, all point to a dangerous threat from space that threatens the Earth, solar system, and universe. Can the mystery surrounding the mine, meteor and hard drive be solved in time to save the human race from extinction?
Review:  This sci-fi/thriller novel from author Douglas Preston packs a powerful punch with an interesting plot, compelling characters, and enough action to keep the pages turning at a rapid pace. Each of the different storylines is intriguing in its own right, and when the characters begin to converge and things become clearer, the reader is in for a treat. Preston does a great job of explaining the various scientific aspects of the plot, ensuring that nothing is lost on readers who might not be familiar with astronomy. There is also quite a bit of marine lingo that is illustrated effectively as well. Although the novel does contain some adult themes and language, Impact makes an excellent adult/teen crossover, providing enough action to engage teens and adults alike. Overall, an enjoyable novel that is difficult to put down.
Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller
Reading level: Grade 10+

Similar titles: The Codex and Blasphemy by Douglas Preston, Contact by Carl Sagan.   
Themes:  Meteors, astronomy, Mars, government conspiracy, Maine, father-daughter relationships, Cambodia, Khmer Rouge.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, National Public Radio, New York Times bestselling authors Brad Thor, Tess Gerritsen, Whitley Strieber, Lee Child, Sandra Brown and William Martin.  
Series Information: Character Wyman Ford also appeared in Blasphemy (2008) by Douglas Preston.     

Discussion Questions:

- Did you learn anything about astronomy after reading this book?

- Do you think the events in this novel could ever happen? Why or why not?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tiger’s Quest Book Review

Author: Colleen Houck. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Splinter. ISBN: 9781402784040.

Check out my review of the previous book, Tiger's Curse, if you haven't read it already! 
Annotation:  Kelsey has returned from her adventure in India and begins college at Western Oregon University while trying to push thoughts of Ren out of her mind. Her first semester in college, however, is far from what she expected when she is thrust yet again in to the middle of reversing the curse that plagues Ren and his brother, Kishan.   
Personal thoughts:  Like the first book in the series, there were some things I liked about this book and some things I didn’t like. As a native Oregonian, I thought the references to the state were fun but a bit overkill at times. I commend Houck for advertising her home state, but not many people know or care much for specific details about Oregon trivia (i.e. Burgerville, restaurants in Salem, Tillamook, etc.)  I also thought the adventures of Kelsey and Kishan began to veer into the goofy at times (i.e. magical scarves, trees giving birth to fairy-like creatures, lightning bolt powers, etc.) When it is all said and done, however, I will most likely be picking up the third installment in this series due for release in November 2011. Despite its flaws, there is something enjoyable about the characters and adventures in this series.
Plot summary: After returning from her whirlwind adventure in India, Kelsey decides to push aside her feelings of love and confusion for Ren and focus on college and dating other people. Mr. Kadam has arranged for Kelsey to attend Western Oregon University in the fall, paying for her tuition, books, a house to live in and a new car. Kelsey tries dating other people, even having a connection with her martial arts instructor, Li, but she can’t seem to shake memories of the white tiger from her mind. When Ren suddenly joins her in Oregon, Kelsey realizes that their love for eachother is too strong to be ignored and the two began dating once more while both attending college in Oregon. Their happiness is interrupted when, following the arrival of Ren’s brother, Kishan, the trio learns that the evil Lokesh, the very same man who curse the princes to live as tigers, is on a quest to find Kelsey at all costs, and is getting closer. It seems that Kelsey will have no choice but to leave Oregon once more and return to India in search of another key in the puzzle of saving the brothers from the tiger’s curse.
Review:  This second installment in Houck’s Tiger’s Curse series delivers more adventure, romance and mythology in the same vein as the first novel. Kelsey’s confusion over her feelings for Ren and her attempts at dating will resonate with readers who have experienced similar situations. Houck creates a very likable character in Li, the martial arts instructor who likes Kelsey despite her obvious preoccupation with someone else. When Ren arrives in Oregon, the dynamics between the two shift setting the stage for what will surely be an epic romance that will last through all seven books (Houck revealed in an interview that there are seven planned installments in this series.) The book takes a dramatic shift when Kelsey returns to India and must team up with Kishan to complete the next step in reversing the tiger’s curse. Kishan and Kelsey also have strong romantic feelings for eachother, adding a Twilight­­­-esque love triangle to the story. Their adventures get a little silly at times, but readers will, no doubt, enjoy the sexual tension between Kelsey and the black tiger. Overall, a good second novel in an interesting series.
Genre: Fiction/Adventure
Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: Tiger’s Curse (first novel by Colleen Houck in series).  
Themes:  Romance, relationships, magic, India, Shangri-la.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Kirkus Reviews, winner of Parent’s Choice Award.
Series Information: Second installment in Tiger’s Curse series. Third novel set to be released in November 2011.    

Discussion Questions:

- Who do you like better: Ren or Kishan? Why?

- Do you think it was a good idea for Kelsey to date other people? Why or why not?

- Did you learn anything about Indian or Chinese mythology after reading this book?

- What was your favorite part of the novel? Why?

- What would you like to see happen in the third installment of this trilogy?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Magnolia League Book Review

Author: Katie Crouch. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Hachette Book Group. ISBN: 9780316078498.
Annotation:  After her mother dies in a car accident, sixteen-year-old Alex Lee must leave the communal California farm she grew up on to live with her grandmother in Savannah, Georgia. After arriving in Savannah, Alex learns that her grandmother is part of an elite society known as the Magnolia League. Alex soon begins to suspect, however, that there is more to the league than just pretty dresses and debutante balls.  
Personal thoughts:  This book was a mixed bag for me. There were parts of the story I really liked and parts that I thought were either really silly or unnecessary. I will probably pick up the sequel regardless, because Crouch has managed to create an interesting story despite the downsides.
Plot summary: Sixteen-year-old Alex Lee has always lived on a communal farm in the mountainous woods of Mendocino, California with her mother. The farm values community and togetherness, and Alex and her mother help support the other residents by selling herbal tinctures her mother concocts. One terrible day, however, Alex’s mother is killed in a car accident. Alex soon finds out that she is being sent to live with the grandmother she has never met in Savannah, Georgia. After arriving in Savannah, Alex realizes she couldn’t fit it any less with her dreadlocks and grungy clothes. It appears that Alex’s grandmother, Miss Lee, is the head of an elite social group known as the Magnolia League. The Magnolias rule Savannah, and two of the league members Alex’s age, Hayes and Madison, are quickly forced to befriend the new girl despite their better judgment. Miss Lee tries hard to help Alex adjust to her new surroundings: buying her expensive clothes and teaching her the rules of being a debutante. As hard as her grandmother tries, however, it seems that Alex will never fit in. Soon, however, Alex becomes intrigued by the Magnolia League, not because of the fancy clothes or popularity, but when she learns that another Savannah family, the Buzzards, have helped to give the Magnolias their power through the use of hoodoo. Alex begins to wonder if the hoodoo spells could help her achieve beauty and popularity like the other Magnolias.
Review:  This first novel in Crouch’s new series (according to Crouch’s website, the sequel is being written), introduces an interesting back-story that, unfortunately, is hampered by a weak cast of characters and several unnecessary plot elements. The biggest problem with the story is the protagonist. Although Alex is a likable character, her upbringing and behavior are far from believable. Her constant references to the communal “pot farm” she grew up on in Mendocino and how her biggest talent lies in growing organic produce gets old quickly. Alex’s “hippiness” could have been downplayed more to be less cheesy and still have been effective. The second problem is Alex’s “friends,” Hayes and Madison. It’s clear that these two characters do not particularly want to be friends with Alex, but the trio spend a lot of time together anyway being mutually unpleasant. Alex’s constant second-guessing and unpleasantness make their loyalty hard to believe, even with the Magnolia League as an excuse. There are also some sexual references in the story that are unnecessary and out of place as well. That being said, Crouch does create some interesting plot elements that still manage to intrigue the reader. The back-story of the relationship between the Magnolia League and the Buzzards, as well as all of the references to hoodoo, are very interesting. The novel closes with a very effective cliffhanger that sets the stage for the next novel. Overall, I would not give this novel a high recommendation, but hope the series improves as more installments are published.
Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Reading level: Grade 9+

Similar titles: N/A
Themes:  Hoodoo/magic, Savannah/the South, death/loss, popularity, being yourself.  
Awards/Reviews:  Written by New York Times bestselling author.
Series Information: Sequel is being written, but title has not been released.   

Discussion Questions:

- What did you think of the compound where Alex and her mother were living in California? Would you like to live in such a place? Why or why not?

- Did you learn anything about hoodoo traditions when reading this book? Did you want to learn more about the history of this practice?

- What do you think of the Magnolia League? Is it a good or bad thing? Why?

- Are the Buzzards protagonists or antagonists? Why?

- What would you like to see happen in the sequel to this novel?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Wrapped Book Review

Author: Jennifer Bradbury. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781416990079.
Annotation:  Seventeen-year-old Agnes Wilkins is about to make her debut in 1815 London, but would rather spend her time studying languages and ready the works of Jane Austen than pick out fabric and ribbons. When she inadvertently becomes involved in a plot by Napoleon to steal a mystical Egyptian relic, however, Agnes gets the adventure she’s been looking for!  
Personal thoughts:  This was a fun book, and I especially loved all the Jane Austen references! Jennifer Bradbury does a good job of combining the adventure elements with Regency society, and throws in some Napoleon too. Overall, a fun story that can be enjoyed by Jane Austen fans of all ages!
Plot summary: In 1815 London, seventeen-year-old Agnes Wilkins is about to make her debut into society in hopes of making a good match. Agnes, however, would rather spend her time studying languages and reading books by her favorite author, A Lady (actually Jane Austen), than fret over her debut gown like her mother. To make matters worse, Agnes has attracted the attentions of a very rich suitor, Lord Showalter, who seems intent on marrying her. One night at a party held by Showalter, Agnes and the other guests are invited to partake in the unwrapping of a mummy in hopes of finding treasures and trinkets to take home. Agnes does find a trinket, a small item in the shape of a dog’s head. Intrigued by the item, Agnes decides to keep it even when Lord Showalter suddenly announces that the mummy in question is not the correct specimen and all of the trinkets must be returned. After the party, however, inexplicable things start occurring and Agnes’ social circle begins to believe that a mummy’s curse has been wrought upon their group. Agnes isn’t convinced, and begins to believe that the strange things that have been happening are actually part of a plot by Napoleon to infiltrate London. Agnes is determined to thwart the plot and, together with the handsome Caedmon who she meets at the British Museum, pushes the concerns about her debut aside to find out the truth of the “mummy’s curse.”
Review:  Chock full of Jane Austen references, this fun historical mystery is a must read for any fans of the Regency time period. Bradbury does an excellent job of integrating the adventure aspects of the story with the more Austen-like plotline of Agnes’ impending engagement to Lord Showalter. Agnes is a very likable protagonist and Bradbury makes a point to highlight the fact that her leading lady is not only beautiful but brave and intelligent. Through Agnes, Bradbury also comments on the life of women during this time period as well, and how society was far from equitable. The inclusion of Napoleon and his antics are a good introduction for younger readers who might not be familiar with all of the intrigue surrounding the controversial Emperor. Serving both as a history lesson, homage to Jane Austen, and fun mystery, Wrapped is an excellent choice for both teen and adult readers.
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: Sally Lockhart series by Philip Pullman, works by Jane Austen.
Themes:  Regency time period, mystery, Jane Austen, women in society.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.  
Series Information: No sequels announced, but definitely left open for one.  

Discussion Questions:

- How do you think the works of Jane Austen influenced this novel?

- What was your first impression of Lord Showalter? How did that change while reading the novel?

- Did you learn anything about Napoleon while reading this novel? Did you want to learn more about his history?

- Do you think Agnes fits in with the typical role of women during the time period in which this novel takes place? Why or why not?