Monday, October 31, 2011

Fateful Book Review

Author: Claudia Gray. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Harperteen. ISBN: 9780062006202.
Annotation:  Eighteen-year-old Tess Davies wants to start her life over in the United States, so she is overjoyed when the family she works decides to travel to New York aboard the RMS Titanic. What she doesn’t expect is that her life will change forever before she even sets foot in America after she meets Alec, a handsome man with a dark secret.
Personal thoughts:  I was so excited when I heard about this novel and so disappointed that I didn’t really enjoy it. It’s unusual for me to simply not like a book, but I have to say that’s how I felt after reading Fateful. I found the plot to be over-the-top in terms of “hokey-ness.” The romance between Tess and Alec did nothing for me. I thought the sinking of the ship was incredibly rushed and should have played more of a part in how the story developed. I really wanted to love this novel and I wish I had, but I will continue to look forward to future books by Claudia Gray because I do think she is a talented author.
Plot summary: Eighteen-year-old Tess Davies is a ladies’ maid for Irene Lisle: the daughter of Viscount Lisle and his wife Lady Regina. Although Tess is fond of Irene, she wants nothing more than to be rid of the cruelties that have been inflicted upon her since she began working for the Lisles. Tess sees her chance to start over when the Lisles decide to travel to New York City on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. Taking her meager life-savings and all of her possessions, Tess boards the ship full of hope at the possibility of turning her life around in America. Tess doesn’t expect her life to change forever on the Titanic, however, but it does when she meets Alec Marlowe, a handsome young man travelling first class with his steel-tycoon father. Tess is immediately attracted to Alec, even though she knows they could never be together, but soon realizes that there is more to him than meets the eye. Alec appears to be travelling in the company of Mikhail: a dark and cruel man who seems to want nothing more than to devour Tess in one way or another. When Tess learns the truth about Alec’s relationship with Mikhail, she is shocked: Alec was recently transformed into a werewolf while on a hunting trip, and Mikhail has been sent to force him into the Brotherhood, an ancient and powerful pack of vicious werewolves who live amongst humans. Will Tess be able to reconcile her fear of Alec’s violent nightly transformation with her growing feelings for him, or is their relationship doomed to suffer the same fate as the ship they are unknowingly travelling on?
Review:  Full of references to famous passengers and events, Fateful reads as a watered-down version of the Titanic film mixed with varying degrees of paranormal romance, class and gender inequities of the past, and bodice-ripping. The premise of the novel is quite promising: werewolves on the Titanic are, if anything, certain to be entertaining. Unfortunately,   the odd pacing of the story, attempts at tackling more serious subjects, and general unbelievability of the plot serve to “sink” the novel from almost the first chapters. One of the primary issues with Fateful is that it seems to suffer an identity crisis. The author seems unsure if the novel should be a look at the harsh realities of the lower classes in turn of the century society, a paranormal romance, or a retelling of the sinking of the Titanic. For the most part, the focus of the novel seems to be on the former: Tess is almost constantly berated by her employers and reminding herself of the impossibility of forming a relationship with handsome first-class passenger, Alec. The romance between Tess and Alec seems to develop in a matter of hours, which, among other things, was one of the most unbelievable plot points in the novel. The werewolf aspect of the story is also somewhat on the sidelines, and could have definitely been made far more interesting if it had been expanded further. Overall, Fateful is a readable novel, but not one that shines amongst Claudia Gray’s body of works.
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Blood series by T. Lynne Tolles and Erin Potter, Silver Moon by Rebecca A. Rogers, Distant Waves: A Novel of the Titanic by Suzanne Weyn.   
Themes:  RMS Titanic, werewolves, romance, class warfare, murder.  
Awards/Reviews:  Written by bestselling author.   
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
- What do you think were Tess’ primary reasons for wanting to leave the service of the Lisles? Do you think the way she was treated was common at the turn of the century?
- Why do you think that what happened to Daisy was such a disgrace for Tess?
-  Do you think that Alec was truly dangerous as a wolf? Why or why not?
- Research some of the famous Titanic passengers mentioned in the novel. Who were they? What were their fates?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Eleventh Plague Book Review

Author: Jeff Hirsch. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Scholastic Press. ISBN: 9780545290142.
Annotation:  Fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his father are two of the few remaining survivors of P-11: a devastating plague that wiped out most of North America’s population. After Stephen’s father is gravely injured, Stephen must ensure that both of them stay alive in the unforgiving wilderness that is now America.  
Personal thoughts:  I wanted to like this novel more than I ended up enjoying it. I thought the teenage perspective on a post-apocalyptic future was interesting, but the pacing issues in the plot really hampered the story at times for me. I wish the author would have expanded more on what caused the plague and describing the post-apocalyptic environment. I think the author did a good idea of inspiring the reader to contemplate the “what-if’s” of Stephen’s future: what if the America of today experienced P-11. Although it is unclear if this novel is part of a series, I look forward to seeing more of what this author has to offer.
Plot summary: In the not too distant future, fifteen-year-old Stephen Quinn and his father are scavengers living in the desolate wasteland that is now the United States. After a plague known as P-11 wipes out most of the population of North America, the survivors now live on the brink of starvation, constantly trying to evade capture by the Slavers: mercenaries who seek to sell their captives to the highest bidder. After the elder is gravely injured, Stephen and his father find themselves being taken to Settler’s Landing: a small town that managed to survive the plague and is now home to other survivors as well. After his father slips into a coma, Stephen lives with a local family to help care for him. Stephen is reluctant to partake in the seemingly normal life of Settler’s Landing, but eventually gets used to attending school and playing games, even though he is far from welcome by Will, the son of the town’s leader. When he meets Jenny, a fellow outcast, Stephen feels like spending his life in Settler’s Landing might be a possibility. But when Stephen discovers that a practical joke has lead the town to the brink of war with a neighboring village, will he be forced to leave his father in Settler’s Landing and return to his life in the harsh wilderness?
Review:  Despite its slow-pacing, The Eleventh Plague offers an interesting perspective on a very real possibility for the future of the United States. Stephen struggles with normal teenage issues while tackling the realities of his situation: coping with the loss of his mother, his grandfather’s recent death, and his father’s injury. By including Stephen’s grappling with things like crushes, bullies, and feeling like he doesn’t belong, Hirsch creates a believable character living in a very harsh future. The novel focuses almost exclusively on Stephen’s thoughts and feelings, leaving the supporting characters slightly underdeveloped. Jenny, Stephen’s love interest, has a small back-story to explain why she is also an outcast in Settler’s Landing, but story could have been improved by working to expand upon the people Stephen encounters. Overall, however, The Eleventh Plague is an enjoyable read for fans of dystopian novels, especially into a post-apocalyptic setting.  
Genre: Fiction
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick.  
Themes:  Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, survival, fitting in, friendship.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from best-selling author Suzanne Collins.  
Series Information: Unclear, but ending of novel points to possibility of sequels.
Discussion questions:
- Do you think the events of the novel could actually take place? Why or why not?
- Do you think Stephen’s father should have attacked the Slavers?
- If you were Stephen, would you have chosen to stay or leave Settler’s Landing? Why?
- Why do you think Will couldn’t forgive Stephen?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Damage Book Review

Author: Anya Parrish. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Flux. ISBN: 9780738727004.
Annotation:  No one believed Dani when she said that her imaginary friend, Rachel, pushed her off the top of the hospital when she was eight-years-old. She hasn’t seen Rachel in years, but now she’s fifteen, and Rachel is back.
Personal thoughts:  I loved the concept behind this novel when I read the description, and, after reading the book, I found that it surpassed my expectations! The idea of homicidal imaginary friends sounds funny, but I was genuinely creeped out by the descriptions of Rachel. As the plot unraveled, however, I began to lose the creepy-vibe and began to really get into the twists and turns of the story. I really hope that the author decides to make the novel into a series because I think it has a lot of potential!    
Plot summary: No one believed Dani when she said that her imaginary friend, Rachel, pushed her off the roof of the hospital when she was eight-years-old. Dani used to enjoy spending time with Rachel during the months she spent at St. Baptist’s getting treatment for her diabetes. One night, however, Rachel turned sinister and, when Dani survived the fall from the roof, made it her mission to kill Dani by any means possible. Psychiatrists, doctors and Dani’s parents spent years trying to convince Dani that Rachel wasn’t real, and eventually she stopped seeing the little girl with the piercing blue eyes and the bloody gash for a mouth. Now Dani is fifteen-years-old and living in fear that Rachel will return.  What she doesn’t know is that her worst fears will be realized: after a freak bus accident on a school field trip, Rachel returns stronger than ever and even more determined to kill Dani. Someone else survives the bus accident, however: Jesse, a quiet rebel who has always had his eye on Dani. Dani and Jesse escape the crash together and soon make a startling discovery: Jesse was plagued by his own invisible monster as a child as well, and that monster has also returned ready to kill.  
Review:  Creepy, exciting and romantic, this debut novel by author Anya Parrish makes for a mind-bending adventure full of twists and turns. Almost from the first pages, the author lets the reader know that they are in for something different. The basic concept behind the novel is something that seems promising even when taken at face value: homicidal imaginary friends. When Dani’s “friend” Rachel is introduced, the image created is quite horrifying: Rachel is a rambunctious little girl who keeps Dani from feeling lonely in the hospital. When Dani is finally able to see her friend’s face, however, she discovers that her mouth is a gaping line that oozes blood whenever she smiles. Rachel’s constant determination to murder Dani would be almost comical if the little eight-year-old in every reader wasn’t frightened by the idea of the imaginary friend gone bad. Parrish accomplishes a lot with her creation of the “Rachel” character, and this is the strongest element of the novel. Of course, like most young adult books, there is a romantic male lead in the form of bad boy Jesse. The novel is told in alternating voices between Jesse and Dani, and it is revealed early in the story that Jesse was also plagued by an evil imaginary monster when he was younger: a vicious dragon he simply referred to as “The Thing.” Not much more can be said about the plot without giving away too much of the story, but the novel dives into many different genres as it progresses, from horror to mystery to spy-thriller. The result is a very enjoyable book that can be enjoyed by both teens and adults equally.
Genre: Horror
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong.
Themes:  Imaginary friends, murder, death, illness, accidents, experimentation, romance.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from best-selling authors Jessica Verday and Caitlin Kittredge.  
Series Information: Unclear, but ending of novel points to possibility of sequels.
Discussion questions:
- Who did you find scarier: Rachel or the Thing? Why?
- Did you think that Dani and Jesse fell for each other quickly? Is this realistic? Why or why not?
- What were your initial impressions about the truth behind what was happening to Dani and Jesse? Did they change as the story went on?
- Were you surprised to learn the truth about Rachel and the Thing?
- What would you like to see happen next in Dani and Jesse’s story? Do you think there will be a sequel to this novel? If so, would you read it?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer Book Review

Author: Michelle Hodkin. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781442421762.

Annotation:  Mara Dyer can’t explain how she survived the tragic accident that took like lives of her boyfriend, Jude, best friend, Rachel, and Jude’s sister Claire. After her family moves to Florida to help her cope with the loss, Mara soon begins to wonder if she was responsible for the death of her friends.

Personal thoughts:  I wasn’t sure what to make of this novel at first, but after the first five or six chapters I was hooked. The novel is very original and intriguing. I was very impressed with the author’s skills at building suspense and mystery in the plot. I also really enjoyed the romance between Noah and Mara. I am really looking forward to this series!

Plot summary: Sixteen-year-old Mara Dyer is struggling to cope with the loss of her best friend, Rachel. Mara can’t remember what happened: only that her boyfriend, Jude, his sister, Claire, and Rachel were killed in the collapse of an abandoned asylum near their Rhode Island home. Mara was in the building too, but somehow managed to survive. Now her parents and doctors have diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder, and move her and her two brothers to Miami, Florida to get a fresh start. Mara hopes that being in a new place will rid of her the visions that plague her, visions of her dead friends and crumbling buildings. As she tries to remember the details of the fateful night, Mara discovers that her new school might not be the most therapeutic environment: mean girl, Anna, is intent on embarrassing Mara after she attracts the attention of the popular and handsome, Noah. Mara couldn’t be less interested in dating, especially someone with a reputation like Noah. But as she learns more about him, and herself, Mara wonders if Noah might be the key to unlocking the mystery surrounding the tragedy that changed her life forever.

Review:  This intriguing debut novel from author Michelle Hodkin keeps the mysteries flowing from start to finish, making for a page-turner that is difficult to put down. Understanding what is happening to Mara Dyer is not an easy task for the character or for the reader. It’s difficult to determine what in the novel is real and what is imagined, but this only adds to the story: Mara can’t figure it out either. The novel acts as a bit of a theme chameleon as the plot progresses: part mystery, part tragedy, part romance and part supernatural thriller, Hodkin keeps the reader guessing throughout the novel. The result is an utterly original story that truly needs to be read to be understood. A very promising start to an intriguing new series.

Genre: Mystery

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Soul Screamers series by Sarah Vincent.

Themes:  Death, grief, loss, post-traumatic stress syndrome, sanity vs. insanity, murder.

Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from best-selling teen authors Cassandra Clare, Veronica Roth, Kristin Miller and Beth Revis.

Series Information: First installment in Mara Dyer series.

Discussion questions:
-     -  Research post-traumatic stress syndrome. Do you think it describes Mara’s condition?
-      - Why do you think Mara is so reluctant to date Noah?
-      - What do you think is the truth about Mara, Noah and their relationship?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Betrayal of Maggie Blair Book Review

Author: Elizabeth Laird. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 9780547341262.
Annotation:  In seventeenth-century Scotland, sixteen-year-old Maggie Blair narrowly escapes execution after being accused of witchcraft in her hometown on the Isle of Bute. Now, unable to return home, she seeks out her uncle and his family in the town of Ladymuir, only to discover that danger has followed her.
Personal thoughts:  My expectations of this novel were so different from my experience reading it that, at first, I wasn’t sure what to think. The story is very well written and full of Scottish dialogue that makes for a really authentic read. I also found Maggie to be an interesting character. My primary issue with the novel is that it is somewhat slow and, therefore, not likely to be appreciated by a young adult audience. As a historical fiction novel for adults, I think it is wonderful. I would have a hard time recommending it to most teens, however, as I think this time period and setting would not really resonate with them.   
Plot summary: Life in seventeenth-century Scotland is not easy for sixteen-year-old Maggie Blair. An orphan, Maggie was raised from an early age by her Granny, a hot-tempered and cantankerous old woman, in a cottage on the Isle of Bute. Granny has managed to make enemies of most of the residents of Bute, many of whom believe she is a witch. In the midst of a society full of religious turmoil, Maggie suddenly finds herself and Granny on trial for witchcraft. In order to escape execution, Maggie flees Bute to live with her uncle, Hugh Blair, and his wife and children on their farm on the mainland in a town called Ladymuir. Maggie is unaccustomed to life off the island, but is happy to be free of the danger that awaited her on Bute. Her peaceful new life in Ladymuir doesn’t last long, however, when Annie, a girl her age who testified against her in her trial on Bute, arrives at the farm. Uncle Blair and his family are charmed by Annie, who claims that she has come to repent for her false accusations on Bute, but Maggie is not convinced. Can she maintain her new existence in Ladymuir, or has the danger of her past followed her across the waters of the Scottish coast?
Review:  Part fiction and part memoir, Laird’s historical novel The Betrayal of Maggie Blair offers a slow but ultimately interesting story about a period of time not often featured in stories for young adults. Most readers, both teen and adult, will find themselves learning a great deal about seventeenth-century Scotland and the religious fervor that was sweeping Great Britain at that time. Although the novel does include elements that will resonate with those familiar with the Salem Witch Trials, the majority of the story focuses on the Covenanters: a group of Presbyterians who’s refusal to acknowledge the English king as head of the church earned many an untimely death. Maggie’s story serves primarily as a way for the author to present an in-depth history lesson into what is likely an unfamiliar era for American readers. In the epilogue, Laird mentions that Hugh Blair, Maggie’s uncle, was actually a real person who actually lived in Ladymuir in the late 1600s. Other characters in the story are also historical figures, making the novel a blend of fact and fiction. Although the story is slow, especially in the beginning, it ultimately provides an interesting look into the past that patient readers will enjoy.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: N/A
Themes:  Scotland, seventeenth-century, religion, witchcraft, family relationships, betrayal.  
Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from School Library Journal, positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
- Research the living conditions of seventeenth-century Scotland. What would Maggie’s everyday life have been like?
- What did you learn about the “Covenanters” from this novel? Research how this group impacted religion in Great Britain.
- Why do you think this novel is called The Betrayal of Maggie Blair? Who do you think betrayed Maggie the most?
- Do you think that Granny was a good parent to Maggie? Why or why not?
- Would you have done what Maggie did to help her Uncle? Why or why not?
- Why do you think violence is often part of religious history?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sweet Venom Book Review

Author: Tera Lynn Childs. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books. ISBN: 9780062001818.
Annotation:  Gretchen, Grace and Greer are sixteen-year-old triplets and descendents of the Gorgon Medusa destined to spend their lives fighting mythical creatures that invade the human realm. The only problem is that the three girls don’t know each other exists, and only Gretchen is aware of her role as a monster hunter.  
Personal thoughts:  As a fan of Greek mythology, I was really excited to hear about a book that incorporates one of my favorite mythical leading ladies, Medusa, into the story. I was not disappointed in the resulting novel, which takes this rather gruesome myth and turns it into an engaging book for young adults. I really appreciate that Sweet Venom is not only entertaining, but also an opportunity for readers who are not as well-versed in Greek mythology to learn more. I am really looking forward to the next installment in the Medusa Girls!  
Plot summary: Told in alternating voices between the three sisters, Sweet Venom is the beginning of a new series for young adults about triplets Gretchen, Grace and Greer: sixteen-year-old descendents of the misunderstood Gorgon, Medusa, who are destined to spend their lives as huntresses, sending monsters who cross into the human realm to hunt back to where they belong. At the outset of the novel, only Gretchen is aware of her role as a monster hunter. Unaware that she even has a sister, let alone two identical twins, Gretchen encounters Grace, a recent transplant to San Francisco, by chance and is surprised to find that the girl who looks just like her also seems to have the ability to see monsters. It seems that San Francisco, the setting of the novel, is home to a gap between the monster realm and the human realm. Monsters roam the city disguised as humans, and only the three huntresses have the ability to see their true forms and, using their fangs, dispatch the monsters. At first, Grace is excited to meet her twin, but wary of training with the Rambo-like Gretchen to fight minotaurs, draeconas, and other “beasties.” When Grace and Gretchen discover they have a third sister, Greer, it seems that they’ve stumbled upon more than they bargained for about the truth of their heritage and their role in securing the safety of the human realm.
Review:  Fans of Greek mythology will relish the first installment of the Medusa Girls trilogy by veteran author Tera Lynn Childs. Full of references to the residents of Mount Olympus (apparently, Athena was jealous of Medusa and fabricated the whole “snake haired killer” scenario), ancient monsters, oracles and more, this novel offers a fun and fresh take on some very old characters. Told in alternating voices between the three sisters, the plot constantly moves forward, making for an engaging and quick read. The author does a good job of introducing enough of the plot points to keep the reader interested, while also leaving some details to be unraveled in the second and third installments of the trilogy. The San Francisco setting of the story is also very pleasing for Bay Area residents, as the city itself plays a large role in the story. Childs has also been able to successfully create three sixteen-year-old female protagonists who manage to not tread into “annoying” territory very often. The meek but kind Grace makes a good contrast to the seasoned Gretchen. Greer doesn’t make her appearance until well into the novel, but also manages to be an interesting character as well. Overall, a good start to an interesting series.
Genre: Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Oh.My.Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs, Goddess Boot Camp by Tera Lynn Childs.
Themes:  Greek mythology, monsters, sisters, San Francisco.
Awards/Reviews:  N/A.
Series Information: First installment in Medusa Girls series.  
Discussion questions:
- Research the history of Medusa. How does her legend compare to the story of Sweet Venom?
- Which of the sisters is your favorite? Why?
- Have you ever known someone like Miranda? Why do they behave the way they do?
- Which sister do you identify with the most?
- Do you think there is more to Nick and Gretchen’s relationship than what Nick is letting on?
- Why do you think Greer began to see monsters after she met Gretchen and Grace?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Anna Dressed in Blood Book Review

Author: Kendare Blake. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Tor Teen. ISBN: 9780765328656.
Annotation:  Seventeen-year-old Theseus Cassio “Cas” Lowood has an unusual life: he hunts murderous ghosts and sends them to their permanent graves. But nothing can prepare him for his next target: the ghost of Anna Korlov, a beautiful sixteen-year-old who was murdered fifty years earlier.
Personal thoughts:  I love a good ghost story, so I was really looking forward to reading this novel. I was not disappointed! Although it took a few chapters for me to get used to Blake’s writing style, I really enjoyed Cas’ narrative and thought it did a lot to help tone down some of the absolutely horrifying scenes in the novel. I got a little grossed out at times with all the dismemberment, dead bodies, etc. but I think that this novel would be really enjoyable for older teens who want something scary and creepy with a bit of romance thrown in. I’m looking forward to the sequel.
Plot summary: Seventeen-year-old Theseus Cassio “Cas” Lowood spends his life on the move. Following in his father’s footsteps, he hunts murderous ghosts and sends them to their permanent graves with the knife he inherited after his father was killed in the line of duty. Hoping to somehow avenge his father’s brutal murder, Cas, his mother, a white witch, and their cat travel the country dispatching the not-so-restful dead. Nothing can prepare Cas for what he encounters upon arriving in Thunder Bay, Ontario. After receiving a tip about a spirit called “Anna Dressed in Blood,” Cas feels a strange pull to the case that he isn’t used to. It seems that the ghost of sixteen-year-old Anna Korlov has been haunting her old Victorian mansion since she was murdered in 1958. To say that Anna has simply been rattling chains and slamming doors shut would be the understatement of the century: she has killed over 25 people since her death, ripping limb from limb anyone who dares enter her house. In an effort to learn more about Anna, Cas befriends Carmel, the “queen bee” at his new high school, and Thomas, a nerdy telepath who comes from a long line of witches himself. When Cas is lured to Anna’s mansion by Carmel’s jealous ex-boyfriend, he makes his first encounter with Anna: a beautiful but frightening ghost with jet-black eyes, wearing a dress dripping with her blood. For reasons unknown, however, Anna spares Cas’ life, and he is left wondering whether he should, or can, kill her like the rest of the ghosts he has hunted.
Review:  Told in a bitingly sarcastic tone with blood-red type, Anna Dressed in Blood is not your typical boy-meets-girl love story. Almost from the beginning, it is clear that Blake’s writing-style is unique. Cas is the narrator of the story, and the character’s jaunty wit permeates what would be an otherwise horrifying plot. Cas is a very likeable protagonist, and his job as a ghost hunter makes for an interesting twist in his dealings with Anna. Oftentimes in ghost stories written for young adults, the characters seem to haphazardly stumble upon their spectres. Cas, however, seeks Anna out, despite tales of her dismembering the townsfolk for fifty years. The result is a fun and fresh approach on horror that makes for a very exciting read. With that said, parents, teachers and librarians should be warned. Although it is a very good story with a lot of the typical young adult cast of characters (i.e. the outsider, the queen bee, the nerdy sidekick, the overprotective mom, etc.), Anna Dressed in Blood is a novel for older teens. The book is chock full of cussing, gore, violence and horror that would likely land it on the no-fly list for parents of anyone under fifteen. For older teens, however, it is a well-written, enjoyable, and genuinely creepy ghost story that is sure to leave readers clambering for the sequel, Girl of Nightmares, set to be released in 2012.
Genre: Horror
Reading level: Grade 10+
Similar titles: Hereafter by Tara Hudson.
Themes:  Ghosts, Wicca, occult, murder, ghost hunters, witches, friendship, death.   
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.
Series Information: First installment in Anna series.  
Discussion questions:

- Did you learn any new words from Wicca or VooDoo lore after reading this novel?
- Where do you think the spirits that Cas killed were sent?
- What was the scariest part of the novel in your opinion?
- Why do you think Anna was murdered?
- What would you like to see happen in the next installment?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Glow Book Review

Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  St. Martin’s Griffin. ISBN: 9780312590567.
Annotation:  Kieran and Waverly are part the first generation of children born on the Empyrean, one of two ships destined to start a human colony on New Earth. The pair are in love, but their plans for marriage are abruptly ended when the Empyrean’s sister ship, The New Horizon, stages an attack against the Empyrean and kidnaps all the young girls onboard.
Personal thoughts:  Although I did see a lot of similarities between other recent works in young adult literature (i.e. Across the Universe), I ended up finding Glow to be a very unique and interesting book. It really reminded me of many allegorical novels I’ve read for academic purposes, where there is a larger message behind the plot. I look forward to seeing where the author takes this series.   
Plot summary: Kieran and Waverly seem to be the perfect couple. Both are members of the first generation of children born aboard the Empyrean, a massive spaceship that, along with its sister ship, the New Horizon, is travelling across the galaxy to colonize a planet dubbed “New Earth.” Life on the Empyrean is peaceful, but Waverly is struggling with the idea of getting married: she is still a teenager and there is pressure from the rest of the ship to have children as soon as possible. Kieran and Waverly’s lives change forever when, without warning, the New Horizon stages an attack on the Empyrean: killing most of the adults, and kidnapping all the young girls, including Waverly. After Waverly and the rest of the girls are taken to the New Horizon it becomes clear why they have been brought there: the women on their sister ship are infertile, and they need the girls to help them avoid extinction. Meanwhile, back on the Empyrean, Kieran is coping with the loss of the ship’s adults, including the captain. Left with trying to manage the hundreds of young boys not taken by the crew of the New Horizon, Kieran is struggling with opposition from Seth, another boy his age who wants to captain the Empyrean himself. Will Kieran and Waverly survive their respective fates after the New Horizon’s horrible betrayal? Will they be reunited?
Review:  This first installment in the Sky Chasers sets very high expectations for the rest of this new series. The setting of the novel is not entirely original: a ship carrying humans to colonize a new planet is a concept that has been popping up more and more in young adult literature. The plot, however, is unique and very engrossing. Very little time is spent leading up to the events of the book. Waverly and Kieran’s lives aboard the Empyrean are abruptly altered early in the novel, and most of the story focuses on their ordeals after their ship is attacked. This focus by author Amy Kathleen Ryan makes Glow something that can be enjoyed by both teen boys and girls equally: while there is some slight mushiness in the plot, the novel is far more science-fiction than romance. There is a lot of action that keeps the plot moving forward, but there are also subtleties to the novel as well. Religious overtones are hard to miss, as are elements of Lord of the Flies and the Puritanical “city on a hill” concept. Overall, Glow is a multi-faceted and sophisticated piece of science-fiction literature that is enjoyable for teens and adults of both genders. The next installment in this series is set to be released in the summer of 2012.
Genre: Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Across the Universe by Beth Revis, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan.
Themes:  Space travel, colonization, betrayal, motherhood, politics, religion.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus.   
Series Information: First installment in Sky Chasers series.  
Discussion questions:
- Why do you think Waverly was having reservations about becoming a young mother? How did the mission of the Empyrean impact her feelings?
- What would you have done if you were onboard the Empyrean during the attack by the New Horizon? Would your actions have changed things?
- Do you think the people on board the New Horizon were “villains”? Why or why not?
- Do you believe what Anne Mather said about the history of the Empyrean’s captain and crew members?
- Who would you side with: Seth or Kieran? Why?
- What would you like to see happen next in this series?