Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Lunatic’s Curse Book Review

Author: F.E. Higgins. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Feiwel & Friends. ISBN: 9780312566821.
Annotation: Rex Grammaticus suspects his new stepmother, Acantha, is responsible for his father’s sudden insanity, especially when his father is committed to the sinister Droprock Island Asylum for the Peculiar and Bizarre. Rex is certain that his father is not mad, and vows to discover the truth about Acantha, the asylum, and the mysterious society of Andrew Faye.
Personal thoughts:  I was a little concerned about picking this title up at first because I haven’t read the other novels in the series, but since it states clearly in the book jacket that it can be read individually I went ahead and gave it a try. I am glad that I did! As a fan of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, I found myself really enjoying Higgins’ macabre story as much if not more than Lemony Snicket’s novels. I like that Higgins doesn’t “talk-down” to the reader, and uses words and phrases that will make them think. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who wants something creepy, and think it has a perfect place in the middle-school classroom for reluctant readers.
Plot summary: Twelve-year-old Rex Grammaticus lives a happy life with his father, Ambrose, a renowned inventor in the lakeside town of Oppum Oppidulum. When a mysterious woman, Acantha, seduces Ambrose into marrying her, however, Rex is sure that things are going to take a turn for the worse. Rex’s fears are realized when one fateful evening, his father suddenly suffers from a fit of madness, viciously attacking Rex and even cutting off his own hand. Ambrose is committed to the Droprock Island Asylum for the Peculiar and Bizarre, with the help of Acantha’s good friend and superintendent of the asylum, Cadmus Chapelizod, and his business and fortune are left entirely in Acantha’s care. Rex is certain that his stepmother is responsible for Ambrose’s insanity, and vows to free his father from the torturous asylum.  
Review:  The latest novel in F.E. Higgins’ series for tweens is described as a “polyquel” to the other books, meaning that it can as easily be read as a stand-alone in addition to having some overlap with the other stories. Familiarity with Higgins’ other novels, however, does not determine whether the highly creepy Lunatic’s Curse can be enjoyed by readers: anyone with a slight penchant for the macabre will find this book to be deliciously gruesome and utterly entertaining. From the first pages, the author plunges the reader headfirst into the world of Oppum Oppidulum, a seemingly peaceful lakeside town with more than its fair share of deep, dark secrets. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the story is the care that Higgins takes in creating the setting and characters. Each has their own unique back-story and is given the opportunity for development, even if they have only minor roles in the plot. This technique immerses the reader in world of the novel, making the story far more engaging. The storyline is also very creative and unique, and Rex Grammaticus is a very likable protagonist. As a side note, squeamish readers should be aware that Higgins does venture into some fairly dark territory, from murder to torture, and even a dash of cannibalism. These elements are not overpowering, however, and Lunatic’s Curse is not only appropriate for tweens and teens, but thoroughly enjoyable as well (especially for reluctant boy readers!)
Genre: Mystery
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, other titles in Tales of the Sinister City series by F.E. Higgins, including The Eyeball Collector, The Bone Magician, and The Black Book of Secrets.   
Themes:  Mystery, murder, conspiracy, insanity, asylums, machinery, lakes, cannibalism.   
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Booklist and Kirkus.     
Series Information: Part of a non-sequential series of polyquels by F.E. Higgins, Tales of the Sinister City. Other installments:  The Bone Magician (2008), The Eyeball Collector (2009), and The Black Book of Secrets (2010).  
Discussion questions: 
- What were your original thoughts about why Ambrose went “insane”? Did they change throughout the novel?
- Why do you think the lodestone method was successful?
- Were you surprised to learn the truth about Hildred?
-  Were you surprised to learn the truth about the society of Andrew Faye?
- Do you think Rex did the right thing in his construction of the Re-breather? Why or why not?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Scored Book Review

Author: Lauren McLaughlin. Release date: 2011. Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780375868207. 
Annotation: In the not too distant future, an individual’s future is determined by the score they receive upon completing high school, a score that is calculated through lifelong surveillance and a software program that judges everything from academic performance to actions. Imani LeMonde is only one month away from completing high school with a very high 92, but her score is jeopardized by her low-scoring best friend, a 71.  

Personal thoughts: For me, this was one of those novels that had a concept I really loved by an execution that left me wanting just a bit more. I really wish that the author would have gotten more into exactly how the score worked. She touched on it from time to time, but I was never sure if it was Imani’s paranoia that caused her to think the cameras could judge facial expressions, movements, and other everyday behavior, or if that was really the case. I did enjoy Imani’s various battles with her conscience and thought the opportunity for social commentary was interesting, however. I think the author has a lot to say and that her point was expressed successfully in the novel.

Plot summary: After the second Great Depression created an insurmountable gap between the rich and the poor, a powerful company known as Score Corp created a new system to give everyone an equal chance at going to college and achieving the American dream: the Score. From kindergarten on, children are under constant surveillance by Score Corp’s “eyeballs,” cameras that exist to monitor their actions, behavior, friendships, academic performance and more. High school senior Imani LeMonde has worked hard her whole life to have the very high score of 92. Her best friend, Cady Fazio, however, is only a 71, and associating with her is a constant threat to Imani’s score. So far, Imani’s score has not been too impacted by her friendship, but after Cady is caught in a relationship with an unscored boy at their school, Imani’s score suddenly plummets to a 64. At Somerton High, there are only two kinds of unscored students: the uber-rich who can buy a college education, and the untouchable “peasants” who refuse to be scored because they are morally opposed or simply cannot afford it. In an effort to restore her high score, Imani begins a secret collaboration with Diego, an intelligent but unscored boy at her school, who thinks they are merely working together on an essay contest for a college scholarship. Imani hopes that gathering information from Diego, whose mother is a prominent anti-Score Corp lawyer, will improve her score. But once Imani begins to learn more about the truth of the score and its creators, will she be as loyal to the score as she once was?

Review: Part dystopian fiction part social commentary, Scored is an interesting if not fully expanded novel for teens who want something to think about. While the score is the focus of the story, the exact mechanics of the scoring process are somewhat glossed over, leaving the reader longing to learn just how the elusive numbers are generated. Reference to a sophisticated software program are often made, but the author does not dive further into the computerized aspects of the scoring process. How do the Score Corp eyeballs watch everyone all at once? Are points added or subtracted by analyzing facial expressions? Do eyeballs exist in people’s homes? These are just a few of many questions that are never really answered in the novel, and could have used flushing out. Despite these missed opportunities, however, Scored does manage to delve quite deeply into the concepts that surround the score: social order, merit, socioeconomic disparities, and more. The idea of a caste system is brought up often, and conversations between characters, particularly Imani and Diego, will certainly leave readers who something to ponder after they’ve finished the book. Although it does seem more of a vehicle for the author to comment on the current state of education, particularly things like standardized testing and No Child Left Behind, Scored is an interesting and thought-provoking novel that many are sure to find enjoyable.

Genre: Science-fiction

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Variant by Robinson Wells.  

Themes: Education, society, dystopian, school, discrimination, friendship.

Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from Kirkus and VOYA.

Series Information: N/A

Discussion questions:

- Do you think that a company like Score Corp will ever be created in our society? Why or why not?

- If you lived in Imani’s world, would you want to be scored or unscored? Why?

- Why do you think her relationship with Cady caused Imani’s score to plummet?

- Would you break your pact with Cady if you were Imani? Why or why not?

- Why do you think Diego chose to be unscored?

- Do you think, in the end, that Imani did the right thing? Why or why not?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wake Unto Me Book Review

Author: Lisa Cach. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Speak. ISBN: 9780142414361.
Wake Unto Me, by Lisa Cach
Annotation:  Fifteen-year-old Caitlyn Monahan hopes that the mysterious scholarship she received to a French boarding school thousands of miles from her Oregon home will help rid her of the nightmares that have plagued her for years. What Caitlyn doesn’t expect upon arriving at Château de la Fortune is that her dreams will become more vivid than ever, bringing with them the very real and handsome Raphael, a resident of the Château four centuries before.
Personal thoughts:  I am surprised that I haven’t heard more about this book because I really liked it! It was very well-written and flowed very easily and naturally. Caitlyn is a great character and, despite the fact that she is self-admittedly “moody,” easy to identify with. I really enjoyed the bits of history that the author threw in, including references to the Knights Templar and the de’ Medici family. The romance between Caitlyn and Raphael was also very enjoyable. I am really looking forward to reading Foxfire and can’t wait to see where the series goes!
Plot summary: Fifteen-year-old Caitlyn Monahan feels misunderstood by everyone in her small Oregon town. Nicknamed “moan-and-groan” for her constant depressive mood, Caitlyn wants nothing more than to escape someplace where she won’t be an outcast and where the strange dreams and nightmares that have plagued her for years won’t haunt her every waking moment. One day, Caitlyn receives a strange e-mail from the headmistress of Château de la Fortune, a boarding school thousands of miles away in southeastern France. Not sure why she has been given the opportunity to apply, Caitlyn is even more astonished when the school offers her a full scholarship. After arriving in France and beginning her new life at the Château, Caitlyn hopes that she has finally found a place where she will fit in and where her nightmares won’t follow her. Instead, the dreams become more vivid than ever, and now include a handsome young man named Raphael who appears to be living in the very same Château hundreds of years earlier. As Caitlyn learns more the history of the castle, she discovers that Raphael was a real person, and the adopted son of Bianca de’ Medici, a mysterious woman who was burned at the stake for witchcraft in the 16th century. Unsure if her dreams are real or just a result of her overactive imagination, Caitlyn tries to uncover the truth about her visions of the past, and what part they might play in her future at the Château.
Review:  Full of romance, history, and the appeal of a good ghost story, Wake Unto Me is a charming, enjoyable mystery from veteran author Lisa Cach. One of the strongest elements of the novel are the characters. Well-developed and interesting, it is easy for the reader to identify with Caitlyn and her longing to find a place that feels like “home.” The supporting characters, including Caitlyn’s new friends, Naomi and Amalia, the strict headmistress of the Château, Madame Snowe, and the handsome man of Caitlyn’s dreams (literally), Raphael, add a great deal of depth to the story as well. The history of the de’ Medici family, the Knights Templar, and the crusades create a rich background for the events of the story. Fans of historical fiction, ghost stories, romance, and mystery will all appreciate this novel. Overall, an excellent beginning to a new series that will delight both teen and adult readers. The sequel, Foxfire, is set to be released in summer 2012.
Genre: Mystery/Ghost Story
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: The River of Time series by Lisa T. Bergren, Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon, Hereafter by Tara Hudson.  
Themes:  Time travel, dreams, nightmares, France, de' Medici family, ghosts.   
Awards/Reviews:  Written by award-winning author.    
Series Information: Sequel, Foxfire, set to be released in summer 2012.  
Discussion questions:
- Why do you think Caitlyn’s classmates in Oregon called her “moan-and-groan”?
- Would you be able to move to France like Caitlyn did? Why or why not?
- Research the history of the de’ Medici family. How did the author include historical facts in the novel?
- What do you think happens to Caitlyn when she’s dreaming?
-  What would you like to see happen in the sequel?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Unison Spark Book Review

Author: Andy Marino. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Henry Holt and Co. ISBN: 9780805092936.
Unison Spark
Annotation:  Mistletoe and Ambrose are two fifteen-year-olds living very different lives in a futuristic world obsessed with Unison: an all-consuming, virtual reality social network. Suddenly, their two lives intersect and they realize that their shared past might be the key to the future of Unison.
Personal thoughts:  I really love the concept of the all-consuming social network and so I really wanted to love this novel. Unfortunately, I found it to be too confusing and the characters too under-developed for me to really enjoy it. There were definitely some highpoints in the story (I thought the topside/sub-canopy idea to be interesting and the descriptions of holo-fashion and life in Unison), but I just could not get into the book. One of my biggest problems was that I didn’t like Mistletoe at all, but there was no one else in the story for me to really latch onto as my preferred character. That being said, however, I do think that Andy Marino has some really great ideas that I would love to see flushed out more in future novels. I would definitely be interested in picking up his next book to see what it’s like!
Plot summary: In the futuristic town of Eastern Seaboard City, society is divided into the canopy and sub-canopy zones, separated by a steel barrier that keeps the rich and poor from intermingling. Fifteen-year-old Mistletoe lives in the sub-canopy with her guardian, Jiri, dreaming of what life must be like topside for those who can afford to be a part of Unison. Described as the great-great-grandchild of Facebook or Myspace, Unison is a virtual reality social network that most people living above the canopy spend their lives logged into, their “fleshbound” existence no longer important. Ambrose Truax, the fifteen-year-old son and heir of Unison’s creator, Martin Truax, spends his life helping his father and brother, Len, manage Unison. Mistletoe and Ambrose are about to cross paths, however, when a mysterious message transferred to Ambrose against his will warns him that his life is a lie and that his father cannot be trusted. Longing for the truth, Ambrose leaves his privileged life topside and ventures down into the sub-canopy city of Little Saigon. After saving him from a run-in with police intent on returning him to his father, Mistletoe and Ambrose discover that they have something startling in common: a shared nightmare of a stark lab and grisly wires. What is the connection between Mistletoe and Ambrose, and how will the truths they eventually uncover affect the future of Unison?
Review:  This debut novel from author Andy Marino weaves an interesting but often overly complicated tale that, unfortunately, makes for a confusing read. The overall concept and setting of the novel is, by far, Marino’s biggest achievement. The topic of extreme social-networking is something that has been featured more and more in popular culture in recent years, particularly through movies like Gamer and Surrogates. Readers who are familiar with these films will undoubtedly see plot similarities: the idea of people ceasing to exist in their physical lives and instead being only digital projections, the ability to form a new identity online that is completely different from reality. Marino adds new elements to these concepts by including things like status updates, friend requests, event invites, and other Facebook-ish terms that readers, especially teens, will be able to identify with. The society in which Unison exists is also interesting, with the topside/sub-canopy distinction, holo-fashion and atmoscrapers. Where the novel falls flat, however, is in character development. Mistletoe and Ambrose are the two most flushed out personalities in the story, but are still difficult to side with because the reader knows so little about them. Other, more promising characters are introduced but given no opportunity for development. The result is a plot that is full of twists, turns, and complexities but is unable to engage the reader, leaving them, instead, confused. It is clear that author Andy Marino has many interesting ideas, however, and hopefully, in upcoming novels, improvements will lead to more enjoyable and engaging stories.  
Genre: Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
Themes:  Social networking, technology, dystopian, virtual reality.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly.   
Series Information: N/A   
Discussion questions: 
- Do you think that a program like Unison is the future of Facebook or Myspace? Why or why not?
-  If you lived in Eastern Seaboard City, would you want a Unison account? Why or why not?
- How do you think social networking currently influences the way people interact in person? How do you think that will change in the future?
- Why do you think the corpses were left on display in the airlock between the sub-canopy and topside zones?
- Explain your interpretation of the novel’s conclusion.

Friday, December 16, 2011

If I Die Book Review

Author: Rachel Vincent. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Harlequin. ISBN: 9780373210329.
Annotation:  In this fifth book of the Soul Screamers series,  Tod tells Kaylee that she is on the Reaper list and only has six more days to live. Struggling with the knowledge that her borrowed time is almost up, Kaylee wants to spend her final days making sure the people she loves are safe.
Personal thoughts:  I was a huge fan of the first two novels in this series, but have to admit that with the third and fourth installments, I began to lose interest. I was curious to see how Rachel Vincent decided to continue the series, and found the result to be pleasing. Overall, I can safely say that I am a fan of the Soul Screamers series and enjoyed the supernatural personalities and happenings in all five novels.  I look forward to seeing what Rachel Vincent comes up with next.
Plot summary: Sixteen-year-old Kaylee Cavanaugh’s life has been anything but normal since she found out six months before that she’s a bean sidhe (or banshee): a mythical death herald with the ability to guide souls as they depart from their earthly bodies. Kaylee and her boyfriend Nash, a male bean sidhe, have battled countless demons, hellions and other supernatural creatures with the help of Tod, Nash’s Grim Reaper brother, Harmony, Tod and Nash’s bean sidhe mother, and Sabine, Nash’s ex-girlfriend who is (literally) a living nightmare, or mara. Nothing has prepared Kaylee for what she is about to learn: Tod saw her name of the Reaper List, and she has only six days before her borrowed lifeline expires. To make matters worse (if that’s possible), one of Kaylee’s classmates winds up in the hospital after a terrible and tragic miscarriage. Kaylee and Sabine suspect that the school’s hot new math teacher is the father of the child, and that Mr. Beck might actually be a succubus: a love demon fixated on fathering a son. Fearing that Mr. Beck has set his sights on her best friend, Emma, Kaylee must work with what little time she has to ensure that those she loves are safe even after her inevitable death.
Review:  The hugely popular Soul Screamers series continues in author Rachel Vincent’s fifth installment, If I Die. Those who have not read the previous four books beware: it is necessary to move through this series sequentially in order to keep up with the various characters and plot references. Those who have made it through the other titles, however, will find the fifth novel to be a bit of a mixed bag. It is clear from the start that the author is intent upon changing things up in this novel, particularly where Kaylee’s romantic attachments are concerned. In the first few novels, Kaylee’s relationship with boyfriend and fellow bean sidhe Nash seemed to be infallible.  The fourth novel, My Soul to Steal, however, put a large crinkle in things with the addition of Nash’s devoted ex-girlfriend, Sabine, and his newfound addiction to demon’s breath. In If I Die, Nash seems to be even more of a loose cannon, setting the relationship into a tailspin, a tailspin that leads Kaylee to the comforting arms of Nash’s Reaper brother Tod. Whether Kaylee winds up with Nash or Tod is the primary focus of If I Die, and the final decision is sure to delight some and upset others. Overall, this fifth installment manages to shake up the series quite a bit. The ending seems a bit rushed, but, when all is said and done, the Soul Screamers has proven to be a delightful paranormal series for tween, teen and adult readers alike. Hopefully it will continue to be enjoyable in the sixth novel, Before I Wake, due to be released in July 2012.
Genre: Fiction/Horror/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Rest of the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent, Misfit by Jon Skovron.
Themes:  Bean sidhes (banshees), demons, netherworld, mythology/lore, romance, sibling relationships, death.
Awards/Reviews:  Fifth installment in well-reviewed series.  
Series Information: Fifth installment in Soul Screamers series. Other installments: My Soul to Take (Book 1), My Soul to Save (Book 2), My Soul to Keep (Book 3), My Soul to Steal (Book 4). Sixth installment, Before I Wake, to be released in July 2012.
Discussion questions:
- Why do you think Kaylee wasn’t that upset when she learned she was going to die? How would you feel if you were her?
- Would you want to stop Mr. Beck? Why or why not?
- Were you happy with who Kaylee chose to be with at the end of the novel? Why or why not?
- Which novel in the Soul Screamers series is your favorite? Why?
- Who is your favorite character in the Soul Screamers series? Why?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Waterfall: A Novel Book Review

Author: Lisa T. Bergren. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  David C. Cook. ISBN: 9781434764331.
Annotation:  After discovering a mysterious time portal in an ancient Etruscan tomb, seventeen-year-old Gabrielle finds herself transported back in time to 14th century Italy. Lost in the war-torn countryside, Gabrielle falls under the protection of Castello Forelli, one of two opposing sides of a civil war, and the handsome Marcello, a brave knight who is next-in-line to rule the Forelli lands.
Personal thoughts:  I love time travel, so I was really excited about reading this novel. Although I found it to be glaringly wholesome (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it was just very obvious), I did enjoy Waterfall. The story took a little time to really get moving, but once it did I was intrigued to find out what was going to happen with Gabi, Lia and Marcello. I’m looking forward to finishing the series by reading the next two novels, and am interested to see what else the author publishes in the future.  
Plot summary: Seventeen-year-old Gabrielle “Gabi” Betarrini and her fifteen-year-old sister Evangelia “Lia” are stuck working with their archaeologist mother in the Italian countryside for the summer. Bored out of their minds and finding no entertainment in the Etruscan ruins, Gabi and Lia decide one afternoon to explore a recently unearthed tomb. Upon entering the ancient shrine, Gabi and Lia discover two handprints etched into the stone wall: handprints that match their own perfectly and that are warm to the touch. After she and Lia both place their hands on the wall, Gabi finds herself alone in the tomb surrounded in darkness. Struggling to find the exit, Gabi emerges in the midst of a battle between two sets of medieval looking knights. After nearly getting killed herself, Gabi discovers that she has transported back in time to the 14th century. Her rescuers, knights of Castello Forelli, take her to their walled stronghold nearby, mistaking her for a noble woman from far away Normandy. Gabi is shaken by what has happened, but even more worried about Lia: both girls placed their hands on the wall of the tomb at the same time, but Lia is nowhere to be found. Determined to find her sister, Gabi finds herself distracted by the handsome Lord Marcello, heir to the throne of Castello Forelli. It seems that Gabi has landed smack in the middle of a conflict that has been brewing for decades between Castello Forelli and the neighboring Castello Paratore. Will Gabi be able to survive the bloody war, and the dashing good looks of Marcello, long enough to find Lia, and get back to her own time?
Review:  Veteran author Lisa T. Bergren begins a new series for young adults with Waterfall, one that includes time travel, romance, action, and lots of charm. Gabi and Lia’s story begins almost immediately with the author wasting little to no time thrusting the girls back into the 14th century Italian countryside. Although some of Gabi’s skills that are uncovered after travelling back in time, i.e. her ability to speak medieval Italian, her knowledge of fencing, and her healing abilities, are a little reminiscent of Mark Twain’s tongue-in-cheek A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, her adventures fighting alongside the knights of Castello Forelli ultimately prove entertaining. The religious aspects of the novel (Gabi seems to struggle with the constant religious references of the medieval Italians) do not go unnoticed, adding an interesting component to the story that is not overpowering. Overall, Waterfall is an enjoyable first installment in Bergren’s River of Time series. The second and third novels, Cascade and Torrent were also released in 2011.
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: Cascade and Torrent by Lisa T. Bergren.    
Themes:  Time travel, Italy, medieval times, sibling relationships, romance.
Awards/Reviews:  Written by award-winning author.
Series Information: First installment in River of Time series. Cascade and Torrent are sequels.  
Discussion questions: 
- Who were the Etruscans?
- Research 14th century Italy. What was life like in those times?
- Who was “the poet” that Gabi and Fortino were discussing? How are his works important in literary history?
- Why do you think that Lia travelled back in time after Gabi?
- Do you think it was right for the Forellis to torture the men who destroyed the manor? Why or why not?
- What would you like to see happen in the second and third novels in this series?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Snow in Summer: Fairest of Them All Book Review

 Author: Jane Yolen. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Philomel. ISBN: 9780399256639.
Annotation:  Snow-in-Summer Morton was seven when she lost her mother, and her father has been inconsolable ever since. After years of grieving, Summer’s father meets and quickly weds a mysterious woman who Summer can only call “Stepmama.” At first, Summer is hopeful that she will finally be able to have a normal family like in the fairy tales, but soon realizes that what she has gotten instead is a wicked Stepmother.
Personal thoughts:  I picked this novel up by chance after seeing that Jane Yolen was the author (I am very familiar with her books for younger children.) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this quiet but intriguing version of Snow White! One of my favorite parts of the novel was the setting. It is clear that Yolen has a passion for the area, it being the home of her husband’s family, and I thought that all of the local names for plants, customs of the people of Addison, and the time period were very charming. I would highly recommend this novel to tweens, teens, or adults. It is short but excellent!   
Plot summary: Snow-in-Summer Morton’s life changed forever at age seven when her mother died in childbirth, leaving her alone and her father, Lemuel, with a broken heart. Cousin Nancy, the widow of Summer’s father’s favorite cousin who was recently killed in World War II, helps to care for Summer after her father slips into a deep, dark grief unable to cope with the death of his beloved wife.  One day, four years later, now eleven-year old Summer is shocked when Lemuel returns with a mysterious but beautiful woman. Cousin Nancy and the rest of the townsfolk in Addison, West Virginia fear that Lemuel has become bewitched by the enchanting woman. When Lemuel quickly marries her, Summer hopes that she, her father and her new Stepmama will be able to form the family she’s longed for. As the years pass, however, Summer begins to realize that Stepmama is far from loving. Stepmama seems to have Lemuel in some kind of spell causing him to become withdrawn and unaware. In the meantime, Summer is subjected to abuse and eerie behavior at the hands of the woman, while Cousin Nancy can only look on in worry about her goddaughter. One day, Summer happens into Stepmama’s room where she encounters a strange mirror that seems to speak to her. The mirror warns of danger, danger that threatens to end in Summer’s death. Will Summer ever be able to escape the clutches of the woman that has appears to have bewitched the entire town and save her father’s life?
Review:  From award-winning author Jane Yolen comes this enchanting re-telling of the classic Snow White story set in 1940s Appalachia. The author is clearly a masterful storyteller as Snow in Summer flows easily and quickly from start to finish. Although it is relatively short, the characters are well-thought out and effective in allowing the reader to venture into the world of Addison, West Virginia. Yolen’s enthusiasm for the town, which she states in the beginning was the birthplace of her late husband’s family, is evident throughout the book. The rolling mountains, lush greens, and simple way of life all play an important role in setting the tone of the novel. Although Summer’s story is based on a very well-known tale, Yolen’s interpretations make for a fresh take on the classic. Summer’s creepy Stepmama as well as her kindly Cousin Nancy help narrate the plot, allowing the reader to see exactly what is going on inside the mind of the “wicked stepmother.” Overall, an excellent novel for tweens, teens or anyone who is a fan of Snow White or the American south.
Genre: Fairy Tale/Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: Sweetly and Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Entwined by Heather Dixon.   
Themes:  Snow White, fairy tales, West Virginia, 1940s, death, grief, stepmothers, magic, witches.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions: 
- How does Snow in Summer compare with the classic fairy tale Snow White written by the Brothers Grimm? How about the Disney movie version?
- Why was Lemuel unable to sing to the plants after his wife’s death? Do you think people change after someone they love dies? Why or why not?
- What do you think Stepmama was referring to when she said “the Craft”?
-  How did Summer’s knowledge of plants help her in the novel?
- Were you happy with the ending of the novel? Why or why not?