Monday, December 24, 2012

Ripper Book Review

Author: Amy Carol Reeves. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Flux. ISBN: 9780738730721.

PhotobucketAnnotation: After her mother’s death, seventeen-year-old Arabella “Abbie” Sharp leaves her home in Dublin to live with her wealthy grandmother, Lady Westfield, in the Kensington neighborhood of London. In an effort to get her granddaughter to appreciate her new life of privilege, Lady Westfield volunteers Abbie to work at the women’s hospital in Whitechapel. Abbie finds that she enjoys tending to the poverty stricken residents of the East End, but her new found love of medicine is cut short when Jack the Ripper begins terrorizing the dark streets surrounding the hospital.  

Personal thoughts: As I have said before, I am always ready to pounce on any novels that feature the brutal if intriguing Jack the Ripper case, so when I heard about Ripper I had to pick it up. I am also a fan of historical fiction, so I was able to enjoy Amy Carol Reeves’ story from both angles. Her knowledge and love of the time period is clear, and I definitely found some subtle and not-so-subtle references to classic novels that, hopefully, teen readers can pick up on as well. Although I found the supernatural components as well as the requisite love-triangle to somewhat detract from what I was really interested in, I think most teen readers will enjoy these aspects of the story, especially since so many young adult novels include them. I would easily recommend this book to a reader who wants historical fiction with a twist. I look forward to reading Renegade when it is released in 2013.

Plot summary: After her mother’s sudden death from dysentery, seventeen-year-old Arabella “Abbie” Sharp leaves the gritty streets of 1888 Dublin to live with her wealthy grandmother, Lady Westfield, in the well-to-do London neighborhood of Kensington. Before she was born, Lady Westfield disowned Abbie’s mother for eloping with a poor Frenchman, but now that Abbie has returned to her mother’s former privileged life, her grandmother is determined to ensure that Abbie doesn’t follow in her mother’s footsteps. In an effort to make her granddaughter appreciate her luxurious if dull new surroundings, Lady Westfield volunteers Abbie to work with family friend Dr. Bartlett at the women’s hospital in the impoverished Whitechapel neighborhood. Soon after beginning her work there, Abbie discovers a natural love of medicine and a genuine enjoyment of helping the poverty-stricken women of the East End. Her love of working in the hospital is brief, however, when Jack the Ripper begins his brutal killing spree, murdering women who were recently discharged from the hospital’s care. Like everyone, Abbie is terrified by the savage nature of the crimes, but she soon realizes that she and the Ripper have a connection: strange visions that show the Ripper’s victims just before their deaths. What is the link between Abbie, the Ripper and the Whitechapel Hospital, and can she discover it in time to save her own life?

Review: In her debut novel, author and 19th century British literature expert Amy Carol Reeves brings one of history’s most terrifying figures to life in Ripper. Although not the first young adult novel in recent years to feature Jack the Ripper, Abbie Sharp’s story is one of many layers in which the infamous murderer is just another component of a larger mystery. Abbie herself is a very likable character, trying to reconcile her new life of corsets and tea parties with the knife throwing skills and street smarts she picked up in Dublin. Her devotion and compassion for the patients she finds herself caring for at the Whitechapel Hospital is very believable, and will hopefully prompt readers to research more into what life was like for women living in poverty in the 19th century. Ripper fans will find some familiar faces, as Abbie meets and befriends several victims before they are brutally slain. The paranormal aspects of the story, from Abbie’s psychic visions to the increasingly obvious supernatural nature of the crimes, will also appeal to readers who want something more than just a simple historical fiction novel. As with all young adult novels, it seems, there is also a romance in the form of a love triangle between Abbie and two young physicians at the hospital. Since Ripper is the first book in a series, the love triangle will undoubtedly continue in the second installment, Renegade, which is set to be released in April 2013. Overall, Ripper proves to be an entertaining historical fiction novel that both Jack the Ripper fans and those not well acquainted with the killer can enjoy.

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Mystery

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber, Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury.

Themes:  Jack the Ripper, murder, mystery, conspiracy, secret societies, orphans, London, Victorian era.     

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

Series Information: First novel in Ripper series, second novel, Renegade, set to be released April 2013.       

Discussion questions:
-        Were you familiar with Jack the Ripper before reading the novel? What did you learn about him?

-        Why do you think Abbie has such a hard time adjusting to life in Kensington?

-         Would you want to work at the Whitechapel Hospital? Why or why not?

-       How would you explain Abbie’s visions?

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

-       What would you like to see happen in the sequel, Renegade?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Spark Book Review

Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  St. Martin’s Griffin. ISBN: 9780312621353.

Annotation: After rescuing the girls who were kidnapped and returning to the Empyrean, Waverly finds herself at odds with her former fiancée, Kieran. Desperate to keep the ship and its inhabitants under control so they can retrieve their parents from the New Horizon, Kieran is struggling to maintain his authority in a ship now crewed by teenagers. To make matters worse, a terrorist seems to be making every effort to sabotage the Empyrean, and Kieran suspects the fault lies with Seth, who is not imprisoned in the brig for his attempted mutiny.

Personal thoughts: I liked the first novel in this series, Glow, but after reading Spark, I can now safely say that I am a real Sky Chasers fan. I really like the author’s pacing and find that it makes the story flow smoothly enough that I would be able to recommend the series to a more reluctant teen reader. The plot is also developed enough, however, for it to be thought-provoking and enjoyable for readers who want a story with a little more meat. I applaud Amy Kathleen Ryan for writing a sequel that is as good, if not better, than the first novel, and I can’t wait to read Flame when it is released in June.

Plot summary: She almost lost her life trying to rescue the girls who were kidnapped and taken aboard the New Horizon, but Waverly Marshall finds a less than welcome homecoming after their shuttle returns to the Empyrean. Desperate to get their parents back from the clutches of the New Horizon’s charismatic leader, Anne Mather, those who are left alive on the Empyrean blame both Waverly and Kieran, who is still acting captain, for their inability to catch up with their sister ship. Seth, who tried and failed to stage a mutiny against Kieran, finds himself locked in the brig, struggling to maintain his sanity as he thinks about all those who were lost during the New Horizon’s attack. Soon after Waverly the other girls’ return to the Empyrean, however, acts of sabotage begin to happen around the ship. Seth finds himself inexplicably released from the brig, his cell door unlocked and the guards knocked out. Kieran suspects that Seth himself is the terrorist wreaking havoc, and Seth, now in hiding onboard the ship, is determined to prove that the saboteur is actually a stowaway from the New Horizon. As dissent and distrust grows on the Empyrean, will Waverly, Kieran and Seth survive long enough to see the rescue of their parents and the end of their mission to reach New Earth?

Review: The effective writing, breakneck packing, and intriguing twists and turns of the Sky Chasers series are as apparent as ever in Spark, the sequel to Amy Kathleen Ryan’s 2011 novel Glow. One of the most enjoyable parts of Glow was that the action began very early on in the story, and continued pretty much without pause throughout the book. The same is true for Spark, which picks up right where the first novel left off. Although romance wasn’t a huge part of the author’s first installment in this series, it is virtually gone in the sequel, making this novel an ideal selection for readers (especially guys) who want to stick with pure action, adventure and science-fiction. The plot twists and turns, leaving the reader guessing about what will happen next. The author does an excellent job of furthering the development of the characters she introduced in Glow, with them growing and adapting as the horrible circumstances they are facing continue to change. Waverly, the somewhat doe-eyed girl who was in love with Kieran at the beginning of the first novel, is now hardened and at odds with her former fiancée. Kieran is becoming increasingly paranoid following the near mutiny staged by Seth in Glow, fearing that the crew and inhabitants left onboard the Empyrean are plotting against him. Seth has also shifted from a brutish bully to a more sympathetic character, out to restore his good name and save the ship from the plots of the terrorist that is now onboard. The book ends on quite a cliffhanger that is certain to leave readers eagerly anticipating the third novel, Flame, which is set to be released on June 4, 2013. Overall, a solid installment in a solid sci-fi series that both teens and adults can easily enjoy.

Genre:  Science-Fiction

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Across the Universe and A Million Suns by Beth Revis, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan.  

Themes:  Space travel, trust, loyalty, sabotage, religion, war.    

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Kirkus.       

Series Information: Second novel in Sky Chasers series. First novel, Glow (2011), third novel, Flame, set to be released June 4, 2013.   
Discussion questions:
-         Did you enjoy this novel more or less than Glow? Why?

-       Why do you think Waverly was so conflicted about rescuing the girls from the New Horizon?

-       Do you think Kieran was paranoid following the near mutiny by Seth and his followers? Why or why not?

-        Do you think Seth is a protagonist or antagonist?

-         Do you think Kieran is the best person to be captain of the Empyrean? Why or why not?

-        Who do you agree with on the subject of torturing prisoners: Kieran or Waverly? Why?

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

Monday, December 10, 2012

Library Lady Hylary's Best Books of 2012

2012 is coming to a close, and it's time again to crown my favorite books of the year! Although I have only read just some of the many great books available for teens and tweens, these are the ones I read this year that really stand out. Please click on the various titles to see my reviews of each novel. Enjoy!

Best Horror Novel: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Best Fantasy Novel: Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Best Dystopian Novel: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Best Historical Fiction Novel: Blue Thread by Ruth Tenzer Feldman

Best Romance Novel: Tiger's Destiny by Colleen Houck

Best Science-Fiction Novel: Starters by Lissa Price

Best Paranormal Novel: Croak by Gina Damino

Best Spin-Off/Retelling Novel: Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

Best Book of 2012: A Million Suns by Beth Revis

Grave Mercy Book Review

Author: Robin LaFevers. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. ISBN: 9780547628349.

Annotation: After narrowly escaping an abusive marriage she was forced into, seventeen-year-old Ismae is taken to the Convent of Saint Mortain where she is initiated as a daughter of the god of Death and trained as an assassin. After three years of living in the convent, Ismae is sent to the high court of Brittany to uncover a plot to overthrow the young duchess. Posing as the mistress of the duchess’ older brother, Gavriel Duval, Ismae learns that her training in the convent has not prepared her for the treachery that is part of life in the royal court.

Personal thoughts: I love historical fiction, so I was excited to read that Grave Mercy combines the genre with the paranormal and romance. Although I thought the book was a little long (I know plenty of teens I would try to recommend it to would blanch when seeing its thickness), I did enjoy the story quite a bit. I only knew a little bit about Brittany prior to picking it up, and it inspired me to learn more, something that it is likely to do for young adult readers as well. I also found Ismae to be a very likable character, and enjoyed seeing her walls come down as she began to have feelings for Gavriel. Like I said, some chapters did get to be a bit wordy and some of the subplots could have been eliminated as well, but overall I think this a good choice for a teen reader who wants a mix of history and fantasy. I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Plot summary: Raised by an abusive father and shunned by her village for a large, unsightly birthmark on her back, Ismae Rienne’s life in late 15th-century Brittany has never been easy. After her father forces her into a marriage with a wealthy man in the village, Ismae hopes that her life has taken a turn for the better, only to soon find out that her new husband is just as abusive as her father, savagely beating her on their wedding night. Ismae’s prayers are finally answered, however, when a local priest smuggles her out of the village and takes her to the Convent of Saint Mortain. There Ismae learns that her birthmark is actually a sign that she is a daughter of Saint Mortain, the god of Death, and destined to live in the convent with dozens of other girls, training to become a deadly assassin. Ismae spends three years in the convent before she is charged by the reverend mother to travel to the high court of Brittany to pose as the mistress of the mysterious and handsome Gavriel Duval, brother of the young duchess who is set to rule the country. Duval, along with the reverend mother and one of the duchess’ closest advisors, Chancellor Crunard, fear that traitors are living at court, plotting with the French to overthrow the duchess. The reverend mother and Crunard both fear that Duval might be the one to blame, and it is up to Ismae to determine who is committing treason and, thus, deserves the wrath of Saint Mortain. Soon after arriving at court, however, Ismae realizes that her training at the convent has not prepared her for the treachery that abounds under the duchess’ roof. Ismae can trust no one, even Gavriel, who she finds herself developing feelings for. Can a handmaiden of death truly hope to save a country amidst a sea of traitors?

Review: From veteran author Robin LaFevers comes this epically scaled novel set in 15th century Britanny. The story revolves around seventeen-year-old Ismae Rienne, an assassin trained in the fictitious Convent of Saint Mortain. Several characters in the novel, however, are based on real people, particularly Anne Duchess of Brittany. Readers who are not familiar with Brittany, the small kingdom that became a province of France in 1532, will learn quite a bit about the intricacies involved in the country trying to remain autonomous despite threats from its much larger and more powerful neighbors. The author does a good job of tying the more historical aspects of the novel into Ismae’s story which is more along the lines of what one would expect from a young adult novel. Ismae is a typical teen heroine with a bonus: she is a deadly assassin trained by even deadlier nuns in service to Saint Mortain. There are some paranormal components of the novel, but the majority of the story surrounds the high court of Brittany and, more importantly, Ismae’s relationship with the troubled but kind Gavriel Duval. The book is quite lengthy at almost 550 pages, but this gives the author plenty of time to develop the characters and story, making it likely that readers will want to pick up the sequel, Dark Triumph, which is set to be released April 2, 2013.

Genre:  Historical-Fiction

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay by Alex Epstein, The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal, Gilt by Katherine Longshore, Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren.
Themes:  Assassins, death, convents, royalty, medieval times, treason, conspiracy, Brittany, love, duty, loyalty.

Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from Booklist, positive reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.     

Series Information: First book in His Fair Assassin series.  

Discussion questions:

-       Why do you think her scar caused the village to shun Ismae? Do you think people still shun those who have physical deformities or handicaps? Why or why not?

If you were given the opportunity, would you want to train with the nuns of the Convent of Saint Mortain?

How would you describe the marque of Mortain? What do you think it is? What does it mean?

Why do you think Ismae has such a hard time trusting Gavriel at first? What do you think changes her mind?

Were you surprised to learn the identity of the traitor at court? Why or why not?

The sequel to this novel, Dark Triumph, is about Sybella and her story. What would you like to see happen in this book?

Monday, November 26, 2012

I Hunt Killers Book Review

Author: Barry Lyga. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780316125840.

Annotation: As the only son of one of the world’s most notorious serial killers, Jasper Dent has always been worried that he will follow in his father’s footsteps. Determined to make sure that doesn’t happen, however, Jasper uses the “skills” he learned from his father to try and help solve a recent string of grisly murders in his home town.
Personal thoughts: One of my favorite shows on TV is Dexter, the story of a serial killer who only targets other murderers, so when I read about I Hunt Killers, I was immediately intrigued. The story does have some similarities to the popular Showtime series, but is also creative and unique in its own right. I really love reading young adult novels by male authors, especially when the leading character is also a male. Jazz is very believably and well-written, and I found myself genuinely caring about his inner struggle with his gruesome past as well as his relationships with the people in his life. I did get pretty creeped out at several points in the novel (particularly in one scene involving the family dog…eek!), but I had trouble putting the book down despite these trepidations. I’m really looking forward to seeing where Barry Lyga takes this series and would recommend it to mature teen readers, particularly guys, who want something edgy and entertaining.

Plot summary: Four years ago the world discovered the truth about Jasper “Jazz” Dent’s father, Billy: he was a sociopathic serial killer who had murdered over 120 innocent people in his career. Growing up, Jazz never understood that the “lessons” his father gave him on a daily basis were anything but normal: how to dismember a body, how to avoid leaving evidence, how to choose your victim. Once Billy Dent was caught, however, and the world came to know him as the son of a monster, Jazz began to wonder if his dad had accomplished his goal and groomed him to become a serial killer himself. Now Jazz is seventeen and still living in the small town Lobo’s Nod with his grandma. Jazz is determined to avoid following in his father’s footsteps, so when a string of bizarre murders take place, Jazz decides to use the “talents” his father gave him to help the local sheriff’s office solve the case. Together with his best friend, Howie, and his girlfriend, Connie, Jazz tries to put himself in the killer’s shoes: piecing together who the victims were and why they were chosen. As Jazz becomes more immersed in the case, however, terrifying memories from his childhood begin to resurface, memories that he had locked away, making him realize he might not be so different from his father after all.

Review: Gruesome, creepy but strangely entertaining, this first novel in a new series for teens by veteran author Barry Lyga proves to be as disturbing as it is enjoyable. Squeamish readers be warned: the subject matter of this book is not for the faint of heart. Jazz is the son of a serial killer, one who raped, tortured and brutally murdered his victims in a very sadistic fashion. A lot of the grisly details of these crimes, and more, are included in the story, making it appropriate for a high school audience, but not recommended for younger teens or tweens. In fact, much of the novel is more suitable for a mature reader, from Jazz’s internal struggle over the similarities he observes between himself and his father to the new string of murders that he takes it upon himself to help solve. Jazz might still be in high school, but adults can easily enjoy his efforts to come to terms with his past and the methods he uses to unravel the crimes of a serial killer other than his father. The book is very well-written, with a great deal of character development put into Jazz, his best friend, Howie, girlfriend, Connie, and “dear old dad,” Billy. The story ends on a cliffhanger and is intriguing enough that readers who enjoyed I Hunt Killers will definitely be yearning for the sequel, Game, which is set to be released on April 23, 2013.

Genre:  Fiction

Reading level: Grade 9+

Similar titles: Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay, Rotters by Daniel Kraus, The Sleepwalkers by J. Gabriel Gates.

Themes:  Serial killers, murder, death, father/son relationships, mystery.

Awards/Reviews:  Top Ten Indie Next List pick, positive reviews from authors Joe Hill, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.    

Series Information: First book in Jasper Dent series.

Discussion questions:
-        Do you think that Jasper is a sociopath like his father? Why or why not?-        Why do you think Howie has remained a friend to Jasper for such a long time?-      What do you think was the significance of the severed fingers?-        Why do you think G. William didn’t want to believe the murders were being committed by a serial killer?-       What do you think was the motive of the Impressionist?-         What would you like to see happen in the sequel?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Struck Book Review

 Author: Jennifer Bosworth. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN: 9780374372835.

Annotation: After a devastating earthquake destroys Los Angeles, seventeen-year-old Mia Price is struggling to live in a world that is falling apart. Her only solace lies in her unlikely addiction: being struck by lightning.  

Personal thoughts: I love dystopian novels so I was pumped to read this one since I thought the lightning was a nice twist. Unfortunately, it didn’t really live up to my expectations. I found it to be too jumbled and wasn’t sure what kind of direction it was going in. I really wish the author had focused more on one main concept because I think she would have created a really awesome story had that been the case. I do think she has some interesting ideas, however, and look forward to seeing what she comes up with in the future. Hopefully she can improve and write something truly outstanding.

Plot summary: Seventeen-year-old Mia Price has tried for years to hide her darkest secret from the outside world. While most girls her age are interested in boys or music, Mia is addicted to lightning. Mia has been struck dozens of times, so much, in fact, that her body is covered with red veins that snake around like a lightning bolt. She doesn’t know why or how, but she seems to attract lightning, and can even feel a storm coming like tingles on her skin. After her abilities inadvertently cause her to seriously injure one of her friends, Mia, her mother and brother, Parker, leave their home in Lake Havasu, Arizona and move to Los Angeles to start over. Mia’s plans for a new life are put on hold, however, after a devastating earthquake, accompanied by a powerful lightning storm, destroy the city. Most of Los Angeles is killed, the rest displaced into a strange Tent City on the beaches. Those who were lucky enough not to lose their homes in the earthquake are left to fend for themselves as supplies of water and food run short. To make matters worse, a mysterious religious figure known as Rance Ridley Prophet, who accurately predicted the coming of the storm and earthquake days before it happened, has taken hold of much of the city’s survivors. Preaching that God is punishing Earth for its sins, Prophet’s Followers, clad all in white, roam the city like a church militia, trying to recruit anyone and everyone to their fold. Opposing Prophet are the Seekers, a group determined to show the Followers that their leader is a con-artist who is using the disaster to gain power. Not interested in taking sides, Mia soon finds herself in the middle of the conflict between the Followers and the Seekers, both seeming to know about her abilities and wanting to use them to their advantage.

Review: Fans of dystopian literature are sure to be interested when reading the description of Struck, the first novel in a new series by author Jennifer Bosworth. The idea of someone not only getting struck by lightning, but surviving and eventually becoming addicted to it is very intriguing. Unfortunately, however, Struck suffers from a common problem that plagues many young adult novels: too many ideas in one book. Individually, each of the concepts in the novel would make for a great story: post-apocalyptic Los Angeles destroyed by an earthquake started by lightning, a war between a religious leader and his followers and those who oppose him, a girl who is addicted to getting struck by lightning. Put together, however, the novel feels a little schizophrenic. Mia is a somewhat likable protagonist, wanting to protect her mother and brother at all costs. What is frustrating about her character, and as a result much of the book, is that the reason behind her ability to be struck by lightning and her subsequent addiction to it is never explained. Most of the time when someone is struck, they are seriously injured or killed, so why is Mia able to be struck over and over again without dying? If the significance of the lightning addiction as a genetic abnormality, paranormal ability, etc. was explained, the novel would have likely made more sense. The conclusion of the story as well feels very rushed and unresolved, but hopefully the author will be explain to expand on the events that occur and more in the sequel. With so many dystopian novels available for teens, Struck, unfortunately does not stand out enough to be easy to recommend.

Genre:  Science-Fiction

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Eve by Anna Carey, Legend by Marie Lu, Partials by Dan Wells, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, Starters by Lissa Price, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. 

Themes:  Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, lightning, religion, prophesies, family, romance.

Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Horn Book, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.   

Series Information: First book in Struck series.   

Discussion questions:
-         How would you describe the Spark?-      Explain Prophet and his control over his Followers. Was he a truly religious man? Do you think people like him exist in our world?-       Why do you think Mia was apprehensive about joining both the Followers and the Seekers?-    Were you surprised to learn the truth about Jeremy? Why or why not?-        What was the significance of Tarot Cards in the novel?-       What would you like to see happen in the sequel?

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Book of Blood and Shadow Book Review

Author: Robin Wasserman. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Knopf Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780375868764.

Annotation: As part of a senior project, Nora Kane and her best friend Chris are working with the eccentric Professor Hoffpauer to decipher a centuries old manuscript written in code. After Chris is murdered, however, Nora realizes that the book has begun a dangerous series of events and finds herself in Prague, on the run from an ancient society and looking for the truth about a mysterious device known as the Lumen Dei.
Personal thoughts: I am a big fan of stories like The DaVinci Code that offer a mix of mystery, adventure and history, so I found a lot to enjoy in The Book of Blood and Shadow. The twists and turns in Nora’s quest to discover the truth about the Lumen Dei always kept me on my toes, and I found myself genuinely surprised by some of the events in the story. I did find the novel to be a bit complicated at times and it had a slow start, so I would recommend it to readers who aren’t discouraged if the action doesn’t happen on the first page. For teens who want something that is going to make them think and keep them on the edge of their seat, however, this is easy to recommend!
Plot summary: After the death of her older brother years earlier, seventeen-year-old Nora Kane didn’t think she’d ever be able to be close with anyone again. After a scholarship lands her at the exclusive Chapman Prep, however, she meets Chris Moore and his girlfriend Adriane Ames, and the trio soon becomes inseparable. At the beginning of Nora’s senior year, and Chris’ first year at a local university, Nora is invited to do a special project and, along with Chris and his roommate Max, assist the eccentric Professor Hoffpauer in deciphering a centuries old book written in a mysterious code. Nora’s job is to translate the letters of Elizabeth Weston, a woman who lived in Prague at the end of the 16th century whose father was thought to have cracked the book’s code. As they spend more and more time together, Nora finds herself falling for the soft spoken Max and, for the first time since her brother’s death, she is happy. Everything changes, however, when Chris is brutally murdered. Adriane, who witnesses the murder, is catatonic and Max, who the police suspect killed Chris, is nowhere to be found. Nora soon realizes that it is the book, and the information it contains, that have caused her and her friends to be drawn into a dangerous conflict that has been raging for centuries. Determined to discover the truth about the book and save Max, Nora finds herself in Prague, on the hunt for answers about a mysterious machine known as the Lumen Dei and the ancient society that will stop at nothing to protect it.
Review: Fans of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code or films like National Treasure or Indiana Jones will find much to enjoy in veteran author Robin Wasserman’s latest novel, The Book of Blood and Shadow. Although it is complicated and the plot takes a bit of time to really get moving, readers who are willing to stick with the book will discover a story full of twists and turns that combines adventure, danger, religion and history. What makes The Book of Blood and Shadow more complex that most novels for young adults, but ultimately rewarding, is that the author devotes some serious time into developing the characters. Nora in particular is very fleshed out with a great deal of attention given to the backstory of her brother’s death. Her friends are also written with a lot of detail, making it all the more intriguing when the story shifts and Nora begins to discover that what she thought she knew about them might not be true. The historical and geographical aspects of the novel are also well-written, and readers can expect to learn quite a bit about the city of Prague. It is difficult to describe the events of the plot without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that the story keeps the reader guessing at every turn. A good choice for teen readers who want something full of adventure.
Genre:  Fiction/Mystery
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: The DaVinci Code novels by Dan Brown.
Themes:  Mystery, secret societies, Prague, danger, friendship, loss, betrayal.   
Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from Publishers Weekly, positive reviews from Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine  
Series Information: N/A  
Discussion questions:
-         How did the death of Nora’s older brother impact the events of the story?

-        Do you think Nora felt a connection with Elizabeth Weston? Is it possible to have a friendship or understanding with someone from the past? Why or why not?

-       Should Nora have taken Elizabeth’s letter?

-       Was going to Prague the right thing to do?

-        What was the biggest surprise or plot twist for you while reading the novel?

-        Did you learn anything about Prague and its history by reading the novel?




Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses Book Review

 Author: Ron Koertge. Illustrator: Andrea Dezsö. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Candlewick. ISBN: 9780763644062.

Annotation: This short collection of free verse poems  and creepy illustrations features macabre retellings of classic fairy tales from “Hansel and Gretel” to “Rumpelstiltskin.”
Personal thoughts: I am a fan of fairytale retellings, so when I heard about this creepy collection, and saw the very grim cover, I made sure to pick it up. Although I did enjoy the book, I found myself thinking as I was reading it, “Wow. This isn’t really for teens.” A lot of the stories are based on more obscure fairy tales, there is definitely some very adult language and imagery in them, and a lot of the humor and irony is very subtle. That’s not to say that I don’t think many teen readers would be able to understand the poems, they just seem to me that they would appeal much more to an adult audience. I would have trouble recommending this collection to teens who are simply interested in reading fairy tale retellings, as I feel there are many more appropriate and enjoyable books for the age group. To older teens and adults who want a taste of the macabre, however, I would suggest giving this one a try.  
Plot summary: Written in free verse, this macabre collection of poems and creepy illustrations includes twenty-three retellings of classic fairy tales. Featured tales range from “Cinderella,” told from the perspective of the stepsisters, “Hansel and Gretel,” who want revenge against the father that allowed them to be abandoned in the woods, and a monologue from “Red Riding Hood” who is relaying what happened to her mother once she is home safe from Grandma’s house.  
Review: Seasoned young adult author and poet Ron Koertge delivers a chilling set of retold fairy tales in Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses. The collection is brief and can easily be read in one sitting, although many readers might want to go through some of the chapters twice so as not to miss any gruesome details. In terms of enjoyment, some of the tales fare better than others. Although the book is marketed for the young adult audience, only some of Koertge’s retellings will appeal to teen readers. Teens will likely enjoy tales like “Red Riding Hood, Home at Last, Tells Her Mother What Happened,” “Hansel and Gretel,”  and “Memoirs of the Beast,” all grim but witty retellings of stories that younger readers will undoubtedly be familiar with. Other chapters, such as “Godfather Death,” “The Little Match Girl” and “The Robber Bridegroom” are taken from tales that aren’t as well-known, and are far more grisly, making them less likely to resonate with the young adult audience. In fact, when factors like language, characterization and imagery are taken into account, this collection seems more appropriate for an adult audience. At most, it will entertain very sophisticated teen readers who will understand all the nuances in each retelling and be familiar with the original tales they are derived from. Overall, Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses is an enjoyable and entertaining journey into the creepiness of fairy tales, but one that is likely to appeal more to adults than to teens.
Genre:  Short Stories/Poetry
Reading level: Grade 9+
Similar titles: Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross, Sweetly and Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain Vol. 1 by Nora Thompson, A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.   
Themes:  Fairy tales, poetry, macabre, irony, humor.   
Awards/Reviews:  Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and The Horn Book, positive review from School Library Journal.
Series Information: N/A  
Discussion questions:
-        What is your favorite chapter in this collection? Why?

-       Were there any fairy tales featured in this collection that you weren’t familiar with? Which ones?

-        Do you think that the illustrations enhance the collection? Why or why not?

-         The author describes this collection as being written in “free verse.” What is free verse? Have you ever read anything else in this style of writing?

-        If you had to create your own creepy retelling of a classic fairy tale, which story would you choose?




Gilt Book Review

Author: Katherine Longshore. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Viking Juvenile. ISBN: 9780670013999.

Annotation: In 1539 England, Katherine “Kitty” Tylney lives in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household, along with many other young women but, most importantly, her best friend, the beautiful and popular Catherine “Cat” Howard. After Cat is sent to live in the royal court and catches the eye of King Henry VIII, however, how will their friendship survive as Cat seems more and more destined to become the next Queen of England?
Personal thoughts: I love all things related to Henry VIII and his six wives (I’ve read bunches novels on the subject, watched every episode of The Tudors, have seen all the movies…I’m a hardcore fan!) When I saw that a young adult novel had been published about the life of Catherine Howard, I was very excited and, not surprisingly, enjoyed reading Gilt quite a bit. I’ve always thought that Catherine Howard’s story would make a great novel for teens because she herself was a teenager, thrust into a royal life with little education or knowledge of what to expect. I liked reading from Kitty’s perspective, especially since it gave the opportunity to portray Catherine as a 1539 version of Regina George. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the series and am happy that Katherine Longshore is re-telling this exciting period of history for the young adult audience.
Plot summary: In 1539 England, Katherine “Kitty” Tylney and her best friend Catherine “Cat” Howard live together, along with dozens of other young ladies, in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Forgotten by their poor but aristocratic families, Kitty and Cat and the rest of the girls spend their time flirting with the male servants of the household. Cat, the most vivacious and popular of the girls, rules over the maidens’ chamber, deciding who does what, who is in favor, and who is to be shunned. Even though she is awkward, shy, and not nearly as beautiful and bewitching as Cat, Kitty enjoys a certain level of social protection in the maidens’ chamber as Cat’s closest friend and confidante. Everything changes, however, when the Duke of Norfolk decides to send Cat to live in the royal court as a maid servant to Anne of Cleves, King Henry VII’s latest wife. Kitty and the rest of the ladies mourn the loss of their leader, and life quiets down in the household of the Dowager Duchess until Cat writes to invite Kitty and two other ladies, Joan and Alice, to join her at court. It seems that King Henry has fallen under Cat’s spell, and is intent upon marrying her. As the best friend of the Queen, Kitty is suddenly thrust into a life of fancy gowns, parties and men. But no secret is safe in the court of Henry VIII, and idle gossip can lead to a date with the executioner. Will Kitty be able to survive a life in service to a Queen like Cat, or is she destined to fall like so many in King Henry’s court?
Review: The story of Catherine Howard, the young, beautiful, bubbly and ultimately ill-fated fifth wife of King Henry VIII has been retold by countless authors over the years. In Gilt, however, author Katherine Longshore has successfully adapted the history into a novel for young adults, something that is actually quite fitting considering that Catherine herself was only a teenager when she became Queen. The author portrays Cat as something of a “mean girl.” Popular, charismatic and charming, Cat rules over the other girls in the household of the Dowager Duchess like a high school queen bee. Although Kitty is considered by all to be Cat’s best friend, it is clear from the start that their friendship is not equitable. Kitty is at the mercy of her friend, and it seems that their relationship is strongest when Kitty does Cat’s bidding, regardless of what danger it puts her in. Many readers will be able to identify with this, especially those who have had experiences with friends like Cat who seem to use friendships for their own gain. After Cat goes to court and eventually wins the heart of the King, the relationship between Kitty and her best friend becomes even more strained. The novel is an excellent jumping off point to spark interest in this time period for young adult readers. The author does a good job of relaying the history while making the story intriguing and relatable for teens. Gilt is the first in a series of books about life in Henry VIII’s court. The second novel, Tarnish, takes place twenty years before the events of Gilt and is set to be released in June 2013.
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory, The King’s Rose by Alisa M. Libby, The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn.  
Themes:  Catherine Howard, the Tudors, King Henry VIII, England, royalty, friendship, secrets.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Booklist, Kirkus and VOYA.  
Series Information: First novel in The Royal Circle series. Second novel, Tarnish, set to be released June 2013.  
Discussion questions:
-         What did you know about Catherine Howard and King Henry VIII before reading Gilt? Did reading the novel make you want to learn more?

-       Do you think Cat was a true friend to Kitty? Why or why not?

-       Why do you think Kitty couldn’t bring herself to tell anyone about what she saw in the woods?

-       Do you think it was a good idea for Kitty to come to court?

-      Why do you think Cat insisted upon having a romance with Thomas Culpepper? Do you think Kitty did the right thing in helping them meet?

-        What do you think lies ahead for Kitty at the end of the novel? What do you hope happens to her?