Monday, April 30, 2012

The Magdalena Curse Book Review

Author: F.G. Cottam. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN: 9780312643256.

Annotation: A covert military operation in the Bolivian rainforest lead to former Colonel Mark Hunter encountering a beautiful but evil sorceress who cursed his offspring to commune with the dead.  Now, fifteen years later, his ten-year-old son, Adam, is possessed with the spirits of the departed, and Hunter must discover a way to end the curse and save his son’s life.
Personal thoughts: I really enjoy F.G. Cottam’s novels, and The Magdalena Curse was no different. His writing style and ability to create suspense and mystery is excellent. I was really intrigued by each of the characters in the book, and found it really difficult to put down, wanting to learn their fates. I always like Cottam’s inclusion of historical or cultural references and how they tie into the story so well. I can’t wait to read his next novel once it is published in the United States. F.G. Cottam definitely ranks high among authors I would recommend to older teens or adults who want an entertaining and spooky read!   
Plot summary: Fifteen years earlier, Colonel Mark Hunter was a newlywed sent on a covert mission from his London home to the rainforests of Bolivia. Expecting to uncover and destroy a drug trafficking facility, what he and his comrades actually discovered in the jungle was something far more sinister. An evil sorceress protected by an army of undead soldiers murdered his fellow soldiers, and cursed Hunter, promising that his offspring would commune with the dead. Now, Mark is retired and living in Scotland with his ten-year-old son Adam, his wife and daughter recently killed in an accident. Adam is an exceptionally bright child, but has recently become afflicted with terrifying nightmares. Although he knows in his heart that his son his possessed as a result of the curse, Mark calls upon local doctor, Elizabeth Bancroft, to try to determine if there is a medical cause of Adam’s illness. Elizabeth is no stranger to the idea of curses, having come from a family long associated with witchcraft. Elizabeth herself doesn’t believe in magic, but the more she learns about Adam, the more she is convinced that there is something truly evil at work. Determined to save his son, Mark searches for a way to end the curse. In trying to find a cure, however, Mark begins to uncover the truth about what is afflicting Adam, and how his presence in Bolivia fifteen years earlier was no accident at all.
Review: Always creating an intriguing mixture of historical fact and fiction, veteran author F.G. Cottam offers up yet another nail-biting novel in the same vein as his previous two works, The House of Lost Souls and Dark Echo. Cottam’s novels usually contain more than a little macabre details, and The Magdalena Curse is no different. Although somewhat toned down from his other two works, some of the grisly details make this novel appropriate only for the older teen and adult audience. For readers who want something spooky and suspenseful, however, this, like Cottam’s other novels, is an excellent choice. The details of what exactly is transpiring in The Magdalena Curse take awhile to unravel. Is Adam possessed? If he is, who or what is possessing him? How can the entity be stopped? These are all questions that the reader journeys through, all with an edge-of-the-seat quality that makes the novel difficult to put down. Cottam’s mixture of historic references makes the story even more intriguing, especially in generating interest in learning more about various locations, poets and songs. Overall, The Magdalena Curse is a scary and entertaining novel that fans of suspense are sure to enjoy.  
Genre: Fiction/Horror
Reading level: Grade 10+
Similar titles: The House of Lost Souls and Dark Echo by F.G. Cottam.
Themes:  Possession, witches, curses, the occult, wolves.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from The Times, Saga and Good Book Guide 
Series Information: N/A   
Discussion questions:
-     What do you think Miss Hall and Mrs. Mallory were doing in Bolivia?

-     How do you think Lillian Hunter and Elizabeth Bancroft were connected?

-     Why do you think Mrs. Mallory was fixated on Adam?

-     What do you think Elizabeth accomplished at the end of the novel?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Beautiful Dark Book Review

Author: Jocelyn Davies. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780061990656.

Annotation: On her seventeenth-birthday, Skye Parker meets Asher and Devin. Cousins with a strange, turbulent relationship, Skye isn’t sure what to make of the pair or their presence in her small Colorado town. When she learns the truth of who they are and their role in her past, Skye’s once simple life is changed forever.
Personal thoughts: One of the most telling things for me about this novel was how the author describes herself as a lover of all things angsty on the book jacket. That is exactly the word I would choose to describe the overall tone of the novel: angsty. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, however. I think the right level of angst can make for a good story, and Jocelyn Davies does a good job of keeping the angst, for the most part, at a manageable and enjoyable level. I think the whole concept of the dark, bad boy vs. the clean-cut, good guy is a classic, and I liked how it was used in this novel. I thought the mix of romance and paranormal was well done, and I especially enjoyed the support characters and the attention the author put into developing them sufficiently. I would definitely recommend this book to Twilight fans and could see many 13 to 16-year-olds relishing Skye’s “dilemma” in having to choose between two chiseled hotties. I plan to read the sequel.  

Plot summary: On the night of her seventeenth-birthday, Skye Parker meets cousins Asher and Devin. New to her small Colorado town of River Springs, the two are complete opposites. Dark and wild, Asher is the more flirtatious of the pair, instantly charming all the girls at Skye’s high school. Fair and quiet, Devin is far more reserved, showing more than a little contempt for Asher’s boisterous personality. What’s far more strange, however, is how the two seem to be inexplicably interested in Skye. Since her parents were killed in a car accident on her sixth-birthday, Skye has lived a quiet life with her Aunt Jo, spending her free time with best friends Cassie and Dan, and competing on the ski team. She has never been one to draw the attention of a lot of guys, especially two handsome, mysterious ones like Asher and Devin. As Skye gets to know the cousins, however, she learns that their presence in River Springs, and their interest in her, is no accident. Who they are and the role they play in Skye’s past, and future, will change her life forever.
Review: Book editor turned author, Jocelyn Davies, delivers a healthy dose of romance, angst and adventure in A Beautiful Dark, the first novel in a new paranormal romance series for teens. Fans of Twilight are sure to relish this book, and the story seems to be tailor made to appeal to that target audience. As an editor for teen books, it is clear that the author knows what “works” in this genre, and the novel seems to have all the necessary elements: a beautiful but na├»ve heroine, a love triangle involving two sexy guys, the paranormal twist, and a sizable cliffhanger to keep readers longing for the sequel. There is very little new material in the novel, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Readers are sure to enjoy the dynamics between Asher and Devin, and how Skye finds herself falling for them both for different reasons. The Colorado setting is also interesting, giving the novel an icy, wintery tone. Skye’s friends, particularly Cassie, are also likable support characters, as is her loving adoptive mother, Jo. Overall, A Beautiful Dark doesn’t break through any walls, but does make for an entertaining read that many tweens and teens are certain to swoon over. The second installment in the series, A Fractured Light, is set to be released on September 25, 2012.
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer, The Carrier of the Mark by Leigh Fallon, Tiger’s Curse series by Colleen Houck, Forbidden by Syrie James & Ryan M. James.
Themes:  Angels, destiny, rebellion, orphans, love triangle, romance.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus and VOYA.
Series Information: First novel in Beautiful Dark series. Second installment, A Fractured Light, set to be released September 25, 2012.   
Discussion questions:
-       Why do you think birthdays are so difficult for Skye?

-      Who do you like better: Asher or Devin? Why?

-      Why do you think Skye is so important to both the Order and the Rebellion?

-    Do you think Skye is a good friend to Cassie? Ian? Dan? Why or why not?

-       Explain what you think happened in the final chapters of the novel. How do you think those events will play out in the sequel?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Shattered Souls Book Review

Author: Mary Lindsey. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Philomel. ISBN: 9780399256226.

Annotation: Lenzi Anderson is worried that she is suffering from schizophrenia, the disease that caused her father to commit suicide, when she begins hearing voices, begging and pleading with her to help them.  When Lenzi meets Alden Thomas, however, she learns that she is a Speaker, someone who communicates with the spirits of the dead and helps them cross-over.
Personal thoughts: Although overall I would say that I enjoyed this novel, there were definitely some parts of the story I loved and some parts I didn’t love. To begin with, I loved the setting. It was so evident how much the author loves her home state, and I really enjoyed learning more about Galveston in particular. I also liked the concept of Speakers and Protectors. Even though the idea of a “ghost whisperer” has appeared before, the mechanics behind Lenzi and Alden’s jobs was very clever. Now for the parts, or should I say part, I didn’t love: the fate of Lenzi’s boyfriend, Zak. Although I could tell he had his own demons (no pun intended), I really liked the character of Zak and how he refused to abandon Lenzi even when everyone else thought she was crazy. I liked Alden as well, but I was really irked when Lenzi tossed Zak aside like last week’s leftovers. It hampered my view of Lenzi, and made it hard for me to really root for her later on in the story. That being said, however, I will definitely still be looking forward to the second novel in this series. I think it has a lot of potential, and would recommend it to fans of paranormal romance.

Plot summary: Lenzi Anderson is about to celebrate her seventeenth birthday but she is far from excited. Her father is dead, having recently committed suicide after suffering from schizophrenia. Lenzi and her mother have just moved to Houston, and Lenzi doesn’t fit in with the other students at her stuck-up school. The only comfort in Lenzi’s life is her boyfriend, Zak. Zak hasn’t had an easy life himself, and he doesn’t mind that Lenzi is struggling to cope with everything in her life, even if it means numbing herself out on anxiety medication. Things get even more difficult for Lenzi, however, when she begins hearing voices. The voices beg and plead with her to help them, and Lenzi is worried that she is going to end up like her dad. Everything changes when Lenzi meets Alden Thomas. Like Lenzi, Alden is also seventeen and, even though they’ve just met, seems to know everything about Lenzi, including the reason why she’s hearing voices. Alden explains that Lenzi is a Speaker, and he, her Protector. For centuries, the two souls have been recycled into different lifetimes, always remembering who they are and what their purpose in life is: to help hindered spirits of the dead cross-over. As the Speaker, Lenzi can hear the spirits, and Alden’s role is to keep her safe and assist her in resolving the unfinished business of the Hindered. Something is different about Alden and Lenzi this time, however. In every previous life her name has been Rose, not Lenzi, and she has been gone for more than a century since her last death, an unusually long period of time. Also, Lenzi has no recollection of her previous lives or what it means to be a Speaker. Worst of all, Zak doesn’t understand the sudden appearance of Alden and his determination to be near Lenzi at all times. How will Lenzi manage her new-found role, her developing feelings for Alden and her relationship with Zak, all while learning how to help the spirits of the dead cross-over?

Review: From debut author and obviously enthusiastic Texan Mary Lindsey comes Shattered Souls, the first installment in a new paranormal romance series for teens. Fans of television shows such as The Ghost Whisperer and Medium will enjoy the premise of this series: Lenzi is a Speaker, someone who can speak to the dead, and her job, with the help of the conveniently handsome and intelligent Alden, is to help souls wrap-up unfinished business and guide them into “the light.” Although there are some religious implications to this notion (i.e. demons, malevolent spirits, exorcisms, etc.), Shattered Souls does not delve at all into the theology of what Lenzi, Alden, and the rest of the Intercessor Council does. This can either be a good or bad thing, depending on the viewpoint of the reader, but does mean that parents or teachers concerned with any religious or Biblical references beyond those mentioned above need not worry. The author’s love for Texas, particularly the Houston and Galveston area, is evident throughout the novel and plays a large role in the plot. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the story is Lenzi learning more about her past lives as “Rose,” and how the history of Texas played a part in her fate at various times. The relationship between Lenzi and Alden is also very sweet, with her falling easily for his puppy-dog infatuation with her. One thing that might stick out to readers, however, is how quickly Lenzi is able to shirk her relationship with Zak once Alden arrives on the scene. Although, in the context of the story, this turn of events does make some sense, teens will definitely pick up on how unfair Zak’s fate seems to be, as Lenzi abandons him for greener, more ghost-filled pastures. Despite this one area of shortcomings, however, Shattered Souls is an interesting story that will definitely appeal to fans of paranormal romance. The next novel, which has yet to be titled, is set to be released in 2014.

Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, Hereafter by Tara Hudson, After Obsession by Carrie Jones & Steven E. Wedel, Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent.
Themes:  Ghosts, crossing-over, psychic abilities, demons, reincarnation, love, Texas.  

Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.
Series Information: First novel in Souls series. Second novel (not yet titled) set to be released in 2014.  

Discussion questions:
-       Why do you think Lenzi was so worried about “ending up” like her father? Do you think that’s common when someone has a parent with a mental illness?

-       Do you think Zak was a good boyfriend for Lenzi? Why or why not?

-        Why do you think Lenzi had past-life amnesia?

-        If you found out you were a Speaker, would you be excited or scared? Why?

-      Why do you think Smith had such a vendetta against Lenzi?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Circus Galacticus Book Review

 Author: Deva Fagan. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Harcourt Children’s Books. ISBN: 9780547581361.

Annotation: Fifteen-year-old orphan Beatrix “Trix” Ling hates her life as an outcast, charity case at the prestigious Bleeker Academy for Girls. Tormented by the other students, all Trix can think about are her dreams of following in her parents’ footsteps as an astronomer. What Trix doesn’t realize is that her chance at exploring the stars is closer than she thinks when the mysterious and exciting Circus Galacticus comes to town.
Personal thoughts: This is one of those novels that I had in my pile of “to be read” for a long time. I hadn’t heard much about it so I wasn’t in a rush to pick it up. I am often very surprised by how the novels that don’t get as much attention are some of my favorites. Circus Galacticus is well-written and truly very easy to enjoy. Deva Fagan does a great job with adding the right amount of humor to the story while still managing to portray the more serious aspects of what Trix is going through below surface level. I was intrigued from almost the first chapter, and wish that I had read this novel sooner, as I ended up really liking it. I hope that the author decides to write a sequel. I would definitely read it right away if she does!  
Plot summary: Being an orphan and a charity case at the prestigious Bleeker Academy for Girls isn’t an easy life for fifteen-year-old Beatrix “Trix” Ling. Although she is a talented gymnast, Trix doesn’t feel like she fits in, constantly tormented by the other girls and looked down upon by cruel Headmistress Primwell. To make it through the dreary days, Trix dreams about following in her parents’ footsteps as an astronomer. Although they were killed in an accident when she was six, Trix still remembers the stories her mom and dad told her about the stars, and can’t wait until she can leave Bleeker Academy forever and begin studying the mysteries of the universe. What Trix doesn’t realize is that she is about to leave Bleeker, and Earth, for good. As part of a school fieldtrip, Trix and the other stuck-up Bleeker girls go to see the Circus Galacticus: a mysterious and exciting show held under in a large and beautiful Big Top.  While exploring the tent, and attempting to avoid Primwell, Trix discovers the truth about the circus: the performers are actually from other worlds, all across the universe, and the Big Top is their spaceship. Trix meets the charismatic and charming Ringmaster who invites her to join the rest of the troupe, leaving her humdrum life on Earth forever. Trix is ecstatic, but doesn’t realize that there is more to her life on the Big Top than cotton candy and circus acts. A dangerous presence in the universe is after her, and she must determine why before it is too late.
Review: Set in a universe that is easily traversed via wormhole, where Earth is in a “boondock galaxy” and a strict government controls how all of the inhabitants look and act, Circus Galacticus, written by veteran author Deva Fagan, delivers a likable protagonist, interesting cast of characters, and original story that is entertaining and enjoyable for tween and teen sci-fi fans. The beginning of the novel introduces a premise that is somewhat common: Trix is an orphan who doesn’t fit in and longs for the life she had with her parents. After the first two chapters, however, the story goes in a very unique direction. The author does an excellent job of world building: describing in vivid detail the Big Top and its inhabitants and allowing the reader to experience the excitement of what they hold with Trix. There is also some interesting mythology that goes along with the universe that Trix discovers, including a centuries old conflict between two opposing powers, the key to which appears to lie in Trix’s past. Although a sequel has yet to be announced, Fagan definitely leaves the story open to at least one more novel. Hopefully Circus Galacticus is the first in a series, as it holds the potential of being something very unique and enjoyable for tween, teen and adult readers alike.
Genre: Science-fiction
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Counter Clockwise by Jason Cockroft, Have Spacesuit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein, Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson.     
Themes:  Space, circus, spaceships, orphans, friendship, fitting in, war, gymnastics.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, School Library Journal and Kirkus.  
Series Information: Sequel not announced, but appears likely.
Discussion questions:
-        Why do you think Della was so mean to Trix? Have you ever been treated the way Trix was at Bleeker?

-        Why do you think Trix was able to pass through the mirror in the Big Top?

-      Do you think Trix belongs on the Big Top? Why do you think she is so unsure?

-       Compare Sirra to Della. How are they similar? How are they different?

-       Do you think Sirra was right in trying to protect her brother? Why or why not?

-    Would you like to read a sequel to Circus Galacticus? What would you like to see happen if a sequel is written?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Between the Sea and Sky Book Review

Author: Jaclyn Dolamore. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA Childrens. ISBN: 9781599904344.

Annotation: After her older sister, Dosia, disappears, Esmerine, a young siren, leaves the safety of the ocean to search for her sister in the human city of Sormesen. There she reunites with Alander, a handsome winged boy who she was friends with years earlier, to try to find Dosia and bring her home.  
Personal thoughts: I had heard that this novel was a bit fluffy, but after reading it I found that that was what I enjoyed about it. I really appreciate the author writing a story that is interesting and creative but also appropriate for younger teens and tweens. So often authors have really clever ideas, but the resulting books can only really be appreciated by someone over fifteen or sixteen. I could easily see a 5th or 6th grader enjoying Between the Sea and Sky, and I think there is definitely a place for novels like that in the young adult genre. Even though there is nothing Earth-shattering in the story, I would recommend it to someone who wants something easy, light and entertaining.  

Plot summary: Esmerine has recently been invited to follow in the footsteps of her older sister, Dosia, and accept the highest honor a mermaid can receive: the title of siren. Being invited to become a siren, and inherit a siren’s belt with all of its intrinsic magic, is a very prestigious event, and Esmerine is excited to begin to live a siren’s life, enchanting human men and guarding the bay from those who abuse its abundance. Soon after Esmerine pledges herself as a siren, however, Dosia disappears. Worrying that she has been kidnapped by a human, her siren belt stolen trapping her on land, Esmerine leaves the safety of the ocean and travels to the human city of Sormesen. Although mermaids are able to take human form if they desire, the transformation is very painful, and Esmerine has difficulty walking through the busy, crowded streets. Fortunately, she soon reunites with Alander, a handsome winged boy who taught her to read years earlier. Now, Alander is almost nineteen, and Esmerine feels drawn to him, even though their races, she being a mermaid and he a Fandarsee, would never allow them to be together. Esmerine is determine to rescue Dosia, but the more time she spends in the human world with Alander, the more she begins to wonder if a life on land is what she is really seeking.
Review: Light, brief and sugary sweet, Between the Sea and Sky is the perfect pick for tweens (and parents of tweens) who want a paranormal romance that is appropriate for upper elementary or middle schoolers. Set in a fictional land full of mermaids, winged humans, fairies, and other creatures, this novel also makes for a great introduction to the fantasy genre. Author Jaclyn Dolamore doesn’t spend a great deal of time delving into the mythology or layout of Esmerine’s world, but there is just enough build-up of the setting to give a little more meat to the story. Readers will enjoy the blossoming romance between Esmerine and Alander, picking up on the common but always popular “there are forces dividing us” theme. There is also little in the novel to give alarm to parents, with only some minor kissing and a few suggestive turns of phrase delivered to Esmerine from some unsavory humans. Overall, there isn’t a whole lot of depth to Between the Sea and Sky, but that makes it an ideal choice for readers who are just beginning to get into the young adult scene.

Genre: Science-fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 5+

Similar titles: Lost Voices trilogy by Sarah Porter, Tempest Rising by Tracy Deebs, Fins are Forever by tera Lynn Childs, Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic tale by Carolyn Turgeon, Ripple by Mandy Hubbard.     
Themes:  Mermaids, sirens, wings, fantasy, love, sisters, duty.

Awards/Reviews:  N/A
Series Information: N/A

Discussion questions:
-      Why do you think Esmerine was unsure about becoming a siren?

-      Did you find it interesting that Esmerine was able to transform into human form? Do mermaids in literature typically have that ability?

-       Why do you think Alander was less than nice to Esmerine when they reunited?

-      Do you think Dosia did the right thing?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Partials Book Review

 Author: Dan Wells. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Balzer + Bray. ISBN: 9780062071040.

Annotation: In the year 2076, the world has been decimated after the Partials, genetically engineered super soldiers, rebelled against their human creators with a deadly virus known as RM. Now the human race is on the verge of extinction as every newborn in the survivor settlement of East Meadow on Long Island succumbs to the virus. Sixteen-year-old medic Kira Walker is determined to find a cure for the virus, even if it means capturing and studying a Partial to do it.
Personal thoughts: I was a bit worried that this novel would be irritatingly similar to other dystopian books I’ve read recently when I heard what it was about, but was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. Although I definitely recognized some concepts from other popular books, TV shows or movies, the overlap didn’t bother me. In fact, I found the author’s take to be fresh and interesting. One of my favorite parts of the novel was the presence of strong, intelligent female protagonist, Kira. Not only is she described as beautiful, she is also very smart, explaining the science of her research to the reader and giving teen girl’s a positive role model who is proud of her knowledge and uses it for a purpose she believes in. I’m looking forward to seeing how Kira develops in the following installments, and can’t wait to read Fragments when it’s released in 2013.

Plot summary: The year is 2076, and the world has been decimated after the Partials, genetically engineered super soldiers, rebelled against their human creators. Having replaced the world’s armies, humans were unable to defend themselves when the Partials launched their attacks. It was a biological weapon, a deadly virus known as RM, that managed to wipe out 99.9% of the world’s human population. The Partials retreated after the RM plague and haven’t been seen for eleven years, but now the human race is on the verge of extinction as every newborn in the survivor settlement of East Meadow on Long Island succumbs to the virus. The survivors themselves are inexplicably immune to RM, but the inability to produce new generations threatens to put the final nail in the coffin that was humanity. In response to this overwhelming problem, the government of East Meadow created the Hope Act: a law that requires all women age 18 and over to be pregnant at all times. Sixteen-year-old Kira Walker was only five when RM was released, but she still remembers a time before every infant died within hours of birth. Kira works as a medic in East Meadow hospital’s maternity unit. Everyday she helps her fellow scientists try to discover a cure for RM by studying the newborns before they quickly die. When her best friend Madison becomes pregnant, however, Kira is determined that her baby will live. Convinced that the answer to curing RM lies in the physiology of the Partials, all of whom are immune to the virus, Kira sets out for the deserted island of Manhattan with one mission: to bring a live Partial back to East Meadow and find a cure.
Review: Continuing the dystopian craze that seems to have taken over young adult literature is Dan Wells’ Partials, the exciting and well-written first installment in a new post-apocalyptic series for teens. A cross between Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy, Battlestar Galactica and Terminator, some common ideas (i.e. the revolting robot/machine, world-ending plague, totalitarian government, etc.) get a fresh and interesting take in this novel. From the beginning, it is clear that the Partials, the human race’s enemy number one, are going to have a role in curing the deadly RM virus. Unraveling exactly what that role will be is one of the most intriguing parts of the story. The author does an excellent job of creating an action packed plot, making Partials an ideal recommendation for male readers who want something exciting. Teen girls will also find a lot to identify with in Kira, the smart and dedicated scientist who is determined to save the life of her best friend’s unborn baby. Unlike other dystopian novels, and young adult novels in general, the romantic part of the novel takes a bit of a backseat to the rest of the story. Readers might pick up on a potential future love triangle, but the book isn’t particularly lovey-dovey, adding to its male appeal. Overall, Partials is an enjoyable and interesting beginning to a series with lots of potential. The sequel, Fragments, is set to be released in 2013.

Genre: Science-fiction
Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: Eve by Anna Carey, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, The Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano, The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch, Legend by Marie Lu, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Divergent by Veronica Roth.    
Themes:  Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, plague, genetic engineering, survival, pregnancy, oppression, rebellion.

Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, VOYA, The Wall Street Journal, and The Los Angeles Times.
Series Information: First installment in Partials series. Second novel, Fragments, set to be released in 2013.  

Discussion questions:
-      Why do you think the Partials rebelled against their human creators? Do you think they were justified?

-      Do you think the Hope Act was right or wrong? Why?

-       Do you think the way Samm was treated was humane? Why or why not?

-     Why do you think the Senate chose Kira to study Samm?

-       What do you think the last line of the novel means?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Freedom Maze Book Review

 Author: Delia Sherman. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Big Mouth House. ISBN: 9781931520300.

Annotation: In 1960 Louisiana, thirteen-year-old Sophie Martineau is sent by her recently divorced mother to Oak Cottage, an old plantation on the bayou, to stay with her grandmother for the summer. Bored and lonely, Sophie makes a wish that inadvertently transports her 100 years in the past, where, after being mistake for a slave, she experiences life on a pre-Civil War plantation.
Personal thoughts: I am a big fan of both historical fiction and time travel, so this book was right up my alley. I thought the author did an outstanding job of describing the plantation and life as a slave in 1860. The reader is truly transported into this tumultuous period of time, something that I think would be very valuable for tween or teen readers who are learning about the Civil War or slavery. The author’s passion for this era, as well as slave narratives and memoirs, is very evident throughout the novel, and adds that much more to the already exceptional story.
Plot summary: In 1960 New Orleans, thirteen-year-old Sophie Martineau is struggling to cope with her parents’ recent divorce. Her father has moved to New York City, and her former best friend is no longer allowed to socialize with the child of a single mother. To make matters worse, Sophie’s mother has decided to send her to Oak Cottage, an old plantation outside of New Orleans, to stay with her grandmother and aunt for the summer. Bored and lonely, Sophie makes a wish to be someone else, and is inadvertently transported back in time to 1860. Having spent several weeks in the sun exploring the bayou of Oak Cottage, Sophie’s tanned skin causes her to be mistaken for a slave, and she is immediately put to work in Oak River House, the luxurious home of her ancestors, the Fairchilds. Sophie is used to the racial segregation in the south of 1960, but nothing prepares her for the cruelty and discrimination she experiences as a slave in a pre-Civil War plantation.  
Review:  Inspired by real life slave narratives and memoirs, veteran author Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze proves to be a well-written and intriguing novel that is both entertaining and educational. Although the story involves time travel to the 19th century, it begins in the past, over fifty years ago, at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Sophie is a complex character, as is her mother, a recently divorced, bitter woman who warns Sophie against associating with “negroes,” especially men. As was likely the case with many children during this period of time, Sophie is unsure of exactly why she is supposed to be afraid of African Americans, but takes her mother’s word for it, trying hard to be a proper southern lady. Sherman does an excellent job of conveying Sophie’s frustration, both with her parents’ divorce and her “exile” at the Oak River plantation. The story gets even more layered, however, after Sophie travels back to 1860. The many plantation slaves become to focus of Sophie’s new life, as do the ancestors she is forced to serve after they assume she is the light-skinned offspring of a relative and his servant. The author’s description of life on the plantation, from vocabulary to daily tasks, is very well done, and gives The Freedom Maze enough historical accuracy to have a strong place in the classroom. Overall, an exceptional novel that can easily be enjoyed by tweens, teens and adults, particularly those with an interest in American history.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler.   
Themes:  Time travel, slavery, plantations, racism, divorce, American history, the South, the Civil War.
Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from Kirkus, positive reviews from authors Alaya Dawn Johnson, N.K. Jemisin, Nisi Shawl, Cory Doctorow, Jane Yolen, Holly Black, and Elizabeth Knox.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
-     Compare life for African Americans in 1860 to 1960. How were African Americans treated in each time period? Do you think things were that different between 1860 and 1960?

-     Why do you think the Fairchilds mistook Sophie for a slave? Do you think they would have treated her differently if they thought she was white?

-      Why do you think Antigua was so upset when she thought Sophie lost her free papers?

-      What do you think Sophie learned by living life as a slave in 1860?

-      Do you think life for African Americans has changed between 1960 and the present? How?

-       Read an actual slave narrative and compare Delia Sherman’s descriptions of life on a plantation. How historically accurate do you think The Freedom Maze is?

-     Why do you think the novel is called The Freedom Maze? What is the significance of the maze in the story?