Thursday, June 28, 2012

Arise Book Review

 Author: Tara Hudson. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780062026798.

Annotation: Although Amelia and Joshua are trying to make the most of their lives together, Amelia wonders if she, being a ghost, can really give Josh the life he deserves. After the pair travel to New Orleans with Joshua’s family for Christmas, Amelia inadvertently takes part in a powerful voodoo ritual that will change her afterlife forever.
Personal thoughts: I was a huge, huge fan of Hereafter, and so I was eagerly anticipating this sequel for quite some time. After reading it, however, I’m not quite sure what to think. Everything I really liked about Hereafter was gone: Amelia learning who or what she is, her saving Joshua from drowning, their falling in love, her battling Eli. I understand that the author had to change up the story, but I don’t think I’ve read another sequel that is so starkly different from the first novel. Overall, I would say that Arise is a good book, but I wish that somehow the tone or feel of the novel would have felt at least slightly familiar. Either way, I plan to read the third novel when it’s released next year and would still highly recommend this series for tween and teen readers.
Plot summary: Now that Eli has been banished to the dark netherworld, Amelia has eternity, or however long her afterlife lasts, to spend with her boyfriend, Joshua Mayhew. But what kind of life can she offer Joshua; she is invisible to everyone but Joshua’s sister, Jillian, she can’t touch Joshua for more than a few minutes without materializing somewhere else, and she will be eighteen forever, forced to watch Joshua grow older. To make matters worse, Amelia has also become plagued by terrible nightmares of a strange place with a mysterious woman who warns her that she is in danger. When Amelia travels with Joshua and his family to spend Christmas in New Orleans, she hopes that the change of scenery will keep her, and the people she loves, safe from whatever is hunting her. But when she and Joshua meet a beautiful girl in a voodoo shop who promises that she can help solve their problems, Amelia inadvertently agrees to take part in a powerful ceremony that will change her afterlife forever.
Review: This highly-anticipated follow-up to Tara Hudson’s bestselling novel, Hereafter, proves to be a bit of departure from the original book, but one that manages to take the story in an unlikely direction. The events in the first novel are very, very different from the sequel. Gone is Amelia’s quest to learn who she is, how she died, etc., replaced instead by her desire to ensure that her boyfriend, Joshua, is able to live a safe and normal life. This is somewhat odd considering that, in Hereafter, they met when Joshua nearly drowned and proceeded to battle a rogue spirit, but Arise explores this concept quite a bit regardless. The setting also changes drastically, from Oklahoma to the French Quarter. The voodoo element also makes for a new addition to the overall feel of the book, as does the result of the ritual that Amelia takes part in. The events of the story make for an effective platform from which the third and final novel in the trilogy can continue on, but, overall, the tone of Arise is different enough from the book that it makes the reader wonder what exactly to expect in the last installment. To say that the sequel is unsuccessful or not as good as the first book in the series wouldn’t be accurate, but fans of Hereafter should be warned that they are in for something very different in almost every way possible. The third novel, Elegy, is set to be released in 2013.
Genre:  Fiction/Supernatural
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Hereafter by Tara Hudson, Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, Everneath by Brodi Ashton.
Themes:  Ghosts, the afterlife, demons, romance, voodoo, death.     
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from VOYA and Kirkus. Sequel to best-selling novel.  
Series Information: Second novel in Hereafter trilogy. First novel, Hereafter, released in 2011. Third novel, Elegy, set to be released in 2013.  
Discussion questions:
-        Why do you think Amelia was considering ending her relationship with Joshua? Do you think it was the right thing to do?

-     Why do you think Jillian didn’t like Amelia?

-    Do you think it was really Amelia’s father in her vision of the field? Why or why not?

-      Who do you think the red-haired girl is from Amelia’s visions? Do you think she is a protagonist or antagonist?

-      What do you think happened in Gaby’s voodoo ceremony? Do you think the result was good or bad for Amelia? Why?

-      Which novel did you like better: Hereafter or Arise? Why?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Deviant Book Review

Author: Adrian McKinty. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Amulet Books. ISBN: 9780810984202.

Annotation: After his mom gets a new job, Danny Lopez leaves his Las Vegas home and begins school at Cobalt Junior High Charter School in Colorado. Danny soon discovers that something is odd about Cobalt: the school practices a scripted teaching method, and everyone must wear a uniform, including white gloves. Even stranger than the school, however, is the mysterious disappearances of house cats, who later turn up ritualistically mutilated. Is there a serial killer in Cobalt?
Personal thoughts: I have to say that, although I enjoyed this novel, I am not surprised to read that it received quite a few negative reviews. It definitely is not for everyone, but I think that many teen readers, especially boys, will “get it” like I did. The subject matter is, admittedly, unusual: serial cat killer stalks small town. I am personally a moderate cat lover, but I could see how someone who treasures all things feline might throw the book down after the first chapter in revulsion. I have to admit that if the animal was changed from cats to dogs I probably would do the same thing. Once the initial “creep-out” factor is overcome, however, there is a lot to be enjoyed in the story. I’m looking forward to seeing what Adrian McKinty comes up with next for the young adult audience.  
Plot summary: Fifteen-year-old Danny Lopez has never been a model student at his Las Vegas school. Caring more about skateboarding than studying, his mom, Juanita, and his stepdad, Walt, hope that the move to Colorado will be good for him academically. Juanita has been offered the job of managing a new casino on the Ute Indian Reservation, so Danny finds himself in the small town of Cobalt, near Colorado Springs. Shortly after moving into their new house, Danny meets Antonia “Tony” Meadows, a pretty but quirky girl his age who lives across the street and warns him that the school he is going to attend, Cobalt Junior High Charter School, is different than what he’s used to. On his first day, Danny learns just how different CJHCS is. The principal, Mr. Lebkuchen, has instituted the Direct Instruction method, which requires that teachers and students follow a script throughout the school day, and forbids any communication between students of any kind on school grounds. Everyone at CJHCS must also wear stifling uniforms complete with white gloves. Tony introduces Danny to her friends, and he soon learns that the students at CJHCS have other methods of communication besides talking. Just as Danny thinks things couldn’t get any stranger, however, he learns that several housecats in Cobalt have gone missing, only to turn up days later ritualistically mutilated. Danny also starts receiving unsettling and cryptic letters from someone named “Indrid Cold,” and they seem to be tied to the cat killings. Convinced that there is a serial killer in Cobalt, Danny and his friends decide to find out who the killer is, before they begin murdering people instead of cats.
Review: Quirky and unique, this tale from veteran crime novelist, Adrian McKinty, is certainly not for everyone, but will definitely prove interesting to many. Set in the fictional town of Cobalt, Colorado, the author’s crime novel background shines through in establishing the setting, the cast of characters, and the mystery surrounding the cat killer that is terrorizing Danny Lopez and his new friends. Squeamish readers beware, the story contains quite a bit of graphic detail concerning the cat killings, and cat lovers might immediately put the book down as the first chapter describes a (fortunately) nearly successful cat murder. The author takes the reader straight into the mind of the murderer (though the identity is left unknown until the end), creating an effective sense of foreboding as the killer begins to resent Danny and his friends meddling in the crime spree. The situation at Danny’s new school, where students have to be quiet and wear strange white gloves, takes a backseat to the murder mystery aspect of the novel, which is unfortunate since it was one of the most interesting parts of the story. Despite this slight shortcoming, however, Deviant has a lot to offer the reader, especially teen boys who will like Danny’s style of narration and the brisk pace of the story. The novel is definitely a departure from typical young adult fare, and bold readers should give it a try.
Genre:  Fiction/Mystery
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: All Good Children by Catherine Austen, Rotters by Daniel Kraus,      
Themes:  Serial killers, cats, mystery, friendship, Colorado.     
Awards/Reviews:  Written by award-winning author.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
-      Was this book difficult for you to read given the subject matter? Why or why not?

-       Would you want to go to a school like Cobalt Junior High Charter School? Why or why not?

-       Do you think the Direct Instruction method would work?

-      What was the significance of the letters from Indrid Cold in the novel?

-     Do you think that Bob was a reliable source of information about the cat killings? Why or why not?

-      Why do you think Danny was mean to Walt?

-      Were you surprised by the identity of the cat killer?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Everneath Book Review

Author: Brodi Ashton. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Balzer + Bray. ISBN: 9780062071132.

Annotation: Nikki Beckett has spent the last hundred years in the Everneath: the dimension between Earth and Hell where the Everliving feed off the energy of those from the surface. As a Forfeit, Nikki’s energy went to her Everliving host, Cole, who convinced her that allowing him to feed off of her would ease the pain from her mother’s death. What Cole didn’t know, however, is that Nikki’s memory of her loving boyfriend, Jack, would make her a Forfeit unlike any other.  
Personal thoughts: The concept of the protagonist in a young adult novel travelling, literally, to Hell and back is nothing new. I was very impressed, however, with how Brodi Ashton made the concept fresh and interesting in Everneath. The Persephone myth has always intrigued me, and I really liked the modern adaptation in this novel. I also thought that Nikki was a really interesting character with a surprising amount of depth. I found myself actually caring what happened to her and wondering how she was going to decide what to do with the little time she had left on the surface. I’m really looking forward to the sequel, as well as whatever Brodi Ashton comes up with next!
Plot summary: Nikki Beckett has spent the last hundred years in the Everneath: the dimension between Earth and Hell where the Everliving feed off the energy of those from the surface. Having agreed to allow Cole, a handsome and charismatic musician and one of the Everliving, to take her to the Everneath, Nikki became a Forfeit: someone not expected to survive the mental trauma of a Feed who eventually will serve as a source of energy for the entire Everneath. After the Feed is complete, Nikki is allowed to return to the surface, but only for six months until the Everneath returns to claim her for a life of torture and entrapment. On the surface, only six months have passed, but Nikki has lived for much longer than her sixteen years trapped in the Everneath where time moves at a different pace. Nikki has trouble remembering things about her life before the Feed, but the one thing she does remember is Jack: the loving boyfriend who helped her get through her mother’s tragic death in a car accident. While she was in the Everneath, everyone, including Jack, her father, brother and her best friend, Jules, assumed that Nikki had run away, unable to face the pain of losing her mother. Now that she has returned, Nikki wants to use the short time she has left to say her final goodbyes to her family and friends. One problem stands in the way of Nikki’s plan, however: Cole. It appears that Cole has his own plan for his Forfeit, something that would make Nikki a queen in the Everneath but would cost her soul. Will Nikki choose to join Cole, losing all hope of redemption for a chance to live forever? Or is there another way for Nikki to escape her fate in the Everneath, one that involves the love for Jack that kept her going for a century?
Review: A modern day re-telling of the classic Persephone myth, this novel from debut author Brodi Ashton makes for a riveting and romantic start to a new series for teens. The subject of Greek mythology and myths in general permeates the story, but in a way far less ostentatiously than other mythical adaptations for young adults. Upon her return from the Everneath, Nikki examines myths and the heroes they contain, something that is likely to spark a least a mild interest in teen readers to research the subject further. The author has done a good job of weaving modern elements in with the mythological aspects, turning the “Hades” character into a handsome, iPhone carrying bad boy and making Nikki, the Persephone of the book, grapple with typical high school situations like bullying and feeling like she doesn’t fit in. The plot also takes a few twists and turns that make for some unexpected surprises and maintain the reader’s interest. The novel ends with a very effective cliffhanger as well, and teens are likely to clamber for the sequel, Everbound, which is set to be released December 1, 2012.
Genre:  Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Falling Under by Gwen Hayes, Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent, Misfit by Jon Skovron, The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff, Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs, Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini.   
Themes:  Redemption, mythology, Persephone, Hell, afterlife, sacrifice, death, high school relationships, love.    
Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from VOYA, positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.  
Series Information: First installment in Everneath series. Second novel, Everbound, set to be released December 1, 2012.
Discussion questions:
-         Why do you think time passes differently in the Everneath?

-       Why do you think that Nikki was able to survive the Feed?

-        Do you think Cole had true feelings for Nikki? Why or why not?

-       Do you think that Nikki’s father was too strict with her after her Return? Why or why not?

-        Why do you think Nikki agreed to go to the Everneath with Cole in the first place? Was it the right choice? Why or why not?

-      Would you have done what Jack did for Nikki?

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Still Waters Book Review

 Author: Emma Carlson Berne. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9781442421141.

Annotation: Hannah thinks that a weekend away with her boyfriend, Colin, is just what they need before he goes off to college. When she surprises him with a road trip to his family’s old vacation home on a remote lake, however, things don’t go according to plan.
Personal thoughts: As someone with a more than slight fear of the woods, I found myself utterly creeped out at various moments in this novel. I really admire Emma Carlson Berne’s ability to create such a spooky feeling in such a short story. I think this novel would make a great pick for a reluctant teen reader who wants something exciting but to the point. I would also recommend it to anyone who just likes a good, creepy read.
Plot summary: Hannah and her boyfriend, Colin, have been dating for a year, but she still cannot seem to open up to him completely. A self-proclaimed “queen of nerds,” Hannah can’t imagine why the gorgeous and popular Colin would like her, let alone tell her he loves her on a regular basis. Hannah wants nothing more than to be able to say those three words back to Colin, but something is keeping her from expressing how she feels. Now Colin is going away to college next week, leaving Hannah to finish her senior of high school wondering if he is going to fall in love with someone else. When Hannah learns that his family owns an old vacation home on a remote lake, she decides to take Colin on a surprise road trip: a getaway where she can truly be herself and let him know how she feels. When Hannah and Colin arrive at Pine House, however, things don’t go according to plan. Even though Colin’s family hasn’t been to the house in years, it looks as if someone was just there, with things scattered as if whoever it was left hastily. The closest town is 20 miles away, and is full of abandoned, broken down buildings. And Colin has begun to act strange, having bouts of rage and violence that shock Hannah. Was the trip to Pine House just what Hannah and Colin need to cement their relationship, or will it be the biggest mistake they have ever made?
Review: Creepy and atmospheric, this novel from veteran author Emma Carlson Berne is reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Shining while still being appropriate for a teen audience. The story is both short and uncomplicated, but manages to invoke a feeling of dread the moment the main character, Hannah, discovers an old photo of her boyfriend’s family vacation home. The author excels at enhancing this feeling of dread throughout most of the story, from the descriptions of the decrepit Pine House to the almost abandoned neighboring village of Oxtown. When Hannah’s boyfriend Colin begins to act strangely, the creepiness factor increases several notches, culminating in an exciting if slightly suspected conclusion. Apart from the mystery that drives the plot, there is another element to the story that will resonate with many teen readers: Hannah’s inability to tell her boyfriend that she loves him. The author does a good job of portraying this common problem, making both Hannah and Colin identifiable for readers who have been on both the giving and receiving ends of those three little words. Overall, Still Waters is a spooky and enjoyable read that many teens are sure to enjoy.
Genre: Fiction
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: The Shining by Stephen King, After the Fire by Becky Citra, Tighter by Adele Griffin.    
Themes:  Relationships, vacation, mystery, love, possession.   
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from School Library Journal  and Kirkus.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
-        Why do you think Hannah couldn’t tell Colin that she loved him? Has that ever happened to you or someone you know?

-       Do you think that it was a good idea for Hannah to surprise Colin with a trip to Pine House? Why or why not?

-       Would you want to stay in Pine House for a weekend? Why or why not?

-       What do you think was happening to Colin in the novel?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What Happened to Serenity? Book Review

Author: PJ Sarah Collins. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Red Deer Press. ISBN: 9780889954533.

Annotation: Katherine is fifteen and too old to be asking questions. Her whole life she has learned to trust Father and the Brothers and Sisters: they know what is best and keep the Community running. But after her best friend Anna’s little sister, Serenity, goes missing, how can Katherine keep from longing to discover the truth about her disappearance and the “perfect” society she lives in?  
Personal thoughts: I hadn’t heard much about this novel prior to picking it up and, after reading it rather quickly, I can’t imagine why it hasn’t received more attention. I really enjoyed the soft but brisk pace of the story, and was surprised by how well-developed the characters were for such a short book. There wasn’t anything that annoyed me about Katherine, not an easy feat when it comes to accurately portraying a fifteen-year-old girl. The novel did remind me a bit of the movie The Village, but after reading that the author originally wrote the story thirteen-years-ago, I can appreciate her originality in coming up with the plot. I look forward to seeing what else PJ Sarah Collins comes up with in the future, and would definitely recommend this to tweens and teens for enjoyment or in the classroom.  
Plot summary: At fifteen, Katherine is too old to be asking questions. Her whole life she has been taught in school that asking questions is for children, something their minds don’t realize is wrong and goes against the Manifesto that governs life in the Community. But Katherine can’t help but be curious about the society she lives in: why is Father the only one who makes decisions? Why isn’t anyone allowed to own color? Are they really the only Community left alive after the Ecological Revolution? Katherine’s parents urge her to quell this curiosity; it only leads to trouble and could wind up negatively influencing the Life Role she is soon to be assigned. When Katherine’s best friend Anna’s little sister, Serenity, goes missing, however, Katherine is more determined than ever to ask the questions necessary to learn what happened to the six-year-old, and why Father and the rest of the Community don’t seem to be troubled by her disappearance.   
Review: Part poetry collection, part dystopian thriller, this short but enjoyable novel from debut author PJ Sarah Collins manages to accomplish in just a little more than 200 pages what many young adult novels fail to in 400+: identifiable, well-developed characters, an interesting storyline, and a twist that will keep the reader thinking long after the closing pages. The novel centers around fifteen-year-old Katherine, a curious and intelligent girl who sees that there is something more to her life in the Community than blindly following Father and the Manifesto. Katherine is a writer, and uses a forbidden journal to create poetry about her life, the verses of which separate each chapter in the novel. She is also deeply devoted to her younger brother Scott, something that makes the situation surrounding the disappearance of Serenity more emotional for her than simple curiosity. One notable feature of the novel is that, for the most part, it is devoid of the traditional romance component that seems to be a requirement for young adult novels. A possible “pairing” with another member of the Community is mentioned, but Katherine is quick to throw those concerns aside, focusing instead of her desire to discover the truth about the society she lives in and the fate of her friend’s sister. Overall, Collins has done a wonderful job of creating a quiet but thought-provoking story that manages to be entertaining while avoiding dumbing-down the narrative for the target audience. Easily recommendable for tweens and teens alike.
Genre: Fiction
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, All Good Children by Catherine Austen, Eve by Anna Carey, Partials by Dan Wells, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi.   
Themes:  Dystopian, perfection, community, questioning authority, trust, conspiracy.  
Awards/Reviews:  N/A  
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
-        Do you think the Community was perfect? Why or why not?

-       If you lived in the Community, would you be complacent or would you be curious like Katherine?

-     Why do you think Father used the cutting-off of hair as a punishment? How did this punishment influence the rest of the story?

-      What do you think Father meant when he said people criticized him for creating a society with no soul?

-      Do you think such a place as the Community exists in real life? What challenges would such a place face in today’s society?

-     Would you want to live in a place like the Community? How would you change the Community in the story if you were going to live in it?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Mephisto Covenant: The Redemption of Ajax Book Review

 Author: Trinity Faegen. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  EgmontUSA. ISBN: 9781606841709.

Annotation: Seventeen-year-old Sasha Annenkova is shocked to learn that she is Anabo: a daughter of Eve, and a pure spirit who cannot be tempted by sin. After she meets Ajax DeKyanos, a son of Hell, she discovers that her role as an Anabo plays an important part in the fight against Eryx, who seeks to overthrow Lucifer and create Hell on Earth.  
Personal thoughts: Wow. It’s not very often that I really dislike a book, but I’m sorry to say that I really disliked this book. It was just so odd, and I kept waiting for it to improve but it never did. The quasi-dual-narration between Sasha and Jax was odd, the backstory was incredibly convoluted, and the storyline was strangely violent/sexually charged. It was like a novel that was meant for an adult audience, but was watered down (unsuccessfully) to pass as young adult. I would have a whole lot of trouble recommending this book to a teen, especially since there is nothing about the plot that is enjoyable enough to make navigating through all the terrible things that happen to Sasha worthwhile. Sorry!
Plot summary: Seventeen-year-old Sasha Annenkova wants nothing more than to learn the truth behind her father’s murder in Russia years earlier. When a group of students at her Oakland high school tell her of a club called the Ravens, a group that pledges to give up God and serve Eryx in exchange for being granted whatever they want, she jumps at the chance to discover what really happened to her father. At the Ravens meeting she is shocked, however, when they inform her that she is Anabo, a daughter of Eve, pure and un-tempted by sin, with the power to destroy Eryx. The Ravens have lured her to their secret location to kill her, ending the threat she poses to the one they serve, and they almost succeed until she is rescued by Ajax DeKyanos. Ajax, or Jax, informs her that he is Mephisto, a son of the dark angel Mephistopholes, as are his brothers, including the oldest, Eryx. Thousands of years earlier, Jax and his brothers were promised by God that if they found an Anabo and were able to make her love them, they would be redeemed and able to worthy of heaven, fulfilling the Mephisto Covenant. Eryx, however, chose to seek power, and is attempting to recruit souls to help him overthrow Lucifer, creating Hell on Earth. Jax immediately falls in love with Sasha, but, although she is attracted to him, Sasha isn’t sure that she can love a son of Hell. As the threat from Eryx grows, will Jax be able to achieve the redemption he has sought for thousands of years?  
Review: Convoluted, schizophrenic and, at times, just plain silly, this first installment in a new paranormal series of young adults is difficult to recommend to any reader for several reasons. Although there is some interesting concepts in the book (the idea of the Mephisto Covenant, the importance of the daughters of Eve, etc.), so much of the novel is downright strange, making it hard to get through all 434 pages. To begin with, the novel opens with the main character getting stoned. Not stoned in the sense of recreational drugs, but with actual stones being thrown at her in an attempt to quell her Anabo spirit. Readers should be warned from this initial curious incident that they are in for something unsettling, but the novel continues to plow forward into the uncomfortable. Events in the book include but are not limited to attempted rape, physical assault, murder, molestation, torture by hot poker, and an incredibly graphic sex scene for a young adult book. There are also so many references to breasts in the novel, it’s almost laughable. Every chapter seems to mention breasts, something that would be okay if done in the right context, but is so strange in this novel that it becomes funny. Overall, it’s nearly impossible to recommend this book to any teen reader, even those who are die-hard paranormal romance fans. The sequel, The Mephisto Kiss, is set to be released in September 2012. Hopefully it will improve upon the absurdity of the first novel.
Genre: Fiction/Romance
Reading level: Grade 9+
Similar titles: A Beautiful Dark by Jocelyn Davies, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Misfit by Jon Skovron, The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff.  
Themes:  Heaven, Hell, the Bible, sin, betrayal, redemption.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from authors P.C. Cast and Sherrilyn Kenyon.  
Series Information: First book in Mephisto series. Second novel, The Mephisto Kiss, set to be released in September 2012.   
Discussion questions:
-       If you had a chance to join the Ravens and get whatever you wanted, would you? Why or why not?

-      Why do you think Sasha had trouble completely falling for Jax?

-      Why do you think Melanie hated Sasha’s father so much?

-     Would you say that this novel is "Christian fiction"? Why or why not?

-      Did you enjoy this novel? Do you plan to read the sequel? Why or why not?