Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Arcadia Awakens Book Review

 Author: Kai Meyer. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Balzar+ Bray. ISBN: 9780062006066.

Annotation: After tragedy strikes, seventeen-year-old Rosa Alcantara leaves her home in New York City and moves to Sicily to live with her aunt and sister. The Alcantaras are one of the most powerful Mafia families in Italy, and Rosa doesn’t know what to expect by moving to Palazzo Alcantara. When she happens to meet Alessandro Carnevare, the heir to a rival family, however, the quiet life she was hoping to begin in Sicily is turned upside down.    
Personal thoughts: This was one of those books that really left me stumped on what to expect. I knew it was about the Mafia, I had a pretty good guess that it had to do with shapeshifting of some kind, and I knew it was by a German author. What I didn’t know, and was pleasantly surprised to find out, was that it was one of the most unique books I’ve read for the young adult audience this year. The Mafia isn’t something you find too often in books for teens, and I really enjoyed the way the author dove headfirst into creating a very Godfather-­y tale. The mythological and paranormal aspects of the story kind of took a backseat for me as I was reading the book, but I am hoping they will be expanded upon in the second and third installments because I think they hold loads of potential. One minor (and annoying) detail that I felt compelled to mention, was the frequent use of the word “supple” in the novel. I don’t have a problem with this word and maybe it had something to do with the book being translated from German to English, but it seemed like everything in the novel was “supple.” A little strange. There is also a decent amount of swearing, violence and gore in the book, which would make it hard for me to recommend to middle school-ers. For older teens, however, I would definitely suggest Arcadia Awakens as a unique and enjoyable read, chock full of romance and adventure.
Plot summary: Life for seventeen-year-old Rosa Alcantara has never been simple. Part of one of the most powerful Mafia families in Italy, Rosa’s parents moved her and her sister Zoe to New York City to escape the crime and murder that is part of everyday life for the Alcantaras. After tragedy strikes, however, Rosa decides to move to Sicily, and join Zoe, who already left New York to live with Florinda in the Palazzo Alcantara. As head of the Alcantaras, Florinda is far from warm and fuzzy, but Rosa hopes that a new life in Sicily will be what she needs. Everything changes, however, when Rosa happens to meet handsome and charming Alessandro Carnevare. As the son and heir of the Carnevare family, Alessandro is an enemy of Rosa’s, but the two are instantly attracted to one another. Alessandro’s father has recently died, and he is set to become the next head of the Carnevare family. Alessandro informs Rosa, however, that he believes his father’s advisor and right-hand-man, Cesare , wants to overthrow him and becoming the new leader of the Carnevares. Rosa wants to help Alessandro, much to the distress of Florinda and Zoe who don’t want her anywhere near members of a rival family. Things are further complicated when, one evening, Rosa encounters a massive, powerful tiger in the forest surrounding the Palazzo, a tiger with very human-like eyes who seems to know who she is.
Review: Originally published in Germany, this novel from renowned author Kai Meyer is the first installment in the Arcadia Awakens trilogy. Part Godfather part paranormal romance, Arcadia Awakens is a truly unique book for teens. While there are paranormal elements to the story, the bulk of the novel is made up of the conflict between the Alcantaras and Carnevares, two rival Mafia families and members of Cosa Nostra. Readers who are unfamiliar with the Mafia might be slightly confused by many of the terms and references, although the novel could be incentive to learn more about one of pop culture’s most commonly depicted organized crime groups. For those who aren’t as interested in the Mafia aspects of the story, the very Romeo and Juliet romance between Rosa and Alessandro, as well as the paranormal elements, will be intriguing enough on their own. The author does a good job of creating a story that appeals to a broad audience, and one that definitely has enough potential to warrant a trilogy. The second book in the trilogy, Arcadia Burns, has been released in Germany and will be released in the United States in the near future.
Genre:  Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 9+
Similar titles: Tiger’s Curse series by Colleen Houck, Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs, Starcrossed series by Josephine Angelini.  
Themes:  The Mafia, Sicily, Italy, shapeshifting, Greek mythology, Atlantis, loyalty, murder, rape.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books and VOYA.    
Series Information: First novel in Arcadia Awakens trilogy. Second and third novels, Arcadia Burns and Arcadia Falls, have been released in Germany, will be released in USA in the future.     
Discussion questions:
-        What is the significance of the song ”My Death” in the novel?

-       Explain why Rosa moved to Sicily. Do you think it was the right decision?

-       Why do you think Rosa is so drawn to Alessandro? Why is Alessandro so drawn to Rosa?

-      Would you describe Zoe as a protagonist or antagonist in the novel? Florinda? Fundling? Pantaleone?

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

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




Sunday, September 16, 2012

Girl of Nightmares Book Review

Author: Kendare Blake. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Tor Teen. ISBN: 9780765328663.

Annotation: After Anna sacrificed herself to save him and his friends, everyone in Cas’ life seems to think it’s best that he just forget the girl who used to be the vicious ghost known as Anna Dressed in Blood. Cas is convinced, however, that Anna is trapped in Hell, and once he begins having nightmarish visions of Anna being tortured, he knows that he must join her to set her free.   
Personal thoughts: Anna Dressed in Blood was one of my favorite books of 2011 and something I like to recommend to teens who are interested in a good, scary story. I was eagerly anticipating the release of Girl of Nightmares, but was also a little nervous because I have read a few sequels this year that didn’t impress me. Thankfully, Kendare Blake delivered and managed to create a story that, while different from the first, was just as enjoyable! I was very intrigued by Anna’s disappearance, Cas’ uber-creepy visions of her in various stages of torture, and the history and secrets behind Cas’ weapon, the athame. I also was really happy with the the relationship between Cas, Thomas and Carmel, and like that the author doesn’t skim over the support characters but takes the time to let the reader get to know them as well. I haven’t seen anything as far as an announcement about a third Anna novel, but I hope that Kendare Blake decides to keep the story going!
Plot summary: Six months have passed since Anna sacrificed herself to save Cas and his friends, Thomas and Carmel, from the Obeahman: the evil ghost who killed Cas’ father and nearly ended his life as well. Cas doesn’t know where Anna went; where does a ghost go when it dies? Everyone in his life seems to think that he needs to forget Anna. Cas is convinced, however, that Anna is trapped in Hell. When he begins having nightmarish visions of Anna being tortured, he knows in his heart that his suspicions were correct. Determined to find a way to bring Anna back, Cas begins to investigate the origins of his athame: the knife that he, his father before him, and so on have used for centuries to kill vengeful spirits. Unsure of how a living person can cross into Hell without first dying, Cas soon learns that the answers he’s seeking might lie in the very tool he uses to send ghosts on to the afterlife. But how far is Cas willing to go to save the girl who saved his life and with whom he has fallen in love?
Review: Kendare Blake continues her sharp and scary series with Girl of Nightmares, the sequel to the 2011 best-selling novel, Anna Dressed in Blood. Oftentimes, books that achieve a lot of success lose steam in the stories that follow. Fortunately, Blake manages to maintain the creepy vibe of her first novel in the sequel, delivering a story that is just as gruesome, scary, and exciting as its predecessor. One of the most interesting parts of both Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares is acid-tongued but courageous Cas and his best friends, Thomas and Carmel. The trio’s relationship was well-established in the first novel, and their dynamic is the majority of the reason why the second book is as enjoyable as it is. The reader feels like they know the characters, they care about their fates and wonder how they are going to survive going through, literally, hell and back. Anna is only a very minor character in this novel, mostly appearing in Cas’ horrifying visions of death and torture. Blake certainly has an eye for creating scenes of horror, and non-squeamish readers will get a good squirm from all of the scenes of terror. As with the first novel, teachers, parents and librarians should be aware that this book is definitely for an older teen audience. There is quite a bit of swearing and a great deal of gore. For readers who are mature enough to venture into Hell with Cas, however, this series is quite a ride.
Genre:  Horror
Reading level: Grade 10+
Similar titles: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, Hereafter series by Tara Hudson, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Everneath by Brodi Ashton, Falling Under series by Gwen Hayes, Lightbringer by K.D. McEntire, Soul Screamer series by Rachel Vincent, On the Fringe by Courtney King Walker, Wake Unto Me by Lisa Cach.
Themes:  Ghosts, death, Hell, Wicca, occult, ghost hunters, witches, friendship, loyalty, revenge, England.  
Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from Kirkus, sequel to positively reviewed novel.   
Series Information: Sequel to novel, Anna Dressed in Blood. Third novel not yet announced.    
Discussion questions:
-       Which novel did you like better: Anna Dressed in Blood or Girl of Nightmares? Why?

-       How do you think Cas changed between the two novels? Thomas? Carmel?

-       What do you think was the source of Cas’ visions of Anna? How did those visions impact the story?

-      Do you think that Jestine was a friend or enemy of Cas? Why?

-      How do you explain the ending of the novel?

-      Would you like to read a third Anna novel? If so, what would you like to see happen to the characters?




Thursday, September 6, 2012

Blue Thread Book Review

 Author: Ruth Tenzer Feldman. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Ooligan Press. ISBN: 9781932010411.

Annotation: In 1912 Portland, Oregon, sixteen-year-old Miriam Josefsohn wants nothing more than to become a businesswoman and help the women’s suffrage movement, both things her strict father would never dream of allowing her to do. Everything changes, however, when Miriam’s uncle gives her a family heirloom: a prayer shawl with a single blue thread that has the power to transport Miriam thousands of years in the past to the time of Moses.  
Personal thoughts: I hadn’t heard much of anything about this novel prior to picking it up, but as a Portland, Oregon native I wanted to give it a try. Fortunately it is one of those gems that somehow always seem to get lost in the sea of young adult literature. Obviously, I really liked this novel pretty much from start to finish. It is well-written and not overly wordy or dramatic. Miriam is really likable and I found myself cheering her on as she struggled to stand up for herself against her misogynistic father. I also loved reading about turn-of-the-century Portland and learned a lot about the women’s suffrage movement and the Daughters of Zelophehad. I think that Blue Thread could easily have a place in the classroom, especially as a novel that enhances education about a certain time in history, or simply as a good book for both teens and adults to enjoy.
Plot summary: Being a well-to-do girl in 1912 Portland, Oregon doesn’t give sixteen-year-old Miriam Josefsohn the freedom to choose what kind of life she leads. Her strict German-born father insists that Miriam be a proper young lady, which means that she will never be able to work a job, cannot get involved in politics like the women’s suffrage movement, and needs to focus on what’s important: getting married to a wealthy Jewish man. The problem is that Miriam wants nothing to do with marriage, and wishes she could become a businesswoman and suffragette. Everything changes, however, when Miriam meets Serakh, a girl her age with bronze skin and a long white braid who asks her about a prayer shawl with a single blue thread. Miriam has never seen such a prayer shawl, but is shocked a few days later when her uncle gives her a family heirloom he has been keeping for her: her great-grandmother’s prayer shawl with a single blue thread. When Serakh returns, she informs Miriam that the shawl has the power to transport Miriam thousands of years in the past to the time of the Daughters of Zelophehad: five sisters in biblical times who sought the right to inherit their father’s lands. Miriam learns that the daughters need her help in their struggle for justice, and that their plight might influence her own generations later.  
Review: History author Ruth Tenzer Feldman demonstrates her prowess at creating enjoyable, thoughtful works of fiction with Blue Thread. Combining historical fiction, fantasy, and Jewish fiction, Feldman weaves a tale that both educates and entertains readers who are interested in experiencing something less fluffy and melodramatic as other novels for teens. The most successful part of Blue Thread is, without-a-doubt, the protagonist, Miriam. The character is well-written to the point that by the end of the novel, the reader feels like she is a long-lost friend. Although she lives 100 years ago, modern teens will find much to identify with in Miriam’s struggle to prove to her parents that she is capable and independent. Miriam evolves throughout the story, learning from her travels to the past, and ending her journey on a very exciting note. The time travel aspect of the novel is interesting and adds a level of fantasy to the book, but more important is Miriam’s efforts to champion women’s rights in general. The author does an excellent job of intertwining the fantasy and historical fiction components of the story, but the novel is primarily a coming-of-age story about a really likable and admirable young woman.
Genre:  Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul by Leanna Renee Hieber.   
Themes:  Women’s suffrage movement, Portland, Oregon, father/daughter relationships, time travel, Judaism, the Bible.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from authors Karen Cushman, Anne Osterlund Swan, Janice Dilg and David Michael Slater.  
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
-     Why do you think Miriam’s father was so strict? Do you think that his beliefs were normal for the time period?

-      Explain why Miriam’s father was so opposed to her having the prayer shawl. Did his attitude change in the novel?

-     What was the significance of Baloo in the events of the story?

-      How did Miriam help Tirtzah and her sisters fight for justice? How did they help her?

-       If you lived in 1912, do you think you would have been like Miriam and fought for women’s right to vote? Why or why not?

-      Describe how Miriam is similar to a sixteen-year-old girl in 2012. How is she different?





Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dreaming Awake Book Review

Author: Gwen Hayes. Release date: 2012. Publisher: NAL Trade. ISBN: 9780451235541.

Annotation: After Theia Alderson made a deal with demon queen Mara in Under, she returns to the world of the living, half-human, half-demon like her boyfriend, Mara’s son, Haden. Unsure about her new powers, Theia struggles to get back to her normal life of high school and hanging out with her friends, Donny and Amelia. When students at her school begin to mysteriously fall ill, however, Theia worries that she brought something sinister back with her on her return from Under.
Personal thoughts: Falling Under was easily one of my favorite novels of 2011, so I was really excited to finally pick up the sequel. Although some of the elements of the first book that I loved so much were still there (Theia’s journeys to Under in her dreams, Haden’s charm, etc.), I wasn’t nearly as into the story as I was in Falling Under. There was too much fluff in the first half of the novel, leaving the action that occurred at the end feeling rushed and unsatisfying. I also felt that the author opened many doors in Dreaming Awake, but didn’t ever close them. I hope that she does write a third novel that can return the story to the level of originality and intrigue that was the first book. If she doesn’t then I think a series that had loads of potential would be squandered.
Plot summary: After Theia Alderson made a deal with demon queen Mara to protect Haden, Mara’s son and Theia’s boyfriend, she thought she would be stuck living in the beautiful but deadly world of Under for eternity. Thanks to her friends Donny, Amelia and Varnie, however, a summoning spell returns Theia to the world of the living. Reunited with Haden and her father, who thinks she ran away, Theia must now return to her normal high school routine while coping with the fact that she is now half-human, half-demon like Haden. Strange things start occurring in the weeks following Theia’s return from Under, however. Students at her high school begin to fall ill, she is plagued by dreams of a darkly beautiful garden next to a black, slow-moving river, and she can’t seem to shake the feeling that Mara is trying everything in her power to return her and Haden to Under. Will Theia have to choose between saving her friends and family or leaving them forever to spend an eternity as Mara’s servant in a land of skeletons, blood and nightmares?
Review: Following up her creative and riveting novel, Falling Under, Gwen Hayes continues her paranormal romance series for young adults with Dreaming Awake. The story picks up right where the first book left off, with Theia returning from several months in Under to a life on the surface that is different from the one she left behind. The same cast of characters are back: Theia’s wise-cracking but caring friends, Donny and Amelia, sweet, cross-dressing medium, Varnie, and Theia’s darkly handsome boyfriend (and reason for the events of the first novel to have taken place), Haden. What hasn’t returned for the sequel, however, is the captivating story that was Falling Under. Theia spends the majority of the sequel soul-searching (both figuratively and literally), trying to determine the nature of her new “demon blood” and wondering if she and Haden’s relationship will really work out. The mystery surrounding Haden himself is gone, replaced instead by a somewhat controlling, jealous boyfriend who can’t imagine why Theia has doubts about their amour. Mara, Haden’s demon mother, is arguably the most interesting part of the book. Icily beautiful and completely evil, she wants nothing more than to seek revenge on Theia for betraying her and leaving Under. The book ends with everything resolved more or less, but still open for another novel, which the author says may or may not be published. Fans of the wonderful Falling Under will likely want to read this novel, but not many will enjoy it with as much fervor as its predecessor.
Genre:  Fiction/Romance
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Falling Under by Gwen Hayes, The Soul Screamers by Rachel Vincent, Misfit by Jon Skovron, Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey, The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff, Everneath by Brodi Ashton.  
Themes:  Demons, Hell, love, romance, trust, revenge, friendship, spells, magic, witches.
Awards/Reviews:  Sequel to positively reviewed novel, Falling Under (2011).
Series Information: Second installment in Falling Under series. First novel, Falling Under, released in 2011. Third novel in series may or may not be written.   
Discussion questions:
-     Which novel did you like better: Falling Under or Dreaming Awake? Why?

-       How do you think the characters in the novel changed between each book?

-      How did Theia and Haden’s relationship change between the two novels?

-       Why do you think Mara is so intent on seeking revenge against Theia?

-     How do you explain what happened in the series of chapters called “Up Is Still Down?” Did you like the author’s use of a shift between narrators?

-      If a third book is written in this series, what would you like to see happen? Do you think a third book is necessary to make the story feel complete? Why or why not?