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?