Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Selection Book Review

Author: Kiera Cass. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780062059932.

Annotation: For sixteen-year-old America Singer, the Selection is the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to escape her life of just making ends meet, help her family, and compete to become the wife of Prince Maxon. There is just one problem, however: America is already in love.
Personal thoughts: As a huge fan of both The Hunger Games and The Bachelor, this book was right up my alley. Although I found it to be kind of predictable and definitely had some déjà vu throughout, I ended up enjoying the novel. It’s got the right amount of love, dystopia, conflict, and cattiness. I also think America is a very well-written and likable character. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the rest of the series, and, although I am well above the age of its target demographic, will likely be watching the TV show as well.

Plot summary: 300 years in the future, what was once the United States is now the country of Illéa, a monarchy where the population is divided into castes that determine social status, employment, and prosperity. Sixteen-year-old America Singer and her family are fives, one step above the servant caste, struggling to make ends meet using their artistic and musical skills. Everything changes, however, when a letter arrives from the royal palace announcing the Selection: a competition where girls from all castes are invited to enter for a chance to be one of the 35 chosen to compete for the heart of Prince Maxon and become the next Queen of Illéa. For the Selected, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Anyone who is chosen to compete, whether they win or not, is automatically becomes a three, and their families are compensated weekly for their participation in the process. America’s family urges her to sign up, convinced that her beauty, intelligence and talent will earn her a spot as one of the Selected. Although she wants nothing more than to change her family’s status, one major problem looms for America: she is already deeply in love with Aspen, a childhood friend and six who she would never be allowed to marry. How will America choose between an opportunity to help her family and her love for Aspen?
Review: One of the most anticipated books of 2012 and already in production as a television show on the CW, The Selection has all the makings of a popular series for tween and teen girls: a likable heroine, a forbidden romance, a love triangle, a competition and, of course, a dystopian setting. Although it has received mixed reviews, reading the novel makes it is easy to see why Kiera Cass’ new novel has already hit the ground running in the popularity department. A cross between The Hunger Games and The Bachelor, the concept of the story holds a lot of appeal. Where the novel seems to fall short, however, is in originality. Several scenes in the book bear a very close resemblance to the experiences of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: the downtrodden but intelligent girl struggling to support her family, the love triangle between the old family friend and the new guy, the wealth of the royal family versus the oppression of the citizens. Readers will have to be completely unfamiliar with Suzanne Collins’ trilogy to not pick up on these obvious similarities. Fans of The Bachelor will also notice some overlap between events in the book and common occurrences on the long-running TV show: girls longing for that one-on-one time, the sexy bad girl who steals the Prince’s attentions whenever she can, the rose-ceremony-like dismissals. In essence, The Selection is basically these two iconic pieces of pop-culture combined. Fortunately, this melding is not a bad thing. Although it is far from original, the novel is entertaining. The characters are likable and the backstory is interesting. There is definitely a lot of material left for the rest of the series, and plenty to make for a good TV show. The sequel is set to be released sometime in the spring of 2013.

Genre: Science-fiction/Romance
Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  
Themes:  Romance, competition, dystopian, duty, caste system, class warfare, royalty, love triangle.

Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

Series Information: First book in Selection series. Second book set to be released in spring 2013.  
Discussion questions:

-        Why do you think Aspen insisted that America enter the Selection? Do you think it was the right thing to do?

-      Why did Aspen get so upset with the feast that America prepared for him? Do you think his feelings were justified?

-       Why do you think America was chosen to become one of the Selected?

-     Which of the Selected, besides America, is your favorite? Least favorite? Why?

-        Were you surprised by how America first spoke to Prince Maxon? Do you think it hurt or helped their relationship?

-        Why do you think Prince Maxon likes America?

-      Who do you think America will choose: Aspen or Prince Maxon? Why?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Need help deciding what to read?

Santa Clara County LibraryHello readers! I know that I try my hardest to read as many books as quickly as I can to let you know what's good, but, unfortunately, I can't always get to everything. Don't worry though! The library I work for, Santa Clara County Library, is here to help!

Our children and teen pages are chock full of booklists that can give you suggestions on things to read that I might have missed! You don't have to be a member or have a library card to check out these lists either...they are free and open to anyone!

Below are the links to these pages. Be sure to check them out and let me know if you have any questions or any feedback! Happy reading!

For tween readers, go here and click on the lists by grade. They go all the way up to 8th!:

For teen readers, go here:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lightbringer Book Review

 Author: K.D. McEntire. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Pyr. ISBN: 9781616145392.

Annotation: Sixteen-year-old Wendy and her mother are both Lightbringers: humans with the ability to see Earthbound souls and send them into the Light. After Wendy’s mother mysteriously falls into a coma, however, she will do anything to find her soul and help restore her to life. When Wendy meets Piotr, a teenage ghost who dedicates his afterlife to protecting the souls of children, the two work together to search for Wendy’s mother and to try and find out why the children Piotr watches over have begun to disappear.
Personal thoughts: This was one of those novels that, after I finished reading it, I wasn’t really sure what to think. Since I live in Silicon Valley, I naturally enjoyed the setting and references to things like Great America, the Great Mall, etc. I also thought that the minor characters in the novel were interesting, especially Piotr’s fellow Riders. I just couldn’t wrap my head around what exactly was going on with Wendy, the White Lady, and Piotr’s missing children. I was struggling to understand what was happening, and it seemed to get more and more confusing with each chapter. I also found the relationship between Wendy and Piotr to be unsettling, even though I’ve read novels with human/ghost romances before. I’m interested to see what happens in the sequel, but I don’t know if I would recommend this title readily.  
Plot summary: After she witnessed the death of her best friend Eddie’s father in a tragic car accident when she was twelve, Wendy, now sixteen, has been able to see Earthbound spirits: those who have died but continue to exist in the Never, a world similar to that of the living, but visible only to a select few. Wendy, like her mother, is a Lightbringer and has the ability to call forth the Light that sends souls into the world beyond the Never, setting them free and bringing them peace. Wendy can’t discuss her abilities with anyone but Eddie, and spends of her spare time training with her mom, trying to perfect her skills and learning about the intricacies of the afterlife. Everything changes, however, when Wendy’s mom inexplicably falls into a coma, her soul nowhere to be found. Wendy gives up reaping lost souls in order to search for her mother in the Never, hoping to find her and reunite her with her body, bringing her back to life. One day, Wendy encounters Piotr, the ghost of a Russian teenager who has spent his afterlife as a Rider: someone who protects the souls of children caught in the Never. Piotr is on a hunt of his own, trying to find out why some of the children he and the other riders in San Francisco watch over have begun to disappear. Piotr and Wendy decide to work together, and begin to form a relationship that seems to be more than just business. Can Wendy find her mother and help Piotr save the children he has sworn to protect?
Review: From debut author K.D. McEntire comes this interesting if somewhat strange new series that creates an afterlife that is much more than ghosts simply haunting graveyards and rattling chains. Set in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Lightbringer is the story of Wendy, a goth-girl who actually has something to be morose about. Unlike other stories with similar concepts, Wendy begins the story knowing about her powers and being familiar with how to send ghosts into the Light. Many novels that have had a protagonist discovering that they have some kind of supernatural ability tend to spend a lot of chapters focusing on said person learning how to do whatever it is they can do. That is not the case in Lightbringer. Instead, Wendy is more comfortable with her powers, and uses them to help solve the mystery of her mother’s condition and Piotr’s missing children. Although the storyline does have some interesting portions, however, much of the novel is, simply put, odd. The relationship between Eddie and Wendy is confusing, as are the details of her inevitable romance with the very-much-dead Piotr. There is also quite a bit of cussing, but it doesn’t always seem to fit in the moment. The end of the novel does pick up quite a bit and become exciting, but, overall, the story is a mixed-bag. The next installment in the series, Reaper, is set to be released on August 24, 2012.
Genre: Science-fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Hereafter by Tara Hudson, Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay, Shattered Souls by Mary Lindsey, Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake.  
Themes:  Ghosts, lost souls, reapers, death, the afterlife, mother/daughter relationships, sibling relationships, romance, San Francisco.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from authors Kristoper Reisz and Robin Wasserman.
Series Information: First installment in Lightbringer series. Second installment, Reaper, set to be released August 24, 2012.
Discussion questions:
-       Why do you think Wendy didn’t want a relationship with Eddie? Do you think it’s common for long time friends to develop romantic feelings for each other?

-      Why do you think Wendy didn’t tell Piotr about being the Lightbringer? Do you think it was the right thing to do?

-     Which of the Riders did you like the best? Why?

-     How did you feel about Wendy and Piotr forming a romantic relationship? How would you feel about a friendship with a ghost?

-      Were you surprised to learn the truth about the White Lady? Why or why not?

Monday, May 14, 2012

The False Princess Book Review

 Author: Eilis O’Neal. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  EgmontUSA. ISBN: 9781606840795.

Annotation: All of her life, Nalia, heir to the throne in the kingdom of Thorvaldor, has been preparing to become queen some day. Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, however, she is stunned to learn the truth: she is not a princess, but rather a stand-in to protect the real Nalia who was sent away for protection after a prophesy warned of her murder. Now Nalia has returned, and the false princess, whose real name is Sinda, is sent away from the palace to make her own way in the world.
Personal thoughts: I love a good fairy tale, so it was easy for me to like The False Princess with all of its magic, sword-fighting, princesses, and adventure. It’s not difficult to understand why this novel has received the accolades it has: it is well-written, very age-appropriate, and entertaining. I would have no trouble recommending this title to tween or teen girls who are in the mood for something with a medieval flavor. I look forward to seeing what else Eilis O’Neal publishes in the future.
Plot summary: The prospect of becoming queen someday has always frightened Nalia, heir to the throne of the kingdom of Thorvaldor. Having spent her life in the lush palace in the capital city of Vivaskari, Nalia feels more comfortable in the library enjoying a good book or with her best friend, Kiernan, than learning the skills necessary to be a proper princess. Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, however, Nalia’s life changes forever when she learns the truth: she is not a princess, but only a stand-in meant to keep the real Nalia safe from a prophesy that warned of a possible murder attempt on the real princess before she turned sixteen. Now the true heir to the throne is returning, and there is no need for the false Nalia, who also learns that her real name is Sinda, an orphan who’s only living relative is an aunt who works as a dyer in the nearby village of Treb. Forced to leave the only home she has ever known, and Kiernan, Sinda moves to Treb and discovers that her royal education does little to help her get by in life as a commoner. Fortunately, Sinda makes another startling discovery: her real mother, like many in the kingdom of Thorvaldor, was sorceress, and Sinda herself has magical powers. Determined to reunite with Kiernan and make a name for herself beyond the title of false princess, Sinda returns to Vivaskari and begins to apprentice with Philantha, a kind but eccentric sorceress. What Sinda doesn’t expect upon returning to her old town, however, is that there might be more to the story of her former life as princess than she realized.
Review: The False Princess, the first novel written by author Eilis O’Neal, is perfect for readers with fond childhood memories of fairy tales who want to read something with a bit more romance, action, and adventure. Set in the magical land of Thorvaldor, one of the biggest strengths of the story is the author’s skills at world-building. A lot of creativity is evident in her creation of place names, the history of the kingdom, and the mythology of the characters and events. A lot of factors play a role in the plot, but the effort taken to make the reader understand and care about Sinda, Kiernan and the Thorvaldor monarchy is very well concealed. The story is constructed effortlessly, making for a smooth, easily enjoyed fantasy adventure. The character of Sinda is likable and relatable, particularly after she is given the heave-ho once the true Nalia returns to the palace. Readers will sympathize with what she is going through and her actions, both good and bad, work well in the context of her experiences. The supporting characters are also very well-written, including Sinda’s best friend Kiernan and the goofy but lovable sorceress Philantha. Overall, there is much to enjoy in The False Princess and it would be highly recommendable to tween and teen girls who want a more age-appropriate fairy tale than Cinderella.
Genre: Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 6+
Similar titles: Entwined by Heather Dixon, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting.  
Themes:  Royalty, prophesy, conspiracy, magic, wizards, sorcery, loyalty.  
Awards/Reviews:  2011 YALSA Teen’s Top Ten Awards nominee,  2012 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selection, 2011 ABC New Voices selection, 2011 ABC Best Books for Children selection, starred review from School Library Journal, positive review from Publishers Weekly.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
-        How would you have felt if you were Nalia when she learned she wasn’t the true princess?

-      Why do you think Sinda’s Aunt Varil was so hard on her?

-      Do you think it was wise for Sinda to return to Vivaskari? Why or why not?

-     How does Sinda’s efforts to get into the Wizard College similar to students in today’s society trying to get into a university? Were there other parallels in the novel to our society?

-      Do you think the spell Sinda cast on Kiernan was the right thing to do? Why or why not?

-      Do you think Mika will be able to do what she promised in regards to improving things in Thorvaldor?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Insurgent Book Review

Author: Veronica Roth. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books. ISBN: 9780062024046.

Annotation: Following the Erudite-lead attack on Abnegation and her parents’ deaths, Tris and Tobias are on the run from Jeanine Matthews after she and her forces begin to hunt the Divergent. Convinced that there is more to the Erudite attack than simply a grasp for power, Tris tries to uncover the truth about the information that caused Jeanine to murder an entire faction.  
Personal thoughts: As a huge fan of Divergent, I was chomping at the bit for the release of the sequel. Although I have to say that I did like the first book more, I did find that Insurgent was still enjoyable, and a successful sequel to the first novel. Probably the largest reason that I preferred Divergent is because Tris seemed a lot more focused. Insurgent had a lot of her being confused, wallowing in self-guilt and trying to figure out just what to do in the wake of the events of the first novel. As I read more of Insurgent, however, I began to see the pieces coming together and am now really looking forward to seeing how Veronica Roth wraps up the story. I think that this series is easily recommended to fans of The Hunger Games who want some really well-written dystopian fare.
Plot summary: Her parents are dead and the Abnegation that weren’t killed in the Erudite-lead attack have gone into hiding. Tris and Tobias are on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of Jeanine Matthews, the brutal Erudite leader, and the Dauntless members that have defected to her side. The more Tris learns about the attack on Abnegation, however, the more she begins to wonder if there was more to it than Jeanine simply wanting to control the other factions. While hiding out in Amity, Tris overhears Marcus, Tobias’ estranged father and a former leader of Abnegation, telling the Amity leader, Johanna, that the Erudite attack was staged to keep the Abnegation from releasing information that would have changed all of the factions forever. Determined to ensure that her parents did not die in vain, Tris decides to discover the truth about the secret that lead Jeanine to murder an entire faction.
Review: Following the success of Veronica Roth’s first novel, Divergent, is no easy feat, but this sequel and second book in the Divergent trilogy, proves to be an effective and entertaining continuation in the story of sixteen-year-old Tris Prior and her life in post-apocalyptic Chicago. The nitty-gritty details of each faction, the choosing ceremony, and initiation are gone, replaced instead by a crumbling society wrought with conflict between factions. The events of Divergent left quite a cliffhanger, and the author does a good job of picking the story up and moving it along quickly. Tris’ struggle to cope with the death of her parents and her forced execution of friend Will in the previous novel permeate Insurgent, as does her struggle to be loyal to Tobias while seeking vengeance for the Erudite-lead attack of Abnegation. Some readers might find this inner-turmoil tedious at times, but, as the plot progresses, it is clear that the author is setting the stage for what is to come in the third novel. Tris is a very admirable leading lady, being motivated by more than her relationship with Tobias in deciding which actions to take. The end of the book, like the first, leaves a very steep cliffhanger that is sure to keep readers eagerly anticipating the third and final novel in the trilogy, which is set to be released in 2013. Overall, Insurgent proves to be an exciting, action-packed, and successful follow-up to Divergent.
Genre: Science-fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Eve by Anna Carey, The Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano, Legend by Marie Lu, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Partials by Dan Wells.
Themes:  Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, war, conflict, loyalty, revenge, love.
Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from Publishers Weekly, sequel to best-selling novel.  
Series Information: Second book in Divergent trilogy. First novel, Divergent, released in 2011.
Discussion questions:
-     Which novel did you like better: Divergent or Insurgent? Why?

-         How do you think Tris has changed since her choosing ceremony in Divergent? Do you think she has become a stronger person?

-        Why do you think Tris was having such a difficult time coping with Will’s death?

-        Do you agree with Amity’s initial stance in the conflict between Erudite and Abnegation? Why or why not?

-       Why do you think Jeanine Matthews and the Erudite were so determined to capture the Divergent?

-      Were you surprised by the ending of this novel? What do you think it means for the rest of the story?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Buried Thunder Book Review

Author: Tim Bowler Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Holiday House. ISBN: 9780823423972.

Annotation: After her family purchases and moves into an old inn called the Rowan Tree, fourteen-year-old Maya Munro is stalked by a strange fox that leads her into the woods where she discovers the bodies of three deceased residents of the nearby village. When Maya returns to the woods with the police, the bodies are gone, and Maya realizes that what she glimpsed may have been a warning of what’s to come.
Personal thoughts: This was one of those novels that, for personal reasons, really gave me some serious chills. The whole idea of the woods and the dead bodies was exceptionally creepy to me, having grown up next to a very large forest, and I had a sense of dread throughout the novel. I have to commend Tim Bowler on his ability to create something suspenseful and spooky that let most of the scares be up to the imagination. The entire novel was very well-written, and I enjoyed the setting as well. The ending was a little strange for me, but when it’s all said and done I thought it was a good book. I will definitely look for more of Tim Bowler’s works in the future.
Plot summary: Fourteen-year-old Maya Munro and her brother Tom have just moved with their parents to the Rowan Tree, an old inn and restaurant in a small English village. Determined to turn the inn into a thriving business, Maya’s parents quickly work to establish themselves while Maya and Tom get to know the area. Several days after their arrival, however, Maya begins to notice a strange presence in and around the Rowan Tree. A pair of glowing yellow eyes belonging to a mysterious fox appear wherever she goes, and, one night, lead her into the woods where she discovers the lifeless bodies of three village residents. Maya alerts the police and quickly leads them back to the clearing where she found the bodies, only to find that they have disappeared. To make matters worse, two of the people she saw lying dead in the woods are still very much alive, and now the close-knit village believes that Maya is delusional and seeking attention. Although Maya is relieved that no one has died, she begins to worry if her vision may have been a warning of what’s to come. Strange scratching sounds emanate from the walls of her room in the Rowan Tree, foxes keep turning up mutilated in the village, and headless effigies are being carved in the trunks of trees in the woods. Who or what is responsible for what’s going on, and is there anything Maya can do before someone is actually murdered?
Review: British author Tim Bowler, winner of the Carnegie Medal for his book River Boy, presents a spooky, atmospheric story in his latest novel, Buried Thunder. The mystery begins from the very first sentence, setting the stage for what is a vigorously paced and chilling tale that will appeal to a variety of readers. Since the novel is somewhat short and very succinct in its plot, reluctant readers or those who don’t want to get into something too lengthy will find a lot to enjoy in Buried Thunder. The story will also appeal to male readers who aren’t interested in something with a lot of romance (there is a very brief, somewhat unimportant flirtation in the novel that lasts less than a page). The book will also appeal to those who are interested in mysteries and hauntings, as well as premonitions. That being said, however, Buried Thunder is far from a perfect read. While the first 90% of the novel is really well written and suspenseful, the ending does seem to wrap up at warp speed, leaving a little bit to be desired in explaining what exactly was going on in the book. This may have been the author’s intention, wanting to leave some of it up to the imagination, but for readers who want everything thoroughly explained, it’s far from ideal. Despite this shortcoming, Buried Thunder is a quiet but spooky read with some genuinely creepy moments. Tim Bowler’s skill as a young adult author is evident throughout, and readers will likely seek out some of his other works after reading this book.   
Genre: Fiction/Horror
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: The Poisoned House by Michael Ford, Tighter by Adele Griffin, The Nightmarys by Dan Poblocki, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab.
Themes:  Murder, premonitions, hauntings, foxes, England.
Awards/Reviews:  Written by award-winning author.
Series Information: N/A   
Discussion questions:
-        What do you think was going on with Maya and the fox? How would you explain her premonitions?

-       Do you think Zep is a protagonist or antagonist? Why? What about Bonny or Mo?

-      Do you think Maya’s family believed her?

-      Were you surprised by the ending of the novel? Why or why not?