Thursday, August 30, 2012

Article 5 Book Review

 Author: Kristen Simmons. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Tor Teen. ISBN: 9780765329585.

Annotation: In the not-too-distant future, the United States is governed by the Moral Statutes: laws created following a catastrophic world war. One of the newest laws is Article 5 which states that only children conceived by a married man and woman are valid citizens. Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller has always tried to abide by the Moral Statutes, but after Article 5 is enacted, she and her single mother can no longer hide.      
Personal thoughts: I am really a big fan of dystopian novels, but it seems like after you’ve read 20+ titles in the genre, the ones that don’t do something completely different kind of blend together. I enjoyed reading Article 5, but I’m worried that it might not be unusual enough to really stick out in the crowd. I kind of already knew what was going to happen when the story began, just because it is what usually happens in dystopian novels. I do think it is a good book, however, and would easily recommend it to someone who wanted a Hunger Games read-alike. I will also definitely be picking up the sequel when it’s released, and I hope that the author can take the story in a unique direction that will really make the series a standout.
Plot summary: After a brutal war destroyed most of the United States’ major cities, the country is now under control by the Federal Bureau of Reformation (FBR). The Moral Statutes govern what citizens can and cannot do, and compliance is mandatory. The newest of the Moral Statutes is Article 5, which states that only children conceived by a married man and woman are valid citizens. Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller has tried to live her life in compliance with the Statutes. She attends high school, behaves appropriately, and tries to discourage her free-spirit mother from acting immorally. After the FBR initiates a crackdown on Article 5 violators, however, Ember and her mother, who has never been married, find themselves under arrest. Ember is sent to a reform school for girls, and her mother is sent to prison to await trial. The reform school is operated by a cruel woman named Ms. Brock and guarded by dozens of FBR soldiers. Ember wants nothing more than to escape the school and rescue her mother, but she cannot forget the face of one of the men who arrested her: Chase Jennings, the only boy she has ever loved.
Review: From debut author Kristen Simmons comes Article 5, the first novel in a new dystopian series for teens. Dystopian novels seem to be the bread and butter of the young adult genre in recent years, and, although it is well-written and has originality, Article 5 does have a lot in common with other recently published dystopian novels. The government rules with an absolute iron fist, people who disobey aren’t heard from again, the main character finds herself thrust into a situation that causes her to be at odds with the government, there is a romance that is threatened by the aforementioned situation. These are all plot points that Article 5 shares with other novels in the genre (in fact, Katniss Everdeen, the Godmother of dystopia herself, has these in common with Kristen Simmons’ Ember Miller.) The fact that Article 5 is a lot like other recently published dystopian novels, however, doesn’t make it any less entertaining. The author does a great job of creating tension in the story: the reader is never sure who to trust, what the truth about various situations is, and what will happen next for Ember Miller and Chase Jennings. There are also several plot twists that keep the book flowing very smoothly from start to finish, leaving the reader at a satisfying point to anticipate the sequel. Ember is a very likable if slightly underdeveloped character (the reader doesn’t really get a sense for who she is prior to the events of the story because the action starts within the first pages of the novel.) Hopefully, the author will be able to expand on Ember, Chase and their relationship in the sequel, Breaking Point, which is set to be released on February 5, 2013.
Genre:  Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Divergent series by Veronica Roth, Eve by Anna Carey, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Starters by Lissa Price, Partials by Dan Wells, Legend by Marie Lu, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins.
Themes:  Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, oppression, romance, duty, mother/daughter relationships.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from School Library Journal and Huffington Post.
Series Information: Sequel, Breaking Point, set to be released February 5, 2013.  
Discussion questions:
-        What do you think of the Moral Statutes? Do you think it’s possible that something like the Statutes could ever be enacted in the United States? Why or why not?

-      What would you have done if you were taken to reform school? Would you have acted like Rebecca? Rosa? Ember? Why?

-       What do you think was the reasoning behind Chase’s actions throughout the novel? Was it love? Loyalty? Duty?

-       Why do you think Tucker had such a grudge against Chase?

-    What would you like to see happen in the sequel to Article 5?




Sunday, August 19, 2012

Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain Vol. 1 Book Review

 Author: Nora Thompson. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Hairy Eyeballs Press. ISBN: 9780983669913.

Annotation: This macabre collection of short stories, poems and illustrations ranges from the musings of corpses to the pitfalls of having a pet tarantula.   
Personal thoughts: I don’t often read collections of short stories and poems, but when I heard about this one (and saw the cover) I decided to give it a try. I have to admit that, in general, I am really not a fan of poetry/lyrical writing in book form, but I actually enjoyed this collection. It is definitely creepy and more than a little gross, but I thought many of the chapters were really clever. I hope that Nora Thompson decides to publish a second volume, or perhaps write an entire novel in the same vein as this book, because I think she has a lot of originality to bring to the genre.  
Plot summary: This macabre collection of short stories, poems and illustrations ranges from the musings of corpses to the pitfalls of having a pet tarantula. Chapters run the gamut of literary styles including straight narrative style, disjointed poetry, and comic strip.
Review: Nora Thompson, the illustrator behind, creates her first book of flash fiction with Twisted Tales to Rot Your Brain Vol. 1. The collection is a very quick read, easy to finish in one sitting, with chapters ranging in length from one to several pages. While the entire book is, in a word, strange, the author does a good job of creating something creepy and, of course, twisted that is appropriate for the young adult audience. Readers who are familiar with the Scary Stories series or the poetry of Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky will find this collection comes across as a combination of the two. Some of the most enjoyable chapters in the book are “Hairy Eyeballs,” where the narrator must contend with a bristly hair inexplicably growing from the back of his throat, “Headache,” where it feels like something is trying to claw its way out of the narrator’s skull (and it just might be), and “Chula,” a story that will make anyone think twice about keeping a pet tarantula. Overall, any teen reader who is okay with the grossout/twisted nature of the book will find something that they enjoy in Nora Thompson’s collection. Funny, clever, and unique, the world of young adult literature has something to look forward to in Nora Thompson’s creations.
Genre:  Short Stories/Poetry/Horror
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz, Weenies series by David Lubar.
Themes:  Black comedy, macabre, death, irony, humor.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
-        What was your favorite chapter in this collection? Why?

-     How did the author’s use of illustrations add to the book? Do you like her artistic style?

-     Did you find any of the chapters in the collection funny? Creepy? Gross?
-       Describe the different writing styles Nora Thompson used in the book. Which do you like the best? The least? Why?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

On the Fringe Book Review

 Author: Courtney King Walker. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Lands Atlantic Publishing. ISBN: 9780982500552.

Annotation: Claire is heartbroken when her lifelong crush, her best friend’s older brother Daniel, is tragically killed in a seemingly random shooting. Months later after her own near death experience, Claire is shocked to discover that she can communicate with Daniel’s spirit which is stuck in “the fringe,” and that his murder might not have been random after all.    
Personal thoughts: Although this book did a pretty good job of creeping me out in parts, I had some trouble in finding something to latch onto to make it a novel I really loved. I thought Claire and Daniel were interesting characters, but I didn’t feel like I really got to know them in the story. The first few chapters (when Daniel was still alive) were my favorite in the book, and I wish that the author had spent a little more time developing Claire and Daniel and their relationship before jumping into ghosts-ville. I also didn’t really understand the “bad guy” or why he was so mean-spirited, my final guess being that the author simply meant for him to be just crazy. Overall, I did somewhat enjoy the novel, but it was one of those reads where I felt like I really could have loved it had it lived up to its potential fully. Either way, I am looking forward to seeing what Courtney King Walker comes up with next because she seems to definitely have some interesting ideas up her sleeve.
Plot summary: Since she was a little girl, sixteen-year-old Claire and her best friend Addie have been joined at the hip with Claire’s older brother, Matthew, who also happens to be best friends with Addie’s older brother, Daniel. The four have years of memories growing up together, the boys playing pranks on their annoying little sisters and the girls trying to keep up with their older brothers’ games. Now that they’re older, however, Claire and Daniel are just beginning to discover that they actually have feelings for each other. Daniel isn’t just Addie’s older brother, but is handsome and kind, and Daniel likes Claire’s adventurous and whimsical nature. Just as their relationship begins to blossom, however, Daniel is tragically killed in what appears to be a random shooting at a party. Addie, Matthew and Claire are completely heartbroken by the loss. In the months following his death, the three grieve in their own ways: Matthew going off to college, Addie focusing on her social life, and Claire wondering why her brother and her best friend are trying to move on from something that she feels has altered her life forever. Everything changes, however, after a freak accident causes Claire to nearly drown in a lake near her house. As she is losing consciousness beneath the surface of the water, she sees Daniel’s face, and he pulls her to shore. At first she thinks she imagined it, but Claire soon realizes that her near death experience has given her the ability to communicate with Daniel’s spirit. But how can Claire keep her newfound connection with Daniel a secret? And was his murder truly random, or was someone, or something, else behind Daniel’s death?
Review: In her first book, author Courtney King Walker creates a bittersweet and often creepy ghost story that is interesting but doesn’t exactly leave the reader with warm fuzzy feelings when it’s all said and done. The story begins in a very non-paranormal fashion: Claire is a free-spirited girl who finds herself falling for her best friend’s older brother, Daniel. Since the novel is told by dual narrators, both Daniel and Claire get to express the events of the story from their perspective, and Daniel’s description of his realization that Claire was more than just his best friend’s kid sister is very sweet. The story abruptly changes, however, after Daniel is murdered (shot in the head, to be exact.) This plot element was jarring, and the sweetness that was established in the first few chapters almost completely disappears. Claire discovering her new found connection with Daniel’s spirit is nice, but it does come after she nearly drowns. There is also a vengeful ghost who has it in for Daniel, and decides to haunt Claire after he discovers that she and Daniel have found a way to communicate. Everything in the plot seems to have a negative aspect to it, something that made it hard to get the romantic feelings flowing while Claire and Daniel fall more in love with each other. Some side characters are introduced throughout the story as well and are never fully vetted, leaving the reader slightly confused when they end up playing a large role in the plot. Overall, fans of ghost stories are likely to enjoy On the Fringe, but as a romance and a completely developed novel, the book leaves a bit to be desired.
Genre:  Fiction/Ghost Story
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, Hereafter series by Tara Hudson, Envy: An Empty Coffin Novel by Gregg Olsen, Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay, Lightbringer by K.D. McEntire, The Poisoned House by Michael Ford.
Themes:  Ghosts, murder, revenge, romance, friendship, grief, loss.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews on
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions:
-        What was the significance of the silver ring in the story? What did it symbolize about Claire and Daniel’s relationship?

-       After Daniel’s death, explain the difference between the way Matthew, Addie and Claire grieved. Which way do you think was the most “normal”? Do you think that one method of grieving is better than another?

-        When Claire almost drown in the lake on the night of her birthday, do you think a part of her wanted to die? Why or why not?

-      How do you explain the “connection” between Daniel and Claire after she almost drowned?

-     Why do you think Aden couldn’t forgive Daniel?

-     How do you explain the relationship between Aden and Felix?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Icefall Book Review

Author: Matthew J. Kirby. Release date: 2011. Publisher: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 9780545274241.

Annotation: After their father, the king, goes to war, the royal children, Solveig, her older sister, Asa, and her younger brother, Harald, are sent to spend the winter in safety in an isolated fortress tucked into a frozen fjord. Joined by an army of warriors and a few of their most trusted servants, Solveig and the rest of the fortress inhabitants begin to worry that their might be a traitor in their midst after several mysterious acts of sabotage occur in the frozen walls.   

Personal thoughts: When I first started this book I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to like it. As it continued, however, I grew to absolutely love the story. Solveig is easily one of my all-time favorite female protagonists in any novel I’ve read in both the adult and young adult genres. The fact that she is so endearing really made me care about what happened in the story, and I found myself cheering her on as she grew more confident in herself and in her abilities as a storyteller. I would easily be able to recommend this book to tween and teen readers who want something that completely immerses them in a different world. I would also highly recommend it to adult readers as well! I’m looking forward to seeing what Matthew J. Kirby comes up with next!

Plot summary: The second daughter and middle child of her father, the king, Solveig has never been considered by herself, or anyone else, to be special. Her older sister, Asa, is beautiful and graceful and her younger brother, the crown prince, Harald, is spunky and determined to be a powerful warrior. Solveig is plain and shy, and doesn’t really know where she fits in with the rest of her family. After her father declares war on a neighboring kingdom, Solveig, along with Asa and Harald, are sent away to spend the winter in an isolated fortress, safe from the perils of war. Along with the royal children come Per, one of the king’s most trusted warriors, and several of his men, servants Bera and her son Raudi, a good friend of Solveig’s, and Ole, a slave who was captured in battle years earlier but is now loyal to the king. The small group waits for the winter to come and the fjord to freeze over, blocking off any entrance by land or sea to their hidden fortress. Before the last ice forms, however, a ship full of berserkers, the king’s most ferocious warriors, lead by the gruff Captain Hake arrives to ensure the royal children are protected. The berserkers bring with them a skald named Alric, a man serves as the king’s chief storyteller. Solveig immediately bonds with Alric, who teaches her about the importance of stories and how they can shape the mind. As the winter trudges on, however, life in the frozen hall becomes increasingly claustrophobic. Used to the battlefield, the berserkers become restless, Solveig suspects that something is going on between Asa and Per, and several acts of sabotage threaten the lives of everyone in the fjord. Can Solveig uncover who the traitor is in their midst before it’s too late?

Review: Full of interesting characters, a rich and detailed setting, and a tense but creative plot, Icefall is a fascinating psychological fantasy novel that readers of all ages who want something that makes them think will enjoy. One of the most impressive parts of the book is how impactful Kirby’s ability to create a feeling of claustrophobia is. As the winter gets darker and colder, the reader feels just as much apprehension as Solveig does about the possibility of a traitor living in the hall. All of the novel’s characters are exceptionally well developed, particularly the very likable Solveig, and the reader finds themselves truly wondering who can be trusted and if everyone will make it through the winter alive. Although these feelings of tension abound in the novel, Kirby does an excellent job of limiting the amount of violence in the plot. The story takes place in ancient Norse times, so there is, of course, reference to battles, swordplay, etc. But parents should not be concerned about the appropriateness of the novel for tweens: everything is PG and there is very little gore. Although the novel is appropriate for younger readers, adults should not shy away from picking the book up as well. There are many layers to the plot that adults can appreciate, and the novel is, in plain terms, simply a good book. Highly recommended to fans of fantasy, mystery and stories set in ancient times.

Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Reading level: Grade 6+

Similar titles: Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett, Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter, D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire, Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, and Michael Chabon.

Themes: Norse myths, war, winter, tension, loyalty, betrayal, self-confidence.

Awards/Reviews: 2012 Edgar Award winner. Positive reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklis, and Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books.

Series Information: N/A

Discussion questions:
- Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?
-     Why do you think Solveig was so attached to Hilda?
-   Do you think the berserkers were trustworthy? Why or why not?
-    If you were Solveig, would you have shared your food with Ole? Why? Do you think Solveig regretted that decision?
-   Who did you suspect was the traitor in the hall as you were reading the novel? Did your opinion change as the story progressed? Why?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Touch: A Denazen Novel Book Review

 Author: Jus Accardo. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Entangled Teen. ISBN9781620610138.

Annotation: After Dez has a chance run in with the handsome and mysterious Kale, she learns that her father is part of an elite organization called Denazen that collects Sixes: people with mutations that give them extraordinary super powers.  
Personal thoughts: One thing I kept thinking throughout this novel was, “This is what X-Men would have been liked if Magneto had been in charge of the school instead of Professor Xavier.” After finishing it, that thought pretty much sums up the story! I found a lot of elements in the book to be similar to other young adult novels, and the parallels with X-Men are so apparent that the author even mentions them in the book. The one thing that really saved the novel for me was the author’s obviously thoughtful construction of Dez. She starts off the story seriously annoying and obnoxious, but the reader gets to see her personality mature and progress as she becomes more entrenched in her plight to find out the truth about Denazen. So often, protagonists in young adult novels are somewhat wooden, so it was nice to read about a “real” girl with a lot of spunk. Although this book wasn’t my favorite, I would still recommend it to teen girls who want something with action and romance. There is enough to enjoy about the story to make it a worthwhile read.
Plot summary: Seventeen-year-old Deznee “Dez” Cross has spent most of her life trying to break through her lawyer father’s iron guard by making him angry. Her mother died giving birth to her, and Dez has always assumed that her dad’s icy relationship with her is because he blames her for losing his wife. Dez isn’t sure how else to get his attention, so she spends her days partying, hooking up with guys, and pulling daredevil stunts like skateboarding off of roofs. One night after a particularly wild party, Dez happens to meet a handsome and mysterious guy named Kale. Kale seems disoriented, and Dez soon learns that he is on the run from Denazen, the “law firm” her father works for. Kale informs Dez that her father is actually involved in the collection of Sixes, people, mostly children and teens, with a mutated sixth chromosome that gives them extraordinary superpowers. Kale has the ability to kill anyone just with the touch of his hand, but he and Dez are shocked to discover that Dez is inexplicably immune to his power. Horrified by the truth about her father, Dez and Kale find themselves both targets of Denazen and on the run. But how long can Dez evade her father, and what will happen when he and Denazen discover a dangerous secret she has been keeping all of her life?
Review: Debut author Jus Accardo’s personality shines through in Touch, the first novel in a new series for teens. While the storyline isn’t really anything new, the author’s writing style gives it a bit of freshness, particularly in her portrayal of Dez, a foul-mouthed, rebellious seventeen-year-old with a dangerous secret. Almost from the first pages of the book, it’s clear that Dez isn’t a typical teen heroine. She’s rash, abrasive, and more than a little obnoxious. As the story progresses, however, the reader experiences Dez maturing as she learns more about the truth of her father and his role in the sinister Denazen Corporation. Her relationship with Kale, the handsome and strong Six who managed to escape from Denazen, is enjoyable and romantic, although predictable. There are also many twists and turns in the plot, with characters switching allegiances and secrets being revealed left and right. Overall, Touch isn’t a particularly original novel, but it is entertaining and has all the elements that will appeal to many readers, especially teen girls. The sequel, Toxic, is set to be released September 11, 2012.
Genre:  Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: X-Men comic series, Damage by Anya Parrish, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Tempest by Julie Cross, Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson.
Themes:  Superpowers, father/daughter relationships, conspiracy, kidnapping, romance.   
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from authors Darynda Jones, Jennifer L. Armentrout, and Inara Scott.
Series Information: First installment in Denazen series. Second novel, Toxic, set to be released September 11, 2012.
Discussion questions:

-         Why do you think Dez is constantly trying to “piss her father off”?

-        Why was Dez so quick to side with Kale against Denazen?

-     Do you think that Dez’s father actually loved her? Why or why not?

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

-       Dez told Alex that she didn’t think she would ever be completely over him. Do you think it's common for people to feel that way about their "first love"? Why or why not?

-       Which plot twist surprised you the most? Why? Did you anticipate anything that happened in the novel?