Monday, December 24, 2012

Ripper Book Review

Author: Amy Carol Reeves. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Flux. ISBN: 9780738730721.

PhotobucketAnnotation: After her mother’s death, seventeen-year-old Arabella “Abbie” Sharp leaves her home in Dublin to live with her wealthy grandmother, Lady Westfield, in the Kensington neighborhood of London. In an effort to get her granddaughter to appreciate her new life of privilege, Lady Westfield volunteers Abbie to work at the women’s hospital in Whitechapel. Abbie finds that she enjoys tending to the poverty stricken residents of the East End, but her new found love of medicine is cut short when Jack the Ripper begins terrorizing the dark streets surrounding the hospital.  

Personal thoughts: As I have said before, I am always ready to pounce on any novels that feature the brutal if intriguing Jack the Ripper case, so when I heard about Ripper I had to pick it up. I am also a fan of historical fiction, so I was able to enjoy Amy Carol Reeves’ story from both angles. Her knowledge and love of the time period is clear, and I definitely found some subtle and not-so-subtle references to classic novels that, hopefully, teen readers can pick up on as well. Although I found the supernatural components as well as the requisite love-triangle to somewhat detract from what I was really interested in, I think most teen readers will enjoy these aspects of the story, especially since so many young adult novels include them. I would easily recommend this book to a reader who wants historical fiction with a twist. I look forward to reading Renegade when it is released in 2013.

Plot summary: After her mother’s sudden death from dysentery, seventeen-year-old Arabella “Abbie” Sharp leaves the gritty streets of 1888 Dublin to live with her wealthy grandmother, Lady Westfield, in the well-to-do London neighborhood of Kensington. Before she was born, Lady Westfield disowned Abbie’s mother for eloping with a poor Frenchman, but now that Abbie has returned to her mother’s former privileged life, her grandmother is determined to ensure that Abbie doesn’t follow in her mother’s footsteps. In an effort to make her granddaughter appreciate her luxurious if dull new surroundings, Lady Westfield volunteers Abbie to work with family friend Dr. Bartlett at the women’s hospital in the impoverished Whitechapel neighborhood. Soon after beginning her work there, Abbie discovers a natural love of medicine and a genuine enjoyment of helping the poverty-stricken women of the East End. Her love of working in the hospital is brief, however, when Jack the Ripper begins his brutal killing spree, murdering women who were recently discharged from the hospital’s care. Like everyone, Abbie is terrified by the savage nature of the crimes, but she soon realizes that she and the Ripper have a connection: strange visions that show the Ripper’s victims just before their deaths. What is the link between Abbie, the Ripper and the Whitechapel Hospital, and can she discover it in time to save her own life?

Review: In her debut novel, author and 19th century British literature expert Amy Carol Reeves brings one of history’s most terrifying figures to life in Ripper. Although not the first young adult novel in recent years to feature Jack the Ripper, Abbie Sharp’s story is one of many layers in which the infamous murderer is just another component of a larger mystery. Abbie herself is a very likable character, trying to reconcile her new life of corsets and tea parties with the knife throwing skills and street smarts she picked up in Dublin. Her devotion and compassion for the patients she finds herself caring for at the Whitechapel Hospital is very believable, and will hopefully prompt readers to research more into what life was like for women living in poverty in the 19th century. Ripper fans will find some familiar faces, as Abbie meets and befriends several victims before they are brutally slain. The paranormal aspects of the story, from Abbie’s psychic visions to the increasingly obvious supernatural nature of the crimes, will also appeal to readers who want something more than just a simple historical fiction novel. As with all young adult novels, it seems, there is also a romance in the form of a love triangle between Abbie and two young physicians at the hospital. Since Ripper is the first book in a series, the love triangle will undoubtedly continue in the second installment, Renegade, which is set to be released in April 2013. Overall, Ripper proves to be an entertaining historical fiction novel that both Jack the Ripper fans and those not well acquainted with the killer can enjoy.

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Mystery

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber, Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury.

Themes:  Jack the Ripper, murder, mystery, conspiracy, secret societies, orphans, London, Victorian era.     

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from VOYA, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal.

Series Information: First novel in Ripper series, second novel, Renegade, set to be released April 2013.       

Discussion questions:
-        Were you familiar with Jack the Ripper before reading the novel? What did you learn about him?

-        Why do you think Abbie has such a hard time adjusting to life in Kensington?

-         Would you want to work at the Whitechapel Hospital? Why or why not?

-       How would you explain Abbie’s visions?

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Spark Book Review

Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  St. Martin’s Griffin. ISBN: 9780312621353.

Annotation: After rescuing the girls who were kidnapped and returning to the Empyrean, Waverly finds herself at odds with her former fiancée, Kieran. Desperate to keep the ship and its inhabitants under control so they can retrieve their parents from the New Horizon, Kieran is struggling to maintain his authority in a ship now crewed by teenagers. To make matters worse, a terrorist seems to be making every effort to sabotage the Empyrean, and Kieran suspects the fault lies with Seth, who is not imprisoned in the brig for his attempted mutiny.

Personal thoughts: I liked the first novel in this series, Glow, but after reading Spark, I can now safely say that I am a real Sky Chasers fan. I really like the author’s pacing and find that it makes the story flow smoothly enough that I would be able to recommend the series to a more reluctant teen reader. The plot is also developed enough, however, for it to be thought-provoking and enjoyable for readers who want a story with a little more meat. I applaud Amy Kathleen Ryan for writing a sequel that is as good, if not better, than the first novel, and I can’t wait to read Flame when it is released in June.

Plot summary: She almost lost her life trying to rescue the girls who were kidnapped and taken aboard the New Horizon, but Waverly Marshall finds a less than welcome homecoming after their shuttle returns to the Empyrean. Desperate to get their parents back from the clutches of the New Horizon’s charismatic leader, Anne Mather, those who are left alive on the Empyrean blame both Waverly and Kieran, who is still acting captain, for their inability to catch up with their sister ship. Seth, who tried and failed to stage a mutiny against Kieran, finds himself locked in the brig, struggling to maintain his sanity as he thinks about all those who were lost during the New Horizon’s attack. Soon after Waverly the other girls’ return to the Empyrean, however, acts of sabotage begin to happen around the ship. Seth finds himself inexplicably released from the brig, his cell door unlocked and the guards knocked out. Kieran suspects that Seth himself is the terrorist wreaking havoc, and Seth, now in hiding onboard the ship, is determined to prove that the saboteur is actually a stowaway from the New Horizon. As dissent and distrust grows on the Empyrean, will Waverly, Kieran and Seth survive long enough to see the rescue of their parents and the end of their mission to reach New Earth?

Review: The effective writing, breakneck packing, and intriguing twists and turns of the Sky Chasers series are as apparent as ever in Spark, the sequel to Amy Kathleen Ryan’s 2011 novel Glow. One of the most enjoyable parts of Glow was that the action began very early on in the story, and continued pretty much without pause throughout the book. The same is true for Spark, which picks up right where the first novel left off. Although romance wasn’t a huge part of the author’s first installment in this series, it is virtually gone in the sequel, making this novel an ideal selection for readers (especially guys) who want to stick with pure action, adventure and science-fiction. The plot twists and turns, leaving the reader guessing about what will happen next. The author does an excellent job of furthering the development of the characters she introduced in Glow, with them growing and adapting as the horrible circumstances they are facing continue to change. Waverly, the somewhat doe-eyed girl who was in love with Kieran at the beginning of the first novel, is now hardened and at odds with her former fiancée. Kieran is becoming increasingly paranoid following the near mutiny staged by Seth in Glow, fearing that the crew and inhabitants left onboard the Empyrean are plotting against him. Seth has also shifted from a brutish bully to a more sympathetic character, out to restore his good name and save the ship from the plots of the terrorist that is now onboard. The book ends on quite a cliffhanger that is certain to leave readers eagerly anticipating the third novel, Flame, which is set to be released on June 4, 2013. Overall, a solid installment in a solid sci-fi series that both teens and adults can easily enjoy.

Genre:  Science-Fiction

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Across the Universe and A Million Suns by Beth Revis, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan.  

Themes:  Space travel, trust, loyalty, sabotage, religion, war.    

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Kirkus.       

Series Information: Second novel in Sky Chasers series. First novel, Glow (2011), third novel, Flame, set to be released June 4, 2013.   
Discussion questions:
-         Did you enjoy this novel more or less than Glow? Why?

-       Why do you think Waverly was so conflicted about rescuing the girls from the New Horizon?

-       Do you think Kieran was paranoid following the near mutiny by Seth and his followers? Why or why not?

-        Do you think Seth is a protagonist or antagonist?

-         Do you think Kieran is the best person to be captain of the Empyrean? Why or why not?

-        Who do you agree with on the subject of torturing prisoners: Kieran or Waverly? Why?

-         What would you like to see happen in the third novel, Flame?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Library Lady Hylary's Best Books of 2012

2012 is coming to a close, and it's time again to crown my favorite books of the year! Although I have only read just some of the many great books available for teens and tweens, these are the ones I read this year that really stand out. Please click on the various titles to see my reviews of each novel. Enjoy!

Best Horror Novel: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Best Fantasy Novel: Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Best Dystopian Novel: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Best Historical Fiction Novel: Blue Thread by Ruth Tenzer Feldman

Best Romance Novel: Tiger's Destiny by Colleen Houck

Best Science-Fiction Novel: Starters by Lissa Price

Best Paranormal Novel: Croak by Gina Damino

Best Spin-Off/Retelling Novel: Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

Best Book of 2012: A Million Suns by Beth Revis

Grave Mercy Book Review

Author: Robin LaFevers. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. ISBN: 9780547628349.

Annotation: After narrowly escaping an abusive marriage she was forced into, seventeen-year-old Ismae is taken to the Convent of Saint Mortain where she is initiated as a daughter of the god of Death and trained as an assassin. After three years of living in the convent, Ismae is sent to the high court of Brittany to uncover a plot to overthrow the young duchess. Posing as the mistress of the duchess’ older brother, Gavriel Duval, Ismae learns that her training in the convent has not prepared her for the treachery that is part of life in the royal court.

Personal thoughts: I love historical fiction, so I was excited to read that Grave Mercy combines the genre with the paranormal and romance. Although I thought the book was a little long (I know plenty of teens I would try to recommend it to would blanch when seeing its thickness), I did enjoy the story quite a bit. I only knew a little bit about Brittany prior to picking it up, and it inspired me to learn more, something that it is likely to do for young adult readers as well. I also found Ismae to be a very likable character, and enjoyed seeing her walls come down as she began to have feelings for Gavriel. Like I said, some chapters did get to be a bit wordy and some of the subplots could have been eliminated as well, but overall I think this a good choice for a teen reader who wants a mix of history and fantasy. I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Plot summary: Raised by an abusive father and shunned by her village for a large, unsightly birthmark on her back, Ismae Rienne’s life in late 15th-century Brittany has never been easy. After her father forces her into a marriage with a wealthy man in the village, Ismae hopes that her life has taken a turn for the better, only to soon find out that her new husband is just as abusive as her father, savagely beating her on their wedding night. Ismae’s prayers are finally answered, however, when a local priest smuggles her out of the village and takes her to the Convent of Saint Mortain. There Ismae learns that her birthmark is actually a sign that she is a daughter of Saint Mortain, the god of Death, and destined to live in the convent with dozens of other girls, training to become a deadly assassin. Ismae spends three years in the convent before she is charged by the reverend mother to travel to the high court of Brittany to pose as the mistress of the mysterious and handsome Gavriel Duval, brother of the young duchess who is set to rule the country. Duval, along with the reverend mother and one of the duchess’ closest advisors, Chancellor Crunard, fear that traitors are living at court, plotting with the French to overthrow the duchess. The reverend mother and Crunard both fear that Duval might be the one to blame, and it is up to Ismae to determine who is committing treason and, thus, deserves the wrath of Saint Mortain. Soon after arriving at court, however, Ismae realizes that her training at the convent has not prepared her for the treachery that abounds under the duchess’ roof. Ismae can trust no one, even Gavriel, who she finds herself developing feelings for. Can a handmaiden of death truly hope to save a country amidst a sea of traitors?

Review: From veteran author Robin LaFevers comes this epically scaled novel set in 15th century Britanny. The story revolves around seventeen-year-old Ismae Rienne, an assassin trained in the fictitious Convent of Saint Mortain. Several characters in the novel, however, are based on real people, particularly Anne Duchess of Brittany. Readers who are not familiar with Brittany, the small kingdom that became a province of France in 1532, will learn quite a bit about the intricacies involved in the country trying to remain autonomous despite threats from its much larger and more powerful neighbors. The author does a good job of tying the more historical aspects of the novel into Ismae’s story which is more along the lines of what one would expect from a young adult novel. Ismae is a typical teen heroine with a bonus: she is a deadly assassin trained by even deadlier nuns in service to Saint Mortain. There are some paranormal components of the novel, but the majority of the story surrounds the high court of Brittany and, more importantly, Ismae’s relationship with the troubled but kind Gavriel Duval. The book is quite lengthy at almost 550 pages, but this gives the author plenty of time to develop the characters and story, making it likely that readers will want to pick up the sequel, Dark Triumph, which is set to be released April 2, 2013.

Genre:  Historical-Fiction

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay by Alex Epstein, The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal, Gilt by Katherine Longshore, Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren.
Themes:  Assassins, death, convents, royalty, medieval times, treason, conspiracy, Brittany, love, duty, loyalty.

Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from Booklist, positive reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.     

Series Information: First book in His Fair Assassin series.  

Discussion questions:

-       Why do you think her scar caused the village to shun Ismae? Do you think people still shun those who have physical deformities or handicaps? Why or why not?

If you were given the opportunity, would you want to train with the nuns of the Convent of Saint Mortain?

How would you describe the marque of Mortain? What do you think it is? What does it mean?

Why do you think Ismae has such a hard time trusting Gavriel at first? What do you think changes her mind?

Were you surprised to learn the identity of the traitor at court? Why or why not?

The sequel to this novel, Dark Triumph, is about Sybella and her story. What would you like to see happen in this book?