Monday, March 25, 2013

Prodigy Book Review

Author: Marie Lu. Release date: 2013. Publisher: Putnam Juvenile. ISBN: 9780399256769.

Annotation: After escaping execution, Day and June are on the run from the Republic. They soon find themselves seeking refuge among the Patriots, an anti-Republic group lead by a man named Razor. In order to keep them safe and help them free Day’s brother Eden, the Patriots make June and Day an offer:  help them assassinate the Elector.

Personal thoughts: I enjoyed Legend quite a bit, but after now after reading Prodigy I can safely say that I have morphed into a huge fan of Marie Lu’s series. I really like the world she has created, especially since we got to learn more about it in this novel. I found myself liking Day and June a lot more than I did in Legend, particularly June who is given the opportunity to come out of her “Republic soldier genius” shell in Prodigy. I would easily recommend this trilogy to fans of dystopian novels, especially readers who are pining for something Hunger Games-y. I am really looking forward to the third novel!

Plot summary: After narrowly escaping execution, Day and June are on the run from the Republic. Not sure where to turn for safety, they soon find themselves at the mercy of the Patriots: an anti-Republic group lead by a man named Razor. The Patriots want to unite the Republic and the Colonies and bring about the return of the United States of America, and offer to help Day and June in exchange for their assistance in bringing about a revolution. After the Elector Primo dies and his son, Anden, takes over as leader of the Republic, the Patriots see their chance to create an uprising. In order to do so, they will assassinate the new Elector; more specifically, Day will pull the trigger. Day and June reluctantly agree to the Patriots’ plan, having nowhere else to turn and desperately wanting the help of the Patriots in rescuing Day’s brother Eden from the clutches of the Republic. But can Day and June truly trust Razor and the rest of the Patriots, or is there something, or someone, else behind the plot to assassinate the new Elector?

Review: Following up 2012’s best-selling and hugely popular Legend was, undoubtedly, a daunting task for author Marie Lu. Fortunately, the sequel, Prodigy, not only lives up to but surpasses its predecessor, bringing the Legend trilogy safely to the forefront of the young adult genre. Where Legend spent a great deal of time setting the stage for the story (i.e. firmly establishing the totalitarian brutality of the Republic, building the romance between Day and June, etc), Prodigy gets to use this plot construction as a springboard into a very exciting series of twists and turns. Full of action from start to finish, most readers will have trouble putting the book down. Day and June are further developed, as are some additional characters, making the reader a lot more invested in the story than they might have been in Legend. In addition, a lot of information is revealed, propelling the world Marie Lu has created into very intriguing new areas. Overall, a stellar sequel that is sure to please already existing fans and draw in new readers as well. The third and final novel in the trilogy, Champion, is set to be released in 2014.

Genre:  Science-Fiction

Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Divergent series by Veronica Roth, The Pledge series by Kimberly Derting, Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi, Under the Never Sky series by Veronica Rossi, Across the Universe trilogy by Beth Revis, Cinder series by Marissa Meyer.  

Themes:  Dystopian, oppression, government control, loyalty, conspiracy, assassination, trust, love.

Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness. Positive reviews from New York Journal of Books, Entertainment Weekly and Los Angeles Times.  

Series Information: Second installment in Legend trilogy. First novel, Legend, released in 2011. Third novel, Champion, set to be released in 2014.   

Discussion questions:

-        Which novel did you like more: Legend or Prodigy? Why?

-      Explain the title of the novel. What is a prodigy? Who is the title referring to?

-          Who would you describe as the protagonists and antagonists in the novel? Do they change as the story progresses?
-        What does the paper clip ring symbolize?

-        If you were Day or June, would you have agreed to be a part of the Patriots' plan? Why or why not?

-         Why does the relationship between Tess and Day become strained? Do you think that’s normal?

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

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

Friday, March 22, 2013

Tiger Lily Book Review

Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson. Release date: 2012. Publisher: HarperTeen. ISBN: 9781595145994.

Annotation: On the mysterious and remote island of Neverland, a faerie named Tink observes as Tiger Lily, a strong but misunderstood member of a tribe of Sky Eaters, falls in love with Peter Pan, the leader of the Lost Boys.   

Personal thoughts: When I was a kid, the release of the movie Hook was a big deal, so I have been a fan of Peter Pan and the rest of inhabitants of Neverland for a long time. When I heard about this book, I was immediately intrigued because Tiger Lily has always been one of the more sub-characters in the story with Wendy getting far more screentime. I think the author feels the same way as me (that Wendy is kind of irritating), so I’m glad she wrote this story that turns Tiger Lily into a Xena Warrior Princess type character. It was interesting to see Tiger Lily in this light, and I really enjoyed that the novel was narrated by Tink. The story is far from light-hearted, but I enjoyed reading it and hope that the author comes up with more classic reboots in the future.

Plot summary: On the mysterious and remote island of Neverland, creatures like faeries and mermaids are common. Inhabitants of Neverland only age to a certain point, and the island is divided amongst various tribes, a fierce band of pirates, and a group of Lost Boys rumored to be lead by a monster named Peter Pan. One faerie named Tink finds herself following Tiger Lily, a girl who is well over eighty years old but with the appearance of a fifteen-year-old. Tiger Lily has never really fit into her tribe known as the Sky Eaters. Both brave and strong, her tribe has always feared her, believing her to be under the protection of the crows. After being promised to a cruel and oafish man in her tribe, Tiger Lily meets Peter Pan and discovers that, not only is he not a monster, he is a charismatic and bewitching boy her own age who protects his group of Lost Boys from the pirates. Initially unsure of their relationship, Tiger Lily and Peter soon find themselves falling in love with one another, all under the watchful eye of Tink. The arrival of an English ship to Neverland and, in particular, a beautiful girl named Wendy, however, will change everything forever.

Review: Everyone knows the tale of Peter Pan, Wendy, Neverland, Captain Hook and the Lost Boys. A character who doesn’t always figure into the story in a positive light is the beautiful but wild girl named Tiger Lily. In veteran author Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Tiger Lily, however, the reader gets a new take on this mysterious girl and her relationship with Peter Pan, all from the perspective of a tiny faerie named Tink. A more gritty interpretation of J.M. Barrie’s mythical world of Neverland, the novel focuses primarily on Tiger Lily herself: who she is, her place among her people, and why she allows herself to fall for the unpredictable Peter Pan. The Disney version of the characters is completely absent from Tiger Lily. Captain Hook is a decrepit alcoholic who is obsessed with killing the person he views responsible for kidnapping his young cabin boys. His right-hand man Smee is a murderer and the pirates are dirty and constantly in a drunken stupor. Peter Pan himself is charismatic and charming, but slightly unhinged, leading his band of dirty Lost Boys in a constant effort to hide from the pirates. Tink is a quirky narrator who, incapable of actually speaking with Peter or Tiger Lily herself, observes their actions, giving the reader her interpretations and feelings on their relationship, particularly after the arrival of the spoiled and slightly bratty Wendy. Fans of the original Peter Pan story and its many iterations will enjoy this new look at the classic tale. For those who aren’t as interested in the characters themselves, however, the story might not satisfy as much, offering nothing that would entice teens who don’t want to read the novel simply based on it being a Peter Pan re-boot. Overall, an excellent story for teens and adults for like re-told classics, but not really for those whose tastes lie elsewhere.

Genre:  Fantasy

Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan Le Fay by Alex Epstein, Little Women and Me by Lauren Barazt-Logsted.

Themes:  Neverland, Peter Pan, Tiger Lily, Captain Hook, romance, acceptance, revenge, fairies, love.   

Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, positive reviews from VOYA and Booklist.

Series Information: N/A  

Discussion questions:

-       How did you feel about the character of Tiger Lily before reading the novel? Did your perspective of her change after? How did your perspectives of the other characters in Peter Pan change?

-          Why do you think the Sky Eaters feared Tiger Lily?

-          Why did Tik Tok dress like a woman? Why did the villagers attitudes towards this change after the arrival of Phillip?

-         Did you like Tink as the narrator of the novel? What role did she play in the story?

-       Why do you think Smee was obsessed with Tiger Lily?

-       Did you like Wendy? Why or why not?

-         How did you feel about the ending of the novel? Did you like it? Dislike it? Why?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Paper Valentine Book Review

Author: Brenna Yovanoff. Release date: 2013. Publisher: Razorbill. ISBN: 9781595145994.

Annotation: Haunted by the ghost of her best friend who died six months earlier, sixteen-year-old Hannah Wagner begins investigating the murder of young girls in a park near her house. When each body is discovered with a paper valentine attached, Hannah realizes that a serial killer is terrorizing her hometown, and that the key to catching him might lie with the ghosts of the girls he’s killed.

Personal thoughts: This is the second novel of Brenna Yovanoff’s that I’ve read, and I can safely say after thoroughly enjoying both that I am a fan. One of my favorite things about this author, apart from her dark, well-written stories, is that her novels are stand-alone. This means that the story is given a beginning, middle and end, leaving the reader feeling satisfied instead of longing for a sequel. I think it’s a huge accomplishment that the author can create something intriguing and with a great deal of depth without having to publish oodles of sequels. I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next!    

Plot summary: Six months ago, sixteen-year-old Hannah Wagner’s life changed forever when her best friend, Lillian, died. Now Hannah is being haunted by Lillian’s ghost, who is just as controlling as she was when she was alive. Hannah always followed Lillian’s lead with their other friends, but now that she’s on her own she isn’t sure if she fits in with the popular crowd anymore. To make matters worse, Hannah can’t stop thinking about Finny Boone, a delinquent and social outcast who has always been strangely kind to her. Living with the ghost of Lillian quickly becomes the least of Hannah’s problems, however, when a string of grisly murders begins happening in a park near her house. It seems that a serial killer is targeting young girls, leaving the bodies riddled with toys and a single paper valentine. Lillian urges Hannah to begin investigating the murders, but the more she learns, the more it seems like her life might be in danger next.

Review: Brenna Yovanoff is well-known in the young adult arena for her dark, quirky and well-written novels, and her latest, Paper Valentine, is no exception. Part murder-mystery, part ghost story, Paper Valentine weaves a complex and thoroughly enjoyable tale with interesting, well-developed characters. The relationship between Hannah and the ghost of her best friend Lillian is perhaps the most important part of the story. In life, popular girl Lillian was in charge. Hannah followed her charismatic friend’s lead, even as Lillian began to self-destruct thanks to a lifelong struggle with anorexia. Now that Lillian’s dead, Hannah feels more than a little lost, even with her friend’s ghost constantly hovering nearby. Readers who have ever had a relationship like that between Lillian and Hannah will identify with what Hannah feels, especially when she begins to make her own social decisions following Lillian’s death. For those readers who aren’t as interested in the friendship aspect of the novel, the mysterious murders committed by the Valentine Killer will provide more than a little entertainment. Hannah and Lillian are determined to find out the identity of the killer before more girls are murdered, but the more they uncover, the more they realize that there is nothing simple about the person who is targeting young girls, leaving their bodies littered with toys and a single paper valentine. Overall, Brenna Yovanoff’s latest novel is at times both exceptionally heartwarming and creepy. It will hold a lot of appeal to a variety of readers, both teen and adult.

Genre:  Fantasy/Mystery

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake, Croak by Gina Damico, Empty Coffin series by Gregg Olsen, Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey, Hereafter series by Tara Hudson,  I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.

Themes:  Friendship, murder, anorexia, relationships, mystery.  

Awards/Reviews:  Starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Series Information: N/A  

Discussion questions:

-         Have you ever had a friend like Lillian? Do you think she is a good friend to Hannah?

-       Why do you think Hannah is so reluctant to admit her feelings for Finny?

-        Why do you think Lillian is haunting Hannah?

-       What is the significance of the toys surrounding the bodies of the murdered girls?

-        Were you surprised to learn the identity of the Valentine Killer? Why or why not?

-         How would you explain the ending of the novel?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Essence Book Review

 Author: Kimberly Derting. Release date: 2013. Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books. ISBN: 9781442445598.

Annotation: Now the queen of Ludania, Charlie is coping with her newfound rule over her troubled kingdom where her demolishing of the caste system isn’t as accepted as she’d hoped. To make matters worse, Sabara’s essence which, unbeknownst to anyone else, was transferred when the evil queen was killed is lurking deep inside Charlie, threatening to take control at any moment.

Personal thoughts: I seem to keep being disappointed by sequels to novels that I really loved and, unfortunately, The Essence is yet another sophomore slump for me. The Pledge was a really interesting and entertaining story, with the language-based caste system, Charlie uncovering her role as heir to the throne of Ludania and her relationship with Max. In The Essence, Charlie is now a bit of a brat, whining constantly about all of the issues she has to deal with as queen. The plot is also slow and never seems to pick up a lot of speed at any point in the novel. I hope that the author can turn the series around with an excellent third novel, but I’m sorry to say that my hopes aren’t very high.    

Plot summary: Now that she is settling into her newfound role as the queen of Ludania, Charlie is struggling to cope with unrest in her troubled kingdom. The caste system that used to strictly divide the country by language has been abolished, and Charlie, Max and Brooklynn are trying to ensure that the transition to equality goes smoothly. Unfortunately, not everyone in Ludania is thrilled about what Charlie has done. Threats against the queen are uncovered on a daily basis, making Charlie fear for the safety of her family, especially her younger sister, Angelina. Charlie’s biggest threat, however, is not something outside the castle walls, but lives deep inside of her: the essence of the evil queen Sabara, the one Charlie supposedly killed to become queen, is trapped in Charlie and wants nothing more than to get out. The longer Sabara’s spirit lives within Charlie, the more their thoughts and memories become linked, and Charlie soon realizes that there is much she didn’t know about the former queen of Ludania. What do the dreams of Sabara’s previous lives mean? Why does Charlie find herself drawn to a mysterious strange, Niko Bartolo, from a neighboring kingdom? Can Charlie keep the presence of Sabara’s essence within her a secret from the people she loves?

Review: Following the popular first installment in The Pledge trilogy, veteran author Kimberly Derting continues her latest series with The Essence. Beginning shortly after the events of the previous novel, Charlie, the vendor’s daughter turned queen of the kingdom of Ludania, finds herself in a series of increasingly dangerous situations. Her people aren’t as crazy about her as she’d hoped they be, it seems like someone is trying very hard to kill her, she’s not that into being treated like royalty, and the spirit of the evil queen Sabara, who also happens to be her boyfriend’s grandmother, is living inside of her. A lot of Charlie’s spunk that was present in the first novel is absent in the wake of all of these challenges, turning her from a likable leading lady to a bit of a whiner. Things go from bad to worse when Charlie is sent to a summit where the queens of neighboring kingdoms meet to discuss official business and try to out shine one another. Charlie doesn’t know the etiquette that the other queens have had years to learn, plus her trip is especially rocky considering that someone really wants her dead. Much of what was enjoyable about the first novel, the dystopian nature of Ludania, the caste system, Charlie’s budding romance with Max, is completely absent in the sequel. While The Essence isn’t necessarily a poorly written or “bad” story, it’s drastically different from its predecessor, making it unclear if fans of The Pledge will like it. For readers who don’t mind the story veering off from a mix of adventure and dystopia into full on fantasy territory, The Essence will prove to be an entertaining read. For those who aren’t into battles, commanders, armies, and dead queens, however, the likelihood of enjoying the novel enough to pick up the third and final installment is slim.

Genre:  Fantasy

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano, Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, Cinder trilogy by Marissa Meyer.

Themes:  Royalty, war, queens, magic, danger, assassins.

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Kirkus.

Series Information: Second installment in The Pledge trilogy. First installment, The Pledge, released in 2012. Third installment announced, but no release date yet.  

Discussion questions:

-         How has Charlie changed since assuming her new role as Queen of Ludania? How have Brookylnn and Aron changed?

-         How would you explain the relationship between Charlie and Sabara’s “essence”?

-        Why is Charlie so drawn to Niko? How does this attraction threaten her relationship with Max?

-        Why do you think some people in Ludania are not in favor of Charlie’s “New Equality”? Do you think social or political change is hard for people to accept in the real world?

-        Why was it so important to Avonlea when Charlie gave her a name?

-         Which of the queens at the summit did you like the most? The least?

-          What would you like to see happen in the third installment of this trilogy?