Thursday, May 23, 2013

Scorch Book Review

Author: Gina Damico. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Graphia. ISBN: 9780547624570.

Annotation: Now that Zara has stolen her power to Damn, Lex has become an outcast in Croak, with the townspeople all convinced that she is responsible for the murderous rampage that Zara is now on. With Croak no longer safe, Lex and her friends must travel to the DeMyse, the Las Vegas of the Grimsphere, to escape Zara and learn more about a mysterious book that might put an end to Zara’s killing spree.    

Personal thoughts: I absolutely loved Croak, so I was super excited to pick up the sequel and continue with the fun and laughs. Unfortunately, I didn’t experience very many of either when I was reading Scorch. The storyline was very bleak, and I felt like everything whimsical and enjoyable about Croak just wasn’t present. I still like the characters and think that there is potential for the author to improve, but Scorch was a bit of a sophomore slump for me.  

Plot summary: After Zara stole her power to Damn souls to an eternity of torment, Lex has become an outcast in Croak. The townspeople don’t seem to understand that Zara killed Lex’s sister, Cordy, to get to her and that she never meant for her power to transfer to Zara; they only know that Zara is on a murderous rampage and that Lex is responsible. Determined to put a stop to Zara’s killing spree, Lex, her friends, and Uncle Mort begin to research the Wrong Book, a mysterious text that is held in an impenetrable cabin in the woods surrounding Croak that holds the key to some of the Grimsphere’s most elusive secrets. The only problem? Zara wants the Wrong Book for herself and begins Damning innocent people around the country, convinced that Lex has the book in her possession and is hiding it from her. With the townspeople getting more and more hostile and the threat of an attack from Zara looming, Lex and her friends decide to travel to DeMyse, the Las Vegas of the Grimsphere. There they hope to learn more about the Wrong Book and stay safe long enough to figure out if the information it contains can put an end to Zara’s reign of terror.

Review: Picking up where the first book left off, Scorch, the second installment in Gina Damico’s Croak series, proves to be a decent sequel to what was a stellar beginning in the previous novel. While the author does a lot to expand the world she created in Croak, introducing new characters, backstories and locations, a lot of what made Croak such an enjoyable novel is, unfortunately, absent. The dry humor that permeated the first book is almost completely gone, replaced with a storyline full of tension as Lex and her life in the quirky town of Croak crumble. The plot is far more serious in Scorch, with Zara, the surprise antagonist in Croak, going around the country murdering innocent people. The town of Croak itself, which played a big part in the first novel, is also replaced by various new locations, such as DeMyse, a shallow, Las Vegas-esque city run by an over-the-top mayor. Some of the relationships begun in Croak are expanded, particularly that between Lex and her boyfriend Driggs, but the majority of the novel is dedicated to Lex’s life getting worse and worse as Zara wreaks havoc on the Grimsphere. Overall, Scorch is not nearly as fun as Croak, but the series still has lots of potential, especially since the author does a good job of world-building and creating a storyline that can carry through to another novel. Hopefully the third novel, Rogue, can continue the series in a positive direction when it is released September 10, 2013.

Genre:  Science-Fiction/Fantasy

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Croak by Gina Damico, Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake, Revenants series by Amy Plum, Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent.    

Themes:  Grim reapers, the afterlife, murder, revenge, death, danger, secrets.  

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Kirkus and School Library Journal.

Series Information: Second installment in Croak series. First installment, Croak, released in 2012. Third installment, Rogue, set to be released September 10, 2013.  

Discussion questions:

-        Do you agree with Zara using her powers to Damn criminals, even if it wasn’t their time to die? Why or why not?

-         Why do you think Lex became an outcast in Croak after Zara stole her powers?

-        Do you think Cordy is happy in the Afterlife? Why or why not?

-         Why do you think Zara wants the Wrong Book so much?

-       Do you agree with the decision Leroy made to keep DeMyse safe? Why or why not?

-         How would you explain what happened to Driggs at the end of the novel?

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

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Something Strange and Deadly Book Review

Author: Susan Dennard. Release date: 2012. Publisher: HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780062083265.

Annotation: After her brother goes missing and the Dead start rising in Philadelphia, sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt turns to a team of Spirit-Hunters to help save her brother who, she fears, is being held captive by the necromancer that is raising the Dead.   

Personal thoughts: I had a difficult time deciding whether I liked this novel or not. It was a bit schizophrenic for me, almost as if the author wanted the story to be many different things that there wasn’t one thing that was done really superbly. The zombie element kind of came and went in importance, Eleanor’s plight to find a good marriage wasn’t really executed fully, and the support characters weren’t as developed as they could have been. I think the author definitely has the makings for a good series, but some editing and focusing of where the story is going and what the main themes are would help the reader to stay more engaged.

Plot summary: After her father’s death several years earlier, sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt, her brother, Elijah, and their mother were left with next to nothing. Eleanor knows that it is up to her to improve their fortunes by marrying well, something her mother reminds her of daily. After her brother mysteriously disappears, however, and the Dead begin to rise in her hometown of Philadelphia, Eleanor has a lot more than marriage to a wealthy bachelor on her mind. It seems that a necromancer is operating in the city, raising the Dead to do his bidding. Sons of well-to-do families in Philadelphia society are being murdered and Eleanor fears that Elijah, who she believes is being held captive by the necromancer, might be next. To help save her brother, Eleanor turns to a team of Spirit-Hunters operating out of a lab out of Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition. The Spirit-Hunters, consisting of a man named Joseph who can sense the supernatural, a handsome scientist named Daniel, and a young but fierce Chinese woman named Jie, are on the hunt for the necromancer themselves. Can Eleanor and the Spirit-Hunters save Elijah and end the reign of the necromancer and his army of the Dead before it’s too late?

Review: Part historical fiction, part zombie thriller, Something Strange and Deadly, the first installment in a series for teens by debut author Susan Dennard, is a decent selection for readers who like supernatural novels with a bit of a twist. Set in 1876 Philadelphia, much of the story focuses on the plight of leading lady, sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt, in securing a marriage to save her family’s hemorrhaging finances. The rest of the novel deals with the supernatural elements, like zombies, ghosts and necromancers and the mystery surrounding exactly what is causing the Dead to rise. While many will enjoy this combination of history, mystery and horror, readers who want something that is only historical fiction or just about zombies and the supernatural might find themselves disappointed that the novel solidly identifies itself in one genre. Not enough focus is given to any element in the story to make it really appealing to fans of a specific type of book, so only readers who are interested in a combination of themes will enjoy reading the novel. Eleanor is a likable enough protagonist, but not enough depth is given to the support characters to really engage the reader in her interactions with them. A small romance does blossom, but not really in any way that feels organic. The story does have some promise, however, so hopefully the author can strengthen the characters and plot in the next installment, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, set to be released July 23, 2013.

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Science-Fiction

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Magic Most Foul series by Leanna Renee Hieber, Gone With the Respiration series by Lia Habel, Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury.  

Themes:  Zombies, necromancers, dark magic, ghosts, séances, spirits, Philadelphia, historical fiction, mystery, duty, marriage, murder.

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

Series Information: First installment in Something Strange and Deadly series. Second installment, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, set to be released July 23, 2013.

Discussion questions:

-         Do you think Eleanor’s mom truly cares about her daughter’s well-being, or is she only focused on improving the family finances? Why?

-          Why do you think Eleanor’s father passed away? How did his death impact the Fitts?

-        Do you think Clarence had feelings for Eleanor? Why or why not?

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

-        The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 actually took place in Philadelphia. Research the Exhibition. Did the novel do a good job of describing it? What was the importance of the Exhibition in the story?

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

-        What would you like to see happen in the sequel, A Darkness Strange and Lovely?