Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Diviners by Libba Bray

It's 1926, and seventeen-year-old Evie O'Neill has been sent to stay with her stuffy, old Uncle Will in New York City after a parlor trick goes awry. Determined to make a name for herself, she maneuvers her way into the nightlife wrought with speakeasies, chorus girls, and underground parties. She quickly learns that New York City is the perfect place for a small-town girl like her to reinvent herself. The only problem is that New York City is also the perfect place for evil to prey on innocent victims. Pretty soon, as bodies start piling up, Evie's "parlor trick" becomes the only thing that can stop a serial killer.

Bray's masterful portrayal of Prohibition Era Manhattan pulls the reader into a world of flappers, speakeasies, and propaganda. The novel is full of murder and suspense that plays off of the supernatural and occult. As multiple subplots collide, readers gets introduced to unique urban legends and historical information.

Bray effectively uses New York City and the Harlem Renaissance as backdrops that address larger social issues facing America during the 1920's: racism, religious fervor, decadence of youth, police corruption, aftermath of WWI, and feminism. Through characters such as Theta Knight, Mabel Rose, Sam Lloyd, Memphis Campbell, Henry DuBois, and Jericho, social issues come to life and humanize struggles people faced. Unfortunately, with so many characters and so many subplots, it takes a long time to set up each context. There were times that remembering information about each character and plot was challenging. So much build-up (and flipping back-and-forth between stories) runs the risk of readers losing interest. Sometimes less is more.  

Revolution by Jennifer Donnally

Andi Alpers knows tragedy. After the sudden death of her ten-year-old brother, she’s watched her family systematically fall apart. Her mother coped by slipping into a deep, vegetative depression; her father coped by falling in love with his twenty-five-year-old colleague; and Andi coped by drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, and music. When she faces possible expulsion from a prestigious school, her father decides to reenter her life. As a last-ditch effort to save his family, he checks Andi’s mother into a mental hospital and takes Andi with him on a business trip to Paris, where he’s supposed to conduct DNA tests on a child’s heart to see if it belongs to Louis-Charles, the missing son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

While in Paris, Andi finds a journal written by Alexandrine Paradis, a girl her age who lived during the French Revolution. As Andi reads Alexandrine’s journal, truths about the revolution unfold and reveal the cruelty performed on the young prince. Drawing parallels between Louis-Charles and her little brother, Andi slowly finds a new way to cope with her brother’s death. She starts to make friends, fall in love, and care about living again. While exploring the catacombs one night, Andi finds herself transported to 1795, and she has one, last chance to save the prince…and herself.

This book needs a prologue. The entire time I read this novel I felt as though pertinent information was missing. I never developed a connection with Andi, her brother, or their story. A connection between reader and characters would be much stronger if the reader had a glimpse of the family before the tragedy to create perspective.

Andi was supposed to be a musical prodigy writing her senior thesis on the composer Malherbeau. Although research was necessary to add to the depth of this novel, it was steeped in unnecessary information that broke the flow of the plot and dulled the interest of the reader. All of the musical references and descriptions grew monotonous and made me want to set the book down and not pick it up again.

Another frustration with the book was the romance between Virgil and Andi. This entire relationship was forced and artificial, and it needed to be omitted. I understand that Virgil was supposed to mirror Virgil from Dante’s Inferno as he led Andi through the catacombs of self-discovery, but it failed. I despised this plotline.   

Overall, I gave this novel three stars because I loved learning about the French Revolution. I wish the author had eliminated Andi’s plotline and focused entirely on Alexandrine, Louis-Charles, and the events of the French Revolution. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Whole Stupid Way We Are by N. Griffin

Dinah and Skint are best friends. Dinah is flighty while Skint is moody. Dinah worries about the beauty of things while Skint worries about Monks being tortured in Burma and people starving to death. While Dinah is worried about matching her stripy skirts and leggings, Skint refuses to wear a coat in the Maine winter as a form of self-punishment for having luxuries while others suffer. Dinah has two loving parents who adore her while Skint’s father suffers from dementia, and it’s ripping his family apart. All Dinah wants to do is help Skint. All Skint wants is for Dinah to mind her own business.

The basic premise of this novel is unique. I like the idea that it’s not enough to care about injustices; we need to DO something about them. If we aren’t part of the solution, we are inadvertently a part of the problem. I don’t think enough YA communicates this important message.

The plot is slow-moving and boring. Part of this is due to the disjointed sub-plots that are never developed as well as the shallowness of the characters (all of them). The voice of each character is unique; however, it isn't believable. For instance, there are times that Dinah speaks like a woman from the Victorian era instead of a fifteen-year-old from 2012. To offset this, Skint curses a lot, which seems a bit overused. I know that the author uses this technique to convey emotion, but most of the scenes are flat, so it isn't very authentic.

The scenes are repetitive, poorly developed, and monotonous. Nothing interesting happens until 80 pages before the end of the book (the novel is 349 pages). By then, the reader has lost interest. In fact, I had to force myself to finish it. As a result, I would not suggest this novel to any of my students.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah are Raven Boys, boys who attend the exclusive Aglionby Prep School, on a quest. Blue Sargent is the daughter of a psychic who’s made it a policy to stay away from pretentious Aglionby boys…that it, until she foresees Gansey’s tragic death. What’s worse is that she knows she’s the cause.

When fate ensures that their paths cross, Blue decides to help these Raven Boys pursue the Legend of Glendower, the legend that promises a single wish to whoever wakes the king from his centuries of slumber. The closer that they get to finding the king, the more they realize that the legend is real and they aren’t the only ones looking. A sacrifice has to be made to wake up the ley lines to continue the quest, and certain people have no qualms about spilling innocent blood.

No novel should ever take 300 pages to get interesting. Ever. This novel moved so slowly that I had to make myself continue reading with the hope that the climax would be worth it. It wasn’t.  Granted, there were a few creepy parts (i.e., murder and paranormal activity), but not enough to sustain the droning plot.

Another aspect of this novel that was left wanting was the legend. To me, the legend is the life of this story, and it needed to be developed more so that it was more interesting. So, people find a sleeping Welsh, wake him up, and get a wish. Um, so what? Where’s the detailed folklore? Was this king evil or good? Are there warnings and consequences once a wish is granted? What happens once he wakes up? Does he go back to sleep again after a certain time or does he become immortal? These are things that needed to be developed in book 1 because it is the foundation of the series. The details were so sparse and superficial that I didn’t buy into it.

There was very little suspense throughout this novel despite the potential for some seriously scary scenes. Part of this was because many of the scenes were repetitive and underdeveloped. As a result, the characters were shallow and boring. Any attempt at suspense fell flat because instead of letting the reader connect the dots on her own, the author felt as though she had to spell everything out for her (this involves spoilers, so I won’t give specifics here). Then, there were other times that the author drew the reader’s attention to a subtle nuance, only to leave it hanging (Ashley’s interest in Glendower, Neeve’s witchcraft, Ronan’s secret).

All-in-all, I was bored with this book, and I won’t read the others in the series. I really loved the premise; I just wish that the execution had been more effective. 

ARC courtesy of ALA 2012
Publication: September 2012

When You Wish Upon A Rat by Maureen McCarthy

3.5 Checks

Ruth Craze is an eleven-year-old girl living in Australia with her eccentric family. Life seemed more bearable with her Aunt Mary Ellen to even things out, but since her death, Ruth feels frustrated and disgusted with her life. One of the last gifts that Mary Ellen gave Ruth was a magical rat and the warning not to “let him rule you.” Now that Mary Ellen is gone, Ruth has nothing to lose. She gets three wishes and she plans to make the most of them.

Although this novel is considered middle grade (6th-8th), it’s really geared for eight to twelve year old children/tweens. In fact, any audience older than twelve might find the plot babyish and boring. However, I read this novel with my nine-year-old daughter and she really enjoyed it. As a result, my review is based upon her reaction, not mine. After all, the novel was written for her demographic, not a 33 year-old professor.

McCarthy does a good job of addressing some very real issues that exist for tweens: sibling rivalry, cliques, parental favoritism, physical abuse, and friendship. By giving Ruth the opportunity to create “the perfect life,” she learns the importance of family, loyalty, and kindness. Because the novel is set in Australia, young readers will struggle with most of the slang and references. In addition, even though the novel is told from Ruth’s perspective, her voice isn’t very authentic; it reads like an adult trying to sound like a child.

Advanced young readers might find this book enjoyable if they have an adult present who can explain vocabulary and historical information to them (i.e. how children were forced to be right-handed when they were left). Otherwise, many will probably give up on this 281 page story, which drags in a several places. 

ARC courtesy of VOYA
Publication: September 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

PASSENGER by Andrew Smith

Jack, Connor, Griffin, and Ben break the Marbury lens, catapulting each of them into various versions of Marbury with various levels of chaos. The only problem? They can’t get out. Not only that, but Jack didn’t “mind the gap” and he’s somehow changed the course of their futures. Now, the boys have to find each other to figure out a way home, and to correct their tampering of the gap, before the hunters find them.

Smith recreates the high intensity, action-packed world of Marbury, but instead of giving the reader glimpses, he allows us to visit it for 400+ pages. PASSENGER fills in all of the gaps left from THE MARBURY LENS. As a result, readers really need to read book one before diving onto book two; otherwise, they will be lost. As a result, THE MARBURY LENS is more of an appetizer to prepare the reader for his journey into Marbury while PASSENGER is the main course. (In fact, I felt as though I was the passenger on Jack’s journey to make it home.)

This novel is so well written that the reader finds himself emotionally invested in the lives of the main characters. Through each suspenseful and thrilling scene, the reader tenses to find out if all of the boys will make it home. Unfortunately, among all of this greatness, I do have one pet peeve to express; then I’ll go back to how amazing it is.

I get very frustrated when novels incorporate romantic elements when they don’t need them. For instance, THE MARBURY LENS (Book 1) needed Nickie to move the plot along, so having that storyline made sense; however, the focus of PASSENGER had shifted so that Nickie wasn’t needed in PASSENGER (book 2). As a result, when she was referenced, it broke up the intensity and flow of the plot to the point that I was literally yelling at the book, “Oh, come on! Forget her. I want more hunters, harvesters, and worms!”


Having expressed my views of unnecessary romantic elements within strong plotlines, I can’t say that I didn’t see the love interest between Connor and Jack happening. In fact, it was alluded to so heavily throughout both books that I wondered if their friendship ran much deeper than “bromance.” However, I feel as though it was still unnecessary. For me, the focus of the novel was the survival of four boys in a savage world where they didn’t belong. They showed undying commitment, sacrifice, and bravery to make sure everyone made it out okay. For me, the book should have ended once all of the boys made it home because that was the focus of the book. When the romance between Jack and Connor took place, the entire focus of the novel shifted and it detracted from the focus of the main point. Some may argue that the author needed to include this information to tie up loose ends, but, “Hello?!” The entire novel is full of loose ends. There are still questions that I have that will probably never be answered.


I loved the action and intensity of THE MARBURY LENS and PASSENGER.  I devoured these books, and I’m not a sci-fi fan. I fell in love with these books. I fell in love with the characters. I didn’t want the books to end. In fact, Mr. Smith, will you PLEASE write a third? I would like to have it from Henry Hewitt’s perspective.

Concerns: From an educator’s perspective, these books contain a lot of language, violence, and sexual references. As a result, be aware of these issues and possible concerns that parents may have, but don’t withhold them from your libraries. Some students will be mature enough to handle the content, and some may not. Basically, you need to read the novels yourself to decide how you will incorporate them into your classroom. 

ARC courtesy of ALA 2012
Publication Date: October 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

I have no idea how to summarize this novel, so I’m not even going to try. All I can say is that it’s kind of like Hannibal Lecter meets Vanilla Sky (2001). Andrew Smith described it to me as “acid on an acid trip.” I believe both references are adequate.

The Marbury Lens (2010) is one messed up, morbidly fascinating ride. Just like Jack was addicted to the glasses and his time in Marbury, I was addicted to this book and the interplay between both worlds. Smith’s unique twist on how people deal with trauma makes me wonder if we all have personal concepts of “reality” that are only known to us. For instance, there were several times that I wondered if Marbury was actually all in Jack’s head even though others could supposedly see it, too. Of course, Jack is an unreliable narrator, so I’m still not sure.

Although this was an intense read that I could not put down (I actually got irritated when people bothered me), this may not be for everyone. For instance, there is a significant amount of language, sexual acts, and violence throughout the entire novel. As a result, I would suggest this novel be reserved for mature readers who can place those elements in context. 

What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton

Sid Murphy has the perfect Christmas vacation planned. She’s going on a ski trip with her school’s Ski Club where she and her two best friends will have several days to hang out, hit the slopes, and meet plenty of hot guys. Plans change, however, when she meets Dax Windsor, a charming college boy who only has eyes for her. On the last night of the trip, he invites Sid to a party at his place that’s sure to leave a lasting impression…just not a pleasant one.

Research says that people who face traumatic experiences usually resort to two coping mechanisms: fight or flight. Sid Murphy is a fighter all of the way. But, even she isn’t invincible. As a result, the author effectively portrays a girl struggling to come to terms with what happened to her while pretending as if everything’s “fine” on the outside. In a way, she reminds me of Melinda from L.H. Anderson’s Speak (1999), only Sid’s reaction shows the opposite end of the spectrum. The fears that both characters exude are very real, which is why most sexual victims never speak up: We are a society that likes to blame the victims because it’s easier that way. This was evident in the way that Sid blamed her large breasts and curvaceous butt for enticing Dax in the first place. As a result, she turns the punishment inward and suffers in silence.

This is a book that needs to be on every secondary shelf. According to statistics, a woman gets raped every 2 minutes in the US alone. Chances are, one of them could be sitting in our classrooms. There is no reason anyone should suffer in silence. 

ARC courtesy of ALA 2012
Publication Date: October 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black

4.5 Checks

Photographer Clare Porterfield has been summoned to return to her hometown of Galveston, Texas, to complete an exhibit for prominent businessman and family friend Will Carraday. Living in the aftermath of a devastating loss that has led to the inevitable crumbling of her marriage, Clare makes the journey from D.C. to Galveston. Part of her wants to run away from her failed life, but part of her is drawn to the home that she was forced to abandon ten years earlier after a tragic accident.

As she researches the Carraday photos and archives to prepare for the exhibit, she uncovers secrets that are better left buried and lies that prove deadly. The closer she gets to discovering the truth, the more she realizes that she’s at the center. Everyone in this story has a secret, some of which are almost too painful to discover.

Elizabeth Black’s writing style is so flawless that her descriptions captivate the reader almost as much as the actual plot. Her ability to weave intriguing historical facts of Galveston within the suspense of the present-day story makes it hard for the reader to put it down. Through such skillful writing, Black is able to make the reader feel Clare’s impatience for learning the truth with every turn of the page.

Although I enjoyed the quiet unfolding of this book, I became frustrated by the lack of clarification for certain important details. Several times I felt as though there was an inside joke, or story, I needed to know in order to interpret comments or allusions. The book ended without ever cluing me in to the inside story. As a result, I ended the book with questions that never received answers.

Overall, people who enjoy historical fiction will enjoy Black's debut novel. I look forward to reading more books by her. 

ARC received at ALA 2012
Publication Date: January 2013

Tilt by Ellen Hopkins

MiKayla, Shane, and Harley come from homes that are broken – either physically or emotionally. Each one has watched the breakdown of their parents’ love and feels the void that it creates. It’s this void that propels each one of them into relationships in search of the love that they don’t feel at home.

Hopkins does a great job of portraying different facets of relationships through each character. She shows the innocent intensity of first loves, the dangers of placing our trust and lives in the hands of those who might not deserve it, and the importance of staying true to ourselves. Each character develops an obstacle based on choices they made that he or she must overcome. As they work through their options and face the cruel judgments of others, they realize that redemption and hope still exist.

ARC received at ALA 2012
Publication Date: September 2012
**Companion to Triangles

PS Thanks for sneaking Karin and I a copy, Ellen!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

I picked up this novel at ALA 2012 because it won the Printz and Morris Awards. I forced myself to read through to the end because it won the Printz and Morris Awards. As I read, I kept waiting to understand why it won the Printz and the Morris Awards. I read the final page, never understanding why it won the Printz and the Morris Awards.

The three literary components that this novel struggled with were show-not-tell, ambiguity, and characterization. The lack of development in all of these areas caused the plotline to fall flat.

Show-Not-Tell: Rule #1 of creative writing: show-not-tell.  Almost the entire story was a summary of events and people, robbing the reader of descriptive writing that connected her to the novel.  What little dialogue and description that was present was so inconsequential that it didn’t add anything to the plot or characterization.

Ambiguity: There was too much poorly explained randomness that the author tried to pull together in a “twist” at the end. Unfortunately, the twist was forced, and the entire build-up was poorly executed. For one, there was no natural flow. For another, it was completely unbelievable and far-fetched. Maybe the awkwardness was due to the author’s attempts to leave not-so-subtle hints throughout the story so that it would all “come together” in the end. I mean, I get what the author was trying to do. I really do. I could see it a mile away. Sadly, it didn’t work.

Characterization: There was none. For example, the majority of the novel was about Gabriel’s disappearance; however, the reader never got to know Gabriel enough to care. In fact, because of all of the summaries, the reader never adequately got to know any of the characters. **SPOILER**There was a moment of sadness when Benton committed suicide, but that quickly gave way to the realization that he was simply the catalyst for the roommate to spiral into madness.**  Again, show-not-tell. Make the reader care.

Too many loose ends and too little descriptive writing left this novel a disappointment. I know that this novel won the Printz and Morris Awards; however, those awards are based upon the opinions of 11 Printz Committee members and 12 William C. Morris committee members – hardly the majority of readers. As I’ve learned throughout my professional career, just because something wins awards doesn’t mean that it’s good. The reality is that this novel is disjointed and poorly developed, and I suggest readers find something else. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco Stork

Pancho has nothing left but revenge. His mother died when he was young; his  father was killed in a tragic accident; and his sister's murderer is walking free. But, not for long. Pancho has a very clear and precise plan: find the  murderer and kill him. After that, Pancho doesn't care what happens to himself.  At least, he didn't until he met D.Q., a fellow resident of St. Anthony's Home. 

D.Q. suffers from a rare form of cancer that is rapidly killing him. As a  result, he decides to write the Death Warriors Manifesto in an effort to teach  others about the fullness of life. Struggling with his own set of issues, he  sees something in Pancho worth saving. As these two become unlikely friends, they learn about love, loss, and forgiveness during the last summer of the death warriors. 

This is simply a wonderful story about friendship. Of course, there is a love triangle, but Stork deals with it so succinctly that it adds to  the overall message instead of distracts from it. Also, this is the kind of  story that can easily fall into cliches and predictable subplots; luckily, the  author keeps it moving by connecting the reader with each character's struggles  and choices that they face when they approach a fork in the road that has  lasting effects.  

Something else that I appreciated without even  realizing it was the quiet mastery with which Stork conveyed this story. I am a bit tired of overly dramatic and violent scenes that some authors feel they need  to include to present the intensity of the moment. But, this author was able to  portray those same emotions (and intensity) simply by creating well-developed  characters who the reader felt like she "knew." For instance, he was even able 
to humanize the murderer so that the reader found herself struggling with  Pancho's desire for revenge. 

All-in-all, this novel is a realistic look  at a young man struggling for justice in his life. Just when he thought he was  all alone, someone reached out to save him - even when he didn't want to be  saved. Through it all, Pancho is provided choices, like all of us, and he must  realize that for every action, there is a equal or lesser reaction.  

A Thunderous Whisper by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Anetxu “Ani” Largazabalago is a twelve-year-old girl living in Guernica, Spain, during WWII. Although Hitler’s militant coups earn the focus of  the world, General Franco creates his own brand of civil war in Spain. With  Ani’s father fighting in Spain’s Civil War, her mother and she are left to fend  for themselves. Selling sardines door-to-door, and relying on the mercy of   others, leaves Ani’s mother bitter and Ani with few friends. However, little   does Ani know that her life is about to change. 

When Mathias Garza’s family moves to Guernica, Ani suddenly finds  herself in the middle of espionage. Even though her mother has always told her  that she is insignificant, she can’t help but feel as though she is contributing  something great by helping the underground resistance. 
Then, Nazi planes attack her quiet, little town, and Ani realizes  that no one is insignificant.

 Readers who enjoyed Zusak’s The Book Thief(2005) will enjoy this novel. Ani’s life in Spain dramatically mirrors Liesel’s life in Germany during the same period. The main difference is that Death tells Liesel’s story for her while Ani speaks for herself. Although the girls’ lives are very similar, I enjoyed reading Ani’s thoughts because it gave me an insight that I felt was lacking in my connection with Liesel. 

I don’t think that people fully understand the impact that WWII had on the world. We often focus on the horror of concentration camps – as we should – but there were many, many other victims to Hitler’s hate. As a result, Gonzalez presents a different perspective of the many layers that made up this war by focusing on the children who became orphans because of senseless attacks.

This novel drags in a few places, but, overall, it is a pleasant read. I’m not a big fan of historical fiction, but I found myself unable to put it down during the last few pages. Although the events in the novel are devastating, the author does a good job of communicating hope without diminishing the cruelty of events.

ARC provided by Radom House (Thank you!)
Publication Date: October 9, 2012

Unwholly (Unwind #2) by Neal Shusterman

One year after Connor, Risa, and Lev escape Happy Jack Harvest Camp, they find that their lives have greatly changed. Connor has replaced the Admiral as the commander of the Graveyard; Risa struggles with her place in Connor's heart as well as in the Graveyard; and Levi is under house arrest, ministering to wayward youth as part of his plea bargain. 

Enter Subplot #1: Starkey is a storked teen whose parents decide to unwind him, but he escapes and finds himself in the Graveyard. Starkey is extremely similar to Roland (cunning, strong, power-hungry, etc.), and wants to take over Connor's job. 

Enter Subplot #2: **SPOILER**Cam is the Frankenstein-like creature that Proactive Citizenry creates from multiple unwind parts. They want to create the "perfect" human from perfect human parts. To be successful in "humanizing" Cam to the general public, the group decides he needs to show that he can be loved. Unfortunately, Cam has set his eyes on Risa, and what Cam wants, Cam gets.

 Enter Subplot #3: Nelson is the Juvi Cop who Connor tranqued with his own gun in UNWIND (2007). Through a series of internal monologues, the reader learns that since that day, Nelson's life has been a living hell. He was ridiculed by his peers to the point that he lost his job, his marriage, and his life as he knew it. As a result, he's made it his mission to catch AWOL Unwinds and sell them to parts pirates (there is a black market for unwind organs). Guess who he blames for his downward spiral? Yep, Connor. Guess what his mission is throughout the book? Yep, to catch and kill Connor. 

Enter Subplot #4: The Anti-Divisional Resistance is a group of activists who are openly anti-unwinding. They are supposed to provide the Graveyard with necessary provisions such as food, water, clothing, and sanitation so that Connor no longer has to send unwinds to fulfill work orders. The ADR also has a new mission: save tithes. The group poses as parts pirates as they attack vehicles transporting tithes, kidnap them, and work to deprogram them from being brainwashed. Guess who their poster child is? Yep, Levi. 

Enter Subplot #5: Miracolina is a tithe who gets "rescued" from her harvest, and she's ticked. She has no desire to be saved, and she can't stand Levi. Because Levi sees a lot of himself in Miracolina's resistance to the truth, he decides that he's going to save her whether she wants him to or not. 

Enter Subplot #6: **SPOILER**Trace is Connor's right-hand man, but he's playing both sides to the middle. Although he seems loyal to Connor, he's actually working for Proactive Citizenry and feeding them information about the Graveyard. 

Enter Subplot #7: Proactive Citizenry owns everything and everyone (i.e. Juvie Cops, Government, Media, etc.) has a secret agenda that Connor and Trace are trying to crack. This group is the one pushing unwinding, and Connor wants to find out how to dismantle it and save lives.

There are more subplots, but I'm tired, and I need to get to my evaluation. 

First of all, I love UNWIND (2007). It is my favorite book, and I teach it every semester in an effort to explore the value of human life, personal responsibility, and manipulation (government, religious, and media). One of the things that makes UNWIND such an amazing read is that we get to know each of the characters as well as witness complex situations that they struggle to overcome. We fell in love with Connor, Risa, and Levi because the author helped us invest in them. This book, however, contains so much action and so little depth that the reader doesn't really connect with anyone. There are too many subplots and too little character development, which makes the storyline seem forced and disjointed. 

Readers who enjoy a lot of action will gravitate to this book because it seems as though there is always something going on, but readers who want a book that’s similar to UNWIND will be disappointed. The only thing
similar is the names of the characters.  

ARC provided at IRA 2012
Publication Date: 8/28/2012

The Selection Book #1 by Kiera Cass

The only thing unique about this novel is the cover. 

Set after the fourth world war, futuristic America, now known as Illea, has implemented a monarchy that functions off of a very stringent caste system. Although people from different castes are allowed to marry, it is highly frowned upon since it means a demotion as well as harder living arrangements (i.e. less food and natural resources). But, none of this matters to America Singer, whose family makes its living through the arts and set at level five in the system. America is secretly in love with Aspen, a six, and impatiently awaits the day that they can be happily married. 

Aspen and America's relationship seems to be going perfectly until the Selection occurs, a lottery designed to find a wife for Prince Maxon. When America's name is selected, her family is ecstatic; however, she has no desire to even meet the spoiled, entitled prince because she already has the man of her dreams. But, when Aspen suddenly breaks things off and tells her that they have no future, she decides that she owes it to her family and herself to participate in the games. 

This story has been said to be the Hunger Games meets ABC's  television show "The Bachelor." Not even close. Although this is the first novel in a trilogy, there is little to no plot or character development that keeps the reader interested. In addition, what little plot exists is so contrived and predictable that the reader is left bored even when there are rebel attacks, which are never really explained, on the palace and the girls' lives are supposedly in danger. Therefore, unlike the Hunger Games, there is little to no action, which causes the scenes to become repetitive. A few times, America quarrels with Celeste, the mean girl of the group, but even this is forced and expected. Overall, this novel is a poorly written romance that masquerades as a dystopian novel.

Avoiding Plagiarism by Pearson

Oftentimes, as teachers, we are expected to know all of the rules of plagiarism if we are going to "catch" students in the act. The only problem is that there are ambiguous rules and assumptions that we have to interpret and hope our students don't ask us to explain or prove. This book lays everything on the line; it is a very straightforward, precise explanation of what counts as plagiarism and why. In addition, it goes through numerous examples to show how to recognize the various types of plagiairsm in writing as well as ways to avoid them through attributions and citations. This is an excellent resource for every writer, and it is now a required text for my students. No more excuses.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

"Well, how many people do you think live perfect lives, son? Aren't we all victims of something at some time or another?" - Granddad Harry (p. 

Lucky Linderman lives a pretty dysfunctional life. He's grown up paying homage to a grandfather who never came  home from Vietnam (MIA); he has an emotionally absentee father because he's never gotten over the disappearance of his own; he has a mother who would rather swim laps than face her crumbling marriage; and he has Nader McMillan relentlessly bullying him. His father's solution is to "ignore it" while his mother quietly hopes that the bullying goes away. After Nader's latest assault that leaves Lucky's face mangled goes unpunished, and Lucky's father is moved to inaction, his mother's flight instincts kick in. She's taking him to Arizona to visit family and get away. 

When Lucky and his mother arrive in AZ, he finally meets his Uncle Dave and his crazy, pill-popping Aunt Jodi. Things in AZ aren't too different from his life back home; his mother still swims laps, Lucky still dreams about his Granddad Harry, and his Aunt Jodi is convinced that Lucky is suicidal. While trying to dodge Aunt Jodi's helpful interventions to have him committed, he meets Ginny, a beautiful, hair model who suffers from demons of her own. The more that Lucky gets to know about her, and the others, the more he realizes that only he controls his destiny and Nader's days are numbered.

A.S. King takes the emotional struggle of bullying and empowers her charcter in a way that is believeable and 
triumphant. As she weaves the story of the missing grandfather throughout, the reader experiences all of the underlying issues that impact Lucky's ability to deal with Nader. I really liked how King doesn't sugar-coat everything. Instead, she shows that everyone has demons, but it's how we face them that has the greatest impact.

A Very Babymouse Christmas by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Love, love, love this series. I gave this to my six-year-old because she's just learning to read, and she can't put it down. She has favorite sections that she'll open to, and she'll just giggle over and over again.

The illustrations and storyline are so cute that parents shouldn't be deceived by all of the pink within the pages. Even my nephews love reading about this spunky mouse who can't help but be in the Christmas spirit. The plot is fun and deals with the struggles that most kids have when they get caught up in the commercialism of gift-giving (and receiving). Through the witty banter between the narrator and Babymouse, readers not only get to laugh, but also get to think about what's really important during this holiday season.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Há is a ten-year-old girl living in South Vietnam with her mother and older brothers when she and her family barely escape the fall of Saigon in 1975. As they board the ship to America, Há knows that she will never see her papyrus tree again, she will never see her friends again, and she will never see her MIA father again. As her family settles into its new life in Alabama, Há tells of the promise of democracy giving way to acts of racism as well as the kindness of a few overcoming the hatred of many.

Thanhha Lai weaves a simplistic, yet emotional, story that provides a new perspective for how the Vietnam War changed people's lives forever. Told in free-verse, the reading is fast-paced and easy to comprehend. My only complaint is that this young adult National Book Award winner, which is slated for 8-12 years old, is clearly children's literature. Although I enjoyed the storyline in
the context of children's literature, the reading is too simplistic to be categorized as young adult literature. It makes me wonder if this novel was pushed into the NBA pool by cronyism. Decide for yourselves.

Little Rock Girl, 1957 by Shelley Tougas

My daughters and I found this book during a trip to the library, and it has been a wonderful opportunity to share history with them as well as talk about the destructive nature of racism. The first thing that they noticed from the cover was Hazel Bryan's distorted face as she spewed racial slurs at Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine. My response to them was, "Isn't it terrible that this young girl will always be remembered for her hatred towards another person?" And, one daughter responded, "She should have tried to be Elizabeth's friend." Such a simple response, yer so few people could fathom it in 1957.

As I read this book with my daughters and explained the Civil Rights Movement, they were appalled that people were beaten and murdered simply because they wanted equality. Although the book isn't written to be emotional, there were times that I caught myself choking up at the sheer cruelty that people, "Christian" people, showed African Americans during this time. To know that Elizabeth Eckford was fifteen at the time, and grown adults (mothers, even) shouted to string her up in a tree to prevent her from entering Central High School, makes my skin crawl.

I know that many people like to pretend that racism doesn’t exist today. Maybe minority women aren’t kicked off of buses anymore for refusing to give up their seats, but racism exists in many forms. I just hope that there are enough of us teaching our children to look at the content of a person’s character rather than the color of skin to offset the consuming hatred that fuels bigotry.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula is a creature that possesses many powers including mind-control and seduction. He uses his mysticism to lure Jonathan Harker to his castle in Transylvania in order to finalize his plans to infiltrate British society and feast upon its Victorian ideals. Unfortunately, he has to play by certain rules. For instance, he cannot leave his "unholy" soil, he cannot cross running water, and he cannot enter without being invited. Regardless of his limitations, he's able to find faithful followers who will help him seek and destroy his prey no matter how pure and how safe she might feel.

Set in the late 1800s and incorporating many Freudian concepts, DRACULA (modeled after Vlad the Impaler) addresses issues of sexuality, feminism, and immigration. This text is written in a series of letters (epistolary) from the perspectives of the main characters: Mina, Jonathan Harker, Van Helsing, Seward, and Lucy. Unfortunately, the reader never gets to learn Dracula's perspective, which is a true weakness of the novel. In addition, this novel takes WAY too long to implement any kind of suspense or tension, which leaves the reader bored. The most tension I've felt, in fact, comes when I'm trying to avoid certain topics with my students that they inevitably bring up and want to discuss. I probably won't teach this novel again

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

After the sudden death of her father, her rock, seventeen-year-old Jill is trying to cope the best way that she knows how – by unleashing her anger and self-loathing on everyone around her. During the ten months following the accident, Jill has managed to alienate her friends, her boyfriend, and her mother in a feeble attempt at self-preservation. While she is busy living in her downward spiral, her mother decides to fulfill a dream that she and her husband shared. She wants to adopt a child and give it a loving home. When Mandy, the “human incubator” arrives, Jill must learn that loss comes in many forms. While some people lose the ones they love, others lose things like innocence and security. As everyone awaits the baby’s arrival, their lives begin to intertwine and they learn that a little bit of kindness goes a long way.

 Zarr has a very poignant writing style. Each of her characters has a distinct voice and personal perspective that adds to the depth of the story being told. This is a story about a lot of things. One of the main things is looking below the surface to see the core of something. While Jill hides behind anger, piercings, and dark eyeliner, Mandy hides behind her angelic looks and quiet compliance. They’re mirror images of each other, each suffering silently. However, although Mandy seems slow and ignorant, she’s honest with herself while Jill can’t quite seem to do the same. 


Although I enjoyed this book, I was a little disappointed that everything worked out perfectly in the end. Even people who want to spread kindness to people who are less fortunate tend to experience some form of resistance. It was almost as if the mother was too perfect. She never seemed to get upset, and she was more than willing to comply with unreasonable demands (i.e. no adoption agreement, the father of the baby). Although I like novels to end on a hopeful note, I also like them to be realistic. Even the love triangle was quickly and pleasantly resolved, where no one got hurt and no one was upset. 

But, still, despite the ending, I think that the overall message is important. People need to extend kindness. Every action has an equal or lesser reaction. Why not have that action be kindness? Who knows? Maybe it could save a life. 

I Hunt Killers (#1) by Barry Lyga

Jasper "Jazz" Dent is the son of the most notorious serial killer of all time. While growing up, Dear Old Dad taught his son valuable lessons, such as how to clean blood stains, how to slice through skin, and how to think like a serial killer. Now, several years after his father's apprehension and conviction, Jazz is trying to lead a normal, teenage life in the same small, close-knit community that his father committed his final two murders. But, when women start getting murdered, and the killer is copying Billy Dent’s gruesome MO, Jazz is the only one schooled enough in the mind of a sociopath to help the police. The only problem is that Jazz isn’t sure that being around the victims won’t trigger his own need to kill.

For people who enjoy TV shows like Criminal Minds or CSI, this is an exceptional read. The novel doesn’t go into detail about the killings. Instead, the plotline focuses on the inner workings of the mind of a killer. I know that several people were disappointed that there wasn’t more action and scenes with the murders taking place – they were always described after the fact – but with this type of story, it really would have taken away from the psychological aspect.

There were a few times that Jazz’s constant whimpering about being destined to kill got old, but Lyga did a good job of using his spunky girlfriend Connie to call him out and voice what the reader was thinking: “Either put up, or shut up.” From that moment forward, Jazz became a stronger character for me.

This novel alludes to multiple brutal killings and gives details about nailing bodies to a ceiling, vaginal and anal rape, and other forms of brutality. Because of this information, readers need to be mature; however, leaving it out would have taken away vital details from the story. Lyga wanted to show the cruelty to Billy Dent's murders without shifting the focus away from Jazz. Part of Billy's cruelty was making his child watch, and participate, in a number of killings.

I know that Mr. Lyga conducted research to add authenticity to his novel, and his painstaking efforts show. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel because I’m intrigued with how the mind works, and the mind of a sociopath is probably one of the most mysterious to explore. I will definitely check out the sequel.

Deviant by Adrian McKinty

Danny Lopez's family has relocated to a quiet Colorado town where he gets to attend an experimental school centered on teaching discipline to children who need "guidance." Some of the rules include school uniforms, including white gloves for sanitation, a rigid teaching script that's read to students and repeated daily, and no socialization among faculty and students- ever. As if this wasn't weird enough, Danny finds himself recruited by secret student organizations determined to find the serial cat killer. As the clues mount up, and the killer becomes more bold, will he make it out alive?

I rarely give one star, but this middle grade novel was...not good. In fact, I made myself finish it even though I wanted to put it away less than halfway through. The book opens with a very eerie and cryptic cat killer in the process of sacrificing a cat, which grabbed my attention right away. Unfortunately, there was nothing after that scene that prompted tension or suspense because the characters and plot became very mundane. I think that part of this is because the author tried to have too many subplots (romance, conspiracy, teenage angst)in an effort to distract the reader from being able to identify the killer; however, it simply caused the story to go on meaningless tangents rather than weaving a tale of suspense.

Another problem with this novel was that the characters were extremely shallow. The plot would allude to struggles in characters' pasts without really using those to let the reader get to know them on a deeper level. To use a teacher phrase, the author did a lot of "telling" and not "showing," which is pretty boring. Most readers don't want to have an event summarized for them; they want to experience it with the characters so that they can build a connection. These characters were two-deminsional at best.

The ending had a lot of action in it, but by that point, most readers can already figure out who the killer is, so the climax falls flat. Even when there was a twist at the end, if readers pay attention to contextual details, it's not too difficult to see it coming.

Overall, this novel had an interesting concept but poor execution.

Venom by Fiona Paul

Cassandra “Cass” Caravello is a fifteen-year-old contessa living in Renaissance Venice whose elite life is suffocating. Outwardly, she benefits from wealth, prestige, and an arranged marriage. Inwardly, she recoils from her life being meticulously planned out for her. She wants to escape the social mores that plague society. She wants to choose her own destiny. She wants…freedom.

When Cass accidentally discovers the mutilated body of a young courtesan, she is forced to find the killer before he finds her. With the aid of Falco, a handsome artist who seems to mysteriously appear whenever she needs help, they plunge into the darkness of elite society. As more girls turn up dead, they begin to unlock the mystery of who might be friend and who might be foe.

**Note: For people who love this book, love the author, or find great pleasure in commonplace romances where they know exactly what will happen before they read a word, you probably want to stop reading.**

Characterization: Cass is a shallow, dislikeable character. She spends most of the book whining about her life being planned for her. When she isn’t obsessing about how unfair life is, she’s obsessing about Falco – a character that we know nothing about, even after 431 pages. Probably the most disturbing part of Cass’s character is that the author attempts to use her to convey a strong female character bucking Renaissance conventions towards women; however, all she seems to think about is making out with Falco - or her fiancé Luca (another character that’s never developed), which undermines the whole “strong female” thing.

Cass’s constant need for male companionship wears on the reader. Scene after scene she suspects Falco is the real killer (or at least an accomplice), but within a paragraph, he will smile at her, and she will change her mind because of his kissable lips or taunt muscles.

Cass is supposed to be fifteen years old. There is no way. Her language, actions, and the basic context of this novel make the fact that she’s fifteen completely unbelievable. In fact, as I read, it seemed more plausible that she was at least seventeen or eighteen while Falco should have been in his early twenties. This leads me to believe that this novel might be geared more towards adult readers rather than young adult.

Plot/Context: The book jacket promised a romantic suspense thriller. By definition, this book meets those guidelines; however, there was no originality to the plot at all. On more than one occasion, I felt as though I was reading a Harlequin romance novel that my grandmother had snuck to me while I was in high school. Just like Harlequin novels follow formulaic character and plot outlines, this novel did, too. There was little suspense, and the romance was really lust disguised as “love.” In fact, “lust” WAS the plot.

Love Triangle: There was indeed a love triangle, but I could care less who won Cass. In fact, I was hoping that she would be killed off so that both men could find someone with some substance.

I gave this novel two stars because the author managed to keep the identity of the killer a secret until the very end. Of course, the killer was so random that I almost forgot that that person was in the book. Which leads to another frustration. This book is 431 pages of cliché and predictable storyline. To quote my student, “Someone needed to grab a scalpel and carve a plot out of all of those pages.”