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!