Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

Review of One Dark Throne, by Kendare Blake

Friday, April 6th, 2018

One Dark Throne

by Kendare Blake

HarperTeen, 2017. 448 pages.

I read Three Dark Crowns last year for the Cybils awards, so I wanted to find out what happened next. Unfortunately, I had trouble remembering all the characters and all the situations – the author doesn’t do a whole lot of reviewing.

This fantasy series is a cross between a typical fantasy kingdom and The Hunger Games. In this world, each generation three queens are born as triplets. When they come of age, they have a year to kill each other. The one queen remaining at the end of the year will rule the island under the Goddess until she gives birth to triplets herself.

One Dark Throne is the story of what happens after the competitive year starts. Katharine, who has been brought up with the family of Poisoners, the family that has controlled the throne for generations, has drastically changed because of the events at the end of the first book. (I won’t say more, but it’s partly because I didn’t completely remember them.)

Arsinoe, who has been brought up with the naturalists, has surprised everyone – but she is harboring a secret. And Mirabella, who was once considered the certain winner, seems at a disadvantage.

Since the author has made you care about all three queens and the people surrounding each one, the reader definitely doesn’t want any of the queens to die. But they must.

This story was a little more confusing to me, because of the aforementioned forgetting of details from the first book. I’m not crazy about this bloodthirsty island. I’ll say only that people you care about die in this book. However, the story is not finished.

The author has spun an inventive fantasy, a world that’s unique and complex, however bloodthirsty. Because you’re seeing the world of each one of the three queens, there is a large cast of characters, though – which is what makes it difficult to remember details after a year away.

There’s lots of intrigue going on, and she does make you want to find out what happens next. I think I almost want to recommend reading these books when the series is finished, so you aren’t prone to forget the previous book when you start the next – then take them all up in one binge of reading. I do hope that the final volume will make the journey worth it. And I probably won’t be able to resist finding out (depending on how much I’ve forgotten by then).

kendareblake.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return, by Ian Doescher

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

William Shakespeare’s

The Jedi Doth Return

by Ian Doescher

Quirk Books, Philadelphia, 2014. 168 pages.
Review written in 2016.

This third volume in William Shakespeare’s Star Wars was published quite some time ago – but I finally finished reading it because my son graduated from college and is living with me again for awhile.

These books simply must be read out loud! I loved the way my son did the various voices – It’s awfully amusing hearing Darth Vader and the Emperor speak in Shakespearean English. I think my own Chewbacca voice isn’t too bad.

Ian Doescher knows his Shakespeare. There are many references to Shakespeare plays in the text – most of which, I’m sure I didn’t pick up on.

We read one Act at a time – which ends up being approximately a half-hour of reading, just enough that our voices didn’t get too tired. I grant you there aren’t a lot of female parts, but we mostly alternated characters. There are Five Acts, so once we got restarted (We read Act One months ago.), it took us about a week to finish.

I still say these would be magnificent plays for a middle school to put on, or for a middle school or high school English class to read aloud in conjunction with studying a Shakespeare play. There’d be plenty of food for discussion about Ian Doescher’s adaptation, and I’m guessing students wouldn’t complain about the archaic language when they already know the story.

This is another brilliant installment. I admit I was losing steam and wasn’t sure I was going to get it read – but the opportunity to read it aloud reminded me what fun this series is.

IanDoescher.com
Quirkbooks.com
Starwars.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Peas and Carrots, by Tanita S. Davis

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Peas and Carrots

by Tanita S. Davis

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2016. 279 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a contemporary novel about a teen in foster care. It’s been years since Dess has lived with her baby brother. She got kicked out of her last foster home and has been in group homes ever since. But now, when she asks to see her brother – she ends up getting placed in the home he’s in. There’s even a sister who is fifteen, just like Dess.

Just because two teens are the same age doesn’t mean they’ll get along. The book alternates perspectives between white-skinned Dess and African-American Hope, her new foster sister.

Here’s their meeting from Dess’s perspective:

The girl looks right at me, and her eyes get all wide. She’s darker than Foster Lady and shorter, but thick like her, with a crinkly mess of puffy hair in a sloppy bun. She’s all baby fat and big cow eyes, which I’m about to slap out of her damn head if she doesn’t stop staring at me.

“What are you looking at?” I snarl at the same time that she blurts out, “Um . . . I’m Hope. Hi.”

And here it is from Hope’s perspective:

So this was Austin’s real sister – his birth sister. This girl, with her pale-blue eyes and dragon-lady nails, looked nothing like Austin, whose skin was a sandy brown, whose eyes were a dark hazel, and whose hair was tightly furled golden-brown curls. Hope searched for any trace of resemblance to Austin’s sharp-chinned, round-headed adorableness in the single wary eye, ringed hard with liner, that glared out at her from beneath the sweep of stiff, blond bangs. Half siblings could still look alike, but . . . no, nothing.

Dess isn’t used to a loving family, and is skeptical of the “rule” of acting with kindness. Hope isn’t used to having a foster sister her own age who isn’t, actually, very nice to her. Then at school, Dess seems to be able to make friends more easily than Hope, which is completely disorienting for Hope.

But eventually, through the ins and outs of everyday life, the girls learn to care about even someone so different.

This story had me reading until far too late in the night. Your heart goes out to Dess, with her tough family situation, but also to Hope, just trying to be kind but also wanting to be noticed in a family that is so much about service, sometimes Hope gets overlooked.

The people, the friendships, and the school situations felt true to life. You’re pulled into caring about these girls. The reader gets to see both perspectives, and it’s beautiful to watch them slowly inch toward each other.

TanitaSDavis.com
randomhouseteens.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Thick as Thieves audiobook, by Megan Whalen Turner, performed by Steve West

Monday, March 5th, 2018

Thick as Thieves

by Megan Whalen Turner
performed by Steve West

HarperAudio, 2017. 8.75 hours on 7 discs.
Starred Review

This is now the third time I’ve read Thick as Thieves, and I don’t get tired of it. As with all of Megan Whalen Turner’s books, I discovered a few more nuances each time.

But the audiobook version has the advantage of being read by my new narrator-crush, Steve West, discovered when he read Strange the Dreamer. I could (and do) listen to his voice for hours. He delineates the characters well with different voices. Although the audio version doesn’t have a map, I didn’t feel like it was dragging as I listened to his narration – it made each episode that much more interesting.

And there’s probably not much more I need to say. This is the fifth book in one of my very favorite series. It’s got adventure and danger and characters you root for. And has an outstanding narrator as well. I do recommend reading the books in order, beginning with The Thief, but let me say that they also make outstanding family listening.

harperaudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Silver in the Blood, by Jessica Day George

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Silver in the Blood

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, New York, 2015. 358 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Set in 1897, this is a historical fantasy romance about two cousins who are being sent from New York to Bucharest, Romania, to meet and learn the truth about their mother’s family.

Now, the copy on the back of the book gives away what they will find. LouLou also encounters a young man on the ship who asks her, “Are you the wing?” LouLou tells about it in her letter to her cousin Dacia:

“Are you the wing?” He said it again, and looked me up and down yet again! “You are not the claw, and there is never a smoke anymore.”

Complete gibberish, Dacia! What was I to do? I simply goggled at him for a moment. When I gathered myself, I started to turn away again, when he said, “You are the wing; I see it now.”

By the time the girls do find out what the Wing, the Claw, and the Smoke are, we are not at all surprised. I can’t help but wonder if it would have given the book more momentum if it had started when they arrived in Bucharest, rather than during their separate journeys there. There’s some build-up to the revelation of the family’s magic that falls a bit flat by the time we discover what it is.

We do end up with an interesting situation. Two young ladies ready for New York society suddenly discover magical powers and that their powerful family is part of a prophecy – and a political plot. They must decide which side they are on.

The timing of the story fits with the publication of the book Dracula and the girls meet Prince Mihai, a descendant of the famous count. Their family has always served the Dracul family. Prince Mihai intends that they continue to do so.

This book is a historical novel for teens who like regency fiction with dances and gowns and society – combined with a twist of magic and political intrigue. The exotic setting of the Romania of 1897 adds to the fun.

JessicaDayGeorge.com

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Source: This review is based on an advance reader copy I got at an ALA conference.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Long Way Down audiobook, by Jason Reynolds

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds
read by the author

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017. 2 hours on 2 discs.
Starred Review
2018 Odyssey Honor

I already wrote about how amazing this book was in my review of the print version. I found new levels of amazing by listening to it.

Jason Reynolds reads his own poetry, so he knows exactly how each line was intended. I noticed details I didn’t notice when I read it myself.

This audiobook is about a kid in a situation where what he thinks he needs to do is kill the person he’s sure murdered his brother. And then on each stop of the elevator someone gets on who was a victim of the same rules Will is trying to live by.

There’s whole new power in listening to Jason Reynolds read the words himself.

It’s a short book in either form, but it’s not one you’ll easily forget.

jasonwritesbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Parrotfish, by Ellen Wittlinger

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

Parrotfish

by Ellen Wittlinger

Simon & Schuster, 2007. 287 pages.
Starred Review

I have a transgender adult daughter. So it’s high time I read this by now classic teen novel about a transgender teen boy. Though I wish I’d read it before I had a specific reason to do so – this is simply good writing.

Grady has decided to start his junior year of high school as the person he truly is – a boy. But when he tells his family and his former best friend to call him Grady instead of Angela, the reactions are mixed. When he tries to explain to his teachers and get them to use his new name, the responses are also mixed.

But this is ultimately a hopeful and uplifting novel. Grady makes a new friend, a nerdy guy named Sebastian who’s in his TV Production class. Sebastian asks Angela to the school dance, so Grady has to explain. Sebastian tells him that’s just like the stoplight parrotfish, which he’s doing a report on for Environmental Science. In fact, Sebastian tells him that there are many fish and other animals which change gender.

I thought you’d like some real evidence here that you are not alone in the animal world. There are other living creatures that do this all the time. ‘Nature creates many variations.’ I’m using that line in my paper.

The story of the book plays out as Grady’s Dad is preparing the Christmas Extravaganza their family does every year – even though everyone else in the family is tired of it. Grady’s younger, spoiled brother wants a dog, and his younger sister is embarrassed that everyone’s talking about Grady now. Meanwhile, Grady’s former best friend Eve has gotten in with the in-crowd of the school – led by a girl who’s a real bully, and sees Grady as a target.

And meanwhile, Grady’s making new friends, including a girl he has a crush on – but who’s the girlfriend of one of his new friends from TV Production class. Can a freak like him even dare to fall for someone? But maybe these new friends don’t see him as a freak. In fact, he finds himself giving advice to both the girl and the guy in that relationship – and they both appreciate that Grady is good at understanding both sides.

This is an excellent story about navigating relationships with friends and family in high school. And the main character happens to be transgender. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

simonandschuster.com/teen

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Piper, by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg, illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Piper

by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg
illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Razorbill (Penguin Random House), 2017. 144 pages.
Starred Review

This gorgeous graphic novel turns the story of the Pied Piper of Hameln into a tragic romance.

It’s also a story of prejudice and greed – but with love rising above that. And we find out that the real story isn’t the one we’ve heard.

This version of the story features a deaf teen girl named Maggie who lives in Hameln with an old woman, something of an outcast. She can read lips and talks with the piper, a handsome teen himself. She learns his story, as no one else does.

Maggie enjoys writing stories with her caretaker, an old woman named Agathe. She writes the stories of the villagers the way they should be told.

Did the villagers deserve what they got from the Piper? What if the revenge the Piper took was different than the story we’ve heard?

This book is a quick read but a haunting and poignant tale. The ending especially will surprise you.

PenguinTeen.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust, Volume One, by Philip Pullman

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

La Belle Sauvage

The Book of Dust, Volume One

by Philip Pullman

Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 451 pages.

It’s no secret that Philip Pullman is a magnificent writer. His rich use of language, his astonishingly detailed, imaginative worlds are all marks of a master craftsman. So, yes, I was impressed by how well-written this book was.

But did I enjoy it? Not so much.

This surprised me. I enjoyed The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. (Not enough to want to read them again, but I did enjoy them.) In this book, I liked the character of Malcolm tremendously – but not really anyone else.

This book is a prequel to His Dark Materials. Lyra, who is a young girl in those books, is now a baby – and a baby with a prophecy about her, a baby who needs protection. In the majority of the book, Malcolm is trying to rescue baby Lyra from danger in his canoe, named La Belle Sauvage, riding over floodwaters, pursued by one of the most horrific villains imaginable.

You don’t have to read the first trilogy to enjoy this, since it is a prequel. (Knowing Lyra must make it does help make things a little less scary.) Maybe if I had reread the original trilogy I would have been ready for what seemed like out-of-place fantastical elements, including an encounter with faeries and traveling through some sort of mystical kingdom. I know it’s an alternate universe, but I had forgotten that they’re not really going with a scientific explanation of alternate universes, since the one Lyra’s in has lots of magic.

And I know – it’s magic – it’s an alternate universe – but this time the explanation of “Dust” as an “elementary particle” of a “Rusakov field” responsible for consciousness – seemed rather silly. That’s not really how elementary particles work. This Dust is also what makes the alethiometer magically answer questions. And that, too, seems a bit silly reading it afresh. If the author just called it “magic” and didn’t try to make it sound scientific, it would work better. (Ah! That’s the problem! When I read The Golden Compass, I just thought it was dealing with a world where magic existed, and I hadn’t read any pseudo-scientific explanation.)

All that aside, there’s a fair amount of coincidence. How does the monstrous villain keep following Malcolm? Now, to be fair, that particular coincidence simply makes the book all the more intensely frightening. But when the good guy happens upon Malcolm later, that seems a little more remarkable.

I liked that Malcolm wondered how baby Lyra’s daemon could know the shapes of various animals to take on that it hadn’t yet seen. I imagine someone complained about that in the first book, so now it’s something remarkable about Lyra’s daemon rather than an oversight by the author.

And I do love the daemons – an animal expression of a person’s soul that lives outside their body. Children’s daemons can change form at will, but adults’ daemons have a set form. An interesting thing is that no two people in the book have the same form for their daemons.

I never do like it when the Church is villainous, though I knew to expect it from the first trilogy. In this book, there’s an extra sinister effort to get children to turn in their parents to the forces of evil run by the Church.

All that said, La Belle Sauvage is an absorbing read. Philip Pullman’s world-building is full of intricate details and extremely atmospheric. You can see this by how the book begins:

Three miles up the river Thames from the center of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadow, there stood the Priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.

The inn was an old stone-built rambling, comfortable sort of place. There was a terrace above the river, where peacocks (one called Norman and the other called Barry) stalked among the drinkers, helping themselves to snacks without the slightest hesitation and occasionally lifting their heads to utter ferocious and meaningless screams. There was a saloon bar where the gentry, if college scholars count as gentry, took their ale and smoked their pipes; there was a public bar where watermen and farm laborers sat by the fire or played darts, or stood at the bar gossiping, or arguing, or simply getting quietly drunk; there was a kitchen where the landlord’s wife cooked a great joint every day, with a complicated arrangement of wheels and chains turning a spit over an open fire, and there was a potboy called Malcolm Polstead.

Malcolm was the landlord’s son, an only child. He was eleven years old, with an inquisitive, kindly disposition, a stocky build, and ginger hair. He went to Ulvercote Elementary School a mile away, and he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own, playing with his daemon, Asta, in their canoe, on which Malcolm had painted the name LA BELLE SAUVAGE.

Those that have read His Dark Materials will almost certainly want to read this. If you haven’t yet – you might prefer to start with that one since you can read all three books in succession and won’t be stymied by those annoying words that end this book: “To be continued . . .”

philip-pullman.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Gemina, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

Gemina

The Illuminae Files_02

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
with journal illustrations by Marie Lu

Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 659 pages.

Last year, I was a first-round judge for the Cybils Award category of Young Adult Speculative Fiction. We chose seven finalists, and the second-round judges chose Illuminae as the final winner.

Illuminae was a thriller with a high body count, a tense story of people fleeing through space when their illegal mining company was attacked by a rival corporation. And that corporation was chasing the survivors as they tried to reach the nearest “jump station” to get to a wormhole and then to the Core planets.

What I thought when the first book finished was that they’d get to the safety of the jump station and get to share the news. I thought there’d be some chance to catch their breath. Ummmm, No!

Because the evil corporation BeiTech doesn’t want anyone in the Core planets to hear about what they did. They’ve sent an elite force to take over the jump station and destroy their records – as well as to let through a fleet of drones that will destroy our survivors on the spaceship.

In this book again, the focus is on two teenagers caught in the carnage. Hanna Donnelly is the daughter of the station commander. At the beginning, we see her as a rich princess party girl. But we also learn that for fun, her father puts her through simulated combat scenarios. She’s ready to fight back against this elite force. Well, with a little computer help.

Other key combatants are Nik Malikov, part of a family supplying drugs to folks on the station, and his cousin Ella, a computer genius.

This book was every bit as thrilling and tense as the first one – but I was kind of tired of the drama by the time I read this one. I would have liked a little variation from bad guys trying to hunt our heroes down in an enclosed place. When there was even a zombifying threat – I laughed out loud (probably not the reaction the authors were going for). In Illuminae, there was a virus loose on the ship that turns people into zombies. In Gemina, there’s an alien worm loose that eats people’s brains (grown to produce a popular hallucinogenic drug – but forgotten about when its keepers are slaughtered). Because apparently you have to have a few zombies and monsters for proper space horror.

There’s also a big paradox with the wormhole, and some convenient ways it helped the plot – which stretched credibility.

But the fact is, there was no way I was going to quit once I picked this up. Okay, it’s long and I did manage to stop in the middle – but I did have it finished in a surprisingly short space of time. If you can handle the high body count, mortal terror, and gruesome deaths – I’m afraid this book is still a lot of diverting fun.

Mind you, both books feature couples who might have real problems if they were to try to live together for any extended period of time. But I can easily believe they’d have a strong bond after going through these harrowing adventures together.

And, yes, I want to find out what happens next – and how they all bring the evil corporation to account. Oh, and get back to civilization.

You’re in for a wild ride if you read these books. But once you start, you won’t want to stop, any more than you’d want to get off a roller coaster once you’ve started.

amiekaufman.com
jaykristoff.com
randomhouseteens.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?