Saturday, November 25, 2017

Roe, Robin.  A List of Cages.  Disney-Hyperion, 2017.

Adam Blake, a senior in high school, is the happiest, most energetic, albeit clumsy, student at his high school.  Although he has ADHD, he has learned to compensate and has excelled in his classes and is one of the school’s most popular students.  One of his classes involves being a student aide to Dr. Whitlock, the school psychologist, and he is bored most of the time during this period.  One day, she asks Adam to locate a freshman named Julian, who, consequently, lived with Adam and his mom for a while after both of his parents were killed in a tragic car accident.  After several years, Julian’s uncle took custody of him, and the Blakes were not allowed to see him.

Adam is thrilled to see Julian again and is happy that he actually remembers him.  However, Julian has become extremely shy and withdrawn and is slow to open up to Adam.  We learn through Julian’s eyes that he also has undiagnosed dyslexia and is scorned by many teachers for his poor grades and scholastic performance. 

Adam begins spending a lot of time with Julian, and he is accepted into Adam’s group of senior friends.  Adam notices that Julian’s clothes are old and do not fit him well, and that Julian often misses school due to illness.  Adam eventually figures out that Julian is keeping secrets from both him and Dr. Whitlock.  What Adam and his friends ultimately discover about Julian could put all their lives at risk!

This debut novel by Robin Roe is an emotional roller coaster of a ride.  I am a sucker for teenage male protagonists, and she has created some very special ones.  The novel is character-driven, told in first-person through the eyes of Adam and Julian.  All the characters, including the supporting group, are exceptionally well developed.  Adam is just a great guy and well liked by students and teachers.  Julian has had a lot of trauma in his life since losing his parents but is still disdained by his teachers and his impatient, evil uncle.  All of Adam’s friends have distinct personalities.  I did not like Charlie, Adam’s best bud, at first, but he grew so much during the story that I actually ended up loving him.  He is like a giant, lovable teddy bear and fiercely loyal to his friends!

The dialogue and setting are authentic, the characters are wonderful, and the villain is hateful.  I could not believe the abuse that Julian has to endure from his uncle, who does not even care for him one bit.  The scenes where Julian is locked in a trunk emotionally drained me.  It was no surprise to find out that Robin Roe is an adolescent counselor, since she portrays the characters so realistically and compassionately.

This novel has it all—family, friendship, great characters, a little romance, drama, and a happy ending, despite cruelty.  It is a real page-turner, and I highly recommend it for high school and public libraries.  I give it five out of five fleur de lis!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review of Overturned by Lamar Giles

Giles, Lamar.  Overturned.  Scholastic, 2017.

Nikki Tate, a talented teen card shark, and her mother have been running her father’s Las Vegas casino ever since he was convicted of murder and sent away to prison. Nikki has been holding secret, illegal Poker games in the casino’s basement to try to raise money to fund her escape from Las Vegas once she graduates from high school. 

But now, after five years on Death Row, Nathan Tate, who is also a world-class professional Poker player, has had his conviction overturned and has been paroled.  However, he is a totally different man from the father Nikki remembers, and she must make adjustments in order to rebond with him.  While trying to prove he was framed for murder, Nathan is also murdered.   Now it is up to Nikki and her friends to solve her father’s murder and prove that he was innocently jailed for a crime that he did not commit.

Edgar Award Finalist Lamar Giles has created a fast-paced mystery full of twists and turns with his latest novel, Overturned.  Our heroine, Nikki Tate, is a tough talking, smart black teenager, a good student, and extremely talented at Poker, which she learned to play from her dad.   She is extremely well developed, and her friends, all minor characters, “have her back”.  There is a diverse cast of characters—black, white, Hispanic, and gay parents.  As an extra plus, having a Las Vegas murder mystery told from a teenage girl’s point of view is so different and pure genius, in my opinion!

I love the Las Vegas setting, and it was described perfectly.  There was a good balance portrayed between the beautiful glamour of Las Vegas and its seedy underworld.  The novel has romance, card game action, Mafioso and diverse characters, drama, humor, mystery, and believable dialogue all rolled into a terrific plot!

I highly recommend Overturned for high school and public libraries, and I give it five out of five fleur de lis!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review of Crazy House by James Patterson

Patterson, James.  Crazy House.  Hanchette, 2017.

The United States has been split up into cells which are totally controlled by the new government, “The United”.  Citizens have jobs chosen for them, and it is forbidden to leave the cell’s boundaries.  Seventeen-year-old twins Cassie and Becca are trying to keep their family’s farm going after their mom was sent away to have a “mood adjustment” and their dad was hospitalized after trying to commit suicide. 

There have been a number of child kidnappings, and Becca becomes the ninth victim.  She is thrown into a secret prison full of teens and tweens who are now on “Death Row”.  These “prisoners” are tortured, forced to fight one another, and, overall, treated brutally.  Occasionally, one of them is murdered in front of the others.  Cassie ends up as a kidnap victim, joining her sister in prison, and experiences what has happened to her twin.  

Becca and Cassie work together with fellow prisoners to escape and figure out the prison’s secrets, many dealing with cells, the general masses, and the elite, but unknown, population.

This is the second young adult collaboration between James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet.  Although James Patterson is well known for his adult novels, he has been making the foray into the YA world for a number of years now.  Gabrielle Charbonnet also writes under the pen name, Cate Tiernan.  She has written books for both children and young adults.

This dystopian novel has all the surprises, twists, and turns that readers have come to expect from Mr. Patterson.  The prison scenes are, at times, horrific and quite gory--add to that, the experience of having a child murdered right in front of an audience full of kids!  There are reasons behind all of the plot devices, but I do not want to spoil any of the suspense for those who have not yet read the book.

Readers will be sucked into this fast-paced novel.  The ending is a real cliffhanger, so I am hoping this is the first in a planned series of books.  I recommend the book for upper middle, high school, and public libraries, and I give it four out of five fleur de lis!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review of The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

Forest, Laurie.  The Black Witch.  Harlequin Teen, 2017.

After their parents are killed, Elloren Gardner and her brothers move to a small town and live with their kind uncle, who serves as their guardian.  Their uncle does not want the siblings to become “wandfasted”, a type of ceremonial betrothal, until they have finished their studies.  Elloren looks just like her grandmother, Carnissa Gardner.  She has been told that she has no magic powers, unlike her famous grandmother, who was the prophesied Black Witch and had level five magic—the most powerful known.

Elloren’s political aunt, Vyvian Gardner, tells Elloren she will pay for her to attend the prestigious Verpax University and whisks her away to her spacious castle.   At a party given in her honor, Aunt Vyvian introduces Elloren to Lukas Gray, a handsome, eligible Gardnerian bachelor, because she wants Elloren to wandfast to him.  She refuses, so her aunt makes her life miserable at Verpax, forcing Elloren to live with two winged “demon” icarals, work in a kitchen where she is taunted by “low-class” Urisk servants and shunned by a mysterious, handsome Kelt.  Much to her horror, she is also forced to become lab partners with a male lupine in one of her classes.  There’s no way to avoid other races because Verpax accepts everyone!

Elloren is also bullied by the jealous Fallon Bane, who wants to wandfast to Lukas Gray, and is the person everyone believes might be the next prophesied Black Witch.  Elloren slowly begins to realize that everything she has been told about other races is veiled in lies, and Gardnerian history is not as she has been taught.  All races are looking for the next Black Witch and the coming of the new, powerful, evil icaral, both of which have been foretold.  As Elloren comes to trust her misfit roommates and classmates, she must ignore everything that she has learned about hate, judgment, and fear.

This recently released novel by Laurie Forest is the first in a new series by the same name.  This is Ms. Forest’s debut novel, and she has burst upon the scene amidst some controversy.  While some have heralded her novel, others have scorned it for its handling of prejudice and racism.  I happen to be among those who think it is a brilliant fantasy story.

The world-building in The Black Witch is lush and descriptive.  Verpax University is somewhat reminiscent of Hogwarts Academy.  The characters are well-developed, even down to the secondary characters.  After viewing Ms. Forest’s Pinterest page and her Twitter tweets, it is easy to see how much thought and research went into her characters' descriptions.  The prose and dialogue are beautiful and captivating.  I especially like the lupines and their blunt, literal outlook on life.

The main themes in the novel are prejudice, racism, xenophobia, and propaganda.  The different races in the book have been taught that all other races are evil, calculating, and inferior, and their race is the only one which is superior to all others.  Elloren, her friends, and her brothers learn slowly to ignore what they have been taught for many years and accept and befriend those different from them.  Although Elloren is not quick to realize that others’ views have influenced her opinions, there are more sequels to come so that she will be able to grow more in the future.  That she was able to work with others to bring about change was welcome and refreshing.

This novel is a real page turner!  I highly recommend it for middle school, high school, and public libraries and give it 5 out of 5 fleur de lis!