Monday, November 9, 2015

Review of Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Schmidt, Gary D.  Orbiting Jupiter.  Clarion, 2015.

Life has not been easy for fourteen-year-old Joseph Brook.  He has endured abuse by his alcoholic father, a placing in a group home setting, life at a juvenile detention center, and worse of all, incarceration in a high-security prison, where other inmates abused him.  As a last resort, a social worker places him with the Hurd family, who lives on a farm in Maine.  Joseph joins twelve-year-old Jack, who had been adopted by the Hurds some years previously. 

Because of what Joseph has been through, he some strange idiosyncrasies.  He won’t wear anything orange, let anyone stand behind him, let anyone touch him, go into rooms that are too small, or eat canned peaches.  And one more thing--he’s a father to a baby girl who is named Jupiter, and more than anything else in the world, he wants to find her.

Joseph has to keep overcoming obstacles and fighting back but has finally reached a point where two loving adults and a boy who “has his back” believe in him and provide a nurturing environment.  Just when things start to turn the corner, Joseph has to face his past and figure out how to protect his future.

I love male protagonists, and this novel has two outstanding ones in Jack and Joseph.  Our narrator, Jack, tells the story as only a young boy could.   He and the rest of his family are accepting, loving, down-to-earth people who truly care for Joseph.  They welcome Joseph into their family with open arms and provide the kind of family life that he has always needed.  Even when situations become rough, the family continues to lift him up.

Although Joseph has had a hard life, he has a huge heart and is unusually forgiving.  He is intelligent, has a natural ability for mathematics, and is athletically inclined.  It is through Jack’s eyes that readers learn about Joseph’s past and realize that he is wise far beyond his fourteen years.

Orbiting Jupiter is not all serious. From day one, Joseph is expected to do chores around the farm just like Jack and his dad.  Joseph learns you can tell a lot about a person the way cows acts around him.  The Hurd family cows, especially Rosie, take a shine to Joseph, but he learns that milking a cow is not as easy as it looks!

Gary Schmidt has written an endearing novel about acceptance, healing, and the ability to overcome life’s obstacles.  Make sure you have a box of tissues when you read it!  Although I highly recommend it for middle school and public libraries, older readers will also enjoy it.  I give it five out of five fleur de lis!


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review of The Cage by Megan Shepherd

Shepherd, Megan.  The Cage.  Balzer + Bray, 2015.  978-0-06-224305-8; 385p

Cora wakes up in the desert with no recollection of how she got there.  Her clothes and jewelry are gone, and she is wearing someone else’s dress.  The last thing she remembers is riding in the car with her brother, Charlie, to see their family in Virginia.  Dazed and confused, she begins trudging through the sand.

When she gets to a high point in the desert, she sees a farm, a winter tundra, an ocean bay, mountains, and a cityscape in the distance.  How can these environments exist right next to one another?   Cora meets four other kidnapped teens in a strange town with a mixture of cultures mingled together.  All throughout the habitats, there are black one-way windows—someone or something is watching her and the others.

A Caretaker, who supposedly watches over the teens, appears and tells them that they have been taken from Earth and placed in a type of zoo, provided with all the “comforts” of home.  They are told that there are only three rules they must follow.  First, in order to maintain their physical and mental strength, they must solve the enrichment puzzles scattered throughout the habitats.  Solved puzzles result in token rewards, which can be used to purchase items in the town.  The second rule is to maintain their health by eating the food provided for them, getting the proper amount of sleep each night, and cooperating in their mandatory health assessments.  Finally, the teens must engage in procreative activities by the time twenty-one days have passed.  To determine mates, the Caretaker has paired teens with one another via a constellation tattoo behind each one’s right ear.  If they do not comply with the rules, they will be removed or exterminated.

Cora and the others are shocked at their situation, especially by the rule three.  As they begin to trust one another, Cora desperately searches for a way to escape and get home.  However, trust soon turns to suspicion, jealousy, and a matter of life or death, as the Caretaker and the other Kindred who kidnapped them manipulate their lives.  Cora grows closer and closer to the Caretaker, but can she really trust him to help and protect them like he has promised?

What a terrific “Space Opera” Megan Shepherd has created with her new novel, the first in a new series of the same name!  The world building is superb—opposing habitats along side one another, archaic shops, a planet that is actually not a planet, but some asteroids.  The teens—a beautiful model, a nerd genius, a strong hulk, and the boy-next-door, seem like stereotypes, but, in reality, they are multi-dimensional characters, with much more personality than is what is originally revealed to the reader.  The layers are peeled away as the book progresses, producing unusual back-stories for each of the characters.  They all have secrets to hide and unusual quirks.  The forbidden love triangle that develops is shocking and intriguing.  Readers will be frustrated at the cliffhanger ending, but it is a series, after all, and the plot has to be set up for the next book.

The Cage will be released on May 26, 2015 and its sequel, as yet unnamed, in 2016.   Both science fiction and non-science fiction fans, alike, will enjoy The Cage.  I recommend it for middle school, high school, and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis!

*Reviewer’s note:  The copy reviewed was an uncorrected proof received from the publisher at the 2015 TX Library Association Conference.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review of The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

Haig, Francesca.  The Fire Sermon.  Gallery Books, 2015.

In the distant future, the world has been ravaged by an atomic blast and radiation, supposedly caused by technology.  Twins, one boy and one girl, are now always born to couples.  One twin, the Alpha, is perfect, while the other twin, the Omega, is flawed in some way.  Either a limb is missing, or the baby is blind or deaf, or the Omega is a Seer and has no obvious physical deformities.

Alphas and Omegas are split as soon as possible, with Omegas being branded, banished, and persecuted.  Alphas are the Golden Children, born into privilege and opportunity.  But there is a fatal element to the twin relationship; the twins are linked.  No matter how far apart the siblings live, when one twin dies, so does the other.

Zach and Cass aren’t split until they are thirteen years old.  Cass does her best to hide the fact that she is a Seer, but Zach waits patiently until he can expose her, and she is ultimately branded and exiled.  Years later, Zach has become a leader on the Alpha Council and has Cass kidnapped.  She is imprisoned in The Keeping Rooms, where she is interrogated by The Confessor, an Omega Seer working for the Alpha Council.

After several years, Cass manages to escape and frees another prisoner from a situation worse than hers.  With Council soldiers chasing them, She and “Kip” flee, searching for a supposedly mythical island—a haven where Omegas can live safe and free.  But both Alphas and Omegas need Cass, not just because she is a Seer, but because she sees things differently and hopes for a world where Alphas and Omegas can coexist.

This is the debut novel and the first installment in a new series by Francesca Haig.  The prose the author uses is beautifully written, testifying to her poetry background.  Haig’s world building is amazing and unique, with vivid descriptions of the island, the Omega settlements, and the ocean.  Her characters are strong and well developed.  My favorite character is Kip, who has been through so much, but still manages to remain positive and strong for Cass.

The twin concept in The Fire Sermon offers a fresh and interesting twist in the currently popular dystopian genre.  The action scenes in the book will keep the reader turning the pages!  The movie rights for novel have been optioned by Dreamworks, and the sequel will come out in January, 2016, first in the UK and then in the US.  Haig is already working on the third volume. 

The Fire Sermon will be enjoyed by The Hunger Games and Divergent fans.  I highly recommend it for middle school, high school, and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis!

 *Reviewer’s note:  The copy reviewed was an e-ARC received from Net Galley.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Trailer for Famous Last Words by Katie Alender


I normally don't use Animoto to make my book trailers, but I needed one in a hurry for our "2015 March Madness Tournament of Books"!  I'll post our promotional video tomorrow!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Some Random Thoughts on Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Flynn, Gillian.  Gone Girl.  Broadway Books, 2014.

This will not be my normal review with a plot synopsis since most readers have already either read this book, seen the movie, or both.  So I am going to dispense with the summary and go on to the critique.
Gone Girl is a character-driven novel, and most of the players have "larger-than-life" personalities.  It is rare for me to dislike most of the characters in a novel.  I can honestly say that the only characters I felt any empathy toward were Nick's twin sister, Go, and the female police officer, Boney.  I detested both Nick and his wife, Amy; they were self-indulgent, spoiled, and self-centered.  The same can be said for Amy's parents--they were controlling, manipulative, and conniving.   Amy is a proof that the "apple doesn't fall far from the tree".  I would imagine that it was probably the author's intention that readers would be averse to these characters.  All this being said, I was pulling for Nick to win at the book's conclusion.
It was very smart to have the story told through both Nick's viewpoint and Amy's "soon-to-be-found" diary. The plot is genius--well-planned and contains unseen twists and turns that keeps the pages turning.  And the ending---WOWZA--I did not see that coming!  It was definitely a big surprise!
High school libraries will need to use caution if they choose to add this title to their collections.  There is an abundance of adult situations in this novel.  I highly recommend it for public libraries' adult collections.  I give it five out of five fleur de lis!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Review of Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

Raasch, Sara.  Snow Like Ashes. Balzer +    Bray, 2014.

On the continent of Primoria, there are four Season Kingdoms—Spring, Summer, Winter, and Autumn, which sit on a chasm of magic.  All of them have eternal seasons and female rulers who wield magic through conduits, talismans to control their kingdoms.  The Rhythm Kingdoms—Paisly, Ventralli, Yakim, and Cordell—go through all four seasons and have males who rule through their conduits.  The eight kingdoms lived in more or less in harmony until Angra, Spring’s evil conduit, and his army attacked and destroyed Winter, broke its conduit in half, and killed its queen.  Only twenty-five of Winter’s citizens were able to escape; they rest were killed or taken to Spring’s work camps.

Sixteen years later, only eight Winterians remain of those who escaped.  They are constantly moving around so as not to be captured by Angra or his general, Herod.  The eight citizens spend their days trying to survive and searching for their conduit.  Finding the two halves of their conduit would mean freedom, the return of magic, and the rebuilding of their kingdom. 

The two youngest Winterians—Mather Dynam, Winter’s future king, and Meira, an orphan—infants when the attack on Winter occurred, are now teenagers.  Their leader, Sir William, has trained them to fight fiercely for Winter.  Meira knows Mather will one day be her king and is of a higher class, but she still has feelings for him.  On her first journey to look for the conduit, not only does Meira have an encounter with Herod, but she also recovers half of Winter’s conduit.

This leads to a series of events in which Meira, guided by encrypted dreams, becomes first a commodity, then a soldier, and finally a prisoner.  She must deal with courtly politics and Angra’s evil magic to find her true destiny and place in Winter.

Snow Like Ashes, Sara Raasch’s debut novel, is a wonderful fantasy read.  The world building and the concept of designing kingdoms based on seasons are fresh and beautiful.  The main characters are strong, heroic, and selfless, ready to sacrifice anything--even death--for Winter.  The descriptions of the battle scenes are so real, the reader will feel he is right there on the battlefield fighting with the soldiers!  In addition,  if you like love triangles, you will not be disappointed!  The cover art is awesome; it depicts a chakram, a type of throwing knife, Meira’s weapon of choice, on a bed of fresh snow.

The only negative about the novel is the pacing.  The plot sometimes slows down and takes awhile to pick up speed again.  However, there is enough happening during the slow parts to keep readers motivated to continue reading.

Snow Like Ashes is the first in a series of the same name.   Icicles Like Kindling, a novella eBook-only prequel, was released in September.  It covers Meira’s life from her infancy to age sixteen and was originally intended to be the prologue in Snow Like Ashes.    Ice Like Fire (Snow Like Ashes #2) will come out this year!

This book will be enjoyed by fans of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series and readers of The Games of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin.  I highly recommend it for middle school, high school, and public libraries.  I give it four out of five fleur de lis!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review of The Jewel by Amy Ewing

Ewing, Amy.  The Jewel.  HarperTeen, 2014.

Once they reach puberty, all girls in The Marsh must have a blood test to determine if they have certain characteristics, which will qualify them to become surrogates to the royal families who live in The Jewel.  Due to a genetic quirk, royalty are unable to give birth to their own children. A Girl who “passes” the blood test is removed from her family and taken to live in one of four holding facilities in The Lone City, where she is trained to use her special powers, or auguries.  The auguries include the ability to change the color of an item, the ability to change the shape of an item, and the ability to make things grow.  Eventually, after several years, the girl is sold at auction to the highest royal bidder and becomes the surrogate for that family.

Violet Lasting, now sixteen years old, has spent her last four years in the   Southgate Holding Facility, preparing for her life as a surrogate.  She has wanted for nothing while living in the facility, has achieved extremely high scores on her augury tests, and is an accomplished cellist.  However, she has missed her family and home in The Marsh deeply.

At auction she is sold to The Duchess of the Lake as Lot #197 for an enormous sum and goes to spend her days in a lovely palace, where she has beautiful clothes, wonderful meals, enjoys lavish parties, and has her own suite of rooms.

However, there is a dark side to being a surrogate. Violet is a nameless “pet” to The Duchess of the Lake, forced to wear a leash and collar when they go out, as do all surrogates.  She is at The Duchess’s beck and call twenty-four hours a day.  Her body is not hers; it belongs to the doctor who performs experiments on her and to The Duchess, who wants Violet to use her abilities to grow a baby in three months as opposed to nine.

When Violet is secretly offered a way to leave The Jewel and her life of surrogacy, she has to decide if freedom is also worth leaving forbidden love and her best friend behind, as well.  Some decisions are hard, especially when they involve trust, promises, and love.

This terrific debut novel by Amy Ewing is the first in her new series, “The Lone City”, and is filled with excitement, surprises, and intrigue.  The world building is exquisite.  In The Jewel, which is painted as a fairytale-like place, everyone lives in castles, and all lifestyles are extravagant!  The city is decorated like it is Christmas all the time! There are headstrong royal women and power plays to see who can produce the first daughter, who can shun whom, and who has the most talented and beautiful surrogate.  All the royal women are conniving and mean-spirited!

Ms. Ewing has included such strong characters in her book—Violet, Garnet—The Duchess of the Lake’s unruly son; Ash—companion to Carnelian Silver, The Lady’s niece; and Lucien, the Lady-in-Waiting who prepares Violet for the Auction.  I am really looking forward to their continuing story in the next installment!

This dystopian/fantasy/romance will be enjoyed by readers who liked The Selection series by Kiera Cass.  However, be prepared, because it is much more sinister!  I recommend it for grades eight and up and for public libraries.  I give it five out of five fleur de lis!!!!