Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mini-Reviews...

I have been reading fast and furiously for the TX Library Association's TAYSHAS Committee, so instead of doing full-out reviews for some of the books I have read, I am doing mini-reviews.


Hutchinson, Shaun.  We Are the Ants.  Simon Pulse, 2016.


Henry Denton thinks he has been abducted by aliens for a number of years. During a recent abduction, he is told by the "sluggers" that they are going to wipe out the earth in 144 days.  He is told that he must decide the fate of the human race, even though he has too man problems of his own to deal with--and none of them are good!


This is a character-driven novel and has an interesting plot line--what teenager wants to be in charge of saving the world--or not?!  The author touches on plenty of sensitive and timely subjects--suicide and its consequences, bullying, dementia and its effects on families, abortion, and sexuality.  There is a bit of humor thrown in, but the characters and relationships drive the story.  Although there is a guy protagonist, girls will enjoy it, as well.



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


Wynne-Jones, Tim.  The Emperor of Amy Place.  Candlewick, 2015.


After his father dies, Ethan finds a book that was sent to his father and begins to read it.  He tries to unravel the mystery surrounding the book, which is a World War II "diary", and his estranged grandfather's involvement in the story.


Tim Wynne-Jones has written a brilliant and fascinating novel that goes back and forth between different time periods--present day and World War II.  The characters are complex and well-developed.  The plot is both character and and relationship-driven.  Students will enjoy the horror aspect of the magical realism angle and the unlikely friendship of two soldiers fighting for victory for opposing sides of the war.


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



Jude, Sarah.  The May Queen Murders.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.


Set in Rowan's Glen in a farming community in the Missouri Ozarks, residents are warned not to go into the woods or walk along because families' dogs have started disappearing.  When the May Queen ceremony is revived and sixteen-year-old Ivy's cousin goes missing, Ivy discovers that Rowan's Glen is harbouring deep, dark secrets.


This is Sarah Jude's literary debut novel.  She has built a world where superstition and small-community traditions abound.  The novel has a gothic mystery feel to it, and the characters are interesting.  There are eerie twists and turns that will keep readers turning turning the pages until the very end!  The ending is a shocker--I did NOT see this one coming!  I love it when I don't figure out the mystery before the end of the book!


I recommend this book for high school and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis.


Ahern, Cecelia.  Flawed.  Feiwel & Friends, 2016.


In a futuristic society, people who do not follow certain ethical standards are considered "flawed" and are branded with an "F" on their body to indicate their status.  They are shunned and harassed by others and denied even basic privileges.  Celestine North, who has always been perfect, decides to help an elderly flawed man, which results in dire consequences for her.


The plot for Flawed is a new take on the popular YA dystopian genre. Celestine, the main character is a strong heroine without wanting or intending to be.  Readers will be shocked at the treatment of those who are judged "Flawed".  This is a real page turner, a thriller, and the first installment in a brand new series.  This is a cliff-hanger ending which made me scream, "NO!".


I recommend this book for middle school, high school, and public libraries and give it five out of five fleur de lis!


Baumbux, Julie.  Tell Me Three Things.  Delacorte, 2016.


After her mother dies and her father remarries, Jessie and her father move to California to live with his new family.  Jessie has a hard time adjusting to her exclusive, expensive, private school until she is befriended through an anonymous email by someone who offers to help her adapt to her new school.


This read is a cool breath of fresh air reminiscent of the movie, "You've Got Mail"!  Jessie and the anonymous "Somebody-Nobody" communicate through emails and then instant messages, which is very current.  Jessie is juggling trying to adjust to a new home, a new school, and a new family, while missing everything about her old life.  Students will identify with the characters and events in the book and laugh at the cute and funny ending!  I love the heart-shaped waffles on the cover.  Give this to your girls and guys who are looking for a romance book with a twist.


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


Russo, Meredith.  If I Was Your Girl.  Flatiron Books, 2016.


After living a stressful life as a boy, Andrew moves to finish his senior year while living with his dad in another city.  However, Andrew has had transgender surgery and is secretly adjusting to a new identity as Amanda.


The main character, Andrew/Amanda, has had a hard time growing up as a boy--feeling that he should have been born a girl.  Readers learn about his past during a series of flashbacks embedded in the present-day plot.  This poor kid has had a heartbreaking life so far--being bullied by his peers, not fitting in, and being estranged from his father.  Readers will learn quite a bit about transgendered people, and students in a similar situation will identify with the main character.  Amanda's love interest is understanding, accepting, and nonjudgmental.  While the ending is not perfect, it is hopeful for her future as a girl.


I recommend this book for high school and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis.
Keep calm and read on!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Review of Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Sepetys, Ruta.  Salt to the Sea.  Philomel, 2016.

In the winter of 1945 in Europe, World War II is nearly over, but many citizens of the eastern Baltic States are fleeing the advance of the Russian army, led by Joseph Stalin, to what they hope is freedom.  Travel conditions across Europe are brutal—sub-freezing temperatures, snow, rocky terrain, and little or no food and shelter.

Many refugees band together to make the trek to evacuation boats waiting at Gotenhafen on the Baltic Sea in Poland.  One such group includes Joana, a young nurse from Poland, Emilia, a pregnant fifteen year-old Lithuanian girl, and Florian, an artist from Prussia.  Other members of the group include a small boy, an elderly shoemaker, and a blind girl.  Amazingly, they all receive passage on the Wilhelm Gustloff, formerly a cruise liner, now serving as a transport ship. 

On the ship they encounter Alfred, a teenaged German soldier, who is a delusional coward, making up fantasies in his head and shirking his duties by hiding in the bathroom.

The ship, which is well over capacity, leaves the port, only to be hit hours later with three torpedoes from a Russian submarine.  The ship’s inhabitants either spill out into the icy Baltic Sea or sink with the ship.  Sadly, only about one-tenth of the occupants survive.

Ruta Sepetys is known for her well-researched historical novels, and Salt to the Sea is no exception. Although the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff resulted in far greater casualties (more than 9400) than the Titanic, it is not often remembered, mainly because it was overshadowed by all the other tragedies that occurred during World War II.   Ms. Sepetys has given voice to thousands evacuees, many of them children, who perished in the largest maritime disaster in history.

The book is told in four alternating teen viewpoints, that of Joana, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred.  Readers are able to see the horrors of war as the characters' backstories unfold in short chapters written in beautiful prose.  

Even though Salt to the Sea is intended for a young adult audience, it could easily be an adult crossover.  It will make its debut tomorrow, February 2, 2016.  I highly recommend it for high school and public libraries and give it five out of five fleur de lis!


Reviewer’s Note:  The copy reviewed was an e-galley from Edelweiss.




Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Review of The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Carey, M.R.  The Girl With All the Gifts.  Orbit, 2014.

Melanie loves school and soaks up new information like a sponge.  She is inquisitive and has the IQ of a genius.  She would also do anything in the world for her wonderful teacher, Miss Justineau.  So why is she, along with a roomful of other children, kept strapped to a wheelchair instead of being able to run and play?  And why do the guards laugh when she tells them that she won’t bite.  Melanie and the other children are “hungries”, or zombies.  However, when most of the population has succumbed to the parasite that has changed them, these children still have human traits, emotions, and an elevated level of intelligence.  They are even able to control, to some extent, their desire for human flesh.

Every now and then Melanie notices that students disappear from her classroom and never return.  It is revealed that the children are test subjects for a project run by Dr. Caldwell, a scientist employed by the British government.  She is in the process of cutting portions of their brains and studying how the parasite affects them.

When the base is attacked by “hungries” and “junkers”, or vigilantes, Melanie, Miss Justineau, and Dr. Caldwell flee in a humvee driven by Sergeant Parks, the head guard at the base, and Private Gallagher, another guard.  They must work together and get along to try to reach the city of Beacon safely.   It may be the only town left in all of England.

This fast-paced novel is intended for adults, but I consider it to also be a crossover novel for young adults.  In the summary, it is not revealed to be a zombie novel, but readers will make that discovery by the end of the first chapter.

Pandora’s Box, Melanie’s favorite story, plays a big part in the plot, hence the book’s title.  Relationships are significant, especially the one between Melanie and Miss Justineau.  Readers will learn a lot about zombie science and the way the human brain operates.  The novel is filled with action and adventure--there are chase scenes, shoot-outs, and gruesome, gory deaths.  The story is told in multiple points of view, and the characters are interesting and mulit-facted.


Readers will enjoy this new, refreshing take on the zombie genre.  I recommend it for high school and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Review of The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Carey, M.R.  The Girl With All the Gifts.  Orbit, 2014.

Melanie loves school and soaks up new information like a sponge.  She is inquisitive and has the IQ of a genius.  She would also do anything in the world for her wonderful teacher, Miss Justineau.  So why is she, along with a roomful of other children, kept strapped to a wheelchair instead of being able to run and play?  And why don't the guards laugh when she tells them that she won’t bite?  Melanie and the other children are “hungries”, or zombies.  However, when most of the population has succumbed to the parasite that has changed them, these children still have human traits, emotions, and an elevated level of intelligence.  They are even able to control, to some extent, their desire for human flesh.

Every now and then Melanie notices that students disappear from her classroom and never return.  It is revealed that the children are test subjects for a project run by Dr. Caldwell, a scientist employed by the British government.  She is in the process of cutting portions of their brains and studying how the parasite affects them.

When the base is attacked by “hungries” and “junkers”, violent human nomads, Melanie, Miss Justineau, and Dr. Caldwell flee in a humvee driven by Sergeant Parks, the head guard at the base, and Private Gallagher, another guard.  They must work together and get along to try to reach the city of Beacon safely.   It may be the only town left in all of England.

This fast-paced novel is intended for adults, but I consider it to also be a crossover novel for young adults.  In the summary, it is not revealed to be a zombie novel, but readers will make that discovery by the end of the first chapter.

Pandora’s Box, Melanie’s favorite story, plays a big part in the plot, hence the book’s title.  Relationships are significant, especially the one between Melanie and Miss Justineau.  Readers will learn a lot about zombie science and the way the human brain operates.  The novel is filled with action and adventure--there are chase scenes, shootouts, and gruesome, gory deaths.  The story is told in multiple points of view, and the characters are interesting and mulitfacted.

Readers will enjoy this new, refreshing take on zombies.  I recommend it for high school and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis!











Thursday, December 10, 2015

Review of Losers Take All by David Klass

Klass, David.  Losers Take All.  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015.

At Fremont High School, aka “Muscles High”, if you are not an athlete, then you are a nobody.  The whole school—and the town of Fremont, New Jersey—is totally obsessed with sports.  They even have a whole week at the end of every school year devoted to honoring their athletes.

Jack Logan’s father and two brothers were talented football players, but Jack---well, not so much.  In fact, Jack doesn’t even like sports.  At the end of his junior year, his seventy-year-old principal dies of a heart attack during the annual “senior run” and is replaced Coach Muhldinger—the football coach.  As his first official act as principal, Coach Muhldinger decrees that all seniors must play some kind of sport.

When Jack is roped in to trying out for the football team, he ends up in the hospital, instead.  Jack and his girlfriend, Becca, decide to form a “C” level soccer team and ask the school’s part-time Latin teacher, Mr. Percy, to be their coach.   A whole group of unathletic seniors join the team with the goal of not winning, but just surviving the season without getting injured.  Hilariously, they lose games in fine fashion and become a media sensation via online videos.  .  The team attracts a whole group of fans that are against violence in sports and bullying.  This does nothing to enhance the team’s image with Coach Muhldinger, who seeks revenge on the team for the humiliation it has brought to him.

In Losers Take All, David Klauss has succeeded in capturing the essence of competitive sports, including the negative aspects of violence and bullying that sometimes go along with it.  He has tackled these hard issues “head on” and provided a thought-provoking look into how sports culture affects the mood of a school and a town.  He has also put a lot of humor into the plot with his descriptions of play-by-play scenes of the soccer team’s games.  Readers will find themselves cheering for the mix of misfits that are doing their best to lose every game they play.

The characters are extremely well developed.  Principal Muhldinger is your stereotypical coach—all business, gruff, overbearing, and opinionated about non-athletes.  Our main character, Jack, who is also the narrator, provides a genuine male teen voice.  He thinks he has no athletic ability, but discovers he has a true talent for soccer.  Even though it seems like his football-hero dad is not on his side, Klass shows that Tom Logan is a loving and supportive parent.

Sports fans and non-sports fans, alike, as well as readers who enjoy humorous fiction, will enjoy this book.  I recommend it for middle school, high school, and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis!