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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dystopian Pick: Drought

by Pam Bachorz
Egmont, 2011
400 pages

Following on the heels of her success with Candor, Bachorz enters a new and frightening world--a world that time forgot, or at least appears to have forgotten. Ruby and her mother live with a small group of Congregants who have settled in the woods. Here they are able to practice their religion without interference; however, their day-to-day existence is decided by Darwin West, an evil man who beats them into subservience and forces them to work and live in conditions few could survive. The Congregants have a secret weapon--when Ruby realizes her blood has the power to save, she begins putting drops of her own blood in the community's water supply. Not only does her blood have the power to sustain them, it has the power to make them have long lives--some of the Congregants have been in the woods over 200 years.

When a young overseer appears to have feelings of sympathy for her group, Ruby dreams of escape. Will she be able to leave her mother and all that she has ever known for the unknown? Will she be able to leave the Congregants without her life-saving blood?

Deeply moving and greatly disturbing, this novel will leave an impression. Like Lowrey's The Giver, Drought brings up ethical and moral questions and skirts religious beliefs held by the community of followers. Readers will be talking about Drought for days, maybe even months after reading it. Unlike her first novel, Drought is not just a young adult novel--it is one that may make it into the "Required Reading Lists" at the high school level.

I read Drought and thought about it for two weeks before reviewing it. I had to let the story sink in and think about its complexity. While appearing to be a ya novel, it is so much more.

Highly recommended grades 9-12. Mature readers at grade 8 may attempt this book, but they may not realize the provocative theme and symbolism. Violence.

Available January 25, 2011.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, December 17, 2010

YA Thriller/Romance: Nightshade


by Andrea Cremer
Philomel (Penguin), 2010
528 pages

Calla's life has been planned for her since before her own birth. That's the way it is in the pack. Sworn to protect each other and the sacred sites for the Keepers, Calla is part of a pack of wolves/humans whose existence is solely for the benefit of the Keepers--magical beings older than humanity itself. Calla prepares to become a lifemate for the alpha male Ren, but a chance meeting on the mountain with a human boy changes all that.

When Calla breaks the highest of laws by saving the human from a bear attack, she allows him to see her change from wolf to girl. She hopes she never sees him again, but when he shows up at her high school, she is forced to face her feelings.

Shay wants to know Calla better but her pack has other ideas. Calla and Shay begin to dig into the mysteries of the Keepers and find that all the old laws are wrong. As they rebel, they risk everything to be together. The book ends in a cliffhanger, opening the door for the sequel: Wolfsbane due out July 26, 2011.

Paranormal romance readers who enjoyed the Twilight series and Shiver and Linger will be panting to get their hands on Wolfsbane (book 2).

Highly recommended grades 9-12. Some more mature grade 8 readers will be okay with this novel. Warning #1: two wolves are gay--although they face prejudice in the pack and the larger world, there is NOT any mention of sex. Warning #2: At one point, Calla must shed her fancy gown, and Shay is astonished to see she is not wearing a bra--but it does NOT mention anything sexual.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my library. Other reviews mentioned grade 8-up. I would recommend it for grade 8 with CAUTION.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

High School: The Attitude Girl

The Attitude Girl
The Attitude Girl
by Mila Bernadkin
Five Star Publications, Inc., 2009
321 pages

The character of Vicky will resonate among high school readers--many of whom share the same trials and tribulations--it's not easy being a teen-ager. Vicky has an attitude, but she thinks it's great. It takes attitude to get through your parents' divorce and your mother losing her job in tough times. Vicky's mom is in no hurry to find another job; she's just trying to "find" herself. Not only does Vicky have to deal with problems at home, she has a whole set of pressures at school, too.

Peer pressure, teen drinking, parties, the need to be popular and stand out, bullying, teen sex, coming of age, teen suicide, maturity, forgiveness, and death are all topics in this coming-of-age story.

Readers who like a good story with lots of meat will like this one. Teens who read Lurlene McDaniel will probably like The Attitude Girl.

The Attitude Girl has received numerous literary awards including 1st Place Winner in the Authors Association Annual Literary Awards (Arizona).

Recommended grades 10-12. Mature subject matter.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the author. I did not receive any monetary compensation for my review. These facts did in no way influence this review.

Monday, December 13, 2010

High School Pick: Clockwork Angel

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book 1)

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book One)
by Cassandra Clare
McElderry Books, 2010
496 pages

Cassandra Clare just keeps getting it right! Fresh off great success with her best-selling series The Mortal Instruments (City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass), Clare begins the back story with the prequel: Clockwork Angel.

Set in Victorian England and beautifully imagined, Clockwork Angel is a richly constructed fantasy novel which stands among the best fantasy of our time. Clare is on par with writers like J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien.

When sixteen year old Tessa Gray arrives by steamship in London to meet her brother, she is met instead by two creepy women from a dark, gloomy mansion. Only when they show her a letter handwritten by her brother does she agree to accompany them to their lair. Tessa becomes their prisoner. They teach her to use her unknown powers to shape shift. Unbeknowst to Tessa, she was born with powers to become anyone or anything. This quality, or gift, makes her highly valuable to the mysterious and terrible Magister. The Dark Sisters tell Tessa that they are to deliver her to this evil man, but Tessa is grabbed and spirited away by two young men who tell her they are Shadowhunters, trained warriors with special gifts who fight Downworlders like vampires and warlocks to save humans.

Tessa yearns to find her brother and fears for his life. The Shadowhunters agree to help her find him, if she will use her shapeshifting powers to help them infiltrate a vampire clan. Tessa finds herself torn--does she love the dark and brooding Shadowhunter who saved her from the Sisters? Or does she truly hate him?

Readers who like otherworldly novels with paranormal creatures and just the right amount of love interest will LOVE Clockwork Angel. It should appeal broadly to both male and female readers--both the male and female characters are well-developed and have admirable traits. It is hard to say who is more likeable: Will, the Shadowhunter, or Tessa, the shapeshifter.

Highly, highly recommended. Grades 8-up. Some violence (it is vampires, after all).

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the novel from the publisher. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this review. I had this novel for about four months before I started reading it. I was somewhat put off by the cover which I found didn't draw me in as a reader. Once I read the first few pages, I was hooked. Don't let ya readers walk past this novel because of the cover. Tell them to give it a chance.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Spooky Pick: The Secret of Laurel Oaks

The Secret of Laurel Oaks

The Secret of Laurel Oaks
by Lois Ruby
Tom Doherty Associates, 2010
274 pages

Thirteen year old Lila has been hearing and seeing strange things ever since family friend and Jemez pueblo member Roberto died. Now that she and her family are visiting Laurel Oaks, a haunted plantation in Louisiana, Lila sees and hears far more than she wants to. When the ghost of a slavegirl named Daphne appears to her and asks Lila for help, Lila knows that she can't pretend she doesn't see the spirits.

Daphne hasn't been able to pass on to the other side, whatever or wherever it may be. Something is keeping her at Laurel Oaks. She has been hanging around the plantation for two centuries, trying to get someone to see or hear her, and finally Lila shows up and seems to have the powers. Daphne didn't poison the Judge's wife and daughters, but she may know who did. Daphne has been trusted by the Judge's wife to pass on her porceline bebes, figurines that were treasured by the wife, and Daphne wants Lila to find them.

Can the mystery be solved? Will the treasure ever be found? Will Daphne's name be cleared after all these years? And what about Lila--will she forever be at the spirits' beck and call?

Chapters are told in turn by Lila in the present and Daphne in the past--during the slave days of the South. Daphne tells of a life in the big house and learning hoodoo from Birdie--a slave woman gifted in spells, witchcraft, and the healing arts. The author weaves a story rich with superstitions and folklore brought from Africa and practiced among slaves in the South.

Readers who like ghost stories or mysteries will like this novel. Spooky and satisfying, the setting of Laurel Oaks and the creepy Louisiana backwoods and swamps make this novel come alive.

Recommended grades 6-8.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I bought this book for my library. I received no monetary compensation for my review.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fairy Tale Fun Pick

Half Upon a Time

Half Upon a Time
by James Riley
Aladdin (Simon & Schuster), 2010
385 pages

A cute take-off on well-known fairy tales, this novel is sure to please young readers. Jack is pushed into rescuing a princess--any princess-- and when he meets May who happens to fall into his world--she is wearing a t-shirt that says "Punk Princess." Jack, of course, thinks she's the real thing and goes about kissing her to wake her up from her "sleep."

May wants nothing to do with this princess thing, but soon realizes she is totally out of her element. In Jack's world, there are dragons, and evil queens, and giants. Trolls, magic, and talking animals, legends and lore and much, much more. And then there's this beanstalk and Jack's missing father.

May and Jack set out to rescue her grandmother who has been kidnapped. Jack realizes that May is the granddaughter of no other than the famous queen Snow White. They enlist the help of a real prince along the way.

The three run into all kinds of storybook trouble and May needs Jack's help to find her truth.

Masterful storytelling will keep the pages turning long into the night. Readers will delight with the stories they know and the ones that are a little twisted. Even children who have only seen the Disney movies are sure to enjoy Half Upon a Time.

Highly recommended grades 4-7

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this review. (my apologies for an earlier typo that read Adaddin instead of Aladdin for publisher).