Monday, April 25, 2011

Wicked Girls

Wicked Girls
By Stephanie Hemphill
Balzer + Bray, 2010. 408 pgs. Teen fiction

This fictionalized account of the Salem witch trials alternates between the points of view of three of the girls who claimed to "see" witches--Mercy, who is an orphan and a servant who has been abused by a past master and wants to find her place in the world; Ann, who wants to get her parents' attention and is the ringleader of the group; and Margaret, who is jealous of Mercy and worried about her relationship with Isaac Farrars. Each of the girls has her own motivations and joins in the accusations wholeheartedly, but as time passes, they wonder what would happen if they were to tell the truth.

This novel-in-verse is an interesting account of the Salem witch trials and the different reasons why the girls would make accusations against members of their community, as well as who they chose to accuse. At the same time, it's hard to actually really like any of the girls (despite the pain in their own lives) because they did wrongly accuse and cause the deaths of many people. So, the characters are intriguing if not likable. All in all, a fine work of historical fiction.

3 stars.

It's a Book

It's a Book
By Lane Smith
Roaring Brook, 2010. 1 vol, unpaged. Picture book

As a monkey tries to read a book, his friend, a donkey, questions him about it--can you blog with it, where's the mouse, etc. The monkey repeatedly responds no and tries to explain that it's a book. This is a funny, tongue-in-cheek book with a bit of surprise at the end, which has stirred up a bit of controversy, because many people feel it's not appropriate for children. For me, I have to say I wouldn't necessarily want to give this to my children...but I also think I'd get a bigger kick out of sharing it with adults. Although it's a picture book, for me it seems like it's one that would be funnier for adults than kids anyway. I don't think younger kids would understand it anyway.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

White Cat

White Cat
By Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010. 310 pgs. Teen fiction

Cassel Sharpe lives in a world where curse workers (people with the ability to curse other people by touching them) are a constant threat). Cassel, whose family members are all curse workers, begins to suspect that he has been "worked" by his brothers and that they have been hiding a lot of things from him--including who he is and what really happened to his best friend three years before.

This book is part fantasy, part mystery with the mafia (made up of curse workers) thrown in. Full of twists and turns, this is a high-paced, attention-grabbing, makes you want to sit down and read it all at once type of book.

3.5 stars.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Flesh and Blood So Cheap

Flesh and Blood So Cheap
By Albert Marrin
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 182 pgs. Middle Grade/Teen Nonfiction

On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught on fire and 146 workers died, either trapped inside the building or leaping out the windows to their deaths. This event horrified the New York community, and investigations into working conditions ensued. This event had a profound impact on American life, and Marrin provides readers with a great understanding of the event. He discusses the workers (many of whom were Italian and Russian Jewish immigrant girls, working as breadwinners for their families), the garment industry (including sweatshops and factories) and the strike that took place shortly before the tragedy, the tragedy itself, and the aftermath. The book rounds out with a comparison of sweatshops of the past with sweatshops in developing nations today.

A highly informative book, it actually spent less time talking about the fire itself and more time talking about the conditions that led up to it and on the strike preceding it, but it gives a great look at why something like this tragedy occurred--how workers were desperate for jobs but trying to improve working conditions, while employers were looking for cheap labor and used shameful tactics to get it. Informative and interesting, I read this in one sitting.

4.5 stars

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Grimm Legacy

The Grimm Legacy
By Polly Shuman
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2010. 325 pgs. Teen fiction

Elizabeth gets a job as a page at the New York Circulating Material Repository where patrons can check out items such as fondue sets, parasols, or shoes. The Repository has special collections, though, including the Grimm collection, which features magical items featured in the Grimm brothers' fairy tales--and someone is stealing these items. One page has gone missing, and a giant bird seems to be following another. Elizabeth and her fellow pages try to figure out who the thief is but soon find themselves in over their heads.

The idea of a circulating repository of magical items was just to fun to pass up, and readers will be satisfied with the book. While it's not exactly a fairy tale itself, fairy tale standards such as magic, romance, and a quest are all present in this story. A great pick for teen girls, I give this one 4 stars.

Dark Life

Dark Life
By Kat Falls
Scholastic Press, 2010. 297 pgs. Teen fiction

In a future world, Ty has spent his whole life living under the sea, and he loves it there. However, problems threaten to change his way of life: a group of bandits, called Seablite, attack ships coming in from the government, and the government threatens to cut off all supply shipments if settlers don't form a posse and track them down. At the same time, Ty meets a Topsider, Gemma, who has some underwater to look for her brother, and Ty, who hasn't ever had any other teenagers to hang out with, quickly becomes involved in her search--and in trying to keep her, and others, from discovering that he has a dark secret: people have speculated that children of the sea settlers has special powers, and while Ty does indeed have a dark gift, he doesn't want anyone to know.

This underwater western-style book mixes in adventure, dystopia, and a hint of romance. The ending is resolved a little bit too quickly, with not quite enough attention and detail given to Gemma's brother or her future, and Ty and his sister both have a chance to display their special talents, but the climatic scenes where they do that are wrapped up in fewer than twenty pages, making it a little rushed for my tastes. Additionally, the romance could have been built up a little bit more; it's introduced rather abruptly, and while I believe that a 15-year-old boy has been falling for the girl all along, the story doesn't really show that. (Maybe that's a plus for male readers, but as a female reader, I'd have liked a little more to show that he's interested, rather than just a retrospective "oh, yeah, I've wanted to kiss her since I met her" thought.) All in all, though, readers looking for an adventure will like this one.

3.5 stars.

These Is My Words

These Is My Words
By Nancy E. Turner
Regan Books/HarperCollins, 1998. 384 pgs. Adult fiction

Sarah Agnes Prine keeps a diary of her life, telling of her time journeying in a wagon train with her family, losing her father, and trying to keep her family together. On her journey, she meets the infuriating army captain, Jack Elliott, and falls in love with books. She settles into a loveless marriage, has a daughter, and manages a ranch. And ultimately, she finds true love.

My summary does not even begin to do this story justice. It's been a year or so since I've read it cover to cover (although I do go flip through it sometimes, to reread favorite scenes), so I'm a little fuzzy on some of the details, but I wanted to put this on here since I need more 5 star books, and this one definitely gets 5 stars. I love this book. I've heard a couple people say this book was boring; I, on the other hand, loved it from the first page. I like historical fiction, and I'm particularly drawn to historical fiction romances that take place in the west. However, I find most of them aren't really very well written. This book, however, is dazzling. The writing and dialogue are realistic, Sarah, who is spunky, strong, and stubborn, is a fantastic protagonist, and the love story is wonderful. I loved everything about this book.* Some of my co-workers have commented that I read a lot of romances; my response was that I'm on the quest for the perfect love story...and this book comes pretty darn close to giving that to me. Definitely five stars.

Side note: it's not exactly entirely "clean"; there's some sexual content, although not really explicit (and it's in the context of marriage).
In case you noticed, this is INTENTIONALLY labeled as a love story, not a romance. I feel like a lot of romances aren't really love stories, or not a love story I can really believe in. But for me, this is a love story. (And that's not to say nothing else on the blog is a love story, but for me, this is the love story of love stories.)


(Other than the fact that Jack dies, of course. That about killed me. I did not love that part. And yet, I can't entirely hate it because it was so well written.) And I refuse to read the sequels because I can't handle not having Jack in the story.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Lost Hero

The Lost Hero
By Rick Riordan
Random House/Listening Library. 14 CDs App. 17 hours. Teen fiction

When Jason Grace wakes up on a school bus on a field trip, he has no idea who he is or where he is. Although Piper and Leo claim to be his girlfriend and best friend, he doesn't have any memories of them--or any memories at all. Soon, they find they are all demigods and are taken to Camp Half Blood, where Annabeth is anxious to find Percy Jackson, who has gone missing. Jason, Piper, and Leo set out on a quest to save Hera, while at the same time wondering if it's all a trick since Hera isn't known for caring about the demigods. As Jason tries to figure out who he is, Piper is trying to figure out if they really have--or could have--a relationship, and Leo is trying to fight the memories of his horrible past.

This book introduces three new heroes, all of whom are likable and have interesting back stories. They are a little bit older than Percy was in the Lightning Thief, so this series can keep the readers who have grown up with Percy. With action, adventure, and a hint of romance, there's a lot here that can appeal to a variety of readers. It sets the stage for a great conflict to come in future books, and I'm looking forward to the next installment in the series.

I listened to the audio version of this book, a little apprehensively since I recently attended a conference where the presenter said she really disliked the narrator and had to switch to the print version instead. Well, I stuck it out for the whole book, and I have to say, for the main characters (Jason, Piper, and Leo), the narrator was tolerable, but for the voices of a lot of secondary characters, I was rolling my eyes. However, the book is well-written, with good characters and adventures, so if you start the audiobook and can't stomach it, don't give up on the book entirely--just switch to the print version.

4 stars.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Amelia Lost

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
By Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade Books, c2011. Middle grade/Teen Nonfiction

In 1937, Amelia Earhart disappeared while completing one of the last legs of her flight around the world, vaulting her into the status of a legend. Before that, though, she was a little girl who loved an adventure, a teenager dealing with her father's alcoholism, and a young woman who initially thought she might want to be a doctor and then decided she wanted to fly and carefully courted the spotlight to vault herself to the status of a hero.

Here, Fleming gives readers insights into who Amelia Earhart really was, in a biography that clearly demonstrates Amelia's spunk as well as some foibles, such as how her future husband already had a wife when he and Amelia met. It's told in alternating chapters about Amelia's last radio contact and the people who heard her but couldn't find her, and chapters about her life. All in all, I vote this one of the best pieces of young adult nonfiction I've ever read; it's easily accessible to readers, has an inviting format, and is informative and entertaining. I was hooked from the first page and wholeheartedly recommend this book to history buffs, anyone wanting to read about spunky women, and those just looking for a great read. Five stars.

The Ring of Solomon

The Ring of Solomon
By Jonathan Stroud
Random House/Listening Library, 2010. 12 hrs, 39 mins.. Teen Fiction

Snarky djinni Bartimaeus is in Jerusalem, enslaved by one of King Solomon's powerful (and evil) magicians, Khaba. Meanwhile, in Sheba, a magical messenger informs the queen that she will have to pay a tribute to Solomon or her kingdom will be destroyed. Since Solomon is the owner of a highly powerful ring that allows him instant control of unlimited numbers of magical spirits, Sheba has no options...except one. The queen sends one of her personal guards, Asmira, to Jerusalem to assassinate Solomon and steal his ring. Along the way, she meets Bartimaeus, and "encourages" him to help her on her mission, despite his protests that it's impossible.

This Bartimaeus novel wasn't quite as appealing to me as the other three Bartimaeus books, but it's still a great choice for almost anyone. A clean read and a great mixture of suspense, humor, and adventure--and Bartimaeus's distinctive witty sarcasm.

Four stars.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Little Princes

Little Princes
By Conor Grennan
William Morrow, 2010. 294 pgs. Adult Nonfiction

When Conor Grennan originally went to Nepal, it was to spend a few weeks there volunteering before continuing on a trip around the world. However, as he went to work the Little Princes orphanage, he found himself touched by the orphans and their situation, and happy to help; he even found seven additional children and made arrangements for shelter for them. However, back in the U.S., he found out that those seven children had been taken by a child trafficker. Torn up by guilt, he started a non-profit organization, Next Generation Nepal, and went back to find those seven children. His mission expanded when he realized that many of the "orphans" were not actually orphans; their parents had paid men to take them to safety in the midst of Nepal's civil war. These men were actually child traffickers who had threatened and harmed the children if they spoke about their families. Soon, Conor began traveling to the remote villages of Nepal to find these families and bring them news of their children.

This was a fascinating story, and one that makes you want to go to Nepal and save the children. It's told in a simple, conversational style, with Conor relating his experiences with the children, which isn't the most sophisticated style but which is effective for this type of book. It's sad and sweet and has a bit of adventure and even some romance thrown in. Although it was published for the general adult market, it is appropriate for and would be interesting to teen readers as well.

3.5 stars.