Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This Dark Endeavor

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein
By Kenneth Oppel
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011./Brilliance Audio, 2011. 298 pgs./8 hours, 7 minutes. Teen fiction

Victor Frankenstein and his twin brother Konrad are as close as brothers can be, although lately a certain young lady has started to come between them. Still, when Konrad falls ill, Victor is determined to do whatever it takes to save him, even if it means invading his castle home's forbidden Dark Library, where he tries to uncover the secrets of alchemy in order to concoct an elixir of life to save his brother.

Oppel does a satisfying job of writing a story that explains why someone who venture into the dark and forbidden world of alchemy and potions. Victor is usually a likable character--and certainly a sympathetic one, as readers will understand his feelings of jealousy and frustration toward his brother--but occasionally, his hot-headed, passionate responses to things make him a little less than gentlemanly. Overall, though, a good choice for fans of historical fiction and adventure, teen guys, and anyone who likes their fiction slightly on the darker side.

4 stars. Clean read for the most part--slight innuendo. (Really slight).

Black Gold

Black Gold: The Story of Oil in Our Lives
By Albert Marrin
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 181 pgs. Teen nonfiction

Albert Marrin's timely book starts out explaining what oil is and where is comes from, then moves into its impact on the world, particularly how it relates to warfare, both in the sense that more oil reserves make for a better army and in the sense that countries are willing to go to war to get more. The book also discusses the problems with oil--such as natural disasters and the dwindling supply and concludes by discussing some possible alternatives to relying on oil and the pros and cons of each.

The book starts out slowly--the explanation of how we get oil is a little dry--but then it picks up considerably. Readers who push through will be rewarded with an enlightening look at how oil impacts us--and will likely be worried that the dwindling oil supply will run out any minute. Despite striking fear into the heart of the reader (or maybe because of it), this is the type of book that really makes readers think about the world we live in. Another excellent piece of nonfiction from Marrin.

4.5 stars. Clean read.

The Night Circus

The Night Circus
By Erin Morgenstern
Doubleday, 2011. 387 pgs. Adult fiction/audiobook

Prospero the Entertainer, a magician, enters into a contest with a rival magician. Prospero will train his daughter, Celia, and his rival will train a child of his choosing, and someday, the two will face off in a magical rivalry of their own. When the time comes, Celia and Marco become involved in the Cirque de Reves, a circus that performs only at night and has multiple tents, filled with enchanting acts. Celia and Marco each have to contribute what they can to the circus, trying to top the other and win the magical battle. However, as time stretches on, their rivalry gives way to love, and tired of being trapped in a duel not of their choosing, they seek to end the contest.

The details in this book are fabulous; the circus and the world is so well developed. However, the book jumps around chronologically and from character to character, which sometimes made it a little hard to follow. (Perhaps this is only true of the audiobook, since I listened to it, but it was hard to keep track of what was happening when and if we'd gone forward or back in time.) I think the book was interesting and I liked the world and the plot well enough, and I liked Marco and Celia...but something was missing from this one to make it a truly great book. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it didn't have that extra bit of magic that makes a book truly outstanding.

3.5 stars. Some language, and a not very detailed intimate scene.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Glory Be

Glory Be
By Augusta Scattergood
Scholastic Press, 2012. 202 pgs. Middle Grade Fiction

Glory is living in Mississippi in 1964, and while all she is initially concerned about is why her older sister doesn't want to hang out with her anymore and whether or not she'll be able to have her twelfth birthday party at the local pool, which has been closed because it needs repairs. Except, it doesn't need repairs, Glory is sure of it--and she comes to realize that there's something much bigger going on the "broken" pools, as the townspeople are determined to keep segregation out of their town. Soon, Glory has to decide what she thinks about larger issues than birthday parties and pools.

This is look at the Civil Rights movement is good, but having read it a couple weeks ago, I'm finding that it isn't particularly memorable. I liked it when I read it--Glory is a spunky, strong girl who knows her own mind--but now that it's been a little while, it's not one that I'm still excited about. It's good, and fun, and it's one I'd certainly pass along to readers but it's not one of those ones that I'm just dying to talk about.

3.5 stars. Clean read.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Legend Marie Lu Summary and Review


By Marie Lu

G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2011. 305 pgs. Teen fiction


Day and June come from totally different worlds, even though they are both citizens of the Republic of America. June has been raised as a privileged member of the elite class, a military prodigy who scored a perfect 1500 on her Trial--something that has earned her some special opportunities but also leaves her a little too precocious for her own good. Day, however, is a poor criminal, a Trial failure who escaped from the government and and now is working against them. While he's never gone so far as to defect to the Colonies (the Republic's enemy that makes crazy claims they used to be one united country) or joined the Patriots (a group within the Republic working against the military government), he gets in his punches when he can. His latest challenge, though, is finding a cure for the plague that has infected his little brother. As Day is trying to protect his family, June is hunting him, determined to bring him to justice for killing her beloved brother.


Told in chapters alternating between Day's point of view and June's, this book does a great job conveying the inequity in this society. Both Day and June are interesting characters, and this is a book that could appeal to both male and female readers. It's also a good dystopia for reluctant readers; some dystopias are kinda detail-overloaded (at least for a reluctant reader), but this one is deep enough without getting too deep (in a totally good way). I assume this will be the start of a new series, but it doesn't have a cliffhanger ending, either, so readers will be satisfied with it as a stand-alone, too.

4 stars. Clean read...I think. I can't remember any language and there is definitely no sex. Some violence, but not described in gory detail.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Under the Mesquite

Under the Mesquite
By Guadalupe Garcia McCall.
Lee & Low Books, 2011. 224 pgs. Teen fiction

Lupita has always enjoyed (and been slightly frustrated by) her large family; they're close and loving and life is good, as they've moved to the U.S. but still frequently visit relatives in Mexico. However, her mother's cancer diagnosis changes everything and Lupita tries to deal with school as well as taking care of her seven younger siblings.

This book is sad and pretty and lovely. (I don't know if I've ever called a book pretty before, but something about this one really is.) Lupita's struggle--and her mother's as well--are portrayed so realistically. This is an excellent choice for anyone who needs a good sad but hopeful book, a good novel in verse, or a just a plain good book.

4 stars. Clean read.