Category Archives: Mystery

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

dodgerBibliographic Information:

Pratchett, T. (2012).  Dodger. New York: HarperCollins. (978-0062009494)

Plot Summary:

Set in Victorian London, Dodger comes to the aid of a young woman who had leapt for a carriage trying to escape two assailants. Two gentlemen take pity of the girl and move her to the home of one of the gentlemen, Henry, and see her cared for by a doctor.

Dodger feels an obligation to the girl, who refuses to reveal her name, and decides to find her attackers, with far reaching political implications.

Critical Evaluation:

There are times when I wish I were more literate. Reading Dodger was one of these times. Pratchett is the master of word play and disingenuous comments and although I enjoyed many, when I finished the novel, I could not help to wonder how many I missed. After reading Marcus Sedgwick’s review, I have decided I want to spend more time looking for the hidden treasure that slipped by me the first time around; not that it mattered to my enjoyment of the novel. Pratchett can be read at a variety of different levels and be enjoyed.

Pratchett plays with language with such skill and devotion, his novels always seem to finish too quickly.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Dodger realizes the girl he rescued may still be in danger, he sets off with his brass knuckles and wit to find her assailants.

Information About the Author:

Sir Terry Pratchett was born April 28, 1948 and grew up in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. He credits the local library as his main source of education. But even though he was a reader, he describes himself as a “nondescript student.”

When he was thirteen, he published a short story in the school magazine. He published again two years later in Science Fantasy and used his earnings to purchase a typewriter. He decided to try journalism and when a job became available on the Bucks Free Press, he left school in 1965. Terry took the responsibility of writing stories for the children’s column. In total he wrote sixty short stories, “never missing an episode for over 250 issues.”

While interviewing Peter Bander van Duren, a director of the publishing company Colin Smythe Limited, he mentioned he had written a book. The Carpet People was published in 1972. He is a prolific writer that was honored in 1998, at fifty years of age, by receiving an appointment as an Officer of the order of the British Emipire in the Queen’s 1998 Birthday Honours list ‘for services to literature.’

In 2007, Terry learned that he had a form of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2008, he donated a million dollars to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust. In 2009 he was appointed a Knight Bachelor.

Terry has written over fifty books and has co-authored an additional fifty (Smythe, 2011).

For a complete listing of his extensive bibliography please visit his site. The site also includes a really good publication timeline.

Genre:

  • Adventure stories
  • Humorous stories
  • Alternative histories (Fiction)

Curriculum Ties:

  • English

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Book Trailer of the first chapter:
  • http://youtu.be/GRgiZeekrpM
  • Talk about Dickens and the Artful Dodger – and relate how Pratchett builds on an well-established literary tradtion.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

Pratchett must be included in any teen library.

Reviews:

“Though the plot of the novel is relatively simple, there is as much pleasure in seeing Dodger charm, sneak and sometimes bash his way in and out of a series of dark and dangerous encounters as he seeks to protect Simplicity, as there is in reading Pratchett’s prose. Here, once again, is the mark of a great writer; that we are captivated by ingenious word-building on every page.”

  • Phelan, C. (2013). Dodger. Booklist, 109(9), 4.

“The pleasure of reading the novel is in the language as much as in the characters and well-researched period setting. . . . This Victorian romp is lovingly crafted and completely enjoyable.”

  • Dodger. (2012). Kirkus Reviews, 77.

“Historical fiction in the hands of the inimitable Sir Terry brings the sights and the smells (most certainly the smells) of Old London wonderfully to life, in no small part due to the masterful third-person narration that adopts Dodger’s voice with utmost conviction.

Unexpected, drily funny and full of the pathos and wonder of life: Don’t miss it.”

References:

Smythe, C. (2011). Terry Pratchett Retrieved May 5, 2013 from http://www.colinsmythe.co.uk/terrypages/tpindex.htm

Terry Pratchett. (n.d.). Retrieved May 5, 2013 from http://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/

Advertisements

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

this dark endeavorBibliographic Information:

Oppel, K. (2011). This dark endeavor. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. (978-1442403154)

Sequel: Such Wicked Intent

Plot Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein and his twin brother, Konrad, share everything. But Victor is more driven and feels the need to be better at everything. Which is why is finds it difficult to understand why his beautiful cousin, Elizabeth, may prefer his brother to himself. The three of them and their friend Henry do everything together.

The Frankenstein family wealthy and titled so Victor is used to getting what he wants with a limited amount of work. Then Konrad becomes very ill. When the friends come across the secret room, the Dark Library, Victor knows that he must make the Elixer of Life to save Konrad’s life.

Critical Evaluation:

Victor is the focus of this gothic tale. Oppel decided to use him as the narrator and as a result, the reader lives through his dark passions and confused motives. His feelings for Elizabeth and his jealous of her budding relationship with his brother creates a strained underlying current in his relationships with both Elizabeth and his brother.

His love for his brother is strong and bright but the Elixer of Life and the Dark Library are forbidden for a reason. The novel explores how one can choose a dangerous path with all the best intentions.

Reader’s Annotation:

Victor Frankenstein will do anything to save his brother from death. “Anything” means creating the Elixer of Life, if he can.

Information About the Author:

Kenneth Oppel was born August 31, 1967 on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. He completed a BA in English and cinema studies at the University of Toronto. He wrote his second children’s book in his final year at university.

Kenneth Oppel says he started writing stories when he was twelve. When he was fourteen he started his first short novel which was passed to Roald Dahl through a family friend. Dahl liked the story and passed it to his literary agent. His first novel was published in 1985.

Since then, Oppel has written a number of award winning books including the Silverwing trilogy, Airborn, and Half Brother (About the author).

Genre:

  • Horror fiction
  • Mystery fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • English
    • Prequels to classcis

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Talk about Frankenstein and discuss what would motivate a scientist to try to create life.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Reading level 4.3

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

Kenneth Oppel is an author that has success at the elementary and middle school levels. This Dark Endeavor is appropriate for a high school audience and is an author the students have enjoyed in the past.

Awards:

  • 2012 Libris Award (Canadian Booksellers Association)
  • Honour Book, Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award
  • A 2011 Quill & Quire Book of the Year
  • A 2011 London Times Best Children’s Book

Shortlisted for:

  • Governor General’s Literary Awards
  •  Red Maple Award (OLA)
  • Manitoba Young Reader’s Choice Award

Reviews:

  • This dark endeavor: The apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. (2011). Kirkus Reviews, 79(14), 1261.

“Victor too often describes himself in relation to Konrad, but he develops into a complex and troubled character as the inevitable conclusion draws near. A subplot involving a crippled alchemist and his pet lynx steer the story more toward horror and fantasy than Enlightenment-era science fiction.

A dark and dramatic back story for Shelley’s tormented creator.”

  • Campbell, H. M. (2011). This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. School Library Journal, 57(10), 144.

“Many details remain the same as in the original work; for instance, Victor’s arrogant desire to overcome the power of illness and death makes him a slightly unlikable protagonist. But here’s a sign of a good storyteller: readers may not like Victor, but they will certainly want to find out what happens to him.”

  • Ritter, C. K. (2011). This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Horn Book Magazine, 87(4), 155.

“Written from Victor’s perspective and filled with his believable internal moral struggles, Oppel’s novel is a gripping tale of undying devotion, mixing hope with foreboding.”

References:

About the author. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2013 from http://www.kennethoppel.ca/pages/biography.shtml

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

raven boysBibliographic Information:

Stiefvater, M. (2012). The Raven Boys. New York: Scholastic Press. (978-0545424929)

Raven Cycle, #1

Plot Summary:

Blue is the daughter of the town’s clairvoyant. Unfortunately, she does not have the same gifts, although she does have the power to amplify the gifts of others. This is why she goes with her mother to the churchyard every St. Mark’s Eve, the night the soon-to-be dead walk past.

For the first time she sees one of the spirits who speaks to her. Later, she finds out that he is one of the Raven boys, a student at the prestigious private school Aglionby. Although she has made it a policy to stay away from Aglionby boys, Blue is drawn to Gansey and is soon deeply involved in his quest to find the ley lines which, legend suggests, are somewhere in the area.

Gansey comes packaged with an interesting set of friends including Ronan, the rich snob with a conflicted spirit always up for a fight, Adam, the scholarship student who desperately wants to belong but always feels inadequate because of his lack of funds, and Noah, who is always on the periphery – there and watching but rarely participating.

Together they will try to solve a mystery and become part of something bigger.

Critical Evaluation:

It goes without saying that characters are an intrinsic part of any well written story. There are some stories, however, that are more rooted in character development and the interaction between the characters than others. Raven Boys is this type of novel.

There are several plots lines woven through the novel based on each of the characters. Stiefvater made a great decision when she decided to share the point of view between her main characters. Gansey and Blue appear, at this point to be the warp threads in the tapestry. Adam, Ronan, Noah, and Blue’s family, particularly her aunt and mother, are the weft threads. The main characters interact and help develop the main plot line but they are also acting and reacting to their own circumstances that are separate from the primary plot. It will be interesting to see how the main characters develop through the rest of the cycle.

The paranormal also plays a major role adding colour and mystery to the tapestry.


Reader’s Annotation:

Blue meets Gansey for the first time at night on St. Mark’s Eve in a churchyard. Actually, she met his shade, which is not good since,”There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love…or you killed him.”

Information About the Author:

Maggie Stiefvater is a musician who plays several instruments including the bagpipes. She is also an award-winning colored pencil artist and a calligraphy instructor. Finally, she is now a full-time writer.

Maggie is the mother of two children and, as she says on her website, “four neurotic dogs who fart recreationally.”

Although Stiefvater gained a loyal following with her Shiver trilogy and Books of Faerie, she started receiving literacy accolades with the publication of Scorpio Races and Raven Boys.

Please see her website for more information.

Genre:

  • Fantasy novel
  • Paranormal fiction
  • Mystery

Curriculum Ties:

  • English – myths

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read the part where Blue sees Gansay’s shade in the churchyard.
  • Watch the book trailer by Maggie Stiefvater from her blog :

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up
  • Reading level 5.4

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I really enjoyed Scorpio Races and hoped that Stiefvater’s writing would be similar in this book. I enjoy when author’s build their stories on the literary foundation of the myths of generations past.

Reviews:

  • The Raven Boys. (2012). Kirkus Reviews, 81.

“From then on, the point of view shifts among Blue; Gansey, a trust-fund kid obsessed with finding King Glendower buried on a ley-line in Virginia; and Adam, a scholarship student obsessed with his own self-sufficiency. Add Ronan, whose violent insouciance comes from seeing his father die, and Noah, whose first words in the book are, “I’ve been dead for seven years,” and you’ve got a story very few writers could dream up and only Stiefvater could make so palpably real. Simultaneously complex and simple, compulsively readable, marvelously wrought.”

  • Chomomaz, E. (2012). The Raven Boys. School Library Journal, 58(10), 151.

“The Raven Boys is an incredibly rich and unique tale, a supernatural thriller of a different flavor. The cinematic feel paces the novel well, and the many pieces of the story unfold with grace. The complicated relationships between the Raven boys and Blue are not of the standard main character/love interest variety’ and makes the curious plot all the more enthralling.”

  • Cart, M. (2012). The Raven Boys. Booklist, 108(22), 66.

“Indeed, reading this novel is like walking through a tangled thicket and coming across one unexpected and wonderful surprise after another.”

References:

Raven Boys. (2013). Retrieved from http://maggiestiefvater.com/the-raven-boys/

The Almost Truth by Eileen Cook

Almost truthBibliographic Information:

Cook, E. (2012). The almost truth. New York: Simon Pulse. (978-1442440197)

Plot Summary:

Sadie has a plan. She has saved her money, filled out the forms, and she is ready to leave Bowton Island and start her real life at the University of California in Berkeley. Or she was, until she finds out that her mother has taken all of her money from her account to pay for her father’s lawyer bills and fix the bathroom.

It had taken a lot of small cons for Sadie to raise the four thousand dollar deposit needed for university. Her waitress job would never bring in enough money on its own.

With one big con, however, she still might be able to live her dream. Luckily, she is a better con artist than her father – and she looks just like an age enhanced computer-generated picture of a long lost heiress.

Critical Evaluation:

From the cover of the book one would think this novel will be a typical romance novel. It is a romance but romance is definitely not the focus of the plot. Cook is an experienced author who knows the importance of developing a character. Sadie is a well-developed character with a few quirks to keep her interesting and a complicated living situation. In the end, the book is really about personal identity and choice.

Like Ally Carter’s successful Heist Society, The Almost Truth’s heroine as is a good girl living a life on the wrong side of the law. Also like Carter’s Heist Society, humor plays an important role in keeping the plot fun and light.

Cook has also created an interesting set of secondary characters from Sadie’s con artist father to her long-time friend and current boyfriend, Brendan who willingly helps her with her cons.

The Almost Truth is a fun read that does not take itself too seriously. In a teenage market filled with dystopias it is a refreshing change.

Reader’s Annotation:

Sadie needs just one big con to change her life forever. All she needs to do is convince everyone she is a long-lost heiress. If she fails, she may end up in a cell by Daddy. The stakes are high and she can’t afford to fail.

Information About the Author:

Eileen Cook is an accomplished writer with several books to her credit including Unraveling Isobel and The Education of Hailey Kendrick. She completed high school and university in Michigan. She has a degree in English and in counseling (Eileen Cook Revealed). Currently, she lives in Vancouver.

For more information please visit Cook’s website.

Genre:

  • Chick lit
  • Romance fiction
  • Mystery fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read the section where Sadie finds out her mother took her money
    • Ask if her mother had the right to do so
  • Create a book list of thieving heroes

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Sadie is a con artist

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?:

I read The Almost Truth for a book committee and thought it was fun and a nice change from the darker themes found in dystopias and the teen problem novels.

Reviews:

References:

Eileen Cook revealed. (n.d.). Retreived from http://authors.simonandschuster.ca/Eileen-Cook/47825204/author_revealed

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

SweetnessBibliographic Information:

Bradley, A. (2009). The sweetness at the bottom of the pie. Toronto: Anchor Canada. (978-0-385-66583-4)

Flavia de Luce series, bk. 1

Plot Summary:

Flavia de Luce is having an interesting day. First, she escapes from being blindfolded and tied up in her closet by her sisters. Then she is present to see the fear on her father’s face when he finds a dead bird with a postage stamp in its’ beak on their doorstep. Later, she overhears her father arguing with a mystery man in his study – only to find this same man dead in their cucumber patch the next morning.

And so, a new detective is born. As she says, “I wish I could say I was afraid but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.” But it will not be her last. In her investigations she will search a man’s room, climb a tower, be kidnapped, and of course, perform some chemistry. In the end, will it be enough to save her father from prison or will she find herself sharing the cell beside him?

Critical Evaluation:

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is an excellent example of how a character comes from a certain place and time. In this case, Flavia needs to come from a home where she has a great deal of freedom so she can investigate the crime but also so she can do her chemistry experiments. Further, she comes from a world where girls are not expected to be adventurous or interested in worldly matters. Much of the humor of the novel comes from Flavia’s unconventional responses or her reactions to people’s expectations of her. Part of this can be attributed to her age. She is young enough at eleven to still be outspoken and be a hoyden. These behaviors may not have been as believable in a heroine at sixteen, for example.

Flavia’s ongoing spates with her sisters and irrepressible personality add a level of normalcy and humor to her character. As a result her character is Anne of Green Gables meets Sherlock Holmes.

Reader’s Annotation:

Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce decides she must solve the murder of the man found in her cucumber patch to save her father from prison.

Information About the Author:

Born in Toronto Ontario in 1938, Alan Bradley has had a long and varied career as a writer, teacher and media technologist. After attending Ryerson University, Bradley worked as a television engineer in Ontario and Saskatoon (Jessop, 2012). Later, he served for 25 years as the Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Bradley has written screenplays and short stories and has taught Script Writing and Television Production Courses at the University of Saskatchewan. He has been involved in the local literary scene. He was the first President of the Saskatoon Writers and a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. He is also a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, “a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings” (Author’s bio, 2013)

Alan Bradley was 70 when he wrote the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The story started out as a 15-page excerpt that he had written and submitted to The British Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award, which he won in 2007.

Interestingly, although the novel is set in England, Bradley had not been to England himself until he went to receive his award in 2007. But, he says, he grew up submersed in the English culture through his English grandparents and the English books and magazines he read. He also credits his wife, Shirley, with helping him research the subject (Catto, 2009)


Click here for an interesting conversation between Alan Bradley and Shelagh Rogers about Flavia de Luce and his newest novel, Speaking From Among the Bones.

Genre:

  • Mystery – detective stories
  • Historical fiction
  • Crossover

Curriculum Ties:

  • Chemistry
  • English
    • Mystery novels
    • Character development

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read from page 11 as Flavia adds poison ivy oil to her sister’s lipstick
    • Talk about pranks between siblings
  • Read from page 24 when she eavesdrops on her father to finding the dead man

Reading Level/Interest Age:

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I do not read detective stories very often but this series has received a lot of press lately. I heard an interview with Alan Bradley a few weeks ago and decided to read it. It was funny, smart, and had a good mystery.

Reviews:

Coon, J. (2009). The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Booklist, 105(17), 35. (star review)

 “Only those who dislike precocious young heroines with extraordinary vocabulary and audacious courage can fail to like this amazingly entertaining book.”

Goldsmith, F. (2009). The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. School Library Journal, 55(5), 140.

“Flavia is brave and true and hilarious, and the murder mystery is clever and satisfying.

The sweetness at the bottom of the pie. (2009). Kirkus Reviews, 77(5), 49.

Brilliant, irresistible and incorrigible, Flavia has a long future ahead of her. Bradley’s mystery debut is a standout chock full of the intellectual asides so beloved by Jonathan Gash readers. It might even send budding sleuths to chemistry classes.

Awards:

  • 2007 Debut Dagger Award
  • 2009 Agatha Award, Best First Novel
  • 2010 Amelia Bloomer List, Young Adult Fiction
  • 2010 Alex Award nominee
  • 2010 Arthur Ellis Awards, Best First Novel
  • Macavity Awards, Best First Mystery Novel
  • 2010 Best Books for Young Adults

References:

Author’s bio.(2013) Retrieved from http://www.flaviadeluce.com/view-authors-bio/

Catto, S. (2009). Alan Bradley: The old/new face of fiction. Quill & Quire. Retrieved from http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=10492

Jessop, P. (2012). Alan Bradley. In The Canadian encyclopedia. Retrieved from

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/alan-bradley

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

CuriousincidentofdoginnighttimeBibliographic Information:

Haddon, M. (2003). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time. New York: Doubleday.(0-385-65980-6)

Plot Summary:

Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone finds the murdered body of Wellington, his neighbour’s poodle, late one evening. He liked Wellington and thinks that his killer should be punished so he decides to find out who killed the dog. The reader learns the subsequent tale through the book Christopher writes chronicling the investigation and the events that transpire as a result of his investigation. Although never stated, by following the story through Christopher’s point of view, the reader is led to understand that Christopher is an autistic teenager.

Critical Evaluation:

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been included as a text in many high school English programs for good reason. Haddon has created a work that covers a wide variety of themes and literary devices. His character of Christopher also provides great fodder for conversations about first person narrative and the concept of the “naïve narrator.”

Kunze (2010) in his article about the novel also suggests the novel is an excellent example of metafiction since the novel is shaped as the mystery story that Christopher was writing as a school project. The idea of truth and lie/real and fiction are further developed by Christopher as he tries to understand concepts of metaphor and meaning that is often inferred in language by context, emotion, and body language. As the novel progresses, this duality is further emphasized in his relationship with his father when Christopher learns his father had lied to him to protect him from some difficult news.

As an autistic teenager, Christopher struggles to understand his world through the rational. He likes mathematics because he can understand the patterns. So, he tries to find the patterns in the world around him; 4 red cars in a row make a Good Day, 5 red cars make a Super Great Day but 4 yellow cars in a row make a Black Day. He struggles to understand the emotional context of language and the interactions humans have.

Although in the extreme, these concerns are common to all people, particularly teenagers. We all struggle to interpret the cues we are given in language. I think this is one reason that this novel resonates so strongly with such a wide population. There’s a little Christopher in all of us.


Reader’s Annotation:

The death of a neighbour’s dog leads an autistic teenager on a perilous journey.

Information About the Author:

Mark Haddon is an artist, novelist, screenwriter, and poet. He was born September 26, 1962 in Northampton, England. He studied in Oxford University and later earned his master’s degree in English literature at Edinburgh University. In Scotland, he worked at Mencap (Kunze, 2010), an organization that supports people with disabilities in the community.

He has also created illustrations and cartoons for magazines and newspapers. He has also made a living painting and selling abstract art.

He wrote his first children’s book in 1987. Since then he has written and illustrated over fifteen books for children. He has also written for a number of children’s series for the BBC. In 1999 he won two BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Awards), one of which was an award for his contribution to children’s television.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was the first book Haddon intentionally wrote for adults. It is the first book to have been published simultaneously in two imprints – one for children and one for adults in England. His poetry collection, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea was published in 2005.

For more information please see Mark Haddon’s website.

Genre:

  • Realistic novel
  • Mystery novel

Curriculum Ties:

  • English course
    • Point of view
    • Character development
    • Independence
  • Social Justice
    • People with special needs

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read part of the book and ask the students to describe the narrator
  • Read the scene with Christopher fights with his dad. Talk about how hard it be be to parent a child with Aspergers
  • People with disabilities
  • Autism – What is Asperger’s
  • Murder mysteries

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this book?:

My original reason for reading the book was that my daughter (then 17) recommended it to me. I think is it is a great example of a crossover book. I also think Haddon has created an compelling character in Christopher

Reviews:

  • The curious incident of the dog in the night-time (Book). (2003). Kirkus Reviews, 71(8), 557.
  • Hoffert, B. (2004). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time Time (Book). Library Journal, 129(1), 49. (Best books of 2003 section)
  • Huntley, K. (2003). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time (Book). Booklist, 99(15), 1376.

Awards:

  • 2005 British Book Awards Book of the Year, shortlist
  • 2004 Alex Award
  • 2004 WH Smith Award for Fiction, shortlist
  • 2004 South Bank Show Annual Award for Literature
  • 2003 Whitbread Novel Award
  • 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year
  • 2003 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize
  • 2003 Carnegie Medal, shortlist
  • 2003 British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award
  • 2003 British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year
  • 2003 British Book Awards Book of the Year, shortlist
  • 2003 British Book Awards Author of the Year,shortlist
  • 2003 Booktrust Teenage Prize

References:

Author: Mark Haddon. Retrieved from http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/authors/mark-haddon

Kunze, P. (2010). Haddon, Mark. In G. Hamilton & B. Jones (Authors), Encyclopedia of contemporary writers and their work. Retrieved from Bloom’s Literary Reference Online database.“

Kunze, P. (2010). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time. In G. Hamilton & B. Jones (Authors), Encyclopedia of contemporary writers and their work. Retrieved from Bloom’s Literary Reference Online database.“

Mark Haddon (2013). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Haddon

Writers: Mark Haddon. Retrieved from http://literature.britishcouncil.org/mark-haddon

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

seraphina Bibliographic information

Hartman, R. (2012). Seraphina. Toronto: Doubleday Canada. (978-0-385-66839-2)

Plot summary

Sixteen-year-old Seraphina Dombegh is a gifted musician who has just recently found a place in the royal court as a new assistant to the court composer. Her love of music encouraged her to defy her father and come to court even though she had been taught to blend in and hide since childhood as her mere existence is considered an aberration to both sides of her parentage. Her mother was a saarantrai; a dragon in human form. It wasn’t until her death and Seraphina’s birth that her father learned that the woman he loved wasn’t really a human.

Seraphina’s musical talents draw her into the inner circle of the Princess  Glisselda and her fiancé, Prince Lucien Kiggs. As Seraphina’s knowledge about dragons becomes known, she finds herself in the unique position of helping Kiggs, who is also Captain of the Queen’s Guard, try to solve a mysterious murder. She has come into the world of court at a time of high drama; it appears that Prince Rufus was killed by a dragon just before Ardmagar Comonot, the dragon’s leader, arrives to celebrate the anniversary of a treaty between their two nations. Someone is trying to destroy that peace treaty and Seraphina may hold the key to peace – or to war. But the more time she spends with the observant Captain, the closer he gets to learning her terrible secret.

Critical evaluation

Hartman’s debut novel, Seraphina, received a number of richly deserved accolades including the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel and the Cybils Award for Fantasy and Science Fiction. Seraphina was also a finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada), short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK), and long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (“Seraphina”).

Hartman’s tightly spun plot tells the story of the musically talented Seraphina. Told through Seraphina’s voice, the reader is first introduced to a scared young woman afraid to be noticed. As the plot develops, however, Seraphina’s character is shown to be increasingly complex as the reader is given glimpses of the depth of her confusion and self-loathing about her dragon heritage as she relates memories of her childhood. This coming-of-age story follows a remarkable heroine on her road to self-acceptance.

The kingdom of Goredd has the flavour of the Italian Renaissance with the rich interest in the arts, opulent dress, and focus on politics. Indeed, Hartman has aptly developed two cultures; one based on humanism focusing on creativity, art and emotion and the other based on the founding ideals of the Enlightenment with its focus the intellect, reason, and objectivity. These two ideals are embodied in the character of Seraphina who, being half dragon and half human, is struggling to accept herself as something more than the monster that both societies view her as.

Reader’s annotation

Seraphina’s gift of music came from her dragon heritage. But, when a dragon becomes the main suspect in a royal murder, that closely guarded secret could undermine her growing relationship with Prince Lucien Kiggs, destroy her family and, perhaps, throw the kingdom into war.

Information about the author

According to her website, http://rachelhartmanbooks.com , Rachel was born in Kentucky. She has lived throughout the United States, England, and Japan and currently lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She has a BA in Comparative Literature but “eschewed graduate school in favour of drawing comic books.”

Challenge issues:

  • none

Seraphina is her first novel.

Genre: Fantasy fiction, subgenre: animal

Curriculum ties: none

Booktalking ideas:

  • Read the section where Seraphina is describing her garden
  • Internal struggle for identity
  • Conflict of the rational vs emotion
  • Use of music as a plot device
  • Fear of the “other”
  • Book trailer

Reading level/interest:

  • 15 and up
  • Grade level 4.6

Why did you include this title?:

  • Canadian author
  • Winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel, Cybils Award,Finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada),Short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK),Long-listed for the Carnegie Medal
  • Received starred reviews from Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

City-of-a-Thousand-Dolls1 City of a Thousand Dolls  by Miriam Forster

Bibliographic information:

Forster, M. (2013). City of a Thousand Dolls. New York: HarperTeen. (978-0-06-212130-1).

Plot summary:

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls as a young child. The City of a Thousand Dolls is a place where orphan and unwanted girls are placed as infants or young children. There, they are trained in one of the eight houses to be musicians, healers, courtesans, and wives of nobility. Nisha arrived at the City too old to be placed in any of the Houses and so her place is somewhat tenuous as she belongs to none of the Houses but has trained in most of them. Over time, she found a place for herself as a servant and assistant to the Matron of the City.

She is now old enough to take part in the Redeeming. During the Redeeming, a person can claim a girl as an apprentice or a wife by paying a specified price, which is intended to compensate the City for her training. Nisha knows her chances of being chosen are slim but when she catches the eye of a young noble, she begins to dream that he will speak for her and she will be able to leave the City of Dolls for a new life. Nisha’s dreams are further imperiled when she catches the eye of another, who is willing to purchase her as a slave prior to the Redeeming; something that could happen because of her murky past and lack of connections.

When a series of murders threaten the security of the City, Nisha bargains to try to solve the mysterious deaths in exchange for her own freedom.

Critical evaluation:

Forster allows Nisha to tell her own story choosing to use first person narrative. This convention is common in both mystery fiction and in young adult literature. By using this convention, the author allows the reader immediate access into the thoughts and feelings of her protagonist; a successful technique when writing for a teen audience. Using first person narrative is also traditional in mysteries allowing the reader to uncover clues at the same time as the narrator.

The plot of the story follows many of the conventions found in fantasy writing; a mysterious heritage, unknown protector, and magical creatures. There is little new in this. Forster’s novel is successful, to a large measure, because of her well-thought out setting. By setting her story into a South-Asian inspired context, she is able to bring the real issue of a controlled family size policy found in China with a culture of undervaluing girls to her fantasy. These concepts provide a very modern context for the fictional City of a Thousand Dolls. To this, she has added the details to provide further foundation to her story; the girls being trained for specific tasks by the different houses, which provides some excellent secondary characters for Nisha to interact with.

Reader’s annotation:

Nisha must solve the murders occurring in the City of a Thousand Dolls to save her own life and the life of her friends. While trying to uncover the mystery, Nisha soon learns that there is more to her own story than what she was led to believe when she was abandoned at the gates of the City years below. Do the nomadic Kildi play a role in the murders? And what do the tribe of cats who call the City home know of the present mystery and her own murky past?

Information about the author:

City of a Thousand Dolls is the debut novel by Miriam Forster. In her blog, Dancing with Dragons is hard on Your Shoes, she describes herself as a “recovering barista” and “a bit of a hermit.” She is currently working on a companion book.

Genre:

  • Mystery
  • Fantasy
  • Romance

Curriculum ties:

  • Social justice issues
  • World History – China: one child policy, India: caste system

Booktalking ideas:

Reading level/interest:  13 and up

Challenge issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this book in the titles chosen?:

  • City of a Thousand Dolls was recommended by an avid teen reader who appreciated the originality of the setting and characters that wraps a tradition fantasy theme of a young protagonist finding out she is special and in the process becomes a hero. I included it because of the mystery elements.