Tag Archives: Book Review

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

girl in the steel corset  

Bibliographic Information:

Cross, Kady. The Girl in the Steel Corset. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin Teen, 2011. (978-0-373-21070-1) – includes bonus novella The Strange Case of Finley Jayne

Series:

The Steampunk Chronicles

            • The Strange Case of Finley Jayne
            • The Girl in the Steel Corset
            • The Girl in the Clockwork Collar
            • The Girl with the Iron Touch

Genre:

  • Steampunk
  • Paranormal

Plot Summary:

Set in 1897 Victorian England, the novel opens with sixteen-year-old Finley being attacked by her employer’s son. But Finley is no ordinary girl to be taken advantage of by the nobility. She has an alter ego that has supernatural strength and a desire for violence. Even though she was just protecting herself, she knows as a maid in the noble’s house there will be consequences and so she runs – straight in front of the velocycle of Griffin King, the Duke of Greythorne.

While Finley recuperates at Greythorne House, Griffin quickly realizes that there is something dark and dangerous about Finley but he has secrets of his own and he is sure he can help the troubled girl merge the two sides of her personality. Besides, he already has an unusual collection of friends including the brilliant scientist Emily, the part-mechanical Sam, and the American cowboy Jasper who is faster than any normal human. It is difficult to trust an outsider with their secrets and Finley’s arrival adds an added strain to an already complex set of relationships.

Throw into the mix the mad Machinist who plans to take over England and destroy Griffin. Things have gotten tricky

While running away after being attacked by her employer’s son, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne is hit by Griffin King. Now, Griffin says he wants to protect her but Finley has a secret. There’s something dark inside her and it is getting stronger. If she stays, who is going to protect Griffin?

Critical Evaluation:

Cross’ decision to employ an omniscient third person point of view is appropriate. In The Girl in the Steel Corset she introduces the reader to the many characters that will star in the succeeding novels. By moving between her characters, she allows the reader to get a feeling for the internal motivations of Finley, Emily, Sam, Griffin, and to a smaller degree Jasper, although the primary focus of the story remains with Finley. In the following novels, Cross tells her tale focusing on one of the other characters while still developing the relationships and plotlines developed in the first novel.

The author also took the time to provide appropriate backstories for her quintet of stars. By doing do, the reader can empathize with Sam’s mixed feelings about his robotic side; the illusions to Frankenstein are light but resonate. The similarities to the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also add additional depth to the tale.

Cross aptly describes the Steampunk Chronicles as “Teen X-Men meets League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, minus the extreme violence.” (Steampunk Scholar blog, March 9, 2013). The only thing missing from this summary is the romance that she wove through the narrative.

Bottom Line:

Worth adding to a high school library collection. Fun, light, and sigh-worthy.

Information about the Author:

Kady Cross and Kate Cross are both pseudonyms of author, Kathryn Smith. As Kathryn Smith, she has written a number of adult historical romances. Please see her sites for more information:

Kady Cross: http://www.kadycross.com/about/

Kate Cross: http://www.katecross.com/

Kathryn Smith: http://www.harpercollins.com/authors/19718/Kathryn_Smith/index.aspx

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Young Adult

Challenge Issues:

  • Sexual content (mild)
  • Violence
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Divergent by Veronica Roth

divergentBibliographic Information:

Roth, V. (2011). Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books. (978-0062024022)

Insurgent, bk. 2

Allegiant, bk 3 (forthcoming)

Plot Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior was born into an Abnegation family but she has never felt she belonged. She knows that she going to have to decide what faction she belongs with on Choosing Day.

When she takes her aptitude test, she finds out that she has an aptitude for three factions; Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite. She does not have an aptitude for the other two factions Candor or Amity. She also learns that showing an aptitude for more than one faction makes her Divergent, which can be dangerous to her if anyone finds out.

On Choosing Day, Beatrice decides to choose Dauntless. Renamed Triss, she now has to prove she belongs to her new faction. She will have to be Dauntless to survive.

Critical Evaluation:

There have been many comparisons made between Divergent and The Hunger Games. Both feature strong female protagonists who have to leave their families and compete to determine their place in society. Neither accepts the social conventions of their society but they are forced to play a part that is based on lies and deceit.

The similarities also mean that fans of The Hunger Games that are mourning the end of the series will be happy to turn to Divergent and the two additional books in the trilogy.

Divergent should not, however, be viewed as a carbon copy of The Hunger Games. Roth has created a conflicted main character who is trying to decide who she is away from her family. Beatrice/Triss will learn some truths about her society’s past in the novel and she will have to decide if being Dauntless is enough.

Reader’s Annotation:

Beatrice needs to choose her role in her society. She can only choose one. How can she choose only one and be true to what she is – Divergent.

Information About the Author:

For more information about Veronica Roth and to follow the series please visit her blog.

Genre:

  • Dystopian fiction
  • Post-Apocalyptic fiction
  • Science fiction
  • Identity
  • Family

Curriculum Ties:

  • English – could work as a novel study with other dystopian novels currently published.

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Combine with the other dystopians that are so popular
  • Read-alike with The Hunger Games
  • Watch the book trailer.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

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

Reviews:

  • Kraus, D. (2011). Divergent. Booklist, 107(13), 56.

“The simplistic, color-coded world stretches credibility on occasion, but there is no doubt readers will respond to the gutsy action and romance of this umpteenth spin on Brave New World.”

  • Divergent. (2011). Kirkus Reviews, 79(8), 696.

“Fans snared by the ratcheting suspense will be unable to resist speculating on their own factional allegiance; a few may go on to ponder the questions of loyalty and identity beneath the facade of thrilling adventure.”

References:

Home. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://veronicarothbooks.blogspot.ca/2010/09/divergent-cover-and-summary.html

Back in the Bigs: How Winnipeg won, lost, and regained its place in the NHL by Randy Turner

back in the bigsBibliographic Information:

Turner, R. (2011). Back in the bigs. Winnipeg: Winnipeg Free Press. (978-0968257562)

Plot Summary:

Hockey in Winnipeg, Manitoba is serious business. When the Jets returned to Winnipeg in 2011, sports writer Randy Turner explores the history of the team before it went south in 1996 and professional hockey in Winnipeg.

Critical Evaluation:

Back in the Bigs’ large format allows readers to enjoy the many pictures sprinkled through the pages. The writing is accessible and tells a great story of failure and the triumph in the saga of NHL hockey in Manitoba.

Reader’s Annotation:

Manitoba was without an NHL team for a long time before the Jets returned for the 2011-2012 season. But, the desire for a return to the Bigs never died.

Information About the Author:

Randy Turner is a native Manitoban and have covered sports for the Winnipeg Free Press, a local paper, for twenty years (Randy Turner, 2013).

After Randy graduated from Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, he attended the Creative Communications program at Red River Community College. In 1987, he began working on the Rural page for the Winnipeg Free Press. In 2011, he became a general sports columnist and in 2011 he became a general features writer for the paper.

Throughout his time with the Free Press, he was covered high school hockey to Grey Cups and World Junior hockey championships. Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing (Randy Turner, Reporter 2013).

Genre:

  • Nonfiction
  • National Hockey League
  • Winnipeg Jets
  • Hockey

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Talk about how the Jets did this year – pull the stats
    • Segue into how they came back to Winnipeg
  • Show clip of the reaction when it was announced that the Jets were coming back to Winnipeg.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 10 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

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

Back in the Bigs tells the story of the Jets in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It should be in all schools in the province .

References:

Randy Turner. (2013). Retrieved May 5, 2013 from http://penguin.ca/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,2000000238,00.html

Randy Turner, Reporter (2013) Retrieved May 5, 2013 from http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/biographies/141970423.html

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Rot and Ruin

Bibliographic Information:

Maberry , J. (2010). Rot & Ruin. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. (978-1-4424-0233-1)

  • Rot & Ruin, bk. 1
  • Dust & Decay, bk. 2
  • Flesh & Bone, bk. 3
  • Fire & Ash, bk. 4 (to be released in August 2013)

Plot Summary:

In this post-apocalyptic world, the zombies are roaming outside the fence in the Rot and Ruin. Benny has grown up in the world after the First Night. Now, he is fifteen and if he does not work he will lose his food rations. So, he decides to join his half-brother, Tom, as a zombie hunter.

While working with his brother, he meets Charlie Pink-eye and Motor City Hammer, two unethical zombie hunters who pit children against zombies for fun. He is also introduced to the mystery of the Lost Girl who fascinates him.

Critical Evaluation:

Rot & Ruin is a gritty zombie novel about what happens when the humans lost the war. The humans are now living in small, scattered communities isolated from one another. So, what do the humans do that are left? That is really what the story is about. It is really a coming of age story about teens that are growing up in the apocalypse and want their world to be more than waiting for death.

So, the novel is not just about killing zombies – although there is definitely a lot of that. The plot is about keeping your humanity of grays. That makes this book very interesting; even to readers who are not zombie fans.

Reader’s Annotation:

Benny thinks his brother is a coward. But when Benny accompanies Tom beyond the fence is realizes that zombies aren’t the only monsters to fear. At least with zombies you know what to do.

Information About the Author:

Maberry is a zombie writer and a multiple Bram Stoker Award winner.  I write about people who fight monsters” (SimonSchusterVideos). This statement really does encapsulate his writing which includes Dead of Night, Patient Zero and The Dragon Factory.

His writing is graphic and very descriptive. These elements help to explain his success as a comic writer as well. Finally, he writes nonfiction covering topics of martial arts and zombie pop-culture.

Jonathan Maberry also teaches Experimental Writing for Teens class. He is the founder the Writers Coffeehouse and cofounded The Liars Club (Jonathan Maberry Biography).

Jonathan has also worked as a bodyguard, college teacher and women’s self-defense instructor.

For more information, please see Jonathan Maberry’s website.

Genre:

  • Zombies
  • Survival
  • Bounty hunters
  • Horror
  • Post-apocalypse

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Compare to Forest of Hands and Teeth – created a book list of zombie books
  • Show video: Maberry talks about Rot & Ruin from Simon and Schuster:

http://videos.simonandschuster.net/The-zombie-world’s-gone-to-ROT/632738882001

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    • Ask if he/she has read the book
    • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
    • Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion documents
    • Provide school’s selection policy
    • Provide list of reviews/lists
  3. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

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

Zombies and post-apocalyptic fiction is very popular with my students.

Awards:

  • Finalist for the 2010 Cybils Award
  • Winner 2011 Cybils Award

Reviews:

  • Kraus, D. (2010). Rot & Ruin. Booklist, 107(4), 51.

“The plot is driven by an evil bounty-hunter rival and the cruel games he plays, but Maberry has more than gore on his mind. The chief emotion here is sadness, and the book plays out like an extended elegy for a lost world.”

  • Doyle, A. C. (2010). Rot & Ruin. School Library Journal, 56(11), 121.

“The relationship between Benny and Tom becomes surprisingly complex and satisfying, as does the romantic subplot between Benny and his friend Nix. The length of the book may intimidate some reluctant readers but the striking cover, compelling action, and brutal violence will draw them in and keep them reading.”

References:

Jonathan Maberry Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved May 1, 2013 from http://authors.simonandschuster.ca/Jonathan-Maberry/67600213/biography

SimonSchusterVideos. (n.d.). The zombie’s world gone to Rot & Ruin [Video file].
Retrieved from http://www.jonathanmaberry.com/rot-ruin/

All Good Children by Catherine Austen

all good childrenBibliographic Information:

Austen, C. (2011). All good children. Victoria, B.C: Orca Book Publishers. (978-1-55469-824-0)

Plot Summary:

When Maxwell Connors returns home after his aunt’s funeral he notices that the kids at school are acting strange. It turns out that the students were given a treatment while he was away that has turned them into obedient, well-mannered citizens.  His sister Ally notices it first. She says that the other kids are “are fuzzy and slow. They just go along.”

Middletown is special walled community that protects the inhabitants from the terrorism and disasters that are happening throughout the world. The whole community works for the same corporation, Chemrose International. As a result, the corporation controls everything that happens in the town. When Max’s class is vaccinated he has to pretend to be a “zombie” too. It is time for the family to leave Middletown but that may prove more difficult than one would expect.

Critical Evaluation:

Catherine Austen has created a multi-dimensional wise-cracking teenager as her protagonist in the dystopian world of All Good Children. A wise choice since young adults are very interested in developing their individuality at this stage. Max’s sarcasm and “tell it like it is” attitude will resonate with readers. These characteristics also infuse some humour into an otherwise stark plot.

Max’s development from a kid who accepts the way his world operates to one who is willing to give up all the nice toys for freedom is realistic. At first, Max is pretty comfortable with his situation. He lives in a safe community that has a good standard of living and the newest technology toys. He knows that he is smart enough to be successful. So, he is okay with the security. He likes that the city is clean and secure.

The novel, told from Max’s point of view, follows his dawning awareness that the New Education Support Treatment is stripping children of their individuality and making them into good workers with no emotions who are willing to do what they are told.

Reader’s Annotation:

In a world with terrorism and disasters, what would you be willing to give up for security?

Information About the Author:

Catherine Austen is an awarding-winning author of children and young adult fiction. All Good Children was her first young adult novel.

Catherine grew up in Kingston, Ontario. She studies political science at Queen’s University and environmental studies at York University. After, she worked in the conservation movement. While a student, she wrote short stories, which she published in small literary journals. She started writing stories for children in 2003 but her first children’s book, Walking Backwards, was published in 2009.

When she became a parent, she decided to become a freelance writer so she could be home with her family.

She currently lives in Aylmer (Gatineau), Quebec. She says she lives in a little house with a big yard (About the author, 2013) with her family.

For more information please visit her website.

Genre:

  • Survival fiction
  • Science fiction
  • Dystopian fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • Social Justice
    • Behavior modification in schools
  • English program
    • Companion book to Brave New World

Booktalking Ideas:

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

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

Austen is a Canadian author who wrote a great book with a theme that is very popular with young adults currently.

Reviews:

  • Wiersema, R. (Ed.). (2011, October). Book review: All good children. Retrieved
  •      May 11, 2013, from Quill & Quire website: http://The Canadian Library
  •      Association’s 2012 Young Adult Book Award Winner.

Awards:

  • Canadian Library Association Young Adult Canadian Book Award, 2012.
  • The 2012 Sunburst Award (for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic) Young Adult Winner.
  • A YALSA Teens’ Top Ten nominee and a YALSA 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee.
  • A Forest of Reading 2013 White Pine Nominee.

References:

About the author. (2013). Retrieved 15 March 15, 2013 from http://www.catherineausten.com/contact_author.html

Department 19 by Will Hill

department 19Bibliographic Information:

Hill, W. (2011). Department 19. London: Harper Collins Children’s. (978-0007424900)

Department 19, bk. 1

The Rising: bk. 2

Battlelines: bk. 3

Plot Summary:

Two years ago Jamie saw his father kill himself. Now, his mother has been kidnapped and he has been rescued by a giant named Frankenstein. So, Jamie finds himself with Department 19, a secret organization that is responsible to hunting the supernatural. Founded over a hundred years prior by Abraham Van Helsing, it turns out that the Carpenter family has been part of the Department since its inception. In fact, Jamie’s father was a member.

Now, Jamie has to train and hunt a vampire to rescue his mother. Unfortunately, the vampire is always just a step ahead of him.

Critical Evaluation:

In recent years the story of Dracula and vampires in general have soften and have been romantized. Department 19 does have good vampires but the focus of the novel is hunting the original evil, interestingly, by man-made monster out of the literary past, Frankenstein.

The plot operates on two levels. First, there is the central plot of Jamie wanting to rescue his mother and chasing down clues. Then, there is the subplot that is told in intermittent chapters of the original hunt 100 years ago which explains how Department 19 originated. These two plots come together and create a cohesive whole by the end of the book.

This book starts quickly and continues the same way. Hill is quoted as saying that Department 19 is “a hundred-mile-an-hour supernatural thriller, full of old-school vampires who would rather tear your throat out than kiss your face off, and who can’t go in the sun because they will burst into flames. There’s no sparkling here – just an action-packed race against time” (qtd in http://bookzone4boys.blogspot.ca/search?q=department+19 ). Along the way, there are fights, death, and, of course, blood.


Reader’s Annotation:

What if Dracula was real? Then it is a good thing that Department 19 is on the job to hunt him down.

Information About the Author:

Will Hill grew up in the north-east of England. Will Hill was in publishing before he became a writer. He has also worked as a bartender and a bookseller.

In his site Hill says that he has always been fascinated with vampires.

For more information about the author, please visit his site.
For more information on the series, please visit the Department 19 website

Genre:

  • Science fiction
  • Horror fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read the first couple of pages of the book where Will’s father kills himself.
  • Watch the video created by HarperCollins Children’s Books (http://youtu.be/-JvWlKT9src):


Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    • Ask if he/she has read the book
    • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child       about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
    • Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and       Inclusion documents
    • Provide school’s selection policy
    • Provide list of reviews/lists
  3. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

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

I purchased the first book in the series two years ago and read it right away because I knew that my son would want to read it since he is a big Higson fan. I bought a copy for the library as soon I finished and it flew off my shelves. So, I purchased the second book, The Rising, as soon it came out. This year, I had students reminding me when the third book was being released so I would get it that day. I have not seen it in the library since so I have not had a chance to read it yet.

Reviews:

  • Doyle, A. C. (2011). Department Nineteen. School Library Journal, 57(6), 119-120.

“There is plenty of action and gore to hook even reluctant readers despite the 500-plus pages. The author skillfully blends history, classical fiction, and teen fantasy into a unique novel.”

  • Department 19. (2011). Kirkus Reviews, 79(6), 500.

“Readers will identify the inevitable double-crosser long before Jamie does, but they probably won’t mind. They’ll be so happy these vampires don’t sparkle they’ll forgive the novel’s excesses and keep flipping the pages to the next splatter-fest–and then they’ll demand the sequel.”

  • Hutley, K. (2011). Department 19. Booklist, 107(18), 55.

“This surprising, scary genre mash-up will have enormous series appeal.”

References:

Coming up in 2011 #7: Department 19 by Will Hill. (2011). Retrieved 10 May 2013 from http://bookzone4boys.blogspot.ca/search?q=department+19

Will Hill. (2013). Retrieved 10 May 2013 from http://www.foyles.co.uk/Will-Hill

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

three day roadBibliographic Information:

Boyden, J. (2008). Three day road. Toronto: Penguin Canada. (978-0-14-301789-8)

Plot Summary:

Xavier and Elijah are two Cree boys who decide to enlist in the army in World War I. In the War they become snipers because of their hunting background. It is also the story of Niska, an Oji-Cree medicine woman who refuses to lose the traditions of the past. When Xavier returns from the War, during the three day paddle home, the two characters relate their pasts; Niska to draw Xavier back from the horror of the War and Xavier to find redemption.

Three Day Road is the first of a planned trilogy. Through the Black Spruce won the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Critical Evaluation:

Three Day Road is the type of books that can be read on a variety levels. It can be read as conflict of culture – native and European. It can be a book about assimilation or about being true to one’s culture and roots. It can be used as a companion book to All Quiet on the Western Front because of its’ depiction of the human cost of war.

One can also discuss the character development in the novel. The evolution and devolution of the characters of Xavier and Elijah would make a fascinating discussion. The contrast of these two young men who went away to war is marked.

One can also read the novel with a focus on the differences in the voices of Xavier and Niska. Both relate their histories during their three day road. Through the telling of their tales the reader is introduced to the loss of the native culture and the assimilation into the dominant European culture. There is a sadness about this loss and a recognition that a very important part of the people was lost during this time.

Reader’s Annotation:

Two young Cree men leave their community to become snipers in World War I. Three Day Road tells the story of how they change during the War and what comes back after the fighting was done.

Information About the Author:

Joseph Boyden grew up listening to the true stories of his father, a World War II medical doctor. Raymond Wilfrid Boyden was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He also heard stories about a grandfather and uncle who served in the First World War (Nurse). Joseph’s uncle Erl, lived a more traditional lifestyle with a strong respect from Ojibwa traditions which included making his own clothes and living in a teepee. Erl and his father as well as another native war hero, Francis Pegahmagobow, influence Boyden’s plots and characters (McKay, 2012).

Joseph Boyden was born in 1966 in Willowdale, Ontario. He was a voracious reader as a child who was reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica, volume by volume, by the time he was six. After high school he worked on his creative writing degree at York University and at the University of New Orleans. Now, he teaches Canadian literature and creative writing at the University of New Orleans.

For more information please read Joseph Boyden’s biography. He tells his story much better than I can. http://www.josephboyden.com/bio.htm

Genre:

  • Historical

Curriculum Ties:

  • Canadian History
  • First Nations
  • English – Canadian author

Booktalking Ideas:

  • First Nations and World War I

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Adult

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

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

The main reason that I included Three Day Road is that it is a beautiful example of Canadian literature and, in my opinion, should be an essential text in Canadian literature collections.

Reviews:

“The characters of Xavier and Niska and, to a slightly lesser extent, Elijah are full to the brim with life – they’re quite satisfying and believable as they are, and need no further stamp of authentication.”

  • Keymer, D. (2005). Three-Day Road. Library Journal, 130(9), 104.

“In straightforward, concrete prose, first novelist Boyden evokes a ghastly poetry of death: “small red flowers bloom…around dead soldiers and their rifles…cover[ing] up the horror before the flowers are pounded into black slime by artillery.” This is an exceptional tale of hell barely survived during World War I. Enthusiastically recommended for public libraries.”

Awards:

  • Nominee for the 2005 Governor General’s Awards.
  • Winner of the McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award.
  • Winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for 2005
  • Winner of the CBA Libris Fiction Book of the Year

References:

McKay, J. (12 Oct. 2008). Archive: Writer in Resident Joseph Boyden Biography. Retrieved from http://writer-in-residence.athabascau.ca/archive/JosephBoyden/bio/

 

Nurse, D.B. (March 2005). Joseph Boyden: Way of the warrior. Retrieved April 3, 2012 from http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=6573

White Cat by Holly Black

white catBibliographic Information:

Black, H. (2010). White cat: #1 of The curse workers. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. (978-1416963974)

Curse Workers, 2: Red Glove

Curse Workers, 3: Black Heart

Plot Summary:

Cassel Sharpe is an ordinary teenage boy and that’s the problem. In a family of curse works he is expendable. It does not matter that working people is illegal and that everyone wears gloves because it takes skin contact in order to for someone to “work” you. What does matter is that he even without the talent he killed the girl he loved when he was 14 and his family covered it out.

He has the genes for crime so he is the school bookie and can run a con as well as anyone in the family but he is not a worker. So, at school, even though he is as normal as any other kid at school, he still has habits and connections to the Zacharov crime family that he needs to keep hidden. As a result, he really cannot fit into either world.

When he starts having dreams about a white cat and ends up sleep walking he starts to wonder if maybe something is not quite right with his view his world. Could it be that he has been worked? And if so, what possible reason could there be?

Critical Evaluation:

White Cat told from Cassel’s perspective. As a result, the narrative feels slightly jaded and often reads world-weary. Cassel has difficulty making friends because he does not want anyone to know about his connection with organized crime. Besides, it is embarrassing for a guy to admit that his mother is in jail for working a millionaire. Through Cassel’s eyes, the reader can also understand how it feels to be the nobody in a family of talented workers.

Cassel’s reminiscing about his past also provides a detailed backstory that provides the clues for the action of the present. The character of Cassel is one of the greatest strengths of the story. He is a complex character; both bad – he commits crimes and runs a bookie operation – and good. He is sensitive and protective of his friends. He wants to do the right thing but he also has to protect his family. He is both the crook and the victim.

Black has always melded reality with fantasy in her writing. In this series, the two are so intertwined that the magical is just part of the reality. She has created a complex reality where workers suffer discrimination and that discrimination has pushed workers into a world of crime ruled by crime lords.

Reader’s Annotation:

Cassel Sharpe is a con man with a sarcastic wit but he is non-magical and is definitely not a worker. So why is he having crazy dreams and sleepwalking on roofs? It is possible that the con man is being played?

Information About the Author:

Holly Black is a well-established, prolific author for children and young adults. Her bibliography includes The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale and Zombies vs. Unicorns. She has also written poetry and short stories.

Black was born in New Jesey in 1971. She graduated from The College of New Jersey in 1995. She then worked as a production editor and attended graduate school at Rutgers (Biography Holly Black).

For more information please see her website.

Please check out Scholastic site for a video interview with Holly Black.

Genre:

  • Science fiction
  • Urban fantasy

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Include in booklist of the best of the good bad guys.
  • Read one of the sleepwalking scenes.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

The Curse Workers series are not likely to be challenged in high schools because there are not graphic descriptions. However, it is possible that the actions of the characters may be objectionable to some.

    • drinking, gambling, stealing, drug use

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    • Ask if he/she has read the book
    • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection.
  3. Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion document.
    • Provide school’s selection policy.
    • Provide list of reviews/lists
  4. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

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

I decided to include White Cat because my students will love Cassel’s irony and dry humour. It is dark enough to border on horror without stepping over that line.

Reviews:

  • Sparks, L. J. (2010). White Cat. School Library Journal, 56(6), 94.

“Black has written a dark coming-of-age tale with a likable hero. Teens will empathize with Cassel’s desire to fit in and his occasional clashes with his family while rooting for him to unravel the conspiracy.”

  • White cat: The Curse Workers, Book 1. (2010). Kirkus Reviews, 78(7), 302.

“Forget fairy tales. The first in Black’s new series is a dark, complex Chinese puzzle box, full of cons, criminals and curses–a denigrating term for magic in a world where it’s outlawed.”

“Urban fantasy, con story, coming of age–whatever you call it, read it.”

References:

About Holly Black. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2013 from http://www.blackholly.com/biography.html

Biography Holly Black. (2013). Retrieved May 9, 2013 from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/holly-black

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner

brain jackBibliographic Information:

Falkner, B. (2011). Brain Jack. New York: Ember. (978-0375843662)

Plot Summary:

In a technology-driven future where immersive online gaming has become a serious addiction, Sam is a techno-nerd whose idea of fun is hacking into impenetrable computer systems. When his latest hack lands him in Reckton Hall Juvenile Detention Center, he doesn’t realize that he has just become part of a bigger game. If he can hack his way out of Reckton, the rules of the game will change and he will be one of the players.

Critical Evaluation:

Brain Jack is an excellent addition to the very strong list of technology-driven books written for teens lately. The plot is focused, the characters are well-developed, and the setting is tomorrow. Falkner has taken the real concepts of gaming addiction, brain-computer interfaces, and computer security and weaved them a great tale.

Reader’s Annotation:

Everyone wants a neuro-headset because they allow the user to control his computer with his mind. But if your mind is connected to the Internet can it be hacked? Sam is about to find out.

Information About the Author:

Brian Falkner always wanted to be an author. According to his website he dropped out of university to write. He has worked as a reporter, an advertising copywriter, and an Internet developer (The life of Brian).

He has published several books for children and teens including The Super Freak and The Tomorrow Code.

Brian was born in Auckland, Australia in 1962.

For more information please visit Brian Falkner’s site: http://www.brianfalkner.co.nz/index.asp

Genre:

  • Science fiction
  • Adventure fiction
  • Computer hackers
  • Terrorism

Curriculum Ties:

  • Computers

Booktalking Ideas:

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up
  • Reading level: 6.3

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

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

I read this book for the first time a couple of years ago. I was reminder of it lately after reading Little Brother.

Awards:

  • Storylines Notable Books List 2010 Young Adult Fiction list.
  • New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards 2010 Young Adult Finalist.
  • New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards 2010 Young Adult Children’s Choice category winner.
  • 2011 YASLA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list

Reviews:

  • Anderson, K. (2010). Brain Jack. School Library Journal, 56(12), 112.

“the nicely paced plot and well-crafted story arc make this a title worth recommending, particularly to boys who like technology or science fiction.”

  • BRAIN JACK. (2010). Kirkus Reviews, 78(15), 726.

“But most will blast through to the epilogue, simultaneously satisfying and deeply unsettling, and eye their keyboards with more respect and a little nervousness. Geektastic.”

  • Chipman, I. (2010). Brain Jack. Booklist, 107(3), 82.

“Think of this as the high-octane, adrenalized sibling of Cory Doctorow’s more lesson-laden Little Brother”

References:

Falkner, Brian. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2013 from http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/Writers/Profiles/Falkner,%20Brian

The life of Brian. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2013, from
http://www.brianfalkner.co.nz/About.asp

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