Category Archives: YA Lit

Eight Keys (Suzanne LaFleur) – Review

Eight keysEight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Age: Tween (9 and up)
Genre: Realistic Fiction, school drama
Source: Library
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780385740302
216 pages

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Elise’s mother died when Elise was born during a complicated pregnancy. Elise’s father died shortly afterwards after a fight with cancer. Up until her 12th birthday, Elise had received a letter each year on her birthday that her father had written before his death.  When entering into 6th grade, Elise hits a rough patch.  She’s constantly behind in school, her locker partner is mean to her everyday, and Elise’s relationship with her best friend from childhood is on thin ice. Throughout the course of the first term of school, Elise stumbles upon eight keys left for her by her deceased father. Each key unlocks rooms and family histories that she had nearly forgotten.

The whole letters-from-beyond really seems to be a theme in books. There was PS I Love You by Cecila Ahern that may have started the whole thing. I know 13 Letters follows the same concept. This book though, is a little different.

The story is really sweet and I think girls entering the dreaded tween years will really relate to Elise. I like how delicately Lafleur touches on the bullying issue in the book. It’s very subtle, but also says a lot about the culture clashes in schools that most adults just don’t see. Every morning, Amanda smashes Elise’s lunch under a pile of textbooks. Amanda calls Elise names, and even once smashed the locker door on Elise’s fingers. Trying to cope with the large amount of school work, and Amanda’s bullying is a lot for Elise to handle. She takes out her frustration on her friendship with Franklin, putting a strain on their friendship for the first 3 months of the school year.

The messages and the rooms in the attic left by Elise’s dad are very sweet concepts. I won’t disclose the contents, but each room was just the thing Elise needed to help her figure out who is she, and what she wants to be. Each inspirational message left behind from her dad related to one of Elise’s problems in school, and helped guide her towards the right, although sometimes wrong, way of handling the situations.

I liked the supporting characters in the book as well. Although Franklin just seemed really young for his character. He acted more like a little kid constantly craving sweets that his mother won’t allow. Caroline is a great character too, very much a role model and support system that Elise needed to get through school.

I also really like that Elise isn’t the shy bookworm getting picked on at school. That seems too easy sometimes. Elise doesn’t read for fun, isn’t good at school, and just doesn’t know what to do with herself. She’s at a cross-roads for the majority of the book in terms of her interests and hobbies. I think it makes her much more approachable to reluctant readers.

Geek Girls Unite (Leslie Simon) – Review

Geek girls unite : how fangirls, bookworms, indie chicks, and Other misfits are taking over the worldGeek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon
Age: Tween / Teen
Genre: Nonfiction / Pop Culture / Women
Source: Publisher
Publisher: It Books,  2011
ISBN: 9780062002730
193 pages

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I think the full title of this book explains the entire concept:

Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks and Other Misfits Are Taking Over The World.

In this book by author and music journalist Leslie Simon, we explore the world of girl-geekdom. This book is a representation of the cultural progression towards a new identity, that of the geek. Particularly the variety of geek that is no longer relegated to the world of awkward boys. Being a geek is now cool, and its something that women around the globe are embracing and being celebrated for.

The book focuses primarily on 6 types of geek: Fangirl Geek, Literary Geek, Film Geek, Music Geek, Funny-Girl Geek, and Domestic Goddess Geek. There is also a chapter at the end that runs through a number of other geek varieties: tech geek, fashionista geek, athlete geek, etc.

Each chapter has a specific format, a certain breakdown of the geek in question. The format goes as follows (with my general review and thoughts in parenthesis):

  • Pop quiz to gauge how well-versed the reader is in this field. (The questions were something similar to a Seventeen Magazine teen quiz, and Simon probably could have varied the answers in each chapter, as the answer was always the same letter for each quiz).
  • Character Sketch (a quick run-down of what makes up this certain type of geek)
  • Say What? (the lingo most associated with this subset of geek)
  • Geek Mythology (a deeper look into the start of this geek movement, and who was involved in its evolution over time.)
  • Geek Goddesses (notable names of contemporary icons and figures in the media that best reflect this subset of geek)
  • Frenemies (Posers, frauds or phonies. People who think they fit into this geek category, but really don’t because of a series of bullet point, overly broad generalizations as listed and created by Simon).
  • Geek Love (another series of overly broad generalizations and ideas that do more to propagate the stereotypes associated with this level of geek, this time in regards to romantic matches.)
  • Required Reading / Web Bookmarks, Movies / Playlist (this part is actually my favorite of each chapter. I think Simon did a great job assembling a selection of resources for young girls to further learn about their desired geek-topic. Although there were a few links and notable names that I found missing in the book, I think this end summary did a good job of getting young girls started on their path of development.)

Had I known from the get-go that this book was aimed at the tween/teen age range, I would have approached it with a different frame of mind. As a 28-year-old, this book really didn’t appeal to me, or reach me on any volume, even though I am a self-proclaimed literary/domestic goddess geek married to a music geek. I think young girls will fully embrace this book and relate to the notable names (Tina Fey, Natalie Portman, etc). Although I did find the requirements for each type of geek to be restrictive, Simon does make a point to mention that geeks can be anyone who embraces a level of cultural with a passion and intensity and one type of geek is not better than the rest. This book is full of resources for anyone interested in learning more, or even just learning about the different subsets in this book. I’ve already jotted down a number of books to read, movies to watch and CDs to explore.

Book 58 of 2011

Read A Likes

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  1. Geektastic by Holly Black
  2. She’s Such a Geek! by Annalee Newitz
  3. How to be a Geek Goddess by Christina Tynan-Wood

 

Uncommon Criminals (Ally Carter) – Review

Uncommon criminalsUncommon Criminals by Ally Carter
Age: YA
Genre: Heist / Fiction
Format: Audio CD
Brilliance Audio, 6 discs (6 hours: 47 minutes)
Hyperion, 2011

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Fifteen year old Katerina Bishop and her crew are back in another high stakes heist adventure in this sequel to Heist Society. This time, its Katerina who has been conned into stealing a precious and rare gem, the reputed cursed Cleopatra emerald. Now, it’s up to Kat and her friends follow the Cleopatra gem around the world, and create a new set of rules in order to get the gem back to its rightful owner.

The sequel to the fantastically amusing Heist Society did not disappoint. This book maintained the same level of witty word-play and globe-trotting luxury, in a world where money is no object and high stake risks are a natural part of life. In this book, we see a lot of character development in Kat. The remaining colorful cast of characters are stationary, static in their same personas as the first novel. Its only in Kat where we really see a change of character. Kat is still clueless about boys, more focused on getting the job done, than about comforting friends and family. She is focused, naive, and highly innovative all at the same time. We see her let down her guard and really start to open up to her family and the idea of having a group of friends that she can trust.

I loved the story progression of this novel more than Heist Society. The twists and turns were equally unexpected, but much more intricate in this book. In this world. Kat and her crew got to invent their own rules, while breaking others, in order to get to the Cleopatra emerald. This book takes place not too long after Heist Society ended, so the characters are still the same ages. This series is fun, and witty. I enjoyed listening to it on audio, all because of Angela Dawe’s fantastic narration. Her accents are flawless, the characters are full of life. It really felt like I was listening to a movie in another room.

Again, I would recommend this for a family road trip, its age appropriate for pretty much all members of the family, although there is more development between the romance of Kat and Hale, but I would still give this book a G-rating.

Book 57 of 2011

READ-A-LIKES

Books like the Heist Society series:

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  1. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
  2. The White Cat by Holly Black
  3. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
  4. Black Taxi by James Maloney

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Heist Society (Ally Carter) – Review

Heist societyHeist Society by Ally Carter
Age: Teen
Genre: Fiction, Heist
Format: Audio Book
Publisher: Brilliance Audio, 2009
5 discs

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Having escaped a life of crime and conning, fifteen year old Katerina Bishop’s final goodbye to the “family business” was to scam her way into one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country. At the school only a short while, Kat learns that leaving her former life is harder than she’d thought, especially when she’s framed for a school prank that has her expelled from the Colgan School. Reunited with her friend and co-conspirator, Hale, Kat learns that her con-man father has fallen into big trouble, accused of stealing a set of portraits only a master thief could pull off. Now Kat has two weeks to retrieve the paintings and save her father, putting together a crew of her own and creating her own little heist society.

First, I want to say that Angela Dawe is an amazing reader for this audio book. Her youthful voice gave life to the characters, and she was able to alter her tone and accent enough to really infuse each character with their own separate personality and voice. Sometimes, all the characters seem to blur together with certain narrators, but Dawe managed to keep them all unique and apart in this Ocean’s Eleven for Teenagers.

I listened to this book on audio, which was a really fun way to get into the story. I think this is an audio book that the whole family can really enjoy during long road-trips. There is a lot of globe-trotting: Paris to London, to Austria to Paris. There is a lot of wealth, and bling and talk of wealth and bling and pretty people to round it out. Despite all the wealth in this book, Kat remained a character that is strong yet vulnerable, insecure, but clever. I found her to be a fantastic lead character, able to put together one of the youngest heist crews to attempt to pull off one of the greatest heist of their generation.

As a teen novel, there is the pre-requisite love triangle, and unrequited love plot-line, as well as the make-up of Kat’s crew. The pretty one (cousin Gabrielle), the dashing billionaire (Hale), the nerdy techie (cousin Simon) the loose cannons (the Bradshaw brothers), and the new addition (Nick).

The story was easy to follow, very quick-paced. The dialogue is sharp, witty, although sometimes the kids sounded much older than their fifteen years. But then again, when you’ve been casing the Louvre at age three, and stealing the crown jewels of Austria at age seven, there isn’t much room to idly chew gum and flip through fashion magazines.

Overall, I found this to be a really enjoyable book, Carter’s writing is witty, youthful and brilliantly composed.

Book 51 of 2011

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The Slayer Chronicles: First Kill (Heather Brewer) – Review

First killThe Slayer Chronicles: First Kill by Heather Brewer
Age: YA
Genre: Vampire/Supernatural
Publication Date: Sept. 20th, 2011
Publisher: Dial Books, (Penguin Groups)
Source: Publisher

Although lonely and friendless at school, 10-year-old Joss McMillan was looking forward to spending his entire summer with his cousin Henry, his best friend. The night before Joss’s departure, he witnesses the brutal death of his beloved 6-year-old sister at the hands of a vampire. When his slayer-uncle recruits Joss to join the Slayer Society, Joss does not hesitate, ready to avenge his sister’s death. Called to boot camp years later, and 5 year before his 18th birthday, Joss learns to fight his demons, literal, mental and emotional.

This book is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Supernatural. It’s very action packed and violent, although the violence is not very graphic. At only 13 years of age, Joss goes through a tremendous amount of beatings that are normally reserved for the 18-year-old slayer recruits. His uncle Abraham is the leader of their troupe, and is determined to scare Joss into going back home, believing that Joss’s empathetic nature will lead to his downfall. As he trains, Joss discovers abilities within himself that could make his the strongest and youngest Slayer in history.

Although I haven’t read them, Brewer’s earlier series, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod is an incredibly popular series at the library, especially among boys. I was very excited to find this book in my mailbox and it did not disappoint.

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Book 39 of 2011

 

 

No and Me (Delphine de Vigan) – Review (Paris in July)

No and meNo and Me by Delphine de Vigan
Age: Teen
Genre: Fiction
Location: Paris
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2007
ISBN: 9781599904795
244 pages

Lou Bertignac is not like other girls. At thirteen, she is gifted beyond her years, sitting in class with students two years older than her. When put on the spot one day about a presentation topic, quick-thinking Lou agrees to do a report on homeless young women, in the form of an interview. As a result of this project, Lou meets No (Nolwenn) at one of Paris’ subway stations and the two strike an unlikely connection right away. Soon Lou realizes that its her responsibility to help No get off the streets and get back to a regularly life, anyway she can.

This was one book I could not put down. I really fell for Lou. Although I tend to stay away from books featuring gifted children, Lou felt like a normal 13 year old girl. She is an only child, with her mother stuck in a state of deep depression and her dad struggling to keep up appearances and keep everyone happy. In Lou’s words:

I’m thirteen and I can see that I’m not managing to grow up in the right way: I can’t understand the signs, I’m not in control of my vehicle, I keep taking wrong turns, and most of the time I feel like I’m stuck on the side of the road rather than on a racetrack.

Lou instantly bonds with No as a result of their distant relationships with their mothers. In fact, I would call that one of the running themes in the book. Distant mother’s effected Lou, No and Lou’s crush Lucas.

Although No is one of the central characters, I feel as if I never really got to know her. I think it was mostly because the story was told through Lou’s perspective, but I think the author intended to keep No in the dark from the readers.

At what point is it too late? From what moment? The first time I met her? Six months ago, two years ago, five years? Can you get out of a fix like that? How do you find yourself at the age of eighteen out on the streets with nothing and no one?

No is a girl with very serious problems and despite Lou’s help, No keeps falling back into her old, bad habits.

The book is written beautifully. It is very thoughtful and introspective and concise. It’s sad, but not depressing, and I’m very satisfied with the ending. It wasn’t your typical happy ending. Teens with definitely connect with either Lou, No or Lucas. Misunderstood, gifted, yet unchallenged teens trying to figure out life in very real circumstances. The book also encourages readers to look outside of their lives and see the world around them for what it really is.

Book 32 of 2011

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Little Brother (Cory Doctorow) – Review

Little brotherLittle Brother by Cory Doctorow
Age: Teen
Genre: Dystopia/Technology
Source: Public Library
Publisher: Tor, 2008
ISBN 9780765319852
382 pages
 
 
 
While cutting school one day, Marcus Yallow and his friends witness the terrorist bombing of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. In the hustle to find a safe place to hide, one of Marcus’ friends, Darryl is stabbed and badly injured. When Marcus reaches out to a federal law enforcement unit for help, he and his friends are swiftly arrested and held as potential terrorists in the eyes of homeland security, interrogated for a number of days. After his release, Marcus decides to take the law into his own hands to try to win back San Francisco as a free city with his teenage hacker skills and intricate knowledge of technology.

 

I think this is a book that many teens will definitely enjoy.  It speaks to the disaffected youth that are frustrated with authority figures, frustrated with the way the government is headed and frustrated with being forced into following rules that they have no way of contesting. I found the story to be captivating, although I am a bit biased because the book does take place in San Francisco. I have to say, it was quite eerie walking under the Bay Bridge in San Francisco only two days after having finished this book. I could really picture Doctorow’s narrative come to life walking along the Embarcadero.

Marcus is a curious character. He stumbles, he’s selfish, he’s selfless and his determination to bring down Homeland Security is something of a marvel. He is a typical teen, full of knowledge of technology and how to hack systems that most adults don’t even know about. Doctorow does a wonderful job of blurring the lines between technology in use now, and technology that hasn’t been created yet.

Doctorow knows his technology and he doesn’t mind sharing his knowledge with you. There are quite a few moments of detailed hows, why’s and what’s on various technological jargon that slowed the story considerably. Although it is interesting to a point, I did feel like some of it was just filler. I was also bothered by the severe gap between good and evil. There was no middle ground really. It was teens versus adults. The bad guys were really horrible and the good guys were just a touch smarter and much younger.

This book should definitely be read in conjunction with Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, etc. Doctorow weaves in references to these books as well as to current events in the US since 9/11.

Book 28 of 2011

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The Book of Tomorrow (by Cecila Ahern) – Review

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecila Ahern
Age:Teen – Adult
Genre: fiction / magical realism
Format: Audio CD – Read by Ali Coffey
Harper Collins, 2011
ISBN 31197103871106
7 discs (8 hr., 25 min.)
 

Tamara Goodwin enjoyed living in the lap of luxury until the abrupt suicide of her father. Having lost her friends, house and all her possessions, Tamara and her mom go to live in the country with her aunt Rosalind and Uncle Arthur. One day, when looking through books in the traveling library, Tamara comes across a locked book with no author and no title. Once she manages to break the lock, she finds that the book is actually a diary, written in her hand for the very next day. Using this book that foretells the future as a guide, Tamara somehow pieces together a story bigger than herself, in an attempt to help snap her mother out of her catatonic state.

The book of tomorrow : a novelCecila Ahern is one of my favorite authors. I loved PS I Love You and No Place Like Here. Her works of magical realism are some of my favorites in the market. This book was no exception. I found myself really enjoying it, and listening to the story unravel. I would listen to the CDs in my car during my commute to and from work. Some nights its was hard to leave my car because I would stay until the disc ended just to hear what happened next.

Tamara’s character was incredibly annoying. rude and selfish at first, seriously, who screams in someone’s ear? Her character did grow on me towards the end. With The Book of Tomorrow, Cecilia Ahern did an amazing job of keeping the reader/listener in suspense as Tamara fumbled her way through the story trying to figure out the following:

  1. what was wrong with her mom
  2. how to cope with the loss of her dad
  3. the loss of her former life
  4. how to grow into a different, nicer person
  5.  and most importantly, to figure out just why Rosalind acted so strange and sketchy around her mother.

I found Rosalind’s character to be really fascinating and complex. Although, a bit of her appeal wore off once I found out her back-story. There were some interesting plot twists that I did not expect and some that I did expect, but still enjoyed nonetheless. There characters were well developed and I loved the country-side setting for the plot. Such a serene backdrop for such a tumultuous and two-faced events.

I think this book is aimed more towards the older teens that for adults. Although there is some foul language and talk of sex, there isn’t anything graphic in the text in that regards. I think older teens will sympathize with Tamara in many ways. For not being understood, for acting out and not knowing why, for wanting attention, for wanting love, for trying to solve a mystery on her own with no one believing her story.  

The narrator: 

Ali Coffey is a wonderful narrator. Her young voice is full of the animation, frustration and insensitivity that one would expect from a 16 year old rich girl. She really brought the character of Tamara to life and I think that gave the character more depth that she would have had in written form.

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Old School – Review

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Old School by Tobias Wolff

Age: YA – Adult

This novel is set during the 1960’s in an all boys prep school somewhere in the East Coast. Every quarter an author of high regard and esteem, ie Ayn Rand, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, makes an appearance at the school and has a Q.A. with one of the faculty members. At the end of the Q.A., the author meets with one of the pre-selected students from the school. The selection process is based on the writing talents of the boys in the school. Education and literacy in particular, are taken extremely seriously at the school as all the boys vie for the attention of their peers and the influential visiting author.

This book started with a lot of promise and a lot of charm. I found the narrator to be complex, confused and a devote fan of literary work, writing and reading. As the story progressed, my interest level waned. There were many avenues where Wolff could have really created a tense atmosphere, or given more depth to the characters. A lot of the book felt very 2-D to me, and the only real meat of character development came in the last chapter, which felt forced and out of place with the rest of the novel. All in all, it wasn’t a terrible read, but it wasn’t one of my favorites either.

Book 11 of 2011

Old School
Tobias Wolff
Vintage Books, 2003
 
ISBN 0375701494
195 pages

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Old school : a novel

Call Me Kate – Review

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Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maguires by Molly Roe

Age: Teen

Call Me Kate takes place towards the beginning of the Civil War. Katie is a 14-year-old girl living in a small Pennsylvania coil mining town. After a mining accident that severely injures her father, Katie has to help her family survive and make ends meet. During a time of great prejudice and tension, Irish men in particular are sent to fight in the war if they are unable to repay $300 in debts. A secret Irish organization known as the Molly Maquires are planning something big and dangerous to counteract these standards. After finding out that a close friend of hers has become involved with this group, Katie decides that she has to do something about it.

I felt that Kate, was a very strong girl for the times. Her courage in keeping her family together during such an emotional and tumultuous times is inspirational and admirable. One thing that popped up for me while reading this book is that it would be a great piece of historical fiction for teen reading assignments. I could recommend this more for the younger teens. But it is a fascinating look at a piece of history we don’t really learn about in school.

Call Me Kate: Meeting the Molly Maquires
by Molly Roe
Tribute Books, 2009
ISBN 0-9814619-3-9
— Sent for Review by Tribute Books —

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Call me Kate : meeting the Molly Maguires

Author Information – from Tribute Books

Molly Roe Blog:
http://conversationsfromthesideporch.blogspot.com/

Molly Roe Bio:
Molly Roe is the pen name of Mary Garrity Slaby, a veteran language arts & reading teacher at Lake-Lehman Junior Senior High School. Mary holds a Ph.D. in education from Temple University, and Pennsylvania teaching certification in six areas. She has pursued the hobby of genealogy for the past decade. Mary was born in Philadelphia, raised in Schuylkill County, and currently lives in Dallas, Pennsylvania with her husband, John. They are parents of two grown children, Melissa and John Garrett, cover illustrator of Call Me Kate. Digging into the past has given Mary newfound respect for her ancestors and a better understanding of history. Call Me Kate is the first in the author’s trilogy of historical novels loosely based on the lives of the strong women who preceded her.