Wednesday, January 30, 2013

a certain october--Angela Johnson

Title: a certain october
Author: Angela Johnson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2012
Pages: 158 p.
Source: Library
Compensation: None

I'm a big fan of Angela Johnson (see my other reviews here) and a certain october is no exception. Johnson writes short, quick, powerful, emotional books that are perfect for reluctant readers or just short-on-time readers. She packs a lot in her small packages.

Scotty's life is not too easy or too hard, she gets along with her stepmother and her autistic half-brother, has good friends, and does okay in school. And then one day she is in a terrible train accident in which a classmate is killed and her brother is seriously injured. Dealing with severe survivor's guilt and depression, Scotty must find a way to forgive herself and continue living.

Johnson is a master at raw emotion. Her books are "easy" to read, but difficult to digest. Although there are some adult situations and language, this is a perfect book to discuss as a group.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Enchanted--Alethea Kontis

Title: Enchanted
Author: Alethea Kontis
Publisher: Harcourt, 2012
Pages: 308 p.
Source: Library
Compensation: None

Think of your favorite fairy tale and chances are good that at least a  part of it is in Alethea Kontis's Enchanted. The story opens with seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Sunday, writing down her family story when she is interrupted by a talking frog. Everyone knows that a talking frog is an enchanted frog who must be kissed for the spell to be broken. After a friendly conversation Sunday complies with the frog's request for a kiss, but he remains a frog. Luckily they live in fairy tale land where insta-love is not only common, but encouraged, so it only takes three days for her love to be strong enough to transform him back into a man. Unluckily for Sunday she misses the transformation and assumes her beloved frog has perished in a storm. Doubly unlucky for her, her frog has turned into the very Prince thought to be responsible for her older brother's death and her family's misfortune. How can Prince Rumbold convince her and her family that he deserves her love?

There are elements of Cinderella, The Frog Prince (obviously), Jack & the Beanstalk, folklore (seventh son stories), fairies, godmothers, and probably more I am forgetting. Fairy tale fans will be entertained by spotting all the references and seeing how Kontis weaves them into her larger story. Kontis does a good job of borrowing familiar elements but still writing her own tale. This is a delightful story sure to please readers.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sacred--Elana K. Arnold

Title: Sacred
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Publisher: Random House Children's Books, 2012.
Pages: 368 p.
Source: VOYA
Compensation: None 

Life can be separated into two distinct parts for 16-year-old Scarlet Wenderoth: before and after her brother's death. Before his death she was happy and popular and had big future plans. After his death she is depressed and withdrawn, finding it difficult to relate to the people she once loved. It does not help that her mother is so distraught and grief-stricken that she does not see Scarlet withering away. Her father is consumed with worry for his wife, so Scarlet is able to skip meals and cut herself with no parental intervention. Scar—even her nickname is symbolic—is painfully broken and wasting away until she meets a strange boy, Will, who somehow senses her secrets and is drawn to save her.

Arnold has written a poignant novel of loss and grief, but also of hope. Scarlet and Will are both hurting from their own losses and secrets, but together they are able to heal. Teens will be attracted to Scarlet’s melancholy and hidden despair, as well as Will’s heroic desire to rescue his damsel in distress. As much as Will wants to save her, ultimately it is Scarlet who has to pick herself up off the ground and choose life over death. Teens will root for her as she struggles and will be pleased to know her story continues in a planned sequel. 

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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Such Wicked Intent--Kenneth Oppel

Title: Such Wicked Intent
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 310 p.
Source: library
Compensation: None

Victor Frankenstein is a lonely grief-stricken sixteen-year-old boy mourning the death of his twin brother and his inability to save his brother's life. He is sad and moody and inconsolable until he discovers the unthinkable--a way into the world of death--and attempts to bring his brother back to life. He is aided by his brother's love Elizabeth and their best friend Henry.

I was sucked into this story from the very beginning. I've enjoyed Kenneth Oppel's work in the past and that was part of the reason I picked this book off the new YA book shelf without knowing much about it (more on that later). Oppel has done a great job of creating a teen version of Frankenstein--the scientist not the monster we erroneously call Frankenstein--we can see how Victor starts off with understandable intentions, to be reunited with his twin, but then quickly becomes consumed with power and less noble motivations. The setting and time period are firmly established by Oppel; there is a good blend of modern science and old world magic. Elizabeth and Henry are not quite as complete as Victor is, but that's okay. This is Victor's story and his is the one we want to read about.

The entire time I was reading I felt like I was *in the middle* of Victor's story, that it had already begun and I was just allowed to witness this episode. I thought it was just a literary device and was not bothered by it at all. In fact, I liked it and thought it worked well. Then, just moments ago, as I was thinking I had better write my review soon the title "His Dark Endeavor" came to me. I didn't know why. I searched it and sure enough Such Wicked Intent is Book TWO of The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein with the first book This Dark Endeavor (I was close). I did not feel like I was missing anything having not read the first book, Such Wicked Intent easily stands alone, but now I understand a few of the references to Victor's previous exploits.

This is a perfect gateway into Mary Shelley's classic Frankenstein. Teens (or grownups) who have already read the original will be interested in this story of the doctor's past and the events that shaped him into the man who created the monster. Teens who have not yet read Frankenstein may be prompted to pick it up after reading Oppel's page-turner prequel(s).

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