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Great Young Adult titles from Williamsburg Regional Library
Updated: 5 min 31 sec ago

Rot & Ruin, by Jonathan Maberry

Fri, 2014-06-06 01:01

Melissa shares this review:

I was looking for something easy to listen to and picked up the YA book Rot & Ruin without really knowing what it was about — except that it was about zombies.  I was expecting a pretty typical “run from the monsters” plot and was completely surprised by the  sympathy the author evoked for the zombies.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s action, plenty of “uh-oh the monsters might catch me” suspense, but I was surprised at who was the real monster.

The world has been changed by a cataclysm – some sort of medical or environmental disaster that caused some people, including Benny’s parents, to turn into zombies.  And as people turned to zombies, they infected others until their sheer numbers overran cities large and small…

Groups of  survivors gathered in outposts with fences and patrols to keep the zombies out.  Most people don’t venture into the “great Rot & Ruin” – the zombie- infested expanse separating the outposts from each other.

That’s the post-apocalyptic world Benny Imura has grown up in.  And he hates zombies with a white hot passion. His older brother, Tom, is a zombie hunter, supposedly one of the best.  But Benny doubts it.  His earliest memory is of Tom running away when his parents were turned to zombies.  Benny hasn’t forgiven Tom for not staying to fight.

Benny goes to school and hangs out with friends.  But some of Benny’s favorite times are when the “real” zombie hunters like Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer tell stories of how they fought zoms in the Rot & Ruin.  It sounds so cool when they tell the stories.

In the fall after Benny turns 15 he has to find a job or face having his rations cut.  When he runs out of options, he reluctantly approaches his brother about going into the family business.  But hunting zombies is not what Benny thought it would be.

There’s depth to this story, as well as lots of nail-biting tension and some really heart-wrenching revelations.  Rot & Ruin is the first in a series.  I can’t wait to see what happens next to Benny and his friends!

Check the WRL catalog for Rot & Ruin

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Rot & Ruin

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Department 19: The Rising, by Will Hill

Wed, 2014-06-04 01:01

Jessica shares this review:

Fans of Will Hill’s first book, Department 19, will not be disappointed by The Rising. In this exciting and fast-paced sequel, the Operators of Department 19 are tested beyond measure when their director, Admiral Seward, reveals that the world’s oldest and most powerful vampire, Dracula, has risen once again. As the disturbing news sparks more vampire attacks and a higher level of secrecy between department members, Jamie, Kate and Larissa all struggle to keep their bond intact. Subplots abound throughout Hill’s 600-page novel, and familiar characters such as Frankenstein and the Rusmanov brothers reappear at center stage. But there are plenty of new mysteries to be solved with the introduction of a seemingly friendly, genius scientist and a wandering desert man who knows all about vampires and the inter-workings of Department 19. Readers will find many of the aspects they loved from the first book here as well, including technological super weapons, intense battle scenes, a good level of descriptive gore and moral dilemmas that call human nature into question. The Rising is written in an almost movie script-like fashion that allows the reader to visualize the story in exceptional detail. There is no doubt that Hill is once again able to captivate readers and leave them begging for more.

Check the WRL catalog for The Rising

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Cupid, by Julius Lester

Mon, 2014-06-02 01:01

Melissa shares this review:

Today’s book is a retelling of the Greco-Roman myth of Cupid and Psyche.

The story in a nutshell: beautiful, mortal girl Psyche falls in love with Cupid, the god of love. Cupid, having never been in love himself, doesn’t trust Psyche’s feelings for him and makes stupid demands. Psyche in turn makes a dumb mistake, and they break up. Jealous mother/goddess puts girl through several tests, and just when you think she’ll make it, it looks like she won’t. But Cupid shows up at the last minute and saves the day. They live happily ever after.

Hmmm, that sounds like quite a few romance books I’ve read.

What makes Julius Lester’s book so appealing is the playful narrator who speaks directly to the reader and provides commentary on why people are behaving as they are. His lessons on love are insightful for readers of all ages. I particularly liked his observation at the end:

The interesting thing about this story is that it taught me that sometimes I act like Cupid and sometimes I act like Psyche.  Stories don’t much care who’s male and who’s female, because everybody has a little of both inside them.  That why this story and my story and your story, well, they’re all the same story.”

The audiobook, read by actor Stephen McKinley Henderson, is delightful. I could listen to Henderson’s rich, rumbly voice read the phone book and be happy. Needless to say, his narration of Cupid had me hanging on every word of the story.

Check the WRL catalog for Cupid

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Cupid

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews

Fri, 2014-05-30 01:01

Andrew shares this review:

Greg has survived until his senior year of high school by being on the fringes of everything and the center of nothing. He hides his love of film (especially the work of Werner Herzog) behind a studied indifference which also conceals his near-constant and brutal self-criticism. (He’s got some points—serious social errors, like flat out complimenting a girl for having two boobs, are enough to make anyone want to tear his own tongue in half.) His parents love him with that bumbling uncritical affection that every teen hates and he has… Earl.

Earl has shared Greg’s love of Herzog since fourth grade, when the two boys tried to film their own version of Aguirre: Wrath Of God, the masterpiece shot on location in the Amazon—kinda tough to do in the local park. Their collaboration extends to their own films: Earl: Wrath of God II, Ran IIApocalypse Later, and still others featuring Greg’s cat. The thing is, Earl couldn’t be more different than Greg: he’s an inner-city Pittsburgh kid, bright but lost at school, surrounded by unfocused, violent, drug-dealing brothers and a mother lost in alcohol and online chat rooms. Greg’s stable home is a respite for Earl, and Earl is the only person Greg can be himself around.

And then there’s the dying girl. Greg knew Rachel Kushner in Hebrew school, with all its attendant early teen drama, but they haven’t had much to do with each other since. When Rachel is diagnosed with leukemia, Greg’s mom decides it will be a mitzvah, or good deed, for Greg to spend time with her. Awkward, right? But he does, and brings Earl along in his wake. Earl lets slip the secret of their filmmaking and next thing you know Rachel is watching their movies. Even more awkward. Suddenly Greg is open to all kinds of emotional blackmail and everyone around him takes full advantage of it. Even Greg admits that it sounds like an afterschool special—treat the different kid well and you’ll rack up points, feel good about yourself, and Learn A Lesson. But real life is messy, and even Herzog’s art can’t touch it.

Jesse Andrews gives the story a sense of immediacy despite its looking back at events. Internal monologue, conversations role-played as scripts, jump cuts to real life, and Greg’s direct addresses to an unknown audience give the book the feel of documentary, but one that allows raw and sometimes hilarious access to the filmmaker’s mind. That also means Greg’s and Earl’s casual use of insult and obscenity to each other might make the language a little rough for some readers, so be warned on that front.

Check the WRL catalog for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

Wed, 2014-05-28 01:01

Jessica shares this review:

Shadow and Bone is the first in the Grisha Trilogy that takes place in the land of Ravka. Alina is unremarkable in every regard. Raised as an orphan alongside a single friend, Mal, only to become a sub-par mapmaker for the First Army, Alina has no illusions of grand beauty or remarkable skill.  Her only pull is towards Mal, who has grown to become a very handsome young tracker for the Army. They both serve together for Ravka, a land torn by war and the darkness of the Shadow Fold. Created by an evil Darkling, the Shadow Fold is a sea of complete darkness, full of flesh-eating monsters, that cuts Ravka off from the True Sea.  The Second Army, made up of those with magical abilities, has been working to undo the Shadow Fold as well.  But it seems all their power is useless against the darkness.

During an Army-led excursion attempting to cross the Shadow Fold, Alina and Mal come under attack from the “Volcra,” vicious monsters that fly out of the sky to kill anyone trying to cross the Fold.  While trying to save Mal, Alina spontaneously emits a strong radiating white light. Its raw energy leaves her unconscious and when she awakens she is among the Second Army (the Grisha). However unbelievable it may be to her, Alina is in fact a Sun Summoner, one who can call and control light.  She is the only person who has the ability to destroy the Shadow Fold and the Volcra. Taken to a Grisha training area and introduced to a whole new way of life, Alina isn’t sure how to proceed and has little faith in her own gift.  Only after extensive hard work and a close relationship with the beautiful Darkling himself does Alina began to hope she is the one who can save Ravka.

But everything may not be what it seems and Alina’s gift might turn into a curse she never could have imagined.

Check the WRL catalog for Shadow and Bone

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Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers

Mon, 2014-05-26 01:01

Melissa shares this review:

Grave Mercy is the first of Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassin series.  It takes place in Brittany in the late 1400s.  The Duke has recently died, leaving 12-year-old Anne facing many suitors for her hand and her kingdom.

Ismae, the daughter of a turnip farmer, is unaware of the precarious situation in her country.  Her world is the small village where she grew up abandoned by her mother and brutalized by her father.  When her circumstances can get no worse, she finds salvation at the hands of strangers who secret her away to the convent of St. Mortain, the ancient god of Death.  Her days are spent learning swordfighting, poisons and their uses, hand-to-hand combat, and the “womanly arts” because as a handmaiden of Death, she must be ready to use any means necessary to fulfill Mortain’s will.

During her trials to prove her readiness for service, she meets Gavriel Duval, one of the young duchess’ most trusted advisors.  Duval catches Ismae moments after she killed a traitor who was marked for death by the saint.  He follows Ismae to the convent where he tries to get the reverend mother to cooperate with his need to catch and question the traitors before they are killed.  The reverend mother neatly traps him into taking Ismae with him to court in Guerande so as to keep the convent better informed of the factions warring for the kingdom.

Viscount Crunard, chancellor of Brittany, and the reverend mother put another task to Ismae, keep Duval under surveillance to determine if he is the traitor working against the Duchess.

Now Ismae faces court intrigue, complex family dynamics and the unfamiliar feelings of falling in love.  But while out of her element, she doesn’t sit idly by and wait for orders from the Convent, nor does she follow every directive from Duval.  She shows spunk and an appealing independence.  Her training as an assassin and special talents as a follower of Mortain come in handy more than once.

And while Ismae grows impatient waiting for her saint to indicate who among the many suspects she should kill, time is running out for the young Duchess as France makes moves to invade.

Grave Mercy is a fast-paced story based on actual people and events.  While the first of a series, it neatly stands alone.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to read what comes next, but I wasn’t left unsatisfied after I read the last page.  I can see this book, and the rest of the series, appealing to adults as well as young adults.  The main characters are well-developed, and the supporting cast is interesting. And did I mention the falling in love part?  Well-written and satisfyingly believable.

I particularly enjoyed listening to the audiobook which was skillfully narrated by Erin Moon.  She did a terrific job changing her inflections for the different characters.  I especially liked hearing the correct pronunciation of the character and city names.  The audiobook is about 14 hours long.

Check the WRL catalog for Grave Mercy

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Grave Mercy

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The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud

Fri, 2014-05-23 01:01

Jessica shares this review:

This is the first installment in The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Stroud.  The story focuses on young Nathaniel, a magician’s apprentice, beginning his training in the art of magic. From the very beginning he shows incredible promise but is unfortunately paired with a sub-par and rather boring instructor. Out of boredom and internal motivation, Nathaniel begins his own private studies, quickly gobbling up book after book in the old magicians study. Things would have continued slow and steady for Nathaniel but a fateful and humiliating event leaves him burning with rage and a desire for revenge. And so begins his summon of a powerful djinni, one who can help him to get retribution on the very magician who caused him so much hurt. But the djinni, called Bartimaeus, is more formidable and cunning than Nathaniel could have imagined and his rival magician, Simon Lovelace is even more dangerous than he expected.  A simple plan turns into a catastrophic ordeal when Nathaniel orders Bartimaeus to steal a priceless token from Lovelace, the Amulet of Samarkand. Now, around every corner lurks unseen threats and hidden perils. And worst of all, Nathaniel has done the one thing a true magician is never supposed to do…he has lost control, not only of his djinni but everything around him.

Check the WRL catalog for The Amulet of Samarkand.

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Chopsticks, by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

Wed, 2014-05-21 01:01

Laura shares this review:

On the surface, this is a familiar story: teenage angst about life intertwined with a modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Gloria “Glory” Fleming is a teenage piano prodigy who is dealing with the pressures created by her talent and her career while still trying to cope with the loss of her mother several years before. She meets and falls in love with Frank Mendoza, a teen from Argentina who has recently moved in next door. Their relationship intensifies as their respective lives crumble. At the start of the book you find out that Glory has disappeared after slipping away from a rest home for musicians. The reader then traces back over the previous 18 months to find clues to where she went and why.

The actual process of reading the book is in itself a unique experience. That Chopsticks is bound like a book is indisputable but there are few words contained on the pages. Nor is it presented like a graphic novel with blocks of drawings and pops of dialogue. Instead we are asked to flip through a collection of concert programs, wine bottle labels, screenshots of IM conversations, album covers, newspaper clippings, photos, school progress reports, paintings, and more. The narrative more closely follows flipping through a stranger’s scrapbooked diary.  It is intimate but incomplete, as the characters are not asked to explain themselves or put their words into the context in which they were meant to be taken.  Are the angry words just flashes of emotion stemming from the frustration of existing in a world where you are supposed to be either an adult or a child, but not both?  Or do they expose some deeper trouble within the teenager’s psyche?

The voyeuristic view into the character’s private thoughts is slightly uncomfortable yet fascinating. There are no answers here, or at least none that are tidy or even concrete.  Individual readers will find different answers to the plot questions based on their own interpretation of the evidence presented. I found myself going back over sections multiple times after I had initially completed the book, seeing how my own view changed over time.  The only thing I knew for sure is that Glory had disappeared, and I was left with the extraordinary ache created by the human-shaped hole left behind.

Any reader, but especially those interested in the complexities of  both teens and human relationships and who don’t mind the ambiguity will be richly rewarded by investigating this book.

Check the WRL catalog for Chopsticks.

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False Memory, by Dan Krokos

Mon, 2014-05-19 01:01

Melissa shares this review:

Here’s a good fast-paced young adult novel to try.  The main character is a warrior girl, but instead of living in the time of knights and ladies, this story takes place closer to modern or near future times.

Miranda finds herself in a mall, with no memory of anything beyond her name.  When she asks the mall cop for help, he thinks she’s just playing games with him.  As she tries to explain, her head begins to hurt until at last the pain radiates outward.  She is horrified to see people flee in fear.  Unsure what’s going on, she scans the panicking crowd until she sees  a guy her age just watching her.

He tells her his name is Peter, and that he knows her.  Because he says he can explain what just happened, Miranda follows him to an underground bunker in the forest.

She discovers that she is part of a team of four genetically engineered kids who are being trained as “crowd control weapons.”  One of the side effects of the gene therapy is memory loss, which is countered by taking medicine.  She was taken off the medicine without her knowledge by one of her teammates, Noah.  Noah and the fourth member of their team, Olive, have gone missing.

Miranda and Peter must locate their missing comrades and bring them back to the facility.  But in the process they uncover the lies they have been told about their true purpose and how they came to exist.  Lots of twists and turns and double-crosses keep the action moving.  And the fight sequences are engaging and detailed.

Check the WRL catalog for False Memory

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Kill Me Softly, by Sarah Cross

Fri, 2014-05-16 01:01


Jennifer D. shares this review:

The town of Beau Rivage is filled with fairy tale characters.  There are princes and princesses, beasts and mermaids, fairies and wolves, huntsmen and match girls – but they all take the form of average citizens. All that would distinguish the teens in this tale from normal teens is a “märchen mark” or birthmark that identifies their role and destiny. Mira has a birthmark on her back that resembles a wheel, but never knew its meaning until she traveled to Beau Rivage, the town where she was born.

The only life Mira can remember is living with her extremely overprotective godmothers.  Her sixteenth birthday is only a week away and she is determined to spend it in her hometown and to find her parents’ graves.  Having concocted an elaborate plan to elude her godmothers, Mira arrives in Beau Rivage and quickly makes the acquaintance of two brothers, Felix and Blue Valentine.  While they couldn’t be more different (Felix is helpful and attentive, Blue is rude and obnoxious), Mira finds herself strangely drawn to both of them. Felix promises to help Mira find her parents’ graves, but Blue is focused on getting Mira out of town, and away from Felix, as fast as possible. Mira, however, will not be swayed from either her task or Felix’s attentions. It does seem strange, though, that no one will explain the meaning of the Valentine brothers’ heart-shaped märchen marks. What fairy tale roles do they play? What role will Mira play in their stories?

In Kill Me Softly, Sarah Cross puts a contemporary and highly entertaining spin on traditional fairy tales. Fans of the Grimms’ most gruesome stories will find much to enjoy in this modern mash-up of some of their greatest creations. While Mira’s story comes to a close in this book, the intricate mythology Cross has created for the town of Beau Rivage could potentially lend itself to a sequel.

Check the WRL catalog for Kill Me Softly.

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Alanna, The First Adventure, by Tamora Pierce

Wed, 2014-05-14 01:01

Melissa shares this review:

Tamora Pierce is an award-winning and bestselling fantasy author of young adult literature.  She has written stand alone books and short stories as well as multiple series.  Her first young adult novel, published in 1983, was Alanna, the First Adventure.

This story opens with Alanna and her twin brother Thom unhappy about their father’s decision to send them away for school.  It’s not that they don’t want to leave home and have new experiences, it’s that they wish their father would consider what they want to do.

Alanna doesn’t want to go to a convent and learn all the boring necessities of being a lady.  She wants to be a knight, a warrior maiden.  And Thom really doesn’t enjoy sword fighting and battle strategy, he’d rather be a great sorcerer.

The two decide to take their fates into their own hands and switch places.  With the help of two dedicated servants, Alanna heads to Duke Gareth of Naxen as “Alan of Trebond” to serve as a page while Thom goes to the City of Gods to study magic.  Their negligent father is none the wiser.

Alanna pays attention and learns her lessons well.  She also shows she has a strong character and doesn’t let others fight her battles.  Mixed in with the lessons and sword fights are court politics, sorcery, and the continual stress of hiding her true nature from her friends.  I kept expecting her secret to be revealed at every new scene — how long would the boys believe that “Alan” was just a small-framed boy with a fear of swimming with the group?

Alanna is a great role model — she embodies all the good qualities of a knight — but the book ends before she completes her training.  You’ll have to keep reading the series!  And don’t think just because Alanna has the makings of a hero that she’s boring.  There is plenty of mischief to keep the story clipping along.

Check the WRL catalog for Alanna, the First Adventure

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172 Hours on the Moon, by Johan Harstad

Mon, 2014-05-12 01:01

Jennifer D. shares this review:

The first thing you have to do before reading this book is accept its hard-to-believe premise. Set in the present day, NASA scientists want to boost interest in the fading space program by sending three teenagers into space. If you can get past the fact that NASA scientists would never think this was a good idea, much less that it actually comes to pass, then you’ll enjoy this book. What makes the plot a bit easier to swallow is that NASA actually has a hidden agenda. They need an excuse to send another team of astronauts to the moon, and the media circus surrounding the worldwide teen astronaut contest will mask the true purpose of the mission. NASA needs to find out if what Armstrong and Aldrin encountered in 1969 is still up there.

The three teens, Midori from Japan, Mia from Norway, and Antoine from France are chosen, trained, and sent into space along with a crew of five astronauts. The majority of the plot takes place after the team has reached the moon, however one significant event occurs to each of the three teens before takeoff. They each have an experience that is unexplained and unsettling and which almost convinces them not to go through with the mission. Someone (or something) doesn’t want humans back on the moon, and from the moment the team lands things begin to go horribly wrong. Events occur at a breakneck pace and the suspense builds to a stunning conclusion.

172 Hours on the Moon is an excellent sci-fi horror story/psychological thriller and one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. It continued to occupy my thoughts for days after I finished reading. The atmosphere is intense, drawing from the isolation of being alone on the moon accompanied by only a few others with extremely limited resources. And then the enemy reveals itself.

Check the WRL catalog for 172 Hours on the Moon.

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Vitro, by Jessica Khoury

Fri, 2014-05-09 01:01

Jessica shares this review:

Seventeen-year-old Sophie Crue lives the life of any normal teenager…she argues with her father, questions her parents’ divorce, and has a bit of trouble fitting in with her step-mom and half siblings. But everything changes when Sophie receives a mysterious and alarming email from her mother. According to the note her mother is in trouble and needs her help immediately. Sophie doesn’t think twice before hoping on a plane and heading to Guam, her childhood home, the one she shared with her parents when they were still married and working together as doctors. But from the moment she lands things start to go wrong. None of the local pilots will fly her out to the feared and isolated Skin Island her mother works on. In fact, none of them will say a word about it, other than a warning to steer clear.

When Sophie finally finds a young and daring pilot who might accept, she realizes he is her best friend from childhood, Jim Julian…though in a very grown-up and attractive form. He begrudgingly agrees to the trip but when they land on Skin Island he immediately knows they’ve made a terrible decision. Sophie’s mother is nowhere in sight and there’s no indication she was expecting them…not to mention the plane was damaged on landing by something on the landing strip.  As they branch from the plane and get closer to the islands activity hub they stumble upon an even more startling discovery. The scientists are experimenting on human embryos, and creating Vitros; humans that have been altered and raised in tanks until their teenage years when they emerge fully grown. But as more and more questions begin to arise and the danger for Sophie and Jim becomes all too apparent the reader has to ask…how will these two ever survive all that the island and the morally questionable Corpus company has to throw at them?

Also, check out Khoury’s previously published YA novel, Origin.

Check the WRL catalog for Vitro.

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The Selection, by Keira Cass

Wed, 2014-05-07 01:01

Jennifer D. shares this review:

The country of Illéa is divided into thirty-five provinces whose citizens are divided into one of eight castes. They range from Ones – the country’s royal family, to Eights – those who live on the street and have no way to support themselves. America Singer of Carolina is a Five – those with a creative ability such as singing, dancing, or acting. She has no particular aspirations of upward mobility. She only wants to perform, help support her family, and hopefully become the wife of secret love Aspen Leger. The only problem with her plan is that Aspen is a Six – a servant, and doesn’t want to be responsible for bringing America down a level. Then, when Maxon Schreave, Prince of Illéa announces that he will be choosing a wife, suddenly everything changes. It is time for the Selection.

By law, Maxon must marry a “Daughter of Illéa,” in other words, a commoner. One woman from each province will be chosen to travel to the castle to be courted by Maxon, and one will become his wife and eventual Queen of Illéa. Both Aspen and America’s mother are adamant that she enter the Selection. America eventually agrees, both to appease Aspen and because her mother has offered a very attractive bribe. She is certain the odds of being selected are extremely low, but if that were the case, we wouldn’t have much of a story to read, would we?

America becomes one of the Selected and must cope with being away from her family, her friendly and not so friendly fellow contestants, the rebels who routinely attack the castle, and the fact that portions of the Selection are televised for the nation to see. Oh, and that she likes Maxon much more than she ever thought she would. Making matters even more difficult, Aspen dumps her before she leaves Carolina, but she is still very much in love with him. One thing America has going for her is that she is no shrinking violet, which Maxon finds quite appealing. Readers will find it appealing, too. You will root for her, feel her pain, and be proud when she stands her ground.

Check the WRL catalog for The Selection.

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Divergent, by Veronica Roth

Mon, 2014-05-05 01:01

Lizzy shares this review:

Divergent is a novel that drags you to the future of the world. It describes how after a war people divided themselves into five groups. Each group has a quality they represent (Abnegation: The Selfless, Candor: The Honest, Erudite: The Intelligent, Amity: The Peaceful, Dauntless: The Brave). The story centers on a 16 year old girl who lives in Abnegation. When she goes to take her test (to see what faction she tends towards) she learns she’s special; she’s Divergent. The test proctor tells her to never tell anyone. The characters that form are un-believably amazing. Readers are easily attached to them thanks to the author spending time developing them. The setting helps the reader understand the personalities of the factions they are in. Abnegation members are known as “Stiffs” and live in plain houses. The Dauntless live in a dark pit which leads to a tense atmosphere. The plot seems to keep you hanging over a building as you wait to be dropped. The mix of danger and emotion keeps the reader wanting more. In conclusion, Divergent is an excellent book for young adults and older.

Check the WRL catalog for Divergent.

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Ashen Winter, by Mike Mullin

Fri, 2014-05-02 01:01

Jan shares this review:

A very important question for people who love to read is, can the sequel ever be as good as first book? And in this case the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’!

I blogged on Mike Mullin’s debut novel Ashfall previously, and I have been anticipating reading the sequel Ashen Winter ever since. In Ashfall a supervolcano erupted under Yellowstone National Park and sixteen year old Alex sets off on an odyssey from his home in Iowa to find his family in Illinois. The ash has destroyed the plants, killed the livestock (from breathing the ash), and poisoned the water. In Ashfall  some people are kind, and Alex meets Darla who will become the love of his life. Ten months on in Ashen Winter people’s desperation is growing. No summer came, possibly presaging the beginning of an unbelievably long and cold volcanic winter. Stored food is running out, and the last supplies of necessities we take for granted like antibiotics and gasoline are also running out. Alex struggles to stay true to the values he didn’t even know he had. In a world full of human cruelty and even cannibalism  he wants to save everyone who is innocent. Even his previously mild, spineless father resorts to violence leading Alex to think, “The disaster had warped the landscape of our minds – perhaps even more than it had altered the physical landscape.”

Ashen Winter is as dark as Ashfall and goes at the same breakneck pace. The problems of survival are just as intense, and the characters continue to change and grow in a believable way. I find some apocalyptic books, movies or TV series fascinating in the beginning as the characters deal with how to survive their disasters. Then too many of them descend into soap opera, where the story centers around who is hooking up with whom, rather than who will actually be able to survive to be able to hook up with anyone.

Like its predecessor, Ashen Winter is an apocalyptic read that is a good choice for both teens and adults. Try it if you enjoyed The Hunger Games or even less well known books like Monument 14.

Check the WRL catalog for Ashen Winter

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Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

Wed, 2014-04-30 01:01

Charlotte shares this review:

Forty years before this young adult fantasy opens, a truce ended a bloody conflict between human and dragon kingdoms. For the generation that has grown up in peace, dracomachia—the art of fighting dragons—has been forgotten and knights have been sent into exile. Despite old prejudices, lingering hatred between species, and the occasional street riot, nobody’s been burnt to a crisp in ages.

Well, a prince has been recently decapitated. In a suspiciously dragonish manner.

Seraphina Dombegh is assistant music master to the royal court, where the festivities marking the 40th anniversary of the truce place her in the thick of intrigue among the ruling family and visiting ambassadors. The celebrations must go on… even while Seraphina, with Lucian Kiggs, the captain of the Queen’s Guard, investigates signs that Goredd’s remaining heirs are also in danger. Unfortunately, Seraphina, having grown up with a heavy load of family secrets and parental disapproval, has learned to approach life through layers of disguise and deception, including a habit of lying that comes between her and the charming Kiggs… who’s engaged to someone else anyway.

Hartman’s contribution to this traditional fantasy setting is her entertaining take on dragon kind, highly intelligent but essentially other, gifted at higher math but with a Vulcan disdain for human emotions and the way that passions dictate human lives. “They’re nothing but feral file clerks,” complains one character, “they used to alphabetize the coins in their hoards.” Dragons can take human form, and the most entertaining characters are the ones who pass for human, but without really understanding what makes people tick. Dragons who become too human are policed by censors, and if they’re determined to be emotionally compromised, they may need to have their brains excised. The conflict between logic and art, left brain and right will be a familiar one for veterans of original Star Trek.

Seraphina has her own psychological complications: repeating visions of 17 figures, which she’s learned to control by a sort of lucid dreaming she calls “cognitive architecture.” As lives and the uneasy peace are threatened, the figures from her visions start to surface in real life, and her search for the remaining mystery characters is sure to continue in the sequel.

Check the WRL catalog for Seraphina

Categories: Read This

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

Mon, 2014-04-28 01:01

Michelle B. shares this review:

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, is a unique epistolary novel which begins with the letters of Verity, an English spy being held captive in France by the Gestapo during World War II. Under duress, Verity is ordered to recount her role in the war effort through a series of letters which are consequently read by the Gestapo. She fiercely and with a great deal of cheek, writes about why she joined the war effort as well as her “sensational” friendship with fellow soldier and female pilot, Maddie. Verity’s courage and anger shines through these letters which range from tragically funny (Verity’s cover was blown when she looked the wrong way when crossing the road in Nazi occupied France) to solemn and poignant (Verity’s tales from the warfront). The more Verity writes, the more readers, and the Gestapo, get the feeling that there may be more to her story than she is telling.

An espionage story, Code Name Verity is a tightly plotted roller coaster
with the bonus of a fully realized portrayal of a strong female friendship,
something rather special when so much of popular Young Adult fiction
heavily focuses on romance. Elizabeth Wein is a master of detail and
everything from the mechanics of flight (Wein is a pilot herself) to the
incredible characterization of Maddie and Verity make the story feel alive.
This spy novel contains an immense amount of compelling humanity not
usually found in the genre, making Code Name Verity a potent combination
which will keep readers guessing as they are reading and stay with them
long after.

Check the WRL catalog for Code Name Verity.

Categories: Read This

Between the Lines, by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer

Fri, 2014-04-25 01:01

Melissa shares this review:

This is a fairy tale romance, but with a twist.

Mother/daughter team Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer explore what it might be like for characters when the book closes. Do they just stand around and wait for the reader to pick up where he or she left off, or do the characters have their own lives between the pages? In this story, the answer is that the characters live out their own lives until the book opens and they play their parts.

Delilah’s “real life” isn’t that great. She is in high school now, but still doesn’t have many friends—and her mom is always busy with work. Her main pleasure is reading. She particularly loves the story of Oliver and his quest to save Seraphima from a wicked magician. Even though the fairy tale is really meant for younger readers, Delilah reads the book again and again. It makes her happy to read how Oliver overcomes various challenges by using his wits. What she finds particularly appealing is that Oliver had to grow up without a father and so did she.

One day she is more than surprised when she notices a change in one of the illustrations.  She’s certain she would have remembered that design in the sand in the hundreds of times she read the book before…

When Oliver realizes that Delilah noticed the chess board he accidentally left in the sand during a break in the reading of the story, he is determined to make a connection to her. He shouts out—and Delilah hears him! At last he has a chance to leave the story and make his own adventures.

The rest of the story is Delilah and Oliver building a relationship despite coming from such different backgrounds (he is a prince, after all) and exploring ways for Oliver to leave the confines of the story. Can the magic of the story be altered to let a character escape to live his own life—or, once something is written, is it always the same?

I admired the story for not making a simple solution to the problem. Oliver can’t just write himself out of the book. And it doesn’t work out so well when Oliver tries to write Delilah into the story. On top of all that, Delilah is talking to a character in her book like he’s a real person—is she going crazy?

Between the Lines is an original, entertaining story about young friendship/love and a quest to be together. The story is cleverly split three ways: the original fairy tale story, Oliver’s point of view, and Delilah’s point of view. It is obvious when you’re reading the book which person’s perspective is being told. I also listened to this on audiobook and was easily able to follow the different voices. I hope to see more collaborative efforts from this team of writers!

Check the WRL catalog for Between the Lines.

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Between the Lines.

Categories: Read This

Unspoken, by Sarah Rees Brennan

Wed, 2014-04-23 01:01

Charlotte shares this review:

“Sorry-in-the-Vale, Sorriest River, Crying Pools,” said Jared. “Is the quarry called Really Depressed Quarry?”

“Yes,” Kami answered. “Also I live on the Street of Certain Doom.”

Many young children have an imaginary friend, but not many teenagers. Kami Glass doesn’t advertise the fact that she hears someone else’s voice in her head. She doesn’t want the rest of her home town, Sorry-in-the-Vale, to think she’s crazy. She’d prefer they think of her as an intrepid investigative reporter tracking leads for her next big story. But her latest act of journalism, an investigation into the aristocratic Lynburn family—just returned to their ancestral manor after a generation’s absence—brings her face to face with someone even she didn’t believe existed: Jared, the guy who’s been sharing her thoughts for seventeen years.

For someone she’s been talking to her whole life, Jared isn’t what she expected. And although she’s predisposed to trust him, everyone else, even the boy’s mother, is warning her about his mysterious past and his violent temper. Meanwhile, something’s going on in Sorry-in-the-Vale: foxes killed in the woods, young women attacked in town. The investigation is getting deadly, and Kami really needs to know who she can trust.

Kami as telepathic Nancy Drew is a great, self-rescuing heroine with an entertaining entourage of friends. Author Brennan writes great villains of all stripes, some absolutely steeped in villainy and others conflicted with twinges of regrettable morality.

Set among the woods and lakes of the English Cotswolds, this first of a series plays with all of the elements of Gothic novels: the town full of secrets, the brooding rebel, and the foreboding house, with its motifs of drowned women and doorknobs shaped like clenched fists. If you were filming it, you’d have a hard time choosing one color palette: the atmosphere varies from lighthearted, Scooby Doo-style clue-hunting to shadow-drenched menace. The combination of adventure, smart-aleck commentary, heady emotional confusion, and one very dysfunctional family reminded me of Holly Black’s Curse Workers series, and readers of one should definitely try the other.

Check the WRL catalog for Unspoken.

Categories: Read This