SUMMER READING 2016: 5 Guest Reviews from Tweens & Teens

Summer Reading is on! We’re having a great summer at BCPL with events ranging from fitness activities to a lab with the Kentucky Science Center to awesome magic shows. But the heart of Summer Reading will always be books and reading.

And we’re so excited with the response we are receiving from the participants in our 2016 Reading Challenges. Here are just a few of the book reviews we’ve received so far; more will be posted here over the month to come. Thanks to all of our guest reviewers for sharing!

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Sara Nickerson
Reviewer: Tyler W., Age 10
Tyler’s Rating: 3/5 Stars
Genre: Graphic Novel/Mystery
Audience: Tween/Teen

Tyler’s Summary & Review:  A boy and his mom move into a mansion only to find out weird things keep happening. It’s ok. Kind of a long book.

Quarterback Sneak by Jake Maddox
Reviewer: Tyler W., Age 10
Tyler’s Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Sports Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween

Tyler’s Summary & Review:  A quarterbacks suddenly starts acting very strange, which puts the team in major jeopardy.I enjoyed this book, I can relate to one of the characters because he wants to help his team. I also have a passion for football.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Reviewer: Katelynn W., Age 11
Katelynn’s Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction/School Story
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween

Katelynn’s Summary & Review:  A boy has a facial disease and has a hard time “fitting in” at school and out of school. I am here to tell you that I really think you should read this book. First, the book makes me feel like I’m in the story experiencing what is going on. Next, the book has really good detail to make me imagine everything that is going on. Last, the book has a really good story behind that and it has a good plot. That is why you should read the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Enjoy!?

EXTRA: Tracy’s Thoughts: I couldn’t agree more with Katelynn’s rating and review! I loved this book back when I read it, hence its inclusion on our Best of 2012 book list for middle grade and tween readers and my whining over its exclusion from the 2013 Youth Media Awards. Here’s my brief overview from one of our Book Picks lists:

Ten-year-old Auggie was born with extreme facial abnormalities. When he was younger, he used to wear a space helmet all the time just to hide from the stares. Now Auggie—homeschooled all his life—is ready to come out of hiding and is set to begin fifth grade at a private Manhattan middle school. Heartbreaking, funny, and simply wonderful in every way, Wonder is a must-read for book lovers of all ages. Ages 8 and up

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield
Reviewer: Katelynn W., Age 11
Katelynn’s Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Genre: Animal Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade

Katelynn’s Summary & Review: A zebra and other animals get captured and have to train to be gladiators. Once they train, they have to fight to earn their freedom.

I think you should read the book Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield. First, this book has some great facts about the Romans and other things. Next, the book has really great humor. Last, the book has a lot of feeling in it. That is why I think you should read the book Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Reviewer: Kaylee F., Age 12
Kaylee’s Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
Audience: Teen/Young Adult

Kaylee’s Summary & Review: The storyline is about a girl named Bella Swan and when she moves in with her dad at the town of Forks. I thought this book was a great start to an amazing series.The story itself was great because it explained how Bella felt at all times in amazing words and vocabulary. I loved the characters a lot because they all were a big part of an amazing story. I loved the setting because when the author wrote to explain the setting she made it feel like I was actually looking at it myself. I just enjoyed this book so much I couldn’t even put it down. You should really read this book and fall in love with it just as I did.

EXTRA: Tracy’s Thoughts: As Kaylee says, this book is compulsively readable. I couldn’t put it down and read the entire book (about 500 pages) in a single night. I have a few issues with the book (Edward’s stalker tendencies, for one), but nothing that prevented me from staying up till about 6:00 in the morning until I finished!

Are you interested in submitting a guest review? Use the submission form on our website to share your thoughts (positive, negative, or in between) about your latest read. And remember: eligible BCPL patrons earn an entry in our Summer Reading Grand Prize Drawing for each review they submit!

GUEST REVIEW: The Boleyn Deceit by Laura Anderson

Allison, our Outreach/Programs Supervisor here at BCPL is back with another guest review! This time, she’s got me hooked. I think I’m going to have to read this book (and its prequel) for myself!  –Tracy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Genre: Alternatie History/Speculative Fiction
Audience: Adult/Young Adult Crossover
Series: Boleyn Trilogy #2

Summary: What if Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII had a son who’d grown up to be king? With his regency period over, King Henry IX is sitting the throne of England trying to maneuver palace intrigue, war on the horizon, passion, and secrecy. His legitimacy still doubted, tensions are at a heightened state with the Catholics, and he is betrothed to the young princess of France. But he is still enchanted with his childhood love, Minuette, and the court is beginning to take note. Even more scandalous is the fact that Minuette is in love with another—Henry IX’s best friend. Will the secrets of the court change the course of an empire?

First Line: “You will not tell me what I can and cannot do with my own son!”

Allison’s Review:
Rarely do I find a book that I read cover to cover in basically one sitting. Rarely do I find a book that while completely fiction, mirrors actual historical events in a way to keep me interested. Rarely do a find a quick-paced storyline that is also detailed. And rarely do I find a book in which the author has been able to take such artistic license with history in order to write their fiction yet stay so true to many aspects of real-world historical events. This book—and in fact both books in this series published thus far—have managed to accomplish all of this!

If we were to imagine a living male heir of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, William Tudor (King Henry IX) is that heir. Watching him come of age, with a mixture of the personalities and characteristics of both his parents, is mesmerizing. And the political intrigue (of which I am not usually a fan) is captivating. The love triangle surrounding Minuette is thought-provoking. Sinister plots abound. Henry IX’s sister Elizabeth is a beloved royal princess who’s to be married off in a diplomatic bargain, yet the character we know as Elizabeth I is evident.

Most enjoyable for me in this storyline is the constant mystery and intrigue that sends you catapulting between one imagined outcome and another. And, the teaser chapter from the next installment in the trilogy, The Boleyn Reckoning, leaves me asking the question: Can the release date of July 15th get here already?

REVIEW: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Audience: Teen/Young Adult

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Win is an outsider at his exclusive Vermont boarding school, and that’s
the way he wants it. It’s safer for him, and, perhaps more importantly,
safer for his classmates. Something wild and dangerous lives inside him ready to emerge at any moment, and he can’t wait. When a dead body is found in the woods near his school, Win believes he’s responsible, that his inner wolf has finally found a way to come out. But will Win ever truly be able to break free, or will the tragedies of his childhood trap him forever? 

First Line: “I don’t feel the presence of God here.”

Tracy’s Thoughts:
This book pulled me in from the first moment and never let me go. I picked it up early on a Saturday morning, and I didn’t want to leave the tormented mind of Drew/Win for even a minute. Three hours later, I was hungry (no breakfast yet) and needed to use the bathroom, but I was completely full of awe at Kuehn’s writing, particularly the perfect interweaving of voice, character, and pacing. I needed several moments to process what I had just read. What I had experienced, thanks the amazing voice of its troubled narrator(s).

Readers are presented with a character study and mystery from two directions. In the present, Win is a bitter loner, angry and undeniably weird. His thoughts are strange and philosophical and his mind is clearly (or at least probably) confused. No one understands him, and he does not understand himself either. A dead body was found in the woods and Win suspects he’s responsible, though he has no memory of killing anyone. As a reader, I was aware something terrible had happened—leaving Win alone and abandoned—and I wanted desperately to understand his past and what was happening to him in the present. Is he crazy? Is he a werewolf, as he seems to believe? Is he both?

In the past, Drew (Win’s name before the Something Terrible happened) is ten years old and—like the present Win—suffers from severe motion sickness and has strange thoughts and impulses. There is a pervasive sense of doom, though the source of Drew’s troubles is merely hinted at. Through both alternating narratives, Kuehn reveals bits and pieces of the past and their consequences in the present, so that readers are kept constantly on edge, always adjusting and readjusting theories about Win.

Win’s not a particular likeable guy, but it is impossible to read his
confused and caustic words in juxtaposition with his past without feeling sympathy and fascination. I was
determined to unravel the mystery of Win’s past and present. And even
when I thought I understood what was going on in Win’s mind, there was
always a niggle of doubt where I wondered if Win’s strange, confused
thoughts were true after all.The uncertainty and fascination created through voice and structure are the heart of Kuehn’s amazing storytelling in this novel. And the writing itself is beautiful, unsettling, and—even though I suspected the big reveal at the end—completely gutwrenching.

Charm & Strange isn’t a perfect book, but it is powerful and emotionally intense from start to finish. Although a handful of recent YA books have held me in their spell (e.g., this one, this one, and this one), not since first reading Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl have I been so completely absorbed and unwilling to put a book down.

FLASH REVIEWS: 5 Great Wordless Picture Books of 2013

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Audience: Preschool–Grade 2
This wordless lift-the-flap book seamlessly reproduces the grace and movement of live animation. Clumsy, round Flora wishes to dance, so she watches and imitates a tall, elegant flamingo. Despite comical poses and a few mishaps, the mismatched pair eventually find their rhythm in a surprisingly graceful ballet. Expansive white space across the two-page spreads allow the dancers and Flora’s facial expressions to shine. This is visual storytelling at its best, with a bonus interactive component for hands-on children who enjoy lifting flaps and controlling the pace.

 Bluebird by Bob Staake
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Kindergarten–Grade 3
A muted palette of blues and grays is offset by a bright, cheery bluebird in this graphic-novel style wordless picture book. A lonely boy in the city is befriended by a bluebird until tragedy strikes. The illustrations of the boy—who, like the rest of the book’s images, is composed of minimalistic geometric shapes—still manages to perfectly convey his emotions of isolation, joy, fear, and hope. But beware, this book also has the potential to be upsetting (or confusing) for certain readers. Despite the potentially controversial last pages, this book is a fine exploration of friendship, sacrifice, loss, and hope. It may serve as a wonderful discussion opener for topics like bullying and grief in the right hands. The boy’s expressions and actions in themselves may provide insight for children regarding emotional sensitivity and how to interpret (and appreciate) the feelings of others through visual cues.

Journey by Aaron Becker
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Audience: Preschool–Grade 3
This magical, gloriously illustrated picture book about a girl’s adventure into an enchanted land begins with boredom in the the ordinary world and a fat red marker reminiscent of Harold’s purple crayon. (The beginning also reminds me somewhat of John Rocco’s Blackout, although the solution here is quite different.) Determined and fearless, the girls faces challenge after challenge before returning home to an unexpected surprise. The strong narrative, bold artwork, and imaginative settings will inspire awe and fascination.Young readers who enjoy fantasy and flights of imagination won’t want to miss this one! Journey definitely gets my vote when Caldecott time rolls around (not that I have a vote :)) (BCPL copies on order)

Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Preschool–Grade 2
David Weisner (Tuesday and Flotsam) is pretty much the king of wordless picture books, and his latest offering doesn’t disappoint. With bold, well-balanced artwork presented in a combination of full-page spreads and panels, he creates a secret world that humans cannot detect. The cat, Mr. Wuffles, however, can’t help but be intrigued by the tiny spaceship toy and whatever drama may exist within. Animal lovers in particular will adore this comical tale.

Inside Outside by Liz Boyd
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Audience: Preschool–Grade 2

This book follows a boy and
his dog playing inside and outside through the seasons. Die-cut windows
allow the reader to view the scenes both in juxtaposition, and out from spread to
spread. It’s a simple but brilliant concept. The natural-toned pages and myriad homey details add further interest. This is a book that begs to be experienced over and over so that each detail can be absorbed and appreciated.

REVIEW: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook

Summary: Katey Kontent and her roommate meet Tinker Gray by chance on New Year’s Eve 1937 at a jazz bar in Greenwich Village. Both girls are fascinated by the sophisticated yet boyish banker and the trio struck up an immediate if tenuous friendship. That meeting and the resulting friendship leads to far-reaching consequences for each of their lives. The novel focuses on Katey’s life and choices of the following year, as she finds herself forming new relationships and mingling in the upper echelons of New York society.

First Line: “On the night of October 4th, 1966, Val and I, both in late middle age, attended the opening of Many Are Called at the Museum of Modern Art—the first exhibit of the portraits taken by Walker Evans in the 1930s on the New York subway with a hidden camera.”

Tracy’s Thoughts: First, let me say that I adored this book. Amor Towles’s rich language and vivid description bring to life a fully realized world and nuanced characters I did not want to leave behind. I don’t think the setting could have been any better depicted. The dialog, the real-life settings—everything comes together perfectly to recreate the golden ear of Manhattan, reminiscent of classic movies starring the likes of Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, or Katherine Hepburn. Towles creates a lush yet uneasy world of artifice and hidden agendas that intrigues and delights. For its emphasis on betrayals, disappointments, class tensions and iniquities, Rules of Civility has even been compared to works of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

But Katey is not your average socialite-wannabe. She is also a bit of an enigma herself, having recreated herself more than once, but she does not put on airs or deny her humble origins. She is a devoted reader (an interest which plays quietly but significantly into her story) and is determined to earn her own way. As a narrator, Katey is sharp-tongued, witty, and just a little vulnerable. As her choices throughout the year reveal their consequences, the reader can’t help but feel her disappointment, uncertainty, and determination. As circumstances shift and new opportunities arise, Katey proves herself a worthy—though far from perfect—heroine.

Instead of huge events, this is a novel full of a series of small
revelations and shifts in circumstance that simultaneously feel both startling and inevitable.
Earlier clues and dropped threads reappear in a way that feels natural
and realistic rather than manipulative. But ultimately, this is a book that will appeal to readers more interested in character development that plot-driven narratives.With its careful, subtle plotting, intriguing characters, and atmospheric setting, it was the perfect book for me. It is a superbly told story of random chance, everyday life-altering decisions, and reinvention. All in all, a perfect read as the New Year approaches.

Tracy’s Favorite YA Reviews

It’s hard to believe, but Book News & Reviews hit its two-year anniversary back in August! More than 70 reviews later, I’ve given out only a handful of 5 and 4.5 star reviews so readers would know which books really stand out for me. Many of those selections have been YA books, so to wrap up Teen Read Week, I thought today would be a great time to look back on some of my favorite teen titles reviewed here on the blog.

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Reviewed: August 9, 2011

This book is still very close to my heart. It was my very first review for Book News & Reviews, but more importantly I read it at a time when, like Amy, I was coping with my own grief and guilt over the loss of a loved one. Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour deals with some difficult issues, but it is also an undeniably fun book about music, friendship, and adventure. It made me cry, it made me laugh, and it made me reflect. Amy and Roger’s playlists inspired me to create my own mixes in memory of my mother, a task which gave me something concrete to do and helped me deal with her loss. Sometimes you are lucky enough to discover the perfect book at just the right time. I’m glad that I found Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour when I did. Read my original review »

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewed: December 6, 2011

Now that Divergent is one of the “It” books, with a devoted fandom and a highly anticipated movie on the way, I can proudly say that I discovered it fairly early on. (I actually read it months before I wrote my review because I was waiting for library copies to come in.) As I said in my original review, I liked it far it more than The Hunger Games. For me, Tris is a more believable character and I love the dynamic between Tris and Four. Which makes me wonder why I STILL haven’t read Insurgent although it’s been sitting by my bedside since shortly after the release date. I think secretly I know the wait for the final book would drive me crazy. But since Allegiant comes out this month, it may be safe to proceed… Read my original review »

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Reviewed: December 23. 2011

This book was such a surprise to me. There was very little buzz, and it wasn’t a contender when awards time rolled around. But, trust me, it’s a gem. This is what I wrote in my original review:

Intertwining a gripping survival story with a sweet tale of first love, I’ll Be There
is one of the best, most heartfelt books I’ve read in ages. It’s one of
those stories that completely mesmerizes you and still lingers in your
mind weeks later. And puts a smile on your face. There is a magic to
Sloan’s prose: it is thoughtful and yet carries an immediacy that makes
each page a joy to read. There is nothing flashy in her writing; it is
vivid and precise, allowing the extraordinary characters and their
predicaments to move the story along. Am I sounding a bit fan-girl crazy
and over-the-top in my praise? I apologize. But. I love this book.

Excessive and gushy perhaps, but I stand by what I wrote 100%. Read the full original review »

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewed: February 22, 2012

Unlike I’ll Be There, this is a book that was on everyone’s radar. Well, anyone remotely familiar with YA literature who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past few years. Almost universally known as the book that will have you crying your way through at least one box of Kleenex, The Fault in Our Stars actually did not push those particular buttons for me. It was heartbreaking but, for me, not tear-inducing. Instead, I simply enjoyed the heck out of the smart, quirky, book-loving characters and John Green’s always stellar dialogue. Read my original review »

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewed: June 23, 2012

This is the fifth book in the series and easily my favorite yet. I wasn’t fully on board the Mortal Instruments bandwagon early on, although I enjoyed the books well enough. I simply felt that Clare’s writing was not as polished as I wanted it to be. I got a kick out of her sharp, snarky humor and strong characterizations, but I also spotted a lot of plot inconsistencies. Maybe that was related to errors in the audiobook recordings, but I doubt it. But City of Lost Souls won me over once and for all. The tension and angst were at full throttle from start to finish, and the audiobook was fantastic. (Seriously, I am so glad the producers ditched Ed Westwick and stuck with Molly Quinn on her own.) The City of Bones movie may have been a HUGE disappointment, but I can’t wait till the final installment of the series comes out in May 2014. Read my original review »

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbotsky
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Reviewed: August 16. 2012

I was a late discoverer of this fabulous cult classic. My love for this book is mostly down to the strong, engaging voice. The fact that it’s set during in the 1990s, when I was a high school student myself, probably has a little something to do with it at well. This is an engrossing, full story with excellent characterizations and relatable issues. Although on the surface my high school experience was nothing like Charlie’s, I still felt like we had everything in common. I especially recommend the audiobook, which brings out Charlie’s voice perfectly.
Read my original review »

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewed: February 11, 2013

This book made a huge impression on the 2013 Youth Media Award committees (<—check out that cover to see the evidence), and it’s clear why. The simple narrative, without any unnecessary literary embellishments, packs a powerful punch. This is a novel that succeeds on multiple levels and tackles A LOT of issues without ever becoming heavy handed or preachy. In hindsight, I am seriously tempted to bump up my star rating to a five!  Read my original review »

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewed: June 12, 2013

Urban fantasy meets horror meets historical fiction in this near-perfect series opener. The 1920s have never been creepier or more intriguing, and I love the diversity of the characters and personalities.This is a book that works both as a self-contained novel and as a wonderful lead-in for the rest of the series. Although I read it months ago, The Diviners is a book that I keep coming back to in my mind over and over. I can’t wait to see what comes next and how the many disparate characters will eventually come together.  Read my original review »

If you’re interested, other books I’ve awarded 4.5 or 5 stars to include:

FLASH REVIEWS: YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge, Check-In #2

Eight down… and seventeen more to go. That’s not a very encouraging statistic considering I began this challenge back in February and I now have only until 11:59 p.m. (because every minute counts!) on Saturday, June 22nd to live up to my reading pledge. But as this is Summer Reading season and I HATE to fail at anything, I still think I can do it. Maybe. Possibly. Okay, my chances aren’t great, but I refuse to give up!

Anyway, here are the three books that I have read for the challenge and haven’t yet reviewed. (Thumbs up on all three, by the way. Although one definitely stands out for me far and above the others.)

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Fantasy/Mystery/Paranormal Romance
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
I soooo wanted to love this book. And I did like it—a lot. But for me it did not quite have the same magic and ingenuity that made The Scorpio Races so enthralling. I think part of the problem is that I missed the first-person narration that allowed me to empathize so strongly with previous Stiefvater characters. (Although switching to third-person narration does fix the tendency I’ve noticed wherein Steifvater’s dual narrators often read as too alike and not fully distinct from one another.) But ultimately The Raven Boys lacked the lyrical qualities that drew me to Shiver and (most particularly) The Scorpio Races.

That is not to say that the book isn’t well written. It is, very much so. And the premise is intriguing. Blue is an interesting, likeable character who comes from a family of clairvoyants but remains a bit of an outsider. After all, she is not clairvoyant herself, though her presence somehow acts as an amplifier for others’ gifts. Meanwhile, there are the “Raven Boys” of Aglionby Academy. Gansey is the de facto leader of a group of misfits at the prestigious boys’ school. He feels responsible for guarding his troubled friends’ well-being and is obsessed with unraveling a mystical mystery that becomes key to the book (and presumably the rest of the series). Like most of the locals, Blue wants nothing to do with the stuck-up Raven Boys, but then she meets Gansey, whose fate seems tied to Blue and a deadly curse. All the elements—mystery, heartbreak, friendship, betrayal, moral dilemmas—are there, but they only began to come together for me near the book’s end. It was well past the mid-way point that the characters and their relationships began to fully engage my interest, but once this happened I was hooked. Luckily, this is only the first book in the Raven Cycle quartet. I think now that the characters have been introduced and the tone set, The Dream Thieves (due out in September) has the potential to far surpass its predecessor.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Genre: Graphic Novel/Realistic Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

This graphic novel from the author of Smile is a quick and amusing read. I loved Callie and really enjoyed all of her
interactions with her drama club pals, particularly her friendship with Liz. However, I do feel like the book reinforces stereotypes by [POTENTIAL SPOILER: Highlight to read!] having all three of
the male performer characters turn out to be gay (or potentially gay)
and making the only female performer into a self-absorbed, melodramatic
diva. But then this title was selected as one of the Great Graphic Novels Top Ten 2013 and as a 2013 Stonewall Honor Book, so maybe it’s just me. I have yet to see any other reviews that raise the same concerns. But regardless of my quibbles, I thoroughly enjoyed this story about a perpetually lovestruck 7th grader who adores the theater and her role on the crew of the school play. This title should find particular favor with middle-school Glee fans.

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Genre: Horror/Historical/Speculative Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

As The Diviners was a 2013 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Top Ten selection, I chose to listen to this book in audio format. It was a much better experience than my last encounter with a Libba Bray audio book. At first, the 1920s slang and historical background seemed a bit gimmicky and overdone, but I was quickly drawn into the creepy, atmospheric world Bray creates. The Diviners is shamelessly excessive—the slang, the numerous characters, the mysteries—but this perfectly reflects the sumptuous excess of the era and lends the book an epic quality that promises good things to come. Featuring disparate teen protagonists with nothing in common other that a secret special ability, a ghostly serial killer, and the vivid setting of Prohibition-era New York, this is one of the most memorable series openers I’ve read in ages. Even better, while reaching a satisfactory resolution to the main plot of this book, there are overarching mysteries that have me eagerly awaiting the second book of the planned quartet.

REVIEW: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Teen/Young Adult

Summary: In the summer of 1987, two 15-year-old loners meet and forge a powerful friendship. Ari is a brooding “tough guy” who obsessively questions his place and purpose in the world; Dante is his complete opposite, relentlessly positive, self-assured, and emotionally open. Over the course of a year and through his friendship with Dante and Dante’s parents, Ari  finally comes to terms with himself and the unspoken secrets that haunt his family.

First Line: “One summer night I fell asleep, hoping the world would be different when I woke.”

Tracy’s Thoughts:
This book blew me away. The writing is deceptively simple, poetic, and quietly powerful. It’s easy to slip right into Ari’s mind, to feel every nuance he is feeling, from confusion to impulsive anger. Despite this, Ari remains a bit of a mystery—he refers to himself as “inscrutable”—as even he does not understand himself. I love that Ari is more than a little angsty as a character, but it’s not a dark and overblown angst. Yeah, he’s confused and often feels quite lost and even angry, but the book never once feels depressing. Not that certain issues addressed in the book aren’t emotional and potentially upsetting. Yet Sáenz handles it all gracefully without being heavy-handed in the slightest; in his capable hands, Aristotle and Dante’s story is far more sweet than bitter, but it never minimizes those ever-present “issues.”

Family drama, issues of sexual and ethnic identity, and even PSTD play a part in this stunning novel, and yet none of these elements overwhelms the story. Ari’s coming of age plays out slowly and patiently, and the novel unfolds in a realistic manner. Although one particular family revelation feels a bit coincidental, I bought it. And although it may seem a bit unlikely, I loved that the parents were so accepting of Ari, Dante, and their possible more-than-friends feelings for one another. Perhaps this wouldn’t have been the norm in 1980s Texas, but I appreciated that Sáenz didn’t need to go there. There is a lot going on in this book, but it all works together seamlessly, without any wasted subplots or characters. At its core it is less a book about sexual identity than about family, friendship, and having the courage to speak honestly and freely to the people who matter.

FLASH(back) REVIEWS: ’80s Picture Books

As we wrap up our Awesome 80s month here at BCPL, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at some of the best picture books from the 1980s. How many of these titles do you remember fondly? Which do your children or grandchildren still love today?


The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illus. by Michael Martchenko
Year: 1980
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Genre: Picture Book– Fairy Tale/Humor
After a dragon burns down the castle and kidnaps her fiancé, Princess Elizabeth is slightly singed and has nothing to wear but a paper bag. But Elizabeth doesn’t let the loss of her finery stall her for long as she intrepidly goes off to rescue her Prince, armed with nothing but her wits. This is a quick, lighthearted read with plenty of humor and a twist at the end. The drawings—especially the characters’ expressions—perfectly reflect the text. This is a great book for teaching resourcefulness and independence. Budding young feminists (and their like-minded parents) will love it. Ages 3 to 5.


Doctor De Soto by William Steig
Year: 1982
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Picture Book– Humor
Doctor De Soto will make a great story to build up a child’s courage before a dreaded dentist visit. Dr. De Soto is a very dedicated mouse-dentist in a world where animals act as humans.They drive cars, push baby strollers down the road, and visit a mouse-dentist for their toothaches. Of course, Dr. De Soto wisely refuses to treat animals—such as cats!—that might be tempted to eat him. That is, until the day a fox, in tears from the pain, begs Dr. DeSoto for his help. The story is slyly humorous and engaging from beginning to end. The kiddos will be fascinated by the ludicrous size discrepancies: Dr. De Soto uses a ladder to treat large animals and a pulley, operated by his wife/assistant, is necessary to reach the extra-large ones. He even climbs inside their mouths, “wearing rubbers to keep his feet dry” and is able to do such delicate work that his patients “hardly feel any pain.”  Subtle visual cues, like the separate large and small staircases outside the office, keep the size theme running throughout. And of course there is plenty of amusement to be derived from Mr. Fox’s guilty desire to snack on his dentist and the De Sotos’ clever plan to outfox the Fox. This is one of the shortest books (32 pages) ever to be named a Newbery Honor Book; it also shared the 1983 National Book Award for Children’s Books with Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius. Ages 4 to 7.

King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood, illus. by Don Wood
Year: 1985
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Picture Book– Humor
King Bidgood apparently loves a good bath, and instead of dealing with the business of the kingdom, he decides to hold all his meetings and events in the bathtub. Meanwhile, various members of the court are attempting to persuade him to come out. I had a huge smile on my face all the way through this one, beginning with the copyright and dedication pages, which shows a young page lugging a large, leaking cask of water up the winding castle stairs. The story is delightfully silly, and the illustrations are amazing, with plenty of little details to linger over. There is the Duke baiting a hook with a wiggling worm while fish watch eagerly; the page always pictured off to the side, watching and cleaning up after the court’s antics; and, of course, the members of the court, clad in elaborate Elizabethan dress, emerging drenched and dripping from their failed attempts to lure the King from his bath. Unsurprisingly, this delightful book was a 1986 Caldecott Honor book, losing out only to the much loved book The Polar Express.

More Great Picture Books from the ’80s:
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr and John Arachambault, illus. by Lois Ehlert (1989)
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff  (1985)
by Chris Van Allsburg (1981)
Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China

by Ed Young (1989)
Miss Rumphius

by Barbara Cooney (1982)
The Mitten

by Jan Brett (1989)
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
(1984)The Napping House
by Audrey Wood (1984)
Owl Moon
by Jane Yolen, illus. by John Schoenherr (1987)
The Polar Express

by Chris Van Allsburg  (1985)
The Relatives Came

by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Stephen Gammell (1985)
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
by Jon Scietzka (1989)
The Very Busy Spider
by Eric Carle (1984)
Where’s Spot?
by Eric Hill (1980) 
Where’s Waldo? by Martin Handford (1987)

What’s your favorite ’80s picture book? Did I leave your personal favorite off the list?

REVIEW: A Discovery of Witches and The Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Star Rating: 4.5/5
Genre: Supernatural Fantasy/Time Travel
Audience: Adult, Young Adult

Summary: In two sweeping novels that range in setting from modern-day Oxford to Elizabethan England, Deborah Harkness tells the story of the lovers Matthew and Diana, a vampire and witch who are breaking every taboo to be together.  It all begins when Diana calls up the alchemical treatise “Ashmole 782”.  Unbeknownst to Diana, this manuscript has not been seen in hundreds of years and is said to hold the key to the origins of the three races; witches, vampires and daemons.  Subsequently, Diana simply sends it back to the Bodlien Library’s stacks.  With this one act, Diana suddenly finds herself the object of a race against time, at the center of a powerful magic, and in a struggle for her very life and that of the vampire she loves. 

Lucinda’s Views:   I have a confession to make, I have a guilty pleasure.  I love a good supernatural love story/fantasy, so I eagerly grabbed A Discovery of Witches when it first came out.  Then I heard that the sequel was arriving, so I got out my handy Nook and reread A Discovery of Witches.  It was as absorbing a book as it had been during the first read.  Diana’s tenaciousness and true strength of character draws the reader in and holds them in thrall until the last page.  Matthew is the quintessential vampire hero, strong, protective, and a little bit of an enigma.  As seen in Shadow of Night, Matthew has been a hidden player throughout much of our modern era, including being a member of the School of Night.  (An organization founded by Sir Walter Raleigh during Elizabeth I’s reign.  It consisted of some of the most gifted minds of the day.)  Anyone who loves the combination of history and fantasy will enjoy this aspect of the novels.  These book are well-written, interesting, and will hold a fascination for any reader who picks them up.  I can’t wait for the third novel in the trilogy to be published!

REVIEW: City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Audience: Teen/Young Adult
Series: Mortal Instruments #5
Format: Audiobook

Summary: Two weeks after the cliffhanger ending of City of Fallen Angels, Jace and Sebastian are still missing. The Clave is determined to locate and kill Sebastian, and Jace’s disappearance is of little consequence to them. Not so for Clary and the rest of the gang. She, Simon, Izzie, Alec, and Magnus are determined to get him back safely, but when they discover that Jace and Sebastian are bonded—harm one, harm the other; kill one, kill the other—their task becomes infinitely more difficult. While the rest of the gang searches for a way to sever the bond without destroying Jace, Clary undertakes a dangerous mission of her own. Because while Jace seems to have forgotten his hatred for Sebastian and is actually cooperating with him, one thing hasn’t changed. He still loves Clary, and now he wants her to join him to carry out Sebastian’s secret plan.

First Line: “Simon stood and stared numbly at the front door of his house.”

Tracy’s Thoughts:
I have listened to this entire series on audiobook, and I must say that this latest addition is easily the most polished production so far. I almost didn’t even finish the last audiobook, which was alternately read by Ed Westwick and Molly Quinn. (Ed Westwick? Really??? I love his voice, but posh and British don’t really scream Simon or Jace to me.) But Molly Quinn on her own? Totally rocks. She does a fabulous job in CoLS, inhabiting each of the characters and embodying all the emotion, tension, and confusion that they experience through the course of the book.

While I found book four to be a bit of a disappointment, I have absolutely no real complaints about City of Lost Souls (well… I might have liked a bit more angst from the Maia/Kyle storyline). Love, betrayal, internal conflict,
violence, sacrifice, heartbreak; it’s all there. Cassandra Clare keeps the excitement level sky high while still allowing each major character time to have their own troubles outside of the main plotline. The characters and their relationships are so well established, and yet Clare is still capable of surprising us. Even Sebastian—a villain perhaps even more dangerous than Valentine—had me teetering between (short-lived) sympathy and loathing. This is a dark book in many ways, but that darkness is balanced with a sharp,
snarky humor and glimmers of hope. In fact, this one even has a happy ending—or at least a positive resolution—while leaving plenty of material for the next in the series. In my opinion, City of Lost Souls is the best book yet of this beloved series, and I am eagerly anticipating the (reportedly) final installment. Unfortunately, we will all have to wait until March 2014 (!!!!!!!) until City of Heavenly Fire will be released.

DUAL/GUEST REVIEW: You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

We’ve got another guest review! Donna is a regular library patron and a second time guest reviewer for Book News & Reviews. She previously contributed a review of Home at Last by Bonnie Leon. This time around, Donna chose to review one of my absolute favorite reads of 2011, so I am also posting my mini-review from the last BCPL Recommended Reading List

Donna’s Rating: 4/5 Stars
Tracy’s Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Genre: Short Stories/Realistic Fiction
Audience: Adult

Donna’s Summary & Review:
I really enjoyed this book. It was another book that I could not put down once I started reading it. The novel is set in Ft. Hood, Texas. These are lives lived on the military base, a world all its own, complete with its own stores, movie theaters, even its own laws. The missing husbands are living on the other side of the world, deployed to wherever the government says they are needed.It actually is a collection of short stories, mostly written from the deployed soldiers’ wives’ point of view. There is one story at the end that is actually written from the soldier’s point of view.

All the stories are very down to earth and believable, with all the raw human emotions that come along with messy, long distance relationships. Qualities like jealousy, uncertainty, fear, pride, shame, disbelief, love, loyalty, they run the gamut. Siobhan keeps the stories short enough to make the reader want more, but long enough to make a genuine connection to the characters. If you are a wife living on base, or at home, while “your soldier” is away, you will surely know deep in your gut some of the feelings that surface here. If you are any other part of the military family, it will give you insight into what your soldier and their families are working through. I gave this book 4 stars, only because I would have preferred to have a more complete ending to each short story. I would think that each and every one of the short stories could be made into an individual novel. Other than that, it was a 5 star.

Tracy’s Thoughts:
As I said, this was one of my favorite reads last year, and I have been singing its praises to anyone I can get to listen. Here’s what I had to say earlier this year:

Eight gripping stories, each showing a different dimension of the domestic side of military life, make up this debut story collection set primarily around the military base in Fort Hood, TX. Fallon shies away from political commentary, instead focusing on the personal drama of families and soldiers coming to grips with extended absences of a year or more. The characters are real and haunting, and their stories are full of complexity and humanity. There is the wife with breast cancer who struggles with her daughter’s rebellion; the successful investment banker–turned–soldier who questions his place in the world; and a bored young wife who becomes obsessed with her Serbian neighbor’s suspicious behavior. In one particularly memorable story, a soldier on leave camps out in his basement on a covert mission to discover whether rumors of his wife’s infidelity are true. Fallon’s prose is simple yet elegant, and the life she breathes into each of her characters left me fully engaged in the book from cover to cover.

Would you like to contribute a guest review to Book News & Reviews? Find how here!

DUAL REVIEW: Press Here by Herve Tullet

Lucinda’s Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Tracy’s Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Toddler-Kindergarten

Summary: Each page intructs the reader to perform a different action producing surprising results that will be different on each page.

Lucinda’s Thoughts: This book was a bunch of fun….each page brought a new action with surprising and delightful results.  The bright, primary colors could be used to aid in teaching little ones colors as well as the concept of size, numbers, counting, and a host of other concepts.  A must read for anyone who has little ones who are curious and eager to learn.

Tracy’s Thoughts:
I pretty much summed up my thoughts when I selected Press Here as one of the Best Picture Books of 2011. It was one of the most innovative, entertaining, and educational children’s books of the year. Here’s what I had to say then:

This ingenious, interactive picture book will incite wonder and delight in children ages 2 to 200. It doesn’t require batteries or have any fancy flaps or tabs. Instead, Tullet asks kids to suspend belief and participate by pressing on dots, shaking the book, turning it, and blowing on it—gently of course. When they turn the page, they see the results of their actions. The illustrations—somewhat reminiscent of Leo Lionni, without the personification—are simple, leaving room for the reader’s imagination. Ages 2 to 5.

REVIEW: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Tracy’s Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Audience:Teen/Young Adult, Adult Crossover 
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Summary: Hazel Grace Lancaster is a walking miracle. Diagnosed with terminal cancer at 12, she is now 16, alive thanks to an experimental drug that keeps the fluid in her lungs in check. Still, breathing is an ongoing struggle, and there is no doubt the the cancer will one day kill her. She’s taking college classes but has little human interaction with people other than her parents and doctors. Her “third best friend” (after her parents) is Peter Van Houten, the reclusive author of Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. Despite numerous fan letters penned by Hazel, they have never met or even corresponded, but Hazel feels that he is the only person who understands what it’s like to be dying without having actually died.

Augustus Waters is a 17-year-old cancer survivor in remission. Hazel first meets him at a support group she attends only under protest. Before Hazel knows what is happening, the two are trading words and feeding off each other’s comments with an energy that Hazel hasn’t felt in… forever. Then they swap their favorite books, and Augustus makes it his mission to help Hazel find the answers to the many questions she has for Peter Van Houten.  

First Line: Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.

Tracy’s Thoughts:  

First, let me say this: John Green is awesome. I adored An Abundance of Katherines, and, although I was slightly less enthusiastic about the Printz-winning Looking for Alaska, I still found it smart, funny, and compelling. I have no good excuse for the fact that I still haven’t gotten around to reading Paper Towns or Will Grayson, Will Grayson—his much hyped collaboration with David Levithan—but you can be assured that both are now bumped up near the top of my TBR. No one writes smart teen characters like John Green. His books are both incredibly intelligent—pondering Big Questions with verve and style—and hilarious. Seriously, before I even hit the second chapter of The Fault in Our Stars, I was laughing so hard I was gasping for breath. Twice. In a book about terminal cancer.

At its heart, The Fault in Our Stars is a love story, if one we know to be doomed from the start. Augustus is an incredibly charismatic character, and the snarky, deep-thinking Hazel is his perfect match. Hazel and Augustus have a natural affinity that makes for truly riveting dialog, their separate intellects enhanced by the other. Both are quick-witted, with improbable vocabularies and bookish tendencies. In a way, their repartee reminds me of the nuanced banter of Briony and Eldric in Chime. But unlike Briony and Eldric, Hazel and Augustus are also believable as modern teenagers: they have in-jokes, play pranks, and have the requisite addictions to reality TV and video games. They still feel like teenagers, just teens with extreme intelligence and a situation-enhanced view of reality. Hazel’s narration grabbed me from the start—and, despite the comments of some other reviewers—I never felt that it was inauthentic. Here is one early sample:

The Support Group, of course, was depressing as hell. It met every Wednesday in the basement of a stone-walled Episcopal church shaped like a cross. We all sat in a circle right in the middle of the cross, where the two boards would have met, where the heart of Jesus would have been.
I noticed this because Patrick, the Support Group Leader and only person over eighteen in the room, talked about the heart of Jesus every freaking meeting, all about how we, as young cancer survivors, were sitting right in Christ’s very sacred heart and whatever.

So here’s how it went in God’s heart: The six or seven or ten of us walked/wheeled in, grazed at a decrepit selection of cookies and lemonade, sat down in the Circle of Trust, and listened to Patrick recount for the thousandth time his depressingly miserable life story—how he had cancer in his balls and they thought he was going to die but he didn’t die and now here he is, a full-grown adult in a church basement in the 137th nicest city in America, divorced, addicted to video games, mostly friendless, eking out a meager living by exploiting his cancertastic past…

Really, there isn’t much more I can say about this book without somehow taking away from the incredible journey that it takes you on. It is a wonderfully written book about love and loss and learning to live while coping with the reality of death, about wondering how you will be remembered after you’re gone and what will become of those you love. The Fault in Our Stars is not an easy read. It is intellectually and emotionally challenging—but worth the effort. By turns brilliant, hilarious, and heartbreaking, this is a book that is not easily forgotten.

REVIEW: Chicken Cheeks by Michael Black

Book Jacket

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Audience: Pre-K to 1st Grade
Genre: Picture Book
Summary: Some bears will go to any length to get some honey. This one recruits every animal that comes along to form, well, at stack. The result? Tail of the duck to the gluteus maximus of the duck-billed platypus (with many other rears in between).

Lucinda’s Thoughts:  I laughed my rear off (no pun intended!) when I read this book.  The plays on words that Black uses accompanied by Hawkes comical illustrations are just what is needed to brighten up a dull day!  This book will appeal to children and adults with its “butt humor” and will be a hit to read to any little jokester.

Just a little something from the author!

REVIEW: Everything I need to Know Before I’m Five by Valorie Fisher

Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Pre-K

Summary: Do you know your letters? Can you count to twenty? Learn all that and more in this all-in-one concept picture book. Perfect for kids heading to kindergarten, this book covers the alphabet, counting, opposites, shapes, colors, and seasons. Award winning author-illustrator Valorie Fisher uses bright, gorgeous photos of retro toys to illustrate these topics in a completely fresh way. Parents will love this stylish and funny approach to basic concepts, while kids will learn, well, everything.

Lucinda’s Thoughts:  I brought this book home for my little one and she loves it!  With its bright realistic illustrations and well defined concepts this book is a must read especially for those that are entering Kindergarten or are preparing for Kindergarten.  Really you should just check it out and see for yourself!

FLASH REVIEWS: A Parade of Picture Books…

I recently realized that we haven’t reviewed any picture books lately (as promised in our site description!), so here goes…

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
The bear’s hat is gone, and he wants it back. Patiently and politely, he seeks out his fellow forest creatures to inquire “Have you seen my hat?” It’s like a sly game of clue, with clever visual hints. It’s an adorable tale with an ever-so-slightly dark twist at the end. Ages 4 to 8.
Rating: 5/5 Stars

Stop Snoring, Bernard! by Zachariah OHora
Bernard loves living at the zoo, and he loves naptime. Unfortunately, the other otters are tired of his snoring. So begins Bernard’s quest to find a sleeping spot where he won’t bother anyone… This is a sweet, low key story with simple, almost vintage-style illustrations. Ages 3 to 7.
Rating: 3/5 Stars

Blackout by John Rocco
Told through a series of graphic novel–style panels, this is the story of an ordinary summer night in the city. A little girl is eager to play a game, but everyone in her household is too busy. Then there is a blackout; with the power suddenly out, no one is busy at all and the the neighborhood comes alive. The visual images are bold and striking, and small details add a lot to this story about family togetherness. The contrast between light and dark plays an important but subtle role. Ages 4 to 8.
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

The I’m Not Scared Book by Todd Parr
Extremely bright colors—a Parr trademark—will grab kids’ attention in this motivational book about common childhood phobias. Comical details add nuance. The text itself lacks subtlety, but will give comfort to anxious children and offers simplistic solutions to calm fears. Ages 3 to 6.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Pirate Boy by Eve Bunting and Julie Fortenberry (illus.)
Danny has lots of what-if questions about pirates, and his mother is patient and inventive as she answers each one. This is a heartwarming tale of imagination and connection between mother an child. The artwork, especially the drawings of pirates, is bright and striking. Ages 4 to 8.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

REVIEW: Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween
Genre: Historical Fiction/Novel in Verse

Summary: It’s 1975 and, as the Vietnam War rages, the fall of Saigon is imminent. Until now, ten-year-old Hà’s life has been been somewhat ordinary: she goes to school, fights with her older brothers, plays pranks on her friends. Of course, her father has also been missing in action for nine years and now her friends are beginning to move away from the threat of the Communist invasion. When her mother makes the difficult decision to flee their homeland, the family must leave behind everything familiar. The novel is written in free verse and takes place over the course of a year, beginning on Tết, the Vietnamese New Year, relating Hà’s experiences and impressions from her life in Saigon, through the family’s escape and difficult boat journey, to the even more difficult transition to life in America.

Tracy’s Thoughts:
First off, I usually avoid novels in verse. I am always skeptical that they can deliver the same level of plot detail and character development as a prose novel. Thanhha Lai proved me wrong. There is precisely the right amount of detail in this sparse novel. Hà’s world is elegantly and succinctly crafted and the format in no way detracts from the fullness of the story. Hà, her mother, and each of her three brothers emerge as distinct, empathetic characters. There is the scholarly engineering student, Brother Quang, who must take on work as an apprentice mechanic; gentle Brother Khôi, lover of animals; fierce, loyal Brother Vu, obsessed with Bruce Lee; and their mother, a loving woman strong enough to do whatever is needed for her family. Hà herself is eager, perceptive, stubborn, and prone to tempers. She’s determined to feel smart again, though quite sure that “Whoever invented English/should be bitten/by a snake.”

This is a powerful novel about the immigrant experience, and one to savor slowly. Despite what many will consider weighty subject matter, this is a fairly light read with a good deal of humor. I found myself grinning and laughing out loud more than once at Hà fresh take on American culture, such as her insistence that the “The Cowboy,” as she calls her family’s Stetson-sporting American sponsor, should have a proper horse and teach her to ride. Inside Out & Back Again is also the perfect novel to give to any middle school student who has been bullied or felt out of place.

REVIEW: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I read this book months ago, before we launched the blog, but with all of the recent attention—it was named Favorite Book in the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards and recently snagged a movie deal with Summit—I thought it was time for a review here on Book News and Reviews!

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Audience: Young Adult/Teen
Genre: Dystopia

Summary: In a not-too-distant future Chicago, everyone is divided into five factions with five different belief systems. Abnegation strives toward selflessness, Amity pursues peace and friendship, Candor practices unrelenting honesty, Dauntless engages in feats of courage, and Erudite seeks knowledge. Beatrice Prior was raised in Abnegation, but knows she is too selfish and inquisitive to remain there, even though switching factions means leaving her family behind. And now that she is sixteen, it is finally time to choose her permanent faction. But her choice won’t be easy. When she takes her aptitude tests, Beatrice learns that she is a Divergent, someone who does not fit easily into any of the predetermined classifications and whose very existence threatens her society.

Tracy’s Thoughts:
Looking for the next Hunger Games? This is the book you’ve been waiting for. After a slightly slow start, Divergent is an addictively fast-paced read set in a fully developed world. In fact, I liked it even better than Hunger Games. The post-apocalyptic Chicago setting is fascinating and just recognizable enough to make this future vision all too believable. Even better, there is no annoying, forced love triangle. (Seriously… Did anyone really think POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!!! HIGHLIGHT TO READ that Bella was going to choose Jacob or that Katiniss wouldn’t end up with the every-loyal, always-patient Peeta? Well, did you?)
But yes, Divergent has a romance. A GREAT one actually. The romantic tension between Tris (the character formerly known as Beatrice) and Four is engrossing and unpredictable. Yeah, you know they will end up together, but each meeting and conversation holds a surprise. And Roth does a stellar job of balancing the physical action with relationship intrigue.There are enough fights, chases, and life-threatening risks to satisfy any action fan—and it’s not all squeezed together at the end to add last minute conflict like in other popular books I could name. As soon as Tris chooses her faction, she must prove her mettle and survive a series of initiation tests—or become factionless.Tris is gutsy and smart, but also vulnerable and unsure of herself—not in an annoying way, but in a realistic, true-to-life way. She doesn’t have special weaponry skills or supernatural strength, but she’s mentally tough and really, really determined. I loved her, Four, and the entire world Veronica Roth has created.

Both action-packed and thought-provoking, Divergent easily sets itself apart from the other new books on the Hunger Games bandwagon. Roth writes with an engaging intensity that challenges readers to look at their own lives and consider what faction they might choose. This is a page turner that I highly recommend for both girls and the guys, teenagers and adults. Needless to say, I am eagerly—and impatiently!— awaiting the May release of Insurgent, the trilogy’s next installment. Only five more months to go…

DUAL REVIEW: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Book Jacket

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Audience: Adult
Genres: Historical Fiction

Summary: Told through the eyes of three women in 1963 Civil Rights embroiled Mississippi, one an affluent Caucasian woman and two African-Americans who were employed as maids in Caucasian households.  This book recounts the tale of how Skeeter, a recent college graduate, writes a ground-breaking book telling the stories of twelve women employed as maids from upper and middle-class Caucasian households.  The conflict inherent between the two races is detailed throughout the book and culminates with the publication of Skeeter’s novel entitled “Help”.

Lucinda’s Thoughts:  I picked this book up because of all the buzz about it due to the movie’s (which was based on the book)  popularity.  I quickly became enthralled by the tale of Abileen, Minny and Skeeter.  Having been a history major in college I was aware of  some of the conflict that took place in the South during the early 1960s, but this book made these things more human to me.  Seeing the prejudice, assumption of inferiority, and treatment that the African -American citizens of this time received was truly eye-opening.  The lives of these women present such a contrast to those of today’s women, a truly enlightening experience. 

The only reason that this book did not receive a 5 was that some of the chapters were written in dialect and thus rendered the text a little less accessible for all readers.  On the whole, this was an excellent read.  I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or just a well-written story about three strong, but different women and the historical times in which they lived.

*     *     *

Tracy’s Rating: 5/5 Stars

Tracy’s Thoughts: Okay, it’s downright scary how parallel our reading experiences with this book were. I was only a history minor in college, but I too was struck by how the human element portrayed in The Help allowed me to better understand the upheaval of the civil rights era. And you make a good point about the use of dialect. I got off to a really slow start because I found the dialect in Aibileen and Minnie’s narratives a bit distracting. I actually almost gave up altogether. Eventually, though, I adjusted and felt like it only added to the tone and realism of the novel. (Though I recently encountered this blog post pointing out how very unrealistic much of the dialect is…)

Anyway, here’s my initial review from the Summer 2009 BCPL Recommended Reading List:

The Help is a book that manages to both entertain and feel incredibly important at the same time. Pitch-perfect in its portrayal of 1960s Jackson, Mississippi and the women who live there, it follows three women—two black maids and a white “society lady” fresh out of college—who start their own quiet movement even as the civil rights movement explodes around them. It focuses on the lives of everyday people of different backgrounds who are just trying to live their lives. And yet this book made the era of the Civil Rights Movement real for me in a way that no other book, movie, or college lecture ever has. But never fear: this isn’t in any way an overwhelming or heavy-handed book. Stockett uses a Southern-laced dark humor reminiscent of Fannie Flagg that serves perfectly to balance the serious subject matter. The approachability is additionally augmented by the fully realized characterizations. There are no cookie-cutter characters in Stockett’s world; you love them or you hate them, but even the characters that you most loathe have redeeming facets. In short, I loved this book—and admired it as well. There is already speculation that The Help is destined to become a classic. I wouldn’t be surprised.

REVIEW: Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol by Jim Krieg

Rating: 4.5/5
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween
Genre: Mystery

Summary: Griff Carver is a safety patrol legend, but after going too far in the name of justice he was expelled from his old school. Now he’s at Rampart Middle School and determined to sniff out the corruption lurking beneath the squeaky-clean surface. Unfortunately, Griff makes an immediate enemy of the school principal after calling him out for littering, and his new partner is an overly chatty Camp Scout who is blind to the fishy goings-on at Rampart.

Tracy’s Thoughts:
This is one of the best middle-grade novels I’ve read in ages—perhaps ever. Television writer Jim Krieg has cleverly taken the tone of a 40s’ noir film and applied it to a modern-day middle school. Griff is a hard-nosed, dedicated hall cop with an uncanny instinct for crime-solving. He’s suspicious of everyone and quickly catches on to a fake hall pass scheme. Along the way, he makes unlikely allies in his naive by-the-books partner, the school’s ambitious girl reporter, and a wise but mysterious janitor. Plus, an arch villain emerges who is sure to butt heads with Griff in future books. (Are you listening, Mr. Krieg? We want sequels, and lots of ’em!)

The narrative is actually a blend of first person accounts, most of them made up of guidance counselor interview transcripts from Griff’s perspective and incident reports from his super-conscientious partner Tommy. There are also a handful of snark-filled diary journal entries from ace reporter Verity King. I think this style allows each of the characters’ personalities to shine, and will likely appeal to Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans ready for a slightly more challenging read without the cartoons. There are a few words that will challenge younger readers, but Krieg’s easy, relaxed writing style will keep them eagerly turning the pages.

Overall, this is a smart, laugh-out-loud whodunit with style. Krieg creates a slightly skewed yet wonderfully realistic version of middle school, and his characters are engaging and likeable. Griff’s dedication is so intense it is comical, and his pithy remarks are often startlingly funny. Tommy’s bumbling earnestness is equally endearing. Griff Carver is a clever, fast-paced read, with kid-friendly humor and a vivid setting and characters. As I said earlier, I am really hoping for sequels so that I can visit again.

DUAL REVIEW: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Audience: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Dystopia/Zombie

Summary:  Set in a world after the “Return” (a viral apocalypse), the village is the only life and home that Mary has ever known. Constantly on guard against the Unconsecrated (infected individuals that die and come back as zombies, the village allows Mary to be only two things- a wife to a man she does not love or  a Sister (a member of the religious order that rules the village.)  However, Mary dreams of the Ocean, which she had heard of in the tales that her mother told her as a child.  Will Mary ever achieve her dream and catch a glimpse of a life outside the village?

Lucinda’s thoughts:  I really enjoyed this book.  Mary is a very complex character and does not always do what a traditional teen heroine would do.  She is strong-willed, a bit selfish, and determined.  But it is these qualities that allow her to survive in her world.  The love quadrangle in the book only further illustrates Mary’s strength.  She is determined not to settle.  Mary’s character coupled with the suspense present throughout the book as to whether or not Mary will achieve her dream and just plain survive, makes for an engrossing read.  On the whole, I highly recommend picking this book up from the library and getting drawn into Mary’s world.

Tracy’s Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Tracy’s Thoughts: 
I reviewed this book a while back, when I selected it for our Book Picks for Juniors and Young Adults list. I really enjoyed it then, and still remember it fondly. The reason for the less-than-perfect rating? For me, the book seemed to lose momentum midway through as I lost interest in Mary’s romantic troubles altogether. It was really the claustrophobic, secretive community and Mary’s unwavering determination to escape despite the perils that really grabbed me. That said, I love Carrie Ryan’s writing in this book and the complex character of Mary. Here’s what I had to say way back when:

If you enjoy bleak, heartbreaking, beautifully crafted horror stories look no further. Mary lives in a terrifying world surrounded by fences that are constantly under threat of attack by the Unconsecrated. The Unconsecrated are zombies, although the word is never used. Mary and the others of her village are taught that they are the world’s last survivors of a terrible virus and that they must follow the rules laid out by the Sisters if they wish to survive. But Mary dreams of another life, holding fast to her dream of seeing the ocean—her one glimmer of hope as she faces a series of tragedies and betrayals. I loved that this is not another glossy paranormal romance with a happy ending guaranteed. There is real tragedy here—people suffer, and people die. Mary is not a character that is always easy to root for; she is undeniably flawed, sometimes selfish, and often fickle. The conflict between Mary’s “duty,” her understandable fear of what lies beyond the fences, and her own dreams is what makes this story so memorable and—in spite of the zombies—relatable. Also, Ryan’s writing style has a wonderful flow and elegance to it, with a compulsive readability that will have you turning pages long into the night.