Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Mid-Year Review - Best of 2011 (Thus Far)

In my typical fashion, since it's the end of June, I thought I'd compile a list of the books I've read so far this year that really impressed me. Keep in mind that there'll be quite a few more YA titles than in other categories, simply because I've read more of them in terms of volume compared to adult and children's books. Since I don't have a rating system (ratings are subjective anyway), you'll have to skim the reviews to see if these will impress you as much as they did me. These are in no particular order, and the books aren't all necessarily published in 2011 (but most are), I just happened to read them in 2011.


1. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making - Catherynne M. Valente

2. Forge - Laurie Halse Anderson

3. The Lost Hero - Rick Riordan

4. The Thirteen Treasures Series - Michelle Harrison (The Thirteen Treasures, The Thirteen Curses, and The Thirteen Secrets


1. The Weird Sisters - Eleanor Brown

Young Adult

1. Revolution - Jennifer Donnelly

2. Grace - Elizabeth Scott

3. Some Girls Are - Courtney Summers

4. Blood Red Road - Moira Young

5. Fall For Anything - Courtney Summers

6. Plague - Michael Grant

7. Hush - Eishes Chayil

8. Divergent - Veronica Roth

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Dark and Hollow Places - Carrie Ryan

Title: The Dark and Hollow Places (Sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves)
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 374 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction, Horror
Started: June 20, 2011
Finished: June 25, 2011

From the author's website:
There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister's face when she and Elias left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the horde as they found their way to the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.

Annah's world stopped that day and she's been waiting for him to come home ever since. Without him, her life doesn't feel much different from that of the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Then she meets Catcher and everything feels alive again.

Except, Catcher has his own secrets—dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah's longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it's up to Annah—can she continue to live in a world drenched in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return's destruction?

I fell in love with The Forest of Hands and Teeth when I read it back in 2009, and knew I had to see the trilogy to its end. I was slightly less pleased with The Dead-Tossed Waves when I read it last year, but I attributed that to the complete change in character focus from Mary to Gabry, that and I wanted to smack Gabry upside the head for being almost stupidly naive all the time. Thankfully, The Dark and Hollow Places takes our focus to yet another character who is more tolerable, in my opinion, than Gabry was.

At the end of The Dead-Tossed Waves, we found out that Gabry wasn't Mary's biological daughter at all, and that she was actually a twin. The Dark and Hollow Places takes readers to the Dark City where Gabry's sister Annah escaped to with Elias after leaving their village in the Forest of Hands and Teeth 10 years before. Annah is scarred all over her body from an accident involving barbed wire, and combined with having to care for herself for years after Elias joins the Recruiters, Annah becomes a very hardened young woman, the complete opposite of Gabry at the beginning of the last book. Annah has issues about her appearance due to her scars, plus she's still pretty broken up about abandoning Gabry (whose real name was Abigail) in the Forest when they were children, and those self-esteem issues make her a difficult character to like. But for all that annoys me about Annah, I had to admire her for being self-sufficient and independent, which was what bugged me about clingy, whiny Gabry.

The plot is The Dark and Hollow Places is similar to the last two books: the Unconsecrated/Mudo/plague rats (aka zombies) overrun the area where the characters live, forcing them to flee to a safer area. The Dark and Hollow Places is slightly different in that it reunites the characters from the last book and brings Gabry, Catcher, Elias, and Annah together in what is potentially the last safe place in the continent. But the Recruiters who run the Sanctuary know they have nowhere else to go, and force Catcher to do their bidding or else they threaten to injure the other three, which prompts Annah to find a way out, or else face a kinder fate: death.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is still my favourite of the three books, but I was pleased that The Dark and Hollow Places was an improvement over The Dead-Tossed Waves. The Dark and Hollow Places was deliciously dark like the title implies, and the focus on Annah and Catcher was a nice way to end off the series.

Not my absolute favourite in the series, but still a good installment. Annah was a more likable character than Gabry in the last book, which was enough to make this book better in my mind.

Thoughts on the cover:
I don't like the weird dramatic model poses that were used for this cover and the finalized cover for The Dead-Tossed Waves, I think it conveys a completely different atmosphere than the books are striving for, but oh well.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Divergent - Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 487 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: June 18, 2011
Finished: June 19, 2011

From the inside cover:
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

This is one of the better books I've read recently, and I honestly don't know why I didn't pick it up immediately after it's release date in May rather than waiting almost two months to crack open the cover.

Divergent takes a fairly familiar dystopian setup (newly reorganized world, different classes at odds with each other, the whole 'your future is decided at 16' kind of thing) and turns it into something unique. In this newfound Chicago, people have split into 5 different groups based on what they think caused the world's problems, and each group values a virtue that they think will remedy things in their new world order. Abnegation are the selfless, who think selfishness causes the world's problems. Since they only think of others and not themselves, they run the government as well as the health care system. The Dauntless are the brave, who think cowardice caused the world's problems, and act as the defense sector. The Erudite are the intelligent, who think ignorance caused the world's problems, and act as the teachers and scientists. Candor are the honest, who think deception caused the world's problems, who act as lawyers and form the justice sector. Lastly, Amity are the peaceful, who think that humanity's unkindness caused the world's problems. They are the artists and form the agricultural sector.

Beatrice is Abnegation, who has lived her whole life trying to be as selfless as her family reminds her to be. When it comes time for her to choose which faction she'll be part of, she struggles with her choice. If she chooses Abnegation, she'll be denying the other facets of herself. If she chooses another faction, she'll be leaving her parents and older brother behind. When Beatrice (who is now called Tris) goes through the initiation process, she struggles with the cutthroat tactics she sees around her. In addition to that, Tris is Divergent, showing aptitudes for not one, but three different factions. If her status is discovered, she will be killed, so she struggles to keep her impulses towards the other virtues hidden. As she progresses through the initiations and the rankings, she realizes that things aren't all right with the world: Erudite is trying to change public opinion towards Abnegation, and the Dauntless aren't brave in the admirable sense like Tris thought they'd be. In typical dystopian fashion, Tris gets thrown into the political fire and her Divergent status is the key to saving them all.

Divergent moves along nice and quick, there's always something happening with no boring lags in the plot. Beatrice is a wonderfully real character (it helps that she can kick ass like nobody's business), and her narration really gets you inside your head. She isn't always kind, and can be downright ruthless when she needs to be, but that struggle between survival and concern for others is what makes her remarkably human. I love the message that's conveyed a few times through Tris and Four, that people can't value one trait over another, that all the virtues the individual factions value are all interrelated and we need to cultivate all of them to be good, well-rounded people.

Divergent is an action-packed story with an engaging plot, well-developed characters, and a wonderful message. This is part of a series, and the second book, Insurgent, comes out next year, which I'll be picking up as soon as it comes out.

Divergent is one of the best books I've read lately, and practically everyone who's read it has loved it (and for good reason), so read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it, finally a YA cover that doesn't have to have a girl on it. I like the Chicago city-scape with the Dauntless symbol in the centre, hopefully they keep the continuity with the rest of the series and have the other faction symbols on future books.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dead Reckoning - Charlaine Harris

Title: Dead Reckoning (Book 11 in the Sookie Stackhouse series)
Author: Charlaine Harris
Publisher: Ace Books, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 325 pages
Genre: Adult; Fantasy
Started: June 13, 2011
Finished: June 14, 2011

From the inside cover:
With her knack for being in trouble's way, Sookie witnesses the firebombing of Merlotte's, the bar where she works. Since Sam Merlotte is now known to be two-natured, suspicion falls immediately on the anti-shifters in the area. But Sookie suspects otherwise and she and Sam work together to uncover the culprit - and the twisted motive for the attack.

But her attention is divided. Though she can't 'read' vampires, Sookie knows her lover Eric Northman and his 'child' Pam well - and she realises that they are plotting to kill the vampire who is now their master. Gradually, she is drawn into the plot -which is much more complicated than she knows.

Caught up in the politics of the vampire world, Sookie will learn that she is as much of a pawn as any ordinary human - and that there is a new Queen on the board . . .

These books are my guilty pleasure read, I consider them recreational drugs for my literary brain: you know they're bad for your health, but you sure enjoy the experience. After a slightly disappointing last book, Dead In The Family, I figured this book would have to be better, and fortunately it was, but only marginally so.

There's a couple of things going on in this novel plotwise: Sookie is being targeted yet again (really, what else is new?), and Eric is hell bent on killing Victor so that he can be free of his influence (as the book progresses you realize these two things are technically related to the same plot, but oh well). There's also a lot of relationship angst. Eric is distant for reasons Sookie discovers later, and Sookie in turn decides to remove the bond that she and Eric share, which pisses off Eric to no end. It seemed like the author decided to just throw all of Sookie's old flames at her in this book, Alcide randomly shows up naked in her bed, and there's even a a lot of interaction with Bill, who makes it very apparent that he still loves Sookie. Not that Sookie's old boyfriends didn't randomly show up trying to win her back in previous books, it just seemed like overkill in this one.

These books haven't been very impressive for the past two installments, I don't know if these are just the low point before things gear up, or if the series is starting to just lose steam. Characters seemingly show up randomly without any real relevance to the plot, the plot points seem thrown together haphazardly, and the characters just seem to act out-of-character for no obvious reason. Also, I sense that the CD item introduced in this book could be a major cop-out, but I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt and see how she uses it. I'll still be reading these because I do love the characters, and I want to see where things go, but I hope the next book is better, I'm not ready to give up my guilty pleasure read just yet.

A little better this time around, but still not feeling the same magic as with the earlier books.

Thoughts on the cover:
I've never liked these covers very much, but at least the last few have been obviously related to something in the plot, I just don't get it with this one.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Haunted - Joy Preble

Title: Haunted (Book 2 in the Dreaming Anastasia series)
Author: Joy Preble
Publisher: SourceBooks Fire, 2011 (Paperback)
Length: 290 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: June 8, 2011
Finished: June 12, 2011

Anne is trying her best to live a normal life, but she's still got some power sparking inside her. She's hearing and seeing things that she tries her best to ignore-like being haunted by a Russian sea nymph that claims the princess Anastasia is still alive.

That's when Ethan Kozninsky-he of the stunning blue eyes, thick brown hair, and former immortal status-returns. Anne soon realizes that everything she's been trying to forget might be impossible to bury.

After I read Dreaming Anastasia in the early days of this blog, I liked it and did end up buying it and putting it away for our future daughter (who we would name Anastasia) like I said I would. So when this sequel came out a short time ago, I knew I'd have to read it.

Things are different for Anne this time around. She still has power coursing through her, and it's only gotten stronger since Anastasia was freed from Baba Yaga instead of the other way around. She's being haunted by Rusalkas, the weird Russian equivalent of mermaids-women killed near water under mysterious circumstances. It's the Rusalkas who tell her that Anastasia is still alive somehow and that Anne's job is not yet finished. Ethan comes back to help Anne figure all this out. Plus, there's this one Rusalka who looks very familiar....

Haunted starts off slow compared to Dreaming Anastasia. We know the basic premise of the plot-things aren't as they should be and there's freaky Rusalka ladies around trying to drown people, and this somehow all relates back to Baba Yaga, Anastasia, and Viktor. But it takes until you get about 200 pages in for any of this to really go anywhere. The good thing is, once you hit that 200 page mark, the last 90 pages go by so fast and things pick up pretty quickly.

The book is narrated in the same way as the previous one, minus Anastasia's interludes, so chapters alternate between Anne and Ethan's point of view. This can get a little confusing unless you look at the headings so you remember who's talking. The book still has the same wonderful characters as the first one, and the writing is well-done.

Takes a while to get into, but if you stick with it, it does get better.

Thoughts on the cover:
I don't know why, but I love these covers. Brownie points for continuation from the first cover to this one, we have the Rusalka in the violet gown on the cover with maybe Anne's face at the top? I like the purple colour scheme this time around, and they kept the warped font for the title.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The things I find in online newspapers...

I swear, sometimes I think that literate, thinking individuals and parents are an endangered species.

While browsing through today's issue of Shelf Awareness, I came across an article (Deeper Understanding: The Dark Is Rising), written in response to a Wall Street Journal piece about the plethora of darker story lines in YA literature. Give both a read, though I warn you that the original Wall Street Journal article isn't very well researched (as most articles in this case tend to be).

The Wall Street Journal article follows a woman who, wanting a book for her 13-year-old daughter, was turned off by the darker story lines she saw on the YA shelf at her bookstore: "vampires, suicide and self-mutilation" specifically, so she didn't buy anything for her daughter. The article then goes on to explain how story lines in YA lit have gotten darker since the days of Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton, even hinting at the idea that some of the themes of self-mutilation, anorexia, suicide, etc. could serve as triggers for teenage readers. This is just my paraphrasing of the article, so read the whole thing for yourself and you'll see what I mean.

For one thing, the author obviously hasn't read any of the books she's criticizing: she rags on The Hunger Games for being too violent, but then in the same article goes on to recommend Ship Breaker for young male readers. WTF? Anyone who's read both books will know that Ship Breaker has just as much violence to take offense to, if not more than The Hunger Games: Nailer's father is abusive and beats him on a regular basis, whereas the premise of The Hunger Games is violent, yes, but Katniss abhors that violence and refuses to take a life except to defend herself. If the author of the article actually read The Hunger Games, she would realize that the positive messages of the book outweigh the dark premise of the story.

I think everyone is aware of my take on books for children and teens: I'm a teacher and fully believe kids and people in general should be allowed to read whatever they want (within reason obviously, I wouldn't let a 7-year-old read a book that deals with rape because they aren't developmentally mature enough to process that content), but once a child hits the age of 13 or 14 or so, almost anything is game. The thing is though, with that freedom comes responsibility for the parents to talk to their kids about what they read. I bought The Hunger Games for my 12-year-old nephew and made sure I told him (and my sister-in-law), to talk to me or his parents if he had any questions about the story because it might seem a little scary to him. I knew my nephew could handle it (honestly, he's 12, he's seen and heard worse things), but still directed him to mom and dad to talk about the bigger issues that might arise in his mind when he read the book. This is responsible parenting: give your child age-appropriate material but still engage with them about that material whether it's a tv show, movie, book, or even something that happens on the news, make it a teaching moment to explain that yes, these types of things happen in the world, we can't escape that, but it's up to your child to form their own opinions about their morals and your family to impart how you feel about those same issues.

We can't shelter our kids forever. By the time I was 16 years old, just through the experience of attending high school (my home life was wonderfully tame and secure by comparison), I had experiences with: suicide, several friends who self-mutilated, abortion, teen sex, classmates passing away due to terminal illnesses, bullying, drugs, alcohol, you name it, and I went to a school in the 'good area' of my city. Your kid will experience the world's rough stuff just by nature of being out in the world, and it starts when they're young, sometimes a lot younger than we would prefer them to be. I wish my teenage self had books like the ones I review, it would've made me understand why my friends cut their arms to shreds, or why my gay friend had to leave school to save his life and his mental health, or why I felt so out of place all the time. I'm glad YA books tackle these kinds of topics as well as the fluffy happy kinds of stories that have and will always be around. Kids will read what they are capable of reading, a child won't read something they don't like (unless we force them to in school), if they are reading a book that's dark, they want to read it for a reason, no one's holding a gun to their head. And plus, if my child is going to encounter a "big issue" through association, I'd rather their first exposure to it be in the relative safety of a book where they can go back and question things and take time to reflect and research what they read, rather than having a friend call them up suddenly tell them "I want to kill myself" or "I just got raped at the party, I need help"....if I had a choice I'd rather ease my kids into things like that gradually as opposed to the 'trial by fire' experiences that happened to me and my friends so many times in high school.

The key thing is that parents are important: adults can't blame the book industry or authors for producing stories that kids obviously want to read and do nothing to prepare their children for those stories or experiences. That leaves us with children that aren't emotionally equipped to deal with the crap they will eventually encounter in their adult lives. I was very lucky in that I had parents that loved talking to me about big issues and as such I was very open-minded and well-rounded even as a kid, but I've met lots of adults (and children/teenagers that I see following in the same pattern) that are emotionally stunted when it comes to certain things or issues...then those people go on to reproduce and aren't prepared for those scenarios that they might experience with their own children.

And that leaves teachers like me fearing for the future of our children, not because of the books they read, but because of the radical shifts in parenting attitudes. Don't blame the books, people; blame yourselves.

Here's one of my favourite YA authors Laurie Halse Anderson's take on the article, as well as another one that's equally well-put.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Tale Dark and Grimm - Adam Gidwitz

Title: A Tale Dark and Grimm
Author: Adam Gidwitz
Publisher: Dutton Children's Books (Penguin), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 251 pages
Genre: Children's Fairy Tale/Fantasy
Started: June 5, 2011
Finished: June 7, 2011

From the author's website:
Reader, beware.

Warlocks with dark spells, hunters with deadly aim, and bakers with ovens retro-fitted for baking children lurk within these pages.

But if you dare,

Follow Hansel and Gretel as they walk out of their own story and into the wilds—where magic, terror, and a little bit of humor shine like white pebbles lighting the way.

Come on in. It may be frightening, and it’s certainly bloody, but, unlike those other fairy tales you know, this one is true.

Once upon a time, you see, fairy tales were awesome.

I liked the sound of this book when I heard about it just recently, and immediately fell in love with it once I started reading. It's a wonderfully creative concept: the author takes several separate Brothers Grimm fairy tales (plus some extra added on that are Grimm-inspired), and connects them into one larger overarching story. Since so many fairy tales use similar elements, and the children included in them rarely have names, the author connects everything to Hansel and Gretel, and everything fits together pretty seamlessly.

The tales are the original versions too, not the sugar-coated versions we tell the kiddies, so there's lots of violence and blood (but the fairy tale kind, not the gory horror movie kind). The author actually remarks on that numerous times, using a Princess Bride-like special author narrative where he addresses the reader and frequently warns them about the upcoming violence (in a funny kind of "I'm warning you but you're gonna read it anyway"), and to warn them to shoo any small children out of the room if they're reading this out loud. I know some people who read this didn't like the tone of the author-narrator's voice and the interjections in general, but since I'm a teacher and I look at kids books from the point of view of a 10-year-old, I think kids would eat this up, the tactic where you warn them what's coming to the point where they're just sitting on the edge of their seat in anticipation waiting for the bloody parts.

The story itself reads very well, and I finished it quickly since it was very engaging and it just screams "keep reading!". The author interjections are hilarious, and the nature of the book makes it the prefect book for boys and kids in general that just love good ol' kid-appropriate violent stories.

A perfect fairy tale book for modern kids that like their stories with some edge. Traditional but not sugar-coated. There is violence and blood here like the author warns, but nothing your average 8-year-old couldn't handle (but might be a tad scary for the preschool set, so best to save this for the middle grade readers). I would use this as a read-aloud book for that age range in a heartbeat, and it's going on my "to-keep" list for our future kids.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. The characters and animals done in silhouettes/outlines against a night scene with very little colour other than blue and black really bring out the feel of the story (spooky in the kid-friendly way). I love how the dragon wraps around the cover from front to back.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Warlock - Michael Scott

Title: The Warlock (Book 5 in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series)
Author: Michael Scott
Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 376 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: June 1, 2011
Finished: June 6, 2011

From the author's website:
The twins of prophecy have been divided-the end has begun.

Although their ally Dr. John Dee has been declared utlaga, Machiavelli and Billy the Kid will follow the plans the Elders have laid before them: they will loose the monsters of Alcatraz on the city of San Francisco, thereby triggering the end of the humani race.

Danu Talis:
The Shadowrealm that Scatty and Joan of Arc have entered is far more dangerous than they could ever have imagined. And they haven’t landed here by chance-the warriors were called for a reason. So were Saint-Germain, Palamededs, and Shakespeare. The group was summoned because they must travel back in time to Danu Talis and destroy it. For the island of Danu Talis, known in humani myth as the lost city of Atlantis, must fall if the modern world is to exist.

San Francisco:
The end is finally near. Josh Newman has chosen a side, and he will not stand with his sister, Sophie, or with the Alchemyst, Nicholas Flamel. He will fight alongside Dee and the mysterious Virginia Dare. Unless Sophie can find her twin before the battle begins, all is lost – forever.

In the fifth installment of this bestselling series, the twins of prophesy have been divided, and the end is finally beginning.

With Scatty, Joan of Arc, Saint Germain, Palamedes, and Shakespeare all in Danu Talis, Sophie is on her own with the ever-weakening Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel. She must depend on Niten to help her find an immortal to teach her Earth Magic. The surprise is that she will find her teacher in the most ordinary of places.

For anyone who's not familiar with this series thus far, take a look at the first part of my review for the last book, The Necromancer, which will give you a bit of an idea of what this series is about.

On to this installment in particular. Since this is the second-last book in this series, we're gearing up for the big finale, so unfortunately this book suffers from the usual lag that tends to happen with series as things build up for the end installment. Dee and company are trying to unleash the monsters on Alcatraz, Scatty and company are trying to destroy Danu Talis, and Sophie and the Flamels are in San Francisco trying to save Nicholas and figure out their next move. Not much actually happens in this novel in terms of action, no big action or fight scenes, it's very sectional where each group is doing their own thing and all those plot threads come together right at the end to set the tone for the final book. Instead of action, we get a lot of backstory and flashbacks as the groups gear up for the big finale, we find out the relationships between a lot of the Elders and immortal humani, as well as information about Danu Talis back in the day.

This installment does end on a huge cliffhanger, which makes the year wait for the next and final book all the more frustrating, but I'm pretty sure that the last book will be amazing after all the setup in this one.

For those of you that haven't read this awesome series yet, go read all 5 books thus far so you can join the club of anticipation for next year's finale. For those of you that are already fans of the series, this book isn't as amazing as previous ones were, but you need the info here to gear up for the last book.

Thoughts on the cover:
This series does a great job with continuity between all the covers. This time we have a gold colour scheme (it's shiny!) with a touch of blue-green lightning with all the symbols. I'm guessing they're going for Josh and Sophie's auras for these last books, so I'm going to guess that the last book will have a silver colour scheme since this one was gold for Josh.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Small Acts of Amazing Courage - Gloria Whelan

Title: Small Acts of Amazing Courage
Author: Gloria Whelan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 209 pages
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction
Started: June 3, 2011
Finished: June 4. 2011

From the inside cover:
How can kindness get you into so much trouble?

Ever since the death of Rosalind's brother, Edward, Rosalind's mother hasn't been the same. Rosalind's father is away at war, and his wish is for Rosalind to live in England and get a proper British education. England is home to Rosalind, but she has never been there. As an English girl in India in 1919, Rosalind is alone.

Rosalind awaits the return of her father from the war, and more and more she ventures out into the streets. It is there that she learns of a man named Ghandi and hears talk of how India must be free to rule itself. Then late one night, she makes a fateful discovery. She knows that seeking out the beggars who live under the bridge near the river is not where she should be, but she wants to help, even if her parents will never understand.

National Book Award recipient Gloria Whelan weaves a captivating story of love and family, secrets and sisterhood, and most of all, identity.

This book caught my attention a while back, and it turned out to be a really enjoyable short read.

It's 1919 in India and Rosalind's father is returning from the war more intent than ever to have his 15-year-old daughter shipped off to England for schooling like all the other British children born in India during colonial times. Since Rosalind's brother Edward died while at school in England before Rosalind was even born, her mother was insistent about keeping her remaining child in India, and has succeeded in getting her way up to this point. Edward's death also affected Rosalind's upbringing in other ways: Rosalind was raised with her ayah's daughter, Isha, so Rosalind identifies more with her than the other British girls, and truly loves India as her homeland. Rosalind has also been allowed to go gallivanting around the bazaars in town with Isha, something her father definitely would not have approved of had he been home and not off fighting in the war. When her father returns and sees exactly how unruly and independent his daughter has become in the years he's been away, he insists on sending her off to England. But along the way, Rosalind learns to stand up for what she believes in, taking a cue from Ghandi's philosophy, which in this case is supporting Indian independence and doing what is right instead of what is considered "proper".

I think the target age for this book might have been classified incorrectly. I loved the story and got the subtle elements and such, but in order to appreciate the story, you really need to have the background knowledge about British colonization and India's history under British rule, which not a lot of middle grade readers are going to have unless they're extremely well-read (heck, most of the kids I teach don't even know that Canada was a British colony at one point, let alone India). So I think slightly older readers with more historical knowledge might get more out of this book than the younger readers it's targeted to, but that's just my opinion.

The book is well-written, and Rosalind is a really admirable character based on all the 'small acts of amazing courage' she performs throughout the book. Rosalind really comes into her own and makes decisions based on what she believes is right, even though it alienates her from her family, which is a good lesson for kids to learn, to make decisions that you are happy with and not decide things based on what parents/friends/significant others think you should do. The imagery of India is really well portrayed here, the lush landscapes and the colours really come alive in the author's writing, and readers begin to love it as much as Rosalind does.

Very enjoyable well-written book with a good message. Younger readers might not understand or appreciate it without background historical knowledge, but that's easily taught.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. The flowers and ferns in the pink and orange colour scheme are very vibrant, and the hands at the bottom are a nice touch.

Desires of the Dead - Kimberly Derting

Title: Desires of the Dead (Book 2 in The Body Finder series)
Author: Kimberly Derting
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 355 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Mystery
Started: May 30, 2011
Finished: June 1, 2011

From the inside cover:
The missing dead call to Violet. They want to be found.

Violet can sense the echoes of those who've been murdered—and the matching imprint that clings to their killers. Only those closest to her know what she is capable of, but when she discovers the body of a young boy she also draws the attention of the FBI, threatening her entire way of life.

As Violet works to keep her morbid ability a secret, she unwittingly becomes the object of a dangerous obsession. Normally she'd turn to her best friend, Jay, except now that they are officially a couple, the rules of their relationship seem to have changed. And with Jay spending more and more time with his new friend Mike, Violet is left with too much time on her hands as she wonders where things went wrong. But when she fills the void by digging into Mike's tragic family history, she stumbles upon a dark truth that could put everyone in danger.

After liking The Body Finder when I read it a year ago, I knew I would be picking up the sequel. Desires of the Dead is a much cooler title this time around, and still has the same slight supernatural feel combined with romance and mystery, but the plot just didn't have that same sense of urgency as the first one did.

In the first book, Violet uncovers a serial killer who in turn comes after her. Combined with the emerging romance and angst from friend/boyfriend Jay, and you've got a book that demands to be read. This time around in Desires of the Dead, Violet and Jay are established and are so cute they cause cavities, so not much angst there. The mystery element has Violet tracking two separate killers in two different cases that don't really affect her until the very end, so you never really feel that her life was in danger like in the first book. I mentioned in my review of the first book that it felt like a romance novel disguised as a mystery, even though I really enjoyed it. I felt that even more so with Desires of the Dead...the mystery wasn't much of a mystery, you never really feel that Violet's in any real danger, and the whole "my freaky talent being discovered by the FBI" bit could've had some more urgency to it, like the threat of Violet actually being taken to be studied or something.

I liked the first book, The Body Finder, much better than this installment purely because of the urgency to the plot and the mystery, which just didn't deliver in this one.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuity from the blue "echo" of the first cover to a pink one on this cover. They're kinda plain, but it works.