Posts tagged ‘book covers’

When We Wake

When We Wake
Title: When We Wake
Author: Karen Healey
ISBN: 9780316200769
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, c2013
Publication Date: March 5, 2013

“You can think of it as being in a coma,” she said. More and more of her face was swimming into focus now. “A sort of frozen coma that lasted a long time.”
Dr. Carmen paused, waiting for the obvious question, but my mind was whirring, and I missed my cue.
“It’s 2128, Tegan,” she said. “I’m sorry, I know that must be difficult to hear. You’ve been in stasis for just over a century.” (17)

Tegan Oglietti is sixteen years old in 2027 when she becomes the victim of a botched public shooting. When she wakes up 101 years later, her homeland Australia has changed almost beyond recognition. Slang, computers, culture, and homes have been refashioned in this world that, amazingly enough to Tegan, still suffers the same wars, environmental issues, and political problems that Tegan left behind in her past. The first successful revival, Tegan is placed under massive amounts of scrutiny as she navigates the publicity caused by her “undead” status. But warring political and religious factions are vying for her influence as an instant celebrity, and some will stop at nothing to claim her as their own. Is she really a person, or is she the property of the government that awakened her and trying to control her? Who can she trust when everyone and everything she knew and understood is gone?

Just look at that gorgeous cover! Almost three years ago, I read Karen Healey’s debut novel Guardian of the Dead and loved it. While I missed reading her sophomore novel The Shattering, this third book shows she hasn’t lost her touch. Full disclosure, this was my work out book at the gym, and I almost wanted to continue my time on the treadmill, just to finish a chapter or scene. If only every book I read while working out was as successful a distraction, I would be running miles by now! Yes, it’s that good.

Fans of The Hunger Games I feel would enjoy this book. Tegan is definitely not Katniss, as she really has no idea what she’s getting herself into when she signs the papers prior to her death volunteering her body to post-mortem science exploration. She also is much more involved in deciding her future than I feel Katniss ever was, from hunger strikes to running away to covert actions and threatening …. I’m getting ahead of myself. But like Katniss, she soon discovers that her intended use as a political pawn is NOT what she wants in life. While her school friends and their skills seem REALLY convenient for her purposes, I was willing to overlook it as Tegan struggles to figure out what’s really going on and claim of future of her own.

But the book isn’t all political intrigue, and we have some very funny and realistic moments between Tegan and her friends. One for sure stands out:

“Look, I’m not sure how to put this. So I’ll just ask. Are you sure you’re straight?”
My chin jerked up. She was sitting on the edge of the bed and swinging her feet. Her head was tilted at the ceiling, as if my answer was the least important thing in the world.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve never–yeah.”
She looked at me for a long, searching moment and nodded. “Oh, well,” she said. “It’d never work, anyway. I’m too bossy, and you’re too stubborn.”
“Plus, we don’t screw the crew,” I reminded her.
“Except for you and [spoiler] and your eighty gazillion babies.”
“Not happening.” (156)

A second thing I really appreciated is that Tegan doesn’t immediately jump into bed with the first person she lays eyes on, and while there is obviously romance mentioned in the book, it’s not the instantaneous teenage swooning that is so often attributed to young adult books. Tegan is athletic, religious, emotional, complicated, and multi-faceted — in other words a fully realized character who comes alive on the paper. She has a self-assurance about herself that’s refreshing. While I don’t think a sequel was necessarily required, the open ending definitely leaves readers guessing how she’s going to get her friends and herself out of this mess. Hopefully book two, coming out next year and titled While We Run, will find Tegan in a much better spot than this one left her.

The Lions of Little Rock

Lions of Little RockTitle: The Lions of Little Rock
Author: Kristin Levine
Narrator: Julia Whelan
ISBN: 9780399256448 (hardcover), 9780307968807 (audiobook)
Pages: 298 pages
Discs/CDs: 7 CDs, 8 hours and 23 minutes
Publisher/Date: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, an Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2012. (audiobook by Listening Library, an imprint of Random House Audio Publishing Group)
Publication Date: January 5, 2012

“So what did Miss Taylor say to you?” JT asked.
I shook my head.
“She said Liz isn’t coming back to West Side,” reported Nora, peering over the top of her glasses. “I was standing by the door and heard her. She said Liz is real sick. But I don’t think that’s true, because Liz was in school last Friday and she was fine.”
JT thought for a moment. “My cousin got the stomach flu last week. That can come on real sudden.”
“Yes, but that only lasts a few days,” said Nora.
“Liz isn’t coming back because she’s a Negro,” said Sally.
We all turned to look at her. (62)

Before meeting Liz, twelve-year-old Marlee didn’t have a lot of friends because she didn’t talk to anyone except for her family or her old friend Sally. But her family starts talking less and less as tensions are running high in Marlee’s household, with her parents on different sides of the debate regarding integrating the Little Rock schools. Liz reminded her so much of her older sister that she just felt comfortable talking to her, and Liz started encouraging her to speak up more at school. Then Liz vanishes from school, and the rumor mill is swirling that Liz was actually a light-skinned African-American, sneaking into school and passing for a white girl in order to get a better education. With tempers flaring in this city and acts of violence threatening, Marlee realizes she must pick a side and speak up if she’s going to prevent disaster from striking her or Liz.

This book reads like a younger version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. It brings the issue of integration and segregation to a level that kids understand, and sheds light on a period of time that even Levine recognizes in her author’s note is not talked about. “When I was in elementary school, my own education about the civil rights era was sketchy at best, but even I learned about the Little Rock Nine. [...] On the other hand, I had never heard of schools being closed to prevent integration, even though I later learned it had happened in my very own state of Virginia as well.” (292-293) I’ve mentioned several times that I enjoy “based-on-a-true story” type books, which I think is why I enjoy historical fiction so much when it’s set around little known events. It’s a fun way for me to learn about history and serves as a launching point to discover more, and I think other readers would agree.

Lions of Little Rock paperbackLevine stays true to the era with language, which I appreciate when an author doesn’t cheapen the story by not using culturally significant words, like “Negro” and the not so nice term for African-Americans. I realize my not using it might look contradictory to some readers, but I don’t need to use the word to lend historical accuracy to a story, which is how Levine uses it. I absolutely love the front of the hardcover, featuring the black and white birds, both of which play a role in the story. While I know there’s lots of talk out there about white-washing covers and not portraying actual photographs of minorities on covers, I think the cover implies the tone of the story that can be found on its pages. The paperback version does have a photograph looking cover (I haven’t seen it in person, and it’s hard to tell by this graphic), but I think it makes the book look intended for younger audiences, which I don’t think would be right. Marlee is a seventh grader in the story, and things do get somewhat violent towards the end, so I would whole heartedly recommend it for middle schoolers but would probably hesitate to go younger. However, I do know some people who would argue that there was no audience filter on the events as they were happening, so why should we filter what they read since they would have experienced it first hand if they had been there. Obviously it’s your call as to who you recommend this book.

All the characters in the book are multi-faceted and very accurately portrayed. The time they are growing up in and the issues they are facing are not simple, and it’s refreshing to see so many characters realistically grappling with their lives. Marlee’s evolution is slow but steady, and we see enough glimpses of her during the school year to witness her thought-process and how major events influence her decision-making. Liz is bold and intelligent, and it’s no wonder that Marlee is pulled towards this new girl packing so much personality and self-assurance. Although told time and again that it would be dangerous to remain friends, just like typical teens they don’t recognize that danger and refuse to heed warnings until it’s almost too late. I want to also recognize the parents of both girls in this novel who work jobs and are out of the house but are far from absent or removed from the situation. Their thoughts and feelings grow, evolve, and change as the situation changes and the school closings continue to stretch on indefinitely with no answer in sight. They discipline their daughters but also support them, worry over their safety, and try their best to be involved and encourage what’s best in their children’s lives.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Julie Whelan’s narration, which is spot-on. It probably helps that the book is told from Marlee’s perspective, which limits the rare male voices to a meager half-dozen at most. Readers get swept away by the story and don’t notice the time passing until you have to change discs. I waited a long time to read this, but you shouldn’t. Put this on every recommended book list you can, whether it is a list of historical fiction, African-American fiction, amazing audiobooks or simply friendship or school stories. It’s a heartfelt, memorable, and eye-opening account of friendship in tough circumstances during a period of time that strongly affected the people who lived through it. The story will stay with you for some time after you’re done reading it, making it a strong contender for reading group discussion.

2 The Point Tuesdays Flying the Dragon

For my new job, all the librarians write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be adding my contribution to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Title: Flying the Dragon
Author: Natalie Dias Lorenzi
ISBN: 9781580894340
Pages: 233 pages
Publisher/Date: Charlesbridge Publishing, c2012.
Publication Date: July 1, 2012

Ever since she had translated something for Hiroshi that morning, Kevin wouldn’t leave her alone. “Ching chang wong wang!” He snickered, obviously pleased with himself.
“That doesn’t even mean anything.” Skye rolled her eyes, hoping no one else had heard him. As luck would have it, she had to peer around his big head to copy the reading homework from the board. But whenever she tried to look, he blocked her way.
She sighed. “Cut it out. I can’t see the board.”
“Why don’t you ask your Chinese boyfriend what it says when he gets back from ESL class?”
“He’s not my boyfriend; he’s my cousin. And he’s not Chinese, duh. He’s Japanese.”
“Whatever.”
Ignore him. Ignore him. Ignore him. (48)

Sorano (called Skye) was excited about finally securing a spot on this coming summer’s All-Star soccer team. Instead, she’ll attend Japanese classes due to her cousin Hiroshi and his family moving to the United States. Hiroshi’s just as surprised as Skye about the move, angrily missing his own summer goal of continuing the family tradition and competing in the annual kite battles. The conflict grows as Hiroshi closely guards the little time he has with his ailing grandfather and Skye is embarrassed by Hiroshi’s very Japanese manners. When Skye accidently damages the kite that Hiroshi and his grandfather built together and carefully transported from Japan, it looks like their friendship is over before it got off the ground. Peppered with Japanese phrases, words, and cultural tidbits, this debut novel realistically portrays a collision of cultures and emotions and how two very different people can help each other succeed and soar.

I’d say more about how much I loved this book and the cover, but since it’s To the Point Tuesday, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with following the links. Looking for more information? Literary Rambles has an interview with author Natalie Dias Lorenzi and the author has a whole host of links to reviews and interviews on her website.

Caroline’s Battle

Title: Caroline’s Battle
Author: Kathleen Ernst
Illustrators: Robert and Lisa Papp
ISBN: 9781593698904
Pages: 90 pages
Publisher/Date: American Girl Publishing, c2012
Publication Date: September 4, 2012

“A few dozen British men and some of their Indian allies rowed ashore several miles west of here,” the officer said. “As soon as the wind picks up, though, the British fleet will surely head for Sackets Harbor and try to land a huge force near the village.” [...]
The officer waved his hand toward the shipyard. “I need these men to help defend Navy Point.”
Caroline caught her breath. She saw the men exchanging worried glances and heard them muttering in protest. “We’re needed here, to guard the gun boat!” one of the carpenters shouted.
“With so many of the American troops away, our position is desperate,” the officer snapped. “We need every man to fight.”
“But–but sir,” Caroline stammered, “who will defend our shipyard?” (28-29)

When the British decide to attack the town of Sackets Harbor while the majority of the military is away, every man is called into action to defend against the landing party. This leaves Caroline and her mother to guard the gunboat being constructed in the family operated shipyard. The British cannot be allowed to gain access to the almost completed gunboat, much less the building plans or the navy instructions housed in the office, and Caroline and her mother are ordered to burn the ship if the fighting goes bad. But with signal fires flaring and the sound of gunfire approaching, will Caroline follow orders or her heart when she’s called to action?

One point in the story that really struck me is when Caroline asks her mother “How do you know when it’s right to do what you’re told, and when to decide for yourself?” (44) Her mother doesn’t really answer except to say “It is sometimes very difficult. I try to use both my mind and my heart.” I feel though that this is one of the important things that girls discover or figure out as they are growing up is that sometimes you have to make your own decisions and you’ll have to figure out when that time has arrived.

Another aspect of the story that I enjoyed was knowing that the events in the book are based on actual events. We learn in the Looking Back section that Sackets Harbor was actually attacked just as described in the story and the outcome was exactly what happens to Caroline and her family. Staying that true to history encourages kids to investigate more and makes everything more believable. I was quite surprised about how close she gets to the fighting again, and I think readers will really bear witness to what it was like during that time.

I feel like the cover could have been done differently, since there are very few details for the background. Understandably the lack of details places the emphasis on Caroline and her torch and it’s effective in raising questions about what she is doing and who she is battling. That cover is just very different from the typical American Girl cover, and there is a stark contrast when compared with the others in the series. The plot however is more of the same intriguing and engaging story line that readers have come to expect.

Dark of the Moon

Title: Dark of the Moon
Author: Tracy Barrett
ISBN: 9780574581323
Pages: 310 pages
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, c2011.

It isn’t true what they say about my brother–that he ate those children. He never did; he didn’t even mean to hurt them. He wept as he held out their broken bodies, his soft brown eyes pleading with me to fix them, the way I always fixed his dolls and toys. [...]
I couldn’t fix the children, of course. They were dead, their heads flopping on their necks, their arms and legs pale and limp. My mother ordered the slaves to take them away and give them a proper burial, and I held my brother as he sobbed over the loss of his playmates. [...]
When the replacement children died as well, my mother said: No more playmates. My brother wailed and roared in his loneliness, deep beneath the palace, until the Minos took pity and said: Just once more. But not children from Krete. The people would stand for it no more, he said.
And so they came in their long ships. (prologue)

Ariadne is She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess, having been born to her mother while had assumed the role of the Goddess and will assume the role when her mother dies. Her brother Asterion is He-Who-Will-Be-Minos, a kind of token king who assists with the rituals where the Goddess promises wealth and prosperity. The problem is that her brother will never be able to perform the necessary duties of the position, having been born with physical and mental deformities. Neighboring communities call him the Minotaur, believing him to be half man and half beast, but Ariadne knows differently. However, she soon finds her loyalties torn between her brother, her village, and her obligations as a new batch of slaves arrive and she struggles to explain her culture to strangers, especially Theseus, the son of the king of Athens.

The most engaging aspect of this book is the unique presentation of the Minotaur myth. Asterion seems to be a cross between the Beast (from Beauty and the Beast) and a highly autistic child. Ariadne’s religion/culture is difficult for Theseus to understand (and I keep using the word unique to describe the whole concept). One woman doesn’t just assume the symbolic role of the Goddess, but every year actually becomes the Goddess in order to promote growth, health, and a good harvest. The rest of the time, the Goddess is separate from the chosen woman, her presence and watchfulness represented by the cycles of the moon. It’s presented as almost like a temporary possession of the person in question. The same can be said for her consort Velchanos, who every year chooses a male body to inhabit for the harvest celebration, during which time the two “deities” consummate their relationship. Then the male is sacrificed by the Minos (similar to a high priest/protector of the Goddess) and the blood will be used to fertilize the fields for the coming year. The first boy and girl who are born to the She-Who-Is-Goddess as a result of the consummation become She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess and He-Who-Will-Be-Minos.

The problem of course arises because Asterion, the Minos-to-be, is completely incapable of fulfilling his duties due to his inability to communicate and his physical limitations. While Ariadne’s initial lack of this realization seems implausible to me, especially considering how involved she is in this culture’s religion and events, it adds political upheaval and tension to the climax of the story. Also adding climax to the story is Theseus’ naivety to the whole blood spilling process, thinking that a pin prick will be enough for this sacrificial society.

Another unique aspect of this book is the way Ariadne’s relationship with Theseus ends. EPILOGUE SPOILER ALERT (highlight the text below if you REALLY want to know):
“Now that I know what love is, I know I felt nothing like that for Theseus. Friendship, yes; gratitude for his kindness to Asterion and for seeing me as a woman and not a goddess in training, yes; but not love. That is something different, and something I hope my friend Theseus will find.” (309-310) It’s interesting to see a character change her idea of her feelings and not get swept away by the gorgeous new stranger (how often have we seen that plot?). Ariadne is a woman who knows what she wants out of society and eventually questions her blind acceptance of a role thrust upon her. She’s a strong female character who doesn’t lose sight of her more feminine qualities.

For readers who are familiar with the fantasy genre, this is some extreme out of the box thinking, and I’m seriously impressed. This wholly original take on a very old story will intrigue fantasy fans and inspire a new way of viewing a well-known and popular myth. What Gregory MaGuire did to Elphaba in Wicked, Tracy Barrett does for the Minotaur and Ariadne in Dark of the Moon. (And with a very cool book cover to boot!)

The Undertakers

Title: The Undertakers: Rise of the Corpses
Author: Ty Drago
ISBN: 9781402247859
Pages: 465 pages
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks, Inc., c2011.

Pratt was the neighborhood grouch. Somewhere in his seventies, he lived alone, kept to himself, and got pissed off more often and with less reason than anyone I’d ever met.
“I’m talking to you, Ritter!”
I tried to speak–I really did–but no sound came out. When you turn around expecting to see something familiar–not particularly pleasant but familiar–and instead see something else altogether, it takes a little while for your brain to catch up with your eyes. Some people might call it shock. I call it the holy crap factor.
Ernie Pratt was dead–very dead–which didn’t make much sense because as far as I knew, dead men didn’t get pissed.
He was wearing what he usually wore in the mornings: a white terry-cloth robe and slippers, except the skin inside the slippers had gone as dry as old paper. His face was gray and pulled tight around his skull. One of his eyes was hanging out of its socket, dangling by a short length of thick, corded tissue. The other one, looking milky and sightless, nevertheless stared at me. His lips were gone, receded, revealing a black-gummed mouth with only half the teeth it should have had, and even those were as yellow as old eggs.
Which is also how he smelled. (4-5)

Twelve year old Will Ritter wakes up one morning and realizes that his next-door neighbor has become a walking corpse. His day unfortunately goes from bad to worse when Will escapes on the school bus, only to realize when he gets to school that his assistant principal and math teacher are less than alive as well. After being rescued by classmate Helene (pronounced like it has three a’s) , Will becomes involved in a secret organization of kids called the Undertakers who are among the few people able to identify these Corpses. Will is less than pleased about being drafted into their organization, but soon realizes that there are few other options. As the organization is forced to consider switching their tactics from defensive to offensive, Will just might be the recruit they need to tip the scales in humanity’s favor.

My coworker and I were very intrigued when this book came in to see a zombie book for middle schoolers. How many other zombie books are out there for this age group? The cover is appropriately creepy and blood-red toned, which definitely adds to the appeal in my opinion.

The story itself rises to the occasion as well. The zombies–excuse me, Corpses–are described in gruesome detail. In the dedication, the author thanks his son “who read it and offered helpful (and often profound) insight into the realities of his age, his culture, and his mysterious language.” It definitely shows, with the text riddled with mild cussing (crap, hell, pissed, etc.) that is definitely warranted and rings true to the horrific, scary, and adventurous outings that the teens experience. Will’s pleas for his mom at one point is also unique, because so many times in children’s books the main character is just thrust in their world saving position and blindly accepts their new role. Will doesn’t, and is really reluctant to joining this group and getting involved, and his actions realistically reflect what some scared tweens would be feeling. I really appreciated that aspect of the story. Another realistic aspect of the book: people die. Books where no one dies in an end of the world preservation fight really annoy me, and the fact that the characters were affected and mourned the loss of their fellow fighters is even more authentic. The fighters solve their problems with ingenuity, technology, physical confrontations, and a little bit of luck. Okay, in some cases a LOT of luck, with people coming to the rescue just in the nick of time on more than one occasion. But Ty Drago (even the author’s name is cool!) does an admirable job explaining these last-minute saves, and it works without any trepidation crossing your mind as you’re reading.

It’s a fast paced, high energy novel that should get readers invested in the story. I could definitely see myself book talking this title to tweens and teens, especially around Halloween. There are twists and turns that readers don’t see coming, and although the ending is satisfying, it’s also open-ended enough to leave people excited about the sequel, Undertakers: Queen of the Dead which is coming out in October 1st (perfect again for Halloween!) AND there’s apparently a third one in the works too!

UPDATE: I did book talk this to fifth and sixth graders during my summer reading visits, and they wanted to get their hands on it immediately, especially the boys.

Anna and the French Kiss

Title: Anna and the French Kiss
Author: Stephanie Perkins
ISBN: 9780525423270
Pages: 372 pages
Publisher/Date: Dutton Books, c2010.

He’s drunk. He’s just drunk.
Calm down, Anna. He’s drunk, and he’s going through a crisis. There is NO WAY he knows what he’s talking about right now. So what do I do? Oh my God, what am I supposed to do?
“Do you like me?” St. Clair asks. And he looks at me with those big brown eyes–which, okay, are a bit red from the drinking and maybe from some crying–and my heart breaks.
Yes, St. Clair. I like you.
But I can’t say it aloud, because he’s my friend. And friends don’t let other friends make drunken declarations and expect them to act upon them the next day.
Then again . . . it’s St. Clair. Beautiful, perfect, wonderful–
And great. That’s just great.
He threw up on me. (142-143)

Anna is dropped off by her famous author father at a boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school. Never mind that the only word of French she knows is oui, and that she only recently learned how to spell it correctly. Never mind that she has a great life in Atlanta, with a crush and a job and a best friend. But then she meets Etienne St. Clair, a fellow senior who has it all, and falls for him hard. But Anna can’t forget that not only does St. Clair have a girlfriend, but her new friend at school also harbors a crush for this perfect boy. As she tries to navigate the year by ignoring her crush, Anna realizes just why Paris is called the city of love.

This was a snappy, entertaining, and fast read that would serve lots of teen girls in their quest for romance. The dialogue was witty, with readers really seeing Anna’s insecurities of surviving in a new city and trying to make it on her own. Her activities in Paris mirror what her friends are going through back in Atlanta, and it’s really interesting to see the different sides to the same coin (so to speak). Quite a few chapters end in the manner like the portion quoted above, so you find yourself saying “Just one more chapter” and then realize an hour later that you’re almost done with the book. Great pacing. Although, can anyone tell me how to pronounce St. Clair’s first name? I’d hate to get it wrong when doing a book talk with high schoolers who may or may not know French!

And it’s a clean, chaste romance which still packs a punch and keeps readers interested and begging for more! YES! No sex is shown although it is mentioned and there’s one naked scene but no one sees anything they aren’t supposed to. I could probably recommend it to younger teens, because even though there is some underaged drinking, you see the consequences of such actions and besides, it is legal over in Paris to drink at that age. The story covers the entire school year, which makes the ending more probable as characters grow and change and evolve.

But this is hardly a morality tale, it’s a romance, so none of what I mentioned is really all that important. The cover is adorable, and so is the story. This tale of star-crossed lovers who can’t seem to escape the misunderstandings and jumping to conclusions will have readers rooting for them till the very end.

I LOVED IT. Any librarians doing the Summer Reading theme “You Are Here” should add this to any bibliography of books that take place in foreign countries. (I’m working on such a list for a future post, so stay tuned.) A great girl read that I find myself unexpectedly gushing over.

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