Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ripper, by Stefan Petrucha

I've been waiting to read Ripper for a while - my interest in books about this subject was piqued after reading The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson, last year.

Ripper is the story of Carver Young, an orphan living in New York City. At the beginning of the book, Carver's orphanage is told it's being shut down, and he is hurriedly adopted by a man named Mr. Hawking. Despite the fact that Mr. Hawking is eccentric and not in the best of health, Carver is excited by this opportunity because Mr. Hawking is a detective,  and Carver has always been intrigued by detective work, especially with the recent "Library Murders" that have been going on.

Soon after his adoption, Carver is thrown into the world of the "New Pinkertons" - a world of gadgets, spying, and doing anything possible to stop a criminal. He's also been given an incredible test by his new "father" to find the Library Killer, but along the way he finds that he may be more connected to the murders than he originally thought.

Ripper really gripped me in the beginning, but I kind of lost steam in the middle of the book. The plot seemed to slow down a little bit, and there were lots of subplots that were kind of distracting. Overall, I enjoyed the book and some of the twists in it, but Name of the Star is still my favorite Jack the Ripper book!

Also Try: Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson; Ripper, by Amy Carol Reeves

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave, by John Boyne

I just read John Boyne's newest historical fiction novel on Netgalley. I didn't find it quite as captivating as his earlier The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but I still really enjoyed the novel and Boyne's lyrical writing style.

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is about a boy named Alfie and his family's experiences as his father, Georgie, enlists in the army to fight in World War I. Alfie and his mother, Margie, are left alone in London to fend for themselves, and their entire world changes quickly after Georgie leaves. Margie finds herself having to get a job, Alfie notices that attendance at school is no longer enforced, and neighbors begin to disappear. Alfie looks forward to the regular letters from his father, until they stop coming. Alfie is convinced that his father has died, but his mother insists he's on a "secret mission". Alfie soon learns the truth, and the novel takes a turn into examining post-traumatic stress disorder, before it was given that name.

I thought it was really interesting to examine PTSD through the lens of World War I, because you hear about it so often right now with soldiers returning from the Middle East. I was also amazed, again, at Boyne's ability to capture the voice of a child, and thought the narrative was very age-appropriate.

Publication Date: March 25, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Asylum, by Madeleine Roux

Asylum is about a boy, Dan Crawford, who's a little different. He's way smarter than the kids at his school, a mild social outcast, and is adopted. He also has some psychotic tendencies, for which he sees a therapist. Dan is ecstatic to have the opportunity to attend a summer program at New Hampshire College Prep, and can't wait to get away from the drones at his high school and interact with some like-minded people. Upon arrival, Dan learns that the normal dormitories are out of commission, and that he and all participants will be housed in a former psychiatric ward.

From Day One, Dan feels a strange connection to the building, and discovers that he has the same name as the former warden of the psych ward, a man who was known for strange and inhumane "experiments" on the wards. On top of that, Dan finds a series of strange photos and begins receiving inexplicable, untraceable emails and texts about former patients. Dan's new friends Abby and Jordan help him investigate, but their inquiry turns quickly dangerous, and kids at the program start getting hurt. Will the trio be able to find their link to the dorm and stop the madness?

This book seemed much like a copycat of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children to me. The plot was vastly different, but the format of the book (font, inclusion of photos, etc.) was just too strikingly similar. I think that it wanted to be a horror book, but it didn't actually materialize. I felt that parts of the plot were too sketchy or random, and it just didn't all connect for me. The way it ended did seem to indicate that there would be a sequel - I don't know if I'd read it or not.

Also Try: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs; Variant, by Robison Wells

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hollow City, by Ransom Riggs

I tried to read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children several times when it first came out. I could never get into it - I think a large part of that was that the photos in the novel looked alarmingly similar to the images in the "American Horror Story" TV show commercials, and I was just too terrified to see the book through. I recently read (and LOVED!) it, though, since its sequel Hollow City came out.
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
Hollow City picks up right where Miss Peregrine's Home left off, and it's definitely one of those sequels that mandates reading the first installment first. Sometimes you can get away with skipping straight to the second book, but I don't think you'd be able to here.

Hollow City finds Jacob Portman, who used to think he was normal, suddenly bound to the group of "peculiars" that his late grandfather (read about that in the first novel) used to be a part of. Jacob and his new "friends" are determined to save their loop and their ymbryne (read: leader) from destruction and peril at the hands of the evil "wights". Secondary to this cause, Jacob also longs to learn more about his grandfather's life and death. This quest takes them from Wales to WWII London, hoping to find aid amidst the network of peculiars that they know is out there. I realize in reading my summary that it probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense - that's the thing about these books...you just have to read them!

There were lots of things I loved about Hollow City. First, like with Miss Peregrine, I actually grew to love the intriguing and (sometimes) disturbing photographs that accompanied the text. I thought it was such a cool concept and gave the book a really interesting feel. Next, I loved the blend of so many different genres that was going on in Hollow City. First, there's the sort of fantastical idea of children ("peculiars") with magical, mystical powers. Then, that was set against the historical backdrop of World War II Wales and London. Finally, there was this realistic aspect to the novel - Jacob's struggle between his newfound, adventurous life and his old, boring, but comfortable lifestyle with his parents.

Also Try: Freaks, by Kieran Larwood; Wonder Show, by Hannah Barnaby; The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman; and (obviously) Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, and apparently there's a book three in the works!!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Knockout Games, by G. Neri

Given all the news attention that's been on the "Knockout Game" lately, I was really excited to read a galley of G. Neri's newest book, Knockout Games.

The novel is about a used-to-be-innocent girl named Erica who moves to the big city of St. Louis with her mom after her parent's divorce. Erica is one of few white girls in her new school and is struggling to find a niche. One of her new teachers urges her into film, but Erica's crazy talents are discovered by the wrong crowd - a gang of kids run by leader Kalvin who plays the knockout game for fun.

Erica immediately gets wrapped up in the "games", taking videos for the club and uploading them to Facebook for the world to see. But when the gang takes out a community leader and accidentally kills his wife (who just so happens to be the same teacher that turned Erica onto film), Erica realizes just how deep into the terror she's become. She doesn't know what to do to pull her way back out, and she's worried that she's put her entire family at risk along the way.

Overall, the novel wasn't as great as I thought it would be. I thought there would be more discussion of the games, how they started, and the kind of nationwide appeal that they've garnered. But, it was very limited to this St. Louis crowd who had apparently been 'playing' for years. There was a lot of bad language in the novel, and considerable discussion of sex - I don't think it would be appropriate for my middle school classroom.

Publication Date: August 1, 2014

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Tyrant's Daughter, by J.C. Carleson

I don’t know why, but I’ve always been intrigued by novels about the Middle East. The Tyrant’s Daughter is about Laila and her family, recent refugees to the United States after her father’s death in their home nation. Their homeland is never defined, but her father was the leader (read: dictator) of the country. Killed in a coup, Laila and her family have no choice but to flee to safety, in America. 

Upon arrival, Laila is forced to confront the harsh reality of her father’s regime and her old way of life. All she knew of her father was that he was her dad, the man who loved her. But in America, she learned awful news of his many crimes against humanity and his brutal methods of enforcing his agenda. All of this is nearly too much for Laila to handle, especially when she meets a friend’s crippled, mutilated little sister, innocently injured while at school, at the hands of Laila’s father. Trying to assimilate into American culture is, obviously, extremely difficult, and one of the most striking scenes I recall from the novel is when Laila’s school has a bomb threat. The American students rejoice in the occasion, seeing it as a free day off, something that would never actually happen. For Laila though, the fear is all too real and familiar. 

After a while in the U.S., Laila discovers that her mother’s motives were not merely for survival - she’s working with the CIA to bring down the new ruler of her country, her uncle. Laila is sick of the betrayal and the lies, and vows to not let her parents rule her life any longer. 

I did love the novel and I particularly loved the contrast between life in Laila’s home country and life in the United States. I loved Laila’s commentary on how over-the-top things are in America. There was one scene in which she described how cereal in her home land was a luxury; in America, it’s something for everyone and there is an entire aisle devoted just to it at the grocery store. I would recommend this novel to girls, especially those interested in other cultures. Be warned, there was some bad language and mention of sex. 

Publication Date: February 11, 2014

Also Try: Under the Persimmon Tree, by Suzanne Fisher Staples; Sold, by Patricia McCormick; Saving Sky, by Diane Stanley

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I Kill the Mockingbird, by Paul Acampora

I loved I Kill the Mockingbird, by Paul Acampora, but unfortunately I don't think it's the type of book that would appeal to most of my students. They seem to hunger for books with adventure, big plots, mystery - this book doesn't really have any of those.

I Kill the Mockingbird is about three 8th graders: Lucy, Elena, and Michael. They're best friends and all attend the same school, at which Lucy's dad is the principal. Lucy's mom has recently returned home after a long hospitalization with cancer, and Elena lives with her uncle above the bookstore that he owns. During their eighth grade year, one of their favorite teachers, Mr. Nowak, dies of a heart attack. Their replacement teacher, Miss Caridas, assigns a list of options for summer reading, one of which is To Kill A Mockingbird.

In an effort to pay homage to Mr. Novak and force kids to read the book, they hatch a social media campaign to spark interest in the novel. They call their campaign "I Kill the Mockingbird", and begin to hide TKAM books at local bookstores and libraries to garner even more intrigue. Soon, people around the country are involved in the campaign, and it seems to be getting out of control.

My favorite quote from the book:

"You might be thinking that you're already a good reader...It's not enough to know what all the words mean. A good reader starts to see what an entire book is trying to say. And then a good reader will have something to say in return. If you're reading well, you're having a conversation."

I Kill the Mockingbird was smart and well-executed, but like I said, I don't think it will appeal to many of my students - it just doesn't seem to be the type of book they go for. I'll definitely recommend it, though, and hope one of them will fall in love with it and prove me wrong!

Publication Date: May 20, 2014