The Assassin Game
Cate resides at at boarding school on a very isolated island. Each year, the students of the Guild play a game called Killer. Mush like the game Assassin, one person is picked to be the killer, and the others must try to stay alive, and try to guess who the killer is. Most years the game is lighthearted, and funny, which is why the school administration turns a blind eye. But this year is different, people are getting seriously hurt and even killed. Now the members of the game must try to figure out who the killer is before they get hurt.
I thought this book was pretty good. We have all played this game before, but it was interesting to think of it as such a big production. I recall walking around a room, shaking hands and giving a little tickle to the wrist if I was the murderer. I liked some of the examples of how people could get “murdered” that were light and fun, but it definitely took a dark edge quickly. The end was not exactly what I expected, but not quite surprising either. I wasn’t a huge fan of any of the characters. They were unrelateable, and not really very likable either. I thought there was a lack of world build, but it didn’t seem to big that big of a deal, since this book was mostly plot based. I was guessing until the end, but I didn’t seem to care 100%. Overall, pretty good, I just hoped for more from the cast.
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
2015 by Candlewick
ISBN – 9780763668181
Genre – Biography
Age – High School, Adult
6 stars (on a scale of 5)
Dmitri Shostakovich was an incredible musician by a very early age. By the time Hitler and his soldiers surrounded Leningrad, Shostakovich was writing well known symphonies. The siege went on for an incredible amount of time in which more than one million citizens died. Hitler blocked food and supplies from entering the city. People died in the military, they froze to death, and they starved. The tragedy is unimaginable. M.T. Anderson writes a beautiful and detailed account of Shostakovich throughout his life, but focusing on the time of the siege. He writes about how an entire city faced intense hardship, and how they came out in the end. His focus on Shostakovich allows readers to have a glimpse of the pain that one man experienced, and how his actions affected his city and the world. He used not only his music, but his name to inspire hope around the globe. He faced backlash and criticism, but he never gave up. This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is by far Anderson’s greatest work (in my opinion.) Books like this are change the genre of nonfiction for the better. It was full of historical information, but his ability to portray personal accounts so well, made me relate to a time and a place that seems so distant. I can’t say enough good about this book. I have chills just thinking about it. Gah!
Serafina and the Black Cloak
2015 by Disney•Hyperion
ISBN – 9781484709016
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Elementary, Middle School
Serafina lives with her Pa on the Biltmore Estate. Her existence is a secret, and none of the residents are allowed to know about her. She has quite a sense of adventure, and explores the estate to her heart’s content. But the rule is that she must never go outside of the grounds. Then children start disappearing from the estate and Serafina thinks she knows who is taking them. There is a man that trolls the corridors in the night, and he wears a black cloak. Serafina must stop him before he steals her or her new friend.
I thought this book was slow. The plot seemed so exciting, but it just wasn’t able to keep my attention the entire time. I liked Serafina, she was quiet, adventurous, brave, and vulnerable. She reminded me a bit of how I might have been had I lived hidden away in a giant estate in my childhood. I liked the concept of defining oneself. Serafina had many questions about her past, and she was very concerned about how the answers may define her future. I think there is a powerful message hidden (not so much) about choosing who we are and who we can become. My biggest complaint is that the book wasn’t more exciting.
This Monstrous Thing
2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
ISBN – 9780062382771
Genre – Horror
Age – High School
The wounded are being put back together with clockwork parts. They are shunned from society, and those who care for them, are working illegally. In the midst of all this, Alasdair’s life is shattered by his brother’s tragic death, and so he does what some men have dreamed about and others have nightmares about. With the help of his friend Mary, he brings his brother back to life. But something isn’t right, his brother has returned a shell of his former self. Alasdair is forced to put the life he dreamed of on hold to help his family business and to take care of his brother that he has hidden away. He is able to balance everything, until a strange book about bringing a dead man back to life is published. The city of Geneva begins a massive manhunt for the reanimated monster as well as the evil genius who brought him back. Aladair’s father is arrested, his mother has disappeared, and he must find a way to hide as well. Who will pay the price for everything that has happened?
I thought this book was pretty fantastic. It wasn’t a huge leap of a retelling, but it gave an interesting perspective. I enjoyed the inclusion of Mary Shelley into the Frankenstein story, and her fictional biographical story. I thought that the demonstration of the fear of industrialization was a nice touch. It felt steampunky, without being overly so. I liked the idea that there is good and evil in everyone at some point in life, and we cannot be categorized by “eithers” and “ors.” It was a great portrayal that showed that life is not black and white, but there are many shades of gray. I didn’t want to stop reading this once I got started. I just wanted to know what happened. There is so much mystery and so many underlying plots, but they were worked together in a practically seamless manner. I can understand the criticism that the dialogue was not set in the proper period, but I didn’t mind. Honestly, I just don’t have much bad to say about it!
Out of Darkness
Ashley Hope Perez
2015 by Carolrhoda Lab
ISBN – 9781467742023
Genre – Historical Fiction
Age – High School
A new romance is budding in New London, Texas in 1937. The romance may cross the lines of interracial dating, but for Naomi and Wash it brings them happiness, no matter what any one else thinks. Still they must keep it a secret as it could be dangerous for both of them if anyone finds out. In the midst of the two forming plans to escape the harsh life in their current home, a tragedy strikes. The 1937 New London School explosion, a real event, was one of the worst school disasters in history. Will their love be able to survive such an atrocious event?
Oh my Gosh, this book. It was so close to getting that five star review, but then after finishing, I just couldn’t and it broke my heart. The writing was so beautiful, and the emotions were so raw. It was hard to feel like I was there in the same place, because it was so completely different from anything I have ever known. But I felt the joys, and I felt the sorrows like no other. Then I felt the massive punch to my gut. Thinking about it still makes me feel sick to my stomach. I know that a book must be amazing to make me feel so strongly, however, I also feel like it might have gone overboard. Honestly, I am so undecided about the end of this book. I finished it about two months ago, and feel like now I am just barely able to talk about it. In some respects I feel like it was just right, but in others, I kind of hate it and what it did to me. Seriously, whoa. But, on another note, don’t read this book if you are not comfortable with all sorts of racist, violent, and sexually explicit scenes.
Salt to the Sea
2016 by Philomel Books
ISBN – 9780399160301
Genre – Historical Fiction
Age – High School
Nearing the end of World War II, thousands of refugees gather to flee East Prussia. An unlikely group meets on the way and decides to continue their travels together. A young girl who was raped by Russian soldiers, and is at full term pregnancy, a German Soldier gone AWOL, young nurse, a young boy, and a shoe peddler are among them. As they struggle to make it to the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship traveling across the Baltic Sea towards Kiel, they learn to trust one another, and draw strength from each other. They learn that their strength comes from the group not the individual. As more than one tragedy strikes, they fight for each other, as much as for themselves.
This book will break your heart more than once, put it back together, and then smash it to pieces again. It is a beautifully written historical fiction novel that addresses an event that many people have never heard about. Sepetys builds characters and relationships masterfully. She expresses feelings and emotions deeper than most any young adult novels. She shows us that love can be beyond physical attraction and lust, but sometimes that’s included. She paints her story with emotions that somehow seem to go beyond the words that she writes. Its as if I am there, feeling all the feelings. The story behind the book is one of the most tragic of WWII, and she describes it with sensitivity and seeming accuracy (I am not an expert on the subject.) This is my new favorite by this author, and if you have read her other books, you will know that this means a lot. Also, if you haven’t read her books, you should.
Denton Little’s Death Date
2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780553496963
Genre – Science Fiction? Realistic Fiction?
Age – High School
In a world where every knows their death date from a very young age, some know they are not fortunate enough to live a full life. Meet Denton Little. He is scheduled to die tomorrow! He is only 17, and to add insult to injury, they scheduled prom on the same day of his death. Because he and everyone else knows when they will die, they throw a predeath funeral the day before. The soon to be deceased is able to speak at their own funeral, and then attend a last day of life bash. At midnight Denton and his family begin his sitting, where they wait until he dies. Well most people wait, Denton goes on adventure after adventure escaping near death experiences only to watch a purple pulsing splotch grow bigger and bigger across his body. This isn’t the only thing fishy that is going on in Denton’s last day. He is also being stalked by an elderly police man, and a man who claims to have known his mother, who died during childbirth.
Seems like a lot for one book? It is! While I like the premise, and even the murky twist in the story, it seems like maybe too much was bit off. Then with all of that, it seemed like it went on too long. Otherwise, I think Denton is a good guy, he is realistic with strengths and weaknesses. He acts just as immature as a 17 year old guy. At times his humor was funny, and at times I wanted to reach through the book and hit him! His friends and family are all supportive, and appropriately sympathetic in the odd situation. All in all, I thought it was a fairly creative way to deal with death and the future of science. I am pretty curious to see what happens in the next book, after the giant cliff hanger, but I don’t know if I am curious enough to actually read the book.
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans
2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780544157774
Genre – Graphic Novel
Age – Middle School
The story of Hurricane Katrina, the massive loss of human lives, pets, property, culture, and faith in our government and leaders is depicted beautifully in this graphic novel. From the simple yet powerful words, to the illustrations that describe a situation more than words ever could, we are taken on a journey that we all hope to never have to take. The illustrations do such a fantastic job of portraying the desperation, horror, and hopelessness that was felt by many. The colors used were very muted and dark. They were almost as dreary and sad as the topic itself. Not only do we get a glimpse at the storm, but the human reaction to the storm, and the very human solutions to aid in survival. It this book doesn’t pull on your feely strings, I’m not sure anything will. Breathtaking.
Chernobyl’s Wild Kingdom: Life in the Dead Zone
Rebecca L. Johnson
2014 by Twenty-First Century Books
ISBN – 9781467711548
Genre – Nonfiction
Age – Elementary School, Middle School
After the horrible nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, most of the people were evacuated. Some died, and many other have felt the lasting effects of the radiation exposure caused by the explosion. The effects are not only physical, but mental and emotional as well. What we don’t often hear about is the lingering wildlife in the fallout zone of Chernobyl. Scientists have witnessed thriving wildlife population of many different species, despite the fact that they are “glowing” with radiation. This book answers some interesting questions about how the animals are surviving, and what effects the lethal doses of radiation are having on them as generations pass. Great care was taken to address many curiosities, and the text was complimented fantastically by pictures and diagrams. I liked that the author gave a decent background on what exactly happened at the plant as well as the political and social plunders surrounding the entire situation. Johnson did a wonderful job delving into such a fascinating topic!
“The President Has Been Shot!”: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
James L. Swanson
2013 by Scholastic Press
ISBN – 9780545490078
Genre – Nonfiction
Age – Middle School
This nonfiction book describes briefly the early life and presidency on John F. Kennedy. It also talks about Lee Harvey Oswald’s tumultuous life before the assassination of JFK. It goes into great detail about the day of the assassination including the hours after he was pronounced dead in which Johnson was sworn into office on Air Force One.
This is a good account of what may have lead up to JFK’s death, but what I found most interesting was the reactions of Jackie Kennedy. The obvious shock and horror that she felt was proved by how she carried herself in the hours and days following the assassination. overall, I thought the book could have used a bit more…oomph? I listened to the audio book, and I found the narrator dry at best. He seemed to make something so interesting feel very blah. I think this book would have been better to read in book format, as I am sure there must be lots of interesting pictures that would help add to the story, and give a feeling of place and setting. For me the audio book fell a bit flat.