Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 452 pgs
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Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige is a twisted rendition of The Wizard of Oz, with a lot of references to the classic movie of the same name starring Judy Garland.  Paige has brought Amy Gumm to Oz the same way that Dorothy arrived, but unlike the happy ending in the story Amy knows, Oz has found itself sapped by Dorothy’s lust for magic.  Given that this is book one in a young adult trilogy, readers can expect that despite the title, obstacles are greater than they first appear and the story will drag on.  However, Paige keeps too much information close to the vest, leaving the main protagonist and the reader too much in the dark.  With the pacing bogging down in parts for extra long training sessions and discussions about things that don’t advance the plot or characterization much, readers may find their mind wandering and wishing Amy would just get on with her mission from the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.

“I first discovered I was trash three days before my ninth birthday — one year after my father lost his job and moved to Secaucus to live with a woman named Crystal and four years before my mother had the car accident, started taking pills, and began exclusively wearing bedroom slippers instead of normal shoes.” (page 1)

Amy is a young woman with image issues and someone who has spent too much of her young life being an adult when her mother wallowed in her self-pity.  When she arrives in Oz she may seem tough to the munchkins and others, but on the inside she’s unsure of just about everything.  Consistent reminders not to trust anyone force her to rely on herself and her own instincts, which in some cases prove not to be so good.  This journey story is rife with twisted characters from Oz, magic, and indecision, but it also creates an alternate universe that will leave readers wondering what happens next because this is not the story they remember.

“Relying on a rat to guide me through a magic maze pretty much summed up my last twenty-four hours.  I felt out of control, isolated, and uncertain where I was headed.  I plunged forward regardless.  Sometimes the path was narrow and claustrophobic, the hedges so high I couldn’t even see their tops.  Then I’d turn a corner into a sweeping cobblestone boulevard where the topiary walls were short enough that it seemed like I might be able to dive over them with a running start.”  (page 384)

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige, our March book club selection, was an interesting twist on a story many of us already know, and while the book’s twisting of characters worked better for characters like the Scarecrow than they did for the Lion, Paige has built a believable construct from a world consumed by greed.

About the Author:

Danielle Paige is a graduate of Columbia University and the author of Dorothy Must Die and its digital prequel novellas, No Place Like Oz and The Witch Must Burn. Before turning to young adult literature, she worked in the television industry, where she received a Writers Guild of America Award and was nominated for several Daytime Emmys. She currently lives in New York City.

What the Book Club Thought:

We discussed this one and our February pick, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, at the same meeting.

Everyone seemed to enjoy Skloot’s book and we had a great discussion about medical ethics and privacy as well as whether we’d want our names to be known if our cells ended up helping cure disease or wipe out the human race.  It was a lively discussion, even with those who did not have a chance to read the book.

Most people liked Dorothy Must Die for the most part, though several said the pacing was off and a couple members mentioned that the best drawn of the characters was the Scarecrow.  Some expressed an interest in reading the second book in the series, but we’ll have to wait until next month’s nomination period to see if that happens.  Otherwise, some will likely read the second book on their own.

One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart

Source: A gift
Hardcover, 272 pgs
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One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart, which will be published in April, has crafted a testament to artistry and the adaptability of the human mind.  Set in Florence, Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance, Kephart transports readers across the ocean from Philadelphia, Pa., to the cobbled streets of Italy.  Nadia Cara is a young teen who builds nests by weaving seemingly incongruous materials together, making things of beauty.  She’s an artist on overdrive as other parts of her life disappear and flounder amidst the detritus of memory.  She knows that she’s struggling, she knows that she is becoming someone she does not want to be, but she also knows that she is powerless to stop it.

“On the bridge a pigeon flutters.  The pinked sky is fatter now, and the birds are awake, and I remember something Dad read to me once about the flooded River Arno.  How when it filled with broken thingstrees, bridges, mirrors, paintings, wagons, housesit looked like it had been nested over by a giant flock of herons.”  (pg 10 ARC)

“Every nest is a miracle.  It is something whole. A place to hide. A rescue.”  (pg 76 ARC)

Her father, a professor, and her mother, who works with at-risk kids, have brought the family to Italy, hoping that things will improve, that her father can finally write his book about the flood of the River Arno, and her brother earns credits for his cooking-related independent study.  Nadia has little to cling to beyond her family and her nests of stolen things, but she soon is bowled over by a young man, Benedetto, on a Vespa with a pink duffel.  Like the birds flying, Nadia longs to be free — not free from her family — but free from the confines of her damaged mind.  She struggles with her memories and drifts among them when she least expects it, and her nests are the fruit of her labors, helping her to be at ease with her situation and her loss.

Kephart has the ability to transport readers into her settings, showing them the corners of the cities her characters live in and visit like a tour guide.  She is careful to keep her descriptions informative and beautiful to ensure readers are not bogged down by a list and are seeing these locations for the first time — absorbed in the painting created.  Her affinity for birds is multiplied in this novel as Nadia has an affinity for creating beautiful nests out of found and stolen things.  These birds and these nests represent the beauty of Nadia’s life but also the precarious nature she faces and strives to overcome through artistry and building new connections with Benedetto, her family, and Katherine, a mud angel who came to Florence to help it recover from the 1966 flood.

One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart is the best of what it means to be a poetic novelist, and her young adult novels are challenging in word choice, theme, and symbols, but she never speaks down to her readers.  Her novels transcend age boundaries and foster contemplation among her readers, urging them subtlety to look past the surface into the heart of her characters and their stories.  Another Kephart novel bound for the Best of List!

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is a National Book Award finalist and winner of several grants and prizes, is the author of One Thing Stolen, Going Over, Handling the Truth, Small Damages, Flow, and numerous other novels, memoirs, and young adult novels.


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 359 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is a brilliant coming of age story that examines not only how tough it is to be a young boy — a young Mexican American — but also how these boys struggle with cultural stereotypes of what becoming a man should be.  Dante is an optimistic boy who sees the beauty of the world all around him, while Aristotle (Ari) seems himself as a loner and a pessimist.  These boys meet one summer in 1987 in El Paso at a local pool, and Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim.  Dante loves the water and he wants to share that love with someone who could become his best friend.  These boys are exploring their lives, learning that their lives are not their own, but often dictated by the parents who care for them and they wonder when they will get to create and be in lives wholly their own.

“There is a famous painting, Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper.  I am in love with that painting.  Sometimes, I think everyone is like the people in that painting, everyone lost in their own private universes of pain or sorrow of guilt, everyone remote and unknowable.  The painting reminds me of you.  It breaks my heart.”  (page 185)

In Ari’s home, his brother is dead to them because he is in prison, but Ari knows that he must have loved him and doesn’t understand why there are no pictures of him in the house, why he is never spoken of, and why he doesn’t know what happened to him.  This void is huge and hard to fill, but he’s also impacted by the silence of his father, a Vietnam veteran forever changed by a horrifying war and other deeply felt losses.  Dante’s family is different, it is affectionate physically and emotionally, and his parents are well-educated intellectuals.  But there are secrets here too, secrets held close by Dante, who only wants to share them with someone who could understand — Ari.  Being 15, these are in between childhood and becoming men, and that is a tough time for any adolescent, but its even tougher when you are confused about who you are and who you want to be.  Dante and Ari’s friendship is far from easy, but the understand one another.

“‘Sometimes don’t you just want to stand up and yell out all the cuss words you’ve learned?’
‘Every day.’
‘Every day? You’re worse than me.’ He looked at the hail. ‘It’s like pissed off snow,’ he said.
That made me laugh.” (page 104)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is an award winning book for great reasons. It is never forced, it is as easy as a friendship between two boys can be, but it also tackles that harder issues that we as a society continue to struggle with. At its heart, it is a beautiful love story, one that will stay with readers long after turning the last page. Another contender for the Best of 2014 list.

***I want to thank Beth Kephart for her review of this book in August.  She always has the best recommendations.***

About the Author:

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books.  He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature. A year later, he was awarded a Wallace E. Stegner fellowship. While at Stanford University under the guidance of Denise Levertov, he completed his first book of poems, Calendar of Dust, which won an American Book Award in 1992. He entered the Ph.D. program at Stanford and continued his studies for two more years. Before completing his Ph.D., he moved back to the border and began teaching at the University of Texas at El Paso in the bilingual MFA program.

76th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

Montana in A Minor by Elaine Russell

Source: Elaine Russell, the author
Paperback, 170 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Montana in A Minor by Elaine Russell is a young adult novel about Emily Lopez, a virtuoso cellist player and nearly 17, whose confidence has been shaken by a poor showing at a Julliard audition.  Emily loses herself in her music normally, but since that fateful audition, she’s having a hard time focusing, especially when her summer plans fall through with her father, who is a famous conductor on a whirlwind European tour.  Rather than spend time with her father learning the Camille Saint-Saëns composed his Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33, Emily is packed off to Montana with her mother, brother Adrian, and step-father, as they spend time with her step-father’s dad who is having some health issues.

“My progress on the opening passage is practically nonexistent.  Mrs. Stanislavsky always tells me it’s a matter of perseverance, breaking the score into small segments and tackling each section without thinking about the rest.  Only this concerto is so difficult, I might have to become a contortionist or grow a couple of extra hands to actually play it.”  (page 9-10)

Out in the country her OCD symptoms do not abate, despite the calmer setting.  The pressure from her father is still with her, she has to be the best to make the cut at the competition in order to gain early acceptance into Julliard.  But she’s spent her spring semester in school earning credits for teaching disadvantage kids how to play music, and she’s waffling about whether Julliard and world tours are her future.  While on the ranch, she loosens up little by little, playing poker with Jake, her step-father’s dad, in the evening and riding with ranch hand, Breck in the afternoons.

Her time on the ranch is full of beautiful passages and frenzied moments, just like the concerto, but until she can learn to break free of her anxieties, she won’t be able to master the score and grab her own future by the reins. Montana in A Minor by Elaine Russell melds music, emotion, and psychological elements in an engaging coming of age story.

About the Author:

Elaine Russell graduated with a BA in History at University of California, Davis, and an MA in Economics at California State University Sacramento. She worked as a Resource Economist/Environmental Consultant for 22 years before beginning to write fiction for adults and children. She became inspired and actively involved with the Hmong immigrant community after meeting Hmong children in her son’s school in Sacramento and reading Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Since then she has been to Laos many times to research her book and as a member of the nongovernment organization Legacies of War.

The Program by Suzanne Young

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 405 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Program by Suzanne Young, which was our book club selection for July, is a young adult novel in which young people are sent away to The Program if they show signs of suicidal thoughts before committing the act, and in this world, one can never be too careful because suicide is contagious.  At least that’s what the government would have parents and their teens believe.  Every teen lives under a microscope, and the pressure can be unbelievably intense for those who are friends or, especially, related to someone who has committed suicide.  Sloane Barstow is just one teen of many, but her brother committed suicide so she bottles up as much of her anguish and pain as she can so that her parents don’t think she’s suicidal too.  Her only comfort is in the arms of her friend, and her brother’s, James Murphy — a rough and tumble kind of guy who has mommy issues and doesn’t much like school or his dad.

“Teen suicide was declared a national epidemic — killing one in three teens — nearly four years ago.  It always existed before that, but seemingly overnight handfuls of my peers were jumping off buildings, slitting their wrists — most without any known reason.  Strangely enough, the rate of incidence among adults stayed about the same, adding to the mystery.”  (page 9)

The novel is told in first person point-of-view, so if Sloane doesn’t know the reasons or the actions behind the scenes, neither does the reader.  This leaves the reader and Sloane in the dark, especially when she begins to lose parts of herself.  Her relationship with James is hot and cold, mostly because James has a hard time being vulnerable, but her relationship with her parents is even harsher, with her moods constantly negative toward them and them trying to smother her as if that will protect her from getting sick.  There are a great number of issues to discuss, particularly about what it means to be us — do our memories make us who we are or is it something more? Should the government force teens into treatment for suicidal symptoms and their grief over lost loved ones or should they allow them to handle their own emotions?  Is there some other vast government conspiracy at work?

Young’s portrayal of rebellious teens is spot on in her portrayal of Sloane and James, but there is question that builds in the reader’s mind about whether Sloane and James are in love or merely thrown together by mutual loss.  While there are touching moment between the two and it does seem to be love, there relationship does not evolve beyond the mutual lust and desire for one another, and in many ways, it is based on mutual comfort.  Despite the questions about whether The Program is increasing thoughts of suicide among teens that want to avoid it, at its heart this novel is a love story in a dystopian world where kids have little control of their lives, except to run away.  The parents are not as hands on as one would presume them to be in a world where suicide is an epidemic, there is no real explanation of who runs the program or of why the program is so prevalent other than its 100% cure rate, and the last part of the book seems like it was thrown together to explain a subordinate character’s actions in The Program and outside of it.

The Program by Suzanne Young is a fast-paced romance for young adults that raises a number of questions for book clubs to discuss, and it is enjoyable.  For readers looking for a little more about the setting and The Program or other cures that could have been tried, etc., you’ll be left wondering.  The end opens more doors than closes, and its possible that there could be a sequel in the works.  Sloane and James are strong and rebellious, but even they are not immune from the disease or its cure.  Is it better to forget the past and move forward, or should you reclaim as many of your memories as you can?  That’s still the question.

About the Author:

Originally from New York, Suzanne Young moved to Arizona to pursue her dream of not freezing to death. She currently resides in Tempe, where she teaches high school English. When not writing obsessively, Suzanne can be found searching her own tragic memories for inspiration.

Suzanne is the author of several books for teens, including THE PROGRAM, A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL, and A WANT SO WICKED.  Visit her on Facebook, her blog, and Twitter.


What the Book Club Thought:

Most members agreed that the book was an easy read, while one wanted more hope at the beginning at least for the reader.  Others thought that they were in the situation with Sloane (probably due to the first person point of view) and could understand how a teen girl would be so obsessed with a boy and only think about surviving, rather than what her future could be like once she hit 18.  At some length the book club talked about the lack of hope in the beginning, which some said was intentional.  Another aspect of the book that people discussed at length was Sloane’s seeming acceptance of the pills given to her by the psychiatrist, rather than fighting to keep her memories as she said she would early on.  The underground aspect of the book that shows up later in the book was examined as a possible conspiracy as well as The Program itself.  However, there is another book to this series, so we’re waiting to see what that brings (at least some of us are).  In terms of whether members would take the pill to bring back all of their memories, some said they would without hesitation, while others said they would think about it and one said he probably wouldn’t.  When asked about whether they would place their own kid in the program, a few said that they would not immediately do so, seeking out alternative means and others suggesting that they would immediately do so.

45th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.


The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Source: Public library
Hardcover, 391 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson is set five years or more after Hayley Kincaid’s father came back from two tours each in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They had been on the road as he drove semi-trucks and home-schooled her, but they return to his home town to set down some roots and for her to attend senior year in a regular school.  She barely reconnects with her childhood friend Gracie and she is plunged head first into peer-pressure drama as she tries to hide her own past and home life struggles.  She meets mega-hottie Finn, who has stopped being the star swimmer for the high school team, and they strike up an unconventional relationship of him doing her favors she never asks for in exchange for articles for the nearly defunct school newspaper.

“My earbuds were in, but I wasn’t playing music.  I needed to hear the world but didn’t want the world to know I was listening.” (page 5)

As much as this story is about Hayley and her ability to connect with people her own age, it is also a story about the wide-ranging effects of PTSD.  Anderson sprinkles in what look like memories from Hayley’s father, which provide enough background on his experiences to demonstrate how real his nightmares had become.  These nightmares are so real that she loses sleep herself, and like most children of addicted parents, she teeters on the edge of caring for him and allowing herself to live her own life without worrying about him.

“A few days after we moved in, Daddy got unstuck from time again, like the Pilgrim guy in Slaughterhouse.  The past took over.  All he heard were exploding IEDs and incoming mortar rounds; all he saw were body fragments, like an unattached leg still wearing its boot, and shards of shiny bones, sharp as spears.  All he tasted was blood.”  (page 9)

Trauma is tricky, and while many veterans never speak of their experiences, family can glean from their nightmares the events that continue to plague their living hours.  Anderson writes for young adults with a seriousness that ensures young readers will feel at home in the worlds she creates, but she never sugarcoats the realities of war or PTSD.  Hayley is strong, but still teeters on the edge when her father takes a wrong turn or stops coming out of his room.  The only thing keeping her in the present and connected are her relationships with Gracie and Finn.  The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson is highly emotional, could be considered a tearjerker, and will leave a lasting imprint on readers’ memories.

About the Author:

Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous American Library Association and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Chains also made the Carnegie Medal Shortlist in the United Kingdom.

Laurie was the proud recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”. She was also honored with the ALAN Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and the St. Katharine Drexel Award from the Catholic Librarian Association.

Also Reviewed:

14th book (Gulf Wars — Operation Iraqi Freedom) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.

Still, At Your Door by Emma Eden Ramos

Source: Emma Eden Ramos, the author
Paperback, 135 pages
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Still, At Your Door: A Fictional Memoir by Emma Eden Ramos is a powerhouse of emotion from the moment you begin. Sabrina Gibbons’ story is upended from the moment her mother drags them out of their abusive home in Butler, Penn, and drops them off with their grandparents in the Big Apple. Sabrina Gibbons’ past is just behind the scenes waiting to sweep you away as ‘Bri’ opens her journal, her memories, and her heart. She’s beginning a journey that’s much different from the one she’s been on with her mother, a journey full of promise and healing.

“There’s a hole in my shoe. I realize, curling my toes to hold in the tension, that my sand colored sock pokes through the top of my left sneaker. Perhaps the Wellness Center has extra shoes. They may be interested to know that I have a hole in my shoe. Sure, it isn’t a big hole but it may grow. If I continue to wiggle my toes, the hole could take over my entire shoe.” (page 27 ARC)

‘Bri’ is hopeful that her mother will return for her and her sisters — Missy and Grace — and that their lives as normal girls will end as quickly as it began. She’s the tempering force among her siblings, while Missy is as passionate and volatile as their mother, but Grace is just a typical youngster caught between her older sisters and things she doesn’t understand about her family dynamics. In addition to their new living situation, Bri and her sisters also must contend with being the new girls in school and all the peer pressure that comes with that. After being “homeschooled” by their mother and shuffled from town to town, they face even more pressure to conform than they expect.

As Bri tries to live a normal childhood, keep her grades up, and deal with the teens at her school who see her and her sisters as an outsider, she’s also secretly hoping for her mother to come back to bring them home. As their lives become more settled and Bri begins to find herself at ease, events conspire to push her and her family over the brink.

When the school opts for A Streetcar Named Desire as the play they will put on, Bri impulsively decides that she must try out for the role of Blanche, the role she saw her mother play years ago. A role that took on a life of its own, but despite her plans, life has its own ideas. Like New York City, Still, At Your Door precariously teeters between nightmares and dreams, exploring mutual dependence where one wrong step over the threshold can lead to disaster.

Check out the book trailer:

About the Author:

Emma Eden Ramos is a writer and student from New York City. Her middle grade novella, The Realm of the Lost, was recently published by MuseItUp Publishing. Her short stories have appeared in Stories for Children Magazine, The Storyteller Tymes, BlazeVOX Journal, and other journals. Ramos’ novelette, Where the Children Play, is included in Resilience: Stories, Poems, Essays, Words for LGBT Teens, edited by Eric Nguyen. Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems (Heavy Hands Ink, 2011), Ramos’ first poetry chapbook, was shortlisted for the 2011 Independent Literary Award in Poetry. Emma studies psychology at Marymount Manhattan College. When she isn’t writing or studying, Emma can usually be found drinking green tea and reading on her kindle. Please read an excerpt.

Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy

Source: Purchased Hooray for Books
Hardcover, 352 pages
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Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy is young adult novel that never speaks down to its reader as it asks questions about what it means to be a friend and what it means to be a neighbor and community member.  When tragedy strikes the fictional community of Franklin Grove in Meigs County, outside Washington, D.C., teen babysitter Danielle Snyder must cope with feelings of guilt and responsibility.  Her fear of speaking in public has haunted her long before the tragedy, but it is the loss of her friend, Humphrey, that causes her to speak out, to advocate on his behalf.  An unlikely friendship between a sophomore babysitter and a five-year-old boy blooms in the summer, but when it’s cut short, how does Danielle reconcile their unlikely connection and what has happened under her watch, especially when the small community is looking for someone to blame.

“I eat; the talk shifts to nothing in particular, which is good.  It’s as though we’re strangers sitting at the same table in one of those family-style restaurants.  We feel the need to make conversation, because that is what polite people do, but we are careful to keep the conversation safe.  Nothing to ignite sparks between Adrian and Mom.  Nothing to upset me.”  (page 4)

Her family life is not necessarily dysfunctional, but its not exactly serene when her brother Adrian is visiting after moving out.  And despite their inability to relate and emote without raising one another’s dander, the tragedy somehow brings them closer to reconciliation.  Shifting between the present after the tragedy and the past before the tragedy, Levy unfolds her story in an intricate way, allowing readers to see the whole complicated picture, even as Danielle begins to see it for the first time.  While her family dynamics play a role in the background, the real focus is on her relationship with Humphrey and the blame she lays at her own door for the tragedy.

“I rapped.  I crooned.  I rocked out.  Somehow dancing outdoors felt easier than in a school gym or hotel party room.  Plenty of space for my arms and legs.  I let myself lose control, and danced like crazy on the planet of Thrumble-Boo.

‘You look like a beautiful daddy longlegs!’ Humphrey said.”  (page 195)

Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy is about relationships that surprise us, about the illogical arguments of grief and assigning blame, but more than that, it’s about finding our way out of that grief to recognize the beauty in knowing and experiencing those relationships we may lose sooner than expected.  Levy’s characters are real, they’re the kids down the street searching for a sense of belonging, and they are burdened by the same emotions we all feel as adults.  It’s a highly emotional read that will leave a lasting impression.

About the Author:

Debbie Levy writes books — fiction, nonfiction, and poetry — for people of all different ages, and especially for young people. Before starting her writing career, she was a newspaper editor; before that, she was a lawyer with a Washington, D.C. law firm.  She has a bachelor’s degree in government and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and a law degree and master’s degree in world politics from the University of Michigan.  She lives in Maryland and spends as much time as she can kayaking and otherwise messing around in the Chesapeake Bay region.  Visit her Website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 440 pages
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Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld — our October book club selection — is a steampunk novel set during the onset of WWI.  Alek is whisked away in the middle of the night by his two teachers on a midnight run with one of their Austrian walkers, which they claim is practice for the coming battles.  Meanwhile, in England, Deryn is hoping to join the British military service as a boy even though she has very feminine features and is very light compared to other boys in their young teens who are signing up.  There is fact mixed with fiction, creating a fanciful landscape of genetically engineered animal ships and weapons alongside the mechanized beasts of gears and metal.  Alek is learning to run the walker at night, while Deryn is learning the ropes as a midshipman.  While things take a turn for the worse for both of these young people, both find their gumption to push through and find solutions, though not always the best or most satisfying.

When the story lines converge, it’s interesting to see how Deryn reacts to Alek’s self-importance and how timid Alek becomes in the presence of a science he’s only read about and never come in contact with.  Westerfeld has melded these modern ideas with the past in a way that makes the world he’s created seem like an alternate to the real past.  While the characters are coming of age in the time of war, there is still an innocence about this boy and girl that clings to them, and it’s clear that neither of them truly has a sense of fear when it comes to war — perhaps because of their sheltered lives and that the war they’ve encountered thus far has been minimal.  Both seem to believe that they are invincible, throwing themselves blindly into action.

The subordinate characters are not as well developed, except for Dr. Barlow who is a Darwinist engaged in the science of weaving together living beings.  The interplay between Barlow and the young teens is fun at times, but also enigmatic as each is hiding secrets from and about each other.  Count Volger is an interesting caricature who shines the most in his one-on-one fencing session with Alek.  The real stars of the novel are the Clankers’ machines and the beasts created by the Darwinists.  Westerfeld does weave in some facts, but it’s unlikely that younger readers would see which is fact versus which is fiction without reading the Afterword.  Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is an adventure that young adults will enjoy for its fast-paced action and teenage bantering.

What the Book Club Thought:

Most of the book club enjoyed the book and seemed to prefer Deryn’s character more at first than Alek, but the ways in which the stories converged was well done.  One member even indicated they would give it five stars because they couldn’t see how Westerfeld could have made it better, at least in structure.  Most of the club said they would be interested in reading the second part of the series.  The mixing of the facts with the fanciful seemed to work with everyone in the book club, though two members had not finished reading at the time of the meeting.  The machines versus the genetically engineered beasts was an interesting angle, but the way in which the story is told demonstrated both sides so well that it enabled readers to see both sides of the story, rather than just see one as the enemy of the other.  This book was well balanced, adventurous, and touched on WWI, though a modified version of it.  Westerfeld also includes notes in the back about what facts were changed and which were maintained, which we felt was a good addition for those not as familiar with the time period.

About the Author:

Scott Westerfeld’s teen novels include the Uglies series, the Midnighters trilogy, The Last Days, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and the sequel to Peeps. Scott was born in Texas, and alternates summers between Sydney, Australia, and New York City.


This is my 72nd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 297 pages
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Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson is the second book in the Seeds of America series for young adults (see my review of Chains, the first book in the series; the third book is expected in 2014).  ***This review could contain spoilers***

Isabel and Curzon have fled New York and the Locktons to seek out Freedom, but when we again meet up with Curzon, Isabel has fled in search of her sister, Ruth, who is known to be in Charleston.  After taking all of the money they had earned, Curzon has little choice but to make it on his own, and in so doing, runs smack in the middle of a skirmish.  During a standoff between a rebel soldier and a British soldier, Curzon makes a fateful decision that has him enlisted as a soldier under General Washington’s command at Valley Forge.  As winter sets in for the long haul, Anderson deftly paints a picture of the desperate times and weather conditions the rebel forces faced, forcing some to go against army rules and steal food from neighboring farms.

“‘We can mine for iron here?’ Eben asked.

‘No, blunderhead,’ Silvenus said.  ‘This camp is a forge for the army; it’s testing our mettle.  Instead of heat and hammer, our trials are cold and hunger.  Question is, what are we made of?'”  (Page 121)

Curzon finds a home among the soldiers, but he still thinks about Isabel and her fate, wondering why she won’t leave his mind.  As the winter digs in, however, Curzon’s luck changes with it once he’s recognized by Bellingham, who thought him dead in Bridewell Prison.  He becomes again that insolent slave looking for freedom and even longing again for the companionship of the army.  He bristles at his new circumstances and even wages an unspoken war against Bellingham until he realizes that his fate is not all that he holds in his hands.  Anderson has created a believable slave seeking his freedom by any means within his grasp, and his ties to Isabel grow stronger as the battle with the British gets closer.

Forge has a dual meaning in that the army’s mettle, as well as Curzon and Isabel’s, are tested, and these characters must forge ahead and overcome the challenges they face.  In a literal sense, Curzon tries to create a counterfeit of himself and pass himself off as a free man to become a soldier, as well as a key’s likeness to turn the lock on freedom.  Anderson peppers the novel with a number of details (having seen Valley Forge recently, these places were fresh in my mind), and she firmly grasps the intrigue of the time, including the use of slaves as spies for the British, and the internal politicking among Congressmen and generals.  Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson is a solid second book in a series of young adult historical fiction novels about the American Revolution, and in some ways an even better book than the first for its multiple layers, including subplots and dynamic characters.

About the Author:

Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous American Library Association and state awards. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Chains also made the Carnegie Medal Shortlist in the United Kingdom.

Laurie was the proud recipient of the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”. She was also honored with the ALAN Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and the St. Katharine Drexel Award from the Catholic Librarian Association.

This is my 5th book for the American Revolution Reading Challenge 2013

Fox Forever by Mary E. Pearson

Source: Shelf Awareness
Hardcover, 304 pages
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Fox Forever by Mary E. Pearson is the third installment in the Jenna Fox Chronicles, please read the first two books as this review will contain spoilers.

Locke Jenkins has left California and his past behind to return a favor, and he has no idea what is in store for him or how much his life will change.  But he can never run too far from what he’s become, but he learns quickly that the Boston he knew and loved is gone forever and that he must cope with his new reality.  In exchange for the help he received in book two, Locke must now return the favor, and it’s more than just making sure a non-pact gets bread at a good price or isn’t beaten by citizens just for being a non-pact.  He connects with the Resistance and is asked a lot of questions about himself and his BioPerfect capabilities.

“Closure.  That’s what I came for but now that I’m standing here, I think letting go of the past doesn’t come in a single moment.  Maybe the past has to fade away slowly like letters in granite.  Worn away over time by wind, rain, and tears.”  (Page 1 ARC)

This is another fast-paced dystopian novel for young adults, but unlike the other books that raise ethical questions about what makes us human if we become bioengineered, this novel is more focused on Locke coming to terms with his losses and building a new life.  Pearson twists the coming-of-age novel, molding it into a novel that seems to have an older perspective in which the past becomes something deeply missed and longed for — not the usual perspective for a 17-year-old.  While Locke seems older than his years, he also has the same fault that most teens have — they believe they are invincible.

Fox Forever by Mary E. Pearson is a futuristic whirlwind of a novel, which is part spy thriller and part coming-of-age story.  Locke is a sympathetic character who gets in too deep, and when he’s forced to reveal the truth, readers will be biting their nails to see if he’s forgiven.  With dark and scary half-humans living in the former tunnels of the T in Boston, and an oppressive Secretary of Security on his heels, Locke is in for a journey that is both exhausting physically and emotionally, especially when his past comes roaring back to the present.

About the Author:

Mary E. Pearson is an American author of young-adult fiction. Her book A Room on Lorelei Street won the 2006 Golden Kite Award for fiction.

The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson

Source: Shelf Awareness
Paperback, 320 pages
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The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson is the sequel to The Adoration of Jenna Fox (my review), a book you should read before you read this review because it could contain spoilers.

It is 260 years into the future and Locke and Kara are awakened in new bodies, but with all of their memories from their 17 years as teens.  Their time in the black boxes was tortuous with only their memories of the good and bad to comfort them, but Locke and Kara managed to create a bond that surpasses human understanding — whether it is telepathy or just super-intuition.  Mostly told from Locke’s point of view, readers get a sense of his ease at the Gatsbro estate and the unease that Kara feels when asked to act as a trained monkey.  Gatsbro claims to be a savior, but because he is so cloying, readers will sense there is more to the story.  A final realization sets Kara and Locke out into a world they do not understand, and seeking the one person they know to be alive from their time as humans — Jenna Fox.

“I watched her change.  Right then.  Like veined marble was traveling up her legs, across her lap, up to her shoulders, stiffening her neck and finally covering her face, leaving a cracked version of who she once was.” (page 16 ARC)

Once again Pearson explores the ethical questions of biotechnology, but also the questions about what makes us human and how much of our flesh and minds is necessary for us to remain human.  And can we be human just by saving human flesh and the memories in our minds?  Or is there more — something less tangible that cannot be preserved beyond death?  Locke is a sympathetic character who struggles with trust and guilt, while Kara seems to be a shadow of her former self — one that struggles to remain who she was, but also adapt to the new world she finds herself in.  Pearson carefully demonstrates how Kara is the same and how she is different through expressions, looks, and other cues, and in the same way, she illustrates the differences Locke finds in himself and how he is still human.

The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson is a strong second book in a trilogy and while exciting and deeper than most young adult novels with its ethical questions, it lacked some of the mystery in the first book.  With that said, the novel does continue to raise questions about what it means to be human and at what point machines can become seemingly human — having dreams and goals outside of their programming.  Highly enjoyable if readers are looking for some down-to-earth science fiction, with high tech effects explained in layman’s terms.

About the Author:

Mary E. Pearson is an American author of young-adult fiction. Her book A Room on Lorelei Street won the 2006 Golden Kite Award for fiction.