Monday, November 13, 2017

Darkstalker by Tui T. Sutherland - student book review by Arav

Overall, I do think this book is criminally good. The plot of the book is revolves around the villain dragon DarkStar, and the events which lead to his slumber almost two thousand years before the main series of Wings of Fire. The setting revolves around intelligent personified dragons, divided into many tribes based off of race with each having magic special to them. For example, the “Nightwing” race have members which can read minds, predict the future, or both. Now, the setting might put new readers to this series off, but I would suggest sticking around, as Sutherland shows off an incredible case study in how all villains might not be strictly evil, but simply misguided beings whose power let them embrace their character faults.

The story itself is shown through three lenses, each rotating for a role to narrate the story whenever Sutherland sees fit: DarkStalker, Fathom, and ClearSight. DarkStalker, as the titular protagonist, gives the reader a clear view as to how his thoughts turn from seeking justice and what is right to using his power of magic for evil. ClearSight, gifted with the vast ability of future-sight, gives us both an interesting glimpse as to how confusing such a power can be, while also acting as the checks and balances to DarkStalkers antics, so that when certain key elements of the plot are revealed, we understand how hard it can be to fully see a being’s transition to madness without going into the mind of that individual itself. Lastly Fathom, the eldest of the trio, has a rather uplifting story, one which, for the sake of preventing too many spoilers, I will not discuss.

 All three have a rich interplay which makes the transitions neither seem jarring nor forced - in fact, I did not even notice that the chapter headings indicated which dragon was speaking at the time, as I could simply tell from the characters’ internal monologues and conflicts. However, this book is not for the faint of heart, as it does include descriptive violence among dragons, including a disembowelment. These scenes, however, are crucial to the plot, weaving together big character moments with big plot points. In terms of giving this book to students, I would love to analyse all the themes that this book tries to portray. Overall, it provides a pretty satisfying analysis of what the words “good” and “bad” really mean to our ears, especially as people can tend to both given their mood and whatnot. Each character underscores different ideas regarding good and evil from Arctic, DarkStalker’s Father, underscoring the need to think through your decisions, to Whiteout, DarkStalker’s sister, underscoring the need to keep your individuality to maintain sanity. The magical powers of each dragonkind are also well-thought, with the various thoughts concerning ClearSight’s future-prediction abilities akin to time travel, such as causal loops and multiverse theory. There is also a lot about power structures and the way power is distributed in societies that is good to reflect on, from how hereditary power can cause even the most level headed to go mad with power to how easily can people let the past define the possibilities of the future. Lastly, the style of the book is simply marvelous. While I had no knowledge of the book’s setting or who the characters might be, the book both managed to convey necessary plot details in a way that respected the intelligence of the reader, from giving subtle hints about a certain dragon’s imprisonment early onwards, while still making the actual plot fun to read.

I had a blast between the character interaction scenes, where characters went back and forth about certain thematic issues. Each was chock-full of both witty remarks and sarcasm that I honestly felt like I could hear the stuff in my head. Altogether, then, the book was incredibly vivid. It has the ability to spark a lot of conversation on it, though the setting might turn some off. My only real complaint is that I want more of this story to read, so my next task will be to read the rest of the series to see what it has in store for me!

Jingle by Gordon Korman- a student book review by Arav

Out of the many, many Christmas tales that authors write nowadays, Jingle, by Gordan Korman is well written and articulate. Following with his usual formula for the Swindle series: a mystery, a plan or two, and a well-written climax that pulls most, if not all, concurrent plot threads, Korman manages to not only tell a good mystery, but add a nice Christmas twist the other books in the series needed. The plot is, in this manner, rather typical: an antique of over ten million dollars of value is stolen and Griffin and Co, due to their previous history of stealing, are suspected by the cops. In order to shift the blame off themselves, they implement one plan after another, with the story adding layers of difficulty as a result. Unlike other reviews, I do not really mind the fact that Korman did not include some of the new characters he introduced in the installment prior to this one - in fact, I think the book benefitted from the removal. As the subtitle states, the book is not a mainline Swindle tale but a so-called “Swindle Mystery”, focusing on another one of the group’s escapades as they try to uphold their sense of justice without getting yelled at by their parents or arrested by the police. It is meant to be a joyride with the beloved core characters of the series, and I think Jingle is, in that respect, a good book in the series.
        However, besides the well-written plot, Korman does stumble a bit in Jingle, though it is rather minimal in my opinion. Cigars, for instance, are referenced in the book a bit, especially with respect to Mr.Crenshaw, a biker-type character who debuts in this title. Additionally, the gang do end up going to a bar to “rescue” Luthor, their dog. Besides these references, which might make it unsuitable for a younger audience, the writing tends to make one character, Darren Vader, a little too caricatured. Unlike in the other installments, where Mr.Vader gets some character development, here he is nothing but one word: cruel. For example, he repeatedly kicks Ben Slovak during an elf rehearsal ( Did I mention that the group ended up landing jobs as Elves for a Christmas Spectacular? ), which just seems excessive after he spreads lies about the group to two other new characters - Tiffany and Russel. Besides these, admittedly minor, complaints, I have nothing else to say. Despite reading many, many mystery books in my time, I still get caught up by the way Korman manages to tie every plot thread together, from the dueling holidays at Ben Slovak’s house to Logan’s desire to land an acting job at a theatre troupe. In short, despite a few flubs, Korman manages to write up a book which can grip anyone, making it a really fun read.
     In terms of its usage among students, this book might be fun just as a simple Christmas tale. In an academic setting, it would be pretty fun to compare this tale with more traditional Christmas tales, especially with the interplay between the mystery aspects of the plot and the Christmas setting. The vocabulary, typical of a Korman novel, is descriptive but catered to a younger audience, allowing younger readers a chance to have fun reading a longer book without a great struggle. Additionally, the theme, following the classic Christmas message of selflessness, is well executed, as the group ends up helping one of their initial “suspects” with a dire financial situation and show their Christmas spirit.
    Altogether, the book is well-written and really engages the reader from beginning to end. While it might not be suitable for some audiences who are not familiar with the characters and/or are comfortable with the references to cigars in the book, it still is a very satisfying mystery that somehow manages to develop multiple subplots synchronously.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Factory Girl by Josanne La Valley - student book review by Isabella

Factory Girl chronicles the story of Roshen, a sixteen-year- old Uyghur girl from northern China. Roshen dreams of becoming a teacher and continuing to pass on her culture to the next generation, like those before her. However, all of this is interrupted when she is chosen to be sent to a Chinese factory in the south of China. The Chinese government does not approve of the Uyghur culture and wishes to force assimilation, particularly by sending their children to work in factories where they face deplorable conditions. Yet, Roshen is determined to not lose her identity and forms a close camaraderie with the other girls sent to the factory. However, whether they will be able to return to their homeland and families is something only time will tell. 

This novel was well-written and a pleasure to read. I found the character growth intriguing, particularly Roshen’s: she goes from being focused primarily on her own well-being to becoming a strong leader figure for the other Uyghurs. I found this to be a rather inspiring message because it implied that it is possible to find strength even in seemingly hopeless situations. Furthermore, I very much enjoyed learning about Uyghur culture because I had never been exposed to this culture before reading Factory Girls. Thus, I was shocked to learn of their plight and hope that this book may serve to educate others about the plight of Uyghurs, like it did for me. However, a weaker aspect of this novel was Roshen’s self-righteousness that at times translated into an unjustified prejudiced view towards girls, who did not observe the same exact cultural traditions as her. For example, she mistrusts the girls from the city immediately and does not try to get to know them before passing judgement. Furthermore, although probably accurate of the culture the author intended to represent, I was immensely frustrated by the patriarchal society that resulted in Roshen consistently feeling inferior to the male figures in her life. 

Overall, this book would be a good introduction to the culture of the Ugyhurs, a vulnerable minority group in China. Making students aware of the existence this group is incredibly important to assuring that their autonomy is protected. This book could be used in either a literature, history, or cultural studies class, as a case study of a minority culture.

Author Photos that inspired her story -
Authors Website:
Thoughts about the author from her friend.  Josanne La Valley passed away shortly after her book was published.

Factory Girl book trailer 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Transcendent by Lesley Livingston student book review by Nicole

Resuming immediately after the cliffhanger of the second novel of this trilogy, Transcendent is action-packed from the start. Haunted by the prophecy surrounding Ragnarok, both intentional and unintentional choices make the destruction of everything more of a reality. Despite the grim future, the daring protagonist Mason Starling is determined to prevent her world from going to its end. She pushes through adversity alongside her transformed romantic interest, the Fennrys Wolf, in order to thwart what the fates and her father has deemed inevitable. Throughout this book there is constant danger and the plot’s twists and turns are plentiful. All in all, the plot rose to a wonderfully crafted climax for the final novel in this series which lead to an unexpected but well-thought out resolution. 

In general, I agree with the majority of the reviews throughout other sources such as GoodReads. The action picked up right at the beginning and never stopped. There is a huge connection to Norse mythology and that truly added to the amount of action that Livingston wrote. Saying that, I believe that my interest in mythology helped my reading of this book. I would recommend this series to a lover of Rick Riordan’s novels or other YA fantasy/mystery books. The mythology used was good but I believe that the integration of multiple mythologies such as Greek could have been done better. I believe it could have been improved if a singular mythology was used in order to be true to that culture. With the heavy reliance upon mythology, the characters follow in suit violence-wise. In addition, there is mild language but nothing that the general YA population hasn’t read in other novels. 

Other than that it is a generally clean novel. Within the classroom or the library this novel would fit right alongside the Percy Jackson or Mortal Instruments series. A mythology themed month containing these novels would be a great addition to the bookshelf. One last important thing to note, it is vital to read this novel as the last book of the trilogy. Without the prior knowledge of the rest of the books, Transcendent is confusing and almost unreadable. 

Lies I Live By (Lauren Sabel) student book review by Alyssa

Callie’s life is a little bit strange; on the outside, she might just seem like any normal teenager, with a loving boyfriend, super nerdy mom, and just getting ready to go to college. But unbeknownst to those closest to her, she is actually a secret government psychic, saving lives by seeing future disasters and helping the government prevent them. It is something her family can never know, lest they get put in danger; but what happens if her mom gets involved in some secret agency no one seems to know about, Callie’s boyfriend is seen injured in a vision, and she finds herself falling for another guy against her will?

Lies I Live By starts out a little bland, but once the action begins, the captivating mystery involved will keep the reader wanting more. My first impression of the book was that it was going to be another one of those cheesy romances; girl has perfect boyfriend, hot guy comes into her life, and suddenly she is cheating on him. I was a bit turned off by this assumption, but as soon as the action came in around halfway through the book, I couldn’t put it down. The different aspects of Callie’s visions kept me guessing the entire way through, and although the whole “end of the world” aspect came off as kind of cliche, I found myself pleasantly caught off guard by the plot twist at the end of the book - and hoping for a sequel.

The book does contain mild violence and some death, so there is that to be aware of, but it also teaches good lessons of loyalty and doing what is right for others, rather than for yourself. It is the perfect book to pick up on a boring, rainy day and enjoy a captivating read. Would be recommended for readers of a higher age group, just because of the more sophisticated themes, but it is specifically good for those in a late high school level in order to relate to the characters, who are around that age. Overall,the book is certainly enjoyable.  Definitely recommended for teens!

Monday, October 16, 2017

My Lady Jane student book review by Alyssa

Have you ever wanted to read a book that was a mixture of British history, Monty Python, The Princess Bride, Shakespeare, and a touch of fantasy? Then My Lady Jane is definitely the book for you. As strange as that combination sounds, My Lady Jane pulls it off seamlessly - focusing on a twisted, fantastical, and almost completely-changed version of the story of Lady Jane Grey’s nine-day long rule of England with sarcastic humor to match that of Monty Python and the Princess Bride, and with Shakespeare references slipped almost un-noticeably into the text.

Edward VI knows he is dying; but he also knows that neither of his sisters are fit to be queen. That’s why, on his deathbed, he names the first son of his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his heir, and marries his cousin off to a horse. (Well, not literally a horse; Lord Gifford Dudley, in actuality, who is a horse by day and human by night, not that Jane needs to know - she would likely be too buried in a book to notice anyway). These three protagonists will be thrown knee-deep in a huge conspiracy when Edward’s sister, Bloody Mary, takes the crown, and will risk all of their lives in this daring adventure to get it back.

The perfectly timed humor makes the whole book totally worth it. I found myself laughing my head off at least twice a chapter at the numerous references and jokes I caught, and could not put the book down. It would help for people reading the book to have experience with Monty Python, The Princess Bride, and some Shakespeare in order to catch the numerous references, but the humor can still be appreciated without that foreknowledge. Aside from the humor, the book does contain some more serious themes such as love and prejudice, as well as what it means to be a good leader and help those who have need of it. There is a little bit of blood and death, but not enough to be a concern for the high school level. All in all, My Lady Jane has quickly become one of the most entertaining books I have ever read, and I would highly recommended to anyone who loves sarcastic humor.