Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith book review by Nicole

Annabeth is entering her senior year of high school with her best friend Noe and is looking forward to the entire experience of what is to come. With her head stuck in the future, all she can think about is going to college with Noe, her Paris plans, and following her best friend to the ends of the earth. To her dismay, nothing goes right; she gets pregnant, her mother tells her that her father raped her, Noe is recruited for a gymnastics team at a completely different college, and their friendship starts to fall apart. This is the story of broken relationships and change; from the point of view from a girl who’s life is falling apart, Smith tells the story of recovery.

This story feels like an emotional diary from a broken girl who desperately needs help. From how Smith set up the novel, the reader gets a full novel with the experiences and reactions both emotional and physical from Annabeth. This intricate yet simplistic set-up of the novel from both the character backstories to how the chapters set up adds to the overall mood of sadness to recovery of this book. I was able to feel connected to the characters despite how different their lives were from mine. Smith beautifully portrayed what it meant to fall apart and start building your life back up again. The path of both Annabeth and Noe follows one of sex and pregnancy that leads to abortion, rape, eating disorders, underage drinking, and bullying so be aware with younger audiences.

Educationally this book can be used to analyze the culture of high school and its impact on teens. As previously mentioned, relations, both mending and breaking, is a reoccurring theme that strives to tell that one’s true family is the closest when you need it and toxic relationships that cause personal harm should always be weeded out, no matter the past relation. Furthermore, this book is perfect for a bookshelf theme in May which is Mental Health Month. It would be such a great experience if students could have a mental health seminar which would provide both resources of how to overcome disorders and novels like this which describe the experiences of a sufferer.

Material Girls by Elaine Dimopoulos book review by Nicole

Author (Last name first): Dimopoulos, Elaine
 Title of the Book: Material Girls
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
 Date of Publication: 2015
 ISBN# 987-0-544-38850-5
Price: $17.99 Hardcover
 Grade Level: YA
 Number of pages: 319
Nicole's Rating (based on VOYA): 5Q4P
Highly Recommended

 In a world where fashion and looks are the only things that seem to matter, Marla is a superior court judge within the famous fashion company, Torro-LeBlanc. Believing she had achieved her wildest dreams, she never expected to be demoted back to the lowest level of the company, a drafter of designs, once she voted against the rest of the court on a fashion item. Humiliated for going with her gut decisions on what “trends” will occur, Marla finds is difficult to initially get back with the designer crowd. At the same time, Ivy Wilde, a pop star icon, is stuck within her “wilde” image of a pop star who couldn't care less about what is considered scandalous. Joined together by the common need for a change, Marla and Ivy rebel against the trendy “Big Five” fashion brands and wilde’s agency. Marla creates a new image for wilde, a wilder, animalistic, earthy new look for the once untameable star. Their goal is to inform people against the crazy trends that create so much waste as each piece of clothing can only be worn once. To reduce the impact of the economy of the environment, they promote wearing clothes multiple times and to even upcycle their clothing once finished. One step after another the once small image rebellion turns into a full scale strike and uprising against the trends. Fighting against public opinion, bosses and managers, and friends the strike is short lived and the message against the unsustainable trends all but dies with it.

This book was a very interesting read for me. I could not put it down yet I hated the ending. Dimopoulos married fashion, dystopian society, politics, and an eco-friendly message while keeping it as realistic as it can get for this dystopian society. Although not as Project Runway as the back cover implies, this new fashion world intrigued me as I was able to peer into the process of creating a garment and was able to understand how each aspect of that process influenced the official design. Regarding the Project Runway aspect, it truly was more of a Project Runway Jr. Fashion Challenge, and a failed one at that. Many of the described designs were insane but given the society, it makes fun of the insanity of the importance placed upon looks. The success of the characters in this book would have been of a lower level designer who did not get eliminated for the challenge yet they were the second to last. That is truly what infuriated me. The ending resulted in a complete reset to the beginning of the book. Ivy turned back into a agency-obeying scandalous pop star who could have had marvelous character development.

The climax of this novel had her completely against her old self and with actual morals. Regarding Marla, her character development was more realistic. She was able to open up her own upcycled clothing shop with some of the other drafters who were released from their jobs after the strikes. All-in-all, although the ending made me upset, I understand why Dimopoulos had it end that way. A main theme was that it takes more work to change something existing than to create something new. Although the strikes failed, the failed strikers were still able to create their own start-up, slowly getting their message to the world rather than forcing immediate change.

In hindsight my emotions towards their success was purposeful. I believe that this helped get the message of reducing clothing waste across more than it would have if it was a successful rebellion. Also, by having Ivy revert to her old self Dimopoulos was able to show to the readers how self centered many pop-culture icons are. This book was a small protest against the attitudes of current society who is self-centered and all about how one looks to others.

 This book has a decent amount of drug use. Called the “Placidophilus pill” or a “P Pill” for short, it causes the user to relax and create a happiness high. Although the drug is illegal, its widespread use represents how this society is not satisfied with how everything is going. The need for this pill demonstrates that the immense pressures of society are too large for everyone to handle and a change was needed. In addition, the entire book is practically child labour. Children get “Tapped” at the end of seventh grade to be asked into a certain field of work. Their entire lives depend on that moment and if not tapped, people get hated jobs such as doctors or teachers. The fact that much of the children want to go into the entertainment industry is another reflection of today’s society yet does not make sense. I wondered how does this society thrive if the majority of the workforce are children and there are not many people to take the necessary place of civil workers?

 With an interesting take on society and how people create waste this book would be perfect for a book club or interdisciplinary studies of economics and society. To fully enjoy this book an already present interest in fashion would be beneficial as the surface plot completely revolves around them.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

EtherWorld by Claudia Gabel & Cheryl Klam - student book review by Nicole

Immediately following the ending of the previous novel of the Elusion series, Elusion, Gabel and Klam start the novel with Regan and her newly discovered father in the Ether World. Struggling to fight and return to the real world, Regan and Josh are desperate to destroy the virtual reality escape of Elusion to protect the real world from the unknown dangers hidden in the code.
Once forced out of the app by Patrick, the new head of her father’s company Orexis, Regan goes through the struggles of trying to find the bodies of her friends still stuck within Elusion while dealing with political and familial issues. Continuing with the mysteries, Regan relies on her friends for help to heal the trapped people and finally find the body of her father to prove that he is not dead. On the edge of your seat until the end of this novel, Ether World is full of adventure and romance until the very end.
It should be noted that it is necessary to read the first novel as many of the concepts explored are futuristic. Combined with a complicated plotline in relation to character’s interactions, the reader may become confused or not be able to follow what is going on. Furthermore, there are many scenes of violence or illegal activities that may not be suitable for a younger audience. Despite these small warnings, they add to the plotline and make sense in accordance to the characters situation.
Overall, I believe that this novel was a wonderfully executed sequel to Elusion. I love the concept of this novel: a polluted future with people desperate for nature but end up leaning upon technology for a replacement. It questions actions taken today that will ruin the environment and comments upon how lucky we are to have such a beautiful world. Moreover, technology’s usage and its “addictive” tendencies is portrayed similarly in that its overuse will destroy one’s life.
Considering school usage, a technology themed book shelf or themed month is one of the easiest ways to incorporate this book into your library. For literary analysis, motivations of characters such as profit, family, and love are three of the most prevalent motivations driving the main characters. Lastly, technology and its implications can be analyzes along with its effects upon society.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Magonia student book review by Nicole

Aza Ray has been different her entire life; the subject of a mysterious disease, she is left on earth struggling to take a breath of fresh air and live like a normal teen. When she sees ships in the sky, she is left to believe that it was just a hallucination due to her heavy medication. That idea is proven wrong. Aza is swept into the world of Magonia, a world where she is dead to earth but can live and breath normally for the first time in her life. Torn between her past family and friend Jason, Aza desperately clings to survival in her new life, trying to hold true to what she knows. Aza is challenged through the discovery of talents and powers she has unlocked through her canwr and her true mother’s pushes for lessons with Dai. Furthermore, through discoveries of Magonia’s new culture Aza finds the true reasons for issues between the Magonians’ and the “drowners”, or people living on earth; Earth has forced the Magonians to steal their food by taking their precious Magonian epiphytes and hiding them in the seed vault.

Through trial and error both between Aza in Magonia and Jason on earth, they reunite to protect the fragile balance of peace between Earth and Magonia. Magonia is a wonderful premier book to the new series by Headley. Only lapsed by a few swear words not suitable for younger audiences, this book is suitable for the young adult fantasy genre. In my opinion, the dual perspective of both Aza and Jacob was executed in a professional manner, always leaving the reader on the edge of their seats. Each character had their own personality that shined, allowing for a variety of perspectives to the multitudes of events on the novel.

 Relationship wise, the connection between Aza and Jacob was not over done but at times their thoughts of each other balanced on the thin line of cheesy and profound. Headley’s writing style is so unique and amazing to both read and analyze. She not only creates a feeling like the reader is within the head of her characters through casual diction but the structure of the physical words reflects the true emotions of these events. In that case of structure, the words at times are bolded, replaced by symbols to represent a greater meaning of loss of words, dragged throughout the page utilizing new paragraphs and white space, and many more creative styles rarely seen in many books. The structure’s creativity is truly what sets this book apart from most YA fiction novels. A literary analysis of the structure is a great place to start but additionally the analysis can focus upon the motif of being able to breathe and an overarching question of what creates true family and friends.

 A key aspect of this novel, review wise, to be noted is that this is an Epic Reads member book. To gain more information there are videos on their YouTube channel with a synopsis and a DIY that may be watched. I agree with the selection of this book becoming apart of the Epic Reads community as it suits the main goals and overall theme of the books Epic Reads normally promotes and advertises for (the popular YA audience).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde book review

This is the 3rd book in the Chronicles of Kazam series.  I recommend reading the books in order as these are not really stand alone books.  We’re back with Jennifer Strange, a 16 year old orphan who is the manager of Kazam Mystical Arts and Court Mystician for the Kingdom of Snodd.  Jennifer is in high demand - from the Queen to Once Mangificent Boo to the Mighty Shandar.  She is about to go on an adventure (because Quests need to be approved).  In this story we meet Addie and lose a few characters along the way.  Jennifer has been sent to find the Eye of Zoltar in the Cambrian Empire.  She doesn’t have much to go on, but she does think it will save the dragons.  The land they travel to is very dangerous.  People go there as “jeopardy tourists” and sometimes they do not make it back.  There are many perils along the way and they are not all solved because the story ends with a major cliffhanger...with a promise from the author that there is more to come.

I have been enjoying this series and I highly recommend it to fans of Harry Potter.  The setting is sort of an alternate reality of Great Britain and magic is not kept secret.  If readers like magical fantasy, dragons and epic journeys, this book is for them.  I think it would be a good purchase for a middle school or high school library.  This particular book is a little bit darker than the first two.  There is violence during the scenes with the Hollow Men, but nothing out of the ordinary for a fantasy novel.  Some of the dialogue is quite entertaining when the characters are being light-hearted.  There are many quirky personalities and Jennifer embraces them all.  Readers will learn quite a bit about economics from the princess.  Some readers may decide that economics is cool ;)  Overall, this is a great series and I am always recommending the books.  

Also, this:

It's Not Me, It's You by Stephanie Kate Strohm book review

I choose the book because I enjoyed the other books Stephanie Kate Strohm wrote.  I think this was her first released hardcover as the other books were released only in paperback.  Avery Dennis has been dumped just days before her senior prom.  Avery has never been without a boyfriend and decides this is the perfect time to find herself.  She also wants to figure out why none of her many relationships have lasted.  Avery is considered one of the popular girls.  She is cute, athletic and smart.  She takes her studies seriously and it’s one of the things the other popular girls make fun of her for.  She’s had the same science lab partner for years and they are at the top of their class.  Avery has an oral history project due before graduation, so she decides to explore why her past relationships have failed.  Her teacher tells her this is not the intent of the oral history project, but Avery sets out to prove her wrong.  This is a romantic comedy and has a happy ending.

This book may actually seem pretty fluffy on the outside, but any historian will see the components of writing up an oral history and setting out to interview your primary sources.  The author also sets up sort of a historiography.  The topic of finding out why your relationships don’t work out is fun and funny, but I really think the underlying methodology would help some readers see that history can be fun.  Readers will also enjoy the romance and the jokes throughout the story.  The story may be difficult for some readers to follow as it is written in an interview format, with varying perspectives.  But it will be no problem for stronger readers. There is also some diversity among the characters.  One review labeled it as stereotypical, but I don’t agree with that.  I think it reflects the diversity in many high schools today.

I enjoyed this book.  It is a fun, quick read in terms of the content.  But it could be used by a history teacher to illustrate that oral histories can be fun and not all topics have to be super serious.  The example in the book may not be ideal for a school project, but a reader could transfer their new found knowledge to a more history content oriented topic.  I would recommend it as a purchase for a high school library.  I would do a readers’ advisory recommendation to a not super serious history buff or a student looking for a romantic comedy.