Monday, March 23, 2015

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club  by Genevieve Valentine
Jo and her sisters are known to the dancers and musicians and club owners and bartenders only as "Princess."  

They don't disclose their names to anyone, they reveal no details about themselves or their lives outside of the speakeasies.  And at the end of a night of dancing, with their shoes wearing thin, the twelve dancing princesses slip away together, disappearing into the anonymous darkness.  

With a nod to the Grimm's version of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," twelve sisters escape imprisonment by a domineering father to the freedom of the dance halls.  Even with a fairy tale as a root story, these characters are firmly rooted in Prohibition-era New York City, and are heavily influenced by the fast-changing social landscape for women in America of the 1920's.  

Readers will keep pages turning to discover what happens to the "princesses" when their secret is discovered!

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  The audiobook, deftly read by Susie Berneis, is also recommended.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go : a novel of Haiti  by Laura Rose Wagner

Cousins Nadine and Magdalie have lived together as sisters their whole lives, raised by Manman in the Haitian city of Port-au-Prince.  But when the big earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, everything changed.  Manman was killed in the quake, crushed by the roof of their home.  Schools were closed.  People are afraid to sleep under a roof at night.  The girls go to live with an uncle in a tent encampment, and everyone tries (often unsuccessfully) to make life seem normal again.

When Nadine's estranged father sends for her to come to Florida, Magdalie clings to the hope that she will soon escape Port-au-Prince as well.  Gradually, however, Magdalie understands that her future must be in Haiti, and that her hope for a better life must mean a hope for a clean, prosperous Haiti.

Honest, grim, and horrible at times, this coming-of-age story is nonetheless infused with points of brightness, and clearly shows the circumstances still facing Haitians today, more than five years after the earthquake.

Highly recommended for discussion.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

Breathe, Annie, Breathe

Breathe, Annie, Breathe   by Miranda Kenneally

“But during my first run, I only made it around the track two times…I quickly did the math.  
A marathon is the equivalent of 104 laps around the track!”    
“Two f******* laps?  That’s all I could do?”

When Annie’s ex-boyfriend dies during his training for a marathon, Annie decides she has to do a marathon for him.  As she begins her very first run around the school track, she is watched by the football coach who recommends her friend’s training business.  (yes- HER!  The football coach is a woman!! Wow!) 

Annie begins her own training as way to assuage her own guilt over her ex’s death:  guilt that we do not fully understand until the end.  We do understand Annie’s guilt over her feelings for her coach’s brother, Jeremiah, and Jere carries his own baggage.

This romance is a perfect up-and-down-realistic look at teens.  It is a very realistic look at the horrible situation of a first love dying a sudden death.  It is also a very realistic portrayal of the training a teen needs to run a marathon. 

Annie is not a very good runner, and never really likes it.  She is just driven.  In fact, passages can really help you to decide this would NOT be a good play selection.  Some readers will be rooting for Annie to quit.  At what point are you simply torturing your body?  What a great flawed heroine!

I had not realized this was the fifth book in a series when I read it.  It easily stands alone.

Recommended for mature teens.

Don't Look Back

Don’t Look Back   by Jennifer Armentrout

Samantha has it all: trendy queen of the school, popular boyfriend, doting parents, popular best friend.  

Then her best friend disappears.  

Sam wanders back several days later with amnesia, having been with her best friend the night she disappeared, and readers gradually learn that nothing is typical after all (of course.)  

Sam fears she is dealing with a killer, who knows she might remember that night anytime.  Someone who is now leaving her threatening notes.  As part of her  “new life,” Sam takes a second look at her popular boyfriend, her former best friend, and a possible love interest, an Hispanic boy, Carson, who lives on their estate.  

Her twin brother would like to help, but doesn’t trust the “new” Samantha.  Unfortunately, the past reveals that Carson could be the killer; or could it be Sam herself? The list of suspects is very long for the former Queen Bee.  Is she remembering or having hallucinations? 

While the “do over” possibility could be formulaic, Sam makes the complex transition by a real examination of her life, right down the possibility of being the killer herself.

Although the rich vs poor theme gets old, Sam herself is the perfect flawed heroine.  The fact that she has amnesia allows Sam to take a look at her former life and decide where she wants her life to move and who she wants to be and be with.  It is a do-over possibility for a flawed heroine who is also very realistic. 

Suspense, romance, thrilling ending.  Experienced readers will anticipate the ending, but still enjoy the ride.  What more do you want from a teen fast read?

One last word:  as opposed to standard teen book jackets, this cover is really worth a second look.  What do you see?

Ages 12 up.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Station Eleven

Station Eleven  by Emily St. John Mandel

On an ordinary, snowy Toronto night, 8-year-old Kirsten Raymonde is onstage watching a famous actor playing King Lear die of a heart attack.

Three weeks later, almost everyone else present in the theatre that night is dead of a virulent mutant Swine Flu.

Four weeks later, almost everyone else in the world is dead of the virus.

Fifteen years later, the Earth is only sparsely populated by survivors of the virus and the social collapse that followed.

Kirsten is one of the survivors.  Twenty years after the flu epidemic, Kirsten is a member of the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag group of musicians and actors on a never-ending tour of the surviving settlements, performing Bach, Beethoven, and Shakespeare because, as the motto written on the first caravan says, "Survival is insufficient"  (a quote borrowed from "Star Trek: Voyager)

This is not a gentle apocalypse.  Some survivors have banded together in peaceful villages.  Others are drawn to Doomsday cults.  Some cling desperately to the glorious history of humanity, telling whispered tales of flying machines, air conditioning, and antibiotics.  Others eschew the past, wanting to spare their children the ugliness of the now-gone world.

The tale bounces back and forth along the timeline, from pre-apocalypse to various points in the collapse, which might be confusing but isn't.  Throughout the novel, the lasting power of art and literature lend small amounts of grace and strength to the characters. From Sartre's "Hell is other people" to Miranda's "Brave new world, that has such people in’t," this novel will deeply affect the way readers view their technology-enhanced world...and each other.

Although written and marketed as a book for adults, this story is highly recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  Sexual situations are tactfully off-stage, violence is on-stage but not gory.

Saturday, January 3, 2015


Afterworlds  by Scott Westerfeld

18-year-old Darcy Patel wrote the first draft of her novel during National Novel Writing Month, sent it to an agent in New York, and sold it (plus the as-yet-unwritten sequel) for an enormous amount of money.

Darcy takes the aforementioned enormous amount of money and moves to New York.  She finds an apartment, meets other authors who love her work, and falls in love.

As one does.

18-year-old Lizzie Scofield is the main character in the novel Darcy Patel wrote.  Lizzie survived a terrorist attack by entering the "flip side" (world of the dead), fell in love with a hunky guy who is apparently some kind of death god, and now she sees ghosts.

As one does.

This is not an awesome book unless you like reading about YA authors.  

You know how writers are always enjoined to "write what you know," right?

Well, Scott Westerfeld is a YA author, and when he is writing about authors, and writing, and revising, and the whole surreal, frustrating, almost-random world of publishing, he shines.

As one does.

When he is writing about the surreal, frustrating, almost-random world of being a teenaged lesbian living away from home and falling in love for the first time, not-so-much.

Some reviewers have suggested that this is a satire, poking fun at the inhabitants of the YA publishing world, but I think that misses the mark.  Rather, I think the author spotlights a weird but cool segment of the planet that he knows very, very well.  The problem is: a lot of readers don't care to read about publishing.

The exception is readers who are also writers.  For those readers, here is your book. 

It is not a how-to for teen authors who want to get their YA novels published. Westerfeld is actually still writing that book, called How to Write YA.  There's an excerpt of it HERE.

It is, rather, a fictionalized insider's view of the publishing world.  If you read it for that, you won't be disappointed.

If you read it for the paranormal book-within-the-book, ehh.  You'll probably find better stuff elsewhere--and much of the better stuff was written by this author.

Violence : the opening sequence of Lizzie's story is bloody and intense, other parts are scarier but less bloody.
Underage drinking : doesn't anybody ask for ID at bars in NYC?
Some tactful sexual situations in both story lines.

Recommended for readers who write, ages 14 to adult.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Being a Teen

Being a Teen   by Jane Fonda                     
978-0-8129-7861-2                            Random House, 2014            $15.00             
Being a Teen: Everything Teen Girls & Boys Should Know About Relationships, Sex, Love, Health, Identity & More is the full title of this bright yellow book.  Jane Fonda is the famous actress, outspoken, politically active person you know.  What qualifies her to write a book on sexuality is the work she has maintained in her clinics, the Jane Fonda Centers for Adolescent Reproductive Health.

The book covers all the basics of anatomy, complete with pictures.  It also covers standard teen questions about sexuality in a short answer, non-judgemental style.  Nothing in depth here.  She addresses, (not deeply), the GLBTQ question.  If you are looking for answers here, this is not for you.

Geared mainly toward girls, this is helpful for boys as well.  However, there are many better books on the market, for example, Safe Sex 101 : an overview for teens by Margaret O. Hyde and Elizabeth H. Forsythe or The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Boys and The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Girls by Lynda Madaras with Area Madaras.