Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Submitted by teen reviewer Camellia S:

Love and Gelato is about a girl, Carolina (or just Lina). She has to follow her mother's dying wish to meet Howard. Lina assumes that Howard is her father and decides to stay with him in Italy just for the summer, and then she will go back to her boring life. In Italy next to her father's cemetery/house, she meets the dashing Lorenzo, aka Ren. The handsome soccer player makes Lina question her choice to just stay for the summer. Also another mystery pops up: her mother's journal about the year she lived in Italy, and all the secrets hidden inside it.

I absolutely enjoyed this book! The characters are full of life and they have tons of detail. The plot twists throughout this book are amazing. On a scale from 1 to 10, I would rate this book a 10. It is an adorable story about a girl learning about herself and discovering the trail her mother left behind. I hope you decide to read it and enjoy it as much as I did.

Love and Gelato is available in libraries and bookstores now.

Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

Submitted by teen reviewer Camellia S:

Flawed is a dystopian novel written by Cecelia Ahern. It is about a girl named Celestine and a sudden choice on a bus that could change her life forever. In Celestine's government, people with "flaws" are branded on their head, right hand, sole of their foot, their chest, or their tongue. The person who got the most brandings ever only received three. Celestine is put on trial in her messed up community for having compassion for an old man... wait for it... who is flawed. One of the brandings is for being disloyal to the society (aka helping or aiding another flawed person). It doesn't help that one of the judges has it out for her. Celestine is going to need a lot of strength and help from others if she wants to survive.

Celestine is a force to be reckoned with. She is a strong female character and doesn't trust many people, which is a good thing. With not many to trust and many people after her for many reasons, Celestine is on the brink of survival multiple times.

This book is probably a grade A+. I bawled my eyes out multiple times throughout the book. On a scale from 1 to 10, it's a definite 10. This book is a roller coaster ride full of emotions! I hope you will want to read this book and find out what happens to Celestine. I know you will enjoy it.

Flawed is available in libraries and bookstores now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Heir by Kiera Cass

Posted for teen reviewer Savanna A.

The Heir is the fourth book in the "Selection" series. King Maxon and Queen America have their firstborn child Eadlyn. When the country is at risk due to unhappiness over the old caste system, the King and Queen decide it is best to start a selection. Eadlyn hates the idea. She isn't ready for marriage - if she'll ever be ready at all. Thirty-five suitors in three months. Who will win her heart? Eadlyn starts realizing that some of these young men aren't so bad after all. So find out what happens next in The Heir.

I give this book and series 10 out of 10! The drama and romance are so amazing! I would recommend it for 13+ or mature readers. I think even adults would like it. It makes you feel like you are a part of the book.

The Heir is available now.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

From the publisher: The story follows Irene, a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. Along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

The Invisible Library is an enjoyable mash up of too many things to mention. There is a Sherlock Holmes-like detective, dragons who can take human form, werewolves, vampires, the Fae, a mysterious Library, a mysterious language that is almost like magic but not quite - all set in an alternate Victorian London.

The world building is fine, given that we’ve already visited parts of it in many other fantasy novels. The characters are interesting. The dialog is entertaining. The plot is frantic and engaging. I didn’t worry too much about things that reminded me of other things – I was too busy enjoying myself.

A couple of the things I especially enjoyed:

When Librarian Irene and her student Kai are sent to an alternate world, they are instructed to claim to be “barbarian visitors from Canada.” (“Do you suppose barbarian Canadians wear jeans? “I hope female Canadian barbarians wear trousers….They’re easier to run in.”)

When Irene is invited to a party by one of the local Fae lords, he tells her, “I’ve invited all the best people. Lords, ladies, authors, ambassadors, debauchers, grave-robbers, perverts, sorcerers, courtesans, deranged scientists, and doll-makers.” Doll-makers, ha!

The Invisible Library is a ton of fun, and I look forward to book 2, The Masked City. Recommended for fantasy lovers looking for a fun romp

The Invisible Library will be published on June 14 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

From the publisher: Survival is the name of the game as the line blurs between reality TV and reality itself in Alexandra Oliva’s fast-paced novel of suspense. She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far. It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens. Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game. Sophisticated and provocative, The Last One is a novel that forces us to confront the role that media plays in our perception of what is real: how readily we cast our judgments, how easily we are manipulated.

I attended the Public Library Association conference in Denver this spring, and The Last One was one of the hot books people were talking about. I was lucky enough to meet the author and pick up an advance reader copy of her book.

The concept is intriguing – 12 contestants on a reality survival TV show have no idea that a pandemic has broken out. The novel moves back and forth between the early days on the show before the pandemic, as the staff behind the show manipulate how viewers will perceive the 12 contestants, and later days, when the contestants believe they are facing a solo challenge. The later chapters follow one contestant in particular as she stumbles on increasingly distressing scenes that she believes are part of the challenge.

I very much enjoyed reading The Last One. I compare it to the blockbuster Gone Girl in that I wanted to keep reading to see what was going to happen next. It’s not a book I would read a second time, and it will be more enjoyable to read if you don’t know much about the plot. The writing is smooth and the character development good.

I’ve never watched any Survivor episodes and I still enjoyed the book. I think fans of the TV show would like this book even more than I did because of the way the contestants are manipulated and presented to the TV audience.

The plot dragged a bit toward the end and slowed my rush to finish. But the slow period didn’t last very long. This is a debut novel, and to make the story work the author does rely on a couple of plot devices that are hard to believe. I won’t mention one because it would act as a spoiler, but the other involves her eyeglasses. She breaks them early on. Although she breaks into stores to find supplies, she does not look for reading glasses or contacts until late in the book.

But those are minor complaints. I think this would be a great beach or travel read. I often dislike the flat or anticlimactic endings of first novels, but I was quite satisfied by the ending of The Last One¸ and I was happy to see that the author did not feel the need to tack on an epilogue.

I recommend The Last One to anyone looking for an engrossing thriller, especially fans of survivalist fiction. I read an advance reader copy of The Last One; it is scheduled to be published on July 12. It will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.

Friday, May 20, 2016

If Bees Are Few: A Hive of Bee Poems, edited by James P. Lenfestey

Publisher description: An anthology of 2,500 years of poetry, from Sappho to Sherman Alexie, humming with bees, at a moment when the beloved honey makers and pollinators are in danger of disappearing. Virgil wrote of bees, as did Shakespeare, Burns, Coleridge, Emerson, and Whitman, among many others. Amid the crisis befalling bees—hives collapsing, wild species disappearing—the poems collected here speak with a quiet urgency of a world lost if bees were to fall silent. A portion of the proceeds from this anthology will be donated to support research at the Bee Lab in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota.

I enjoy poetry and am worried about the status of bees, so this anthology of poems about bees intrigued me. The fact that some of the proceeds will benefit the Bee Lab alone makes it a worthwhile endeavor.

Some of the poems are focused on bees; in other poems, the bees are merely background. Some poems are long and lyrical, and others are  short and modern and to the point about vanishing bees. As usual with anthologies, some of the poems spoke to me and some did not. My three favorite poems were Two New World Bees by John Caddy, Bumblebee in the Basement by James Silas Rogers, and the pedigree of honey by Emily Dickinson:
The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee;
A clover, any time, to him
Is aristocracy.
If you enjoy reading poetry written by a variety of poets over thousands of years of human history, you might enjoy dipping in to If Bees Are Few. Be prepared to crave some honey!

I read a digital advance reader copy of If Bees Are Few. It will be published on May 30 and will be available in the new nonfiction section of the Galesburg Public Library.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Windcatcher by A.J. Norfield.

I love fantasy novels involving dragons and enjoyed Windcatcher, the first book in the Stone War Chronicles, by A.J. Norfield. Windcatcher is an old-fashioned (in the best sense) traditional fantasy dragon novel. A small squad of soldiers travels deep into enemy territory in an attempt to retrieve a treasure stolen from their kingdom’s ally. The treasure turns out to be something thought to exist only in legends – a dragon egg. He hatches, bonds with one of the soldiers, and becomes an ally in their fight against the enemy.

First person narrators are all the rage these days, and I’m tired of them. I’m especially tired of unreliable first person narrators. Give me a good old omniscient third person narrator any day. It was refreshing to read Windcatcher from that standpoint – it reads like a throwback fantasy novel. 

Windcatcher starts slowly, but I recognize that one has to take the time to do some world building in a long fantasy series. Once the dragon, Galirras, hatches and joins the cast of characters, things really take off.

The author is also a fan of traditional fantasy, and it shows. Sometimes the story is derivative. For example, on page 300 I could hear the Wilhelm scream used in many blockbusters, including The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, in this sentence: “The soldier disappeared from sight with a high-pitched scream.” But since the book is well written and well plotted, I can forgive the occasional lapse into cliché.

One way in which the book is not quite traditional is that the author does attempt to work in some diversity. For example, there is a “same gender” couple in the small troop, and the human tells the dragon, “Unfortunately, same gender lovers are heavily frowned upon by some. You often hear about such people being ridiculed, beaten up, or worse. They’re ignorant and small-minded people that do those things. I mean, who gave them the right to judge how others should feel?” (p. 159 of the ebook)

I do wish the Evil Bad Guy had a little more depth. He is pretty much a stereotypical, one dimensional fantasy villain. I’d like some explanation as to why he is evil and what motivates him. I was surprised by a violent episode that occurred at the end of chapter 13. It seemed extreme compared to the tone of the rest of the book, and its only point seemed to be “hey, this guy is really evil!” Perhaps we will learn more in the second book. 

Book one definitely does not stand alone. It stops in the middle of the story, and I’m ready for book two. If you like immersive traditional fantasy novels, especially those involving dragons, I recommend Windcatcher. It will be available in print at the Galesburg Public Library within the next month.

I was given a free digital copy of Windcatcher by the author in exchange for an honest review.