Category Archives: Fantasy

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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Seraphina

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman ISBN: 9780375866562

Plot Summary: When Prince Rufus is murdered, all signs point to dragons. This strains tensions between the dragons living in the city and the humans, who are already suspicious of the peace treaty. Seraphina has been instructed by her father to not draw attention to herself so as not to expose the fact that her mother was a dragon. But she is compelled to help the investigation, along with Prince Lucian, who is smart and shrewd enough to discover her secret.

Critical Evaluation: The setting of this book was well realized. This is set in a fictional town, where dragons and humans live side by side. Details about the way this world works, rules, and culture are given through the experiences of Seraphina. She talks about how her dragon mentor does not have to wear the bells customarily worn by dragons because he is a scholar. In her travels she goes through many different areas of the city, from the nice, human area she and her father live in, to the ghetto-like neighborhoods where more lowly creatures live. As musical assistant to the court composer, Seraphina is privy to a lot of conversations and different levels of the society. So she knows how dragon brains work differently than humans, which was fun for me to notice in her own actions. She also hears and sees how people treat dragons. All of this combines to create a world that is vivid and believable.

There is a sequel in the works, and some important details are left up in the air at the end of this book. The particular mystery at the focus of this story is resolved, but I was frustrated not to have a better resolution for other subplots. I think that is just the burden I must carry for having read an engaging and interesting story.

Reader’s Annotation: Dragons and humans have been living together somewhat peacefully, but the death of Prince Rufus and the signs that a dragon did it throw everything in the balance. Can Seraphina help Prince Lucian discover who’s behind it, without revealing her own dangerous secret?

Information about the author: Rachel Hartman was born in Lexington, Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature. Instead of getting a graduate degree, Rachel spent her time drawing comic books.

She has lived in a variety of places, like Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, England, and Japan. She currently lives in Vancouver, British Colombia with her family. “Seraphina” is her first novel.

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Romance

Curriculum ties, if any: It could be used to discuss acceptance of people different from yourself.

Booktalking Ideas: This will appeal most to readers of fantasy and those who like dragon stories. It is frequently compared to “Eragon” so I might mention that. I would also emphasize that this is a mystery and has intrigue and action.

Reading Level/Interest Age:  Seraphina is sixteen in this story. She holds a full time job, which I think older teens will identify with more. Publisher’s Weekly recommends it for ages 12 and up, and School Library Journal for grades 7 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • Minor language
  • Minor violence
  • Drinking

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

None of the potential issues with this book come up very often. I would be surprised if this book was challenged, but that being said, it has positive messages for women, as well as on being honest and doing what is right. It also meets the recreational needs of teens.

Why did you include this book? : I had heard good things about the book and wanted another type of fantasy to highlight.

Reference Page:

Hartman, R. (2013). Bio. Retrieved from http://rachelhartmanbooks.com/about/

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

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Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson ISBN: 9780399256615

**Note: This is a review of the Netgalley prepublished edition, which I was very pleased to get approved for.**

Plot Summary: The second installation in the Shades of London series finds Rory healing from the near fatal wounds she experienced after fighting the Jack the Ripper copycat on the streets of London. She struggles with not only her physical wounds but her emotional state, at least according to her therapist. She’s rather bored of being cooped up and longs to go back to school to see her boyfriend Stephen, and friends on the secret ghost police squad. But when she returns, she finds that things are different; she is behind in all of her classes and can’t seem to bring herself to do homework, and the spark that used to be there with Stephen seems to be flickering. Then she gets wind of murders happening near the grounds of her boarding school and decides to investigate further. And a classmate suggests a new therapist for Rory, who seems to make Rory feel at ease, but there’s something not quite right about her.

Critical Evaluation: The book seems to divide literary elements to character development in the first half and plot in the second. However, since this is the second book in the series, character development is somewhat limited to exploring Rory’s somewhat fragile mental state. She indicates that she feels fine, but upon her return to school, it becomes more clear through her disinterest in schoolwork and flashbacks in particular places of great significance that she is still struggling with what happened.

The plot development of the second half is truthfully more interesting to me, though some parts seem too slow, and others too rushed. The first murder takes place at the beginning of the book, but isn’t discussed much until the second half rolls around. And I think the idea of unhinged mental patient ghosts, but it isn’t much explored beyond the first murder that I can recall. Perhaps they will return to this in the third installment. I think that investigation is cut short by Rory’s involvement with the new therapist, and without revealing too much of the ending, even this conflict is wrapped up rather neatly, though there is a suggestion that it will return in the third book as well. I did find this book an enjoyable read, and will read the third installment, though I hope it can more fully explore some of the avenues presented in this middle book.

Reader’s Annotation: Not much time has passed since Rory nearly died fighting the Jack the Ripper copycat killer who turned out to be a ghost. Is she ready to tackle another case as people near her London boarding school start dying mysteriously as well?

Information about the author: Maureen Johnson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She attended the University of Delaware for a degree in writing, as well as the Colombia University for the Arts to study theatrical dramaturgy and writing. As a graduate student she held many jobs, like working in a haunted house themed restaurant, working on a show in Las Vegas, and being a fake employee for a company so it would look like they had more employees.

She now lives in New York City. The Name of the Star, the first book in this series, came out in 2011 and was nominated for an Edgar award. Many of the adventures that characters in her books face are based on real-life stories.

Genre: Thriller, Horror

Curriculum ties, if any: None.

Booktalking Ideas: By this point in the series, that ghosts exist and can kill people has been established, so I would build on the angry ghosts and secret squad of police officers that Rory works with.

Reading Level/Interest Age:  Rory is a high school senior in this book, but it is generally a rather tame read, besides the murder. Still, I think there is enough appeal for an older reader as well. School Library Journal suggests this book for readers in 7th grade and higher, and Publisher’s Weekly recommends it for readers 12 years old and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

For the most part, the best reason to have this book is to meet the recreational needs of patrons. However, the first part of the book that details Rory’s therapy and struggling with a near death experience could be helpful for those who have experienced something similar.

Why did you include this book? : I loved the first book in the series, and don’t normally read books in the thriller genre, so it helps to round out my collection.

Reference Page:

Johnson, M. (2013). About page on Maureen Johnson website. Retrieved from www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/about/

Maureen Johnson Author page. Goodreads. Retrieved from www.goodreads.com/author/show/10317.Maureen_Johnson

Manga Man by Barry Lyga

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Manga Man by Barry Lyga, Illustrated by Colleen Doran ISBN: 9780547423159

Plot Summary: Marissa seems typical on the outside; she’s beautiful, popular and dates a sports star. So no one can understand why she would dump her boyfriend and start dressing in costumes. Around the same time, Ryoko, a manga character with androgynous looks, falls into Marissa’s world and each is entranced by the other. Ryoko has some difficulty fitting in with his looks and the way he leaves behind puddles after crying or speed lines when he runs. That doesn’t matter to Marissa, but her ex-boyfriend and the rest of the school aren’t so sure of that. What’s worse, lying beyond the borders of the page (a meta element of this comic) is a monster that could destroy their worlds.

Critical Evaluation: I read a fair amount of graphic novels, but I’ve been a little intimidated by manga so far. This provided a lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek look at both types of comic. I noticed pretty quickly that the Western world was drawn in what I think of as 80’s style, with big hair and that style of clothes. I couldn’t tell whether this was supposed to be funny or not. As far as the mood goes, this book hits most of the comedic marks with me. Ryoko provides most of the comic relief with exaggerated emotions demonstrated and visible in that world to everyone around him. When he sees Marissa and hearts encircle his head, everyone else can see those hearts as well, and is totally confused by their presence.

This book also does something that I haven’t seen a comic do before (not to say that other comics aren’t doing it). That is to expose the borders around the illustrations and have characters find them and get out of them. There are quite a few self-referential moments in the book, like this, or the very concept of a book that combines two different graphic worlds. However, what the book struggled more with is to make these characters seem real. Again, maybe that was the point. I never felt like I got to know any of them well enough; they remained rather one dimensional, and seemed to exist mostly to move along the storyline. But my overall impression of the book is a good one.

Reader’s Annotation: What would happen if Eastern manga-style comics met Western graphic novels? This goofy love story about a boy and girl who learn to love and survive across the borders of their vastly different worlds.

Information about the author: Barry Lyga is the author of many young adult novels, such as The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and Manga Man. He was born in 1971 in Southbridge, Massachusetts. As a child and teen, he was obsessed with comic books, even though the adults around him discouraged that interest.

He majored in English at Yale, where he looked at comic books from an academic standpoint. He then went on to work for Diamond Comic Distributors. He now lives in New York. His first book was published in 2006 and his writing is highly regarded by critics and teens alike.

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Manga

Curriculum ties, if any: I would be very impressed if a teacher taught a unit on graphic novels, and the variations within, which this book would fit into quite well.

Booktalking Ideas: I would play on the popularity of both styles of comic and emphasize the wackiness of this story. I think mentioning elements like the giant beads of sweat that Ryoko has, or the way his cheeks color when he’s embarrassed would be funny to mention.

Reading Level/Interest Age: This is about older teens, and does have some violence and sexual scenes. Publisher’s Weekly recommends it for ages 12 and up, while School Library Journal considers it best suited for grades 9 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • Sexual situation
  • Violence

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

This book meets the recreational needs of teens and as such, they should have access to it.

Why did you include this book? : I don’t know much about manga, but I thought this might be a fun way to introduce myself.

The Poison Eaters by Holly Black

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The Poison Eaters by Holly Black ISBN: 9781931520638

Plot Summary: Enter a world wear fairies live among us. Where all the vampires are kept in a separate part of town called Coldtown. Where people can turn into wolves and back again. Where characters can come to life from books. These are just a few of the worlds that Holly Black presents in her collection of stories. These represent the dark side of the fantastical world, with eerie descriptions of night markets and deaths, lost loves and secret Latin cults. All will pull you into another world and engross you in short but vivid stories about both magical people and the normal ones who live among them.

Critical Evaluation: A collection of short stories is somewhat difficult to evaluate in terms of literary elements. Luckily for us, this short story collection, and in fact many others have a general theme to the pieces included. This collection focuses on fantastical characters and worlds. A short story is difficult to write because the author must establish the setting, characters and plot arc in relatively few pages.  I think that Holly Black achieves this rather admirably. Obviously more time could be spent on each element, but in the space that she has, we see individual complex characters in sometimes disparate, sometimes interconnected worlds. In the case of one of these stories, Black has just expanded it to a full length novel, “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.”

I did wish that the setting could be more fully explored. Generally, we get rather cursory glances at where each story takes place. One in a college town, another in a suburb of New York that is near a forest, others in the past, like at a king’s castle. I do think that she did a good job of containing a plot and transformation for characters in a small amount of time. For the most part, I felt that I had a good understanding of each character’s personality, and how it changes by the end of the story. In some cases, like in “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” or “The Poison Eaters,” the transformation is more marked: Matilda accepts her fate as a vampire, but with a message to tell, and the three sisters rid themselves of their oppressive father, but die in the process.

Reader’s Annotation: These short, fantastical stories might remind you of Grimm’s fairytales, or Twilight. Be prepared for some dark, kinda twisted stories that are fast and fun to read.

Information about the author: Holly Black may be best known for her collaboration with Tony DiTerlizzi on the Spiderwick Chronicles, but most of her books are YA fiction. She has also contributed to several short story collections. Her books have won awards and been on bestseller lists.

She was born in New Jersey in 1971. In 1994, she graduated from The College of New Jersey with a bachelor’s in English. She now lives in Massachusetts with her husband in a house with a secret library.

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum ties, if any: Nothing I can think of.

Booktalking Ideas: As I did with my reader’s annotation, I would play off of the fairytale elements of some of these stories. I also think the shortness of each would be appealing to teens who may only want to read one at a time.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Characters in these stories for the most part seem to be older. Some appear to be out of high school, while others are portrayed as slightly younger, though there are few specifics on age. Publisher’s Weekly recommends these stories for ages 14 and up, while School Library Journal considers them for grades 9 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  •  Violence
  • Homosexuality
  • Beings potentially construed as satanic
  • Drug use

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

I would argue that this collection meets the recreational needs of teens. As these stories take place in a world that is not our own, I don’t think you could argue that teens would adopt any of the habits from the book. The violence is not really glorified nor is the drug use.

Why did you include this book? : I wanted to review a collection of short stories, and this one was recommended to me.

Reference Page:

About Holly (2013). Holly Black Website. Retrieved from http://www.blackholly.com

Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick

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Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick ISBN: 9780545464260

Plot Summary: Becky’s overweight mother has just passed away. She’s just graduated from high school and is working as a cashier, wondering if this is how her life will go. Then she gets a mysterious phone call from a famous fashion designer with a very tempting offer. He says he knew Becky’s mother and will make Becky three dresses that will instantly transform her into the most beautiful woman in the world. Becky knows she’s rather plain looking, but this sounds fishy. Indeed, there is a catch. She must get married within a year, or lose it all. Enter a heartthrob movie star, and a humanitarian prince and a whole lot of experiences Becky has never had. But Becky can’t shake the nagging feeling that all the attention is undeserved, and that if anyone knew who she really was, this would all go away.

Critical Evaluation: The theme and imagery of this book seem to be the strongest elements to me. Initially, the theme is somewhat hidden behind biting remarks and humor. But it is in this manner that Rudnick gets his main points across in a jab at consumerism and ascribing our sense of worth to our outer beauty. For me, he is much more successful at demonstrating the second. Perhaps with a second careful reading, I would pick out more of the details about consumerism. As it is, I do recall the way that Becky and her friend talked about designers and fashion before she became Rebecca. But she contemplates her worth and beauty a lot more as the novel progresses. I think it helps that Becky is not totally taken in by the beauty industry; the person she most admires is her overweight mother. And her sense of self-worth doesn’t actually change much once she gets the dresses. She admits to being captivated by what she looks like, but it seems like the biggest change is that now she is less honest, a change she frequently feels guilty about.

And, in a book about the fashion and beauty industry, perhaps it is not surprising that the imagery is very vivid. There is a lot of detail dedicated to describing Rebecca’s outfits, and those around her. Once I consider that, I do realize that another change from Becky to Rebecca is that she is now much more aware of what everyone around her is wearing. All of this imagery helps to make the settings much more vivid, though it is admittedly only one dimension of the settings.

Reader’s Annotation: If someone offered you a chance to be the most beautiful woman in the world, with the help of three dresses, would you do it? Becky says yes, but soon starts to wonder what she’s gotten herself into…

Information about the author: This is Paul Rudnick’s first YA novel. He is most well known as a playwright and screenwriter of In and Out and Jeffrey. He also frequently contributes to the New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly.

He grew up in Piscataway, New Jersey in one of few Jewish families in the area. He went to Yale University and moved to Manhattan afterwards to begin his theater career. He has been called one of the wittiest writers of our time and has won numerous awards for his plays.

Genre: Fantasy, Humor, Satire, Fractured Fairytale, Chick Lit

Curriculum ties, if any: This might be interesting to discuss in a unit on consumerism.

Booktalking Ideas: This is quite a funny novel, so I would want to highlight that. I think this will appeal mostly to girls, and the occasional boy, so I would talk about the opportunity to get a practically instant makeover that suddenly makes you beautiful, famous, and rich. But that it has drawbacks.

Reading Level/Interest Age: The main character is 18, has just graduated from high school. Publisher’s Weekly recommends this book for ages 14 and up and School Library Journal for grades 9 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • Language
  • Homosexuality

Defense strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

This book fits the recreational needs of teens, but it also has an important message about being yourself, being honest, and recognizing one’s beautiful qualities inside and out. It is packaged in a way that teens can relate better to it, and don’t feel like they are being pandered to.

Why did you include this book? : I’d read that it was an enjoyable read. It fits the fantasy and humor genre, and as “chick lit” is one I don’t normally read.

Reference Page:

Bruni, F. (1997). At home with: Paul Rudnick; you want gay role models? How about a joke first. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com