Kat will steal your heart in Heist Society

Heist Society by Ally Carter; published by Disney Hyperion Books, New York, 2010; 287 pages.

Katarina “Kat” Bishop just wanted a normal life.  So she stole a spot at a boarding school.  At 15, she had been a thief for more than ten years and the thought of a normal life apart from her family’s business was overwhelmingly appealing.  But, apparently, once a thief, always a thief; her family found a way to bring her back into the business.  W. W. Hale the Fifth, billionaire boy/friend and unofficial member of the family, found a way to bring her home.  Once there, Kat discovers that her father has been framed for stealing artwork from a very, very bad man, Arturo Taccone.  With the help of cousin Gabrielle, the Bagshaw brothers, and tech-prodigy Simon, Hale and Kat take on the task of re-stealing the art.  Once the project begins, they discover mysteries wrapped in mysteries, like who is the pseudonymous Visily Romani and who are the rightful owners of the stolen paintings?

I frequently felt like I was reading the version of Ocean’s Eleven starring teenagers; and that’s not a bad thing.  Part of the appeal of Ally Carter’s books, for me anyway, is the strong female protagonists who don’t take themselves too seriously.  It’s no surprise that this book made YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten list in 2010.  I for one am glad Carter has a new series with a likable albeit reluctant heroine.

I read that the film rights for this book have already been sold.  Hooray!  I can’t wait to see who is cast and how closely the movie follows the book.

5P     4Q     Grade Level: 7-12

Cover Art: The title is a dead giveaway of the plot of the book, but the reflection of the painting in the sunglasses is another big hint.  I think putting a photo, rather than a graphic or illustration, of a young adult woman is most appealing to the intended audience.

From Reading List: Teens’ Top Ten, 2010

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Witch & Wizard casts weak spell

Witch and Wizard by James Patterson and Gabrielle Carbonnet; published by Little, Brown & Company, New York, 2009; 314 pages.

What a rude awakening!  Whit and Wisty (short for Wisteria) stumble out of bed (or off the couch, in Whit’s case) to discover New Order government militia in their home, their parents helpless against the invaders.  When the teens are taken away to N.O. prison, they are allowed to take one personal item each.  Mom gives Wisty a drumstick and Dad gives Whit a blank book.  What ensues are personal discoveries, daring escapes and the unfolding of a world that embraces censorship.  Are Wisty and Whit really a witch and wizard?  Which prophecy is true:  Will they die as traitors to the New Order or will they save the world?

Oh. My. Goodness.  This was horribly written, relying heavily on superior stories that preceded it.  Where have you heard this before?

The One (whose description is eerily like Lord Voldemort) tells Whit, “You have your mother’s eyes.” (page 34)

And the song-spells were reminiscent of the songs in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  Beyond the blatant use of devices better written by others, the voices of the teenagers are horrible.  Whit’s dialog and descriptions emasculate rather than endear.  We are constantly told what a hot jock he is, but he cries a lot (even though it’s about the loss of a girlfriend, I found it too contrived under the circumstances) and his “voice” is a mish-mash of formal and an adult take on teen-speak.  Wisty’s dialog is even more obviously based on what an adult far removed from teens thinks is teen-speak.  It was so bad in the first few chapters that I almost put the book down!  And my last criticism is that there is virtually no substance to the plot.  It is almost all action, perhaps intended to distract the reader from the lack of substance.  Did the N.O. really take power overnight, with no one noticing?!  Where are the rich descriptions of these other-worlds?  When did books and music disappear?  Did no one protest?  Looking for answers to these and many other questions were a big distraction that the action could not compensate for.

I read this book in part because I am desperate for a series to fill the Harry Potter void of magic with a message.  This is not that book.  I am sure part of it’s popularity (this library copy is well worn) is that the publisher offered free downloads of the e-book on Amazon.com and through Facebook advertising.  It was, after all, among YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten nominees.  So, I won’t discount the book’s appeal; dystopia is popular.  And, maybe, it would be a good book to read and discuss during Banned Books Week.  I can imagine pulling the books that the N.O. has banished (they are thinly veiled references to popular works, old and new) and covering them with the titles attributed in Witch and Wizard then let the young adults figure out what they are.  References to museums and artists/musicians are also included at the back of the book; a passive program/contest could easily be developed around that.

This was so bad I won’t pick up the sequel.  I don’t care what happens to any of the characters or to our world, unless the titles referred to in the banned list are really pulled from library and bookstore shelves.  Then I might read the next installment.

Now I am even less likely to pick up the Maximum Ride series.  Anyone think I should try it?

4P     2Q     Grade Level: 8-10 (They’re the only age group that may be lacking the sophistication or experience to recognize the poor writing.)

Cover Art: The faces in the flaming W are interesting and certainly foreshadow the book’s plot.  It’s a bit reminiscent of The Awakening so fans of the Quantum Prophecy series may jump on this book.

From Reading List: Teens’ Top Ten nominee 2010; The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

ALA announces winners of Teens’ Top Ten

The 2010 Teens’ Top Ten are:

  1. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  2. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
  3. Heist Society by Ally Carter
  4. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
  5. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
  6. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
  7. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
  8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  9. Fire by Kristin Cashore
  10. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

According to YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten website http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/teenreading/teenstopten/teenstopten.cfm):

Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen book groups in fifteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Support Teen Literature Day during National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year. Readers ages twelve to eighteen will vote online between Aug. 23 and Sept. 17; the winners will be announced in a webcast featuring WWE Superstars and Divas during Teen Read Week.

How many have you read?  Take the poll in the right margin and let us know which is your favorite!

The poll is now closed!
Here are the results of “Which of the 2010 Teens’ Top Ten Is Your Must-Read?”

  1. Shiver (Maggie Stiefvater) 21.95%
  2. Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins) 18.29%
  3. Heist Society (Ally Carter) 17.07%
  4. Wintergirls (Laurie Halse Anderson) 15.85%
  5. Along for the Ride (Sarah Dessen) 10.98%
  6. Hush, Hush (Becca Fitzpatrick) 7.32%
  7. City of Glass (Cassandra Clare) 6.1%
  8. Beautiful Creatures (Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl) 1.22%
  9. If I Stay (Gayle Forman) 1.22%
  10. Fire (Kristin Cashore) 0%

YALSA’s “Teens Top Ten” nominees for 2010 now online

YALSA announced on Facebook that the nominees for the Teen Top Ten list for 2010 have been posted online (here).  Hooray!  Many titles reviewed here, and books from favorite authors, made the list.  Tough choice for me: Shiver?  Wintergirls?  Catching Fire? Which titles do you think should make the cut?  Which titles make you say, “Uh, why?”

Rebellion is Catching Fire

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins; published by Scholastic, New York, 2009; 391 pages.

Back in District 12, Katniss Everdeen has fallen back into her routine of escaping into the forbidden woods to hunt.   Although she now lives in the Victor’s Village with her mother, sister (Prim), Peeta and Haymitch, she continues to hunt to support Gale’s family.  With the next Hunger Games about six months away, Katniss and Peeta must tour all the districts as a reminder of the control the Capitol has over everyone.  President Snow makes an unexpected appearance at Katniss’ home with a threat if she does not convince the general populace of her love for Peeta.  Uprisings occur around Panem, fueled by Katniss’ disobedience during the games; she and her mockingjay pin have come to symbolize the resistance movement.  As if she isn’t stressed enough, her feelings for Gale and Peeta have her confounded.  When the rules for the upcoming Hunger Games are announced, Katniss is overcome with anxiety.  Every 25 years, the rules for the Hunger Games can be amended; as this year marks 75 years since the revolution attempt, the rules change.  The tributes will be selected from the pool of victors.  Katniss must fight again.  As symbols of the mockingjay appear in odd places, organized revolution becomes more than just a rumor.  But what role does Katniss have in the scheme?  And what about Peeta, and Gale?

I seamlessly stepped back into the dystopian world of Panem.  Collins has done a remarkable job of keeping her characters in character in a sequel.  Her narrator’s voice has not changed.  It’s as though she continued writing straight through both books.  It will be hard to wait until Fall 2010 for the third book in the trilogy to be released!

What captivates me most about this series is the strong, female protagonist.  While she is not without fault, Katniss is a complex, reluctant heroine.  Peeta continues to surprise readers with his strength behind his sensitivity.  Other characters are allowed to come forward into well-rounded foils for Katniss; particularly her mother, Haymitch and even Cinna.  Even though Katniss is a 16-17 year old girl, her adventures will intrigue male and female readers alike.

5P     5Q     Grade Level: 7-12

Cover art: The mockingjay pin continues as the focus of the cover art; it seems almost to be a military insignia on this, the second book of the trilogy.  Fans of The Hunger Games will instantly recognize the cover.  Unfamiliar readers might think this book will appeal more to males, but will surprised at its universal appeal.

From Reading List: Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA), 2010; Teens Top Ten nomination, 2009.

Haunting good read in The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Dave McKean); published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins, New York, 2008; 312 pages.

Nobody “Bod” Owens has always been an unusual child.  He was able to crawl out of his crib as an infant, a skill that ultimately saved his life.  One horrible evening, a man Jack came into the boy’s home and killed his parents and older sister.  Fortunately, the boy had slipped out of the house and toddled to the local cemetery where he was taken in by unlikely adoptive parents.  The Owenses died a couple of centuries earlier, but the childless Mrs. Owens begged her husband as well as the other spirits of the cemetery to allow her to raise the boy with the Freedom of the Graveyard.  All agree to the conditions after the mystical Lady on the Grey appears to help convince them.  Spirits cannot procure food for a child, so the mysterious Silas, a graveyard denizen, agrees to become the boy’s guardian.  It is Mrs. Owens who names the boy Nobody.  Over the course of chapters, fourteen years of Nobody Owens’ life are chronicled through adventures with ghouls and other creepy characters.  The creepy climax brings a group of Jacks of All Trades to face-off with Bod.

Gaiman explained in an interview that his inspiration for this novel was Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, calling this “jazz riffs” on that theme.  Undoubtedly, Nobody Owens (whose name, my 13 year old daughter astutely explained, sounds like “nobody owns” him) is Mowgli dropped in a much creepier 21st century jungle.  His coming-of-age story is fraught with more modern and more unearthly dangers than the jungle boy’s, but is no less adventurous.  Admittedly, Gaiman starts the tale with the gruesome murders of the boy’s family, but the horror of the event is necessary to the story and is handled in a way that is appropriate for even upper-middle school readers.  Children will devour this story.  Parents will enjoy it as well.  Perhaps librarians will use it in book discussions to compare and contrast with Kipling’s original version of the tale.

I was surprised that this book won the Newbery Award in 2009 then made the Teens Top Ten list as well.  How could a book speak to such a wide range of readers?  I was especially curious how the tale was told because I thought Gaiman’s Coraline was a tad scary for younger readers.  What a pleasant surprise The Graveyard Book provided me.  It is a well-told tale that scares, excites and engrosses readers from the first chapter.  Gaiman’s success stems from what he doesn’t say; for example, we know Silas is a vampire although we are never told that he is.  Silas’ descriptions (no reflection, sleeps in a silk-lined steamer trunk, and walks between the living and the dead) let us infer what and who he is.  Although written for a younger audience, the adventures certainly appeal to a wide audience.  Well done, Mr. Gaiman, well done.

the-graveyard-book

5P     5Q     Grade Level: 4-12+

Cover Art: I read the version of the book illustrated by McKean.  The cover is haunting in dark blues, blacks and misty typefaces.  I think its style will appeal to readers, especially young adults and especially at this time of year (nearing Halloween).

From Reading List: Teens Top Ten, 2009


Sneak a peek into Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Greg won’t mind.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney; published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 2007; 217 pages.

Greg Heffley is about 52nd or 53rd in line for most popular at his middle school.  The thought of a meteoric rise to the top spot affects nearly every decision Greg makes.  Inevitably, all his endeavors backfire, usually with his best friend Rowley Jefferson benefiting in the popularity department.  Lucky for us, his mom buys him a diary—uh, journal; sorry, Greg—to record his escapades.  Between his naïve descriptions of misapprehended plots for popularity and the cartoons that are worth-a-thousand-words, readers will be kept in stitches.  Middle school readers will identify with Greg’s problems.

This book artfully combines text and illustrations to tell the often humorous tales of this middle-schooler.  It has been off the shelves in the elementary library where I work since we added it to the collection.  Whenever Book Fair rolls around, the “Wimpy Kid” series are the hottest sellers among the fourth and fifth graders.  However, it is typically the fifth graders that check it out—especially as the end of the year rolls around and middle school looms across the summer.  I love its humor and lessons in coping, but most of all, I am grateful for another author that glamorizes journaling. 

This book won the 2008 Buckeye Children’s Book Award for grades 3-5.  It’s popularity among younger teens can’t be denied.   Another interesting fact to share with tweens is that author Jeff Kinney is the creator of Poptropica.com, a popular tween website that is part virtual world and part gaming paradise for the younger set (ages 8-15).

5P     4Q     Grades 5-8

Diary_of_a_wimpy_kidCover Art: The title alone is enough to get the attention of preteens and tweens.  The art and description (“a novel in cartoons”) will be irresistible to this group:  a taped on piece of notebook paper with a backpacked, sad sack drawing of a kid; the obvious formally embossed “diary” from the cover of a journal; and the hastily added blue and white “of a Wimpy Kid” are all descriptive of the contents of the book. 

From Reading List:  Teens Top Ten

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