Books & More from the Teen Scene

Book reviews and other reflections from one of Oregon's young adult librarians

“The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia” by Candace Fleming February 26, 2015

Filed under: Books,History,Non-Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 9:10 am
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The Family Romanov cover

Images courtesy of Goodreads.com

The Facts

304 pages; published July 2014

The Basics

The history of the fall of Tsarist Russia and how the stage was set for a Stalinist Communist take-over is told through an intimate look at the family of Russia’s final Tsar, Nicholas II, and through the stories of the beaten-down peasants and workers who toiled to survive under his cruel reign.

Review

In this excellently researched and written book, history is told in a style that combines informative with riveting and emotionally wrenching. The personal life of Tsar Nicholas II is laid bare. Pathetically unsuited for the task, the Tsar wanders between dangerous inaction and ill-advised, brutal crackdowns that fuel the flame of the Russian revolution. His family is insulated, spoiled, out-of-touch, and just weird. The misery of the Russian workers and peasants knows no bounds. Their stories are interwoven, told in stark terms in the words of those who manage to survive the horror. The arc of the Russian revolution and the mess that led to the country being passed from cruel royalty to vicious dictator becomes disturbingly clear. More fascinating that most novels, this history book should be an easy sell to teen and adult readers alike.

Random Thoughts

  • I cannot even get my mind around the numbing desperation of Russian peasant life. I don’t ever want to be a Russian peasant. Or deposed royalty for that matter.
  • Nicholas II was certainly prone to monstrous behavior, but this book also – to my great fascination – makes him quite the object of pity. It seems like he could have been a fairly decent, somewhat peculiar guy if he has been born a modern middle class American, allowed to have a little job and dote on his wife and family.

I’ll Recommend This to …

  • Readers with any amount of interest in history, World War II, or Russia
  • Anyone looking for a fast, high-interest read
  • People who like real, sad stories with lots of pictures of the real, sad people
  • Students who teachers allow them to explore the possibility that there is value to knowing history outside of American history
  • Fans of narrative non-fiction
 

“The Boundless” by Kenneth Oppel October 27, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Historical Fiction,Magical Realism,Thriller,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 6:14 pm
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The Boundless cover

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The Facts

320 pages; published April 2014

The Basics

After witnessing a murder while traveling on the maiden voyage of the most elaborate train ever conceived, Will Everett is on the run from a gang of scheming brakemen, jumping from car to car in the night. His only asset is his wit; his only allies, a gaggle of circus freaks; and his biggest challenge, the very real sasquatch and bog hag lying in wait along the way.

Booktalk

You would have thought Will Everett experienced enough excitement for a lifetime after a chance encounter led him to pound the final spike into the TransCanadian Railway and then survive the avalanche that followed.

But only a few years later, he launches into the adventure of a lifetime on The Boundless, a train of epic proportions making its first trip across the same TransCanadian Railway. A murder witnessed sends Will on the run, careening through the night across the top of the train, hiding out in a circus, and being pulled into a web of double-crossing intrigue. In a world where sasquatch and bog hags are real, an escape artist is his only true friend, and brakemen are out for blood, Will needs every ounce of his courage to survive his ride on The Boundless.

Random Thoughts

  • Kenneth Oppel has really outdone himself here, with quirky characters and madcap action that deliver high entertainment value all around.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Middle grade readers, especially boys
  • Fans of adventure
  • People who think trains are cool
  •  Kids who secretly (or not so secretly) believe Big Foot is real
  • Anyone who ever wanted to run away to join the circus
 

“Fake ID” by Lamar Giles February 10, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Mystery,Realistic,Thriller,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 2:45 pm
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Fake ID cover

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The Facts

320 pages; published January 2014

The Basics

Nick Pearson is thrown into a tailspin when Eli Cruz, his only friend in his new town of Stepton, Virginia, is killed just as he is about to break the story of a huge community scandal. Nick’s search for truth is complicated by his need to keep more than a few secrets of his own.

Booktalk

Nick Pearson isn’t feeling at all like himself – with good reason. In the four year since his family joined the Witness Protection program, he’s had five identities, five made-up backstories, and five new homes. Now, he’s arrived in Stepton, Virginia and the wheels are really coming off. Nick’s formerly mob-connected father is acting more suspicious than ever. His mother is cracking under the pressure. And his new friend, Eli Cruz, is convinced that something about Stepton is rotten to the core. When Eli turns up dead, Nick has to face facts. Eli was right. And since it looks like the mayor and the police are in on whatever diabolical scheme has been cooked up, it will be up to Nick and Eli’s stunningly beautiful sister to sort fact from fiction.

Random Thoughts

  • How many people are there – really – in the Witness Protection program? Like attending boarding schools, I suspect this is one of those things that happens more in literature than in real life. Then again, how would I know?
  • To be honest, this won’t rate as the book of highest literary quality published in 2014, but it was fast-paced, well-written, and definitely entertaining.

I’ll Recommend This To …

  • Boys who have a hard time finding something to read
  • Mystery fans
  • Readers interested in a new voice in young adult fiction

 

 

“Out of the Easy” by Ruta Sepetys January 22, 2014

Filed under: Books,Fiction,Historical Fiction,Mystery — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:54 am
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Out of the Easy cover

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The Facts

346 pages; published February 2013

The Basics

Josie Moraine is a survivor. Raised in New Orelans and the daughter of a prostitute, Josie has mapped a plan of escape to a different life when she is pulled into the aftermath of the murder of a charming gentleman visitor to the French Quarter.

The Booktalk

Smart, determined, highly ethical, and strangely innocent might not be what you’d expect from the daughter of a prostitute who grew up in the French Quarter of New Orleans – but it’s what you get from Ruta Sepetys’ “Out of the Easy.” Josie Moraine, having been failed in every possible way by her stupid harlot of a mother, has been raised by a harsh, but caring madam, a kindly taxi driver, and an eccentric bookstore owner. She has become a bright, resilient young woman determined to find her way out of the Big Easy and into a better life. But little tendrils of French Quarter scandal keep twisting around her and pulling her down – the murder of a visiting Southern gentleman, the seediness of the brothel, her mother’s gangster boyfriend, and the mysterious illness of her bookstore owning patron. The excitement begins on the first page and never lets up as Josie navigates an emotional roller coaster and tries to find her way “Out of the Easy.”

Random Thoughts

  • Given the French Quarter and brothel as primary settings, this is a surprisingly clean book.
  • There should be some kind of award for Truly Appalling Fictional Parents and Ruta Sepetys should win it this year for writing Josie’s awful, pathetic, shallow, mean, stupid harlot of a mother.

I’ll recommend this book to …

  • Readers looking for some slightly titillating excitement
  • Fans of mysteries
  • Anyone who likes a hard luck or horrible parents story
 

“Kill You Last” by Todd Strasser May 23, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,Mystery,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:45 am
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Kill You Last book cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

288 pages; published November 2011

The Basics

Shelby is having a really, really bad week. Or two. Multiple girls who had signed up with her father’s modeling agency/photography studio have gone missing. She can’t believe her dad would have anything to do with it, but then again … she’s starting to find out there may be a lot she doesn’t know (or wouldn’t admit to herself) about her father.

Booktalk

What would you do if you dad was the kind of guy who looks a little too long at your friends chests? Or comments on their looks? Or just seems a little too interested? Shelby Sloan has always kind of ignored it, but now she’s wondering … she wonders if maybe she had told her dad it was kind of creepy, maybe he would have stopped. And maybe it wouldn’t be so easy for everyone at her high school to believe he could be involved when three girls go missing who have had pictures taken by his modeling agency/photo studio. And maybe she wouldn’t be getting weird emails from a mystery person who is clearly enjoying watching her life and her father’s life unravel. She could particularly do without the last message … the one that said: “I like you, Shelby Sloan. If I have to kill you, I’ll kill you last.”