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
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“The Selection” by Kiera Cass June 14, 2013

The Selection cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

327 pages; published April 2012

The Basics

America Singer lives in a world defined by strict castes and repressive rules, but she has the ultimate opportunity for caste-climbing. She has been chosen to participate in The Selection, in which she is one of 35 girls who compete on TV to be the next queen of Illea.

The Booktalk

Who doesn’t want to be a princess? Well, America Singer doesn’t. Although she is only a Five in a strict caste system that pretty much deprives everyone below a Three, America has a profession that she likes and a boy that she loves (even though it’s in secret.) So, she is very much NOT excited when she is chosen to participate in the ultimate reality TV courting show – The Selection – in which 35 girls compete to be the bride of Illea’s handsome crown prince, Maxon. America is down-to-earth, funny, and temperamental. She even yells at Prince Maxon the first time they meet. She couldn’t be less suited as princess material. So why is she still around in The Selection?

But Wait … There’s More!

The Selection kicks off a fast-moving trilogy. The Elite was released in April 2013 and will be followed by The One in 2014.

Random Thoughts

  • This book is wildly popular at my library. Given the topic, I was hesitant to read it because I thought it might be too ridiculous, but I enjoyed the character and the writing was spot on. I raced through books 1 and 2. Now, I’m quite impatient for the 3rd.
  • One of the blurbs on the back of The Elite describes the series as, “like The Hunger Games (without the blood sport) and like The Bachelor (without the blood sport) …” It is an apt description.
 

“The False Prince” by Jennifer A. Nielsen December 5, 2012

Filed under: Fantasy,Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:42 pm
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The False Prince cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

342 pages; published April 2012

The Basics

Carthya is headed toward civil war. To try to prevent it, a nobleman named Conner proposes a bold plan – to collect four orphan boys, train them, and pass one of them off as the long-lost prince and heir to the throne.

Booktalk

I quickly started to think of The False Prince as a kind of mini-Hunger Games. Sage is an orphan who gets collected up – along with three other orphan boys – and used by a nasty nobleman named Conner as part of a plot to try to impersonate the country’s missing (and presumed dead) Prince Jaron and prevent civil war.  Pure villain, Conner nastily pits the four boys against one another during a rigorous training period, making it clear that one will earn the right to compete for the Carthyan throne … and for the others it will be the end.

The excitement begins on the first page and continues in a jumble of sweat, fear, flying blood, intrigue, horse riding, sword-fighting, plotting, and unexpected twists. Sage is a clever, unruly, seemingly fearless boy who has no desire to be crowned king based on a lie, but has crazy way of charming and annoying everyone he meets. Will he bend to Conner’s will? Or does Sage have the power to turn the game into something else entirely?

Wait, There More!

The False Prince is just the first in The Ascendance Trilogy. The second, The Runaway King, is due out in March 2013.

 

“Jepp, Who Defied the Stars” by Katherine Marsh December 1, 2012

Filed under: Fiction,Historical Fiction,Young Adult — hilariouslibrarian @ 8:34 pm
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Jeep Who Defied the Stars cover

Images courtesy of GoodReads.com

The Facts

369 pages; published October 2012

The Basics

Jepp, a dwarf born in the 1500s in Astraveld, strikes out to seek his fortune on the promise of a stranger. Sold as an amusement to the Infanta, ruler of the Spanish Netherlands,  and later sent away again and sold into the service of an eccentric Danish astronomer, Jepp sturdily continues to believe in his value as a man and in his right to determine his own destiny.

Review

Jepp is just so charming, he makes this book almost irresistible. Life is not easy for this 16th century dwarf. He is tempted away from the hearth of his loving mother to become one of a troupe of dwarfs who entertain the Infanta, ruler of the Spanish Netherlands. Things get complicated and after many sad events, Jepp is on the road again, this time headed to the home of another historic figure – the rather strange Danish astronomer Tycho Brache. Tycho and his jumble of family and young scholars live on an island given to Tycho by the Danish crown. They carry on at all hours, at times mapping the stars with tremendous mathematical skill, and at times roaring with laughter at the drunken antics of Tycho’s pet moose who has developed a taste for ale, all the while struggling to keep Tycho’s copper prosthetic nose affixed to his face. Through it all is Jepp, earnest and smart and resilient as he manages to elevate himself, sort out the mysteries of his paternity, and maintain his faith in true love.

The big question explored throughout the book is one of destiny vs free will – whether a man (no matter how tall) might be ruled by the stars or whether he himself is the most powerful force in the course of his own life.

Blurb from the Cover So Awesome I Wish I Had Written It

“This highly unusual story about a highly unusual hero will also feel like your story. Few of us are imprisoned dwarfs, but all of us want to guide our own lives. ” — Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close