Reviews

Gaming gone bad in a YA World: Warcross by Marie Lu

Lu, Marie. Warcross. Read by Nancy Wu. GP Putnam’s Sons, 2017. 353 pages/11 hours and 46 minutes. Hardcover $16.29, ISBN 978-0-399-54796-6; hardcover (library binding) $24.99, ISBN 978-0-399-54796-6

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!! For older readers

Genre: Science Fiction 

Part of a series? Yes — this is the first in a series.

Book Summary:

Emika Chen does her best to make ends meet as a bounty hunter; she pursues gamblers who owe money after betting on Warcross games. A frequent player of Warcross herself, Emi knows how to find people who are trying to stay hidden — whether they’re hiding in real life or in Warcross, the virtual reality world. When Emi tests one of her hacks and accidentally glitches herself right into the opening game of the Warcross championships, she catches the eye of Hideo Tanaka, the young founder and developer of the global sensation. Now, Emi’s part of the Warcross championships looking for someone who is bent on destroying the game. Will she be able to find the mysterious hacker? Why does everything seem more sinister with each new development?

Reader’s Notes:

This book is amazing. The VR and AR of Warcross are immediately interesting and believable. Characters discuss the ethical implications of who has access to this technology and how access affects society. Emi’s a fun character to be alongside because even though life has been hard, she’s quick thinking and resourceful. Nancy Wu does an amazing job narrating the audiobook.

Readalikes?

This feels like a blend of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. IT’S MAGICAL.

Grade Level: YA

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Reviews

Is this the real life? WHERE FUTURES END by Parker Peevyhouse

Peevyhouse, Parker. Where Futures End. Kathy Dawson Books, 2016. 289 pages. Hardcover $15.44, ISBN 978-0-8037-4160-7

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes, for older readers

Genre: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Part of a series? No.

Book Summary:

Dylan has what he calls a vorpal, a way that he can influence how people perceive him. He also believes that he’s been to a mystical other world, and while his own brother refuses to agree that they’ve gone, Dylan is sure that there’s a way back. Indeed, there are two worlds, and as citizens of each pass across the border, each world is changed. Four other teens in future points explore their worlds as they are as magic and technology advance at hyperspeed.

Reviewer’s Notes:

This book feels so much like a young adult Cloud Atlas. It’s weird, fascinating, and gripping — it was so hard to put down. Definitely one to hand to your strange-format fans.

Grade Level: YA

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews starred, 12/01/15

School Library Journal starred, 01/01/16

Reviews

Once upon a time … The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Chainani, Soman. The School for Good and Evil. Read by Polly Lee. Harper, 2013. 488 pages. Hardcover $15.44, ISBN 978-0-06-210489-2; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-1-48982-456-1; TR $6.84, ISBN 978-0-06-210490-8

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Fantasy, fairytales

Part of a series? Yes — The School for Good and Evil series

Plot Summary:

Sophie of Gavaldon knows that when the mysterious schoolmaster comes to steal children (one for the princess school, one for the witch school), she’s a shoe-in for the role of the princess. She’s given her life to good deeds — just look at her best friend Agatha. Nobody likes Agatha!

Imagine Sophie’s shock when the schoolmaster does come for her … and drops her off in the School for Evil, sending Agatha into the hallowed halls of the School for Good! Is this a terrible mistake, or do the girls have more to learn about what makes “good” and “evil” so?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

While this book does not probe as deeply into “good” versus “evil” as I would have liked, this is still a delicious fairytale. Well, as an older reader, I struggled with some issues that felt a bit straw-feminist like to me? (Agatha’s early loathing of Tedros was fun, but it does not sustain itself over the course of the fairy tale. It feels like something she must grow out of…)  As well as some spoilers [Chainani plays with heteronormativity in ways that uphold heteronormativity, so I am not fully comfortable with that], but over all, I would hand this one off to a student who enjoys fantasy and stories about schools of magic.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

Readalikes?

If you love Sophie’s need to be the BEST, pick up The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand. There’s a similar “pity best friend” plot line where the best friend (much like Agatha) is the better of the two kids. (Victoria of Cavendish does turn nicer a bit faster than Sophie does, but still — the plot is similar.)

Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series delivers on fairytale retelling and having ordinary children fall into a storybook world. Colfer’s series is contemporary fiction whereas the girls of Gavaldon appear to live in a more rustic era, but the “brave new world” feeling is similar.

Reviews

Run Like the River: Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor and the Code of Claw. Scholastic, c2007, p2008. 412 pages. PLB $13.36, ISBN 978-0-329-65712-3  ; TR $6.84, ISBN 978-0-439-79144-1

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Gregor the Overlander series (The Underland Chronicles).

Plot Summary:

Gregor has returned to Regalia to claim his sword and read the Prophecy of Time, another Warrior prophecy that appears to hold the key to his –and all of the Underland’s– fate. It is up to Gregor to save the Underland, and his sister must also play an important role. The rats are marching for Regalia, and the Regalians must keep them at bay. Can the humans of the Underland win enough allies — warmblood and other — to save their homeland? Or will the rats rule all?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is intense. Collins really delivers on the peril in this one, and there is a great deal of violence on the page. Characters we know and love are wounded (sometimes mortally), and unnamed figures are killed during the battles. Gregor struggles with the ethics of killing, so the violence (while intense) is not there simply for violence’s sake, but is instead handled thoughtfully. That said, I would still be mindful of a student’s age/sensitivities before handing this one to them. You will definitely be crying by novel’s end!!

n/a

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book Magazine starred 10/01/07

 

Reviews

New Kids on the Block: The New Olympians by Kate O’Hearn

O’Hearn, Kate. The New Olympians. Aladdin, 2014. 419 pages. Hardcover $15.44, ISBN 978-1-44244-415-7; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-1-53797-654-9; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-1-44244-416-4

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Fantasy, Mythology Retelling

Part of a series? Yes — The Pegasus Series (this is book 3)

Plot Summary:

Diana and Steve, Emily’s father, return from Earth with news of home for Emily … plus newspaper headlines that make Emily and her friends’ hearts stop cold. A stallion named Tornado Warning is making a huge splash in the world of horse racing. Emily realizes that aside from being gray and wingless, Tornado Warning looks just like Pegasus. Joel points out that his racing statistics are simply impossible for racehorses, and everyone realizes the same terrifying possibility — could the CRU have cloned Pegasus? And if so, what other Olympians may have CRU-created doubles on Earth?

Emily and company return to Earth to investigate. They must sneak out of Olympus without Jupiter noticing them, for if Jupiter were to hear about the CRU’s latest deed, he would destroy Earth without a second thought. Pluto sends Alexis, a sphinx, to guard Emily as she investigates.

Can Emily and her friends save the day again, or has the CRU finally bested the Olympians?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This third novel in the series delivers on the action once again. The storyline is a bit more eccentric than in the previous two novels, but the drama of the Olympians’ fate (as well as that of the New Olympians) keeps the pages turning. More divide-and-conquer mishaps and miscommunications also keep the suspense high. That said, the violence increases a great deal more in this novel. Alexis is a killing machine when needed, and while some violence happens off the page, a lot also happens for readers to “see.”

Romance also takes a larger role in this book as Emily struggles with feeling jealousy when other characters flirt with Joel.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I stand by my recommendation from book one: this is a great series for kids looking for more mythological retellings. Percy Jackson fans will enjoy this one.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

Reviews

Oh, rats! Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane. Scholastic, 2004. 312 pages. PLB $13.36, ISBN 978-1-41559-729-3; TR $6.84, ISBN9 78-0-439-65076-2

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Gregor the Overlander series.

Plot Summary:

While Gregor’s family is doing better emotionally, money is extremely tight. To help his family out, Gregor spends Saturday mornings “helping” his neighbor Mrs. Cormaci … although Gregor can’t help but feel that Mrs. Cormaci sometimes makes up errands or chores for him to do. Every Saturday, however, Mrs. Cormaci pays Gregor for his work, feeds him well and sends him home with food for his family, and usually gives him a little something for himself, too (a waterproof flashlight, her son’s old boots, etc.). One afternoon, Gregor takes Boots sledding in Central Park, only for his baby sister to disappear. The Crawlers of the Underland have taken her back down below! When Gregor goes to retrieve Boots, he finds that he has a part to play in yet another prophecy, that of a creature that will destroy the Underland: a giant white rat called the Bane. To save the Underland, Gregor will need to find and kill the Bane. A group of Regalians joins Gregor as well as Temp, Boots’s giant cockroach friend, and Twitchtip, a rat chosen by Ripred to help Gregor seek the Bane.

In this latest trip to the Underland, Gregor learns more about the people who live there as well as about himself.

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

A student recommended this to me after I handed her the first in the series. When the student found out that I’d never read past the first book, they immediately recommended that I keep going. This book is great — Gregor reads as a believable middle schooler. When things get super dramatic or frustrating, Gregor lets you know with an “Aw, jeez” or two. He says things like, “Come on, man!” to rats and bats alike, and his sassy attitude can keep the humor going even when things are bleak. Gregor also never gives up, stays true to his word, and faces certain danger and likely death with poise. This book does NOT disappoint, and I would happily hand this off to any student looking to continue the adventure from book one.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

n/a

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book starred 04/01/05

Reviews

Fly You High: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor the Overlander. Scholastic, 2003. 311 pages. PLB $13.36, ISBN 978-0-329-61400-3; TR (mass market) $6.84, ISBN 978-0-439-67813-1

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Gregor the Overlander series.

Plot Summary:

Eleven-year-old Gregor shoulders a lot of responsibility. His father disappeared more than two years ago, and even working all of the time, his mother can barely keep food on the table. It’s up to Gregor to take of his two younger sisters Lizzie (age 8) and Boots (age 2) as well as keep an eye on his grandmother, a character who appears to be in the early stages of dementia. 

One day while doing the laundry, Gregor loses Boots behind the dryer. When he goes to find her, he falls down the same chute as his younger sister, and they fall down into the Underland. There, he finds himself in Regalia where a strange group of people live … and have lived there since the 1600s. A mysterious prophecy finds its hero in Gregor from the Overland, and Gregor and his sister must help the Regalians if he has any hope of ever returning home.

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I loved this one, so while I read it almost a year ago (and have a bit of a fuzzy memory on the details), I know it’s a good one to recommend to kids looking for fantasy and adventure. The peril is real — the rats are vicious, allies can turn at the drop of a hat, and the Underland guarantees no one’s safety. It’s a page turner with fun characters, too.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I would hand this book to anyone looking for an Alice-in-Wonderland type story. Gregor must quickly adapt to the bizarre world around him, and his New Yorker’s opinion on the goings-on of the Underland are perceptive and often funny.

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 11/15/03

Kirkus Reviews starred 08/01/03

Publishers Weekly starred 09/08/03

Reviews

You callin’ me an egg-head? BRAIN CAMP by Susan Kim

Kim, Susan, and Klavan, Laurence. Brain Camp. Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks. Square Fish/First Second. 151 pages, 2010. PLB $15.56, ISBN978-1-48985-625-8; Tr. $ 8.54, ISBN 978-1-25006-292-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Genre: Science Fiction (Graphic Novel)

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Jenna and Lucas just don’t fit in — Jenna’s an underachiever with deeply disappointed doctor parents, and Lucas’s tough home life slows him down. When their parents are approached by a man from Camp Fielding — a camp that promises to turn anyone into an Einstein — each kid finds themselves unceremoniously shunted to camp. The campers are weird, transforming into zombielike nerds while mysterious stuff happens in the woods. It seems like the adults are out to get them, and Jenna and Lucas’s parents refuse to understand. Are Jenna and Lucas doomed to follow their fellow campers’ fates, or can they escape unscathed?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is gross-out horror at its finest. If vomit makes you squeamish, give this book a pass. Kids barf up feathers (and major spoiler in white to follow >>> the bodies of infant bird alien things???) There is also blood “on the page” in a super vivid scene, and a lot of the action is … just that. Horror movie action without a lot of plot-furthering substance. That said, it’s a great pick for your horror fans.

There is also a romance element with some themes better for older middle graders (see Goodreads reviews).

Grade Level: YA

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Reviews

Leave it on the court: The Crossover

Alexander, Kwame. The Crossover. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 237 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN  978-0-544-10771-7; PLB $18.51, ISBN 978-1-48985-855-9

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Sports Novel/Novel in Verse

 

Part of a series? No, but Alexander’s Booked is similar in style and content for readers who want more like this book.

 

Plot Summary:

Josh (Filthy McNasty) and Jordan (JB) Bell are twins and stars of their middle school basketball team. Their father Chuck Bell, former basketball star, helps them prepare for their goals of eventually playing on all-star college teams. When Josh loses a bet, his bald-headed brother gets to cut off a precious lock from Josh’s hair. Joking around, JB doesn’t pay attention to his cutting and ends up chopping off five locks, forcing Josh to get his hair cut short. Deprived of his prized hair, Josh’s mood can only worsen when JB falls for the new girl in her pink Reeboks; with both his hair and the company of his brother taken from him, Josh loses his temper during a game and hits his brother in the face with a ball so hard he nearly breaks JB’s nose. Their mother suspends Josh from the team, leaving him more free time to worry about his father’s failing health — and the fact that his father refuses to see a doctor.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Alexander’s poetry flies across the page. Moments can be slow and contemplative, or words can explode, grow, smash together, and slide around as Josh describes the game he plays. The story progresses at a good clip, and the passage of time marked by holidays and the food shared is a powerful way to return readers to the thought of food and how it affects the family.

 

This is a fantastic book; writing a novel in verse is not easy, and this book is gorgeous. The action, the thought behind those actions, and the characters themselves are brought to life. I would recommend this to any reader; sports fans may love the play-by-play details, but anyone can enjoy the poetry.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be fantastic for a poetry unit. Readers can also make poems out of alphabet soup and cookies, adding a 3-D level to the poetry creation. Students can also go out into the school community for fifteen minutes and just listen, then come back and write a poem incorporating when they heard on campus; Alexander uses this onomatopoeic technique frequently, and those are always exciting poems to read. (Ideas from myself).

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2015

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 2/1/14

Coretta Scott King Author Honor, 2015

Kirkus Reviews starred 1/15/14

Library Media Connection starred 8/1/14

Newbery Medal, 2015

Publishers Weekly starred 1/20/14

School Library Journal starred 3/1/14

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 8/1/14

 

Reviews referenced:

Clarke, T. (n. d.). The crossover (Review of the book The Crossover). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-crossover

Kirkus Reviews. (2013, Dec. 18). The crossover (Review of the book The Crossover). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kwame-alexander/the-crossover/

Vardan, E. (2015, Apr. 26). The crossover by Kwame Alexander  |  Book review (Review of the book The Crossover). The Children’s Book Review. Retrieved from https://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/weblog/2015/04/the-crossover-by-kwame-alexander-book-review.html