Review: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

elizabeth-frankenstein.jpgReview:

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

Author: Kiersten White

Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2018

Source: Personal Purchase

I admit it: I am a little out of season with this review. This book debuted with the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and it would be a lovely addition to our October scare-fest book selections. However, it has been on my desk, just tempting me to crack it open for some time now and I simply didn’t want to wait any longer. Warning: it is a dark and disturbing reimagining of the original story.

Elizabeth Lavenza is a cast-off waif whom the Frankenstein family introduces to their son, Victor, in hopes that she will become his friend. Elizabeth sees this friendship as her opportunity to escape from cruelty and poverty. If the Frankenstein family likes her – if Victor likes her – she will move toward a better life. Elizabeth is successful. Not only is she Victor’s one friend, she makes herself indispensable to the family.

Victor is described as “an odd, intense young man” (42). Well, that’s one way to put it.  Here is another way – he is troubled and dangerous and creepily sinister. Elizabeth thinks she has control over the situation and can smooth over any problem created by his actions. But does she really?

Victor’s behavior turns darker with every flip of the page.  Victor has disappeared and it is imperative Elizabeth finds him (after all, if Victor isn’t there to present a problem, who needs you?) She finds him living in miserable and suspiciously scary circumstances. Too bad she wasn’t smart enough to run away!

If you think Frankenstein was a horror story, think again. This newer version will really have you pulling those bedsheets over your head!

Review: Release

releaseReview:

Release

Author: Patrick Ness

Publisher: Harper Teen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

Adam Thorn has a lot of problems. He knows that his deeply religious family can never accept the fact that he is gay. His boss has made sexual advances, and when Adam rebuffs him and threatens to go to HR, Adam is fired. He can’t seem to get over his first love, though that young man has long since moved on, and Adam is with another boy.

There has been a lot of praise for this book and though I can understand why (it’s well-written), I am afraid my opinion is somewhat lower. In fact, this is one of those posts that should be tagged with a “mom alert.”  While this book is no Fifty Shades of Grey, it has way too much sex, and it is too explicit for me to be comfortable. Is it a realistic teen book? Absolutely. I actually this the dénouement is fresh and positive (at least the part that related to Adam), but I still don’t like all the sex. Sorry, I know it is just me, but I feel parents should know.

The other thing that bothered me was the other side of this story. Juxtaposed with Adam’s situation is the story of the spirit of young girl from Adam’s town that had been murdered by her drug-addicted boyfriend. Their stories intertwine, but only briefly and frankly, her side of the story is dark, very dark. So we have a mix of an unrequited love story and a horror show. The ending is more upbeat than you would suppose, but this extra layer doesn’t make the novel work for me any better.

 

 

Review: The Agony House

the-agony-house.jpgReview:

The Agony House

Author: Cherie Priest

Illustrator: Tara O’Connor

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., 2018

Source: Public Library

Many regular readers know that I am not typically a fan of graphic novels, so this next review may surprise you. However, The Agony House is not your typical graphic novel. It’s a wonderful kind of blend. Yes, it is a novel, but embedded are sections that are purely graphic. Those embedded sections are essential to the story and are added in such a way that they don’t detract from the plot, but instead help build the suspense in this book.

Denise Farber and her family (mom and stepdad) have recently moved back to New Orleans. Their plan is to open a bed and breakfast in a home that requires a lot of renovation before the business actually opens. As Denise discovers, the house has a mysterious past. She suspects that Joe Vaughn, a well-known comic book author from the 1930’s who is famous for the Lucinda Might character and stories, died in the house under suspicious circumstances. Clues to his death might be found in an old, unpublished comic that Denise has found in the attic. Additionally, there are some things about the house that are just a bit creepy. Could it be that there really are ghosts lurking about the old house? And if so, what could they tell Denise about a past that is full of sinister secrets?

The comic book character, Lucinda Might, may be a “kick-ass girl detective,” but Denise Farber isn’t so bad herself. She’s feisty, brave, and a totally authentic teen. There is a real mystery going on, one that keeps Denise on the move and the reader on the edge of their seats right up until the end. This book was a totally satisfying read.

Review: The Vanishing Act

vanishing actReview:

The Vanishing Act

Author: Mette Jakobsen

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011

Source: Personal Purchase

Minou lives on a tiny island. The only other inhabitants are her philosopher father, a priest, a magician named Boxman, and a dog called No-Name. A year earlier, her mother walked out into the cold morning rain with a large black umbrella – and vanished.

One day Minou finds the body of a boy who has washed up on the shore. Her father decides to keep the boy in the room that once belonged to her mother until the delivery boat comes. (It’s cold outside, so they open the window in order for the room to remain cold, too.) Somehow Minou believes that the arrival of the boy will help explain her mother’s disappearance. Everyone except Minou believes her mother to be dead, but Minou must find the truth for herself.

This review may seem short. Don’t worry! There are discussion questions to follow! It’s a moody, brood-y book, with a gem hidden among the words on nearly every day. It’s the type of book you will want to savor slowly.

 

Review: Where I Live

where i liveReview:

Where I Live

Author: Brenda Rufener

Publisher: HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2018

Source: Personal Purchase

Linden Rose has a secret, one which readers find out right away. She is homeless and living in her small-town high school. She has a complicated system for not letting others know her circumstances. She tries not to carry too many belongings and has places to stash her stuff. She pretends to go home, although her friends think she goes reluctantly due to a horrible stepfather situation. She has one priority in her life: don’t let anyone know you are homeless and alone.

Yet Linden can’t just stand by when another girl comes to school and it is obvious that she is being beaten. Linden doesn’t mean to get involved. She and the girl are not even friends. However, it is a little too close to Linden’s real story for her to completely ignore. She’s got to find some way to help, some way to let the truth be known. To do so, she will need to face her own past and how it affects her present. She may just have to let someone know her truth. Is there anyone she trusts enough to do that?

There are lots of plot twists and turns that make this story one that keeps you racing until the end. There is a romance aspect between Linden and Seung, one of Linden’s close friends, that adds an extra layer of complications. Fans of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell will probably enjoy this romance, too. And in many ways the book explores many important aspects and consequences of the life of someone who is homeless.

As much as I liked this book, there are a couple of things that I found problematic.

  1. As regular readers of this blog are aware, I work at a high school. I have had students who have been homeless (never, however, completely on their own like Linden.) Some have shared their stories with me. And here is what I know. Every student’s story is different, but while they are homeless, they do not make good students. They are hungry. They are tired. They are stressed. They do not write stellar journalistic pieces on the school blog. They are much more likely to stand out because they don’t do well in their classes, sometimes have behavioral issues and teachers are often trying to get in touch with a parent/guardian. I applaud Linden for trying to do well and make a better life for herself. I am just not sure how realistic it is.
  2. This brings up the second major problem area. When does this book take place? I assume that the story takes place now, not ten or fifteen years ago. Linden has a smartphone (and although teen readers may not question this this at all, I can’t help thinking: and how is this bill being paid when she supposedly barely has money for things like food and tampons?) Kids vape. Gay marriage is legal. Yet for all of these present-day things, the school seems to have no security. At least in my area, schools have attempted to become safer and as part of this, there are security cameras. Even if Linden could somehow manage to stay in the school (and the other safety measures don’t make this easy), the cameras would expose her secret. Also, the nurse at the nursing home and one of Linden’s teachers seem to suspect her secret. The nurse gives her a place to sleep at times. In my state, medical professionals and teachers are mandated reporters. That means that we MUST contact social services if we know of a circumstance like Linden’s – or face criminal charges. So there are some real mixed messages here. Again, I am not sure how realistic the story is, which is vitally important in realistic fiction.

Despite these major flaws, I did like the story. I liked that Rufener took on a complex and important issue. I wish she had given readers more information about ways to help, as was done in Miss Pinkeltink’s Purse.  I think Rufener may have had on rose-colored glasses when she wrote the ending (which also could be said of Miss Pinkeltink!), but I think something closer to the truth may have been a little too painful to read.

Review: The Hazel Wood

the hazel woodReview:

The Hazel Wood

Author: Melissa Albert

Publisher: Flatiron Books, 2018

Source: Personal Purchase

Alice Proserpine has had a nomadic childhood. Her mother, Ella, has moved her from place to place, often without any warning of change. There are only been a few constant factors in her life. Her grandmother, Althea Proserpine, is the author of a book of dark fairy tales and has lived until her recent death on an estate called The Hazel Wood. Alice has never met her grandmother and her mother never speaks of her. In fact, they avoid anything to do with her grandmother, including her following of fans. The other constant in Alice’s life: bad luck seems to follow Ella and Alice.

In a deeply disturbing twist of fate, Alice will be forced to team up with one of  Althea’s fans to discover the truth behind her mother’s disappearance. She has never seen a copy of her grandmother’s famous book but will need to find it in order to understand what is happening. The truth is that her grandmother’s fairy tales are far more than stories. These creatures exist; these stories are happening – NOW. Alice must find a way to enter the dangerous world known as the Hinterland, an unexpected and dark place.

Some people really love this kind of story where fractured fairy tales meet Stephen King. I don’t happen to be one of them. If you like that kind of stuff, go for it. You will probably find it quite enjoyable (and there are many good reviews). If, like me, you would rather read something lighter and sleep well at night, this book is one to miss.

Happy Halloween!5

 

Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

we have always lived in the castleReview:

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Author: Shirley Jackson

Publisher: Penguin Books, originally published 1962

Source: Personal Purchase

It’s nearly Halloween and I’ve been reading my usual selections, books with ghosts and witches and other scary monsters that go bump in the night. Today I’d like to offer something a little different. There are no monsters, per se. No ghosts, no black cats, nothing. Yet when I (re)read this book on a brightly sunny afternoon, it sent chills down my spine. What makes it even creepier is that the “monster” of the story is someone very much like you or me.

Mary Katherine Blackwood and her sister Constance and their Uncle Julian dwell in their grand family home at the edge of the village. They are the only remaining members of the Blackwood family, as the rest of the family has been poisoned. Constance, fearful and unable to leave the house, never goes to the village but stays home to cook, clean, and care for frail Uncle Julian. Mary Katherine, or Merricat as she is called, braves the hostility of the villagers. The adults are unfriendly and the children chant:

Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?

Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.

Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?

Down in the boneyard ten feet deep! (16)

But oh! Do they have it wrong! As the story progresses, the real culprit becomes more and more obvious. As we go through the seemingly regular rounds of daily activity, Jackson brings us into a world of everyday evil. Those familiar with her story “The Lottery” can be assured of a similar, though extended, type of horrible revelation. While this book may be lacking in the usually ghouls of the season, it is a story which will haunt you.

 

 

Review: Bone Gap

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Bone Gap

Author: Laura Ruby

Publisher: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2015

Source: Personal Purchase

There is something different about Finn O’Sullivan. The people of Bone Gap know him as Roadkill or Moonface, because somehow he is just not like any of them. So when the young and beautiful Polish girl named Roza goes missing, no one expects that Finn is the one who knows what has happened. Unfortunately, there are gaps in his story, for Finn cannot remember the man who kidnapped Roza. It seems impossible to solve the mystery without this knowledge.

Finn is obsessed with finding Roza. It’s not just that he knows what has happened. It’s that her disappearance has affected his relationship with his brother. Sean loves Roza, yet she is just one in a long line of people who have left Sean. His father died, his mother left the boys to be with another man. He thinks Roza has run away from him and Finn is lying about her kidnapping. After all, if Roza really was kidnapped as Finn claims, why can’t he reveal the man who did it?

However, Finn is not lying and it takes Priscilla “Petey” Willis to detect the truth about Finn’s inability to find Roza’s kidnapper. Once he understands, he knows he must rescue Roza. No one else in Bone Gap is the right person to face the challenge. With his own unique skills, Finn will track the kidnapper while facing his own personal demons.

This is a unique and magical love story, forcing the reader to confront their perceptions of what love truly means.

 

 

 

 

Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

gentleman's guideReview:

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Author: Mackenzi Lee

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017

Source: Personal Purchase

I have to be honest. Every so often I enjoy a good romance. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is the kind of steamy summer read that is both romantic and sensual. It takes place in the 1700s and explores a lot of important issues.

The plot is fairly simple. Guy A likes Guy B and there are lots of complications that make this relationship difficult (more accurately, forbidden), which should give readers a good idea of how things are going to play out.

OK, there’s more to it than that. Lord Henry Montague, Viscount of Disley, is going on the Grand Tour of Europe – after being expelled from Eton – with his best friend, Percy (with whom he is secretly in love). His sister, Felicity, is in tow, along with a suitable chaperone to keep Monty in line (as if that is possible). After the Tour is over, Monty is expected to return to England and take over the family’s estate. However, Monty’s choices are going to change the trip from a simple Tour to a harrowing manhunt, with plenty of action and adventure to keep him – and the reader – busy.

Is this story truly plausible or realistic? I don’t know. In fact, I don’t even care. The story is so good and I was so caught up in the romance that I really never gave the whole thing a second thought (at least until I read the Author’s Note – and by then I already loved the story). Monty is a lovable, witty, smart-ass who will sweep readers off their feet.

One word of warning: I really liked this book but that doesn’t stop me from giving it a huge MOM ALERT. I like to offer reviews for all levels of young readers and this is definitely a YA selection that may not be appropriate for younger readers.

 

 

Discussion Questions: Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy

elektra's adventuresDiscussion Questions for Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy by Douglas Rees

 

  1. On the trip from Mississippi to Guadalupe Slough, Elektra complains that the trip is “running away” while Mama sees the trip as an “adventure” and a “rescue from Mississippi.” Who do you think is right?

 

  1. Elektra claims that Mama has left her father because he wouldn’t leave Mississippi. Could Elektra be mistaken?

 

  1. When Mama, Elektra, and Thalia arrive at their new home, Elektra feels a ray of hope. She is sure they will be returning to Mississippi pronto. Do you think this will happen?

 

  1. What do you think of the new neighbors?

 

  1. Once again, we see a difference of opinion between Elektra and Mama. Mama couldn’t handle Mississippi because it was “rigid, hypocritical, and, worst of all, boring.” Elektra feels that life in Mississippi was “rich as delta soil and sweet as molasses” (pg. 41). What might be some of the reasons behind their differing opinions?

 

  1. We meet more neighbors and Mama’s tone of voice makes it clear that they, at least, are not boring. How might Elektra feel about this?

 

  1. The family receives a rather unique gift from one of their new neighbors (Ralph). How would you feel about receiving George?

 

  1. The girls explore the town by going to the library. They meet more of the residents of the area. How would you feel about these people? Interesting or boring? Elektra thinks they might be interesting, but do you think that will make her want to stay?

 

  1. Thalia likes their new town, but Elektra feels trapped. Why do they have such different opinions?

 

  1. Elektra meets Carlos Gonzales. How do you think she feels about him at this first meeting?

 

  1. After multiple tries to reach her father, he finally answers one of Elektra’s calls. Instead of saying she should return to him, he claims it is best for her to stay with her mother. He refuses to let her go home, but doesn’t really explain his reasons. Why do you think he feels that Elektra belongs with her mother?

 

  1. After this conversation, Elektra convinces herself that her father needs her and was just confused about what he really wanted. Do you agree with this?

 

  1. Elektra begins to wonder: What Would Odysseus Do? “Odysseus never complained unless he thought it would do him some good” (pg. 111). Elektra has done plenty of complaining. Has it done her any good?  Has it changed her situation? What do you think about her plans for action?

 

  1. As Mama evaluates her prospects for employment, Elektra responds with a smart-ass answer about their outlook. Mama slaps Elektra’s face. How do you feel about Mama right now? What about Elektra’s response?

 

  1. Elektra knows that to get back to Mississippi, she will need money.  How successful do you think she will be earning enough in Guadalupe Slough?

 

  1. Even as she plans to return to Mississippi, Elektra suddenly remembers a family trip to the Aegean Sea. Looking back, she now wonders about her father’s behavior toward her mother during that time. Do you think that summer caused this summer to happen? Do you think this revelation will change Elektra’s mind?

 

  1. How does Elektra feel about Carlos now that he is no longer Carlos-the-geek but Carlos the nineteen-year-old Stanford grad? Obviously, there is more to Carlos than she first realized. Could this be true of others, too? Evaluate the ways this is both good and bad.

 

  1. Mama comes home to find the girls missing. They were at get-together with the neighbors. Mama is angry, even though she learns that Ralph has fixed her car. Does she have a right to be?

 

  1. Thalia believed the incident was just her and Elektra having a good time with good people. Elektra explains that Mama was upset because she went by what she saw – Thalia and Elektra in a room full of adults where there was drinking going on – not by what they (Elektra and Thalia) knew. Could Elektra be making the same mistake in some of her relationships? Do we all do this at times?

 

  1. How do you think Thalia knew how to handle the situation with Ralph? (pgs. 157-159). We haven’t discussed much about Thalia, but what do you think about her outlook on everything – the change in her life, her new circumstances?

 

  1. Elektra knows that her actions in trying to get home are not truthful or honorable. She rationalizes that she can start being a good person again once she gets home. Do you think it is right for her to be “skeevy” just because she didn’t get what she wanted?

 

  1. Mama claimed she could never write because she never had a day to spend on her work. She couldn’t just walk away from taking care of her family. Will this new living situation really change that? Do you think that was Mama’s real problem?

 

  1. Elektra reads the following quote in one of her mother’s books on writing: “Your characters are defined by their actions…” (pg. 179). What do Elektra’s actions say about her? What about the actions of Mama and Thalia? Carlos or Ralph?

 

  1. Mama goes off on her interview and Elektra uses the opportunity to make her escape. En route, she finds out that her father has resigned his job, moved, and has a new wife. What do you think about Elektra’s plan now? What do you think about her father?

 

  1. At the same time Elektra receives this shocking news, she also learns her mother has been in a terrible accident on the way home from her interview.  What do you think of her next actions?

 

  1. What do you think about the neighbors after Mama’s accident? Has your opinion of them changed at all?

 

  1. Elektra wants to earn Ralph’s respect. She also needs to respect herself. Is this important?

 

  1. Mama finally comes clean about the circumstances of the divorce. Do you think she should have explained to the girls sooner? Was her plan to wait until they were older reasonable?

 

  1. What do you think of Elektra and Thalia’s plan to get some money? And what of their plan to tell Mama the truth, but slant?

 

  1. What do you think about the relationship between Rob and Mama. And what do you feel about the way Elektra and Thalia handled the fact that he “likes our Mama” (pg. 270)?

 

  1. Carlos thinks Elektra belongs in Guadalupe Slough. “The slough can be a good place for people who aren’t trying to be someone they’re not” (pg. 275). Was Elektra trying to be someone else when she arrived in California? What about now?

 

  1. Elektra’s father finally calls and admits he has been “remiss.” What do you think of Elektra’s response (pg. 281) to him?

 

  1. Elektra says Mama could have played it safe, but didn’t has Elektra come to understand her decision? Does Elektra always play it safe? Do you think that even though they don’t play it safe, they will be safe?