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Castaways of the Flying Dutchman series – A Review

Posted on January 24th, 2013 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff

Castaways of the Flying Dutchman series by Brian Jacques

Read by: Anna/Copley Teen Room

This is the story of a young, mute boy, Ben, and his faithful black lab, Ned. They are stuck aboard a ship called The Flying Dutchman, where an evil captain rules. When the ship is destroyed and the crew cursed to roam the seas forever, the boy and his dog are saved by one of God’s angels who curses them to roam the earth forever, never growing older. The angel gives them both special powers. Ben can now speak any language he needs to, and the two have a mind bond that allows them to communicate with each other via thought. Together Ben and Ned travel the world as directed by the angel and help anyone they can along the way. But even as they travel, The Flying Dutchman and its evil captain haunt their dreams and forshadow terrible things to come.

There are three books to this series: Castaways of the Flying Dutchman, The Angel’s Command, and Voyage of Slaves.  I’ve just finished the third book, but since I haven’t reviewed any of the books here yet, this review will cover the series as a whole. If you like adventures, especially seafaring adventures, you’ll like these books. These can be read by older kids and teens alike. While there is a lot of action, this series is very different from Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. The avenging angel directs Ben and Ned, but it’s not overly religious at all. It’s a historical fantasy series, so the religion is only included as part of the time period for the most part. In the third book, unlike the others, there are characters from all over the world, and sometimes they use pet names (such as My Sweet, or Little Girl) for each other in their native languge. Those words, when first used, are starred, and an English translation is put at the bottom of the page. Overall, this is a great series where friends are made, evil doers are caught, and everything is righted in the end. It’s a fun, relaxing read. The final book has an ending that works well as an ending to the series as a whole. I say this  because it was very possible the author meant to write more before his death, but I don’t know for sure. This ending could go either way for the series, so you, as a reader, are not left hanging, needing to know what happens next. The books should be read in order, but each story is wrapped up at the end of each book.

Scorch – A Review

Posted on December 22nd, 2012 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff

Scorch by Gina Damico

Read by: Anna/Copley Teen Room

This is the sequel to Gina Damico’s first book Croak, which I reviewed just last week. If you haven’t read Croak, be aware, spoilers ahead! So, Lex’s twin sister is no longer in the land of the living and Zara is running around on the loose Damning criminals to an eternity spent as ghosts, rather than letting them get into the coziness of the Afterlife. There’s only one problem here. Zara thinks Lex has something she wants. Something very powerful. And she’ll stop at nothing to get it. When she starts Damning innocent people and even Grims all over the world, Lex realizes she’d better act fast and find The Wrong Book. But that’s not all. Things are even worse in Croak. Norwood and Heloise are doing their evil best to convince the rest of the town that the Junior Grims are terrible delinquents who can’t do anything right, and that Lex’s Uncle Mort is no longer fit for the job of town Mayor. It’s finally time for Lex, her Uncle Mort, and the other Juniors to skip down and seek safety in DeMyse, a huge, glitzy city, home to Grims on the west coast, much like Las Vegas. Of course, hijinks ensue, and our favorite characters from the Afterlife have a knack for traveling as well. Not only do we get to see more of Cordy, Lex’s twin sister, but we also get to see her new, albeit dead, beau: the hottest and youngest king to roam the Earth. King Tut? Yep. Things couldn’t get more wild in the Afterlife.

This book kept me even more on the edge of my seat than the first book. The humor was still fresh, the action awesome and terrifying, and the romance at times very sweet, realistic, and bumbling, just the way I like it. Nothing is perfect, not even romance, and I like the way she portrays it in these books. It’s not the main storyline, but it is pretty major. Plus, for those interested, there is a side gay romance in here that gets left by a cliffhanger at the end. I’m hoping it won’t be long before the next book comes out. I’m not sure I can wait forever on this series. If you like a bit of gore and creepiness, if you like humorous and realistic romance, if you enjoy talking to dead people… this series is for you! And I highly recommend having book 2 ready to read as soon as you finish book 1. You’ll be glad you did.

Croak: A Review

Posted on December 14th, 2012 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff, Teen Services

Croak by Gina Demico

Read by: Anna/Copley Teen Room

This is the story of a 16-year-old teen who gets shipped off to spend the summer with her Uncle Mort because of sudden behavioral issues. Lex, named after the battle of Lexington, has no idea why she turned violent. She just knows that she likes to punch people and it doesn’t matter whether they’ve done something to personally offend her or not. But when she gets to the town of Croak, NY (Population 82), she’s startled to discover that her uncle isn’t the farmer she expected. He’s a Grim Reaper. And so is everyone else in the small town. She was born to be a Grim. At first she isn’t sure about this, but the more she hangs out with the other Junior Grims, and the more time she spends at work, Killing dead bodies so her partner can Cull the souls to send the people to the afterlife, the more she comes to realize that Croak is where she belongs.

But then, mysterious deaths start to occur. Not only do the medical examiners not know what’s killing these people, seemingly at random, but neither do the Grims. When it become apparent that the killer could very well be a Grim, it’s up to Lex and the other Junior Grims to figure it out.

Honestly, I think I died laughing. No joke. This book is at the same time dark, very serious and yet light with humor. I loved getting to hang out in the afterlife with the dead famous people like Edgar Allen Poe who seems to be the only one who doesn’t like John Wilkes Booth because John stole Edgar’s favorite quill. When we get the absolutely lovely description of the alcohol-like drink that actually has no alcohol in it, I about died, wishing I could have a cup. Keep in mind, the drink has no alcohol, but if a Grim has more than three drinks in a row, that could spell a very different kind of trouble: Death. The murder mystery that takes place is definitely a mystery that will defy you until near the end of the book. At least, it did for me. The book is at times creepy, but there is also a healthy dose of awkward romance to go along with the creep. While most books these days throw in the perfect romance between the two perfect main characters, this romance is not perfect. Nothing goes as planned and neither are the two main characters perfect. It’s wonderfully realistic.

Over all, this book was a nice breath of fresh air from all the books that only seem to mimic each other these days. Yep, there’s a girl on the cover, but she’s wearing a black hoodie (proper Grim attire) and carrying a large scythe. Not a fancy dress that never gets worn in the book. But be aware of one thing. As you near the end of the first book, make sure you have Scorch, the second book, handy because you’ll want to dive right in without waiting. Trust me, this book is awesome. And the story’s not done yet…

I can’t recommend this book enough.

Anna Dressed In Blood – A Review

Posted on December 4th, 2012 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff

 

Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake

Read by: Anna/Copley Teen Room

 

This is the story about a young man going by the nickname Cass who kills ghosts for a living. Yep. You heard right. Cass kills ghosts for a living. The job has been in his family for generations and he’s the latest to pick up the athame, or knife, his father used to demolish the dead who demolish the living. Only this time, as he moves to Canada with his mother, he finally meets his match. Anna Dressed In Blood is a ghost he can’t kill until he can figure out how and why she died. The truth is shocking and as horrible as having Satan himself sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with you and your family. But even then, Cass still can’t kill Anna, even knowing the high number of people she’s killed since her death. The feelings he’s kept locked inside to protect the rest of the world from his job are threatening to come out, he’s actually made friends for the first time, and yet another ghost seems to be after him.  Why did Anna protect Cass from other teens trying to play a mean prank on him? And what’s he going to do to get out of this sticky situation?

I read this not knowing what to expect. And I LOVED it. The book keeps you guessing right up until the very end. The characters were realistic, and even the ghosts were relatable and likeable. My only complaint with this book was how the police handled each death and missing persons case. The cops didn’t look hard for missing teenagers, or murderers. In talking with real life police, I know they wouldn’t pass off a missing teenager as someone who’d simply runaway and leave it at that. However, as this wasn’t all about police procedure, I was able to put that at the back of my mind and enjoy the rest of the story.  All in all, I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a good mystery or horror novel. It’s that awesome.

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us – A Review

Posted on September 15th, 2012 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff

Gender Outlaw book cover

 

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein

Read by: Anna/Copley Teen Room

This is a non-fiction title that explores… gender! What else would a book with a title like this one be talking about? Of course. Gender. Specifically, this book delves into the questions some people will have about the traditional gender roles and physical bodies that we’ve had almost since the beginning of time. Kate talks about days when transgendered or transexuals were seen as spirituals and how that changed over time. She covers wide ground in this book.

Some readers will be put off by the “collage” aspect of her writing. She includes quotes, poetry, mini essays, and even a full-length play toward the end. It’s all intermixed, so you never know what you’re going to get when you flip the page. Hmmm… sounds a bit like what she’s talking about with Gender, actually! You don’t have to agree with her thoughts at all. What she does is to raise questions to make you think. What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a male to female transexual who happens to be a lesbian, who’s girlfriend ends up a female to male transexual? What does all this mean? What about those who define themselves as neither gender? She isn’t aiming for shock value here… well, maybe a little, but more than that, she wants to make you THINK about your life, about the people you see around you every day.

When you see a stranger down the street, if you can’t identify which country they come from it’s not nearly as annoying as when you can’t identify whether they are male or female. If you can’t identify their gender, you’ll stare at them until you come to a decision. If you can’t determine their race or age, you shrug your shoulders and move on. Why is that? Why?

I have to be honest, while I was thoroughly enjoying the book, I was a bit afraid of the play. I thought it would be dry and borning. I avoided it for a day and a half before I finally delved into it. It was very well written. I could easily picture everything going on in my head. I heard all three characters voices in my head as if they were talking right in front of me. In short: I loved it!

The overall questions she asks are brilliant. What is identity? What is YOUR identity? Yes, this book was written over ten years ago now, quickly approaching twenty years now, but her questions are still relevant. Some of the references (such as political activists and television shows) might not be recognizable by today’s teenager, but they can easily be looked up on the internet for a quick clarification. The important part is that she wrote the book to last well into the future, and that it does quite well.

Please note: There are a few mentions of adult content, but they are few and far between without going into great details. Over all, this is a fantastic book for anyone, teen or adult, who may be questioning their gender, or who may know someone else who is.

What is gender? And why are we so attached to a binary gender system when it’s becoming more and more clear that more than two genders exist in this world? Good questions. What do YOU think? Read the book and post a comment below.

Quotes from the book that I especially liked:

“A free society is one where it’s safe to be unpopular.” – Adlai Stevenson

Who was Stevenson? Adlai Stevenson was a leading Democrat of the 1950s, famed for his quick wit and deep intellect, and for his eloquence in support of liberal causes. He was the Democratic candidate for president in 1952 and 1956, losing badly both times to Dwight Eisenhower. Stevenson was the governor of Illinois from 1949-53, and served as the American ambassador to the United Nations during the John Kennedy administration.

“Safe gender is being who and what we want to be when we

want to be that, with no threat of censure or violence.

Safe gender is going as far in any direction as we wish,

With no threat to our health, or anyone else’s.

Safe gender is not being pressured into passing, not

Having to lie, not having to hide.

 

Sane gender is asking questions about gender – talking

To people who do gender, and opening up about our

Gender histories and our gender desires.

Sane gender is probably very, very funny.

 

Consensual gender is respecting each others’ definition

Of gender, and respecting the wishes of some to be alone,

And respecting the intentions of others to be inclusive in

Their own time.

Consensual gender is non-violent in that it doesn’t force

Its way in on anyone.

Consensual gender opens its arms and welcomes all

People as gender outcasts – whoever is willing to admit it.”

-Kate Bornstein