The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen

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The Scourge is a fatal disease sweeping across Ani Mell’s country. If you test positive for the Scourge, you must be exiled to the Colony, an island housing Scourge victims. Though she has never felt the sickness, Ani tests positive for the Scourge and is taken to the Colony along with her best friend, Weevil. The Colony has strict rules and work assignments which must be followed until a victim is too sick to work and is sent to the Infirmary. Though Ani knows the Scourge is a deadly threat, she begins to question the ways of the Colony. Why are the people really being held on the island? And can she solve the mystery before the disease claims her life?

I love this author, but this was not her strongest piece. The premise is great, but, for me, the plot was slow moving and predictable. I did appreciate a strong female character in Ani — we need more leads like her! But, for me, she wasn’t enough to make the book amazing. If you like historical fiction, fantasy that does not include magic, or fantasy that is not part of a series (those pesky things), you may like this book. There are certainly fair amounts of action and plot twists!

Rating: 3/5

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The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

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In the days of the deadly Blitz on London, Kat and her younger siblings are sent to a country boarding school to escape the danger. Housed in an ancient and mysterious castle, the school is unconventional to say the least, and the children immediately begin to notice inexplicable happenings. Strange noises haunt the nights, and the children are locked in their rooms at night to keep them “safe”. What’s more, Kat finds evidence that the school may be housing a German spy. Though completely unconvinced of the ghost story theories put forth by the other children, Kat has trouble explaining much of what happens at Rookskill. Working together, the children will have to solve the complex mystery of the castle, before it’s too late.

This one is a mix of historical fiction, supernatural fiction, and sci-fi, and it’s amazing! I’ll take a story about a haunted castle any day, so I was more than excited to read of the children’s adventures in the spooky hidden rooms. The book also does a nice job with the historical fiction aspect. It isn’t difficult to understand what is going on with the history, and it certainly isn’t boring. I can’t say too much without spoiling the plot, but suffice it to say that if you’re looking for a ghost story with a bit of unexpected sci-fi mixed in, look no further. My one complaint about the book was that the author arguably had too many plot twists going on, but that also made for an exciting read!

Rating: 4.5/5

 

 

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

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In the woods surrounding Fairfold, a horned boy sleeps encased in a glass coffin. The townspeople believe he is a fake — a statue; certainly not a sleeping boy. But Hazel and Ben, siblings who have experience in the world of Fae, know differently. So they aren’t surprised when, one day, the horned boy wakes. His disappearance occurs at almost exactly the same time as when a violent, evil force descends on the town, sending its citizens into a panic. Hazel and Ben must find the horned boy, figure out what he wants, and stop the evil before it’s too late.

Amazing. This is the best book I’ve read in a while. I liked the unique incorporation of fairy tales (Snow White’s coffin housing a sleeping boy) mixed in with the Fae. The plot moves fast enough to keep things interesting, and the author does an excellent job of world-building. There’s also plenty of surprises and twists — just when you think you have things figured out, something new is revealed. The inclusion of LGBT relationships was also a huge plus. If you’re looking for a new fantasy read, this is it!

*YALSA, Teen’s Top Ten, 2016

Rating: 5/5

 

Doll Bones by Holly Black

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Instead of playing video games or hanging out at the mall, Zach, Poppy, and Alice immerse themselves in an intricate fantasy adventure game that they play using dolls. As Zach gets older, though, his father believes that he should be focusing more on sports and friends than on imaginary games. When Zach finds the entire cast of his game is thrown away, he is distraught, but can’t bring himself to tell his friends the truth. Instead, he tells them that he’s “too old” to play. But, just as Zach believes he is leaving the game behind forever, mysterious messages from the game’s queen, a china doll locked in a glass cabinet, begin to emerge. Suddenly, the trio finds themselves wrapped up in a mystery/adventure that haunted by supernatural forces.

This one has some serious creep-factor when it comes to that doll. Very spooky. It’s also an excellent story of how friendships change as you get older, as well as the pain of growing out of your childhood activities. Though this may sound like a weird book about kids who play with dolls (and it is), it’s also an entertaining adventure read with a surprising twist at the end. Is the doll even real? It’s up to you to decide.

*Newbery Honor, 2014

Rating: 3.5/5

 

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

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This nonfiction account of the Titanic disaster focuses on a handful of passengers and their testimony of events. Passengers range in age from young children to older adults, as well as from all class levels. Coupled with these first-hand accounts, the author includes a narration of the history of the ship, guiding readers from her inception to tragic end. Also provided are timelines (including a minute-by-minute record of the sinking), historical documents, and further resources for students who would like to pursue the subject further.

I LOVE books about the Titanic. I’m totally biased. That said, this book was still really good. Though it’s still a historical nonfiction, the author uses a brisk pace and the subject matter is anything but boring. Because the book is told using first-person narrative, you get to “experience” the sinking through the eyes of passengers. It will not be hard to image what the night of April 14, 1912 was like.

Rating: 4.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Forget Me by K.A. Harrington

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Heartbroken over the accidental death of her boyfriend, Flynn, Morgan attempts to move on from the tragedy by making a memorial post on social media. But, when she uploads a picture of Flynn onto the site, face recognition software attempts to tag Flynn as someone else — someone who looks exactly like Flynn and who is still alive. Now, Morgan has a deadly mystery on her hands. Is this other person Flynn? If so, why did he fake his death? In getting her answers, Morgan uncovers wrenching truths that shatter her perception of reality.

This one can be a bit cheesy at times, but it is an entertaining read — especially if you like mystery/thrillers. Unfortunately, Morgan is YET another character who involves herself in a bad relationship because she believes she can change the other person. Sigh. BUT, her character does evolve and there is enough suspense to keep the story going. If you’re looking for an easy read with some excitement, give this one a try.

Rating: 3.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.