The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

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In a time when young women are expected to act like proper ladies and aspire only to an advantageous marriage, Faith wants to be a scientist. Fascinated by the natural world, Faith takes pleasure in accompanying her father to fossil digs, even though she is not taken seriously because of her gender. When a scandal breaks in the scientific world involving Faith’s father, her family flees to a remote island. There, secrets about her father’s past begin to come to light, and Faith discovers that he may have brought an even bigger, more dangerous secret with him to the island. Using her deductive reasoning skills, Faith must uncover the truth of what’s happening on the island — before she gets sucked into its mysteries.

I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed this book. It’s historical fiction, but it’s completely accessible and a super fast paced read. I especially love how this book tackles women’s rights, women in STEM, and fake news — all wrapped up in a murder mystery! You will definitely be eager to find out how the story ends. Characters are entertaining and well-rounded, and I liked that the author gave particular depth to the character of Faith’s mother. If you like historical fiction, mysteries, STEM, or are just looking for a good read, give this one a try. Worth it!

*Costa Book of the Year, 2015

Rating: 4.5/5

 

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

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At twenty-third in line to the throne, Freya may technically be part of the court, but doesn’t feel it worthwhile to invest much energy into her court life. Instead, Freya prefers to conduct science experiments aimed at inventing a device that will make her independently wealthy. When she is invited to the King’s birthday party, Freya reluctantly attends, but ends up sneaking out in order to finish and experiment. In her absence, someone poisons the king’s cake and nearly everyone at the party is killed. So many, in fact, that Freya is next in line to be queen. Completely unprepared to rule, Freya finds herself the center of a decimated court, surrounded by those who suspect her of the murder. Freya must find the true murderer before she loses her new throne and her life.

Wow! This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. The premise itself is fascinating — basically an entire court dies leaving one obscure relation as queen? Yes, please. I also loved how much Freya was obsessed with science and finding her own way in the world. So many female heroines (even when they’re strong!) stand around waiting for a prince, convinced they’re not worth anything. Not Freya! The story also features excellent female friendships and a healthy romantic relationship. If you’re looking for a fantasy standalone (rare, I know), don’t miss this!

Rating: 5/5

Meltdown: A Race Against Nuclear Disaster at Three Mile Island by Wilborn Hampton

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A first-hand witness to the near nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island in the 1970’s, reporter Wilborn Hampton recounts the suspense and fear of the United States as scientists desperately tried to keep a nuclear plant from reaching meltdown. Though many Americans supported the idea of nuclear power as a new form of energy, a meltdown of a nuclear reactor would mean death and radiation sickness for decades to come. As residents near the plant fled from the invisible danger, Hampton and his colleague stayed behind to witness and record the events, despite the fact that their lives could be in jeopardy.

This book was equally interesting and terrifying. I didn’t know much about the events at Three Mile Island until now, but what I learned was pretty scary. With more pressure on the world to look for alternative fuel sourcing, nuclear power continues to gain attention. However, as Hampton’s book shows, it can be a dangerous resource. Aside from Three Mile Island, the book also talks about the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in WWII and the nuclear accident in Chernobyl. there’s a lot to think about when it comes to using nuclear energy. If you’re at all interested in environmental issues, science, or physics, this may be a good book for you. The author witnessed the events he writes about first-hand, which makes the action extremely exciting and suspenseful. Give it a read!

*Rating: 4/5

*IRA Young Adult Nonfiction Award, 2002

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

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Brag; Illustrated by Kevin O’Malley

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Focusing only on their untimely and often graphic ends, Bragg presents this compilation of mini “death” biographies of prominent historical figures. Arranged chronologically (by death date) and including plenty of extra historical facts and infographics, this piece is sure to interest readers of levels. As many young adults are fascinated by the demise of others, this would be an excellent book to use when planning history lessons. Sections are short, illustrated,  and leave many opportunities for reader discussion, debate, and further research.

This book was great! It’s a little on the gory, side, but it’s hilarious and definitely paints a different picture of historical people. I learned a lot of little facts that I didn’t know before, and it was SO much better than reading a history textbook. Of course, the author skips over much of each person’s life, and it’s not in-depth coverage at all. So if you’re doing a report, you’ll want to use more than just this book as a source However, it’s a great place to start — really entertaining and fun to read! Pick this one up if you’d like to know more about historical figures or if you just love history/biography.

Rating: 4.5/5

*Lone Star Book, 2013

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

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman

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Using expose-styled writing, Fleischman attempts to educated readers about myths, cover-ups, and deceptions in current environmental issues. Rather than simply giving young adults small projects they can do to help the environment, the author seeks to paint a bigger picture — one that will show young adult readers what the world will be like if real action isn’t taken. Fleishman fills his book with pictures, relevant examples, and call-out sections that help explain more complex terms and concepts. Though an important topic, the author sometimes comes across as heavy-handed, judgemental, and, because of the large of images, the pages appear cluttered. The piece would perhaps be more effective if presented in sections rather than as a whole.

While I thought the information in this book was important, I didn’t appreciate the author’s tone. Though he attempts to enlighten the reader about persuasive tactics and fallacies used by companies to trick the public, he neglects to mention that he’s using fear-mongering himself. I’m not saying the author is telling any lies or trying to trick you — environmentalism is definitely something that more people should be paying attention to. But the author tries to tackle too much in this piece, making the problem seem insurmountable. Additionally, he often talks down to the reader or makes generalizations about the way people feel. I didn’t appreciate it. Pick this one up if you’re interested in environmentalism or persuasive techniques, but try to ignore the author’s tone.

*Rating: 3/5

*School Library Journal, Best Books of 2014

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

Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

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Though much is known about Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection and evolution, less is known about his courtship and marriage to Emma Wedgwood, his first cousin. A man ruled by logic and order, Charles took a measured approach to his marriage, and was worried that his wife would not support his scientific ideas (including his doubts about the existence of God). Emma, a highly religious person, worried about these doubts, and the two spent much of their lives discussing their ideas and opinions. Heiligman’s biography of Charles and Emma sheds light on the famous scientist’s personal life, allowing readers to see the Darwins as a couple in love, despite their fundamental ideological differences.

I thought this book was interesting, but I don’t know how interesting it will be to young adult readers today. It won the first YALSA nonfiction award in 2010, but it seems YA nonfiction has grown in leaps and bounds since that time. This book has no pictures and is organized like a novel (with chapters), but it doesn’t have the same fast pace a novel would have. Don’t get me wrong — the information and subjects are certainly interesting, but the presentation and delivery are off. I liked seeing a biography of Charles and Emma that focused on their love story (a great one, by the way), but I wanted a faster pace to the work.

Rating: 3/5

*YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, Winner, 2010

*National Book Award Finalist
*Printz Honor Book

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

What Is Relativity? by Jeffrey Bennett

Using a colloquial voice and plenty of illustrations and diagrams, Bennett presents this introduction to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Beginning with a sinister “what if” premise (what if the sun turned into a black hole?), the author immediately dispels the belief that black holes literally suck (planets and objects, that is). After explaining the myth of black holes, he then goes on to correct other misconceptions commonly held in the physics field. The book is sectioned into different aspects of Einstein’s theory, including the speed of light, the space-time continuum, and implications of relativity. Though aspiring astrophysicists may enjoy this book, it may be too advanced for true physics novices.

I’m not a science person, so this one was hard for me to get through. The author did make an attempt to be funny and does have a conversational tone, but it was still rough. I recommend this book if you’re a fan of science, Einstein, or Physics, but, if you’re a real beginner like me, it may be better to start with a simpler piece.

Rating: 3/5

*School Library Journal Review

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