Review: The Riddle of Prague by Laura DeBruce

The Riddle of Prague by Laura DeBruce. CreateSpace, 2013. Currently available.

Genre: YA Fantasy/Mystery

downloadFace Value: I read an e-book copy and didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the cover, but I really do like the image. There is an air of mystery and adventure, and the title fonts blend the ancient and contemporary elements that intermingle in the story.

Does it break the slate? This book is chock-full of amazing female characters, but I’m still waiting for Hana (the protagonist) to break the slate. She grows immensely in this story but I’m still waiting for her to take some major action. I’m glad that I have a sequel to look forward to, because Hana’s future as a Slatebreaker is promising.  Continue reading

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Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. Viking, 2014. Currently Available.

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

18079527 Face Value: Beautiful. I am totally here for this cover, which is contemporary and emotionally resonant and also just a lovely piece of art. Excellent work, book designers! I like the title too, but I keep mixing it up in my mind with The Knife of Never Letting Go because they are very similar titles. Extremely different books, but very similar titles.

 Does it Break the Slate? For the most part, yes, it really does. Haley is a character who has to be strong and self-protective in really difficult circumstances, and she steps up to remarkable challenges. While she doesn’t always make the “right” choices, she’s also a character who is faced with total uncertainty and high levels of responsibility for the adults in her life in ways that no young person should have to be.  Both Haley as a character and the way Laurie Halse Anderson writes about her circumstances add up to an absolutely Slatebreaking piece of writing.

Who would we give it to? I can’t think of another book that deals with the real impact of PTSD on families, especially in a contemporary setting, as this one does. For military families coping with it, or for any family dealing with trauma and recovery, I think that teens would find deep resonance in this book and Haley’s authentically written voice.

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Review: Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes

Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes. Green Willow Books, 2013. Currently available. 

Age Level & Genre: Picture book fiction.

penny_and_her_marbleFace Value: It looks like every other Kevin Henkes book, which is to say that it looks very mild and pleasant. There’s nothing wrong with that. Why mess with success? 

Does it break the slate? For an introductory reader level picture book, this book handles the issue of right and wrong in an interesting way. Penny has to deal with an ethical dilemma. Although she hems and haws, she ultimately makes the admirable choice.  Although she isn’t a Slatebreaker, she is modeling smart decision making skills that any young reader could learn from.

Who would we give it to? New readers who want to practice their reading skills with some familiar characters. 

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Review: Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder

Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014. Available January 28, 2014.

Genre: Time Travel / Historical Fiction

17883943Face Value: I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed in this cover. It’s not that it’s terrible – there is nothing wrong with it, it reflects the story and the characters. But it looks a little dated. And one of the things I think that Laurel Snyder does best is balance the feel of a historical novel with a contemporary writing style. This cover reflects the first without the benefit of the second.

Does it Break the Slate? Yes, absolutely! I loved Bigger Than a Breadbox when it came out and I thought that this companion novel was such a lovely balance to that piece. Annie is a smart and thoughtful protagonist and Molly’s stubbornness and self-determination makes her a great supporting character. Both girls go through a Slatebreaking journey over the course of the narrative and the ultimate resolution was surprisingly satisfying.

Who would we give it to? Laurel Snyder clearly takes inspiration from classic fantasy writers like E. Nesbit and Edward Eager, writing the type of story where an ordinary young person stumbles upon a surprising magic in an everyday object. The young people then have to learn the rules of that magic, enjoy its benefits and worry over its potential danger. Ultimately that magic leads to a journey of self-awareness (but not, it is important to note, necessarily a moral lesson). Like Ms. Snyder, I loved these books when I was growing up, as did many others. I think that builds a wide audience for her fiction – both for young people who have already discovered Nesbit and Eager’s work and want more, and for young people who will enjoy this type of novel with a more contemporary feel.

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Review: Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky

Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky. Delacorte, 2007. Currently Available.

Age Level & Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

boyfriend-largeFace Value: This is a great cover. It’s simple and funny. Unfortunately, the book didn’t really live up to the potential of the cover.

Does it break the slate? No. I was so disappointed. Dominique had a ton of potential, but every time she could have made a bold decision she acted whiny and immature instead.

Who would we give it to? I might recommend it to a high school student now, but there are so many books out there with more interesting female characters that this title would be low on my list.

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Review: No Place Like Oz by Danielle Paige

No Place Like Oz by Danielle Paige. Harper Collins, 2013. Currently Available as an e-book.

Genre: Fantasy / Retelling

17331483-no-place-like-ozFace Value: This cover strikes a nice balance for a retelling. The original imagery is there (the yellow brick road, the Wizard’s balloon), but the contemporary style gives a clear sense that this is a different kind of Oz. And I like it.

Does it Break the Slate? Surprisingly? Yes! As this is a prequel novella that sets the scene for Paige’s upcoming (and terrifically titled) Dorothy Must Die, this is the book that’s supposed to give us the backstory on how our beloved Dorothy Gale can become Oz’s next great supervillain. (I love this premise, btw) And Paige does a nice job of establishing exactly how that might happen, without sacrificing the integrity of the character or Baum’s original story. What makes it a Slatebreaking story is the fact that Dorothy’s descent into wickedness is not only oddly empathetic, it comes as a direct result of her sense of loss when she has to return to Kansas where her options seem suddenly far more limited than they did in Oz, where she was a powerful hero. I’m excited to see Paige continue this commentary as the series goes on.

Who would we give it to? This one is easy. Find a girl in a Wicked t-shirt humming “Defying Gravity” between classes. She’ll devour this. Continue reading

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2013 Reading Goals Revisited: A Reading Bingo Reflection

You may recall a time in early 2013 when I set a goal for myself involving a “Reading Bingo” card. This was in the halcyon days of the year, months before I even considered some of the big transitions that were going to take place in 2013. Ah, the bliss of ignorance. Continue reading

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Review: The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett

The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett. Tor Teen, 2013. Currently Available.

Genre: Fantasy

12411635Face Value: I picked up this book because the silhouette style cover reminded me of Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken, which I loved. I like this cover art quite a bit and I think that it fits the book, but it does look pretty familiar in the landscape of YA covers lately. It’s pretty, but I don’t know how much it will stand out on a shelf.

Does it Break the Slate? While this novel isn’t covering any new ground, broken slate wise, I definitely liked reading a book about a magical boarding school with a girl in the leading role. Dusty is a solid heroine and the male characters aren’t presented as built-in rescuers or protectors. Bonus Slatebreaking points are included for the supporting character of Selene, Dusty’s roommate who is a siren who is taking an active stance against the sexualization and objectification of sirens. More of this in future books please!

Who would we give it to? It’s about a magical boarding school. Give it to the reader who insists that the Harry Potter series is the only thing they really want to read. It also has a magical murder investigation, so I think it would be a safe recommendation to mystery readers too. Continue reading

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Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013. Currently Available.

Age Level & Genre: Contemporary YA Realistic Fiction

16068905Face Value: I love it! Rowell’s covers are illustrated in a beautiful, simple style. They look quirky and charming, which I would say is a dead-on depiction of her writing style. I find this cover style extremely attractive and always want to buy copies of Rowell’s books, even if I already own them. I hope that we see more of this kind of cover in YA.

Does it break the slate? Yes, it really does. Cath is my very favorite girl character of 2013. Cath is often paralyzed with fear in social situations, yet she has the strength to keep her fragile family together through some really tough times. She is also a talented writer. Her ability to express herself with words is a key part of her personality, and the cornerstone of this story. I love a female writer as a main character because it shows how women can use the power of written words to change the world.

Who would we give it to? Mandatory reading for incoming college freshman! This is the story of Cath’s freshman year and both she and her twin sister Wren have some major struggles. I went through some of the same awful feelings my freshman year of college, but I honestly thought I was the only one who felt that way. Reading this book would have made me feel so much better. Continue reading

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Review: Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013. Currently Available.

Genre: Fantasy

9879358Face Value: This cover screams fantasy, and this book is a fantasy, so that’s accurate. But it also vaguely reminds me of Blue Moon, the store in the mall in my hometown that sold patchouli and dreamcatchers and broomstick skirts. If this cover were a print and it were 1999, it would probably have been sold in that store.

Does it Break the Slate? Yes, it does, and it’s awesome. This is a deeply feminist book, as well as a profoundly thoughtful one. The matriarchal world that Bow has created in this novel is not only beautifully drawn, it sets up a society that is actually female driven, and raises some really interesting points along the way. And all of the characters and their journeys – male and female – are written in dynamic, interesting, Slatebreaking ways.

Who would we give it to? This is deeper fantasy than Bow’s earlier novel, Plain Kate (which I really enjoyed) but it’s also a richer, more complex novel. And if you know fantasy lovers who can get frustrated with some of the antifeminism within that genre, this is a great book for you. Continue reading

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