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Book Club Pick

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Book Club Pick: January 2016

ChocolateWar

Book Details:

Title: The Chocolate War

Author: Robert Cormier

Series: Followed by a sequel Beyond the Chocolate War (released in 1985)

Country: United States

Publisher: Pantheon Books

First Published: 1974

Pages: 209

Publisher’s Description:

New boy Jerry Renault refuses to sell chocolates for Trinity School’s annual fundraiser. This small act of defiance starts a chain reaction, exposing the corruption running through the school and starting an all-out war with the Vigils, the school’s secret society. There is only one solution, but who will survive?

Review:

‘Do I dare disturb the universe?‘ – a line from T.S. Eliot that is on a poster on Jerry’s locker.

DisturbUniverse

Jerry Renault, is a freshmen at Trinity, a Catholic high school for boys. He is a quiet and reserved student, silently coping following the death of his mother.

One day Jerry is approached by Archie Costello, who is the Assigner for the Vigils, a secret underground student society. Each student when joining the Vigils is assigned a task (think hazing and peer pressure). Jerry’s assignment is to refuse to sell any chocolates for ten days during the school’s fundraiser.

Jerry decides after the ten days to still refuse to sell chocolates, which puts him at heads with the Vigils and sadistic vice principal Brother Leon. His defiant act turns into an all-out war with bullying and coercion.

The novel highlights the Vigil’s manipulation, cruelty and control over students. This very dark depiction of the abuse of authority could easily be a metaphor for any corrupt political society in the world.

Due to its content the book is frequently banned and appears third on the American Library Association’s list of Top 100 Banned / Challenged Books in 2000 – 2009.

The novel was adapted into a feature film in 1988, directed by Keith Gordon.

TheChocolateWarFilm

 

Source: I borrowed a copy of this book from my public library.

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Book Club Pick

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Book Club Pick: December 2015

ThroneOfGlass

Book Details:

Title: Throne of Glass

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Series: Throne of Glass series (Book #1)

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Bloomsbury

First Published: 2012

Pages: 404

Publisher’s Description:

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake. She got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament – fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?

 

Review:

Eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is serving a life sentence in the salt mines of Endovier when she is offered a deal by Choal Westfall, the Captain of the Guard, to represent Dorian Havilliard the Crown Prince of Adarlan in a tournament to the find the King’s champion. If successful after four years of service as the King’s personal assassin she will be granted her freedom.

Celaena begins her training under the watchful eye of the stoic Choal. During the tournament the other competitors begin turning up dead. This provides the fantasy novel with an element of mystery as Celaena works to find the killer before she becomes a victim herself.

There is also an element of romance with a love triangle between Celaena, Dorian and Choal. It was nice that the friendship between Dorian and Choal was not spoiled by this potential love triangle, something which can be tiresome in YA romance novels.

The novel has a strong female protagonist in Celaena, as well as being a skilled assassin Calaena likes dresses, parties and reading. Too often in YA novels a strong female character loses her femininity in favour of other qualities, so it sends a positive message that a young woman can still be feminine and strong.

Maas inspired by the Cinderella story originally published her story online as ‘Queen of Glass’ on FictionPress.com. Her popularity online led to her publishing deal with Bloomsbury.

 

Links:

Sarah J. Maas Official Website

Sarah J. Mass’ Blog

Sarah J. Maas on Twitter

Sarah J. Maas on Instagram

Sarah J. Maas on Tumblr

Throne of Glass on Facebook

 

Source: I purchased a copy of this book.

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Book Club Pick

Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

Book Club Pick: November 2015

Tomorrow When The War Begins

Book Details:

Title: Tomorrow, When the War Began

Author: John Marsden

Series: Tomorrow series (Book #1)

Country: Australia

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Publishers Australia

First Published: 1993

Pages: 286

Publisher’s Description:

The astonishing adventure begins . . .

Seventeen-year-old Ellie Linton wants one final adventure with her friends before the school holidays are over. Packed in Ellie’s parents’ Land-Rover, they drive to a famously beautiful camp in the hills.

Returning to their home town of Wirrawee, the seven teenagers realize that something is seriously wrong. Their world has changed forever.

Would you give up everything? Would you fight? Would you sacrifice life itself?

TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN asks the questions you may one day have to answer.

 

Review:

The novel is narrated by seventeen-year-old Ellie Linton as she documents in a journal her experiences during a military invasion and occupation of Australia.

Tomorrow, When the War Began takes place in the fictional small rural Australian town of Wirrawee. Ellie and her high school friends Corrie, Homer, Lee, Kevin, Fiona and Robyn wanting one last adventure set out to go camping in a remote area of the bush dubbed by locals as ‘Hell’.

One night they see a large number of planes flying overhead without lights. Although they discuss this the next morning they think nothing more of it. When they return to Wirrawee they find the town is deserted, as they return to each of their homes they find their parents are missing, power is out, and pets and livestock are dying.

The group soon learns that Australia has been occupied by unidentified foreign military force and their families have been taken prisoner. Marsden deliberately does not identify the country or countries invading Australia nor does the novel cover the war from outside Ellie’s perspective other than what she learns through her friends.

This novel is not about war, it is about how eight* young Australians react to war. *Fellow student Chris joins the seven following the invasion.

Marsden was watching an ANZAC Day parade and observed a large number of teenagers present. He wondered how they would react if they were in the same position as their grandparents. Marsden believed that today’s teenagers would “dig deep and find reserves of initiative, maturity, responsibility and even heroism”. He also wrote Tomorrow, When the War Began as a response to the negative representation of teenagers in the media.

Although the novel does feature violence, it is not graphic in its portrayal of the horrors of war. It focuses more on the characters internal struggles, such as Ellie battling with having to take someone else’s life in order to defend her own. The novel does feature some romance between the teenagers as Ellie develops feelings for Lee, Homer is smitten with Fi, and Corrie and Kevin continue their relationship. Ellie writes the journal as an official record of their experiences, rather than a personal diary, so her personal feelings of romance do seem a little out of place. It would be quite awkward for Lee to read this official record I would imagine.

The novel was released in 1993 and other than that today the characters would have mobile phones and wireless internet connections it has not dated.

In 2010 a film adaptation written and directed by screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Collateral, Australia) was released. A television adaptation is currently in post production and will screen on ABC3 in Australia in 2016.

Tomorrow When the War Began poster

Links:

John Marsden Official Website

John Marsden on Facebook

 

 

Source: I borrowed a copy of this book from my public library.

 

Categories
Book Club Pick

I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan

Book Club Pick: October 2015

IKnowWhatYouDidLastSummerBookCover

Book Details:

Title: I Know What You Did Last Summer

Author: Lois Duncan

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

First Published: 1973, revised edition with modernised text 2010

Pages: 200

Publisher’s Description:

They didn’t mean it. They didn’t mean to hit the boy. There was a party, and it was an accident . . . but they had futures to protect. So Barry, Julie, Helen, and Ray swore one another to secrecy. But now, a year later, someone knows. Julie receives a haunting, anonymous threat: “I know what you did last summer.”

The dark lie is unearthed, and before the four friends know it, they need to outsmart a killer . . . or they will be the next to die.

 

Review:

Four high school students, Julie, Helen, Barry and Ray are returning from a party when they accidentally hit a young boy riding his bike home. Other than stopping to make a call to report the accident the teens do nothing to help. Fearing the accident will ruin their lives they make a pact to never speak of the incident again.

A year has passed and the group has drifted apart. Julie has dropped the cheerleading squad and become a serious student, Helen has dropped out of high school and is the new television personality for the local news, Barry went to the local college, and Ray has recently returned after leaving town.

When Julie receives an anonymous note with ‘I know what you did last summer’ she is worried. Barry assures Julie that it is just a prank but when Helen finds a picture of boy riding a bicycle taped to her apartment door and Ray receives a newspaper clipping about the accident; the threat suddenly seems more serious. And when Barry is shot the remaining trio question their actions last summer and question who is tormenting them.

Duncan’s novel was first published in 1973 the version I read was the revised edition with modernised text released in 2010. The characters now have cellphones, email and their fashion has been updated. Personally I would rather have read the original version as I felt the teenagers values were not inclined with those of teenagers today.

The novel was adapted into a film penned by Kevin Williamson (ScreamDawson’s CreekThe Vampire Diaries). Released in 1997 it starred Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prince Jr.

I Know What You Did Last Summer
I Know What You Did Last Summer

A word of the warning – the film is very different to the book.  While the book is a thriller / suspense novel the film fits more into the slasher genre.  Duncan has not hidden her dislike for the film. Readers of the book will understand that while the reveal of the antagonist works on page this would not work onscreen.

The film was followed by a sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998). A third film I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer was released straight-to-DVD in 2006, it did not feature any cast from the previous films. Sony has plans to reboot the franchise with Oculus‘ Mike Flanagan writing the script.

Links:

Lois Duncan Official Website

Lois Duncan on Twitter

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Book Club Pick: September 2015

Boy Meets Boy

Book Details:

Title: Boy Meets Boy

Author: David Levithan

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

First Published: 2003

Pages: 192

Publisher’s Description:

He looks up at me. And then, after a beat, he breaks out smiling. “Hey”, he says, “I’ve been looking all over for you.” I don’t know what to say. I am so happy and so scared.

Paul has been gay his whole life and he’s confident about almost everything. He doesn’t have to hide his feelings like best friend Tony. Or even cope with loving the wrong guy like his other best friend Joni.

But heartbreak can happen to anyone. Falling in love changes everything…

 

Review:

The protagonist and narrator for the novel is high school sophomore Paul, who is openly gay and accepted by his family and friends. Paul has known he was gay since he was in kindergarten and ‘became the first openly gay class president in the history of Ms Farquar’s third grade class.’

Tony is Paul’s best friend who lives in the next town over. He is gay but unlike Paul, Tony’s parents are religious and are not accepting of his sexuality. It is great to see a strong friendship between two gay teenage males that is not romantic or sexual.

Joni is Paul’s other friend, when she starts dating Chuck, a classmate Paul does not approve of, it puts strain on their friendship.

The supporting characters are interesting and vivid. There is Infinite Darlene, a drag queen who is the homecoming queen and star quarterback, and Zeke the “Gaystafarian”, who performs gigs at the local bookstore.

It’s boy meets boy, when Paul is instantly attracted to Noah, the new boy at school, after an earlier chance meeting in a bookstore. Similar to boy meets girl stories inevitably boy loses boy when Paul kisses his ex-boyfriend Kyle, who is questioning his sexuality.

Paul has to set out to win Noah back. The school bookie put his odds at 12-1 of Noah taking him back but Paul is determined to gain his trust back. Despite Paul’s mistake he is a likable character.

The novel presents an almost perfect utopian world where all sexualities are celebrated and accepted.  For example, there are the Joy Scouts instead of the Boy Scouts (after the “Boy Scouts decided gays had no place in their ranks, our Scouts decided the organization had no place in our town”) and the high school has a thriving gay-straight alliance. Levithan is deliberately showing readers a world one would hope will exist in the future where there is no judgment, prejudice or discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Boy Meets Boy is dedicated ‘for Tony (even if he only exists in a song)’. ‘Tony’ is the title of Patty Griffin’s song about a young gay classmate who committed suicide. Levithan has said ‘every time I hear that song, it breaks my heart; you could say I wrote a whole novel to change one song’s ending.’

The writing is very witty, wry and quirky. Although the pace is a little slow moving at times. Ultimately it is a quirky story about love and the obstacles to love.

Links:

David Levithan Official Website

David Levithan on Facebook

David Levithan on Twitter

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

 

Categories
Book Club Pick

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Book Club Pick: August 2015

TheGiver

Book Details:

Title: The Giver

Author: Lois Lowry

Series: First novel in the Giver Quartet

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books

First Published: 1993

Pages: 225

Publisher’s Description:

“I have a great honor,” the Giver said. “So will you. But you will find that it not the same as power.”

Life in the community where Jonas lives in idyllic. Designated birthmothers produce new children, who are assigned to appropriate family units: one male, one female, to each. Citizens are assigned their partners and their jobs. No one thinks to ask questions. Everyone obeys. The community is a precisely, choreographed world without conflict, inequality, divorce, unemployment, injustice . . . or choice.

Everyone is the same.

Except Jonas.

At the Ceremony of Twelve, the community’s twelve-year-olds eagerly accept their predetermined life Assignments. Bur Jonas is chosen fro something special. He begins instruction in his life’s work with a mysterious old man known only as the Giver. Gradually Jonas learns that power lies in feelings. But when his own power is put to the test – he may not be ready. Is it too soon? Or too late?

 

Review:

The novel opens with eleven-year-old Jonas awaiting his Ceremony of Twelve, where he will be assigned his career and begin his training.

Jonas lives in a community where a group of Elders select everything including one’s parents, career, spouse and children. All the negative aspects of society have been removed and the community lives in a safe world of sameness, but unfortunately many of the positive aspects of life have also been removed.

At his Ceremony of Twelve Jonas is assigned the position of Receiver of Memory. The Receiver holds all the memories of the past that include both pleasant and painful ones. The idea is by having the Receiver, the community is not burdened with this knowledge.

During his training sessions the current Receiver of Memory, and now Giver of Memory transfers the memories of the past, that include positive memories like the excitement of riding a sled in the snow but also painful memories like war, famine and death.

As Jonas begins to experience these memories he learns some shocking secrets about the how the community is managed and begins to question the world he is living in.

The novel has a rather ambiguous ending, which while hopefully will leave readers in thought may frustrate some.

The Giver won the 1994 Newbery Medal and is frequently included on top young adult literature lists, but it is also one of the top 25 most frequently challenged or banned books in America.

A film adaptation was released in 2014 starring Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep.

TheGiverMovie

 

Links:

Lois Lowry Official Website

 

Source: I borrowed a copy of this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Book Club Pick: July 2015

Monster

Book Details:

Title: Monster

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: HarperCollins

First Published: 1999

Pages: 281

 

Review:

The novel follows sixteen-year-old Steve Harmond, an African American teenager from Harlem, who is on trial for his role as an accomplice in a drugstore robbery that resulted in the death of an employee.

To help him process this life changing experience Steve records his experiences in prison and court in the form of a film script and diary. This experimental narrative gives the reader two forms of narratives – a deeply personal first person narrative in the form of a diary and a more distant third person narrative in the film script.

As someone who has studied film and is familiar with scriptwriting conventions at first I was bothered by the scriptwriting convention errors, which briefly took me out of the story. But I put this behind me as I have to remember this is the script written by a sixteen-year-old – not a trained scriptwriter.

The novel is written in  third person as a screenplay and in first person with diary entries
The novel is written in third person as a screenplay and in first person with diary entries

The novel features illustrations by Myer’s son Christopher, who is a children’s author and illustrator in his own right.

The title of the book and Steve’s script ‘Monster’ comes from a label given to him by the prosecutor. Is Steve a monster? That is a question he will struggle with as he comes to term with his identity – how he perceives himself and how he is seen my others.

The novel poses some serious questions and themes for the reader to consider, such as to whether Steve is guilty or not and the fairness of the judicial system. The subject material is obviously gritty, it deals with prison violence and the subject of prison rape is implied.

I would recommend Monster to junior high school age students up.

On a final note, July 1st is one year since the passing of Walter Dean Myers. He may be gone but his work lives on!

 

Links:

Walter Dean Myers Official Website

 

Source: I borrowed a copy of this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Paper Towns by John Green

Book Club Pick: June 2015

Paper-towns

Book Details:

Title: Paper Towns

Author: John Green

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: United States of America

Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books

First Published: 2008

Pages: 353

 

Review:

The prologue to the novel opens with our protagonist Quentin “Q” Jacobsen recalling an incident from when he was nine-years-old; when he and his neighbour and childhood friend Margo Roth Spiegelman found the body of Robert Joyner, who had committed suicide.

The novel flashes forward, Quentin is now a senior in high school and like many childhood friends he and Margo have drifted apart. It is a month before his graduation, when in the middle of the night, Margo shows up at his bedroom window with a plan to seek revenge on those she feels have wronged her.

After their night of revenge on classmates who have wronged them the duo break into theme park SeaWorld.

The next day at school Quentin wonders if he and Margo will reconnect. Margo does not come to school that day or the next. After three days her parents file a police report. As Quentin was the last person to see Margo he is questioned by police.

Quentin learns that Margo has run away multiple times before and that her parents now seem to be beyond caring – her mother plans to change the locks. The police point out she is not a minor and that she left on her on accord.

When looking at Margo’s window Quentin notices a poster of musician Woody Guthrie taped to back of her window shade. Quentin enlists the help of his best friends Ben and Radar and they bribe Margo’s younger sister to let them search her room. This search leads them to Guthrie’s song ‘Walt Wiltman’s Niece’, which leads them to a collection of Wiltman’s poetry with lines highlighted.

He believes that Margo has left these cryptic clues for him to find her. With the help of Radar, Ben and his girlfriend Lacey, the four set off on a road trip in search of Margo Roth Spiegelman.

Paper Towns has been adapted into a film starring Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne. It has a June to August release. Click here for worldwide release dates.

PaperTownsPoster   PaperTownsTrio

Before reading the novel I was unaware of the term ‘Paper Towns’ and found it interesting to learn about Paper Towns along with the characters and have done more research on the subject since finishing the book.

There are incidents of excessive underage drinking, sex and nudity. These incidents are not glorified but rather a portrayal of teenage life. I would recommend Paper Towns for junior high school age students and older.

 

Links:

John Green Official Website

John Green on Facebook

John Green on Twitter

John Green on Instagram

Vlogbrothers YouTube Channel (with brother Hank Green)

Paper Towns Film Official Website

Paper Towns Film on Facebook

Paper Towns Film on Twitter

Paper Towns Film on Instagram

 

Source: I purchased a copy of this book.

Categories
Book Club Pick

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

Book Club Pick: May 2015

Stormbreaker cover

Book Details:

Title: Stormbreaker

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Series: Alex Rider (Book #1)

Country: England

Publisher: Walker Books

First Published: 2000

Pages: 238

Publisher Description:

When his guardian dies in suspicious circumstances, fourteen-year-old Alex Rider finds his world turned upside down.

Within days he’s gone from schoolboy to superspy. Forcibly recruited into MI6, Alex has to take part in gruelling SAS training exercises; then armed with his own special set of secret gadgets, he’s off on his first mission. But Alex soon finds himself in mortal danger. It looks as if his first assignment may well be his last…

 

Review:

The novel opens following the death of 14-year-old Alex Rider’s guardian and uncle Ian in a car accident. Alex becomes suspicious after learning his normally very careful uncle was not wearing a seatbelt and finds that his uncle’s office has been cleared out.

Alex finds his uncle’s car in a junkyard ridden with bullet holes and blood on the seats suggesting his uncle had been murdered. In the first of many action sequences Alex narrowly escapes after the car is loaded into the car crusher with Alex inside.

Later Alex is invited to his uncle’s bank where he learns that Ian Rider was a secret agent for MI6.

Ian Rider’s last case was investigating multi-millionaire businessman Herod Sayles, who had recently announced that he was donating thousands of his new computer line Stormbreaker to London school children.

MI6 would like Alex to pose as a Felix Lester, a school boy who won a contest to test the Stormbreaker computer. Alex initially refuses. MI6 head Alan Blunt who controls Alex’s inheritance blackmails him with threats of selling his uncle’s home, placing him in an orphanage and having his live in housekeeper Jack Starbright deported.

Alex is unaware that his uncle has been preparing him for the secret service with karate and outdoor pursuits such as rock climbing and river rafting.

Alex completes an extensive training program with SAS soldiers before being sent to Sayle Enterprises armed with a series of teen-friendly gadgets including acne cream that burns through metal and a Gameboy equipped with spy gear such as a bug detector, transmitter and smoke screen.

The book is an easy read. There is plenty of action making this a popular choice for young male readers.

Stormbreaker was adapted into a film in 2006 starring Alex Pettyfer. Horowitz, an experienced scriptwriter also penned the film’s script.

Stormbreaker film

I would recommend the Alex Rider series to readers who enjoy action and adventure stories. Suitable for ages 11+

 

Links:

Anthony Horowitz Official Website

Anthony Horowitz on Twitter

Alex Rider series Official Website

Alex Rider series Facebook page

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.

Categories
Book Club Pick

The Boy in the Burning House by Tim Wynne-Jones

Book Club Pick: April 2015

Book Details:

Title: The Boy in the Burning House

Author: Tim Wynne-Jones

Series: Stand alone novel

Country: Canada

Publisher: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre Ltd

First Published: 2000

Pages: 214

Publisher Description:

Two years after his father mysteriously disappeared, Jim Hawkins is coping – barely. Underneath he’s frozen in uncertainty and grief. Then Jim meets Ruth Rose, the stepdaughter of the town pastor, Father Fisher. Ruth Rose shocks Jim out of his stupor when she tells him Father Fisher is a murderer. Then she shocks him again. “Don’t you want to know who he murdered?” she asks. In spite of his uneasiness, Jim begins to burn with a desire for the truth. But stirring up the embers of the past can be a dangerous business . . .

 

Review:

14-year-old Jim Hawkins is growing up in rural Ontario, Canada dealing with the loss of his father Hub, following his sudden disappearance two years earlier. Many in the community suspect suicide but his body has never been found.

Jim’s world is further thrown into turmoil when he meets 16-year-old Ruth Rose, the stepdaughter of Father Fisher, the local pastor. Ruth Rose tells Jim that her stepfather is a murderer and is involved in his father’s disappearance.

The problem is in the community’s eyes Father Fisher is the well respected pastor and Ruth Rose is a highly troubled medicated teen. But Jim is yearning for answers regarding his father’s disappearance.

As Jim digs into his father’s past he learns of an incident nearly 30 years ago where a friend of his father died in a burning house. But how is this connected to his father’s disappearance and what is Father Fisher’s involvement?

The novel, which is written in third person has relatively short chapters, which makes it an easy read and provides it with a quick pace.

The Boy in the Burning House, which won the 2002 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery, is not a complex murder mystery and felt more like a psychological thriller to me as the mystery aspect is quite predictable.

Wynne-Jones plays homage to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure novel Treasure Island, by borrowing characters names such as Jim Hawkins and Billy Bones.

I would recommend this novel for junior secondary school (high school) students.

 

Links:

Tim Wynne-Jones Official Website

Tim Wynne-Jones on Twitter

 

Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.