Fallen by Lauren Kate

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Kate, Lauren. Fallen . Delacorte Press: New York, 2009. (452 pages. Trade Cloth $17.99 ISBN: 978-0-385-73893-4)

Genre: Fantasy/Romance

Grade Level: 7 and up

Annotation: When she begins attending, Sword & Cross boarding school, Luce Price meets a mysterious stranger who seems all too familiar. With the help of her new friend Penn, she digs deeper into Daniel Grigori's past to uncover who he really is.

Review:

The cover of Fallen alone is enough to draw you deeper into its mysterious depths. Dressed in a long black gown, standing with her head in her lace-gloved hands, Luce Price is surrounded by a darkly wooded area at nighttime. The ominous aura that surrounds her leads you to crack the spine and enter the world of a troubled girl who is forced to attend the Sword & Cross boarding school by court order during her senior year. A tragic incident with her boyfriend led to this decision - one that Luce, herself, does not clearly remember and understand. She can't see through the shroud of her memory because her thoughts are clouded with confusion.

What she can remember is that shadows have been emerging and following her around since she was a child, and they don't disappear once she enrolls in Sword & Cross...although she likes to keep that fact a secret from anybody she meets. She doesn't need her new classmates thinking she is insane on her very first day.

Once she begins to attend school, she meets several new classmates: Arriane who acts as Luce's crazy, overeager tour guide around school on her first day; Penn (short for Pennyweather), a girl who has full access to student records and engages in a random act of kindness toward Luce after a messy situation in the lunchroom; Cam, the drop-dead gorgeous guy who warmly singles her out as the heart of his attention and affection; and Daniel Grigori - the mysterious boy who gives her the cold shoulder anytime she tries to meet his gaze or engage him in conversation.

The spooky Savannah setting of this story succeeds in its attempt to deliver an eerie and spellbinding backdrop for the unknown as well as the forces of good and evil. Unlike the P.C. Cast House of Night novels, the pacing of this book is slow and the plot does not thicken until about halfway through the book when you begin to get clued in to what is really going on, but if you are willing to linger slowly in suspense and try to unravel the mystery alongside Luce and Penn, then you will be engrossed in reading this alluring story of forbidden love.

P.C. Cast is quoted on the book cover as saying this book is "Sexy and fascinating and scary....I love love love it!" And I agree. I can't wait for the sequel!




Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda

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Chadda, Sarwat. Devil's Kiss. New York: Disney/Hyperion Books, 2009. (327 pages. Trade Cloth $17.99 ISBN: 978-142311999-9)

Genre: Fantasy

Grade Level: 7 and up

Annotation: Bilquis SanGreal is asked to become the youngest and only female member of the exclusive Knights Templar.

Review:


Billi SanGreal is forced to murder a six year old boy on a playground to pass what is called the Ordeal - a final test to admit her to the Order of the Knights of Templar. She struggles with this task as she is deceived into seeing a humanity that is no longer present. This is no longer just a little boy...but a tortured soul.

The history of the Order was a war for Jersusalem, but the current situation warrants a fight for mankind's soul. The Order is to fight against the supernatural evil that preys on humanity. Consequently, the Bataille Tenebreuse has now become the Dark Conflict. But no matter what they call it, they vow to always keep the company of martyrs.

When her best friend Kay reappears after a year, Billi is less grateful that he has returned than she is angry at his abandonment of her during that time. Then, Billi is attacked on a train and helped by a handsome stranger named Mike. Her resentment toward her father spurs her to stray from the Order in favor of a social life and a possible date. But coffee can't last long when duty calls. Billi begins to feel a kindred soul in Mike because he had issues with his own father and left home. Billi must decide who to trust - the best friend who left her, the father who regards her less with love and more with responsibility, or the new boy who enchants her?

When she meets the Angel of Death, she realizes he has returned to unleash the banished watchers trapped in the Cursed Mirror that is a portal to the Ethereal Realm. Together, they plan to release the tenth plague. Can she put her differences between her father and Kay aside to help save all of the first born children in the world? Or will she quit the Order to become a normal teenager? Will she choose good or evil, and how many will die as a consequence? In the end, will she be true to the promise to keep the company of maryrs?

This fast-paced novel is full of action that will keep readers turning pages. There are new surprises around every corner, relationships that delve into introspection, and always the question of how much you need to sacrifice to become a martyr. An excellent premiere novel from Sarwat Chadda.

What kept me reading: Kay and Billi's relationship, Billi's relationship with her father, the quick-moving plot with suspense and action encountered at every step, and the prophecy that was revealed.

[Image Credit: Brookings Public Library - Teen Corner Blog; Photo Credit: David Eustace and Jacket Design: Jennifer Jackman]

Weedflower by Cythia Kadohata

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Kadohata, Cynthia. Weedflower. New York: Antheum Books for Young Readers, 2006. (260 pages. Trade Cloth $17.99 ISBN: 978-0689-8657-49)

Genre:
Multicultural/Historical Fiction

Grade Level:
5 and up

Awards:
This book was nominated for the Wyoming Indian Paintbrush Book Award and the Young Hoosier Book Award in 2008.

Annotation:
A Japanese American girl and her family are forced to move from California to a internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War II.

Review:
Sumiko grows up on a flower farm where her uncle grows kusabana - weedflowers. She dreams of one day opening her own flower shop, but for now she is preoccupied with an invitiation to a classmate's birthday party. However, when she arrives at the door, prejudice greets her. The mother of the birthday girl did not realize there was a Japanese student in her daughter's class and sends Sumiko away. Sumiko is heartbroken and hides her pain from her family.

When Pearl Harbor is bombed, Sumiko's family is separated - her grandfather and uncle are sent to North Dakota while Sumiko, her aunt, and brothers are sent to Arizona. The internment camps are on Native American reservations and after several awkward encounters, she becomes friendly with an Indian boy named Frank. He admires the way the Japanese take care of the land and bring life to the barren dirt. When his brother gets back from war, he vows to irrigate the land and learn from the Japanese. When Sumiko's aunt finds them a job in Chicago and a way to get out of the camp, will she leave the boy who adoringly addresses her as"weedflower" instead of Sumiko?

[Image Credit: One Book Arizona]
http://www.onebookaz.org/kids/2007kids/index.cfm

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples

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Fisher Staples, Suzanne. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind. New York: Knopf, 1991. (240 pages. Trade Paper 978-0679-8103-08)

Genre:
Multicultural

Grade Level:
6 and up

Awards:


Newbery Honor Book (1990)

Annotation:
A headstrong girl has a difficult time with the culture of obedience that is expected of her.

Review:
Shabanu is the a name of princess and Phulan means "flower." They are two sisters growing up in a tightly knit family of nomads in the Cholistan Deserts of Pakistan where daughters are to obey their fathers and marriages are arranged. When these young women are ready to become mothers, they are scheduled to marry whomever their parents believe will make a good match.

Phulan's time has come and she is betrothed to her cousin Hamid. When it's Shabanu's turn, she will marry his brother Murad. However before any marital ceremonies take place, Shabanu and her sister find themselves in a compromising position with the local landowners. They are able to flee the scene before any damage is done, but there is a price to pay and it is BIG. The tables are turned and Shabanu is promised to an older man who already has four wives. Tradition dictates that she has no choice in the matter. It is decided for her. Will the "daughter of the wind" and the Cholistani nomads learn to settle down and accept her fate, or will a part of her independent spirit forever wander above the desert sands?

[Photo Credit: Fantastic Fiction]
http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/s/suzanne-fisher-staples/shabanu-daughter-of-wind.htm

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

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Sue Park, Linda. A Single Shard. New York: Random House, 2001. (152 pages. Trade Paper $5.99 ISBN: 0-440-41851-8)

Genre: Multicultural

Grade Level:
5 and up

Awards:

Newbery Medal (2002)

Asian Pacific American Award for Literature (Nominated 2002)

School Library Journal Best Book (2002)

Annotation:
An orphan boy in Korea struggles to survive homelessness while dreaming of making pottery.

Review:
Who knew being clumsy could change your entire life? A homeless Korean boy named Tree-ear has barely enough food to eat each day, but when he accidentally breaks a pot in the workplace he's been sneaking into, he is ordered to pay back the owner through hard work and diligence. What the master does not realize is that this is Tree-ear's dream come true - to make pottery, to make art. When the master sends him down a perilous path, Tree-ear accepts the assignment with respect and tranquility. Will a single shard of pottery give him the strength to succeed and survive?

[Image Credit: The Children's Literature Book Club]

http://childlitbookclub.blogspot.com/2007_09_01_archive.html

Shiva's Fire by Suzanne Fisher Staples

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Staples, Suzanne Fisher. Shiva's Fire. New York: Frances Foster, 2000. (276 pages. Trade Cloth $17.00 ISBN:978-0374-3683-41)

Genre: Multicultural

Grade Level: 8 and up

Awards: At the present time, there are none. But this book was nominated for the Volunteer State Book Award in 2002, so it was a contender.

Annotation:
An young girl leaves her family to devote her time and attention to the development of her talent and the study of classical Indian dance.

Review: From the moment she was born, Shiva had swept up a storm - both literally and figuratively. The superstitious people in her town believe in supernatural powers and some whisper that she must have been responsible for the fate that befell the village that night. Shiva attends a festival with her family where she becomes entranced with the way a performer moves and leaves her mother's side. Shiva's mother becomes alarmed and forbids Shiva to wander off by herself again, but the music and the dance became a calling. Shiv knew she was born with "music in her bones" and a transcendent "knowledge as natural and essential as knowing how to breathe and swallow." Her fate unfolds when she is offered a prestigious opportunity to study classical Indian dance and she must separate herself from her family, living a secluded life of devotion to the art. She will miss her mother, but be grateful to retreat from others - especially her aunt, who blames Shiva for what took place on that dreadful stormy night.

She becomes obsessed with the art of dance until she meets a mysterious boy, who was coincidentally born on that same night. He confesses that his powers resulted in the catastrophe that night...but she insists it was her doing. They quickly become friends and her mind begins to wander away from dance and back to feeling of attraction she feels for Rama. Together, they seek the meaning of the dharma, to follow the path of truth and righteousness that may set them both free.


Unlike the author's award-winning novel Shabanu, which paints a realistic picture of a nomadic family living in the deserts of Pakistan, Shiva's Fire is set to a different tone. There is a mystical element to the story - an air of magic, and circumstances that cannot be explained. The spiritual journey that Shiva takes will have readers skirting through the pages as fast as they can to discover the secret power hidden within the enigmatic relationship between Shiva and Rama. The plot heats up as this character enters the scene and the dance between their spirits may send Shiva twirling in a new life direction, leaving her forced to make a heart-wrenching decision.

[Image Credit: Suzanne Fisher Staples]
http://www.suzannefisherstaples.com/books.html


Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

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Cunxin, Li. Mao's Last Dancer. Young Readers Edition. New York: Walker & Company, 2003. (304 pages. Trade Cloth $16.99 ISBN: 978-0-8027-9779-7)

Genre: Multicultural/Biography

Awards:

Picture Book of the Year Award - Australia (2008) - for The Peasant Prince picture book version of the story

Christopher Award (2005) for The Mao's Last Dancer: A Memoir adult version of the story

Annotation: A poor boy growing up in China becomes a ballet dancer in a school that promotes Mao's communist ideas.

Review:

Is it possible to keep dreams of freedom alive in Communist China? Or has the government instilled false messages and fear to squash any of these thoughts from even entering citizens' minds - crushing all hope for speaking with their own voices and living on their own terms?

Li Cunxin tells the story of his life as a poor boy living under Mao's Communist regime in the Qingdao province in China. As a member of the peasant class, he was destined to work in the fields, but a simple twist of fate (or his long toes and flexibility) provided him with the opportunity to go to school at Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy. He believes this is his chance to help his family - the realization of the "seed of hope" buried deep in his heart. It is difficult for Cunxin to take the first steps down the road to impossible dreams (and never look back) because the distance from those he loves will break his heart. However, somewhere deep down inside he knows that his "family's unconditional love...will always propel [him] forward" and their courage pushes him onward and upward. When he begins his classes at the academy, he is less than thrilled with all of the strict rules and discipline - the judgments and the criticism. After the first marking period, it is apparent from his grades that he is not living up to his full potential, but his parents support him and send him back to make them proud.

As a boy, Cunxin was inspired by the fable his family and teachers told. Two, in particular, were very influential on his life's path - the story of the frog in the well and the story of the guard who becomes an archer. Told to him by his father, the "Frog in the Well" alludes to a world enormous and unseen by a frog on land who is describing the realities to a frog who is confined to the bottom of a well. The frog in the well jumped and hopped and "spent his whole life trying to escape from the cold, dark well," but the "big world above remained only a dream." Li Cunxin, too, dreamed of a world where he would not feel like a "bird in a cage" or a "frog in a well." He kept his dreams alive through a story told by his ballet teacher of a guard in an emperor's palace who becomes the best archer in the land because he can see what is beyond seeing. The archer story inspires him to work hard and persevere with a steadfast spirit and determination to become the best dancer he can be.

He dances for his family (and secretly for freedom), which eventually leads him to the opportunity to dance in the United States. When he is invited by the director of a dance company in Houston to return for training for one whole year, the Chinese government initially agrees, but later revokes this privilege the night before his is supposed to leave. Will these two fables, as well as his family's love and courage, be the driving force that lets him leap forward into the unknown, reach for his dreams, and land back on the ground as gracefully as he does with a tour en l'air? Or will the Chinese government restrain him from rising from the depths? Autonomy is frowned upon by the Communist regime. Will they block every attempt he makes to change their minds, keeping him stuck in the cold, dark well of communism - a system that has both controlled and confined him throughout his life?

[Photo Credit: Barnes and Nobles]
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Maos-Last-Dancer/Li-Cunxin/e/9780802797797