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Teen SRC 2020- The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Today I’ll be reviewing perhaps the most controversial book of our times… JUST kidding, I don’t know that it’s especially controversial, but I myself had trouble forming an opinion on it. I didn’t quite know what to think about it all, but there is one thing I can tell you: Any author that writes a main character that readers can hate without making them hate the book itself is a talented as heck. And of course, with the Hunger Games trilogy, we already knew that about Suzanne Collins.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes follows tyrannical dictator President Snow… as a teenager. Coriolanus is struggling to maintain appearances while living in abject poverty with his cousin Tigris and grandmother. As one of the highest-achieving students in his class, Coriolanus is chosen to serve as mentor for a Hunger Games tribute. Coriolanus knows that if he carries his tribute to victory, he will have a better chance at the University scholarship that could be his last chance at saving the family’s dire circumstances.

When the mentors are given their district assignations, Coriolanus is horrified to see that he has been assigned the girl tribute for District 12. The lowest of the low– how could the Snow name have been reduced to this? And to rub salt in the wound, Sejanus Plinth, a district-born boy coming from new money has been given a District 2 tribute! Then his tribute, Lucy Gray Baird, gives a striking show at her reaping and Coriolanus thinks he may have a chance after all.

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Teen SRC 2020- Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie

Dead Man's Folly

Am I reviewing another Agatha Christie book? Well, she is called the Queen of Mystery for a reason, so yes, yes I am. Dead Man’s Folly is a very aptly named mind game of a novel, and a book with an interesting premise.

Famous detective novelist Ariadne Oliver is given the job to arrange a Murder Hunt (because Treasure Hunts have become too common) for Sir George Stubbs’ fête (a sort of carnival). It’s an unusual ask but Mrs. Oliver is up for the task. It is, after all, what she does for a living. But something feels off, she tells famous detective Hercule Poirot on the phone. Mrs. Oliver feels like she’s being manipulated by an invisible hand, and a plot more sinister is at play.

The idea of a Murder Hunt gone wrong is incredibly brilliant. The little details were well-executed, and the solution satisfactory. I did, however, end up a little disappointed by the lack of action. Compared to The Hollow, or The Mystery of the Blue Train, the murder happens later on in this book. The build-up increases the suspense, but I found it to be a bit of an anti-climax. After the murder, it seems that Poirot talks to all of the suspects a bunch of times, Inspector Bland has tea with his constable, and voilà, Poirot has magically solved everything. As I said before, compared with his previous cases that I’ve read, there was barely any action, and I found that a bit boring.

All of that is not to say that the mystery was a good one. I managed to guess a few plot lines and the murderer, but all my theories as to why and how were wrong. After the reveal, it seems like the answer should have been more obvious. All in all, I’ve read better, but it wasn’t a bad book. 7/10, a comfort read that will leave you pleasantly surprised but not completely awe-struck.

Teen SRC 2020- Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence

The year is 1957, and Spain is under the iron-fist rule of General Francisco Franco. Daniel Matheson, a Texan teen, is visiting Spain with his family. With his passion for photography, he hopes to take the perfect picture for his portfolio, a picture that will also somehow convince his dad to let him pursue his dreams.

But Spain isn’t the perfect tropical paradise it seems for its American tourists and soon, Daniel finds himself falling– for his maid, Ana, and for the secrets some people would do anything to keep buried. Ana herself is enchanted by the American freedom promised by the hotel magazines. She dreams for a life for herself and her family away from Franco’s tyrannical rule.

Daniel and Ana are the main characters, but we are also given glimpses into other people’s lives. For example: Julia, who is Ana’s older sister, and a new mother, is drowning in secrets and fear. Her brother, Rafael, who works both at a slaughterhouse and a cemetery is fighting with the past and his memories. Fuga, Rafael’s friend wants to bullfight more than anything, and Daniel’s mother is struggling to find out where she belongs.

As any Ruta Sepetys book, Fountains of Silence is as rich in history as it is in humanity. This book brought to light an injustice often overlooked in history: Spanish babies were stolen from their families, proclaimed dead, but instead given to other families of a higher creed. I loved the historical accuracy of the book, but sometimes grew bored with the many first-hand documents.

A beautiful romance, a suspenseful historical fiction, and everything I search for in a novel. 9.5/10, only because I didn’t like the large skip in time (it throws me off) and some parts felt dragged on. Otherwise, STRONGLY RECOMMEND!!

Teen SRC 2020- The Hollow by Agatha Christie

The Hollow

When visiting Lady Angkatell, an aquaintance, for tea, Hercule Poirot comes upon the strangest thing. A dying man lies bleeding on the side of Lady Angkatells’ pool, and his wife is holding the gun above him. Poirot is given the sense that this a scene set up for his benefit and is annoyed because even a great detective such as himself should be allowed a peaceful tea. But then he realizes that it isn’t a joke. The man has truly been murdered.

And as Poirot rushes forward to help, he hears the dying man’s last word. “Henrietta.” Poirot is told the dead man, John Christow, was a doctor and a man of great complexity. His wife, the assumed murderess, is named Greda. Henrietta is an artist who was, amongst a few others, also visiting the Hollow. She was also Christow’s mistress. When the gun is ‘accidentally’ slipped into the pool and Poirot starts to investigate, he realizes something else is going on. Is the oblivious and dim-witted wife really the murderer? Or is she just a pawn in a more cunning plot?

Agatha Christie is an undisputed genius, and Hercule Poirot is her brainchild. This novel, more than any other of hers that I’ve read, delves into the emotions of each character. We are told of their past, their goals, their passions, and their loves… because every character in this novel is motivated by love. The Hollow, by Agatha Christie, is also special in that it grieves John Christow’s death instead of just solving it. I can’t go too in detail (because spoilers) but I did feel like crying at a couple of scenes. (which is almost unheard of in a murder mystery!)

Because of what I mentioned above, this book isn’t the light-hearted read I expected. Which isn’t at all to say it wasn’t brilliant. I almost did guess the ending but then went back on my theory and chose someone else. As absurd as the ending is, it’s the only one that makes sense and I wanted to scream because it was WONDERFUL.

So please, if you like murder mysteries and don’t mind a few mature/ emotionally complex plotlines, read The Hollow. You won’t regret it.

Teen SRC 2020- Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Unmarriageable - Kamal, Soniah

I was searching the library catalogue for Pride and Prejudice (after reading Rosie’s review) when I came upon this gem. Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal intrigued me with its beautiful cover but more so with its premise. A Pakistani love-story based off of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? Sign me up! And while I did have reservations as to the implications of comparing the early 2000s in Pakistan with the 1800s in England (suggesting perhaps that Pakistani culture was backwards/unadvanced?) I ended up loving this book so much that I finished it in one day.

Alysba Binat and her sister Jena are English teachers in small-town Dilipabad. After their father’s brother swindled them out of their inheritance, and started to spread vicious rumours, the Binat family had to learn to make-do. Unfortunately for Mrs. Binat, this means the prospect of finding suitable husbands for her five daughters an almost impossible task. Jena is too kind-hearted to use Mrs. Binat’s techniques for grabbing a husband. Qitty, too fat, Lady too flirtatious, and Mari too religious. And worse of them all for Mrs. Binat, Alys, who seems perfectly happy living the rest of her life as an English schoolteacher, teaching her girls to dream of more than just marriage.

The story begins with the Binat family receiving a wedding invitation. Mrs. Binat is elated. Her luck has finally turned, and she can finally find a man for Alys and Jena, who, at 31 and 33, are basically spinsters. At the wedding, Jena meets Fahad “Bungles” Bingla. Alys is happy for her sister, especially as Mrs. Binat has predicted a proposal for the very next day. Then Alys hears Bugles’ friend, Valentine Darsee, insult her and is outraged at his arrogance. What follows, I’m sure you can guess.

Teen SRC 2020- Most Likely by Sarah Watson

Most Likely

Most Likely by Sarah Watson can be described as a most interestingly structured coming-of-age story about four girls and their friendship. So, you ask, what’s so interesting about the book’s structure?

Well, the story begins with a scene, as follows: A newly-elected (female!) American president is about to be sworn in to office. Her husband (who’s last name is Diffendefer or something like that) is there by her side. It is also revealed that her husband and her are deeply in love and have been for a long time. The catch? We don’t know her name. Since there are four protagonists in the story, she could be any one of them. Throughout the book, we are given clues to help us guess which of our female leads becomes the future president of America (and ends up marrying Diffendefer).

And of course, while the reader plays with the idea of guessing/choosing a president, the four girls -Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha- are each going through their own battle in the war more commonly known as senior year in high school.

So. What did I think of the book?

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Teen Book Review – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner - Hosseini, Khaled

I have returned from the dead to bring forth a review of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This book was recommended to me by a friend in passing conversation. I came upon it by chance at my school library, and decided to check it out. I devoured the book in a day, and do not regret the sleep I missed because of it. But, that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Amir is the son of a wealthy merchant in Kabul, Afghanistan. His mother died giving birth to him, and he has continued to disappoint his father after the fact. His father wants a son that is into sports and one that can stand up for himself. Amir loves literature and is a self-proclaimed coward. Other than his unsteady father-son relationship, and his dead mother, Amir has everything going for him. Him and Hassan ( servant, best friend, and from the ethnic minority in Afghanistan) spend their days kite fighting.

Everything is perfect. Until the day it isn’t.

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TeenTober 2019 – With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on High

With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo is a heartfelt book about Emoni, a girl who’s gone through a lot and still holds her head held up high.

Emoni Santiago is that girl everyone warns you about not becoming; the girl that become pregnant when she was a freshman and now has a daughter. But, like her best friend and Abuela (grandmother) know, if you get to know her past her rough exterior, you will get to know a loving girl passionate about cooking the most delicious dishes she can.

When Emoni, who’s struggling through her last year of high school sees culinary classes being offered as an elective, she knows that it’s where she belongs. But from the trip to Spain she can’t afford, the strict teacher that makes her want to drop her only passion, and her very own Babygirl, Emoni doesn’t know how she’ll be able to face the challenges.

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TeenTober 2019- Overturned by L.R. Giles

Overturned

Riveting, suspenseful, brilliant. From the moment I opened Overturned by L.R. Giles, I could tell this story wasn’t one I would be forgetting soon. Strong, beautiful writing combined with a captivating plot makes Overturned the gem that it is.

It isn’t easy being the daughter of a convicted killer, but Nikki Tate’s poker face never cracks. By operating illegal poker games in the basement of her family’s casino, Nikki knows she’ll be able to save enough money to get herself out of Vegas and into a good college with her friends. After all, what more could life possibly throw at her?

But then her father (who’s always claimed to be innocent) gets released from jail just before his death sentence. He comes back into the family and Nikki’s world flips upside down once again. With her father’s sudden overturned conviction and the cute new boy at school, is Nikki’s life on the turn for the better? Or will the secrets that almost cost her father his life end up taking hers instead?

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Teen SRC 2019- The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

The Nameless City - Hicks, Faith Erin

Beautiful, compelling, sweet. The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks is a graphic novel about a young native girl, a sheltered outsider, and their determination to save the home they love.

When aloof and immune Dao (the most recent nation to have conquered the Nameless City) soldier, Kaidu arrives to the Nameless City to train, he instantly falls in love with this city rich in history and diversity. Trouble is brewing, though, and his father, General Andren is in the middle of it.

Rat, a native orphan living with the monks hates the Dao and everything they stand for. They stole her parents away from her, and now they’re taking her city, too. When she makes an unlikely friendship with Kaidu, she knows that she will do anything to keep the city, and her friend, safe.

This book almost made me cry. With gorgeous pictures and well written dialogue, it has what every good book does: a heart. It’s well-paced, and enough details are given without doing any info-dumping so that readers won’t feel lost, or bored.

I give the Nameless City a 9/10. It’s not my usual genre, but a friend recommended it to me, and I’m glad they did. It was odd, finishing the book so fast and I decided to read it a second time, taking care to appreciate the artwork and facial expressions instead of only the writing along the way. Would definitely recommend to readers of all ages.