Books, Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift

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The story revolves around two main central characters Adraa and Jatin, who had an arranged marriage set up from a young age. The two main plot points of the story are about how these two characters fall in love and the various political and economic stances that their nations have. One of these was how the invention of firelight, an invention made by Adraa which impacted the people, affected the economies in other nations. The setting takes place in the fictional world of Wickery, which has five countries, each having its system behind the hierarchy. Most of the cultural aspects of the various nations in the story seem to come from India. However, some of the slang used also seems slightly based on British English. The story also has an intricate magic system which is a big part of the plot and the setting.

The main thing that drew me to the book at first was the magic system. To that aspect, I feel that the story did not disappoint. However, one of the main things that I disliked was the writing style. The premise is very cliché, and the story isn’t helpful by having the first hundred chapters be a slow burn. The story involves a contract marriage between the two main characters. I hated this since it was a generic arranged marriage setup, which meant that the two characters hated each other. Not to mention, it lasted around 100 chapters. The resolution to this issue involved the usage of another cliché of falling in love in one glance. I also heavily disliked how this book made the word “blood” into a profane word. The usage of the word “blood” seemed to be in places where it could have been using the phrase “bloody he**”, but since it’s not written in that way, the dialogue with that word feels abrupt and not complete. At first, I thought that it was due to a cultural influence and the author wanting to keep the profanity down for a younger audience. However, the author also uses other words of the same type. This confused me on whom the target audience was supposed to be or if it was just a generic misprint. However, I don’t think it was a misprint due to it happening frequently, and I disliked that a lot. It was one of the many reasons why I disliked Riya, a supporting character. I feel that can hinder a reader’s experience when they read this novel. Speaking of characters, I don’t particularly like or dislike the main characters. I enjoy the portions of world-building that are shown through them, but when the characters interact with others it comes off as cheesy. Other times, the story comes across as if those two characters were the only characters present in the story. The other characters felt one-dimensional and felt as if they were only existing to serve as a plot point for the two main characters. For example, at the end of the first on-screen fight scene, the interaction between Riya and Adraa felt very dry. It almost felt as if Riya was making Adraa into a Mary Sue type character.

For me, one of the memorable things in the book was the conflict between Adraa and Basu. This incident occurred around 50 pages into the book, and it was the scene that kept me invested in the book and prevented me from dropping the book. It was fast-paced, and the magic in the conflict was also something that I enjoyed seeing.

Reviewed by Srinivasan, Twin Hickory Library

Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy L. Otis

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Fact-checking is perhaps one of the most important fields in our current era of evolving information and communication. Breaking news and shocking events are streaming into our electronic devices constantly, leaving us with heaps of information to process. This book proves as an effective shield to arm yourself against fake news and take in the truth instead from professional journalists. It provides an in-depth analysis of the media and the clever schemes they organize, straight from the experiences of an intelligence analyst from the CIA. Examples upon examples throughout human history about fake news are provided, and different techniques to identify fake news are clearly explained. By the end of the book, readers will have developed a sense of awareness regarding fake news and its persuasive effect on human perception.

I deeply enjoyed the style of this book and its enlightening nature. The author designed the book in a way that anyone from any background could understand, and provided examples that encompassed many different areas of our daily lives. One fantastic thing about the book was that it was written by a CIA Intelligence Analyst, who has had many years of invaluable experience in her field. The pictures and diagrams provided in order to breakdown fake news were informative, and the book would have been confusing without them. Although there were a few grammar issues towards the end, it was a good read because it supplied me with the tools necessary to interpret the difference between fake and real news.

Something that immediately struck out to me was the lack of awareness I had of fake news and the sheer number of times I let it go unnoticed. The book acted as an illuminating journey, showing me my own biases in daily life and how they subconsciously affected the type of news I took in. For example, I have never observed my politically-leaning status prior to reading this book.

Reviewed by Arnav K, Glen Allen Library

Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed

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After humiliating herself and nearly ruining her odds at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the last thing Khayyam Maquet wants to do is relax in France during her summer vacation. The annual family holiday in Paris is something that Khayyam should look forward to, but after being burned by a judge for her scholarship essay, all Khayyam can think about is how to rewrite her submission. Add Khayyam’s so-called boyfriend Zaid, who suddenly stopped communicating with her, and it almost seems impossible for Khayyam to enjoy herself. A chance encounter changes everything when she meets Alexandre Dumas, the descendant of the famous writer with the same name. Khayyam, an aspiring art historian, is thrilled, considering how the original Dumas was a topic in her failed essay. When they discover a connection between Dumas, Delacroix (a renowned painter), Lord Byron (a famed poet), and a Muslim woman named Leila forgotten to history, Khayyam is determined to solve the mystery of the woman’s story. Together with Alexandre, Khayyam searches throughout Paris for clues and embarks on a journey of revelation while exploring her identity. Switching back and forth between Khayyam in present day and the enigmatic Leila of the nineteenth century, this story takes a look at the struggles of two young women making their mark on history.

I like how Khayyam was French, Muslim, Indian, and American, and how her complex identity makes up who she was. Her feelings of not being able to completely fit into any of those groups is relatable. I like how witty and clever Khayyam was, and Khayyam’s dialogue with other characters was usually amusing to read. Khayyam’s disdain of colonialism and orientalism is also something I appreciate. The author’s detailed writing style made it easier to envision the story happening, and doesn’t take away from the moment. This is where things start going a bit downhill for me. Much of the plot can only be described as unbelievable. There are numerous instances that require suspension of disbelief, especially regarding the historical hunt where everything feels straightforward and convenient. History is a field of study that requires great research and substantial evidence to transform ideas into facts; both of these elements in this book are a bit weak, which is why I can’t accept this book’s attempt at creating a realistic discovery of the forgotten past. Despite the characters being intriguing, I didn’t really connect with them. Zaid has few character traits besides being sketchy and while Alexandre is mildly likeable, in the end he falls a little flat. Khayyam’s parents are generally happy and perfect at saying the right things to Khayyam. However, they aren’t in the story enough for me to get attached and thus they lack some depth. They also seem a little too relaxed, letting their seventeen-year-old daughter roam around Paris alone or with a friend she just made that summer. Although I previously stated that I liked some things about Khayyam, there were other things that bothered me too much to fully enjoy her character. First, her constant feminist comments started to annoy me. Of course, feminism itself isn’t bad and I know it is one of this book’s themes, but when it’s forced into the majority of the conversations Khayyam has, it gets redundant. I even sometimes felt this way about some of Khayyam’s remarks on colonialism and orientalism, despite liking the general attitude. I wish the author made her point in a way that didn’t feel overdone. Second, Khayyam is extremely trusting, to the point where she seems too naive. In the past, she hadn’t seen through Zaid despite his shady behavior. In the present, she randomly comes across this stranger who happens to be related to Dumas and almost right after, they exchange phone numbers. I can’t think of any good reason for why she wasn’t more cautious around Alexandre. These thoughts, juxtaposed with Khayyam’s almost immediate attraction to him, make it jarring to read and puzzling to understand. Third, Khayyam’s behavior is questionable. She is upset with how unclear her relationship with Zaid is, but instead of being direct with him, Khayyam instead moves onto Alexandre and even uses him to make Zaid jealous. Despite not liking how Zaid plays mind games, Khayyam does the same. Moving onto Leila, my main complaint is that her story was short. When I first read the original synopsis, I expected that I would be reading a novel split between the two heroines’ perspective. In reality, there are only a few pages at the most whenever the book shifts to Leila’s narrative while Khayyam usually has full chapters. The brevity made Leila’s story seem less important than Khayyam’s, and the briefness also made Leila’s character too distant for me to care about her. What’s even more baffling is how concerned Khayyam is with Leila and her story. Maybe that’s just how Khayyam is, but if the author had given the reader an opportunity to actually connect with Leila, I feel that I wouldn’t have been as uninterested with Leila’s story and I would’ve understood Khayyam’s passion for learning about this unknown woman. The story’s shortness, plus its formal writing style, makes Leila’s side of things overall a bit dull. As for the rest of the historical content (regarding Dumas, Delacroix, and Lord Byron), I only had a vague idea of their significance. Only those who were familiar with at least one of the men could somewhat follow. Being a person who hadn’t really known any of them, it was all hard to keep track of. I especially got lost in the areas of the story where the historical content is rather dense. This was another part of the story that wasn’t as interesting, and it made me care less about the historical mystery. I wish the author exposed the reader to those famous men in an intriguing way so that I could understand the great enthusiasm Khayyam had for this part of the past. All things considered, Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know isn’t awful, but it definitely has flaws that lower its quality. I would probably give it a few decimal points above three stars, but I wasn’t feeling generous to round up to four stars. Frankly, it already feels a little generous putting it at three stars.

One memorable thing about this book is the themes. If the author’s goal was to leave the reader remembering her thoughts on sexism, colonialism, and orientalism, she definitely succeeded. I have difficulty recalling much of the historical aspects and how the information Khayyam and Alexandre found was significant in their journey, but I don’t think I’ll be forgetting her points anytime soon. While it was irritating how the execution was handled, these themes are still important and worth reflecting over.

Reviewed by Christine, Twin Hickory Library

Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: Flowers in the Gutter by K.R. Gaddy

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Flowers in the Gutter tells the true stories of three German youths named Fritz, Gertrude, and Jean who come of age during World War II. Disgusted by Hitler and the Nazi regime, they join groups called “The Edelweiss Pirates.” Edelweiss is a flower that grows in the Alps, and the Pirates saw it as a symbol of freedom. They defy the oppressive German government and come into conflict with the Gestapo, SS, and Hitler Youth. They endure great trials and tribulations, but their spirit is never broken.

The book is quite interesting. The topic is quite timely and hopefully will inspire readers to stand up for what they believe in. At first, I thought it would be written in a narrative style, like a fiction book. However, it wasn’t exactly like that; “semi-narrative” might be a more suitable adjective. I was glad of this, because it was clear that the author was not taking artistic license while still being engaging and readable. While I had no major issue with the book, I did feel that there were slight undertones of criticism toward traditionalism and conservatism, while glossing over issues with Communism. That said, this was not particularly important in the context of the book: youth standing up to Nazism. Also, there was some use of strong language – appropriate situationally, but I felt I should warn of it.

I think the most memorable aspect of the book was the beginning section. The depiction of Germany’s descent into a Fascist nightmare was visceral; I could almost feel the tension and disorder in the air, and I felt very bad for the protagonists, who at this juncture were only children with no real idea of what was going on.

Reviewed by Asher, Libbie Mill Library

Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: Jane Anonymous by Laurie Faria Stolartz

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Jane Anonymous is a seventeen-year-old girl who was kidnapped and held captive for seven months before she escaped, leaving another victim behind. Now, she has to reacclimate to everyday life as she grapples with her trauma and guilt while dealing with the changes in herself, her family, and her friends. She’s not who she was before she went missing, and she’s not who the people in her life want her to be, but she knows she has to heal and accept what happened to her, even as she and her family make mistakes on what’s best for her. As she comes to terms with the horrific events she experiences by writing them down and reliving those memories, it becomes clear that not everything was what it seemed, and the truth behind her kidnapping is uncovered. The story is told in two alternating timelines, one being during her time in captivity when she is locked in a room and provided with basic necessities as she comes up with an escape plan along with another kidnapped teen, and the other being after she returns home and has to deal with her trauma for the sake of a normal life. Overall, Jane Anonymous is a riveting and emotional tale full of mystery and heart, making for a mild but striking psychological thriller.

This book was compelling and thought-provoking, and it was told through a unique voice whose trauma is explored and laced within the tone of how she relays her horrific experiences. Jane, the main character and narrator, feels like a real person with real emotions. Her thoughts and experiences are raw and genuine, and Jane’s voice complements the gripping and emotional story. One aspect that I found a bit strange though was the structural format of the novel as it alternated from “Then” and “Now” point-of-views to retell Jane’s life during and after her kidnapping. While it was a good stylistic choice for the purposes of storytelling, to show contrasts and build suspense, this fits the motives of the author and not of the narrator of the book, as it is explained that Jane is writing down her story for therapeutic purposes, so the switch between timelines makes it feel less authentic. However, it was overall still a very well-written and engaging story, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading and uncovering the secrets of the narrative.

The most memorable part of this novel is the exploration of Jane’s mental state during and after her kidnapping. Though I felt it could have elaborated even further on the implications of Jane’s experiences on her mental health, the effects on her behavior, thoughts, and narration are crafted skillfully, legitimizing rather than glorifying the impact of traumatic events. Both timelines show her coping mechanisms and social interactions and how they develop in response to the trauma she is facing/had faced. The handling of mental health, though at times not perfect, was most memorable because it was realistic and showed the good and the bad, with dynamic and complex characters who struggle with the loss of family and friends.

Reviewed by Ananya, Twin Hickory Library