Horse Camp – A YA Book Review

horse campby Nicole Helget and Nate LeBoutillier
Call Number: YA Helget

Percy and Penny are Twelve year old twins who get dropped off with their younger adopted brother at their uncle’s farm when their parents face marital and legal problems.  They are not happy about this and their mother tries to cheer them up by calling it “horse camp”.  Both siblings have trouble adjusting, but as summer nears an end and no one comes to pick them up they begin to worry, but to their surprise they also begin to start fitting in.

One of the best things about this book is the humor.  I haven’t read a book in a very long time that made me laugh out loud.  The adventures the characters have and their reactions to these adventures are hilarious.  The twin main characters are both strong willed and often share their opinions with anyone who will listen.  I really loved that the authors do not sugar coat their personalities and behavior.  Both come across as real teenagers, who don’t always agree, and often argue and are mean to each other.  One of the funniest parts of this book, aside from several chicken fiascoes, are that the twins substitute the word “horse camp” for swears, showing how they really feel about their situation.

Another thing that stood out about the characters in this book, besides their sense of humor, was they were both on the verge of being unlikable.  Penny especially, in the beginning of the book is bigoted and close minded due to very conservative religious beliefs.  It is very hard to empathize with her when she is first introduced.  Because these beliefs are really the only thing that define her, she comes across as a religious zealot stereotype.  But we see her slowly change her views as she meets new characters whose lifestyles make her question her beliefs.  Because of her disposition in the beginning of the book, her character is very unique and not often seen in young adult books, which was refreshing.  The reader also begins to empathize with her when they see how much she’s struggling with life changes, such as her parents divorce, and her father’s abrupt new relationship.

Percy is almost a complete opposite from Penny because he doesn’t really seem to care about anything.  He has not taken to religion as Penny has and often just wants to be left alone to draw.  Though he doesn’t share his sister’s beliefs, he has his own glaring flaws.  He is often very mean to both Penny and his younger adopted brother.  While the reader can understand his anger at being essentially abandoned, when he says or does horrible things to his siblings it’s very hard to feel bad for him.  He also changes throughout the story, though not as much and not as fast as Penny.  Though Percy often does terrible things it also makes him seem more like a real person, with uncontrolled angry outbursts and plans of vengeance.

Though both main characters had flaws I was still very interested in their lives and what happened to them.  Often their attitudes were masking their pain and feelings of betrayal.  Instead of making the best of it or trying hard to empathize with others, which is happens with characters in many YA books, these characters are much more real and honest about their feelings.

A fun and absorbing read.

Historical Fiction Pathfinder

There is so much historical fiction out there and yet it can be very hard to find.  Because there is so much of it, and many takes place in so many different countries, this pathfinder focuses only on Historical Fiction that takes place in England from the 1500s to the 1900s.  From playwrights to queens and heiresses, these books give us a glimpse of history, and what it would be like to live then.

the american heiressThe American Heiress
by Daisy Goodwin
Call Number: Goodwin

In the early 1900s Cora of Newport is taken to England by her mother to find a wealthy husband.  But when she becomes the Duchess of Wareham she discovers that her husband is secretive and that the social scene is filled with betrayal.

she risesShe Rises
by Kate Worsley
Call Number: Worsley

This novel takes place in England in 1740.  Louise works on a farm but takes a job at a naval port as a lady’s maid to a captain’s daughter.  Her story is intertwined with Luke’s, who is forced into working on a military ship.

habits of the houseHabits of the House
by Fay Weldon
Call Number: Weldon

At the beginning of the 1900’s the household of the Earl of Dilberne is facing financial problems.  Lord Robert tries to rectify their financial problems by finding a wealthy wife for his son.  Minnie, who is an American heiress seems to be the perfect fit.

the marlowe papersThe Marlowe Papers
by Ros Barber
Call Number: Barber

In the late 1500’s playwright Christopher Marlowe fakes his own death and lives in isolation.  He continues to write plays under the name William Shakespeare and the novel recounts his interesting life entirely in verse.

the spanish queenThe Spanish Queen
by Carolly Erickson
Call Number: Erickson

Catherine of Aragon is sent to England to Mary Prince Arthur.  When he passes away she ends up marrying his brother Henry VIII, who soon falls for Anne Boleyn.  The reader gets her side of the story as she faces the many challenges of being queen.

moon risingMoon Rising
by Ann Victoria Roberts
Call Number: Roberts

Bram Stoker moves to the seaside town of Whitby with his new wife to begin writing Dracula.  There he meets a nineteen year old girl whom he soon begins an affair with.  They share new experiences, many of which he adds to his book, in this dark love story



Divergent – A YA Book Review

Divergent_(book)_by_Veronica_Roth_US_Hardcover_2011by Veronica Roth
Call Number: YA ROTH

Tess lives in a world where each person belongs to a faction.  The factions are defined by a personality characteristic, such as honesty or bravery.  Tess and her family live in the Abnegation faction, which represents selflessness.  Tess feels confined in this environment and chooses to change to the Dauntless faction, which represents bravery.  She must adapt to an entirely different environment and pass the tests to truly belong.  As she does this she must conceal the fact that she is “divergent”, meaning she doesn’t truly belong in any of the groups.

I wanted to read this book because I’d heard a lot about it and because the movie is coming out.  It was a fast read and very engrossing.  What I really liked was not only the depth of the main character, but her unique personality.  Not only did it show that girls could be brave and physically tough, it also showed Tess as ruthless and commanding.  I loved this because these are rarely character traits seen in female characters, even in books such as The Hunger Games.  Tess also freely admits that she is not pretty, and yet several boys are interested in her for who she is.

Another great aspect of this book was Tess’s friends.  She had never had friends before and the experience is new for her.  She keeps these friends throughout the book and they remain important to her, even though she finds that they’re not perfect.  The relationships are often complicated and infused with power struggles.  She finds herself pretending to be weak so that her friends will accept her more easily.  I think teens especially will be able to relate to this as their own relationships grow and change.  I really liked that the author addressed this instead of making the friendships idealistic or perfect, like in many YA books.

The one thing that surprised me about this book was how brutal it was, especially considering that it was written on a lower reading level.  The brutality is also unexpected, as the reader gets no foreshadowing of what’s to come.  The chapters before the violent scenes, while exciting or disturbing, do not give any hint of the sudden violence.  There was also a lot of death in this book, and sexual harassment, which could be upsetting for younger readers.

One of the biggest problems Tess faces throughout the book is that she must leave her family behind when she joins Dauntless.  Though the reader doesn’t see her parents too often, we get a good idea of their personalities and how important they are to Tess.  We also see a new side to her mother as Tess learns family secrets and begins to see her parents as real people who have also struggled with choices in their past.

The descriptions of the different factions and the Dauntless compound are well thought out and detailed.  One of my favorite parts of this book was the descriptions of the Dauntless cave where Tess lives and the winding trails with no railings that go up several stories.  Readers will also enjoy learning about the different factions and imagining which one they would fit into.

This is the first book in a trilogy and the debut book of Veronica Roth.  This exciting novel will have definitely have you wanting more.

Review – Waiting to Be Heard: a memoir

amanda knox

by Amanda Knox

Call Number: E K77w

I chose this book because I wanted to know more about the Amanda Knox case, the woman who was accused of murder while she was studying abroad in Italy.  It was from her point of view and offered an inside look into the Italian legal and prison system.  Amanda describes how her year abroad studying in Italy turned into a nightmare of misunderstandings and misinterpretations when her friend and flatmate is murdered.  She also describes the horrible conditions of the prisons and how prisoners rights differ from those in America.  What’s especially interesting is how the case proceeds even after the investigators find new suspects.

Because it was from her point of view I was worried that the facts would be skewed, but it was very straight forward and presented in a professional manner.  While Amanda was trying to prove her innocence, she was doing it by using facts and explaining why the evidence they had against her was flawed or insufficient.  I definitely found myself being convinced of her innocence and appalled at the incompetence of the investigators.  The book was even more interesting to me because recently her and her boyfriend at the time, Raffaele, have been convicted and sentenced for the murder in a second trial, after being found innocent in the original trial.

I think a lot of people don’t realize the language and cultural barriers that make this a unique case, and the book really brings these problems to light.  Because Amanda barely spoke the language when the investigation began she felt unable to accurately give information and didn’t trust her interpreter to tell the truth.  We see her go from a confused twenty year old who can barely speak the language to a tough and confident twenty four year old who is fluent in Italian after spending years in prison.  Readers also got to see how her friends and family chose to support her and sacrifice their time and money to help her fight the charges against her.  One friend even moved to Italy to be near her and help with the case.  In contrast, Amanda also explains how hurt she is by her flatmates and acquaintances behavior as they distance themselves from her and seem to believe the media hype that is constantly being generated.

It was also very interesting to learn more about the others accused of the crime along with Amanda and see their struggles.  Raffaele Sollecito, who was Amanda’s boyfriend at the time and is a native Italian, has been sentenced to 25 years in the second trial.  In her memoir Amanda proclaims his innocence and explains how their conviction was based on the investigator’s opinions that they were acting “strange” or “inappropriate”, and not on actual physical evidence.  There are also detailed forensic explanations that leads to questions about the original evidence against them.  Amanda also accused her boss, Patrick Lumumba, of being involved in the murder, when she was first interrogated.  Knox later said that she was forced into naming him and that she was suffering from stress and fatigue.  He was later acquitted and Amanda explains in detail why she accused him and how sorry she is.

Whatever you believe about the Amanda Knox case, this is a fascinating memoir that gives insight into the Italian legal system.  While it is sometimes a little melodramatic, it is really one of the most well written crime books I have read so far.  It has also prompted me to look further into the case and draw my own conclusions.  It was very engaging and was hard to put down.

Blackfish – A Review

Rated PG 13
83 minutes

We do not have this film at HPL but you can get it through inter-library loan and it will be sent here.

This is the documentary of Tilikum, an Orca (or Killer whale) that killed and injured several people during his life of captivity at different aquarium parks.  The directors of the film interview former employees of Sea World who have worked with Tilikum in the past, and knew the trainer, Dawn, whom Tilikum killed.

While this can be a difficult film to watch, it is also extremely important, because it shows what really goes on at Aquarium parks, both with the trainers, the animals, and the corporation itself.  Audiences can use the information provided by the film to make more informed choices about patronizing these theme parks.

Before I watched the film I had some knowledge of the incident involving Tilikum and the Sea World trainer, but I had no idea how Tilikum had been treated or that the attack had nothing to do with what I had heard from the media.  It was originally reported that Tilikum had been distracted by Dawn’s ponytail and had possibly wanted to play.  It was also stated that Dawn had made several mistakes that caused Tilikum to attack, basically blaming her for Tilikum’s actions.  The film goes over the events of that day and takes into consideration Tilikum’s past and proves that it was in no way Dawn’s fault.

I was shocked and saddened by what I learned about Tilikum’s life and the terrible conditions he lives in.  I was also surprised to find out that the Orca trainers at Sea World usually have no Science or animal training background.  They are chosen for their personality and presentation skills.  They also have no say about how the animals are treated, and many of them only stayed at Sea world because they cared so much about the whales they worked with.

The film does use footage of trainers being attacked and pulled into the water, which is upsetting to see.  There are also taped 911 calls, and descriptions of the brutal attacks from witnesses.  While this is hard to watch it is also important, because the film is making the point that the Sea World Corporation is acting irresponsibly and that these animals are huge predators that should not be kept in captivity.

This documentary is skillfully done, with the directors gathering public information and putting it together in a simple and straightforward way, to make their point.  This being said, I do have a couple of criticisms of the film.  The Official Blackfish Film Website describes this movie as a “Thriller” that shows how animals and nature get revenge on humans.  This does not describe the documentary I watched and seemed written to appeal to people who are fans of “Animal Attack” shows.  This documentary was supposedly made to expose the mistreatment of Killer Whales at amusement parks and the dangerous position their trainers are put in, not to show exciting attacks and vilify the species.  Former trainers that appear on the documentary have also criticized the documentary, saying that the film was not what they were told it would be.

Despite the criticisms, it still has important information that all patrons of aquariums, and animal lovers, should know about.  Definitely an eye opening experience.

The Marbury Lens – A YA Review


by Andrew Smith

Call Number: YA Smith

16 year old Jack is kidnapped and just barely escapes.  His best friend Connor tries to help him get over his traumatic experience but ends up only making things worse.  The two boys hope that everything will go back to normal when they take a trip by themselves to London, but things only get stranger when Jack is given a pair of glasses that takes him into an alternate universe.  Putting on the glasses and traveling to the strange land of Marbury soon become an addiction that Jack can’t quit.  Will fighting a war against the strange diseased creatures in Marbury help Jack cope with his own pain?

This was a very intense book that I wouldn’t recommend for early teens or sensitive readers.  It deals with some very upsetting topics, such as kidnapping and molestation.  There is also sex and graphic language.  That being said, these are important topics that not many YA books address.  While this is a tough book to get into there is definitely something about it that draws the reader in.  The idea of Marbury seems to be just as fascinating to the reader as it is to the main character, and the scenes where Jack is in this alternate universe were my personal favorites.  What I especially liked was that Marbury was a violent and apocalyptic place but to Jack (and the reader) was preferable to reality.

This is definitely a book geared towards boys, but girls will enjoy it too.  Jack’s voice is often harsh and cynical, but this is refreshing, and also realistic, especially because of what he’s gone through.  His best friend, Connor, is also very blunt and focused mainly on girls and drinking.  We see his character change a lot throughout the book and also reveal more about himself as his and Jack’s relationship falters.  Jack explains his theories about Marbury and alternate universes in a clear and often lyrical way, that makes it easy for the reader to understand.  This is a type of science fiction that is not often seen in YA novels because it is more pure science fiction than fantasy.  I also really liked that the author was able to intersperse reality and real problems with the trips to Marbury as breaks from Jack’s problems.

The two side characters, Ben and Griffin, who Jack meets in Marbury are very likable and the reader fully understands why Jack cares about them so much.  Griffin adds some comic relief to a grim storyline with his spirit and use of vulgar language.  These characters are what make it so hard for Jack to stop visiting Marbury, even though his trips affect him physically and mentally.  I really liked how the author likened Jack’s use of the glasses to a drug addiction and showed how powerful this type of addiction could be.  Jack’s addiction to his Marbury visits not only hurt himself but also have a profound affect on Connor and their friendship.

While the cover of the novel is eye catching I was disappointed that the illustration of the special glasses was nothing like the way the author described them.  The ending leaves the reader hanging a little, but there is a sequel, Passenger, that continues Jack and Collin’s trips to this strange and violent world.

Westerns – A Pathfinder

Who doesn’t love reading about the wild west, back when everyone lived by a code of honor and America was just being settled? From gunfights to famous bandits, these books have all the excitement of living in the west in the 1800s.  These are some of the Westerns we have here at HPL, and they’re perfect to read in winter, next to a fire.

loren-estleman-the-book-of-murdockThe Book of Murdock, by Loren D. Estleman

Murdock poses as Brother Bernard Sebastian to stop the bandits that have been wreaking havoc in the Texas panhandle.

  • found in Adult Fiction, call number: Estleman


so-brave-young-and-handsomeSo Brave, Young, and Handsome, by Leif enger

Described as a “gritty western” this novel is written in the style of a folk ballad.  Glendon Hale, an outlaw, seeks to right the wrongs he has done in his past.  Becket, a struggling novelist, writes the story of his unlikely friend.

  • found in Adult Fiction, call number: Enger


9780671019730_p0_v2_s260x420A Lady of the West, by Linda Howard

    Victoria is forced to marry a rancher who doesn’t love her.  Suffering a loveless marriage, she falls for Jake, a hired gunman.

  • found in Large Print Fiction, call number: LP Howard


n88516The Warrior’s Path, by Louis L’Amour

Yance searches an old war trail for his sister, who has been captured by the Pequot Indians.

  • found in Large Print Fiction, call number: LP L’Amour


6366437Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel, by Jeannette Walls

A true story of Jeannette Walls’ grandmother, Lily.  We follow Lily as she grows up breaking horses, becomes a teacher as a teenager, and survives natural and personal disasters.

  • found in Fiction, Large Print, Audio Book, and Playaway.

Call number: Walls

9780758290342_p0_v1_s260x420Butch Cassidy : the lost years, by William W. Johnstone with J.A. Johnstone.

This is the story of Butch Cassidy if hadn’t been killed in 1908.  Butch attempts an extremely dangerous train robbery with a new gang.

  • found in Fiction, call number: Johnstone


the_outcasts_kathleen_kent_2The Outcasts, by Kathleen Kent

Lucinda escapes a brothel in Texas and sets out to make a new life.  Meanwhile Nate is hunting a murderer who has killed people across the frontier.  Soon their paths cross and danger ensues.

  • found in Fiction, call number: Kent


ettaxEtta, by Gerald Kolpan

The author takes the mysterious Etta Place, who ran with Butch’s Wild Gang, and imagines what her life may have been like after joining the gang.

  • found in Fiction, call number: Kolpan