Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Non-Fiction: The Dark Game by Paul B. Janeczko

Janeczko, P. B. (2010). The dark game: true spy stories. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Plot Summary: From George Washington’s intelligence network to invisible ink and code talkers, the art of espionage is something that has been around for centuries.  These true spy stories explain how George Washington out-spied the British during the Revolutionary War, the role of many female spies during the Civil War, and even the cyber espionage of today.  Packed with mystery and intrigue, these historical accounts of intelligence gathering is full of special people, secret missions, and unsuspecting traitors who dared to risk it all playing this dark game of espionage.

Critical Analysis: Janeczko’s The Dark Game does an excellent job of providing true accounts and details of spy stories starting with George Washington and the Revolutionary War to the cyber espionage of today.  Kelly McGorray from School Library Journal writes, “Each chapter covers a historical era and chronicles the maturation of spying, while primary-source photographs are interspersed throughout, lending an authentic feel to each section.” Not only does Janeczko’s book offer great historical accounts, but it also presents these true spy stories in an intriguing and understandable way to children and young adults.  According to Gillian Engberg from Booklist, “A few portraits and reproductions of code charts illustrate, but this title relies mostly on Janeczko's graceful, exciting storytelling to draw kids' interest.”  Heidi Hauser Green from Children’s Literature also agrees with Engberg when she writes, “…a series of captivating profiles and insights that explains elements of history neglected by typical school curricula. Janeczko's skills as a storyteller shine in his accounts of George Washington's establishment of an intelligence community and Benjamin Franklin's efforts on behalf of the rebel cause.”  Filled with exciting history, intrigue, and dark secrets, Janeczko collection of true spy stories will satisfy readers who love the art of espionage.
One important aspect to mention about Janeczko’s, The Dark Game, is the writing style of the author.  In his book, Janeczko not only uses facts but also writes these true accounts as an unfolding story.  In one example, Janeczko writes, “The group’s most significant decision came when it named George Washington as the director of the fledgling intelligence.  So the man who would become the ‘father of our country’ can also be considered the father of American espionage” (p. 7). His writing flows from one account to another and gives details about how the spies in the book carried out their secret intelligence gathering.  For example, Janeczko writes, “If Culper Sr. saw a black petticoat hanging from the line, he knew that Caleb Brewster, a rough and adventuresome Patriot, had arrived in his whaleboat and was waiting to carry any intelligence across the Devil’s Belt (now known as Long Island South) to Tallmadge Connecticut” (p.13).  

In addition to great storytelling, Janeczko also formatted his book in a very appealing and organized way.  The book is told in chronological order from George Washington’s role in the Revolutionary War to the cyber espionage of today.  Janeczko also provides subtitled sections that showcase some of the different forms of espionage that were used, such as “From Clothes Lines to Balloons” (p.58) and “Invisible Ink” (36).   Others special parts of the book include mini spy-related biographies of important people such as “Benjamin Franklin (p. 18), “Elizabeth Van Lew” (p.44), and “Rose O’Neale Greenhow” (p.64).  There are also sections examining the roles of other key groups such as “African Americans” (p.78) and the “Choctaw Code Talkers” (p. 118).  The end of the book also includes a “Source Notes” (p. 232) section as well as a full bibliography starting on page 238.
Readers who enjoy books like The Dark Game will also enjoy Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy by Seymour Reit and Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network that Tried to Destroy the Civil Right Movement by Rick Bowers. Recommended for grades 6 and up.


Bowers, Rick. (2010). Spies of Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network That Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement.Washington, DC: National Geographic.  
Engberg, Gillian. (2010, Sept. 15). Best known for his award-winning poetry titles, Janeczko has a long-held fascination with the shadowy world of espionage. [Review of the book The Dark Game, written by Paul B. Janeczko]. Booklist. Books in Print. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:3959/DetailedView.aspx?hreciid=|29630119|28685628&mc=USA#
Green, Heidi H. (2010). Award-winning poet Paul Janeczko turns his attention to espionage in this thrilling expose. [Review of the book The Dark Game, written by Paul B. Janeczko]. Children’s Literature. Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=3&isbn=9780763629151
McGorray, Kelly. (2010, Aug. 1). Since the Revolutionary War, espionage has created fascinating scenarios. [Review of the book The Dark Game, written by Paul B. Janeczko]. School Library Journal. Books in Print. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:3959/DetailedView.aspx?hreciid=|29630119|28685628&mc=USA#
Reit, Seymour. (2001). Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Historical Fiction: Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

Gier, K. (2011). Ruby red. New York, NY: Scholastic.  
Plot Summary: Gwyneth Shepard has spent most of her life waiting for her cousin Charlotte to travel back in time.  Charlotte is the “gene carrier” in the family and has been training for years on mastering different languages, acquiring many talents, and even learning “the mysteries” of her families’ secret society heritage.  Unfortunately, it was Gwyneth who was thrust unexpectedly into the past, not Charlotte.  Now, Gwyneth has no idea what to do and has more questions than anyone is willing to answer. To make matters worse, she has to travel into the past with an arrogant and obnoxious boy who constantly gets on her nerves – and whom she can’t stop thinking about.

Critical Analysis: Translated by Anthea Bell from German to English, Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier is the first book in a series of three novels.  A Booklist starred review by Ilene Copper writes, “What makes this such a standout is the intriguingly drawn cast, stars and supporting players both, beginning with Gwen, whose key feature is her utter normality” A School Library Journalreview by Kimberly G. Giarratano also confers with Cooper when she states that, “Aside from her special abilities (she can also see ghosts), she is every bit the typical teenager who bickers with her family, snoops with her best friend, and crushes on the snooty Gideon.” Not only are Gier’s characters well developed and likable, but the story itself will keep readers interested and wondering what happens next. Emily Griffin from Children’s Literature writes, “Gier works to create intrigue and suspense during an exposition heavy first novel.” Although following the time-traveling timelines can be a bit hard to keep up with, Gier does an excellent job of keeping the readers thoroughly vested in finding out what makes Gwyneth special, who the Guardians are, and cheering for Gwyneth and Gideon through their adventures back in time.  

In Gier’s novel, readers will find Gwyneth to be charmingly normal even when she travels back into the past.  She never really tries to be someone she’s not and can’t help but be a twenty-first century teenager.  On one occasion in the past Gwyneth is left in a room to speak with some gentlemen from 1759.  Here she tries to explain to them the concept of a photograph using her cell phone.  She says, “I shook my head and held the mobile up so that Lord Brompton and Rakoczy appeared on the display. ‘Smile, please. There, that’s it.’ There hadn’t been any flash because the sunlight was so bright, which was a pity.  A flash would surely have impressed the pair of them” (p. 230).  Gwyneth is also humorous even when her life has just turned upside down.  One example is when she is waiting to travel back to the future and stumbles upon an old letter that took some time to arrive to its destination.  She says, “Nine weeks for a letter to arrive! Okay, so I seemed to be in a period when letters were still delivered by carrier pigeon. Or, maybe snail mail – using actual snails” (p. 143). Fortunately, Gwyneth is not the only character that is well developed into the story.  Lindsey, Gwyneth’s best friend and only “normal” person who knows about Gwyneth’s time traveling lineage, adds quite a bit of comic relief to the story as well.  With a passion for investigating mysteries by “Googling,” Lindsey keeps Gwyneth grounded and helps her to try and understand some of the information she has learned from the Guardians and from her travels back in time.  According to Lindsey, “Investigating mysteries must be in my blood. Maybe I’ll study history too and specialize in old myths and ancient writings.  And then I’ll be like Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code. I’ll look better of course, and hire a really hot guy to be my assistant” (p. 264). 

Intrigue and suspense start from the beginning of the novel to the end of the book, which by no means is the end of the story itself.  However, readers will enjoy learning the mysteries behind the previous time travelers, the cryptic visions of Aunt Maddy, and the meaning behind the “Circle of Twelve.”  For example, Gwyneth’s mother tries to explain some of the mystery when she says, “Twelve numbers, twelve time travelers, twelve gemstones, twelve musical keys, twelve Zodiacal ascendants, twelve steps in the alchemical process of making the philosopher’s stone…” (p. 110).  Of course, none of this makes sense to Gwyneth (or the reader) and but both will slowly learn about what some things mean as the novel progresses.  Another intriguing aspect is that the leaders of the secret society don’t even know some of their own “secrets.”  For example, one of the leaders explains to Gwyneth, “The Secret of the Twelve will be revealed when the blood of all twelve time travelers has been read into the chronograph. That’s why the Circle has to be closed.  It is the great task that we must perform” (p. 170).  What happens after the Circle is closed is anyone’s guess, since no one seems to know – which adds to the great mystery surrounding the actual purpose of the time travelers in the first place.  For Gwyneth, her part in this mystery is also cryptic.  For example, her stone is the Ruby and her piece in this puzzle is explained as, “Projectio! Time flows on, both present and past, Ruby red is the first and is also the last” (p.110). 

Filled with suspense, mystery, and romance readers will find Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier a fun and exciting read from beginning to end.  Readers who like Ruby Red will also enjoy other historical fiction books such as The Luxe by Anna Godbersen and Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore.  Readers who enjoy time traveling novels will enjoy After Eden by Helen Douglas and Once Every Never by Lesley Livingston.  This novel is recommended for readers in grades 7 and up.

Copper, Ilene. (2011, Apr. 15). It is supposed to be Charlotte. [Review of the book Ruby Red, written by Kerstin Gier]. Booklist. Books in Print. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:3959/DetailedView.aspx?hreciid=|32499368|35807910&mc=USA#

Dolamore, Jaclyn. (2014). Dark Metropolis. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Douglas, Helen. (2013). After Eden. New York, NY: MacMillan

Giarratano, Kimberly. G. (2011, Jun. 1). Gwyneth Shepard, 16, was born into an offbeat English family. [Review of the book Ruby Red, written by Kerstin Gier]. School Library Journal. Books in Print. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:3959/DetailedView.aspx?hreciid=|32499368|35807910&mc=USA#

Godbersen, Anna. (2008). The Luxe. Saint Louis, MO: Turtleback Books.

Griffin, Emily. (2011). The first title in German author Kerstin Gier’s “Ruby Red” trilogy. [Review of the book Ruby Red, written by Kerstin Gier]. Children’s Literature. Children’s Comprehensive Database. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=5&isbn=9780805092523

Livingston, Lesley. (2011). Once Every Never. New York, NY: Penguin.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mystery: I'd Tell You I Love You, but then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter

Carter, A. (2006). I’d tell you I love you, but then I’d have to kill you. New York, NY: Hyperion.  

Plot Summary:  Fifteen-year-old Cammie Morgan is not your average teenager.  She attends the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women where learning Swahili, Covert Ops, and PhD-level chemistry are all part of the school’s basic curriculum. It’s a spy school and Cammie has been training her whole life to continue her parents' legacy.  Then one day, she falls for a normal boy in town who can never know the truth about her.  Unfortunately, being a normal teenage girl is not something the Gallagher Academy has ever trained her for.

Critical Analysis:  Stacy Hayman from VOYA writes that Carter’s novel, I’d Tell You I love you, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, is “written in an easy-to-read, conversational tone, this novel combines the real (learning how to talk to boys) and the unreal (learning how to be a secret agent for the government) in a strangely believable way” (2006, Children’s Comprehensive Database).  Not only is Carter’s book geared for young adult audiences who love a good spy story, but it’s also full of entertaining spy-related information which keeps the readers engaged throughout the story.  In a Children’s Literature review, Mary Loftus states that there are, “fun spy-related details in the story, which will have most readers chuckling” (2006, Children’s Comprehensive Database).  Carter does a great job in creating an extraordinary spy school for young girls. But, Cammie still has a lot to learn, especially about the one thing the school doesn’t teach – boys.  Claudia Moore from the School Library Journal writes, “By the end of Ally Carter's novel the truth is revealed and Cammie has learned more about herself than she has about spying” (2006, Books in Print).  Ally Carter captures the reader’s interest with the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women with its historical background, challenging spy courses, and likable characters.  Cammie Morgan grew up with parents who were spies, she goes to an all-girl spy school, and she is training to be a covert operative one day.  While on a mission from her CoveOps teacher, Mr. Soloman, Cammie and her two best friends, Liz and Bex, are separated and Cammie is forced to complete their objective on her own.  The only thing she doesn’t count on is being spotted by a local town boy named Josh.  Suddenly, Cammie’s world is turned upside down by a boy who can never really know who she is or where she goes to school.  But, Cammie can’t get Josh out of her head…or her heart.  

Carter does a great job in developing Cammie Morgan, the perfect teenage spy-in-training who has learned nothing else but spy-related courses, such as advanced martial arts, covert operations training, and learning to speak in fourteen different languages.  She may not be a genius like her friend, Liz, but she can hold her own at the Gallagher’s Academy where her mother is an ex-spy and headmistress of the school.  Cammie may not be the most confident of the Gallagher girls, but she takes pride in being unseen, which is how she earned her spy name, “The Chameleon.”  She knows her stuff and is confident in the beginning of the story that being a spy is where her life is headed.  But, as the story unfolds she comes to realize that there is more to life than just spy school – which turns out to be a normal local boy named Josh.  Cammie’s lack of knowledge when it comes to the opposite sex is revealed when she states, “The boy of my dreams may have been as close as the town of Roseville...but he and I would never speak the same language - which is totally ironic, since “boy” was the one language my school had never tried to teach me” (p.129).  Liz, Bex, and Macey are almost like Cammie’s sidekicks as they help her with spy school missions and gathering intel on Josh.  Although they are an important part of Cammie’s life, there is not too much known about Liz, Bex, and Macey other than a little parental background.  Macey’s character seems to be the most complex of all, yet most of what the reader learns about her are rumors Cammie has heard.  One example is when Cammie mentions that she heard Macey “hijacked a sheik’s yacht in the Mediterranean” (p.190).

The setting of the story takes place mostly at the Gallagher Academy and the town of Roseville.  It is also written in first person through Cammie’s point of view.  So, you don’t know what else is going on in the story unless it’s something Cammie sees or hears. But, the story also includes fun spy-related material that readers will find humorous, such as “the science of Garbology” (p.119), and the different flavors and uses of “Evapopaper” (p.8).  In addition, references to military jargon/lingo are used, such as “17:35 hours (that’s five thirty-five P.M.): The Operative moved into position. 18:00 hours: The Operative was wishing she’d brought something to eat because she couldn’t leave her post to go buy a candy bar, much less use the bathroom” (p.147).  Most readers will enjoy the spy-related humor and the intricate details of the Gallagher Academy, which is complete with sliding mirrors, hidden elevators, and basement classrooms.

Although more chic lit than a mystery novel, readers of I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You will enjoy Carter’s fresh twist on the idea of an all-girls spy school. Readers who like The Squad: Perfect Cover by Jennifer Barnes and Code Name Cassandra by Meg Cabot will also enjoy this novel.  This book is recommended for readers in grades 6 and up.

Hayman, Stacy. (2006, Oct.). Becoming a super spy is not easy. [Review of the book I’d tell you I love you, but then I’d have to kill you, written by Ally Carter]. VOYA. Children’s Comprehensive Database. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9781423100034

Loftus, Mary. (2006). Everyone in the town of Roseville thinks the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. [Review of the book I’d tell you I love you, but then I’d have to kill you, written by Ally Carter]. Children’s Literature. Children’s Comprehensive Database. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9781423100034

Moore, Claudia. (2006, Aug. 1). Cammie Morgan attends prestigious Gallagher Academy. [Review of the book I’d tell you I love you, but then I’d have to kill you, written by Ally Carter]. School Library Journal. Books in Print. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.twu.edu:3959/DetailedView.aspx?hreciid=|16076222|31004313&mc=USA#