Tournament of Books Round 2: A Court of Thorns and Roses vs. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

I first read A Court of Thorns and Roses last year when I received a review copy from the publisher. I immediately loved its rich, nuanced world-building, fiery characters, and dark subplot. Sarah J. Maas is the queen of modern young adult fantasy and court of thorns and rosesI couldn’t wait to reread this beautiful fairy tale. As for Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda? My co-worker had been not-so-subtly trying to force me to read it for the better part of six month. I generally ignored her suggestion and when I learned that it was the winner of the previous round, we both found it amusing that the cosmos seemed pre-determined; I would have to read this book.

In A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas weaves fairy tale retellings with her classic Fae characters. The result is a dark, seductive, creative re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast that will leave you breathless. Feyre has nothing but the charge of providing for her family. Her two sisters and invalid father, she’s responsible for their survival in the harsh human realm. When she mistakenly hunts and kills a Fae disguised as a wolf in the woods, Feyre is bound to repay the debt for the life she ended. Dragged to a magical land that is fraught with treachery and deception, Feyre learns from her captor, Tamlin, and immortal shapeshifter and High Fae, that she will never return to her homeland. Soon, Feyre’s relationship with Tamlin evolves into something neither of them expected. She realizes that her captor is also a captive and that there are forces at work much darker than she could have ever imagined.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is a witty contemporary drama about a gay teen handling evolving identities, self-acceptance, and love. When Simon Spier’s emails fall into the wrong hands, he worries that his online friendship with Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised. Funny guy Martin, demands that Simon hook him up with Abby, the cute new girl, or he’ll reveal Simon’s true identity to their entire school. Simon’s life soon gets really complicated when he finds himself pulled out oSimonVS_quote_NEWf his comfort zone and into something entirely new. As his closeness with Blue continues to grow deeper, Simon realizes that he must accept his own story and identity before he’s outed by a class clown.

Despite both books being from two very different YA genres, they both deal with protagonists that must find their way through trying circumstances. Both Simon and Feyre realize their own strength and identities despite outward pressure to fail or reject their true natures. While I am a huge fantasy fan, I was struck with how developed and “real” the characters in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda were. By the end of the novel, you feel as though you are a part of Simon’s life. I loved his obsession with Oreos and Elliott Smith, and that Albertalli alternated chapters with snippets of their emails to each other. The reader can see the connection between both of them so clearly and I soon found myself anxiously awaiting the next email chain. While I felt that the ending was a little too happily-ever-after for me, I believe that it’s important to have positive LGBTQ novels available for teens to read. In the end, Simon realized that his initial apprehension was not about external reactions to his coming out. He knew he would have to handle occasional bullies, and he was secure in the acceptance of friends and family. Simon found that he was his own worst enemy, and his emails with Blue helped him understand that this is who he is. Simon’s story is about accepting and being ok with who you are, and that is a seriously powerful message.


Reviewed by Elise Martinez, Zion-Benton Public Library


Tournament of Books Round 1: Walk on Earth a Stranger vs. The Wrath and the Dawn

Walk on Earth a Stranger is 10% fantasy, 90% walk on earth a strangerhistorical fiction. Leah Westfall lives with her mother and father in 1849 Georgia. The family has a secret that no one else knows: Leah can sense gold. Her talent has kept her family wealthy throughout the years. However, with the announcement of the California Gold Rush, there are people who might kill in order to take control of Leah. After all, she could make anyone rich with her ability to sense gold. Leah finds herself in danger after a tragedy strikes the family. In order to stay safe and protect her secret, she disguises herself as a boy and joins a team of wagons traveling west to California. If you’re looking for a book to take you back to the days of playing the Oregon Trail computer game, Walk on Earth a Stranger will absolutely do the trick.  I was so delighted to read a teen book about a girl traveling across the country to start a new life in the 1800s, aka my favorite period in history. I loved Leah as a character; she was strong, independent, and feisty. I typically don’t finish series but I will definitely continue this trilogy and look forward to spending more time with Leah. This book was an absolute delight to read.

wrath and the dawnThe Wrath and the Dawn is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights. Khalid is the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan. He marries a new bride every day, only to have her strangled to death with a silk cord the very next morning. Shahrzad, a sixteen-year-old girl living under his reign, is devastated when her best friend suffers the same fate as dozens of his other young brides. Shahrzad volunteers to be Khalid’s next bride, determined to survive long enough to murder him. She captures his attention with her storytelling, bravery, and confidence. However, the longer she stays alive, the more she finds herself falling in love with the Caliph, even though her first love, Tariq, is simultaneously attempting to rescue her. I personally do not enjoy fairy tale retellings and love triangles drive me up a wall so this was a tough read for me. However, I have lots of teen patrons who love Cinder, Splintered, Dorothy Must Die, etc. and I know they will adore this book.

This one is a no brainer for me. I loved Walk on Earth a Stranger. I loved it so much that I emailed the entire adult department urging them to read it. I brought it to my Pizza & Pages and TAB meetings and gave mini book talks to the teens. I’m eagerly awaiting the second installment (a rare occasion for me). I hope the next reviewer enjoys Walk on Earth a Stranger as much as I did!


Reviewed by Claire Griebler, Park Ridge Public Library

Tournament of Books Round 1: A Court of Thorns and Roses vs. Black Dove, White Raven

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas is a dark fantasy woven together with elements from Beauty and the Beast and Tam Lin. Feyre, a human, is carried off by a monstrous creature the night after she killed a large wolf in tcourt of thorns and roseshe forest. According to a treaty between faeries and humans, she owes her life to the faeries after having killed one of their own. Her captor, Tamlin, spares her but takes her to live on his estate in the faerie realm of Prythian. Tamlin, a shapeshifter and one of the High Fae, provides Feyre every sort of comfort with the understanding that she will not leave. During her stay, she begins to learn of a blight, a magical sickness, that has infected Prythian lands and weakened the powers of the faerie rulers. As Feyre’s loathing of Tamlin evolves into desire and affection, she becomes determined to help fight against the evilness that threatens Prythian and the mortal lands.

Elizabeth Wein’s historical fiction novel, Black Dove, White Raven, is primarily set in 1930s Ethiopia. Through journal entries, stories, and flight logs, the novel tells the story of Emilia and Teo. Although not related by blood, they grow up as sister and brother as they travel throughout 1920s America with their stunt pilot mothers, the White Raven and the Black Dove. Teo’s mother, Delia, dreams of moving to Ethiopia to raise her son in a land where he will not face discrimination for the color of his skin. After Delia is killed in a plane accident, Emilia’s mother immigrates to Ethiopia with the children. Their peaceful lives on a cooperative coffee farm are interrupted by the threat of an Italian invasion, and Ethiopia, the only African nation to have not been colonized, finds itself at war. Separated, Emilia, Teo, and Momma must each play a role to defend the country they call home and find one another.


A Court of Thorns and Roses is an engaging story, but not without faults. I found the lyrical descriptions of the faerie world to be a bit much at times to the point of distracting me from the plot. I also thought the effects of the magical blight were inconsistent. Even with his limited powers, Tamlin was able to shapeshift, make items appear and disappear at will, and create illusions. However, he could not remove masquerade masks from his face and those of his court (the image of which I found quite amusing and not beautiful and romantic as Mblack dove, white ravenaas probably intended). Finally, as I read, I continually questioned the motivations of the characters and their unnatural actions, particularly Tamlin’s. Why did he spare Feyre’s life and treat her so well when she had killed his friend? Why did he divulge so many private concerns when he barely knew her? Explanations of the characters’ motivations finally made an appearance two-thirds of the way through the book and redeemed my faith in the story.

I had previously read Black Dove, White Raven and was not particularly eager to pick it up again. Although it is well-written and covers a piece of little known history, I did not find it gripping. I typically enjoy historical fiction, but I did not connect with the characters enough to care about them. Also, I did not find any distinction between Emilia’s and Teo’s voices, both of whom take turns narrating the story through their entries and logs.

The two books I read were drastically different, in genre, writing style, tone, and so much more. Although I would say Black Dove, White Raven has a higher literary value than A Court of Thorns and Roses, teens (and I) are more likely to devour a decently-written, yet engaging, story than a well-written one that does not interest the reader. Black Dove, White Raven is not without value, but because A Court of Thorns and Roses is, in my opinion, more appealing, I determine it to be the winner!


Reviewed by Jennie Fidler, Geneva Public Library District

Round one: Noggin vs. Egg & Spoon

Noggin by John Corey Whaley is a contemporary science fiction novel about Travis Ray Coates, who WAS dying of cancer. At age 16, Travis knows that his cancer is terminal. He doesn’t have much time, but when he is approached by Dr. Lloyd Saranson of the Saranson Center for Life Preservation, he is given an option. He can have his head cryogenically frozen until a time that it can be attached to a donor body. No one is sure it will work, until 5 years later, when Travis is “reanimated”. Travis is now a healthy 16 year old, but his friends and family have progressed through their 5 years. Nothing has changed for Travis, so he now has to figure out how to blend his 16 year old person into a world where everyone else has changed.Egg and Spoon

Noggin is a quirky take on life and relationships. It was a very readable book, but had a few issues. Although teens may be able to relate to the relationship woes in the novel, the main character Travis is a bit overly obsessive when it comes to Cate. The characters evolve in most ways and there are both funny and touching moments

When paths cross, strange things can happen. In Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire, the lives of Elena Rudina a peasant girl and Ekaterina Ivanovna de Robichaux a wealthy girl intermix when Ekaterina’s (Cat) train is delayed on the way to meet the Tsar’s godson. Cat is bringing a Faberge Egg to the Tsar as a gift, but when she shows it to Elena, she drops it off the train. As she goes after the egg, the train moves on with Elena in it. The two then have to figure out how to get back to their own lives and stories with mistaken identities. Their journeys involve the Russian folk tales of Baba Yaga, The Firebird and the Ice dragon come to life. Unbeknownst to them, this journey helps them save all of Russia.

Egg & Spoon is part historical fiction, part fairy tale, part fantasy and part confusing. The story and imagery is amazing, but the author has a tendency to assume that the reader is already knowledgeable about the Russian folktales as well as writing at a very high comprehension level.

Winner: Noggin by John Corey Whaley