Horowitz, Anthony. Russian Roulette: The Story of an Assassin.
October 1st 2013, Philomel
About 2010, there was a rumor that another Alex Rider book would come out, entitled Yassen, Teenage Assassin. I don't know why this took so long, but it was definitely worth the wait! If this review seems vague, it's because I don't want to spoil the clever details!
When Yasha Gregorovich is 14, his entire village is destroyed after an explosion at the chemical plant where his parents both worked. He manages to get away from the town and the soldiers with his best friend, but Yasha has to make his way to Moscow alone.There, street urchin Dimitri befriends him-- after stealing all of his money. Yasha embarks on a life of petty crime in order to have a place to stay with Dimitri's gang. When time are tight, the group turns to burglary, and Yasha is caught by Sharkovich, a ruthless criminal who basically enslaves him for four years, using him for petty chores as well as for tasting his food lest he be poisoned! A turn of events lands Yasha in Scorpia, and that organization does everything it can to turn him into a brutal assassin. The renamed Yassen doesn't take to this naturally, and the organization knows it. They also feel that Yassen is an asset and can be trained... and the person whom they choose to train him turns out to be his undoing years down the line.
Strengths: Oh, my goodness. SO well done. This was quite different from the other books in the series, and every chapter made me feel sorrier for Yassen. Horowitz does a great job at describing life in the former Soviet Union in the early 90s, and Yassen becomes such a sympathetic character that if I read the final showdown between him and Alex again, I might just root for Yassen! Given what occurred in his life, this book makes it seem like there really was no other option for Yassen. Just an amazing book. Horowitz's other writing endeavors for things like Foyle's War show up more clearly in this.
Weaknesses: I still don't understand John Rider and what he is really doing with Scorpia and MI6. Perhaps there is an entire book there???
Cushman, Karen. Will Sparrow's Road
November 6th 2012
by Clarion Books
Nominated for the Cybils by Maria Gianferrari
In England in 1599, Will Sparrow's father has traded him to the owner of a tavern for ale, and when the owner doesn't like Will's work, he threatens to sell him to be a chimney sweep. Will runs away, and meets a host of odd characters, from pickpocket Nell, to toothpuller Dr. Munster, to illusionist Tobias Froggenhall, with whom he thinks he will work, until the illusionist leaves him with Thomas Tidball, who runs a circus of oddities. Will travels the countryside with the show, meeting Grace, the cat faced girl, and Fitz, who is a dwarf. He also is in charge of caring for Duchess the pig, to whom he becomes attached. Will views himself as not worthy of attention, since his father thought little of him, and he has thieving tendencies, but he reaches a point where he wants to shed his past. When the cruel Tidball, who neglects to pay wages to any of his employees, decides to sell Grace, Will has to decide what path he will take.
Strengths: Tons of research went in to this, and this is evident in the descriptions of people and places, as well as in the rich dialogue.
Weaknesses: I somehow did not take to Will as a character as much as I have to other characters of Cushman's. He lacked the spirit of Catherine or Matilda Bone, somehow, and while he eventually wanted to be a better person, I just didn't have as much sympathy for him.