Friday, May 27, 2011

Miles From Ordinary by Carol Lynch Williams

Lacey is excited and nervous about her first day of work at the public library. Her mother is also starting a new job at the grocery store and Lacey is even more nervous about that because her mother has mental problems that often keep her from interacting well with others.. Ever since her mom threw Lacey's aunt Linda out of the house Lacey has had to try to take care of her mom all by herself. Her mother gets many messages from Granddaddy, Lacey's grandfather who killed himself when she was born. Lacey loves her mother but she just wants a little time to herself and a chance to leave the house so she has high expectations for the day. On the bus to their new jobs she runs into Aaron, a boy from school. She is surprised when he sits with her and talks to her without making fun of her. He even asks to meet and ride home with her when she is done with her job. Lacey's day seems to be going perfectly until they arrive at the grocery store in the afternoon and Momma isn't there. Lacey and Aaron search for Momma everywhere they can think and eventually arrive home to find a chilling scene which makes Lacey question whether she can continue to take care of her mother all by herself. This book started slow for me and it seemed like not much was happening. But as you read along you are slowly pulled into Lacey's crazy world of love, guilt and anger. And the ending - while nightmarish - felt totally realistic to me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

Tess lives on an island with her parents and little sister. The only school on the island is in danger of closing because a family with five children moved away and now there are not enough students to keep the school running. In an effort to keep the school open five foster children are brought to families on the island and Aaron has joined Tess's family. At first Tess is excited by the prospect of a new family member but Aaron doesn't seem to want to be there with them. And his attitude is not helped by the local bully who takes every opportunity to call Aaron an orphan. Aaron longs to see his mother but he is not allowed to have any contact with her. But Tess hopes that Aaron will be happier if he has a chance to talk to his mother and can see that he's better off where he is so she takes matters into her own hands.

Losing Faith by Denise Jaden

Brie's sister, Faith, is devoted to her religion and spends most of her evenings with the church youth group. Brie has lost her interest in church and is annoyed Faith's devotion. Brie does manage to use Faith to get a ride to meet her boyfriend on an evening that Faith is meeting with her group. For some reason on that night Faith is on a mountain's edge and falls to her death. After her sister's death Brie realizes that there are many things she never knew about Faith. And while she investigates Faith's life she finds more questions than answers. Where has Faith been going every night instead of the church youth group? Who are the people on her Facebook page? Why won't Faith's best friend even talk to Brie about what happened the night she died? And most importantly, was Faith's death an accident or suicide? With the help of a new friend and a mysterious boy Brie finds out that Faith was involved in something much more sinister than anyone imagined. This book is an intriguing mystery about what happened to Faith although the "bad guy" seemed a little exaggerated to me.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Forced to leave her home country of Vietnam because of war, Ha's family ends up in Alabama sponsored by a "cowboy". Ha's brothers seem to fit in fairly well right from the start. Her oldest brother gets to go to college while another attracts admirers because he is an expert in martial arts just like his hero Bruce Lee. But Ha faces troubles at school where several boys pick on her for being different. Worse than that, she is treated like she is stupid just because she doesn't know English yet even though she was at the top of her class in Vietnam. It seems impossible to believe but she preferred her life in war torn Vietnam to her safer life in America. This is based on the author's actual experiences coming to America as an immigrant from Vietnam.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Familiars by Epstein and Jacobson

Aldwyn is an alley cat who survives based on his street smarts. He has always been able to get away with stealing the food he needs until the day he is nearly captured by Grimslade, a bounty hunter. Aldwyn ends up hiding in a magic shop where he is selected as the familiar for a young wizard. Familiars are animals that have some magical abilities and are able to help out their human loyals and cats are supposed to be able to move things just by thinking about them. Even though Aldwyn knows he is just a regular cat he decides to go along with the charade after he finds that life at his new home is happy and comfortable. He also meets Skylar, a bird, and Gilbert, a frog, who are the familiars to two other young magicians. But shortly after Aldwyn arrives the elder wizard who has been teaching the others is killed and the three loyals are taken prisoner by the queen of the county. With his dying breath the old wizard tells the familiars that it is up to them to save their loyals. Unsure of how to do that with their limited abilities the three familiars set out nonetheless to find their people and save the kingdom. This is a good book for those who like magical stories such as Harry Potter. There are some unique creatures and magical abilities as well as some funny animals.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Clarity by Kim Harrington

Clarity only has to touch something and she has visions of what the object's owner was thinking, feeling and doing. Clare comes from a long line of psychics and she works with her brother who can talk to ghosts and her mother who can read minds to tell fortunes for tourists in town. Her paranormal powers have her labelled as a freak at school. But after a tourist is murdered the mayor hires Clare to help find the killer. Clare is forced to work with her ex-boyfriend who betrayed her and newcomer Gabriel who constantly ridicules her ability. When Clare finds out that her brother was the last person the victim saw on the night she was murdered, Clare has to work even harder to find the real killer before Perry is arrested. This is a fast-paced mystery full of twists, romance and danger.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Last Notebook of Leonardo by B.B. Wurge

Jem's father is a scientific genius who worships Leonardo DaVinci. Over the years he has done many things including growing an extra finger. When he converts himself into an orangutan his boss and their landlord don't see the advantages and Jem and his dad hit the road. Based on his research Dad is convinced that Leonardo faked his death in Italy and actually came to America so the father and son decide to find his final resting place. Telling people that his dad is a Native American shaman wearing a bear costume, Jem manages to get them rides along the way. When they actually do find Leonardo's resting place, no one could have predicted where they would end up!

Archvillain by Barry Lyga

Kyle has always been the most popular boy in school and is famous for his pranks. While working on the water tower one night to prepare for a new prank Kyle is showered by space plasma the leaves him with superpowers. While he is still experimenting with his new powers his town is astounded by "Mighty Mike", a boy who was found in the field who also has superpowers and is using them to help save people. Kyle is sure that Mike is an alien who is up to no good. But when he plans a prank to dissolve Mike's pants his machine goes awry and he is labeled as the Blue Freak, a villain. Even his best friend Mairi seems to worship Mike and hate the Blue Freak. With the help of his modified iPod, Kyle's plans for avenging himself go to the extreme. Who is really the villain of this story?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

After his father loses his job Doug has to move to stupid Marysville. Looking for something to do he goes to the library and meets Lil, a girl his age. Within the library he is captivated by a drawing of an arctic tern in a bird book by John Audubon. With the help of the librarian he begins to learn how to draw and develop an artist's eye. But when school starts he finds that he is an outsider with both the students and teachers. When his brother is suspected of breaking into the town hardware store everyone in the small town is suspicious of Doug as well. Doug must work even harder to prove that he is nothing like his brother, or his father even as he wants to fight back. Like all books by this author Okay for Now contains humor and heartbreak all together in one.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon

Ella's only friend at school is Z, the weird boy. They are both outcasts, her because of the two-toned skin on her face and Z because he lives in a fantasy world where everyone is a knight or lady. Ella is so used to being picked on that she can't believe it when Bailey shows up and seems to take an interest in her. Besides being good-looking, popular and a basketball star, Bailey is the only other African-American student in school. Ella is unsure what to make of Bailey's attention but she's excited about the possibility of finally having other friends. The only problem is that the more time she spends with Bailey, the more Z seems to be retreating even further into his world of fantasy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Trapped by Michael Northrop

Scotty and six other students are trapped inside their school due to the blizzard of the century. All seven teens stayed after school for various reasons only to find that that snow was so heavy it covered the entire first floor as well as any cars that might have been coming to pick them up. At first the kids are unhappy but content to stay in the school for what they think will just be a day. But the snow keeps falling, even getting up to the second floor of the school and keeping them inside for days on end. And the problems keep piling up - no heat, no phones, no running water.... Only a desperate plan has any hope of saving them before the roof collapses. This book has a great premise and lots of promise of danger but it never quite follows through in making the reader feel the fear people actually in this situation would feel.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Twin's Daughter by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Lucy has lived a life of privilege with her loving parents. Lucy and her parents suffer a huge surprise when her mother's long lost twin sister arrives at their door. Aunt Helen has lived a hard life having been sent to a workhouse as a baby and she has had none of the advantages that Lucy and her mother have had. Aunt Helen is taken into the home while her sister tries to make up for lost time by outfitting her in the finest clothes, giving Helen a first rate education, feeding her enough food for the first time in her life, and teaching her the manners of high society. After several months the twins look so identical, even sharing clothes on occasion, that Lucy sometimes can't tell them apart and wonders how it is that a daughter can't recognize her own mother. But Lucy's world is turned completely upside down when she comes home one day to find both sisters in a room with one of them dead. Is the living twin her mother or Aunt Helen? Although the living woman claims to be Lucy's mother, several things make Lucy unsure. This is a gripping story with many twists and an ending that turned out to be a huge surprise.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Saving the Baghdad Zoo by Kelly Milner Halls

Army Captain William Sumner was sent to Iraq to work on saving Iraqi artifacts during the war. So he was surprised when he was asked to go to the Baghdad zoo to see if he could help the animals still there after the bombing and takeover of the city. Out of the 500 some animals that used to live at the zoo there were less than 40 left. Some had been taken by citizens, some had died and the ones that were left were in bad shape because they hadn't been fed or had water in ages. This book tells about some of the animals that were saved by Captain Sumner and his team of volunteers both military and civilian. Once he became known as the animal man, he was contacted by people about animals who needed help in other smaller zoos in the area and even ended up saving lions and cheetahs that were the personal pets of Saddam Hussein's son. Many of the animals hadn't had very good living conditions even before the war and the stories of how happy they are when they are finally cared for are wonderful!

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn

Florence has lived in an orphanage her entire life and so is delighted when she is found by her great uncle and invited to come live with him. But when she arrives at her new home she finds that her great aunt is harsh and nasty to her, mostly because she is grieving over the death of Florence's cousin Sophia almost a year earlier. Her aunt describes Sophia as the perfect child but others at the mansion don't seem to feel the same. The groundskeeper hints that Sophia purposefully caused the death of her brother's dog while the maid indicates that Sophia was mean and manipulative. Sophia's brother James has become sickly since her death and refuses to leave his room. When Florence begins seeing Sophia's ghost she finds out for herself just how cruel Sophia still is and learns of her plan to make James pay for her death. This is a short book that contains lots of spooky things and a very nasty ghost.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Lanesha lives with Mama Ya-Ya in New Orleans' Ninth Ward. Both Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya have second sight. Lanesha can see ghosts all around her, including the ghost of her mother who died when she was born. Mama Ya-Ya is able to see the future. Despite being shunned by others who are frightened of their abilities, the two are very happy together. But Mama Ya-Ya is worried by some dreams she has had about hurricane Katrina that is coming towards New Orleans. Her dreams tell her that they will survive the hurricane but that something is still wrong and dangerous, she just can't tell what it is. Lanesha is frightened and wants to follow the order to evacuate but they don't have enough money to leave their home. This story is based on the real devastation of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina and the flooding of the Ninth Ward after the levees broke. Even though I knew what was coming I found myself drawn into the dread and worry leading up to the hurricane making landfall and the horror of the flooding.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Unlocked by Ryan Van Cleave

Andy is called CJ - Mr. Clean Junior - at school since his father is the maintenance man there. He gets teased by everyone at school including Becky Ann, the girl he adores. Everyone in school is fascinated by Blake, another outcast, after a rumor starts that he has a gun in his locker. Becky Ann asks Andy to use his father's keys to open the locker and confirm the rumor promising him something special in return. Unable to resist the possibility and his own curiosity Andy steals the keys but finds no gun. His actions do lead to him becoming friends with Blake, however. The two spend lots of time together and eventually Blake shows him the rumored gun, even letting Andy practice shooting at cans. Andy is happy to finally have a friend at school but he is becoming increasingly worried about what Blake might have planned, especially when he sees that Blake has blacked out March 5th on his calendar. This is a quick read but it is filled with wonderful language and suspense about what Blake has planned.

The Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers

Zander lives with his actress mom and goes to a school for gifted students. Although he is very smart he seems to be constantly getting into trouble with the school's assistant principal Mr. Culpepper, largely because he has started his own newspaper with his friends, The Cruisers. The eighth grade students are studying the Civil War and they have been encouraged to learn about it by acting out the parts of the north and the south. Zander and his friends Bobbi, LaShonda, and Kambui are given the task of trying to keep the peace between the two sides. But when one group labels themselves the Sons of the Confederacy and begins "selling" black students in the hallway and writing inflammatory editorials tensions in the school erupt. The Cruisers have to find some way to avoid another civil war while showing how real the pretend racism actually is.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Summer Ball by Mike Lupica

Danny is the star player on his basketball team even though his is very short for his age. He is looking forward to spending the summer at the Right Way basketball camp where he will get the opportunity to work with real college coaches and players. But his time at camp doesn't start out as expected. Because of an error he ends up in a cabin with boys who are younger than him while all of his friends are staying together in a different cabin. Rasheed, the boy whom he beat in a last second play for the championship at home, is on his team and the coach has declared him the best player in camp. Meanwhile, his coach seems to hate Danny because he knows Danny's father from his days in the NBA. As a result he refuses to play Danny any more than he has to and comes down hard on him all the time. Fed up with all his problems Danny considers faking an injury to get out of camp but something happens that might help him change his mind. If you like basketball and enjoy listening to descriptions of the plays, this would be a good book for you.

Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Mattie lives with her mother and grandfather in Philadelphia in 1793. Together they run a coffeehouse while Mattie's mother tries to find a suitable husband for her daughter. But life changes for Mattie when many people in Philadelphia, including her mother, become sick with yellow fever. Mattie's mother decides to send her to the country to live with friends but they are stopped on the way there by men worried about the fever spreading to their town and Mattie and her grandfather are abandoned by the side of the road. After narrowly recovering from the fever herself Mattie finally makes it back to Philadelphia only to find that the city has changed and her mother has disappeared. Stores, including her coffeehouse, have been looted and farmers won't come into town to sell food for fear of catching the fever themselves. With no word of whether her mother is alive or not and no sign of the fever breaking anytime soon, Mattie sets to work helping others in whatever way she can. This book is based on the true events of the yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia. At that time people didn't know what caused yellow fever and even treatment was unsure with some doctors recommending daily bloodletting to cure their patients. When the epidemic began the city had 40,000 residents. By the time the first frost came and killed the mosquitoes that were spreading the fever over 5,000 people had died.

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Benny is 15 and has to make a decision about a job or else he will begin to receive less food rations. Benny lives in Mountainside, a small town enclosed by fences to keep out the zombies who live in the rest of what used to be the United States. After trying several unsatisfying jobs Benny decides to become an apprentice to his older brother Tom. Tom is a bounty hunter which means that he goes into the rot and ruin to kill zombies and collect money from their families. Benny has always considered Tom a coward because he doesn't brag about his job the way that Charlie and The Hammer, two other bounty hunters, do. But when Benny goes out with Tom on a job he finds out that the job and the zombies aren't what he imagined and that some people might be even bigger monsters than the zoms. After Benny and Tom are attacked in their home by a zombie and a good friend is kidnapped the brothers must work together to save their friend, find the famous "Lost Girl" in the rot and ruin, and stop the people who are taking part in despicable acts. Rot & Ruin is a thoughtful adventure with lots of good characters and harrowing situations.

Middleworld by J&P Voelkel

Max is looking forward to a family vacation when his parents announce that they will be going to an ancient Maya pyramid on an archeological expedition instead. They plan to send Max to a summer camp where he can learn some discipline. Shortly after his parents leave his housekeeper tells him that "they" say he must fly to San Xavier where he will be met by his Uncle Ted, whom he has never met. When Max arrives in San Xavier he learns that his parents have disappeared from their dig site in a myserious way after activating one of the ancient, and powerful, jaguar stones. Uncle Ted is not happy to see Max and basically makes him a prisoner in the mansion. But with some spying Max figures out that Ted is selling Mayan artifacts and dealing with a very shady man who is a relative of a Spanish explorer from history. Max also sees another of the jaguar stones being stolen and sets off to follow the thieves. When he meets Lola - a girl his own age - in the rainforest his adventure really begins! This is an exciting read full of action, Mayan mythology, mystery, and humor.