Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Clockwork Three by Matthew Kirby

This book tells the stories of three people whose lives intersect during the 1800s. Hannah is working at the hotel where her father was a stonemason. She is supporting her family ever since her father had a stroke but they are barely able to survive. Her luck appears to change when she becomes the personal assistant for an eccentric visitor to the hotel, Madame Pomeroy. Hannah also overhears the nasty woman who is in charge of all the hotel maids making plans to find a secret treasure left by a former hotel visitor. Hannah wants to find the treasure before anyone else in order to help treat her father and save her family.
Frederick is an orphan who has been taken in by a clockmaker. Frederick's dream is to become a clockmaker himself at an early age. He has been working on an automated man and has the entire body made but doesn't know how to go about making a head that will control all the rest. When he learns that an historical clockmaker named Mangus made such an automaton in the past Frederick is determined to find that head and learn its secrets.
Giuseppe works the streets each day playing his violin for spare change. All of the money he makes has to be given to Stephano, the man who brought him to America and keeps him and other boys as his slaves. If Stephano is unhappy with the amount of money brought in any day, the boy has to spend the night in a hole filled with rats, or worse. Giuseppe dreams of raising enough money to pay for a ticket back home to Italy and when he finds a beautiful green violin after a shipwreck it seems like he might be able to play well enough to do just that.
These three teens each have a dream and when they meet accidentally they find that they might be able to help each other. This is an intricate book but the story keeps moving along with several surprises.

Life, After by Sarah Littman

Dani's father has never been the same since her aunt was killed in a terrorist bombing in Argentina. And now that the country is facing severe economic problems things are even worse. Her father spends all day on the sofa in depression and the family lives in a tenetment with barely anything to eat. With their future looking more bleak by the day Dani's mom convinces her father that they must move to the United States to start over. Dani is excited about the possibility of a better life but sad about leaving behind everything she knows. And life at her new school is complicated as well. She becomes friends with Jon, a boy who is obviously also an outsider but gets on the wrong side of the popular girls because she is wearing their former clothes that were donated to charity. What's more, her boyfriend from Argentina who promised to love her forever seems to be withdrawing from her whenever she manages to talk to him. Eventually, Dani learns that she has more in common with the popular girl than she could ever imagine. This is a nice story that shows some of the problems faced by immigrants to our country as well as the after effects of terrorism on families. There is nothing too ground-breaking here and it feels to me that Dani fits into America fairly easily, but it is a book that is told well and will appeal to many teen readers.

Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby

Sarah has just begun attending an expensive private school but she doesn't fit in because she is there on a scholarship. While on a class trip to the Everglades Sarah is even more aware of how much of an outsider she is when all the other girls ignore her and whisper about her. While wandering around the campsite by herself, Sarah meets Andy, a boy who lives nearby. When Andy invites her to go on an airboat ride she decides to play sick and go with him. The two are having a wonderful time together when they stop for a break on a small island. That's when Andy realizes that he forgot to put the plug back in the boat and it has sunk, ten miles from camp. The only way to survive is to walk back to camp through the Everglades but that means days in the hot sun with no food, surrounded by blood-sucking insects, all while trying to avoid the thousands of alligators and poisonous snakes. This is a great survival story full of all sorts of dangers but also an appreciation of the amazing qualities of the Everglades.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson

Rafe is not looking forward to middle school. He already has a problem at home with his mom's fiance who spends all day just sitting on the sofa while his mom works double shifts to support them all. Rafe's concerns about middle school are confirmed on the first day he gets on the wrong side of Miller the Killer in homeroom. And at the first assembly of the year the principal hands out the code of conduct and reads every rule aloud - all 112 of them. With the support of his best friend Leo, Rafe decides that the only way to make the year better is to break every rule in the code. He devises a point system for the rules awarding himself extra points for things such as standing up to Miller or attracting the attention of cute girl Jeanne. This book is obviously meant to appeal to fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid books but it comes across as what it is, just a knock off. Still, it will undoubtably be very popular because of the format and the author.

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Zulaikha and her sister Zeynab have always been close. Together they deal with their father's second wife's crankiness while taking care of their younger brothers. Life for everyone in their town in Afghanistan is getting better now that the Taliban has been largely defeated by the American soldiers. In fact, their Baba has just been hired to work on a new school that is being built in town, a school that will even teach girls. Zulaikha would like to learn to read and love poetry just like her mother who was killed by the Taliban for keeping books in the house. But Zulaikha's greater wish is for her cleft lip to be fixed so that she can be as beautiful as Zeynab. After she attracts the attention of some of the soldiers it seems like her wish might finally come true. Zeynab's dream of becoming a wife is also happening when Baba matches her with a man in his 40's with two other wives. But both girls run into obstacles and find that their dreams don't work out as well as they'd wished. This book is written by a former soldier who was stationed in Afghanistan and based his story and characters on real things he saw in the country.

Framed by Gordon Korman

Thanks to his earlier escapades Griffin has been labeled as a troublemaker by his new principal and the local newspaper reporter. When the principal discovers a Super Bowl ring hidden in a school cupboard he puts it on display in the trophy case. Before long the ring is gone and in its place is Griffin's retainer, making him the prime suspect. Griffin comes up with plan after plan to prove his innocence but each plan only gets him in deeper trouble until he is finally on house arrest. Luckily, he has a group of loyal friends who continue to try to find the ring and prove that Griffin isn't to blame. They just have to narrow down the pool of four suspects to find the right one.... This is the third book in a series but you don't have to read the others to understand the action in this one. When the thief is found it is definitely a surprise, if unbelievable.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Saving Zasha by Randi G. Barrow

Mikhail and his brother Nikolai find an injured man in the woods near their house. He is accompanied by a beautiful German shepherd named Zasha. Although the boys and their mother help the man, he dies of his infection. The family decides to keep Zasha but it is a dangerous choice for them since this is set at the end of World War II. Russians, fresh from the war with Germany, are destroying anything German at all including the dogs who were trained to help the German soldiers. Although Zasha is a good dog, she would likely be stolen or killed if anyone found her. With dog thieves and a local reporter closing in, the family has to work hard to keep Zasha safe and the stakes are even higher when they find out she's going to have puppies soon. This story is a feel good piece but written for younger audiences than the typical middle schooler.

Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Hibernia, Otis and Willie all have problems. Hibernia wants to be a famous singer like her mother who left her as a baby. Otis's parents died in a car accident. And Willie has parents but has to live at the orphanage with Otis after his father harmed him in a terrible way. All three kids love Joe Louis and follow his fights on the radio. With his bid to become the first African-American heavyweight champ coming up, the lives of the three teens are about to intersect with some surprising outcomes for all of them. Bird in a Box presents a realistic picture of life at this time as well as a clear sense of how important Joe Louis' victory was for the black community.

Flirt Club by Cathleen Daly

Izzy and Annie - aka Cisco and Bean - spend much of their time at school writing notes to each other which is the format of this book. Cisco and Bean are both attractive enough but neither of them have boyfriends so they decide to form their own club to figure out how to flirt. They observe other girls who seem to have it all worked out and then try the techniques themselves. Before long, both girls have attracted the interest of boys, but what will happen next? They recruit some new members to the club to help with the plans. This is a funny book and both main characters are witty. There are no deep problems to be solved but if you're looking for something light throughout (and maybe some flirting tips) this would be a good choice.

Sellout by Ebony Joy Wilkins

NaTasha is participating in her first ballet recital. She has never really like ballet but her best friend Heather has convinced her to join. NaTasha's grandmother Tilly believes that Tasha should stick to things she likes better such as volleyball. Tilly is proved right when Tasha gives a horrible performance, tripping the most popular girl in school. With this problem fresh in her mind Tasha agrees to spend several weeks in Harlem with Tilly getting more in touch with her African-American roots. Her main job is to help out Tilly at Amber's Place, a center for young women struggling with problems. Tasha is happy to help but on the first day she runs afoul of Quiana and Monique, two rough girls who accuse her of being a sellout and trying to act white. Tasha wants to run back to her suburban life but decides to stick it out and see what she can learn about herself. This book is sure to be popular but Tasha's story didn't move me at all or seem very realistic. On her first day out of the apartment Tasha stumbles over a homeless man. Her reaction is to slam the door and ask Tilly to call the police. Although she has lived in a suburb I found it hard to believe that she has been that sheltered or is that unaware of life in the city.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What Comes After by Steve Watkins

Iris is still devastated from the death of her father when she learns that she has to leave the only home she's known to go live with her aunt Sue and cousin Billy in North Carolina. Aunt Sue is harsh. She refuses to provide vegetarian food for Iris, she makes her work constantly, she spends all of Iris's inheritance on luxury items for herself, and she hits Iris if she dares to complain. The one saving grace in Iris's new life is that she gets to take care of the small herd of goats Aunt Sue keeps to make cheese. Iris becomes deeply attached to all the goats (and they to her), especially the three babies who are all boys. When Aunt Sue decides to kill the babies because they are not profitable for her, Iris knows she has to intervene to save them. But her decision to help the goats leads to an even more severe consequence that changes her life again. This book is full of tragedies big and small and yet it is also such a testament to hope and goodness. Since I love animals so much I was very worried about them but also about the depictions of what was happening to them. Although there are some hard scenes, I was able to get through them without feeling like the author had sensationalized them and, of course, Iris's love and personification of them mirrored my own. A really beautiful story that had me in (happy) tears by the end.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

End of the Line by Angela Cerrito

Robbie is in a "school" that is really a prison after killing a friend. He begins his time at the school in solitary confinement subject to the whims of Mr. Lester. If he produces work Mr. Lester approves of, he gets to eat. If not, he gets water and a bologna sandwich. In alternating chapters the reader learns about life for Robbie in prison, and what happened that ended with him killing someone. Robbie's story has many more layers than it appears at first with lots of interesting characters including his beloved uncle, a girl at school, a nasty teacher, other boys in the prison, and Ryan - the boy who died. I was just expecting a page turner but was surprised by the depths I found in this book.

Human.4 by Mike A. Lancaster

Kyle volunteers to be one of four people who are hypnotized during the town talent show. When he and the other three volunteers wake up they find that everyone in the audience and in the town are frozen in place. Upon further investigation, they discover that they cannot find anyone on the radio, television or internet. In fact, the computer only shows a screen full of strange symbols. When the four return to the site of the talent show, everyone else is now awake and moving but things don't seem quite right. Kyle returns home with his family and tells them about what he has seen but they have no memory of it. After being examined by the town doctor, Kyle overhears the adults talking about eliminating him and knows he must escape right away. What has happened to humanity while they were hypnotized and how will they be able to survive when there are only four of them? I really like this type of science fiction (as opposed to books set in outer space in new worlds I don't understand) but science fiction is sometimes hard to sell to teens. This is a fast-moving story that's not too long. Another advantage is that the author made it clear what was happening at each step of the way without reducing the suspense. I read it in one sitting!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Second Trial by Rosemarie Boll

Danny's father is on trial for nearly killing his mother. Although Danny is the one who called 911, Danny feels sure that his father is sorry and won't do it again so they can go back to being a family. He is stunned to hear in court that his father has been convicted of abuse two other times in the past and that the court psychiatrist believes that if his dad is let out of prison he will murder his mother. Although the judge is sympathetic and believes there is danger, legally he cannot help and Danny's dad is likely to be set free within a week. In order to protect herself, Danny and his sister, Danny's mom decides to enter them into a victim relocation program. Danny's family has to leave their home and start over with all new identities within a few days. Since Danny's dad has always been nice to him, Danny doesn't believe that he needs to upend his life so drastically. He takes his anger out on his mom and sister while planning for a reunion with his dad. This is a deeply moving book that presents a realistic picture of abuse and the toll it takes on families, even when they are trying to get better.

Lost and Found by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan is the master of understated, deep stories in graphic novels. This book contains three different stories. In the first, a girl wanders through an increasingly dark landscape discussing her feelings of depression only to end with the possibility of hope. The second story concerns a lost thing - can't really tell what this thing might be - and the boy who finds it. And the final story is an allegory for white people arriving in a land of native people. Although the author's note makes it clear that the story was written about Australia, it could just as easily apply to the United States. While sort, this book contains some deep thoughts and subjects with layered artwork.

The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine

Mike's father is a scientist who plans to turn Mike into an engineer when he grows up. The problem is that Mike has a math learning disability and knows he will never meet his father's expectation. With summer approaching Mike is looking forward to some fun only to learn that his dad will be working in Romania while Mike is sent to live with his great aunt and uncle in a small town. When Mike arrives in Donover he finds that his great aunt Moo can barely see to drive, has named her car Tyrone and her purse Junior, and vacuums whenever she needs to cry so that no one can hear her. His great uncle Poppy sits in his chair without talking to anyone, throws his duck slippers at things when he wants someone to get them for him, and will only eat scrapple. The eccentric characters in the book continue with a homeless man who seems to have an awful lot of stuff and connections for someone who lives out of a shopping cart, and a goth girl with a hidden talent. Everyone in town is working together to help a local minister adopt a boy from Romania but they need to raise $40,000 in just a few weeks to make it possible. Mike feels a strange connection to the boy and before he knows it, he is put in charge of raising the money. This book has a great deal of humor despite some serious problems for the characters. Mike learns a lot about himself and his father in this charming title.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Storm Mountain by Tom Birdseye

Cat is looking forward to a weekend alone with her dog, Mugs. She has made herself her favorite pesto pizza and plans to follow it by doing whatever she wants since her mom is out of town. But her plans are spoiled when her cousin Ty shows up out of the blue with a plan to climb Storm Mountain. Ty's and Cat's fathers were twin brothers who were expert mountain climbers but both died in a rescue attempt on the mountain two years before. Now Ty has had a dream of his father asking to have his ashes scattered from the top of Storm Mountain and he believes that Cat's father would have wanted the same thing. Cat is adamently opposed to the idea and refuses to participate. But when she wakes up the next morning she discovers that Ty has taken her father's ashes and set off on his mission with Mugs. Cat charges after the two but before long finds that she has gotten herself into a situation she might not survive. The two cousins have to rely on each other so that they don't repeat history and die on the same mountain as their fathers. This is a quick book with lots of action so it might appeal to students who are looking for a fast read. The writing, however, is not good and I found that I didn't really care about either character. There is also a lot of mountain climbing terminology but no glossary. I am fascinated by Mount Everest climbing so I've read several books and websites about that but was still lost as to what was going on at some points.

Flip by Martyn Bedford

Alex wakes up one morning to find that it is six months later than the day before and that he is in the body of a boy named Phillip. He is also living with Phillip's family about 200 miles north of his home in London. Once Alex grips his situation he figures that he will be able to call home and somehow his parents will sort everything out. But when he tries to call his mother at work he gets a message from a co-worker accusing him of being a psycho and warning him to never call again. Calls to his own cell phone tell him that his number doesn't exist. When Alex finally manages to get an e-mail to his best friend, his friend tells him that it is impossible for him to actually be Alex. All of this, along with the time he has somehow lost, convinces him that he must have died but that his soul somehow ended up in Phillip's body. The shock of this revelation is replaced by an even bigger one when he learns that his body is in a coma. Knowing that his body is still alive, Alex becomes obsessed with finding a way to get his soul back into it. But in the meantime he has to live as Phillip while trying to figure out what exactly has happened to him. This is an intriguing book full of thought-provoking ideas.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Warped by Maurissa Guibord

Tessa and her bookstore-owning father purchase a lot of books at an auction only to find that one of the boxes contains an old tapestry with a picture of a unicorn on it. Tessa is drawn to the tapestry and when she draws her fingers over it she finds herself pulled into a vision of the 1500's. In her vision she sees an Earl who has his thread of life withdrawn by a witch who weaves it into her tapestry. When Tessa pulls on a loose thread on the tapestry she accidentally frees Will De Chaucy, the Earl of her vision. He tells her that he has been imprisoned in the tapestry as a unicorn all this time. Tessa is happy to have freed Will and feels herself drawn to him but the witch who enslaved him wants her tapestry back. It is the tool she needs to keep herself young and immortal. Tessa is also contacted by the fates who spin life but who have been missing seven threads for centuries. Stuck between her love for Will, immortal creatures, and an evil witch, Tessa isn't sure how she can make everything right. A unique love story with a strong female lead character.

Vampire Crush by A. M. Robinson

Sophie hopes to be editor of her school newspaper but first she has to interview four of the mysterious, pale new students at school. They all live together and seem to follow Vlad, a good-looking but odd boy. Vlad immediately takes an interest in Sophie's stepsister Caroline but Sophie herself can't seem to get close enough to get an interview. She is aided by James, her next-door neighbor from childhood who has suddenly moved back into his old house but seems to prefer spending all of his time there in the dark. James knows all the other new students from his old school but warns Sophie to stay away from them. Intrigued, Sophie does the exact opposite only to find herself deep in something she never expected or believed possible. This is a funny, campy story and romance. Sophie's voice is very witty and the pop references fly fast and furious.

Orchards by Holly Thompson

After a classmate commits suicide because of being ostracized by the rest of the girls in her class, Kana is sent to Japan for the summer to be with relatives. Feeling guilty about how she didn't see the signs or make any effort to help the girl, Kana is also unhappy about being sent away. She has to spend her summer in school and helping with the harvest at her family's orchard. Slowly she begins to come to terms with her role in the suicide and her feelings about it, only to face another tragedy back at home.

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh

Will has lived at a monastery since his parents died several years earlier. While in the woods one day he finds a hob caught in a trap, frees it and takes it back to the abbey to be healed by Brother Snail. The hob is a mythical creature who can only be seen by those with "the sight" but Will can both see him and begins to care for him. Shortly after the arrival of the hob, two mysterious guests come to stay at the abbey. Will discovers that one of them is a leper and over time realizes that his servant is a member of the Fay. The two men are searching for something at the monastery and with the help of Brother Snail and the hob Will learns that an angel was killed and buried nearby many years before. Somehow Will is now involved in the search for the angel's grave and is being targeted by the Dark King of the Fay. This is a fast-moving adventure that reminds me of the Last Apprentice series. And now I wish I had a hob.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

A planeload of girls on their way to compete in the Miss Teen Dream pageant crashes on an island. The surviving girls have to find out how to stay alive until they are rescued. The first order of business is to choose a leader and two girls step up. Miss Texas, Taylor, believes that the girls should continue to practice their numbers and interviewing skills for the pageant so that when they are rescued they will be ready to perform. Miss New Hampshire, Adina, is more interested in practical matters such as building shelter and finding food. Taylor wins the vote but the girls also spend part of the days taking care of other business. What they don't know is that their island isn't deserted. In fact, The Corporation has a secret compound on the other side of the island and is well aware of the fact that the girls are there but doesn't want any unwanted attention on what they are doing there. As the beauty queens spend more time on the island they begin to realize that there might be bigger things to achieve in life than the Teen Dream title. This book is any number of things: a laugh out loud comedy; a good adventure; a story that integrates gay, bisexual and transgendered characters without making it a big deal; a romance; a biting satire about how our lives and opinions are controlled by marketing and big business; and most of all - in my opinion - as strong a piece of feminist literature as I've read in a long time. VERY enjoyable!!

Horton Halfpott by Tom Angelberger

This book has several lengthy subtitles which you will need to look up yourself because I'm not going to make this heading be five lines long. But one of said subtitles refers to the loosening of a corset which is the impetus for all the subsequent action in the book. Horton is a kitchen boy in the home of M'Lady Luggertuck. Although he only earns a penny a week he is happy to have the job because he is hoping to save enough money to allow his sick father to see a doctor. Things begin to change, however, when M'Lady agrees to host a ball for her nephew so that he may woo a neighborhood girl. From that point forward things get sillier and sillier as M'Lady's son attempts to frame Horton for wrongdoings, a clueless investigator arrives on the scene, and a band of shipless pirates (pirates who have lost their ship) become involved. I was anxious to read this since I love Origami Yoda soooo much. This didn't live up to the greatness of his previous title but it was still fun and had me lol-ing at several points. In particular, I enjoyed the references to M'Lady Luggertuck's previous adventures and the fact that the name of the pirates ship -before they lost it - was The Very Scary Shark.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Although this book is fiction, it is based on the real life holocaust of people in Europe by the Soviets at the time of World War II. This story follows Lina, a 15 year old Lithuanian girl who is taken from her home along with her younger brother and mother. For weeks they ride in a train car across the Soviet Union packed in with so many other people there is little room to move. Each time the train stops more and more dead bodies are thrown out of the other cars. When the train finally arrives at its final destination Lina finds that they have persevered only to be locked into a work camp with very little food. The only way to survive is to sign a pledge admitting that you are guilty of crimes or to do other, even more unspeakable things. This story seems similar given all the Nazi holocaust literature out there but this is a story of a different atrocity which has received very little attention but which is just as heartbreaking.