Monday, October 29, 2012

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

Rendi is hiding in a merchant's cart after running away from home when he is discovered and left behind in the Village of Clear Sky.  Working as a chore boy at the local inn he observes many things:  the inn owner and his neighbor are feuding; the owner's son is missing; a mysterious woman who seems to know more than she says has arrived at the inn; the moon is gone from the sky; and each night Rendi can hear moaning and groaning that no one else seems to notice.  Madame Chang tells everyone stories each night but after a few of them she insists that Rendi tell a story as well.  Slowly, Rendi's own story of life with his overbearing father comes out.  Like her first book, Lin interweaves a narrative and Asian folktales.  The folktales help to move the story forward and everything is tied together in the end.  A magical story.

In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz

Gidwitz has written another book incorporating original fairy tales - with all of their gruesome details - into a novel length narrative.  In this book he uses Jack and Jill as the two main characters who wander throughout the rest of the book.  Jill flees home after being the main character in this rewritten version of "The Emporer's New Clothes".  Together the two children seek a seeing glass in order to get their dearest wishes.  Along the way they climb a beanstalk, defeat giants (in a particularly disgusting scene), meet a humongous, fire-breathing salamander, elude lying mermaids, and travel with a frog who has been kissed by a princess.  They also tell the stories of their adventures to children who will eventually become some of the most famous fairy tale recorders of all time.  In my opinion not quite as good as the first book, but still very, very good and lots of fun!  Gidwitz is able to move so smoothly from one story to the next that at the end you're not even aware of how much ground has been covered.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall work for the master puppeteer Grisini.  Both are orphans so they have little choice but to do whatever Grisini tells them as well as enduring his ill-treatment.  After presenting at a birthday party the birthday girl, Clara, disappears and Grisini is the lead suspect.  Lizzie Rose and Parsefall find Clara, but they have a hard time accepting really her since she is now one of Grisini's puppets.  When a big fight with Grisini results in him falling down the stairs and presumably dying, the two children decide to flee London for the country after finding an invitation among Grisini's letters.  What they don't know is that they are running from one danger into another when they arrive at the home of a witch looking to give her cursed power to one of the children.  This is a complex book with numerous threads throughout.  Although it is well-reviewed, it didn't grab me at all and the descriptions of Parsefall made it difficult for me to feel much sympathy for him if, indeed, that was the author's intent.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

Jamie has just moved to a new town with his dad and sister Jas and he is hoping for a new start.  Jasmine's twin sister Rose was killed by a terrorist's bomb five years before.  Her death has destroyed the family with his parents disagreeing on how to dispose of her remains, eventually divorcing, and his father spending most of his days drunk and filled with hatred about Muslims.  Jamie barely remembers Rose and doesn't even miss her.  At his new school he is seated next to Sunya who wears a hijab.  Sunya is the only person who talks to Jamie and admires the Spider Man tee shirt he wears every day.  Jamie finds himself becoming friends with Sunya and telling her secrets he has never shared with anyone else.  But he's also torn because he knows his father would not approve of his friendship with Sunya.  This is a complex, deep book.  There is a great deal more going on than I have included in my description - issues with Jamie's mom, bullying at school, Jasmine's rebellion and grief, an attempt to reunite their parents - but all of it is woven together seamlessly.  I knew something big was likely to happen at the end of the book but that didn't stop me from sobbing for about 15 minutes after it did.  But even there, what I had predicted wasn't what actually happened. 

Cordially Univited by Jennifer Roy

Claire has a big secret - her cousin is the commoner engaged to the Prince of England and Claire is going to be a junior bridesmaid in the royal wedding!  Claire is very close to her cousin Belle who has spent every summer in their small American town so Claire wants to make sure everything goes perfectly for Belle.  The first issue she needs to address is making sure the prince is good enough for her cousin.  Once Claire is assured that he truly loves Belle she has several other problems to solve.  In particular, she has to stop mean girl (and fellow bridesmaid) Pandora from breaking up the happy couple so she can marry the prince herself.  But Claire finds herself distracted by cute groomsman Tristan who seems to be interested in her as well.  An extemely light book, but fun.  However, I couldn't buy the premise that the woman marrying the prince would rely so much on her 11 year old cousin. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Tom is an amazing gamer and has been using his skills to con people out of enough money to be able to rent hotel rooms for himself and his dad, an alcoholic gambler.  Tom wants to have a better life so he is definitely interested when he is offered a chance to train at the Pentagonal Spire, a military academy.  If he does well Tom will be one of the elite combatants fighting World War III with drones in space.  After arriving at the Spire Tom finds that the catch to the offer is that he will have to have a computer embedded in his brain that will help him to fight even faster than before but will also make him susceptible to viruses.  Tom settles into his life of training at the Spire but soon learns that not everything is as it seems: a Russian recruit has his computer scrambled whenever anything top secret is mentioned in case he is a spy; the public face of the combatants is not the one actually fighting his battles; Tom's stepfather is the head of one of the companies sponsoring combatants and he wants to program Tom to be the model recruit; and the programming teacher knows that someone has been hacking his systems and he is hiding an important secret from his own past.  The premise of this book is great and all the characters are likeable but it is much too long.  I was very interested with Tom's stepfather started enacting his plan but then it didn't seem to really go anywhere.  Of course I wanted Tom to get revenge on him but I think it would've been more interesting if the plan had made Tom into more of a threat before it was found out.  Great potential but not as much fun in actuality. 

The Lost Code by Kevin Emerson

Owen has won a space at an exclusive summer camp located in the Eden dome, a place where people have been able to live a luxurious life since global warming made life outside of the domes nearly impossible.  Owen has lived his life in one of the few communities outside a dome and is surprised at the food and amenities available at camp.  But during his initial swimming test Owen drowns.  He can feel himself dying and is surprised when he wakes up with beautiful counselor Lily giving him mouth-to-mouth and whispering that he shouldn't tell anyone anything about what happened to him.  Owen's only injuries seem to be gashes on his neck that itch constantly except for when he is in water.  Drawn to the lake one night he finds Lily and some other counselors swimming and learns that he has developed gills, just like all of them.  At first Owen is happy to be part of the exclusive group but he soon learns that the camp director is searching for something and believes the gill people are the key to what he hopes to find.  Owen also hears and sees a mysterious siren that none of his new friends see.  It's soon clear that Owen is even more special than the others and that he must save himself, his friends and what's left of humanity, especially now that the domes are months away from destruction.  Another dystopia but with a somewhat different universe.  A bit slow getting to the point throughout and obvious to me that Owen was engaging in some wishful thinking about one particular aspect of Lily

The Wednesdays by Julie Bourbeau

Max lives in a small village that is normal on every day of the week except Wednesdays.  On Wednesdays the townspeople lock themselves into their houses and keep their curtains closed.  Even locked away, Wednesdays are filled with mishaps and accidents.  One Wednesday Max decides to leave his house and find the wednesdays who cause so many problems.  He runs into Ninety-eight, a seemingly friendly wednesday who doesn't have any answers about what the other wednesdays do.  After spending one Wednesday outside suddenly people around Max are beset with accidents.  And when Max meets wednesday Two, Max is told that he is "Next" - the next boy to be turned into a wednesday.  Max and his friends only have a few weeks to discover how to save Max and find out where the wednesdays go when it is "not Wednesday".  This is a somewhat odd book.  I'm not sure I loved it overall but I was interested throughout to see what was going to happen.  The ending is a bit ominous, as well, and I do like a little twist to keep you guessing.

Friday, October 12, 2012

One White Dolphin by Gil Lewis

Katy loves the ocean and her family's sailboat but she hates Jake and his father who are trying to ruin the reef near their town.  Jake won't stop teasing Katy about her mother who has gone missing and her father who is out of work.  When Felix arrives at school his friendship with Katy causes Jake to pick on her even more since Felix is disabled, even though Felix is one of the fastest sailors anyone has ever seen.  While visiting the beach one day Katy finds a beached white baby dolphin.  She manages to keep it alive until help comes and then convinces the rescue team to move the baby to a small lagoon to recover.  But the dolphin's mother has to stick around to take care of the baby once it is released and the dredging being done by Jake's father is scaring off all sorts of wildlife.  There's a lot going on in this book and I expected it to move me more. 

For What It's Worth by Janet Tashjian

Quinn is a walking music encyclopedia who treasures his record collection more than anything.  He writes a music column for his school newspaper and spends his time discussing the latest songs with his best friend.  Quinn is excited when he gets his first girlfriend, Caroline.  Both of their lives get more complicated when Quinn begins receiving messages on his Ouiji board from the members of Club 27 - Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.  Together, they start charging people at school to receive advice from the rock legends.  But the more Quinn interacts with others the more he becomes aware of life outside of his city, especially when his sister's friend shows up asking Quinn for help in dodging the draft to avoid going to Vietnam.  I enjoyed the many references to the music of the 60's and 70's as well as the cultural allusions - a substitute teacher writes her name as Ms. Jones and the kids don't know what that means.  But I don't see it reaching many teens today who most likely don't know who these people are.

How to Beat the Bully Without Really Trying by Scott Starkey

When Rodney is forced to move to Ohio he finds that his new school has some bullies who pick on everyone, just like in his last school.  Rodney also feels sure that he will be the target of biggest bully Josh, just like in his last school.  Sure enough, he comes face to face with Josh on the first day and prepares to be humiliated.  But just as Josh is about to hit him, a stray baseball flies out of nowhere, hits Josh in the nose, breaks his nose, and disappears.  Since no one else saw the ball Rodney suddenly gets a reputation as the toughest kid in school - the only one who has ever been able to put Josh in his place.  Rodney is sure everyone will find out about his true nature before long but luck keeps going his way.  But how long can he continue to fool everyone, especially once his mean teacher becomes one of the people trying to ruin his life?  This is a light book that I think would be enjoyed by younger students.  However, at some point in the book I began to feel that Rodney himself was becoming a bully in a way.  I expected this would be addressed by the author but it wasn't and I believe that we are supposed to just be happy with the many ways Rodney gets back at those who are picking on him.  Most of the bullies in the book deserved it but I ended up feeling a little sorry for Josh who was cowed fairly early on.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Code of Silence by Tim Shoemaker

Cooper and his two best friends Hiro and Gordy are hanging out at their favorite restaurant when it is robbed.  The robbers don't see the three teens until they try to escape.  Although the criminals are wearing masks Cooper believes that they might be police officers because of the rest of their clothes.  Unsure about who they can trust the three friends decide to take a code of silence about what they have witnessed.  But the code faces serious troubles when police officers show up at school on Monday looking for the teen witness who left his bookbag behind at the scene of the crime.  Also, talking might help their friend who owns the restaurant who was nearly killed by the robbers.  While Cooper stubbornly sticks by the code he alienates Hiro who believes they should trust the police and ask for help.  This book surprised me about halfway through when God kept coming up in the discussions between the kids.  It became clear that this was a story meant to help explore telling the truth and relying on God.  Since the book is not billed as Christian literature and I wasn't expecting that, that realization threw me for a bit.  But as I reflected more I thought it was nice to have a book with Christian characters that is not just all about being Christian or about teaching you the lesson in a hard-hitting way.  As a story, not a bad mystery/adventure although I felt that the author dragged out the teens' decision to finally get some help.

UnWholly by Neal Shusterman

After the events in Unwind the law has been amended so that teens are no longer subject to unwinding at age 17 rather than 18.  Rather than making things better there is now a demand for black market body parts since there are fewer unwinds.  Connor has become the leader of the airplane graveyard and Risa works there as a medic.  Lev is under constant supervision by the government because of his clapper activities but even that supervision can't stop a terrorist attack on him.  Meanwhile, a covert organization has made Cam, a boy assembled entirely from unwound parts.  I had huge expectations for this book since Unwind is one of my favorite books of all time.  I would blame my probably unrealistically high expectations for my disappointment with this sequel except that all of my friends have had similar reactions.  Sad face. 

Scandalous! 50 Shocking Events You Should Know About by Hallie Fryd

This nonfiction book gives the details on fifty scandalous events throughout history.  Told in chronological order each event is covered in four pages.  Besides the details of what happened, the author includes information about how it impacted the world, what happened to the people involved, similar scandals, and why we still care about it today.  Even though I knew something about all of the scandals listed I still found a lot to learn here.  I had actually planned to only skim through the scandals but soon got caught up enough to read the entire book!

The Exceptionals by Erin Cashman

Claire is the only normal in a family of people with exceptional abilities.  She has always attended public school until she gets in trouble at the spring dance.  Now she is joining the rest of her family at Cambial Academy, a school for kids with special abilities.  While the other students hone their X-men like powers, Claire goes into the woods to draw.  It's there that she meets Dylan, a very attractive boy who asks a lot of questions about Claire and Cambial.  During her time in the woods Claire also finds herself tuning into the thoughts of the animals, an ability she had as a child.  She is particularly attuned to a young hawk and his mother.  Claire has always dismissed this ability as meaningless but when she tells her brother he helps her work on developing her power.  Suddenly the most exceptional students at the school are disappearing and a prophecy indicates that Claire might be the one to save them, but at what cost?  This is a fine fantasy but it had too many elements that reminded me of several other books I have read.  I did like the hawk a lot, though.  I wish she had spent time talking to many other animals as well!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex

Scott has just moved to a new town because of his mom's job at the Goodco cereal company.  He wants to blend in and avoid problems but he is plagued by migraine headaches and hallucinations of leprechauns and large, talking rabbits.  He is befriended by "twins" Erno and Emily who look nothing alike and who compete to solve the complex puzzles given to them by their foster father.  When Scott actually meets the leprechaun face to face he learns that there is much darker side to the cereal company and that he and his new friends are right in the middle of it.  This is an absurd, silly fantasy.  I mean that literally and it is also my review of it in a less complimentary way.  However, for those who like silliness and lots of cultural references, this might be right up your alley.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani

Sonia never questioned who she was when she was attending her beloved private school.  Everyone knew that she was half Jewish, half Indian and it wasn't a big deal to anyone, Sonia least of all.  But after her dad loses his job Sonia has to attend the local public school for the first time in her life and now people seem to care.  Sonia herself isn't sure where she will fit in.  She is immediately taken in by a group of popular girls when she tries out for the cheerleading team but Sonia doesn't feel completely comfortable with them.  She really likes her new African-American friend Alisha but knows that sitting with her at lunch will cause others to look down on Sonia.  While struggling with school issues Sonia's home life is also deteriorating as her father slips into depression and finally disappears.  This is a story with which many students could identify.  It is written in a manner that makes it seem lighter than the issues included. 

Once Upon a Toad by Heather Vogel Frederick

Cat lives with her astronaut mom and visits her dad and his new family on vacations.  Cat loves her dad and stepmom but can't stand her nasty stepsister Olivia.  When Cat's mom is selected to spend several months on board the international space station, Cat has to move to Washington.  Forced to room together and go to the same school, Cat and Olivia butt heads more than ever.  After a visit from Cat's kooky Great-Aunt Abyssinia things go from bad to worse.  Now every time Cat makes a sound a toad drops out of her mouth!  Meanwhile, Olivia is dropping diamonds, flowers and other precious gems from her mouth.  What has happened to the girls and how can they fix it?  An extemely light re-telling of the classic fairy tale with the two girls forced to work together to solve their problems.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

The world is divided into five factions each of which honors a particular virtue - candor, selflessness, bravery, peace, and intelligence.  Beatrice is part of the selfless Abnegations but she is faced with an important decision as all 16 year olds get to choose which faction they will join as adults.  Although most teens choose the faction in which they were raised, Beatrice decides to join the brave Dauntless faction and is immediately taken away from her family to train.  Deciding to call herself Tris she finds the training to be harder than she ever imagined especially since she is ostracized for being the only recruit from Abnegation.  Tris struggles with another problem - her placing test revealed that she is actually Divergent, someone who could be suited for several different factions.  But she has been warned not to reveal her status to anyone and as divisions between the factions become more and more apparent Tris realizes just how dangerous her situation is.  This has proven to be an extremely popular book with teens and it is good for a dystopia but I had a hard time buying the Dauntless training.  Why would they be so cavalier about their trainees?  And the losses that Tris suffers later in the book really annoyed me after others had sacrificed for her. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Fox Inheritance by Mary Pearson

In The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Jenna destroyed the copies of the brains of her friends Locke and Kara.  What she didn't know was that there were backups of those brain scans and now, 260 years later, Locke and Kara have been given new bodies and are finally out of the small boxes in which they have spent centuries.  Both were scared and aware during the time their downloaded brains were locked in the boxes, but the years seem two have made Kara mentally unstable as well.  Now she is determined to find Jenna and punish her for not saving them at the time she was brought back to life.  Escaping from their captor, Locke and Kara begin separate journeys across the country to find Jenna and to stay free.  I really loved the first book in this series and had high hopes for this one but it didn't live up to its predecessor.  Which is not to say that it is a poorly written or bad book, just not as compelling as the issues that arose in the other title.

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Cat's former best friend Patrick was beaten and had a gas nozzle shoved in his mouth in a hate crime  because he is gay.  Although Cat hasn't maintained her friendship with Patrick for the past couple of years because of her own demons, she now feels that she needs to discover who is responsible for his attack.  But Cat and Patrick live in a small town and before long everyone knows what she is doing and someone isn't happy about it.  When she begins Cat feels certain she knows who is responsible for the crime but as her investigation progresses she finds that there are many secrets her friends have been able to keep from her.  This is a good mystery with a definite southern novel-feel to it.  I wasn't as caught up in the story as I expected to be and although I know it might be included to add to the hatefulness of the town, I was unhappy with how often "faggot" or other homophobic slurs were used.  This is especially true with the character of Robert, in my opinion.  Still, a good story with much to think about.

Rebel McKenzie by Candice Ransom

Rebel plans to be a paleontologist when she grows up and she wants to go to a summer camp that promises the chance to participate in real digs.  There are only two problems - 1. She doesn't have the money for the camp and 2. Her mother makes her spend the summer babysitting for her young  nephew while her sister finishes beauty school.  Rebel has to go live in her sister's unconditioned trailer with her sleepwalking nephew and a huge, cranky cat named Doublewide.  She becomes friends with their neighbor and together the girls decide to enter the local beauty pageant which has a $250 prize - enough to pay for Rebel's camp!  But first they have to figure out how to make themselves seem like actual pageant contestants.  This book is set in Virginia and comes across as trying really hard to feel down-homey and homespun.  While I didn't appreciate the book for those qualities, I did like the ending where Rebel looked beyond herself to help out some others with their wishes. 

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Elisa is the chosen one.  She has a godstone in her navel that was sent to her when she was born.  Elisa knows that the godstone means she is destined to perform some great service someday but at 16 she can't imagine what that will be.  She has just been married to the king of a neighboring country to form an alliance.  When they arrive in her new country her husband asks her to keep their marriage a secret for a time.  Before long she sees that her new husband is unable to make a decision and seems to be in no hurry to announce their marriage nor to give up his mistress.  Elisa herself is unsure what to do or whom to trust when she finds out that her nurse is actually a member of a group dedicated to protecting the godstone.  When Elisa is kidnapped by a small faction hoping to use her in some way for their cause she has to become stronger than she imagined she could be to help protect them as well as her entire kingdom.  This is a fantastic high fantasy.  Elisa is a believable character who starts the book feeling unworthy and unattractive.  She digs deep to find the strength to lead others and claim what is rightfully hers.  The action and intrigue are strong throughout the book as well as many discussable points about what is actually God's will.

Of Poseidon by Anna Banks

Emma is at the beach when she literally runs into an unusual, very attractive man.  She gives him little thought but he is fascinated by her because he believes her to be one of the Syrena, creatures more commonly known as mermaids.  Galen is a prince of the Syrena but he is also a liaison between his people and humans.  Determined to find out if Emma is a Syrena or not he follows her to her home in New Jersey and enrolls in her school.  After some strange incidents Emma becomes aware of her abilities and grows more interested in Galen.  The only problem is that Emma might actually be missing royalty from the Poseidon clan which means she has a destiny that can't possibly involve Galen.  This is another paranormal romance and like many of them, it involves a macho man who will be reformed by the love of a good woman.  I also wasn't sure what was happening with Emma's mother.  At one moment she is extremely overprotective but then the next she is somehow reassured when she gets Galen to admit that he wants to sleep with Emma.  Huh?  Finally, I don't mind alternating chapter narrators but the fact that Emma's chapters were in first person and Galen's in third threw me every time I switched between them.

An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo

Elizabeth's mother works at the Dresden zoo during World War II.  She has been involved with the care of a young elephant since its birth.  When the zoo is threatened by Allied bombing, Elizabeth's mom brings Marlene to their home to keep her safe.  But when Dresden is nearly leveled in an attack the family, including Marlene, must run to stay alive.  Traveling with an elephant is difficult enough but Elizabeth and her family are in real danger when they meet a Canadian soldier who also travels with them.  This book was inspired by the fact that zoo animals were killed in cities during the war to protect citizens in case the wild animals got loose.  While I love animal stories, I was unmoved by this one in part because it is told in flashback from an elderly narrator.  That fact also makes it unlikely to be of much interest to teen readers.  And the resolution at the end of the war was annoying and vague, in my opinion even though the fates of all involved were revealed by the narrator later. 

Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri

Cole's mom is fed up with him after he skips school, again.  Feeling like she has failed to steer him correctly she decides to take him from Detroit to Philadelphia so he can live with his father.  Cole is shocked by his mom's sudden decision but he is even more stunned when he meets his father for the first time.  His dad is an urban cowboy running a stable in rowhouses in the midst of the ghetto.  Cole has little interest in bonding with his dad but he does begin to take care of a difficult horse.  But despite the good the stables are doing for kids in the bad neighborhood, some people want to shut them down. And when a news report shows things at their worst, Cole is motivated to help out.  This fictional story is based on the real stables found in inner cities.  Unfortunately, that shows in the quality of the story.  The book feels as though the author was inspired by the real story (which is inspiring, to be sure) and then tried to throw together a novel around that. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams

Deo spends his days playing soccer until the day the soldiers came to his small African village.  Claiming that people in the town didn't vote right in the last election they murder everyone with Deo and his mentally disabled brother Innocent barely escaping.  The two brothers have to flee for their lives but find that nowhere is safe in their country.  With some help they are able to survive an extremely dangerous trip across the border into South Africa.  But life in South Africa isn't much better for the two boys who find themselves looked down upon as foreigners and job stealers.  This story is based on the real life event of the homeless soccer world cup.  The events that happen to Deo and Innocent are shocking and tragic but the story didn't pull me in as others like this have done.  For another story of African refugees I prefered A Long Walk to Water

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker

Stella's mom is off "finding herself" after getting in trouble for not taking care of Stella very well.  So Stella lives with her great aunt on Cape Cod.  Stella appreciates Louise's orderliness but she can't wait for her mother to come back for her.  She also can't wait to get away from Angel, the surly girl Louise is fostering.  The two girls barely speak but when they come home from school to find that Louise has died they have to work together.  Neither girl is anxious to tell anyone what has happened since it means that both of them will be sent to live in new foster homes.  They decide that they can cover up Louise's death and run the small motel cottages she manages until Stella's mom comes back for her.  An okay book but I didn't really buy into the necessity of the girls hiding everything.  And the ending was just too good to be true.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

Reveka is an apprentice to the herbalist in a castle where 12 princesses wear holes in their shoes each night.  No one knows where the princesses go but the king has offered a reward to whomever can solve the mystery.  Those who have tried to discover where the princesses are dancing each night end up in an endless sleep.  Reveka is determined to discover the secret of the dancing princesses so that she will earn enough money to open her own herb shoppe.  When she stumbles upon a list of ways to make a person invisible Reveka is sure she will succeed.  But when she does discover the secret reason the princesses dance, she must make an offer to sacrifice herself to save those she loves.  I'm usually sucked right in by fairy tale stories but this one didn't grab me as much as many others.  It does a nice job of combining the 12 Dancing Princesses with the Persephone myth so fans of either of those stories will probably enjoy the book. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs

Grace's family has just moved to San Francisco so that she can attend an exclusive school.  She is adjusting to her new life and is especially interested in her brother's new friend, but things turn upside down for her when she starts seeing monsters that no one else can see.  While reeling from a minotaur sighting, she runs into Gretchen who can also see the monsters and who looks exactly like her.  The girls determine that they are twins who were separated at birth.  Unlike Grace, Gretchen has always seen the creatures and has been fighting them for the last four years.  Thanks to her mentor Gretchen knows that she is a descendent of Medusa and that her job is to help protect humans from the monsters.  Until recently they have only shown up one at a time but something is happening.  Gretchen's mentor is missing, the creatures are appearing in the daytime and a boy at school isn't suseptible to Gretchen's hypnosis.  And thanks to Grace's research into their heritage, the girls know that they actually have another sister out there somewhere.  This book reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is a GREAT thing!  The action moves quickly and all three girls are interesting characters.  I wish that we knew a little more about the boys in the book because they obviously have their own secrets...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

Janie is angry when her parents move her from Los Angeles to London in order to escape the McCarthy hearings.  Feeling like an outcast at her new school she is drawn to Benjamin who has the nerve to stand up to teachers.  Benjamin is the son of the neighborhood apothecary but rather than carry on the family business, he has dreams of becoming a spy. The two become caught up in a real adventure when Benjamin's father is threatened by a German man.  Before putting Janie and Benjamin in a hiding place his father gives them a very old book called the Pharmacopoeia and warns them to guard it with their lives.  The book contains directions to become invisible and ways to turn into birds, among other things.  The two friends find themselves caught up in an international conspiracy with spies on all sides and no idea who they can trust.  This is an unusual story.  It is a nuclear arms race during the Cold War but then includes bits of fantasy with the Pharmacopoeia. 

Look Into My Eyes (Ruby Redfort) by Lauren Child

At the age of seven Ruby cracked a code that had been puzzling adults.  A year later she wrote her own code that took government teams two years to break.  Now at age 13 she has been drafted by a top secret agency to help crack a code and stop the theft of a priceless piece of artwork.  Being looked after by her secret agent butler and with the help of her best friend, Ruby gets in deeper than she was supposed to.  But what's a girl supposed to do when she has the skills (and the stolen gadgets) to make her a success?  I found Ruby fairly annoying and the mystery a bit young for my liking.

Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

Allison finds herself in a mental institution two weeks after she remembers dissolving a fellow classmate who is now missing.  Certain that she can't possibly be remembering right, Allison goes along with her institutionalization while trying to figure out what really happened to Tori.  Allison has always been different in that she can see the colors of letters and numbers and can taste when someone is lying.  She has always heard a buzzing noise coming from Tori and sees a tattoo-like mark on Tori's arm that no one else can see.  Allison's fears about her sanity are relieved when a new doctor tells her that she has synesthesia which explains her special abilities.  But all is not well and Tori's disappearance is beginning to seem like there are bigger forces at work, forces that can't be explained by logical thought.  This book keeps the reader off balance throughout, unsure of what is really going on with Allison.  The final third of the book is good, but almost a different story from what is happening at the beginning of the story despite the foreshadowing that occurs earlier.  Still, a unique story that kept me interested throughout.

Hades: Lord of the Dead by George O'Connor

Although Hades is a major character in this graphic novel it is more accurately the story of Persephone.  Mostly true to the original myth (there is one change that I'm aware of), this telling presents a Persephone who is rebelling against her overprotective mother Demeter.  When she is kidnapped by Hades she is unhappy at first but begins to be won over by the doting god and the new freedom she finds as queen of the underworld.  The book has some humor in it as well and is an entertaining version of a classic, complete with explanatory notes at the back for those who desire more information.

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

Michael is different from other people.  He has Tourette's Syndrome which causes him to twitch and blink but more importantly, Michael has electrical powers that allow him to shock people at will.  He and his mother have moved around a lot to keep his powers a secret but Michael is happy in his new home with his best friend Ostin who knows Michael's secret.  While defending himself and Ostin against some bullies cheerleader Taylor accidentally sees Michael use his power.  She reveals that she also has some special electrical abilities.  The friends discover that they are both adopted and were born at the same hospital within days of each other at a time when dozens of other babies died.  Now that Taylor and Michael have found out something about their origins they soon find that they are in danger from the same people who caused their talents.  When Michael's mother is kidnapped he has to go right to the source to get her back but will he be able to remember what is important and act ethically?  This is a fun mystery/fantasy/action story with a unique premise and some really bad guys!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Regan Barnhill

After his parents separate Jack is sent to live with a bizarre aunt and uncle in Iowa.  As soon as he sets foot in the house he feels something unusual that he can't put his finger on.  Other strange events happen to Jack as well.  At home he was basically invisible to everyone - kids at school, teachers and even his parents tended to forget he was there most of the time.  But in Iowa he meets three kids who all notice him and become friends as well as a bully who is aware enough of Jack to keep harassing him.  Jack doesn't know what's happening but as the story goes on the many threads begin to come together - the old schoolhouse that sometimes disappears, Jack's new friend who was" taken" in the past and now doesn't speak, the odd book with a history of the town, and the town's richest man who wants to kill Jack.  This is a strange, disturbing book that seemed to try to include way too much.  Not too my liking at all.

Curveball: The Year I Lost my Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

Peter has spent his life becoming one of the best baseball pitchers in his town.  With his friend AJ backing him up he strikes out nearly everyone who faces him.  But Peter's baseball dreams end when he severely injures his elbow after ignoring the pains he was having.  What do you do when your dream is taken away?  While he's trying to answer that question Peter throws himself into photography where he meets cute, independent Angelika.  As if his injury and possible new relationship weren't enough, Peter is also dealing with the fact that his beloved grandfather seems to be forgetting things more and more often but keeps making Peter promise to keep his problems a secret.  This is a great story about aging, relationships, figuring out who you are, and readjusting your life after a catastrophe.  The last page had me teary because of events that had been building throughout the book. 

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

12 year old May is sent to help a young wife with her sod house and homestead on the Kansas prairie.  May doesn't want to be 15 long miles away from home but her parents need the money she will earn.  Within a few days of being dropped off at the new house the wife runs away to return to her home back east and the husband goes after her.  When the couple doesn't return after several days May figures out that she is on her own with no one coming to get her until Christmas.  She must find her own food and keep herself safe in the house for four months with wolves circling around and blizzards snowing her in.  This novel is fine but not compelling.  The danger May is in is not expressed in a way that draws the reader in.  Furthermore, May is struggling with dyslexia but that issue just seems to be thrown in on top of the plot. 

Silhouetted by the Blue by Traci L. Jones

Serena is excited to have won the lead role in her school's production of The Wiz.  Her life has been topsy turvy since her mother's death in a car accident a year ago and she is beginning to feel that things might be getting back to normal.  Except that her father who has always had periods of feeling blue, seems to have slipped into a more serious depression.  Serena finds herself running the household and taking care of her little brother more and more.  Her father, meanwhile, withdraws from his job, his responsibilities and his children.  Serena calls her uncle for help but has to find a way to hold everything together until her uncle can get there.  This is a realistic portrayal of a child dealing with a parent's depression.  I felt uncomfortable reading the book because I was drawn into Serena's problems.  The resolution was too fast and easy but the rest of the story has something that is, unfortunately, identifiable to some students.

Around the World by Matt Phelan

This graphic novel tells three separate tales of real people who traveled around the world by themselves.  Shortly after bikes were invented Thomas Stevens quit his job and traveled around the world on the new device.  Inspired by the novel Around the World in 80 Days, female reporter Nellie Bly tried to beat that record while writing about her adventures.  Retired sea captain Joshua Slocum restored an old boat and became the first person to sail the world alone.  The illustrations are spare and the stories, while obviously meant to be inspiring, were not to me. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Starters by Lissa Price

Callie and her brother live on the streets.  After the virus wiped out everyone except for the young and the very old, children have nowhere to go unless they have grandparents who are willing to claim them.  With Tyler sick all the time, Callie has no way to earn money other than to go to Prime Destinations.  The company allows old people - enders - to rent and inhabit young bodies for short periods of time.  Prime Destinations gives Callie an extensive makeover and then hooks her up to the machine that allows for the transfer.  When she wakes up a few days later she has no memory of what the ender did with her body while she was asleep.  But during her third rental Callie suddenly wakes up in a club where her renter has been partying.  Obviously, something has gone wrong and Callie is unsure about what to do.  She quickly discovers that her renter has planned to do something other than just have a good time but Callie doesn't know how to stop her from ruining her life.  This is a unique story full of twists and turns which makes it read very fast.  Lots of fun but a bit creepy at the end if I'm understanding who all is renting and being rented.

Ichiro by Ryan Inzana

Ichiro lives in New York City and is very proud of his American father who died in the Iraq war.  When his mother takes him to Japan for the first time he has to spend all his time with his grandfather Sato.  Sato takes Ichiro around Japan to various temples and to the Hiroshima Peace Park, telling Ichiro the stories of the gods and about the results of the nuclear bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.  At first Ichiro is skeptical and doesn't see why he should care but he slowly begins to understand more about the cost of war.  He also realizes that he can love and honor his father even while questioning what's right. 

Pandemonium by Chris Wooding

In this graphic novel Seifer is kidnapped and expected to act as the missing Prince Talon since they look exactly alike.  Seifer comes from a small town and doesn't know anything about acting like royalty and he has to learn quickly.  The country is facing invasion from their neighbors and it's up to Seifer to keep everyone happy and fooled, all while trying to stay away from the prince's elephant-sized cat that keeps trying to eat him.  This is an interesting and funny story which is obviously leading into several sequels.  Like many other graphic novels I've read, I couldn't figure out what was happening in several of the illustrated action panels.

Shelter by Harlan Coben

After his father's death and his mother's entry to rehab, Mickey is living with his uncle and starting at a new school.  During orientation he meets fellow new student Ashley and they begin dating.  Things are looking up for Mickey until Ashley disappears without a trace and Mickey discovers that she made up her name and her family.  In his search to find Ashley, Mickey is drawn into several other mysteries involving exotic dancing, a young girl who fought against the Nazis and what really happened to his father.  This mystery seemed a bit all over the place to me and not especially well written.  The characters felt like what an author thinks cool or quirky teens would be like.  Still, there is a lot of action and an interesting cliffhanger at the end.

Shift by Em Bailey

Olive used to be the most popular girl in school until her parents separated and she tried to commit suicide.  Now she is back as an outcast with only her new best friend Ami to keep her company.  When new girl Miranda shows up Ami and Olive are fascinated with her. Miranda blends into the background in every way but soon begins copying everything about Olive's former best friend Katie.  Before too long, Miranda is the most popular girl and Katie seems to be fading away. Olive and Ami begin to believe that Miranda might be a shapeshifter who feeds off of the energy of others while taking over their lives.  Although she is warned to stay away from Miranda, Olive can't help but keep investigating until Katie dies and Olive learns a secret she has been keeping even from herself.  Unsure of her own sanity, Olive questions her initial feelings about Miranda and finds herself being slowly drawn into Miranda's world.  I liked the premise of this book but I'm not sure about how it all played out.  I wish the shapeshifter story had been made more explicit and I was sad when I found out Olive's "secret she was keeping from herself", although that did make for an unexpected twist in the story.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams

London and her brother Zach were as close as twins.  They traveled the world with their missionary parents and became best friends in the process.  But after the family decided to settle in one place something happened that caused Zach to kill himself.  Since his death, London and her parents have been torn apart.  Her father has retreated into his faith to keep going while her mother blames London for Zach's death and refuses to talk to her at all.  London herself is barely hanging on.  She is brought out of her isolation a bit by the arrival of very cute boy Jesse and his sister.  Drawn to Jesse, London is torn when her ex-boyfriend Taylor wants to begin dating again.  But has Zach's death and the problems he left behind left her too damaged to resume a normal life ever again?  This is an emotional story with several layers that are revealed as the book progresses. 

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Althea knows that she must marry for money, not love, in order to keep her family afloat until her four year old brother is old enough to take care of the estate.  Althea's grandfather spent the entire family fortune on their home, an overblown castle built right on the edge of a cliff complete with a moat.  Although Althea's two stepsisters have money, they refuse to spend any of it on keeping the family and the castle solvent so it's up to Althea to marry a man rich enough to keep them going.  When Lord Boring takes up residence in their small town Althea is immediately taken with him.  Not only does he have money, he is very attractive as well.  Boring seems to be as interested in her as she is in him but his awful friend Mr. Fredericks always seems to be around at the most inconvenient moments.  Keeping the Castle owes a big nod to Pride and Prejudice but with a few plot devices of its own.  But how can you go wrong with a Pride and Prejudice-type story?  Light, romantic and fun.

Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci

In alternating chapters of text and graphic novel, Tessa slowly reveals events that have left her damaged.  During a trip to the fair with her best friend Tessa is forced to bring along her younger sister Lulu.  When the three girls meet up with several boys, including Tessa's crush Charlie, the teens decide to go into the sideshow together.  Charlie and Lulu emerge from the darkness holding hands and begin dating seriously, making Tessa jealous.  Her life is further complicated by her secret relationship with loner Jasper.  The narrative chapters take the reader through events as they happen while the graphic novel sections show Tessa after the tragedy that changed her life, a tragedy that leaves her feeling like Medusa.  Often I think that graphic novels are gimmicks intended to supposedly increase interest in a book.  The illustrations here are used to foreshadow events in the book and add to the story, although they are best understood in hindsight.  A nice mix of two different art forms.

Fair Coin by E.C. Myers

Ephraim comes home from school to find that his mother has overdosed.  Even more surprising, he discovers that the reason for her suicide attempt is that she saw his dead body after he was hit by a bus.  When Ephraim investigates he finds that the dead boy has an unusual coin. With the help of an anonymous note he discovers that he can make wishes come true when he flips the coin.  His first wish turns his alcoholic mom into the perfect mother with an important job.  But some wishes don't seem to turn out exactly as he wanted, especially when his best friend Nathan gets involved and wishes to date the girl of his dreams.  Concerned about what changes he might be making to others around him Ephraim vows to stop using the coin.  But Nathan isn't willing to give up the power and neither is the shadowy man who has been trailing Ephraim.  I expected this to be a standard "be careful what you wish for" book but it took off in a different direction.  The reality of what the coin is doing could be a little confusing but the author does a decent job of keeping the reader up to speed, unlike lots of other books in this genre.  And who knew there were so many different nicknames for Nathan?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Unison Spark by Andy Marino

The world is divided in to the privileged, who live above the canopy in the Eastern Seaboard City and have access to Unison (like a virtual Facebook), and those who live below the canopy and can barely get a signal strong enough to run a cell phone. These worlds collide when Ambrose Truax, son of the inventor of Unison, wanders into the subcanopy world and Mistletoe saves him from the men who are chasing him. Ambrose has no idea how to protect himself in this world and it falls to Mistletoe to teach him. But first they have to rid themselves of all the tracking devices that Unison has implanted. As their friendship evolves, they discover they share an odd, disturbing dream. As they unravel the meaning of the dream they discover they are involved in a much bigger mystery than they thought.  I might have liked this story better if I'd had a clue what was happening.  Too much techno jargon that didn't add to the story.

The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt

Drew spends her day's working in her mother's upscale cheese shop adoring older surfer dude Nick as he makes pasta in the front window of the store.  Each day her mother puts out the foods that can't be sold anymore and they are gone in the morning.  When Drew loses track of her beloved pet rat she carries with her everywhere, she returns to the shop at night.  Along with her rat, she finds Emmett Crane at the dumpster.  Emmett appreciates cheese and pasta and knows a lot about rats.  Emmett and Drew begin meeting more often but Emmett is mysterious in some ways.  Drew discovers that her mother is also keeping a secret - she is going on dates with someone in a silver car on the nights she claims to be working late at the cheese shop.  When Drew finally uncovers Emmett's secret, she decides it is time for her to take a leap of faith with him.  This story was obviously meant to be deep and moving.  I liked the notebook of lists from her father but the rest of the story felt as though it was trying too hard to me.  Given how devastated Emmett was from his father's departure, I had a hard time being on board with his vision which caused him to leave home as well. 

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder is a cyborg and an amazing mechanic.  She was adopted several years before by a man who died shortly thereafter from the plague that is sweeping throughout the world.  Now Cinder lives with her stepmother who hates her and her two stepsisters.  Hearing of her skills as a mechanic Prince Kai brings his broken android to Cinder for repair.  The prince is immediately drawn to Cinder but she tries to downplay her interest, sure that he would reject her if he knew the truth about her.  The prince has more issues to handle when his father contracts the plague and the controlling queen of the moon people threatens war unless the prince agrees to form an alliance by marrying her.  When Cinder's beloved stepsister Peony falls ill with the plague, her stepmother blames Cinder and "volunteers" her for experiments being conducted to find a cure.  All volunteers for the research die quickly after being injected with the plague but surprisingly, Cinder's cells defeat the virus in a matter of minutes.  Cinder finds herself at the center of interplanetary intrique as she questions who she really is and how she can help save her sister.  This book started just a bit slow and ended on a huge cliffhanger - which I HATE because I think the story could've been wrapped up.  But despite those problems, the action throughout was fast paced and many storylines were intertwined very well.  The huge surprise about who Cinder is wasn't really a surprise to me but it was satisfying nonetheless. 

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Anya is the 16 year old daughter of a dead crime boss.  Her father's mafia business included selling black market chocolate which has been outlawed in the United States.  Although Anya loved her father and often relies on advice he gave her, she has no desire to join the family business since she has seen firsthand the dangers of that life.  She witnessed her father's murder and is caring for her older brother who became mentally impaired after he was shot by some enemies of the family.  Anya also cares for her younger sister and dying grandmother.  But the business forces its way into her life when her ex-boyfriend is poisoned from some illegal chocolate she gave to him and her brother begins spending time with extended family members.  Anya's life is further complicated when she begins dating a new boy at school who just happens to be the son of the new District Attorney.  This story is The Godfather for teens - just when Anya tries to get out, they keep pulling her back in!  I really enjoyed the entire story and all the characters.  It offers something unique in the YA lit world.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Narrator Julia recounts the year she was 11, the year the Earth began to spin slower and days became longer and longer.  The slowing, as it is called, was unexpected and leaves scientists baffled as to the cause.  But the effects of the slowing grow daily.  The first obvious problem is time.  With days no longer 24 hours long - and increasing every day - clocks lose their meaning.  Quickly the world becomes divided between those who decide to maintain a 24 hour day regardless of when the sun is shining, and the "real-timers" who decide to follow day and night patterns regardless of how long each of those periods is.  But other problems accumulate for humans as the slowing continues.  Animals die, plants perish and gravity increases, among other issues.  Despite the events around her Julia is mostly concerned with growing up, the state of her parents' marriage, and whether her crush Seth likes her.  Although the events of this story revolve around an 11 year old, the book reads as adult fiction to me, not young adult.  It is basically a slice of life story even though the genre is science fiction.  Reviews for it are great but I found it unrelentlessly bleak and depressing.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Auggie is going to be attending public school for the first time in his life when he enters fifth grade.  He has been kept at home because Auggie has a major facial deformity that causes people to gasp when they see him.  Going to school is just as difficult as Auggie imagines it will be, but he also finds some unexpected things such as two friends who are able to see beyond what he looks like.  The crafting of this book is unusual.  Although the story is about Auggie, each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character in his life.  The events in each chapter overlap a bit so the reader can see how two characters interpreted the same event, but each chapter also moves the story forward.  Auggie's story kept me interested throughout but I felt that he and his classmates acted a few years older so I was always surprised when the author reminded me that they were just in fifth grade.  I love a happy ending but I can't help but feel that it is a bit false since Auggie will continue to have problems throughout his life.  Still, this book has important lessons for teens (and adults!) but they are presented through an entertaining, heartwarming story, not in a "here's something important for you to learn" way. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

True Blue by Deborah Ellis

Jess and her best friend Casey have just spent the summer as counselors at a local camp.  During their last session they had bratty 8 year old Stephanie in their cabin.  Stephanie made everyone's lives miserable with her stealing and hiding.  When Stephanie is murdered on the last day of camp and her shirt shows up in Casey's clothing, Casey is arrested for the crime.  Jess is stunned, especially by how quickly the rest of the town turns against Casey and believes in her guilt.  But while Jess is unhappy, she can't bring herself to speak up for Casey either, unlike her mom who is yelling at everyone while she slips into her recurring mental illness.  This is an amazing book that pulls you slowly into Jess's mind.  It wasn't until fairly far into the book that I was struck by Jess's character.  It's difficult to describe without giving away too much because the joy for me was when I realized what the author was doing and began to squirm a bit in reading Jess's words.  Read it!

Seeing Cinderella by Jenny Lundquist

Callie is entering middle school and things aren't going very well for her.  She has frizzy hair and lots of freckles.  Callie signed up for drama even though she didn't want to act in order to be with her best friend but Ellen is much more outgoing and has begun hanging out with new girl Stacy.  And if it's not bad enough that now Callie has to wear glasses, the pair she chose aren't available right away and she's given a huge pair with a thick, black frame as loaners.  But when Callie puts on the glasses she notices that windows open up next to people and show their thoughts.  This is helpful in some cases like when she's not paying attention in class but can still give the correct answer because the teacher is thinking it.  But Callie also learns some less fun things like that people think she's stuck up because she doesn't talk to them.  Callie has to learn to use the glasses wisely to solve the problems she is facing at school and at home.  This is a light, but cute book about growing up.  Callie starts out fairly obsessed with herself but comes to realize that others are hiding things as well. 

Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick

Since her parents have separated Marley now has to spend the summer at her father's house while her mother travels.  Her father's house doesn't feel like home and he doesn't have an internet connection so she can't even check her Facebook.  He seems to expect Marley to help him unload boxes and do chores around the house.  Worst of all, he has lined up a job for Marley babysitting twin girls every day.  Marley is looking forward to seeing her two best friends Jane and Leah.  Each year the girls play Monopoly with their own made up rules.  And ever since the original surprise water balloon blitz many years before, the three friends compete to see who can top the others with the best surprise water balloon fight each summer.  Marley's two friends are both in drama camp and don't have much time to visit and when they finally do come, things seem strained.  The friendship deteriorates even more after Marley springs the water balloon fight on them during a party.  The only upside to her summer so far is cute next door neighbor Jack.  This is a warm growing up story with which many people can identify.  Marley has to figure out what's important and what makes a true friend, both painful lessons.

Living Violet by Jaime Reed

Samara is looking forward to a relaxing summer interrupted only by her job at a bookstore.  Her peaceful summer is disrupted when she notices that women who date co-worker Caleb seem to end up in the hospital with heart attacks.  Caleb has always been full of himself, collecting quarters from women who ask about his startling violet eyes.  Now he has turned his attention to Samara, saying that she sees the "real" him.  Samara soon discovers that Caleb is a Cambion, a human who hosts a demon.  Caleb's demon requires human life force to survive and takes what it needs when Caleb kisses a woman.  Samara seems to be immune to the demon's draw which has Caleb intriqued.  With help from another Cambion, Caleb learns how to draw just a little energy from the people around him while Samara finds herself falling in love with him.  New troubles arrive, however, when Samara's mom goes on a date and ends up in the hospital with heart problems and obsessed with the man who put her there.  This book just left me cold.  The writing is uneven - does Nadine have an accent or not?  I was surprised when she was suddenly speaking like a foreigner halfway through the story.  And the story of the Cambion and how much it interacts with the host was unclear to me. 

Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

Mira lives with two aunts since the deaths of her parents when she was a baby.  Although she loves her aunts, she still longs for the parents she never knew.  A week before her sixteenth birthday she decides to run away and find their graves in the town of Beau Rivage.  What she finds there is a world she never knew existed.  Many of the town's inhabitants have been cursed by fairies and are destined to enact parts of fairy tales.  Viv carries the Snow White mark and has a tumultuous relationship with the man who is destined to carry out the role of the huntsman sometime in her future.  Rafe is an obnoxious boy who will someday become a beast.  Mira knows that handsome, charming Felix and his annoying brother Blue also have marks but no one will tell her what they mean.  All she knows is that everyone warns her to stay away from Felix even though she thinks she is falling in love with him.  She has also learned that she is marked by a Sleeping Beauty curse and unless she can figure out what sharp item will cause her to fall asleep, she has no control over her own future.  This is a really well done story weaving fairy tales into modern life along with a doomed romance. 

Rock God: The Legend of BJ Levine by Barnabas Miller

B.J. has just moved from Cleveland to New York City.  Luckily for him, his best friend has moved there as well but they are still a bit nerdy to be part of the cool crowd at school.  One day B.J.'s parents are visited by an old biker named Merv who has an angry, quiet conversation with them.  When he leaves, B.J. sees Merv drop a small notebook.  When B.J. reads it, he finds that it contains several steps that need to be followed to become a Rock God in just a week.  B.J. decides to follow the steps, the first of which is forming a band.  He recruits his best friend Kevin, a girl named Layla who pounds the drums, and Jann Solo, an amazing guitarist.  He also steals his dad's song to play in order to get discovered.  Within a few days the band is on an (accidental) road trip trying to become famous while eluding the gang of bikers who are following them.  This is a fun book.  The events in it strain believability but if you just stop trying to make it all work out, it's a fun ride! 

Hunted by Cheryl Rainfield

Caitlin is a paranormal - a person who has unusual abilities.  In Caitlin's case, she can read minds even if people are long distances away.  Since Paras are hunted and imprisoned by the government, Caitlin and her mom are constantly on the run.  When they reach their latest town they decide to hide in plain sight and Caitlin enrolls in the local high school.  There, she meets two people one of whom becomes a close friend and the other, a boyfriend.  She also finally meets a Para with whom she has been communicating for years and discovers that they have a much closer relationship than she ever imagined.  Although Caitlin can feel the government closing in on her she doesn't want to leave her new home and friends.  When she discovers the plan that some people are working on, she knows that she's the only one who can help.  An interesting dystopia but too much convoluted description of the para fighting towards the end.  I also found it hard to believe how quickly some people were able to change their opinions. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

My Sister's Stalker by Nancy Springer

Rig's sister Kari has been too busy to even talk to him since she went off to college.  The siblings used to be close until their parents divorced and Kari went to live with their father who has always been very critical of Rig.  On a whim one day Rig decides to Google his sister to see what shows up.  In addition to the pages about her many accomplishments he finds a site that is named after her and contains tons of pictures of Kari.  As Rig investigates further he realizes that many of the pictures were taken from a distance and without Kari's knowledge.  Rig feels uneasy about the site but his always optimistic mom views it more as a secret admirer than a threat.  Trying to believe that's the case Rig puts it out of his mind for a few days.  But when he checks back he finds new pictures of Kari in her bedroom, sleeping.  Rig goes to his father who takes immediate action, flying Rig and himself to the college to ensure Kari's safety.  But events are already in motion that endanger all the members of the family.  I like Springer's books because they have a lot of action and story in a very short package.  This one is only 128 pages.  The downside is that sometimes the speed with which everything happens strains believability and that was the problem with this title in some places.  Still, it has more depth than many other books supposedly designed for "reluctant readers".  Enjoyable, if not astounding.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Blood by K. J. Wignall

William has been undead for seven hundred years.  He was bitten in the 1200s but he doesn't know who cursed him to his undead life.  He was left in a tomb filled with furnishings but no explanation of his powers or abilities.  When he wakes up from a 23 year hibernation period he finds a man to feed upon.  But after draining Jex of his blood, William finds that his victim had a notebook filled with prophecies that seem to be about him.  When he runs into Eloise on the street he wonders if she might be the girl mentioned in Jex's notebook - the one he might be destined to destroy.  As a number of demons and ghosts mount a series of attacks on William, Eloise helps him research his past and find answers about who has brought them together now.  William might at last discover his sire, if he isn't killed first.  A fine supernatural title that is fairly easy to follow - a nice change from the many books with twisty turny conspiracies.  The beginning of a series, Blood leaves a good number of questions unanswered.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Crow by Barbara Wright

Moses lives in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898.  His father, and several other black men, have been elected as members of the town council and hold other positions within the government.  Moses knows that his father is smart and he studies so that he can also have an important job when he grows up.  But right now he is more concerned with trying to get his own bicycle and making sure his best friend isn't being stolen away by rich boy Johnny.  Tensions in Wilmington are rising as an election comes closer.  A series of editorials in the newspaper are contributing to the anger and racism of white citizens.  When the election is held, neither race feels like they have gotten what they want and a small group of men decide to take matters into their own hands.  This book is based on true events that resulted in disenfranchising black citizens who were just beginning to have a say about their own future.  Moses seems to be everywhere for every important event which strained my ability to believe what was happening but I'm probably more critical than most teen readers. 

My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan by Seth Rudetsky

Justin has two goals for this year: to begin dating Chuck and to become popular.  Since Chuck is the most popular boy in school, Justin would become popular just by dating him.  There are just a couple of problems with Justin's plan, though.  First of all, Chuck isn't gay and is dating Becky.  Secondly, even if Chuck was gay, Justin is short, plump and has brillo pad hair.  But Justin figures he just needs to spend enough time with Chuck to make him realize how his true feelings.  Justin finds an opportunity when he learns that Chuck and Becky have to keep their relationship secret from her dad, who doesn't approve of Chuck for his smart daughter.  Becky's dad does like Justin, however, because he is great at science.  So Becky and Justin pretend to date so that Becky can get out of the house and see Chuck.  With Becky as his imaginary girlfriend Justin does become popular but that causes him to spend considerably less time with his best friend Spencer.  What's more, Chuck stands Becky up an awful lot so Justin's dream of getting close to Chuck doesn't seem to be happening either.  I am always looking for a book with great gay characters but this one wasn't as great as I wanted it to be.  It was a typical story of realizing that what you want isn't necessarily what you actually want and was fairly light.  I also feel, however, that maybe it is a good step in the right direction when a book is not all about being gay and is simply a light story about a boy.

Breaking Beautiful By Jennifer Shaw Wolf

Everyone tells Allie how lucky she is to have survived the car crash that killed her boyfriend Trip.  Allie can't remember anything from that night but she does know that she was lucky to have survived being Trip's girlfriend at all since he was abusing her.  She kept the abuse secret throughout their relationship and now that he's dead she doesn't feel as though it would be right to tell anyone.  But Allie's life is getting more complicated by the day.  She occasionally has flashes of memory about the dance she was attending with Trip on that last night.  A new detective has come to town to investigate the accident and he seems to think that the crash might not have been as accidental as everyone believes.  Trip's father is having Allie followed and she keeps finding notes in Trip's handwriting in her locker.  Breaking Beautiful is a good mystery and a realistic portrayal of a girl who has been abused.  Allie's relationship with her disabled brother is one of the strongest parts of the book simply because he is a fully fleshed out character which is not seen too often.  I found the book a little long and wish Allie had been able to talk to the police officer - who seemed to be on her side for much of the book - sooner.  But other than that, it was very enjoyable.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

Heart of a Samurai is based on the true story of Manjiro, a 14 year old Japanese boy who ended up on an American whaling ship in 1841.  Japan didn't allow any foreigners into the country until many years later so Manjiro and the others with him who were rescued by the whalers have only heard stories of the savages from other countries.  Manjiro is curious about the American crew and soon finds that they are not the monsters he has always feared.  When he is offered the chance, he goes back to America with the captain of the ship to be raised as his son.  But even though he is happy with his new life, Manjiro still hopes to return to Japan one day to see his family there.  In real life, Manjiro was one of the biggest contributors to convincing the ruler of Japan to open the borders of the country but it didn't happen without some heartache for Manjiro along the way.

And Picasso Painted Guernica by Alain Serres

After the Spanish town of Guernica was bombed the artist Picasso felt compelled to paint something that would capture the horror of the attack.  This book takes the reader through the lengthy process of creating "Guernica", showing all the stages involved.  It also presents a brief biography of Picasso's life focusing on his development as an artist even from a very young age.  One of the things that struck me the most was a painting Picasso did of his mother when he was just 13.  Although he is know for cubism and other unusual techniques, his earlier work shows his skill in more traditional styles as well.  The writing is a little dramatic or artsy but, then again, artsy people are sort of like that.  :-)

Powerless by Matthew Cody

Daniel has just moved and he soon learns that several of the kids in the town have an unusual secret - they have super powers.  The super heroes have a problem, however, because they all lose their powers and forget they ever had them as soon as they turn 13.  Daniel's new friend Mollie is approaching 13 and wants to find a way to stop whatever is happening.  While watching over another boy on the night of his 13th birthday, Daniel sees an ominous creature enter the room which seems to suck the power right out of the hero.  Daniel turns to his interest in detective work to solve a mystery involving an historical meteor strike, a World War II comic book and his new friends.  This is a light story with several twists and turns to keep you guessing as to who the bad guy really is.  All the characters are likeable and the ending leaves you thinking about what the next adventure will be.

Titanic: Unsinkable by Gordon Korman

The first book in a trilogy, this title spends most of its time introducing us to the main characters who are sailing on the Titanic.  Paddy is a stowaway escaping an Irish mobster who has killed his best friend.  Sophie is an American returning home with her outspoken mother.  Alfie is a boy who has taken a job on board ship just to be closer to his father who also works there.  And Juliana is a rich British girl, embarassed by her spoiled father.  This chapter in the trilogy ends just as the ship is heading into the Atlantic towards its doom.  As with most books by Korman this one is fine with a good deal of action and not as much depth.  But given the subject of this one and the easiness of it, I think it will be popular.  My only complaint about it is that establishing the characters is a bit confusing, especially for the more reluctant readers who might be interested in the title.  Once you have worked out who everyone is the story moves along more quickly.  And the big twist with Paddy's story right at the end will keep teens reading.

Bulu, African Wonder Dog by Dick Houston

This is the true adventures of Bulu, a Jack Russell Terrier who lived with his owners in African bush country.  Anna and Steve Tolan were warned about trying to keep a dog in a country full of dangerous animals but they felt that Bulu was different as soon as they saw him.  Bulu soon proved himself adept at bonding with orphaned wild animals including warthogs, monkeys and a bushbuck.  The descriptions of Bulu and his adopted brothers and sisters are heartwarming but the dog also encountered lots of danger which is where the book lost me.  I think the reader is supposed to be amazed at how resilient Bulu is, bouncing back from parasitic infections, attacks by wild animals, near misses with crocodiles, and "treatment" by sketchy vets.  Instead, I was extremely annoyed by the fact that Bulu's parents continued to let him live in this obviously inhospitable place while asking how could they pen him in because Bulu will be Bulu.  Bulu is a good dog, his owners, not so great.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Moon Pie by Simon Mason

Martha and Tug's dad has been acting "strange" ever since their mom died.  He used to be a calm, reliable presence in their lives but recently he has been climbing onto the roof and falling off, staying out late, giggling and acting silly, and planning picnics at 2:30 in the morning.  With dad acting so strange, it's up to Martha to take charge around the house and take care of Tug.  Her friends Laura and Marcus let Martha know that her father is an alcoholic.  After reading some books about alcoholism Martha knows that things will only get worse without help but she's unsure of how to help her father.  Her opportunity is taken away from her when her father crashes the car and Tug and Martha are sent to live with their strict grandparents.  This book is an extremely realistic portrayal of living with an alcoholic parent - uncomfortably so at times.  Martha completely fills the role of the super-responsible caretaker, being sucked in a little at a time as her father makes promises he is unable to keep.  While I am happy that eventually things work out for the family, I am completely annoyed by the way in which everything turns around unrealistically.  The cover, as well, is ridiculous given the content of the book and makes me wonder if the illustrator (or publisher) even read the story. 

Titanic: Voices From the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

On the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, this book presents the story again containing quotes and descriptions from survivors of the disaster.  The author starts with the building of the great ship and goes through its maiden voyage, including what happened to several of the survivors afterwards.  It is very nicely done and gives the read many chills with the descriptions of events on board that night without resorting to overly dramatic statements.  I have read a great deal about the Titanic and still found many new things to learn in this title!  Highly recommended for those who are interested in this disaster.

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Wahoo lives in a menagerie with his father, a wild animal wrangler for movies.  His father has been out of work for awhile ever since a frozen iguana fell on his head during a Florida cold snap.  But when they are approached to work on an episode of "Expedition Survival!", Wahoo knows they just can't turn down the money the TV show is offering.  The problem is that the star of the show, Derek Badger, can't survive anything and all his interactions with wildlife are fake.  After a strangely successful shoot with an alligator, Badger decides to venture into the real Everglades to film more segments with actual live animals.  Wahoo and his dad are brought along to handle the animals and they bring Tuna, a girl from Wahoo's school, who is on the run from her abusive father.  As with most Hiaasen novels, things go from bad to worse but in a humorous way.  I enjoyed this book but didn't find it as hilarious as other books by the author.  I especially enjoy his way of adding quirky secondary characters with a lot of depth but didn't find as many of these in this title.  Still, he is consistently fun to read. 

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Aria has lived her entire life in the enclosed city of Reverie.  People in the enclosed cities spend most of their time in the Realms - virtual reality worlds where they can safely experience whatever they'd like.  But after Aria follows the son of one of the most powerful people in her world into a forbidden situation, she is thrown out of Reverie into the wilderness.  People who live outside the cities are thought to be savages so when Aria runs into Peregrine, she is afraid.  But with no one else to help her, she has no choice but to rely on him to save her life.  Slowly she learns how to survive on the outside, even using the constant electrical storms from the damaged sky to her advantage.  She also learns that life inside the cities isn't all she thought it was.  This is another dystopia, to be sure, but a unique and fairly well-done one.  It has a pretty steep cliff-hanger so fans will be anxious for more.  The love story is also well-written - realistic but intense.

Reasons to be Happy by Katrina Kittle

After Hannah's beloved mother dies of cancer Hannah finds herself reeling.  She is the daughter of two famous actors who are as well-known for their good looks as their acting ability.  Next to them, Hannah feels like an ugly duckling.  She is also starting at a new school where she is immediately taken in by the most popular - but also most critical - clique.  Before her new life in Hollywood and her mother's death, Hannah kept a running list of reasons to be happy but she hasn't found anything to add to it recently.  Desparate to find a way to take control of her life, Hannah becomes bulimic.  At first she feels better but she soon finds herself stealing food and sinking deeper into depression.  The only person who seems to notice is her aunt, an anorexia survivor.  I'm sure this book will be fairly popular because of the subject.  The descriptions of Hannah's bulimia are unflinching and her thought process is also well done, although sick.  My problem with the book was the treatment of her eventual cure.  She sees a counselor for about a week then goes to Africa with her aunt where she learns what suffering really is.  Perspective is good but I found all of that  part unrealistic. 

You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis

For nearly a year, Luna has been dealing with the death of her mother who was a famous model.  When her movie-director father begins seeing someone new, Luna decides to pay a visit to her mother's studio which has been abandoned since her death.  There, she finds her mom's cell phone with seven new voice mail messages on it.  Luna opens the first one which starts her on an investigation into secrets her mother was keeping and what actually happened at the accident that caused her death.  With the help of the boy across the street, Luna discovers many things about her mother and father that surprise her.  This book has an intriguing premise and kept me interested throughout but I found myself annoyed when I finished because it didn't live up to my expectations.  The author hints throughout the book that there is more to be discovered about Luna's mother but most of the revelations are done about halfway in.  Several reviews are skeptical of the friendship between Luna and the adult model but that didn't bother me as much as the ease with which Luna becomes a famous photographer.  I just feel a bit deflated after waiting for something huge to happen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Flyaway by Lucy Christopher

Isla and her dad wait for the migrating whooper swans to return to their area every spring.  While trying to find the flock this year Isla's father collapses and ends up in the hospital facing heart surgery.  On one of her visits Isla notices a lone whooper on the lake behind the hospital.  When she goes to see the swan it seems friendly and even races her as she runs around the lake.  Isla wants to find a way to make the swan fly away to rejoin her flock.  When she is given an assignment at school to study flight and build a model of a flying machine, Isla decides to study swans and makes herself a harness with wings attached.  Her visits to the hospital also allow her to visit Harry, a boy with cancer, who becomes her friend and partner in tracking the swan.  Isla has a lot of deal with:  her worries about whether her father will recover, Harry's health, problems at school, her grandfather who refuses to set foot in the hospital to see his son, and the lonely swan.  I get that the swans were very important to the story, but they became overpowering to me.  Isla's focus on them felt more obsessive than dedicated.  I just had a hard time getting wrapped up in the emotion of all that was happening or caring much about the characters.

Dark Eden by Patrick Carman

Will suffers from an intense fear.  He has been seeing a counselor but is making little progress.  His counselor suggests that he go with six other patients to a camp with a renowned counselor who has cured others in the past.  During his sessions, Will has managed to hack into his counselor's files and has heard recordings of the other teens who will be going along to be cured.  When they get to the remote location, Will hangs back and hides in the woods while the others enter Fort Eden.  After careful observation of the camp cook, Will sneaks into the building and finds an old bomb shelter in the basement.  His hideout also has several TV screens that allow him to see life around the camp, including what happens during the "cures" of the other teens...  This book kept me interested up until the end.  It was also quite creepy and suspenseful, something that is somewhat hard to find.  But the revelation of what is actually happening at Fort Eden had a lot of parts and I felt that some things were not clearly explained - at least to me.  Still, I'm happy to have a true horror novel to talk about with the kids at school.  And there is already a sequel in the works so that will also make them happy.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Drink, Slay, Love by Sara Beth Durst

Pearl is a teenaged vampire.  She spends her nights sparring with her boyfriend Jadrien and drinking from her favorite snack, Brad.  But Pearl's life changes when she is attacked by a unicorn.  Pearl is surprised to find that she hasn't died after being staked by the unicorn's horn.  More surprises follow when she discovers that she can now be outside during the day without turning into a pile of dust.  When Pearl's vampire Family is chosen to host a ceremony for the reigning vampire king they decide that Pearl's new ability makes her the perfect person to secure a feast for the king and all the guests.  Now Pearl has to attend high school during the day and help prepare for the king's arrival at night.  As time goes on Pearl finds that the unicorn attack has resulted in other side effects as well and she begins to think about the humans at school as more than just food.  This is a fun book!  The vampires follow traditional vampire lore but Pearl's exploits keep it lighter as she navigates through school hierarchies and her new abilities.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Ever since her dad died Jill has been cutting herself off from everyone she knows, refusing all offers of support or help. Already on edge with her mother, Jill is furious to learn that her mom has agreed to adopt a baby from a girl she met online.  Jill's mom claims that this is something she and Jill's dad had planned to do before he died but Jill feels that she is acting rashly.  When the birth mother arrives, Jill is even more suspicious.  Mandy is obviously not telling the entire truth about her situation.  She has her own set of problems and her own reasons to leave her home behind.  Jill is trying to recapture who she was before her father's death and begins by making up with her ex-boyfriend.  But she also decides to have a new friend investigate Mandy's background.  This book is told in alternating chapters by Jill and Mandy.  Wow!  I could barely write that summary because I was so anxious to get to the part about how the book impacted me.  I liked the story all the way through and enjoyed seeing Jill growing from someone I didn't like at all into a person I could feel for.  But the last 30 pages packed a wallop!  I pretty much cried throughout but there were about five specific paragraphs that really got to me.  When I finished I just sat in the sun for about ten minutes reflecting on the book, then I went back and read the last 30 pages again because I wanted to recapture that sad, exquisite feeling. 

With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo

Ollie's dad is the Reverend Everlasting Love, a preacher who travels from town to town with his wife and five daughters.  When the Loves set up a revival in Binder, Ollie knows they will be leaving in three days.  But on a trip into town she meets Jimmy and learns that his mother is in jail for killing his father.  Jimmy knows his mother didn't do it and Ollie believes him.  She petitions her father to stay in Binder longer than usual so they can try to help Jimmy and his mother.  They find that the townspeople of Binder run the gamut from kind people who open up their homes to the Loves to those who have already decided that Jimmy's family is no good.  This is a charming book that drew me in with a simple story.  Although it didn't "wow" me, it made me feel warm and happy as I was reading it, even though I wasn't sure why.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

Many people have heard about the Little Rock Nine, the nine black students who integrated a high school in Arkansas in 1957.  What is less known is that in the following year, the Little Rock school board decided to close their high schools rather than integrate.  This book is set in 1958.  Marlee is a middle schooler who finds it difficult to speak to anyone.  She meets a new girl at school named Liz who immediately clashes with the most popular girl. But rather than feeling intimidated, Liz becomes the queen herself.  With Liz as her new friend, Marlee finds herself speaking up more.  But everyone, including Marlee, is shocked when they find out that Liz is actually a black girl who is passing for white.  Marlee and Liz's friendship puts both of them in danger in a town that is so racist but Marlee can't stay silent anymore.  I was really looking forward to this book because I loved Levine's The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had.  This one didn't quite live up to her other title, but I always wonder if that's because my expectations were so high to begin with. It is still a good story with well-developed characters who exhibit a mixture of qualities both good and bad.  So, not as amazing as I wanted but still pretty darn good.

Zombie Tag by Hannah Moskowitz

Wil and his brother invented a game called zombie tag and Wil continues to play it as often as possible with his friends even though his brother died.  Wil has learned a bit about the last time there were zombies and he is certain that there is a way to raise them again.  He also feels certain that if he could bring his brother back to life, Graham wouldn't be bad and Wil and his parents could go back to to how things used to be.  When Wil finds the zombie bell at his best friend's house, he rings the bell and every dead person within five miles comes back to life.  But while Graham isn't evil, he also doesn't seem to be the Graham that Wil remembers.  Although this book seems like a sure-fire seller because of the zombie title and game, it really isn't much about zombies.  It's actually a story about dealing with grief and letting go. 

The Great Molasses Flood by Deborah Kops

This nonfiction book tells about an actual flood of molasses in Boston in 1919.  In January of that year a tank holding over two million gallons of molasses exploded.  The wave of molasses lifted houses off of their foundations, washed some people out to sea and drowned several others.  Pieces from the ruptured tank destroyed subway lines.  After the disaster the town tried to sort out who was responsible.  One theory was that the tank was poorly made by the company who put it together in a rush and the unseasonably warm weather caused the molasses to ferment resulting in an explosion.  The molasses company suggested that the tank had actually been bombed by anarchists.  A three year trial attempted to determine who was actually to blame. I like nonfiction because there's always something to learn.  Who knew there was a flood of molasses?  Although this book didn't capture me as much as some other nonfiction titles I've read, I still liked learning about this unusual disaster.  AND that the smell of molasses wasn't completely gone until 1995!

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Ivan is a silverback gorilla who lives in a "domain" at a mall.  He has accepted his lot in life and spends his time making pictures with the art supplies given to him and talking with the stray dog who hides in his domain.  When attendance falls off for the daily performances of the other animals, the owner buys Ruby, a baby elephant, to bring in more crowds.  In his rush to train the elephant, the owner is not always humane and Ivan makes a promise to make Ruby's life better.  Ivan wants to honor his promise, but what can he do to make sure Ruby gets the life she deserves?  This is a really touching book with a few lol moments.  It is based on a true story, which makes it more poignant.