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.