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.