Monday, November 4, 2013

Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters by Suzanne Weyn

Ingrid and Giselle are the twin daughters of Dr. Frankenstein, a father they never met.  Dr. Frankenstein left them and kept his relationship to them secret in order to keep them safe from the monster he created who was destroying everything the doctor loved.  Now 17 the girls have inherited all of their family's land and the castle and have come to live on the desolate island.  But something seems to be stalking the girls.  Giselle continues to fall prey to men who seek to do her harm and people on the island are turning up dead.  Ingrid, meanwhile, has found her father's former laboratory and notes and is working to recreate his work in order to help a wounded soldier she loves.  This book has a good payoff at the end but is fairly long in getting around to it. 

Cardboard by Doug Tennapel

Cam's father doesn't have enough money to get Cam a decent birthday present so he gives him a cardboard box that he purchased from a mysterious man.  The father and son turn the box into a man who comes to life.  But Cam's father doesn't follow the instructions given to him when he purchased the box and chaos soon ensues thanks to Cam's pushy neighbor.  Not my cup of tea at all.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Mary is forced to travel to San Francisco during the worst Spanish flu outbreak ever in 1918 after her father is accused of supporting Germans.  In addition to the flu which is claiming lives every day, Mary has to deal with wounded soldiers back from World War I and the death of her fiancé.  Her aunt continues to force Mary to relive her time with her fiancé by visiting his brother who is a spirit photographer - someone who claims to take pictures of people with the ghosts of loved ones in the background.  Mary doesn't believe in spirit photography until she is visited by her fiancé who seems to be trying to tell her something about his death.  Mary is pulled deeper and deeper into the spirit world as well as a murder.  There's A LOT happening in this book and while it could make for a compelling booktalk, I don't think that many students would stick with the story.  There's also a bit of racy material in Mary's visits with her fiancé.

Amber House by Kelly Moore

Sarah's mother grew up in Amber House but Sarah herself never visited the place until her grandmother died.  Now she is living there for a few weeks while her mother prepares to sell the house and all of its contents.  Sarah quickly becomes friends with Jackson who lives with his mother on the property and the two begin searching the house for the diamonds they have heard are hidden somewhere.  But Amber House has more secrets than legendary diamonds.  Sarah finds herself haunted by ghosts of her ancestors who seem to have information for her as she is pulled deeper into her family history and the history of the entire area where Amber House is located.  Not a bad supernatural mystery but the ending was pretty confusing which made the rest of the story less enjoyable to me, at least.

Spies and Prejudice by Talia Vance

Berry works parttime as a private investigator gathering evidence of cheating husbands with the help of her friend Mary Chris. Berry is also obsessed with the death of her mother several years before and is convinced her mother was murdered.  When she observes Mary Chris's father receiving documents that pertain to her mother's last job Berry begins to wonder if he might have some information she needs.  While working a case the two girls run into Tanner and Ryan who just seem to keep turning up everywhere they go.  Everything in Berry's life seems to lead to more than meets the eye...  I'm not sure why there was any nod to Pride and Prejudice at all with this book because the references were barely there.  The mystery was fine but not especially compelling for me.

Chasing the Skip by Janci Patterson

Ricki's father is a bounty hunter who has never been a part of her life.  But when her mother moves to California to be with a boyfriend Ricki has to move in with her dad for a few months.  Against his better judgment he takes Ricki along to chase a more dangerous skip than his usual cases.  Father and daughter clash about how to handle the young man once they catch him with Ricki thwarting her dad's efforts at every turn.  But the more time they spend together the more Ricki begins to understand her dad, and her mother as well.  Ricki is a difficult character to like as the book goes along but I totally understand her since I've seen teens just like her.  Her relationship with her dad is realistic and flawed and I actually cringed at some of the scenes.

Legend of the Ghost Dog by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

Tee, her writer father and her little brother Jack are in Nome, Alaska for a few months.  Tee is excited by all the wide open spaces to walk with her dog Henry.  On one of their walks Henry gets spooked and Tee thinks she sees the shadow of a big dog.  Tee meets Quin and the two girls become fast friends, investigating the ghost dog together.  This book is billed as a thrilling mystery but it read more to me as an elementary level book and a lesson in sled dog history. 

The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble

Jenna's family has been falling apart since the car accident that killed her father.  Her mother is in a deep depression and doesn't interact with the family at all while her brother is a stoner.  Jenna herself hasn't been feeling too well recently and when she collapses her brother rushes her to the hospital but has an accident on the way there.  When Jenna wakes up she is surprised to find Casey without a scratch on him.  In fact he looks better than ever.  Testing on Jenna, however, reveals that she is being poisoned and it's up to her, her newly cleaned up brother and a strangely involved paramedic to figure out who is trying to kill Jenna.  I really liked this story and would love to be able to recommend it to more students but Casey's drug use at the beginning of the story is mentioned too much for me to do an active push of it.  His later transformation makes up for the earlier problems if only the requests for banning weren't already all filed. 

Zom-B by Darren Shan

No one is very concerned by the reports of zombies in Ireland, not even B.  B lives in England spends time picking on the black kids at school or making trouble for the teachers.  B's father is racist which makes B a little uncomfortable but not enough to make a change in B's behavior.  But when the zombies arrive at school and begin attacking everyone B has to work with whomever is available to survive until help arrives.  Shan doesn't disappoint with the horror once the zombies show up but the lead up to them is a bit slow and I think it might be difficult to get more reluctant readers to stick with the story long enough to get to some brain eating.  Those who do stay with it won't be disappointed with the zombies nor with the big twist in the story.

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Sophie and Agatha are best friends in their small town.  Each year two teens are taken by the Schoolmaster to the school for Good and Evil and eventually the two abducted people show up in the fairy tale books that arrive at the bookstore.  Sophie has been practicing being good for years so she's sure she'll become a princess in no time.  She's also sure that Agatha will be taken for the evil school since all she wears are shapeless black dresses.  But when both girls are taken they are in for a surprise because Sophie is dumped into the evil swamp and Agatha is decked out in pink to become a princess.  Sophie knows there must have been a mistake and is determined to make her way to the school for princesses while Agatha just wants to go back home, especially after she learns what becomes of the students who don't measure up.  The premise of this book had me very excited to read it before I began but oh my, the execution was endless.  And Agatha's devotion to her evil friend was just not understandable to me.  A fairy tale story that fell very flat to me. 

Infestation by Timothy Bradley

Andy is sent to a reform school for boys in the middle of the desert where the food is horrible, the air conditioning doesn't work, his roommate likes to set fires, and everyone is covered with bug bites.  Things seem pretty bad already but when a major earthquake hits Andy is one of the few students not in the main building at the time which turns out to be a blessing.  The earthquake awakens and releases a race of giant mutant ants with voracious appetites for whomever gets in their way.  Andy and his friends have to find a way to get to help before the infestation spreads outside of their small school to the rest of the state or the world.  This is just a downright crazy premise straight out of the SyFy channel but if you just let yourself go with it it's a fun book.  The boys meet a scientist who was working at the school so there's even a bit of real science mixed in but not in an obnoxious way. 

Cursed by Jennifer Armentrout

Ever since her little sister used her gift to bring Ember back from the dead every living thing she touches dies.  Ember used to be popular before she was cursed with the touch of death but now she is picked on for being strange and wearing gloves all the time.  When her biggest bully catches her in a parking lot and won't let her go he dies and Ember finds herself with no choice but to go with a couple of strangers to a home filled with other teens with odd powers. Even among oddballs Ember is ostracized because her power is not viewed as natural and because she can't control it.  For her part, Ember is distrustful of the motives of the people in charge of her new home and when she finds some evidence that the accident that killed her wasn't an accident she has even more reason to be suspicious.  I see that others liked this book but I just couldn't get interested in Ember who claims to be a victim but then lunges at people with bare hands when she gets annoyed. 

Beautiful Decay by Sylvia Lewis

Ellie always has a fresh pair of gloves available to put on in case the pair she is currently wearing begin to rot.  Ellie's touch causes surfaces to grow mold or gives people infections that are hard to shake.  She is a freak at school and everyone, even teachers, know to stay away from her.  She can't understand why newcomer Nate doesn't seem to be afraid of her until he reveals that he is a necromancer and is not afraid of her.  More importantly, he reveals that Ellie is a viviomancer - someone who manipulate the forces of life.  Armed with a word for what she is Ellie feels slightly less alone but her troubles are just beginning with troubles between her and her best online friend as well as Nate's zombie mother whom he raised accidentally.  I think this book should have been more exciting than it was but the story built as it went along, especially with the arrival of Ellie's friend.

Cameron and the Girls by Edward Averett

When Cameron doesn't take his pills he hears voices in his head and sometimes things get out of control.  Cameron knows he should take his pills but he likes hearing the voice of The Professor who gives him good advice and Cameron thinks he can handle being off his pills this time.  Cameron is surprised to hear a new voice in his head, a voice he calls The Girl.  She seems to like him and Cameron is worried that he will lose his new girlfriend if he takes his pills again so he makes a pact with his new friend Nina that they will stick together while experimenting with going cold turkey.  But along with The Girl Cameron begins to hear another new voice and this one urges him to do things that are more destructive.  This book presents a realistic picture of a person dealing with some schizophrenic tendencies and now easy it is to go down a destructive path.

Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills

Sierra is the perfect student who believes strongly in the school rules and even helped to create some of them.  So when she finds that she accidentally took her mother's lunch one day and that it contains a knife to cut her apple Sierra immediately takes the knife to the cafeteria monitor to turn it in.  But rather than being thanked for her honesty Sierra is taken to the principal's office where she is suspended pending a hearing because of the school's zero tolerance policy on weapons.  Sierra's father is a cutthroat lawyer who swings into action and before long Sierra isn't sure how she feels about anything anymore, including the boy who has always teased and annoyed her.  While there are some flaws in this book I think it will really make students and adults think about policies and how they are enforced.  The cover is completely awful.

Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport

Stories from the Holocaust point out the brutality and barbarism of the Nazis with the prisoners being their helpless victims.  I have seldom heard much about the courageous resistance of Jewish prisoners and others who helped them before reading this book.  But Rappaport details many such examples of prisoners effectively standing up to the Nazis in numerous ways.  It is inspiring to read about courage in the face of such oppression. 

Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan

Habo is an albino living in Tanzania.  He is the object of ridicule in his small town because of his looks and he can't do much because his eyes and skin are so sensitive to sunlight.  Even his brothers are disgusted by him and his mother can barely stand to look at him.  With Habo unable to work to help pay the bills the family has to move to the city to live with an aunt.  But she warns them about bounty hunters who will kill albinos to sell body parts to witch doctors who believe in the magical power of albinos.  Habo is forced to hide until the family raises enough money to travel to the capital where albinos are accepted and even part of the government.  But when Habo is discovered by a man he knows to be a killer Habo decides he has to travel to the city alone to protect his family.  I wasn't sure about this book until quite a ways into it.  Often books like this present not very great stories just in order to make some greater point.  But Habo's life in the city changed my mind with the deeper characters he met there.  And the author's note at the end provided lots of great information.

Juvie by Steve Watkins

Sadie had a huge lapse in judgment the night she agreed to go to a party with her sister Carla.  Carla has always been a screw up - getting pregnant at a young age, working a minimum wage job and partying as if she was still a teen.  Sadie, meanwhile, is a basketball star on her way to a college scholarship.  But on the night of the party Sadie allows herself to be convinced to drive two men they just met at the party to a convenience store.  Once there, Sadie and Carla are arrested for selling drugs to a police officer - a drug deal the two unknown men set up.  Since Carla already has a record Sadie agrees to take the blame thinking she will just get probation.  But a tough judge sentences Sadie to six months in juvenile detention and everything in her life comes crashing down.  Sadie's future is in jeopardy, it doesn't look like Carla is doing much to change her life, and life in juvie is no picnic.  I love the other book I've read by Watkins so I had high expectations for this one.  It was fine but not as moving as What Comes After.  I did like, however, that although life in juvie was not as it is often depicted in prison movies and shows, it was still pretty awful in more everyday ways. 

Hyde and Shriek by David Lubar

Ms. Clevis loves her job as a science teacher but one day she accidentally puts a strange mix of ingredients into her smoothie and things start to go awry for her.  One minute she's super nasty Ms. Hyde, a teacher who delights in making the lives of her students miserable, even driving them to the dump miles away and making them walk back without shoes.  The next minute she becomes sweet elementary school student Jackie helping out everyone around her.  The good and bad sides of Ms. Clevis are splitting apart and she needs to find a way to get them back together and become herself again.  This is a silly book but fun for lower readers or those just looking for something not too heavy.

Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom by Joan Holub

This light book introduces the reader to Zeus as a boy, unsure of who he is and why he keeps getting struck by lightning.  After he pulls a thunderbolt from a stone the Titans are concerned about Zeus' powers but Zeus himself doesn't understand why the thunderbolt won't stop following him.  He finally finds some ways to tame the bolt treating it more like a pet than the destructive force it will eventually become.  By the end of the book he has found some of the other Olympians and it appears they will soon be working together.  I thought this would be a fun, light read but it is very young - intended for elementary students rather than middle school.  Although it is fine, I tend to be a bit snobby about mythology and don't like big deviations in the stories. 

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Let's get the fact that this book is very similar to The Hunger Games out of the way right off the bat.  Despite that, I really enjoyed the book nearly as much as I liked The Hunger Games the first time I read it.  Cia has reached the end of her schooling and is hoping to be selected for the Testing, a process by which young people get to attend the university.  No one from her small town has been selected in years so everyone is surprised when four students are chosen for the testing this year.  Cia's excitement is lessened when on the night before she is to leave her father takes her aside to warn her about what will actually happen, at least as much as he can remember and what comes back to him in nightmares.  Rattled, Cia promises to trust no one but she has a hard time keeping her word when Tomas makes it clear that he wants more of a relationship with her.  The tests start immediately and are constant and brutal.  So many similarities which usually really bothers me in a book but I was just wrapped up in the story!

The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas

In 1863 Emily's father tells her and her mother that they will be leaving their home in Illinois and moving to Colorado to set up businesses and make some money off of the gold miners there.  The trip will be long and difficult and the family can only take along whatever they can fit into their wagon.  In fact, the wagon is so packed that Emily and her mother have to wear all of their clothing because there's no room for it in the wagon.  Before they go Emily's grandmother gives her pieces for quilt blocks with the expectation that Emily will work on sewing them together on the way out west.  Emily doesn't like quilting but her mother and aunt help her with the pieces and between her quilting and the many other adventures she experiences during their many months of traveling Emily finds the time passing quickly. I love adult novels by Sandra Dallas but wasn't as taken by this one.  The story was enjoyable but there was no major event that made me anxious to find out what happened.  It is, however, a good depiction of migration across the Midwest with all of the troubles faced by our pioneers.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

Kyle has ignored the extra credit essay he could write about the opening of a new library in town until he finds out that the winners will get a chance to meet with Mr. Lemoncello himself, the creator of the greatest games ever.  Discarding his last minute attempt Kyle submits an essay thoughtful enough to win him a slot at the grand opening.  The invited kids are treated to an amazing night at the library which is full of exciting, interactive and cutting edge displays and games.  But the next day they learn they have the opportunity to take part in an even bigger contest - finding a way out of the sealed library.  The winner will be featured in all of Mr. Lemoncello's ads but escaping will require using lots of brainpower to solve the puzzles that will reveal the answer.  This book is very reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without being a direct knock off.  I really enjoyed the puzzles and all of the teens who were competing. 

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

David was just a boy when the Epics first got their powers.  Although all of the new supermen and women seemed to be evil David's dad believed that some of them would eventually show up and use their powers for good.  When Steelheart arrives to stop a villain from killing people in the bank where they are applying for a loan, David's dad believes a good Epic has finally arrived.  But Steelheart turns out to be the worst one yet and ten years later he has turned most of Chicago into steel and rules the city by killing enemies and innocent people alike.  Although he appears to have no weaknesses, David saw Steelheart bleed when hit by a bullet in the bank robbery and David has made it his mission to find Steelheart's secret weakness and kill him.  He manages to join the Reckoners, an underground group that is dedicated to killing Epics and enlists them in his crusade to take out the greatest villain of them all.  Loved this book!  The first chapter is amazing and while the rest of the story doesn't keep that pace entirely, it still moves along with many twists and turns in this unique premise. 

Dying to Go Viral by Sylvia McNicoll

A week after her birthday Jade is persuaded to ride her new skateboard while holding onto a car without a helmet on.  She has a crush on the boy who asks her to do this foolish thing and she pays for her decision with her life.  When she arrives in heaven she finds her mom who promises Jade that amazing things are waiting for her in the afterlife but after Jade sees her father and brother at her funeral she wishes she had just a little more time to help them deal with her death.  Jade is given the chance to go back and relive the last week of her life with the intention of easing her family's pain at her death.  Knowing what will be happening at the end of this week Jade views things with new eyes, even the method of her upcoming death.  I really enjoyed this book and how Jade made changes in her own life as well as the lives of her father and brother.  It could have been very sappy but it seemed realistic, given the unrealistic premise.

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Jeremy Johnson Johnson is different from most people. For example, he can hear the ghost of Jacob Grimm talking to him.  Jacob has been trapped on Earth since his death and believes that helping Jeremy in some way might be the thing that will allow him to move on to his afterlife.  Jeremy has never been very popular at school so he is surprised when Ginger seems to take an interest in him and begins inviting him to take part in her outings.  One of her plans involves playing a prank on the local baker by putting Pop Rocks into his cereal bowl when he's not looking.  Jeremy helps but the prank goes awry and he is caught by the police and shunned by the town.  This one incident sets into motion a whole series of events that leads to an ending worthy of the grim fairy tales Jacob and his brother collected hundreds of years before.  This is an odd book that ended up really winning me over because it kept me thinking.  It builds so slowly and drew me in that it wasn't until I was nearly done that I realized the genre had switched to gruesome horror! 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nobody's Secret by Michaela MacColl

Emily Dickinson meets a mysterious man while walking in town one day.  The two hit it off immediately but neither gives a name instead referring to themselves as "Nobody".  After other meetings Emily leans that her new friend is in town to meet with estranged family members and it appears that there might be some question as to some money due to Mr. Nobody.  But before Emily can learn more her friend is found dead in the pond on Emily's own property.  Although it appears to be an accident Emily is sure there is foul play at work and begins to investigate who Mr. Nobody actually was and what happened to him.  Billed as an exciting mystery I found this to be rather bland.  Dickinson's poems are interspersed throughout the book in ways that relate to the story but the mystery didn't grab me.  There are very few students whom I can imagine latching onto this book as well.

Almost Home by Joan Bauer

Sugar loves her home and her school in Missouri, especially her kind teacher Mr. Bennett.  Her mother has taught her to be grateful for many things and Sugar is, always taking time to write thank you letters to everyone who has helped her.  Although Sugar's mother has taught her to be sweet and grateful, she has one great downfall - she believes that her no-good gambling husband will always come and save the day even though he has disappeared yet again.  Reba believes so strongly in her husband that she ignores the many warnings from the bank until she loses Sugar's childhood home.  With nowhere else to go Reba moves them to Chicago to start over but once there she has a breakdown that leaves Sugar all alone again.  This is quite a serious book from Bauer without her usual magical, homespun wisdoms.  Sugar's problems are realistic and her reaction to them also ring true.  I didn't enjoy it as much as her other books but I think that several students would find themselves in there.

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

All the trees and vegetation died out years ago and now people have to live in domed cities with man made oxygen.  Because of this oxygen is expensive and only the Premiums can afford to buy all they want for exercising and other non-essential activities.  Bea is an Auxillary, too poor to buy much oxygen but Bea is smart enough to test into a government position that could change her family's life.  Bea and her best friend Quinn, a Premium, make plans to spend a weekend outside the dome investigating the ruins of life before we ran out of air.  But on their way out of the city they are approached by Alina, a resistance fighter on the run for stealing clippings of trees that she will try to regrow out in the world.  Quinn is taken by her and impulsively agrees to help her escape the city and soon Bea and Quinn find themselves caught up in the cause and learning things about their government they never suspected.  Eh.  There are those who love this book in my group of librarian friends but it offers nothing different from any other dystopia in my opinion.  What's more, I couldn't really care about any of the characters and what might happen to them.

Monday, October 28, 2013

52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody

Lexi has been counting down to her 18th birthday for years.  That's the day she finally gets control of the millions of dollars in her trust fund and can stop listening to her rich, but distant, father.  Lexi is famous for being a spoiled heiress and her image is enhanced even more when she crashes her brand new Mercedes into a convenience store after a night of partying just days before her birthday.  Lexi's latest scandal causes her father to finally pay attention to her but not in a way she likes.  When Lexi goes to sign the papers to collect her inheritance she learns that her father has a new requirement.  She has to work a different low-paying job every week for an entire year to learn the value of hard work.  If Lexi refuses she will not receive any money at all.  Determined to take her father for as much as possible Lexi agrees to the new terms but working for a living turns out to be much harder than she ever imagined.  This is a fun, if predictable, story.  Lexi is a real brat but she rings true given our exposure to real life celebrities.  Her transformation (and her father's) is a long time coming but the happy ending is sweet.

Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt

Mallory is devastated when she finds out that her boyfriend has an online wife  with whom he shares secrets he has never told Mallory.  Even though he has never met his virtual girlfriend, Mallory feels betrayed by the obvious emotional connection between the two of them.  While helping to clean out her house Mallory comes across a "to do" list made by her grandmother in 1962.  Still hurting from her break-up Mallory decides to swear off technology and focus on the goals her grandmother had set for herself such as sewing her own dress for the dance, becoming secretary of the pep club, and hosting a dinner party.  But going vintage isn't as easy as she imagined nor does it make her life magically better because Mallory still has plenty of problems to handle including how close she is getting to her ex's cousin, Oliver.  This is a cute story.  Although it is light hearted, it does point out that the good old days were not as simple as they appear in retrospect.  The subplots involving Mallory's parents and grandmother were also nicely woven into the story.

Friday, October 25, 2013

I Represent Sean Rosen by Jeff Baron

Sean has a multi-million dollar idea that he knows will change the entertainment industry.  He even knows which movie studio he wants to work with on his new idea.  The problem is that Sean is a teen and doesn't have any contacts in Hollywood so how can he get someone to listen to his idea?  Sean decides to create a manager for himself to help him get his foot in the door and approaches a different studio to do a trial run.  He is surprised when his plan works and the studio head wants to hear a pitch for the movie Sean claims he has written.  How hard can it be to write a movie script anyway?  This is a funny book about a 13 year old fooling adults in a totally believable way until he gets in way over his head.

Dark Star by Bethany Frenette

Audrey has lived her entire life with the secret that her mother is Morning Star, a crime-fighting superhero.  The only other person who knows her connection to Morning Star is Audrey's best friend Gideon.  Audrey has always felt safe knowing that she has her mother to watch over her but she finds herself shaken when she is attacked by some presence she doesn't understand, something with sharp teeth and claws.  After her attack her mother reveals that she is really part of a family of that fight Harrowers, creatures similar to demons that have escaped into our world.  The Kin know that something big is trying to escape and take over Minneapolis but they don't know who is helping the dangerous creature.  Audrey needs to learn how to harness the powers she has never used to help her family discover the traitor amongst the Kin.  This was enjoyable enough if typical in the story.  I had a guess as to the identity of the traitor but that was still a fun reveal and I suspect it will surprise younger readers.

Taken by Erin Bowman

Gray and his brother Blaine are just a year apart in age and very close so it is a sad day for Gray when Blaine turns 18.  In the town of Claysoot where they live every man is taken by The Heist at midnight on their eighteenth birthdays.  One minute they are there and after a blinding flash of light they are gone.  After Blaine is taken Gray finds it hard to focus on much other than his own birthday a year from now.  When he accidentally finds some information from his mother hid before her death Gray begins to question what actually happens during The Heist and whether there might be a way for him to avoid his fate.  He decides to go over the wall surrounding the village, something that has resulted in death for everyone who tried it before him.  Another dystopia but a fast-moving one that I enjoyed.  I don't know that there are any big surprises but what Gray discovers on the other side of the wall kept me entertained.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fitz: A Father, a Son, and a Gun by Mick Cochrane

Fifteen year old Fitz has never met his father even though they live in the same town.  Fitz has been getting more and more angry about the fact that his father doesn't want to have anything to do with him.  Determined to get some answers Fitz cuts school one day and goes to confront his father, bringing along a gun.  I can't say I loved this book personally but I do think it is a great book for reluctant readers.  The story isn't too simplistic and the hook of the gun makes it easy to sell. 

Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill

Violet knows she's not like a real princess.  Real princesses are beautiful with long golden hair like her mother.  Violet has unruly red curls and mismatched eyes and though people don't think of her as beautiful, her subjects love her as she is.  Violet's best friend is Demetrius the stable boy and his lack of nobility doesn't matter to Violet at all.  One day the two friends discover a secret room in the palace with a book that speaks of a 13th god of the multiverse, one whose name is never spoken.  Violet becomes fascinated with the story of the Nybbas and unwittingly awakens the destructive god.  Playing on insecurities the Nybbas uses Violet and others to begin bringing about his return and destabilizing the kingdom.  This is an odd story with some dark themes presented in a way that makes them seem less threatening.  Although it wasn't a favorite overall I did enjoy Violet's eventual ability to claim herself as she was and how that acceptance of herself led to so many great events.

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

After giving birth his mother whispered his name with her dying breath.  All she got out was "Rump" and so the hero of our book has been forced to live with this most unfortunate name his entire life.  It would be bad enough to be named Rump in our world but in Rump's world your name determines your destiny.  Rump is sure that his mother meant for his name to be longer and more grand but died before she had the chance to finish.  When Rump finds an old spinning wheel he discovers that he can turn straw into gold and is sure that his destiny is about to change.  His grandmother warns him that magic always comes with a price but Rump ignores her warnings and sets off on a quest to find his entire intended name and change his fate.  I love fairy tales both original and fractured but this telling didn't capture me the way folk literature usually does.  Parts of Rump's quest were humorous but other bits just left me skimming to get onto the next section.

The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski

Darcy has lived in a series of foster homes since she was left outside of a firehouse at the age of five.  She has finally found a home that seems comfortable and is beginning to settle in when her world is rocked again by the arrival of Conn, a new boy from school who seems to know her and alternates between acting as if he likes her or hates her.  Conn's attitude is explained when, in an emotional state, Darcy disappears.  She learns that she is a Shade from a parallel world and Conn is with the police force of that world. Shades are dangerous people responsible for many acts of terrorism and Conn has been sent to arrest Darcy and bring her back to her original world. Because of her unusual upbringing Darcy has the unique ability to pass in both Shade and regular societies and she is quickly coerced into being a spy for the police.  I really enjoyed this book the entire time I was reading it even though it has similarities to other paranormal romances in terms of the story arc.  But the overall premise is unique.  The one negative thing I would say, though, is that since reading it I have had a hard time remembering much about the plot when talking about it with other people.  It seems to have left not much of a lasting impression on me despite the fact that I liked it while reading. 

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Lucy comes from a family of musicians and she was on the path to world fame as a pianist until she walked away from it all two years ago.  Now she's sixteen and refuses to play the piano at all, not even for herself.  Her family is disappointed in her and they barely speak to her anymore.  Now the family's hopes rest on her young brother Gus.  When Gus' teacher dies Lucy's formidable grandfather hires a new, young teacher named Will.  Will has heard of Lucy due to her former stardom and is curious about what made her stop playing.  He encourages her to forget about whatever issues she had and to play just for herself again.  With Will's support Lucy begins to feel as though she might be able to recapture her love of music but can she trust everyone around her again?  Lucy's story was fine but not too eventful.  I did appreciate, however, the end of the book where she really learned to trust herself and her sense of who was helpful to her and who was just using her.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen

Charlie and Nate are good friends despite how different they are.  Charlie is the captain of the basketball team and Nate is the president of the robotics club, a true geek.  Their friendship is put to the test when their school says that the next student body president will get to decide whether to fund new cheerleading uniforms or a trip to a robotics competition.  Charlie doesn't care much but his ex-girlfriend - a cheerleader - puts him up as a candidate against Nate.  The war between the two groups escalates until the principal puts an end to it and the students decide the only way to get what they both want is to win the competition together.  This graphic novel tells a funny story with a few serious undertones.  I don't often say this about graphic novels, but it is a good choice for a reluctant reader who has to read something for a class project because the character development is deep enough that I think many teachers would feel okay about counting it. 

Alien Investigation by Kelly Milner Halls

This nonfiction book lays out evidence that could point to real alien visitations on Earth.  The author breaks the book into sections presenting stories of sightings of aliens and their crafts.  The stories are presented with a description of the events as well as eyewitness testimony.  Halls does a nice job with showing both sides of the stories and giving a general sense of how credible the reports are but leans towards those stories that seem to prove the existence of aliens.  You can easily pick and choose the sections you want to read which makes the book more accessible in my opinion.  A good book for those fascinated with alien invasions.

Katerina's Wish by Jeannie Mobley

Katerina's family lives in a coal mining camp in 1901 but she and her father have a dream of owning their own farm someday.  Unfortunately, the money her father makes in the mine is barely enough to keep the family alive so there isn't anything left to save for the farm.  One day their neighbor Old Jan tells the girls a folktale from their native Bohemia about a magic fish that grants three wishes.  Katerina is skeptical but is surprised when her sisters' silly wishes seem to be granted almost immediately.  She decides to wish for the farm and begins finding unusual ways to save up money despite the opposition of the town grocer who doesn't appreciate the competition.  Katerina finds it hard to keep going when she faces obstacle after obstacle but her initial optimism has inspired others to work towards the dream as well.  I was expecting this book to have a strong fairy tale element to it but other than the initial story of the three wishes there wasn't much else fanciful about it.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed the story anyway and found it to be a good depiction of hard work despite problems and the rewards you can find even if there isn't a fairy tale ending.

Anything but Ordinary by Lara Avery

When she wakes up in the hospital the last thing Bryce remembers is hitting her head on the board during a diving competition. She knows she was seriously injured but she is shocked to learn that she has been in a coma for five years.  She still feels like she is 17 on the brink of college and going to the Olympics in diving.  But Bryce finds that everything has changed around her.  Her little sister is angry and defiant, her parents are distant and her boyfriend and best friend are engaged.   Bryce has to find a way to make a new life for herself with everything she knew torn away from her.  To add to her issues she finds that she is experiencing things she can't explain - she is able to remember events that happened while she was in her coma as well as things that haven't even happened yet.  Bryce seems to be making remarkable strides towards recovery but is there something else happening to her brain?  This is a great book for people who enjoy happy/sad/romantic books.  I was a little surprised by the ending but glad that the author chose to present it as it is.

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano

Evelyn lives in Spanish Harlem in 1969. She is concerned with straightening her hair for her new job at the five and dime and is frequently annoyed with her meek mother who is only concerned with working at the family bodega.  When Evelyn's grandmother comes to stay with the family Evelyn is at first horrified by how garishly dressed she is and her bright orange clown hair. Despite her disdain, Evelyn is also fascinated by the stories of Abuela's days as an activist in Puerto Rico and by the stark contrast between her mother and Abuela.  One day a group of college age young adults are in the neighborhood cleaning up the trash that clutters the streets.  Evelyn learns that the group calls themselves the Young Lords and that her Abuela is working with them to gain more rights for Hispanics.  Soon, Evelyn finds herself fascinated by the Young Lords movement and feels herself changing in ways she hadn't expected.  This book was written by "Maria" of Sesame Street fame and is based on her personal experiences.  Although the subject is important I found the writing didactic and had a hard time buying the transformation.  I wanted it to be better than it was.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Losing It by Erin Fry

Bennett loves watching Dodgers games with his dad.  Their ritual includes eating lots of fatty foods.  Bennett feels a little guilty eating so much because he and his dad are already very overweight but their baseball ritual is not only fun, it also helped them heal after his mother died of cancer.  But the bad habits catch up to them when Bennett's dad has a stroke.  With his dad facing months of recovery Bennett has to go live with his fitness fanatic aunt and uncle.  Worse, he learns that the insurance company won't pay the medical bills if his father doesn't recover fast enough.  Scared by the stroke and thinking about his own future Bennett decides he needs to push himself harder and signs up for the track team.  His decision has some unexpected consequences.  He finds it easier to talk to a girl he has always liked and he has a new group of supporters when a bully harasses him.  But on the downside, his best friend seems to be mad at him and accuses him of selling out.  Bennett's transformation reads a little bit forced to me although the story overall seems realistic, especially the conflicting emotions from his friend.  I did appreciate, however, the descriptions of Bennett's struggles running which made it clear that even when he was getting better, it was still really hard.  I think that might be inspiring to others who think they can't exercise because it's not easy.  Even those who exercise regularly still find it difficult.

The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

Jade Moon is a Fire Horse, the unluckiest sign in the zodiac for girls.  Everyone in her village knows her and knows of the problems she has had because of her birth sign.  When Sterling Promise arrives to make a business offer to her father they make plans to travel to America and Jade Moon goes along with the hope of starting a new life where she is not so cursed.  Jade Moon is surprised to find that rather than immediately beginning anew in San Francisco, they must all spend months locked up on Angel Island to prove that they belong in the United States.  With her prospects looking bleaker by the moment Jade Moon decides to take some drastic action to get off the island but her decision leads her down an even more unexpected path.  I was captured by the beginning of this book which seemed to leaning towards a fairy tale inspired story.  But as it went on I was just overwhelmed by all that was happening.  In the end, it feels like there were three complete books in this one - Jade Moon's time in Asia, her time on Angel Island, and her time in San Francisco as an Asian mobster.  I think all three stories are probably fine, just too much all together for me.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean

No one believes she can do it when Callie volunteers to be silent for one entire day for a school charity event.  Callie always has something to say, something that usually gets her into trouble.  But recently Callie has been thinking about things more especially since she has seen her dead mother on several occasions.  Beginning with the day of silence at school Callie stops talking entirely for weeks.  Although her dad doesn't notice for quite awhile, Callie finds that being silent lets her see things she never noticed before and she even makes new friends including the blind boy downstairs and a homeless man who seems to have a strange connection to Callie.  Callie also meets a stray Irish wolfhound she names Homeless.  She feels that Homeless belongs with her family but her dad completely disagrees despite the unusual things that are happening.  This book falls into the category of magical realism - realistic with a few magical events.  Other than seeing her dead mother the magical events happen towards the end of the book so I can't tell you about them!  But like most books in this genre there is a quiet story that comes together with some fairly heart-rending revelations.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Touch of Death by Kelly Hashway

Jodi's having a really bad day.  She totalled her car on the way to school when she hit a deer.  She thought the deer was dead but when she got out to examine it, the deer got up and ran away.  Then, shortly after Jodi gets a check up from her, the school nurse is carried out in a body bag.  Finally, some new guy in class is stalking her, showing up on a date with her boyfriend and staking out her house.  All of those incidents - and a few others - are explained when Jodi learns that she is an Ophi, a descendent of Medusa, who has the power to raise the dead.  Unfortunately she has a lot of learning to do in order to bring the dead back without them becoming bloodthirsty zombies, something she finds out after a tragedy involving her boyfriend.  I was very into this book for the first third of so because of the unusual, mythological theme.  It was still fine after that point, but then it felt much more like any other book with someone who is the chosen one but is coming late to the party on how to use her powers. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Center of Everything by Linda Urban

Ruby is preparing to deliver her winning speech about her town's founder at the yearly parade.  As the events of the parade swirl around her Ruby remembers the events that led up to her being in this position, including her beloved grandmother's death.  There is a statue of the town founder holding up a donut and everyone in town knows that if you make a wish on your birthday and manage to throw a quarter through the hole of the donut your wish will come true on Bunning day.  Now that Bunning day has arrived Ruby is waiting for her wish and thinks something might happen during her speech.  It is obvious early on that Ruby's wish has to do with her grandmother and something Ruby regrets about the end of her grandmother's life.  What she actually wished for and how it comes true was a surprise to me.  Something in the writing style was a little more contrived than I usually like but I adjusted quickly and didn't notice it much after that.  Instead, I was just moved by Ruby's story and loss while also laughing out loud at several points.  I really enjoyed this book!

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories

As the title says, this book is comprised of seventy short "stories" with famous authors writing about their experiences with bullying.  Some have written poems, some cartoons, some are framed as letters to their bullies, and some even describe how the author was a bully him or herself.  Not all of the stories moved me but many of them touched me or sounded similar to what I experienced and what I see happening with students at my school.  And although I'm a big fan of the "It gets better" campaign, I was happy to see that these stories didn't just rely on that slogan and instead presented lots of messages about bullying - stand up for others, it happens to everyone, it's not about you, and there are so many little ways to exclude others that we don't even think about - among others.  A really great book that can be absorbed by individual readers but is also very helpful for lessons by pulling out individual stories or even paragraphs.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Skye is an amazing soccer player who has finally qualified for the all-star team.  She's not even done celebrating when her parents let her know that she might not be able to play on the team that summer.  Her grandfather, uncle, aunt, and cousin are moving to Virginia from Japan so that Grandfather can receive treatment for his cancer.  Skye has never met her father's family or thought much about her Japanese heritage but now she has to take lessons in Japanese in order to communicate with them and those lessons will interfere with her soccer.  Skye's cousin Hiroshi is not happy with the move either.  He and his grandfather have been preparing for rokkaku, or kite battling.  Grandfather is a master kite-builder and he has been teaching Hiroshi his craft but now Hiroshi feels that everything is ruined.  Forced together, the two cousins resent each other and are jealous of the time the other spends with Grandfather whom they both love.  They are also worried about how much time Grandfather spends resting each day and whether he will be able to join them in the rokkaku battle at the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  This is exactly the kind of book I generally don't like at all because it is often just a thinly veiled message of cultural understanding where everyone learns to appreciate each other's differences in the end.  But I really loved this book.  Both Skye and Hiroshi felt authentic to me with their resentments of each other and the way in which they excluded the other but then eventually began to get along.  Skye's growing sense of her Japanese heritage also seemed realistic without going over the top.  And the kite festival was the perfect set-up for some huge crisis that would then bring the family together - and it would've been that stereotypical scene in a lesser author's hands.  But here it was just engaging and made me want to go see the battle at the actual festival next year.  A very nice interweaving of America as a melting pot with a new friendship with some intergenerational relationships with a "sport" unfamiliar to most Americans.

The Raft by S. A. Bodeen

Robie lives on Midway Island with her scientist parents.  When she gets too bored of life on the tiny atoll she flies on a supply plane to Honolulu to spend time with her aunt.  Robie is staying in Hawaii when her aunt has to leave her alone for a job.  At first Robie is thrilled by the freedom but soon gets a little spooked being alone so she decides to head home early.  Caught in a storm, her plane crashes into the ocean.  Robie is helped to escape by Max, the co-pilot and the two of them end up in a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with Max badly injured.  It's up to Robie to try to find a way to somehow get them to safety.  When the raft does make it to an island it's still no guarantee of safety or survival.  I really want to like books by Bodeen because I am such a huge fan of The Compound but I haven't much liked anything since then.  I think this could have been much more compelling with Robie having to do some things she wouldn't normally such as having to eat some of the animals she loved.  I think readers are supposed to be moved by a revelation towards the end of the book but that didn't surprise me nor did it seem all that shocking given Robie's condition.  I think the book will still be appreciated by teens, but it's not as well done as it ought to have been.

Freakling by Lana Krumwiede

In Taemon's city everyone uses their psi to move items with their minds.  Besides his psi, Taemon has always had the ability to do what he calls "mind wandering" where he can see how things work which allows him to work them with his mind.  He has figured out that he is unique in his mind wandering ability so he keeps it a secret but he has to use it to stay alive when he is almost drowned by his power-hungry older brother.  When Taemon turns his power on his brother her hears a voice in his head telling him that he has permission to kill if he wants.  Frightened, Taemon stops and loses all his psi power entirely.  Using his intelligence he is able to fool everyone for awhile but his loss of power is eventually discovered and he is sent to the "dud farm" with others who have no psi.  But life working with your hands is not at all what Taemon had been led to believe and he soon finds out that something is afoot back in his old city.  This is a well-written, unique dystopia that I really enjoyed.  Unlike some sci fi or fantasy books that have convoluted plots and backstories this one was easily grasped which is definitely not to say that it was simplistic.  Just a good story.

Pinned by Sharon Flake

Autumn is a star on her school's wrestling team.  She has no problem working hard at making weight and practicing her moves.  But she has let her grades slide for a long time, especially in math and reading.  Adonis was born without legs but he doesn't let his disability stop him from being the smartest boy in school.  He can't help but know that Autumn likes him since she tells him so nearly every day, but he has no interest in someone he feels is below him intellectually.  When Autumn's parents decide to crack down and make her quit the team after her latest bad report card she is furious at first but then makes up her mind to put her boundless energy into catching up in school.  With Adonis' help, she might be able to do it. I am usually a fan of Flake's books but not this one.  Adonis is way too condescending for me to feel any warmth towards him or to see why Autumn likes him.  When their relationship does finally begin I don't see any actual change in either of them to make it feel plausible that now he would suddenly like her or allow her to just crawl into his lap.  Nor did I understand why Autumn would be interested in him throughout the book considering how he consistently treats her.  The whole storyline fell flat for me.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

After her mother makes them move in a huff Piddy has to start at a new school.  After just a few days a girl comes up to Piddy and tells her that Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass.  Piddy doesn't even know who Yaqui is and can't imagine what she could've done to offend her.  She learns, much to her surprise, that she shakes her hips when she walks and that has attracted the attention of Yaqui's boyfriend.  Up until now Piddy has always been an excellent student and has never questioned who she is.  But faced with a bully she begins to question everything about herself.  Suddenly she's doing poorly in school and giving herself a sterotypical Latina bad girl look.  This book is a great, realistic portrayal of girl bullying and the reaction to it.  Rather than shrugging it off Piddy lets the bullying turn her into a totally different person.  It's also great to have a book with Hispanic characters that is not just all about them being Hispanic. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Deck Z: The Titanic: Unsinkable, Undead by Chris Pauls

What could make the events on the night of April 14, 1912 more terrifying than they already were?  Zombies!  Scientist Theodo Weiss has discovered a plague in the far east that turns people into zombies.  He is working on a cure when he realizes that the German government wants to take what he has collected and use it as a weapon.  Weiss flees with "the toxic" and plans to continue his research in America.  But he is unaware of the fact that he has been followed by an agent who releases enough onboard the Titanic to quickly turn much of the crew and passengers into zombies.  Captain Smith is involved in valiantly fighting the zombie hordes while Bruce Ismay is trying as hard as he can to hide what is happening belowdecks from uninfected passengers and his competition.  I had great hopes for this book and found myself getting more discouraged as I read through the first few chapters of Weiss' escape and the groundwork of getting the Titanic underway.  But once the first zombie was found on the ship the story picked up speed and was tons of fun!  I thought I knew what was going to happen with the iceberg and how that was going to mesh with the fictional part of the story but I was wrong.  I wish I'd been right because I like my idea better, but I still enjoyed the book.

Timeless Thomas: How Thomas Edison Changed our Lives by Gena Barretta

What did Thomas Edison invent?  We all know that he invented the lightbulb but he did much more than that.  This book not only shows lots of his inventions but it also explains how Edison's work is the basis for lots of things that matter to us today.  It was eye-opening for me to learn about ALL of the items he invented about which I hadn't heard before.  This is my favorite kind of nonfiction book - one that gives lots of information in a fun format that is easily read.  You can choose to just focus on the biggest sections or read all the side comments for more details.  Really great!

The Story of the Blue Planet by Andri Snaer Magnason

Brimir and Hulda are friends.  They live on the blue planet where there are only children and everyone is happy all the time.  They love spending time together and they are awed by the beauty of the flock of butterflies who leave their cave to fly around the world once a year.  One day the two friends observe a spaceship landing and out comes Jolly Goodday who promises to make dreams come true.  At first the children on the island think they don't need anything but when Jolly makes it possible for them to fly they find that their wants grow and grow.  Jolly gives them everything they want and all he takes in exchange is a little bit of their youth.  One day Brimir and Hulda are blown off course and end up on the other side of the planet where is it dark all the time since Jolly has nailed the sun in place over Brimir's and Hulda's home.  Struck with how their actions have impacted the other children Brimir and Hulda try to change opinions when they get back home but find that most of the children are not willing to change.  This message of this parable about natural resources and sharing the wealth is right up my alley but the execution left me cold.  Too overbearing to wrap me in the story with Jolly too easily changed by his own tactics at the end. 

Dead Cat Bounce by Nic Bennett

On "take your child to work day" 12 year old Jonah travels with his distant father to his brokerage firm.  Jonah is awed by the bigger than life presence of The Baron, who has created his own universe in the office where he works with his team on risky, but hugely profitable, trades.  Warned by his father to stay away from the Baron, Jonah nonetheless keeps in touch with him under his mentorship.  When Jonah turns 16 he has already earned $400,000 and goes to work in the Baron's office.  During his first week there the Baron's team earns several hundred million dollars from one deal.  But when there is a problem with the deal Jonah's dad is accused of doing something wrong and he goes on the run from a shadow agency that seems to control the finances of the entire world.  The first one hundred pages of this book take place when Jonah is 12 so it was jarring to me to find that the real meat begins when he is 16 after such a very long backstory.  If dialogue such as "Gold, platinum, silver, all rising!" "River Deep diving!" "Mountain High roaring!", "20k Anglo gone!",  "10 mill rouble/dollar gone!", "Buy thirty Banqe de Triomphe!", and "Shares driven down by heavy shorting" is your cup of tea then this is the book for you.  As for me, I thought it would never end and I snorted out loud when it ended on a cliff-hanger and I realized that there is more yet to come.  This first book has yet to leave my shelves so I don't think teens are all that interested in the impact of speculative trading on the global economy. 

The Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas

After her mother's death Trinket decides to leave home to search fro her father, a bard who has been missing for several years.  She is accompanied by Thomas the pig boy who is merely looking for adventure (and a steady source of food) but who becomes a stalwart companion.  As Trinket searches for her storyteller father she thinks that she might not mind being a bard as well so she begins searching for stories to tell.  She gathers her first story from Feather, the daughter of a gypsy king who can see the future.  Feather advises Trinket to come up with seven stories so that she will be able to stay in towns for a week.  As Trinket and Thomas travel throughout the country searching for her father, Trinket gathers six amazing stories.  But the story of her missing father is one that she never anticipated nor can she predict how it will end.  Loved this book and the stories Trinket lives/gathers! 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck by Emily Fairlie

Laurie has had to leave her beloved school and best friend to attend Tuckernuck Hall, her parents' alma mater and home of the Cluckers.  Annoyed by everything at Tuckernuck including the chicken hats they have to wear for assemblies Laurie is just biding her time until she can return to her former school.  It appears she might get her wish because a school board member is planning to close Tuckernuck as soon as possible.  Given her aversion to the school no one is more surprised than Laurie when she stumbles across a clue to the treasure that was supposedly hidden by the original headmistress 80 years before.  Laurie teams up with Bud who was there when the first clue was uncovered and the two begin to solve the mystery that has stumped generations of Cluckers.  But their time is running out as the school is scheduled for demolition.  This is a fast-paced mystery/treasure hunt.  The clues are difficult to figure out which I generally appreciate although these really can't be guessed by the reader because they rely on information we don't have until the characters uncover it. Besides the usual narrative this book also includes e-mails and handwritten notes from teachers, parents and students.  I found those asides funny since they usually referred to school politics or events that had just happened but I wondered if student readers would understand what was happening with them.  I also enjoyed the teachers who kept roping Bud and Laurie into activities they didn't want to do because that seemed realistic.

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh

Jepp has helped his mother with her country inn for his entire life. But when a stranger comes to visit he asks to take Jepp to court to become one of the royal dwarves.  Enticed by a life of riches and admiration Jepp goes along.  At first he is awed by the amount of food and the grand clothing he is given along with the other dwarves who serve the Infanta.  But he soon figures out that they are often humiliated during their performances and that their fate relies on their ability to keep the royals entertained.  Jepp is particularly drawn to Lia but when he tries to help her escape after she is hurt he ends up being sent far away to begin a new life as a servant, treated no better than a dog.  But is Jepp fated to be a peon his entire life or can he show his new master that there is more to him than meets the eye?  This title is inspired by true accounts of court dwarves as well as the work of Tycho Brahe who becomes Jepp's new master.  I had a hard time getting through the book and was uninspired by Jepp's search for his father and mad once he found him but discovered what had happened to his fortune.  I can appreciate how well-written the book is so I think if you are a historical fiction fan, you might really enjoy this title.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

Victoria is perfect in every way - perfect grades, perfect looks, perfect manners, and more.  As such, she cannot tolerate anything else so when she gets a B in music class she is obsessed with finding a way to raise her grade.  Victoria has taken on Lawrence as a pet project and constantly harrangues him about his messiness and his love of music which she does not understand.  Worrying as she is about her grade she doesn't notice the signs that something strange is happening in town and doesn't notice that Lawrence has disappeared until several days later.  Victoria begins investigating the titular home but finds that most people don't even seem to remember that it, or their missing loved ones, even exists.  After asking one question too many Victoria finds herself a prisoner of the Cavendish Home where all children are made perfect through unspeakable means.  This book seemed almost whimsical at first to me, sort of in a Lemony Snicket type of way.  But the more we find out about the Cavendish Home and the people who run it, the darker the story becomes.  By the end it is really a horror story, especially as you find out what has happened to the people who got too close to the truth and the children who couldn't be changed.  Something about it didn't grab me but I suspect it will be popular both because of its weirdness and the horror of the Home.

My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris

Aspiring artist Cat is in Italy which ought to be a dream come true.  Unfortunately, she is there with her father and soon-to-be stepmother whom she despises.  Her new stepmother is young and bubbly but worst of all, she is planning Cat's sweet 16 party for MTV's show.  Cat decides to get away from the adults with a guided tour of Florence.  As the tour nears its end Cat is surprised to see a gypsy tent right on the piazza.  On a whim she enters but when she leaves the tent she finds herself in 16th century Italy as a guest of her great ancestors.  At first Cat is thrilled to be rubbing elbows with the great artists of the period and she is also enjoying the company of gorgeous, romantic Lorenzo.  But on her 16th birthday she learns that her aunt and uncle have some plans for her future that are too creepy to imagine for a modern day girl.  Cat has to find a way to return to her real life as soon as possible!  A fun, girly book.  Although Cat is supposedly trying to fit in with the 16th century she does a pretty poor job of it.  But she does learn some lessons while stuck out of time. 

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

Anna, Jose and Henry meet when they are all dragged to a reception at the American History Museum in Washington, D.C. celebrating the restoration of the original Star Spangled Banner.  Jose's mother is part of the restoration team.  Anna's father is a U.S. Senator and she is an aspiring journalist hoping to get an interview with another senator who is running for president.  Henry is staying with his aunt while his father honeymoons with his new wife.  The next day the three teens find themselves together again as they are snowed in at the airport while trying to get home.  While getting something to eat they hear that the Star Spangled Banner has been stolen.  Anna is certain that the thief must be trying to smuggle the flag out of the city that day so the flag has to be somewhere in the airport.  Not only were the three at the reception the night before, but they also discover that their families are part of the Silver Jaguar society, a secret organization that protects artwork and antiquities.  With the storm ending the new friends only have a little time to find the flag before it leaves the city forever.  This is a great middle school action/mystery.  The kids are believeable as teens and the adults also ring true.  The story moves along at a nice clip but isn't too long.  Just about right in every way for 6th graders in particular but still enjoyable for others.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin

Pete the cat is back!  In this book he is wearing a favorite shirt with four groovy buttons.  But what will happen when the buttons pop off one by one?  Will Pete cry?  Like the first Pete the Cat book, this story comes with a song and a deep message by zen master Pete.

Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore

Mama duck takes her babies out for a walk through town one day.  The ducklings are following along doing fine until, one by one, they drop into a storm drain.  Mama is distraught but people in the town rush to the rescue and save all the babies.  This picture book is based on a true story and reminiscent of Make Way for Ducklings.  Being a HUGE Make Way for Ducklings fan, I was a bit let down by this duck story although I'm very happy that the ducks were saved.  :-)

Monkey & Robot by Peter Cat

Best friends Monkey and Robot watch a scary movie, care for a cocoon and play a game together.  Robot is calm throughout which is helpful when Monkey is scared while watching the movie.  I laughed out loud when different animals came in to eat the caterpillar food and even more when Robot hid behind Monkey's chair in hide and seek.  The illustrations are a bit lackluster for me but the stories were fun.

My First Day by Robin Page

This picture book starts with humans who don't do much on their first day of life but then moves on to other animals.  Unlike humans, many other animals are quite active on their first day.  For example, a wood duck jumps right out of the nest and begins swimming after its mother.  And a Darwin frog emerges from its father's mouth where it has been growing.  Each page gives a short explanation of the first day for some familiar and several totally unfamiliar animals.  More information about each animal is provided at the back of the book for further exploration.

Millions, Billions & Trillions by David Adler

Adler takes some big numbers and puts them into perspective using examples that make sense.  For example, one million dollars would buy you two pizzas every day for 68 years.  Who can't relate to that?  Even with examples of that type it is difficult to imagine just how big a trillion is.  Adler also does a nice job of explaining WHY we need to have some understanding of the size of these numbers in our everyday lives.  It's also nice to have a math book that can just be read almost as a story rather than nonfiction. 

Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover by Cece Bell

Rabbit has planned an exciting sleepover with his friend Robot but nothing goes as planned.  Consulting his list of activities Rabbit finds that the first activity of the evening is to make pizza but Robot likes nuts, bolts and screws on his pizza.  When moving on to the watching TV portion of the night Robot passes out and a message begins printing but what does it say?  This is a silly picture book that reminds me very much of Frog and Toad stories.  Rabbit is exciteable but Robot always stays calm (as you would expect from a robot) which leads to funny situations.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

Chloe and her friends ignore and sometimes tease Maya when she arrives at their school.  Maya wears secondhand clothes and is soon called "Never New" by Chloe and others.  When the teacher leads the class in an activity showing how each kindness performed impacts many people as the effects ripple outwards, Chloe is ashamed to discover that she can't think of any kind acts she has performed.  Chloe especially wishes she could make things up to Maya but it is too late since Maya has moved again.  This picture book addresses bullying from the other side, pointing out that even the bully suffers. 

Boris by Cynthia Rylant

Boris is a book of poems about a big grey cat and his owner.  As a cat lover I was drawn in by descriptions of Boris and the catty things he did.  As a somewhat extreme cat owner I was unhappy with Boris being let outside and lyrical descriptions of how much he was living life even if he disappeared one day.  Pleasant, some laugh out loud moments, but probably more appreciated by adults who are cat nuts than teens.

Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller

Colin can't stand to be touched and sometimes has meltdowns because of his Asperger's syndrome.  He also has problems recognizing emotions and relies on pictures of faces to help determine how others are feeling.  He has been picked on his entire school life because of his problems with his biggest bully being Wayne.  High school brings a whole new set of problems with both students and teachers.  When there is an incident involving a gun in the school cafeteria the principal is quick to blame Wayne.  But Colin, who reveres Sherlock Holmes and thinks just as logically, knows that Wayne wasn't to blame.  Colin only wants to solve the mystery and find the truth so he doesn't find it strange to be defending the boy who has been his nemesis.  I didn't dislike the book but I didn't really warm up to it either for some reason.  One main thing I didn't like was how Colin's brother treated him without there being any repercussions from their parents.  The brother is a minor character so that isn't a major theme in the book, but it still bothered me.  I did, however, laugh at Colin's lies to his parents which were so stiff and would be obvious from any other teen. 

A Whole Lot of Lucky by Danette Haworth

Hailee is embarassed by how poor her family is and the fact that they have to buy clothes at the Goodwill and Salvation Army.  When her parents win the lottery Hailee starts making a list of the things she wants and envisions her new amazing life.  But while she does get a new bike and - finally! - gets a cell phone, she is dismayed to find out that one of the things her parents decide on her behalf is to send her to exclusive Magnolia Academy.  She makes a couple of new friends but is very drawn to bad girl Nikki and soon finds herself alienating new friends, her best friend from her old school and her parents.  After Nikki pulls Hailee into a scheme that makes her realize how she has been behaving Hailee realizes she has to try to fix things.  But not everything can be resolved with just an apology.  I expected something different from this book but in the end I found it to be a pleasant story.  It is obviously aimed at younger readers who are worrying about fitting in and, sometimes, making the wrong choices even if they don't have millions to worry about. 

Quarterback Season by Fred Bowen

Matt is the quarterback of his middle school team and football is all he cares about.  But his new English teacher is also making him keep a journal.  Unsure of what he could possibly write about Matt decides to focus on football.  His first few entries are short and uninspiring but his teacher's feedback forces him to be more descriptive.  As the book goes on Matt becomes a very descriptive writer, pulling the reader into his problems on the team.  In particular, Matt struggles with new player Devro who is also a talented quarterback and Matt's biggest competition.  Often books that use a class assignment as a device come across as an unrealistic portrayal of a cool kid who comes to unwittingly love schoolwork.  Our students are not fooled by this!  This book does a better job of realistically portraying Matt's growth as a writer while also showing his growth on the field.  Like many sports-themed books it is pretty simplistic in plot but offers enough of a story to keep readers interested.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Storm Runners by Roland Smith

Ever since Chase's father survived being struck by lightning he has been dragging Chase with him as he chases storms.  With a huge hurricane bearing down Chase and his dad travel to Florida.  Chase begins school while his dad goes to a nearby town where he thinks the hurricane will make landfall.  When predictions prove wrong and the storm is raging around Chase's school the students are sent home.  Based on his experience Chase knows that traveling on the bus is a bad idea but he goes along with his new friend anyway.  But Chase's fears prove to be valid when the bus crashes and he and two others are stranded in the middle of a hurricane with only his backpack to help them survive.  There are several Roland Smith books I like a lot for middle schoolers.  This is not one of them.  While his writing is usually solidly middle school-esque, it doesn't usually talk down to them.  But this title was just too predictable and blah even in the middle of what ought to be a heart-stopping situation. 

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

Sage is plucked from an orphanage by Conner, a nobleman.  Along with two other orphans Sage is schooled in manners, swordfighting and academic subjects.  Conner's ultimate plan is to choose one of the boys to impersonate the long lost, presumed dead, prince now that the rest of the royal family has been poisoned.  With his own imposter in place Conner plans to take control of the kingdom for himself.  After witnessing Conner's cold-hearted killing of one of the orphans who defies him Sage and the remaining boys realize that their competition literally has life or death consequences.  Despite this Sage seems to go out of his way to annoy Conner at every opportunity but his schemes have a plan behind them that Sage slowly reveals to others around him.  This is a great adventure with interesting characters, including the secondary characters.  I suspected what was going on with Sage but that just made it more fun for me to read to see if the events confirmed my suspicions.  And although I was correct in general, there were a great many more things in play that I didn't see the significance of at the time.  Adventure, mystery and some very satisfying revenge made this a favorite for me.

You'll Like it Here (Everybody Does) by Ruth White

As a young child Meggie was traumatized by a man who broke into her classroom with a gun claiming that there were aliens in the room.  Her family moved across the country and have been living happily in a small town in the south.  But when certain members of the town begin to talk about aliens living amongst them and a mob forms, the family is forced to move again since they actually are aliens.  Meggie's mom and grandfather only know a bit about operating their spacecraft so the family ends up on a planet that looks very much like Earth but has an alternate history.  Everyone in their town does whatever the Fathers prescribe and standing out in any way is a crime.  Meggie and her family try to fit in but they are unhappy with their new home.  With her mom and grandfather forced to work all day, every day Meggie decides to try to understand the manual for her spacecraft herself.  And with members of the family attracting more attention for their unique behavior each day, it seems like they might need to use their ship sometime soon...  This is obviously intended to be a dystopia in the vein of 1984 for an upper elementary age.  Perhaps for that age group this would be thought-provoking but I was not impressed.  The writing was pedestrian and I didn't care much about any of the characters. 

The Farm by Emily McKay

Lily and her autistic twin sister Mel are living on a Farm after the United States has been overrun by Ticks, vampire/zombie-like creatures that eat humans and spread like a wild virus.  Most teens have been sent to Farms, supposedly to protect them from the Ticks. While there they are fed but they are also asked to give donations of blood to help feed the Ticks and keep them at bay.  Residents who get in trouble are tied outside the gates for the Ticks to feed on.  And girls who want to delay the inevitable get pregnant on purpose.  Lily has a plan for escape and sets off to trade a few precious things for the items she and Mel will need to survive outside the Farm's gates.  She runs into Carter, a boy she had a crush on in school before the Ticks.  Carter takes an immediate interest in Lily and once he guesses her plans reveals that he is actually there to rescue her as he believes she might have a power to stop the Ticks once and for all.  But life on the outside of the gates is even more dangerous than Lily imagined and Carter's allies present their own challenges to everyone's ultimate survival.  The story is fine and will appeal to those who can't get enough to this type of book.  As for me, I have had enough of the paranormal, action, survival, person with an ability that can save the world genre.  So you might want to take that into account when deciding whether to read the book or not.  I do appreciate that Lily is a strong character with more than enough backbone to stand alongside Carter.  I enjoyed the not-Tick vampire but was unsure of why all the people were so disgusted by his habits considering the world in which they live.  I saw the twist of what was happening with Mel a mile away. 

Hidden by Helen Frost

8 year old Wren is in the back of her car when it is stolen.  Unseen by the thief she ends up trapped in his garage for several days trying to figure out a way to escape and get back home.  She can hear snatches of pleas from her parents on TV begging for her return.  She also overhears the thief's wife and daughter talking to him about his crime as well as their cries when he yells or hits them.  While waiting for her opportunity to escape from the garage, Wren is helped by Darra, the thief's daughter, who leaves sandwiches and water in places Wren can find them.  After her escape her kidnapper is arrested and Wren tries not to think of him ever again.  But that becomes difficult when both girls end up at a summer camp, in the same cabin, several years later.  At first angry at each other they come to an uneasy truce and then begin to understand how the kidnapping affected both of them.  This is an interesting story told in verse but it didn't grab me much.  The chapter narrators alternate and I often had to remind myself which girl was speaking and whether that girl was the one who was kidnapped or the daughter of the kidnapper.  I think it was going for a deep message but it didn't get there for me.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen

Henry and his father have just moved to a new town after IT happened.  Henry's counselor has asked him to keep a journal which he is doing reluctantly (hence, the title).  Starting at his new schoolHenry finds himself on the outside because of his weight which has gone up since IT happened, and because the geekiest kid in school immediately latches onto him.  Despite his misgivings he finds that he has a lot in common with his new friend including the fact that they both love professional wrestling although they root for different people.  Henry is also drafted into the school's academic quiz team where he makes other friends and meets an unusual and intriguing girl.  But as Henry chronicles what's happening at school he also reveals his past and what led to him being in counseling.  His older brother was bullied so badly that he shot the bully and killed himself and Henry has some guilt about what happened before that horrible event.  This is a powerful book that really gets into some of the thornier issues about bullying such as survivor's guilt and the impact on family members.  The cover, however, is one of the worst ever!  It makes the book appear to be akin to Diary of a Wimpy Kid so someone is going to get a rude surprise when choosing this title. 

The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers

Tink is grounded, again.  Rather than moping she decides to spend all her new free time writing her own encyclopedia which is all about her.  Although it might seem impossible to do so, the author manages to tell a cohesive story of Tink's summer with entries in alphabetical order.  Among other things Tink decides to begin skateboarding and meets up with cute neighbor Kai who teaches her skating vocabulary and tricks.  Unfortunately, her stunning best friend Freddie Blue likes Kai as well and Tink knows she can never compete with Freddie Blue.   Tink's summer is also filled with prepping for a visit from a People-type magazine that is doing a story about her family and how they deal with her brother's autism.  As the novel goes on it becomes clear that Tink is seeing things differently and this is bringing about some changes in her home and social life, some of the changes being totally unexpected.  This is a good story with romance, friendship and family life and is cleverly done with the encyclopedia format.  I was, however, highly annoyed by the many, many footnotes in the book which really broke up the flow of reading for me.  I don't see teens enjoying them much either. 

Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin

This beautiful picture book requires lots of time to really pore over.  While there is a "story" of sorts - "For there to be peace in the world there needs to be peace in nations" - the real meat is contained in the illustrations and the many quotes contained therein.  The quotations come from so many famous people across all walks of life, all of whom are speaking to the possibility of peace in the world and our lives.  A really lovely title that is deceptively short.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Price of Freedom by Dennis Brindell Fradin

This nonfiction picture book tells the story of two runaway slaves who managed to make it to Oberlin, Ohio.  Oberlin prided itself on being a safe haven for runaway slaves.  The two Price brothers decided to stay in Oberlin rather than running into Canada as they had originally planned.  However, the Fugitive Slave Act meant that they could be returned to slavery at any time if they were still in the United States.  When bounty hunters arrived in Oberlin Jon Price was captured and the hunters prepared to take him back to his former master.  What the slave hunters hadn't counted on was the fact that most of the people in Oberlin fought back to rescue Jon and keep him in town.  The picture book does a fine job but left me with some questions about what happened.  Luckily, there is more information included at the end of the book. 

Who Could That Be at This Hour by Lemony Snicket

Lemony Snicket is just a teen in this story about his start with a secret organization.  When he begins an apprenticeship with S. Theodora Markson he is taken to Stain'd by the Sea and the pair is hired to locate a missing statue.  Snicket's clueless chaperone works on finding the missing piece while Lemony discovers early on that something deeper is at work and tries to find out what is actually going on.  Along the way he meets a number of colorful characters, all of whom seem to be keeping secrets of some sort.  The prose came across to me much like Snicket's writing in the Series of Unfortunate Events books which might be a plus for prospective readers but is overblown and purposefully cute for me. 

The Look by Sophia Bennett

Ted has always compared her looks to her sister Ava's drop dead beauty and Ted knows it's no comparison.  Ted is tall, skinny, awkward, and has messy hair.  So when the two girls are out together in London and Ted is approached by a man who claims to be a model scout, she's sure it is a scam.  But when the modeling offer turns out to be real Ava is the one who encourages Ted to try it out. Ava is especially encouraging after she is diagnosed with cancer and her own activities are curtailed by her treatments and energy levels.  After Ted catches the attention of a woman who can really make things happen her modeling career explodes and she is poised to be the next supermodel.  But she is torn about where she should be when Ava begins distancing herself from everyone.  The part of this book I liked the most is the strong family and the close bond between the sisters, something that is rare in YA books.  The scene where Ted shaves her head to support Ava was touching without being portrayed in a cloying sweet "isn't this meaningful" way.  The look at the modeling industry is also interesting and, I think, realistic in that it takes a lot of work before Ted begins to have any success at all.  A nicely layered story that reads fast but leaves you with something to consider later. 

Peregrine Harker and the Black Death by Luke Hollands

Peregrine is a teen living on his own in London in 1908.  He has been lucky enough to have money to rent himself a room and he also works as a reporter.  Looking for a big break he is disappointed to be sent out to cover a story about the rising price of tea.  But he finds a huge mystery underneath as he begins to look deeper into the cost of tea.  Before long he is recruited to help a mysterious man and his beautiful, daring daughter.  But he also finds his life constantly in danger from those who would stop him in his investigation through any means necessary.  Although the book sounds exciting and does, in fact, have a great deal of action, I found it tedious to wade through the writing.  The narration came across as if it was trying hard to be charming, quirky and silly which wore on me before too long at all.  I was also put off by the death of one of the characters as it seemed a bit too tragic for a book that I think was trying to be more light-hearted fun. 

Buddha in the Classroom by Donna Quesada

The author of this book teaches at a community college but the situations she addresses are applicable to all teachers.  During one particularly bad semester Quesada felt burned out and found herself exasperated with her students in a number of situations that are familiar to teachers - students coming in late, students asking for extensions on deadlines, students complaining about their grades at the end of the semester, students disrupting class, and so on.  Although her first reaction was to snap at the students she stopped to look at each situation from a Buddhist perspective and let that insight guide her thinking.  She provides wisdom and guides the reader through ways in which to handle these frustrating parts of the job in a better way.  Although I know and get the Buddhist principles behind her suggestions for the problems, I couldn't always see myself following through on some of them.  But most seemed doable and gave me some ways of framing problems in a way that was likely to make me less stressed by the day to day problems with teaching.  The book is also appropriate/easy enough to understand for someone without a Buddhist background. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon

Noa has been living on her own since she ran away from her last foster home.  She uses her amazing hacker skills to support herself and has been getting along fine until she wakes up on an operating table in a warehouse with an IV in her arm.  She manages to escape from the facility but the people who put her there are still chasing her and she doesn't know what actually happened to her while she was their captive.  Meanwhile, Peter begins investigating some files in his father's office and soon the front door of his house is broken down by a calm, mysterious man telling him to stop looking or face the consequences.  Peter is the founder of a super secret hacking website so he puts out a message to the best hacker on his site for help - a person who just happens to be Noa.  The more they work together the clearer it becomes that their problems are linked somehow.  They have the skills to bring down the organization that is after both of them, but only if they are able to stay alive long enough to do so.  A quick-moving story that reminded me of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, only more pleasing (to me, at least).  The ending makes it clear that Noa and Peter's story is not finished yet.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pale by Chris Wooding

In Jed's world people don't necessarily have to die.  Those who can tolerate it can take the Lazarus Serum which brings them back from the dead.  But the "pales", as they are called, don't breathe and have almost white skin and eyes.  They are denied rights, live in The Graveyard and get beat up by bullies.  Jed is one of those bullies until he is given the serum by his girlfriend after a car accident.  When he wakes up as a pale he finds that his family and old friends don't want anything to do with him anymore, not even the girlfriend who saved him.  Forced to seek refuge with the other pales Jed learns about them and realizes how mean he was before.  He devises a plan to get back at some of his old friends but something happens that changes everything for him.  This book was written with the intention of appealing to struggling teen readers.  As such, it is extremely short so since I am not a struggling reader I found myself a little frustrated.  Not by the content of the book, simply because I wanted to know MORE about this world.  I find the premise unique and interesting and the events of the book pulled me in.  I wished that Wooding hadn't "wasted" such a great idea on a such a short book.  Then I realized how amazing this book will be to exactly the audience for which it is intended.  It is extremely difficult to find science fiction or fantasy that is not quite long and with the huge popularity of these genres that leaves our struggling readers out of luck.  In my experience, the books that are labeled as hi/lo are not popular at all with my students because they still want a good story.  Pale offers a good premise with an engaging plot that is still accessible.  But can't Wooding write a companion piece to this one that fleshes out the world just for me?  :-)

Break My Heart 1,000 Times by Daniel Waters

The ghosts don't bother Veronica, not even her father's ghost who arrives every morning to read the paper.  Ever since the Event there are ghosts everywhere endlessly repeating the same moments of their lives.  The ghosts don't talk to or interact with the living and no one knows for sure why they reenact the moments they do.  On her way to school each day Veronica sees the ghost of Mary Green climbing the stairs to history teacher Mr. Bittner's apartment.  Mary was murdered four years before on leap day and although creepy Mr. Bittner was a suspect, nothing was ever found to tie him to the crime.  With leap day - also Veronica's birthday - approaching again, Veronica finds Mr. Bittner paying more attention to her.  With her new boyfriend Kirk, Veronica becomes involved in investigating the ghosts and why there seems to be more of them appearing all the time while simultaneously figuring out what happened to Mary and what is actually going on with Mr. Bittner.  This is definitely a creepy book!  For those old enough to understand the reference it strongly reminds me of "Psycho", especially Mr. Bittner.  I was disappointed that the Event was never explained as I had the impression that would help me to understand more about the ghosts and the timeline of their appearance.  A slowly (but not slow-paced) evolving story that builds in intensity throughout with lots of suspense and horror.

I Swear by Lane Davis

Feeling hopeless, Leslie decides to take her own life.  After her death in the first chapter her tormentors attempt to work together to keep secret the details of what drove Leslie to commit suicide.  Macie, the head of the mean girls, immediately becomes the public face of the tragedy, spinning the events as she wants everyone to see.  The other girls in Macie's group of friends have their own reasons for having followed her all these years but are beginning to question their actions.  What is very clear to the reader is that Leslie - dealing with rumors of plastic surgery and promiscuity as well as constant Facebook messages suggesting she kill herself - felt she had no other choice left.  Told in alternating chapters the story of Leslie's persecution and persecutors unfolds. I wasn't bowled over by this book as reading it which is not to say that teens won't like it.  I think the mean girls and the bullying will make it popular.  But one theme has stuck with me, a theme that I hope would make some bullies stop and think a bit.  As their stories are revealed it is clear that the girls in the book had their own reasons for picking on Leslie and felt justified in doing so.  But as they begin to break down and really examine what they did, they see how some very small choice would've made a huge difference to Leslie and they realize how meaningless their reasons were.