Monday, January 7, 2013

Blink Once by Cylin Busby

West has been in a terrible accident that has left him in the hospital strapped down, paralyzed and unable to communicate except by blinking, once for yes, twice for no.  He is visited daily by Olivia, the girl in the room next door, who seems to understand what he's thinking better than anyone else who comes to visit.  Olivia helps him deal with the nightmares he has about a young girl being attacked and the more they talk, the more West falls in love with her.  Olivia is worried that West will forget about her when he gets ready to undergo a surgery that promises a cure for his condition but West promises he will come back for her when he is better.  But after his surgery West finds that most of what he thought while in the hospital is questionable and he's not sure what to believe anymore.  This is an unusual love story.  When it gets to the part post-surgery the intrigue really picks up and the book became more interesting to me.  Prior to that I wasn't as interested and that section is pretty long so I'm not sure about the title's ability to capture the interest of other readers. 

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

14-year-old Carey lives with her younger sister and mother in a broken down trailer parked in what they call the Hundred Acre Wood.  Carey's mother is bipolar and addicted to meth so the two girls are left alone in the woods on a regular basis.  And when their mother does come back to the trailer she often brings along strangers with bad intentions.  As the book opens Carey and Jenessa have been on their own for five weeks and food is running out.  They are surprised when two people appear out of the woods - a social worker and Carey's father whom she hasn't seen since Mama abducted her over a decade ago.  The girls are even more surprised to hear that their mother wrote a letter giving them up and telling where they were located.  Now Carey and Jenessa are going to live with the father they were told was abusive and have to adjust to a life they've never known.  But being well fed, clothed and rested for the first time in their lives doesn't mean that they can forget everything that happened in their past.  Although their situation is extraordinary the events in this book don't feel at all unrealistic.  The contrast between their time in the woods and the life we take for granted is subtly done and makes the point that we all ought to be grateful without being overbearingly preachy.  Carey's hesitation to accept her father and her new life is also realistic and understandable given the experiences that are slowly revealed as the book goes on.  I liked all the adult characters who are nice and helpful to the girls but still believable as real people, especially Carey's father.  And the surprise addition of the stepsister added depth to the story of the girls' recovery.  Delaney rang true as she vacillated between being sympathetic to Carey and nastily resentful. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Burning Blue by Paul Griffin

Nicole was the most beautiful girl in school until she was attacked and had half her face burned with acid.  Loner, hacker Jay who suffers from seizures begins his own investigation into the crime after running into Nicole at the counselor's office.  Before long he has more suspects than he can handle since it seems that nearly everyone was jealous of Nicole in some way and it seems like the attacker might not be done with Nicole yet.  As Jay's work uncovers more secrets and his relationship with Nicole deepens he faces threats of his own.  This mystery will likely be easy to sell to my students but I didn't care for the writing style at all, finding myself having to re-read paragraphs to figure out what was happening.  Moreover, I have a hard time buying the actual attacker and the reasons for the attack.  It just seemed sensationalistic rather than carefully thought out to me.  And Nicole's other problem that is revealed at the end of the book felt stuck on, not integrated. 

Kiss & Make Up by Katie Anderson

Emerson's best friend has declared that this will be the year of the boy for them.  Emerson is interested in dating but she hasn't even kissed a boy yet, despite her large collection of lip glosses thanks to her aunt who sells make up.  She has another problem as well - whenever she kisses someone she sees their thoughts and memories.  When she is kissed by Silas she sees what a creep he really is which becomes an even bigger problem when he starts dating her sister.  Emerson's grades have slipped and her aunt threatens to make Emerson go to public school the next year unless she can bring them up.  Emerson decides to put her kissing curse to good use by kissing the smartest boys in school in order to get their knowledge to help her in class.  Her plan is working well enough that she gets invited to join the academic decathalon team.  But along the way she has found that she actually cares about one of the geeks she has been using and might have to choose between true love and good grades.  Definitely chick lit!  But fun with a warm heart in Emerson's relationship with her aunt.  Light, but satisfying.

Eve and Adam by K..A. Applegate and Michael Grant

After an accident that leaves Eve with a severely damaged leg she is whisked out of the hospital by her controlling mother, Terra, who just happens to be a scientist specializing in genetics.  While recuperating at her mother's headquarters Eve meets Solo, a boy who has lived there since his parents were killed in the same car accident that killed Eve's father several years before.  Solo is intent on bringing down Terra and uses his impressive hacking skills to find out what exactly is going on in the company.  But after meeting Eve he has some doubts when he realizes that hurting Terra will also upset Eve's world.  Meanwhile, Eve is filling her time by playing with a new program that allows her to build her ideal man whom she dubs "Adam".  When Solo confronts Eve with what he has found, including a secret about Eve herself, the two flee the compound only to be tracked by Adam who is much more than a simulation.  The secrets of Terra's lab are not too hard to figure out with the many hints dropped throughout.  I found the shifting of who the bad guy is to be a convenient plot device and none of the characters interested me much.  Fine, but fairly blah for me.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Ruining by Anna Collomore

Annie moves cross-country from Detroit to beautiful Belvedere Island in San Francisco.  She is more than happy to leave behind her alcoholic mother and stepfather for the opportunity to go to college and be a nanny.  When she arrives she is immediately taken with the Cohens, especially young mother Libby who showers Annie with attention, advice and expensive cast-off clothing.  Annie also begins her first romance with the handsome, young web entreprenuer next door.  But slowly Annie's perfect world begins to show some cracks.  Libby blows hot and cold, sometimes accusing Annie of doing or saying things she doesn't even remember.  The door on Annie's bedroom is removed and she has no privacy.  Libby often expects Annie to work at times she wasn't expecting and Annie's school work begins to suffer.  And sometimes Libby grills Annie about her relationship with her boyfriend, asking highly inappropriate questions, implying that Annie ought not trust him.  This book does an amazing job of keeping the reader every bit as unsure of what is happening as Annie is.  I was pretty sure that Libby was "Gaslight-ing" Annie but there were enough other things happening to keep me uncertain, especially because I couldn't figure out exactly what her motive would be (although there were enough clues planted in the text to work out a few of the surprises).  Annie's descent is convincing because it comes about bit by bit with her questioning more and more of her own beliefs.  Her adoration of Libby, while frustrating, is also explained because of Annie's background.  A really unsettling, but compelling read!  My complaint with the book, however, is the ending.  After such painstaking work leading Annie and the reader into madness, the resolution came about much too quickly.  I was happy with all that was revealed and how Annie ultimately ended up, but it all came about much less thoughtfully than what preceded it.

Fourmile by Wyatt Key

Foster loves living at Fourmile, his family's farm in Alabama.  Even though his mother is considering moving them to the city, Foster wants to stay at Fourmile because he can feel a connection to his father who died there a year before.  The only problem at the farm is the presence of Dax, his mother's boyfriend.  Foster can tell Dax is a bad man but he hides his meanness from Foster's mom.  Drifter Gary walks past the house while Foster is painting the fence one day.  Gary's and Foster's dogs become fast friends and Foster convinces his mom to let Gary stay in their barn to help fix up the farm for selling.  Unlike Dax, Gary is a quiet, mature role model for Foster despite harboring his own secret.  When Foster's mom decides to break up with him, Dax becomes possessive and increasingly violent which leads to an explosive showdown between the two men.  First of all, Foster's dog is a very important character and I was sure that something bad was going to happen to him so I contemplated putting the book down many times.  I'm not saying whether I was right or not.  The events in this book built in intensityand kept me slightly uncomfortable as the story went on and I was completely on board, until the very end.  I suppose that Gary's secret, which led to his reaction, is realistic but the resolution seemed a little much to me.  And I guess I would've preferred a more pat happy ending - not "happily ever after", but something a bit more settled than it seems to be. 

Wake by Amanda Hocking

Gemma loves to swim and goes to her favorite cove every night despite her sister's and father's worries.  Gemma is happy with her life in her small town, especially after she begins dating her next door neighbor Alex, a boy she has known her entire life.  But life in Capri becomes unsettled by the arrival of three amazingly beautiful girls who seem to have taken a special interest in Gemma and who are always around when she swims at night.  When the girls convince Gemma to spend some time with them she drinks an unusual potion and wakes up the next morning on the edge of the shore with some strange changes.  She seems to be becoming more beautiful daily; she feels a strange tingling in her legs whenever she is in the shower or around water; and she occasionally finds a green scale in her bed.  Even more strange is the way Alex reacts to her when she sings.  Knowing that something is wrong Gemma confronts the three girls who reveal that they are sirens and Gemma must now join them or die.  But being a siren has lots of downsides.  This is a new type of magical/mythological romance and it is well done for that genre.  I am very tired of trilogies and wish that some books would just wrap it up in one volume so I will complain about that, especially since this one has a hard cliffhanger.  But that is my particular issue, not one that my students usually have.  The nastiness of the sirens is revealed slowly and believably and Gemma's choices become more limited as the book proceeds. 

Potterwookiee by Obert Skye

Rob has a magical closet that remains locked to him most of the time.  But when it does open it produces action figure mash-ups.  In this book Rob's closet presents a small figure that looks like Chewbacca from "Star Wars" wearing Harry Potter's scarf and glasses.  "Hairy" can perform some magic but a spell gone awry early on leaves him stupified and Rob must begin reading the Harry Potter books to figure out how to undo the spell.  Meanwhile, he is preparing for an audition for his favorite TV show, "Average Chef".  This book is done in the style of the Wimpy Kid series with lots of silly illustrations.  I, personally, didn't enjoy it but I think it is a great book to recommend to students who like funny stories that are not hard to read but don't look like "baby" books either. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Being Henry David by Cal Armistead

The main character of the book wakes up at the train station in New York City with no memory of who he is or his life prior to that moment.  His only possession is a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau so he ends up being called Hank.  While being sheltered by two street teens Hank finds himself in trouble and on the run.  Sure that Walden must be some sort of clue to his past Hank travels to Concord, Massachusetts to visit Thoreau's home.  There he finds friendship and help from several people including a librarian, a custodian and a beautiful girl with her own secrets.  Slowly, Hank begins to catch glimpses of who he was before but the more memories he retrieves, the more he remembers about why he blocked out his life in the first place.  As a lover of Walden and other Thoreau writings I wish that Hank had ended up living more of his philosophies.  However, there are lots of references to his work and life throughout the novel and the librarian is definitely a Thoreau-esque role model.  For teens who have likely not been introduced to his work there is plenty to chew on.  But the inclusion of Thoreau things is really a small issue, probably only important to his fans.  The meat of the story is something that will capture teens' attention beginning with the gritty New York setting and the events that happen there, including the odd homeless man who eats anything he finds - both good hooks for selling the book.  Hank's memory loss coupled with the few things that come back to him - such as the fact that he's a great guitar player - keep the reader interested to find out what's going on.  His girlfriend in Concord has secrets of her own that are woven in which also builds suspense.  This is a good piece of realistic fiction with a bit more depth than some other YA titles.  My only complaint is that I got tired of Hank running away from help.  The librarian was clearly non-judgmental and tried to make a couple of deals with Hank which he kept breaking.  If he hadn't the book couldn't have included the importance of the mountain, but I was a bit exasperated with Hank by that point. 

This is NOT a Drill by Beck McDowell

High schoolers Emery and Jake have volunteered to teach French to a class of first graders.  While tutoring one morning the parent of one of their students comes into the classroom demanding that his son be released to him.  The situation becomes even more frightening when the armed man shoots the school security guard at the classroom door.  The story is told in alternating chapters where Emery and Jake reveal what is happening as well as their previous relationship.  Gradually the reader learns that the parent is a veteran suffering from PTSD however this information is not used to excuse his behavior, just to offer a more well-rounded picture of the situation.  Unfortunately, a timely book.

Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead by Rebecca L. Johnson

Don't be fooled into thinking this is a book about human zombies which are very popular right now.  However, it is a fascinating presentation of animals that become zombies after they are infected with viruses or controlled by other animals.  One of the creepiest chapters talks about guinea worms, a parasite that infects humans.  The guinea worms are found in water that the host human drinks and they live in people for about a year.  After a year they have grown to almost three feet long and look like a piece of spaghetti.  Once they are full grown they release chemicals that cause terrible blisters on the skin that burn.  The only way to relieve the burning feeling is to plunge into water which is what the worm needs to leave the body and start the process all over again.  Disgusting!  But sooooo interesting.  Take time to read about all the other zombie-makers, including one you might get from your cat...

The 10 Mightiest Mountains by Nigel Samuel

After reading Peak by Roland Smith several years ago I have become fascinated with mountains, mainly because they are so scary!  This nonfiction book presents ten mountains that have been deemed the "mightiest" for different reasons.  Some of the tallest mountains in the world are included, of course, but it also counts Mt. Vesuvius as one of the top ten for its destructive power.  The pictures are clear and great and the information is really concise and interesting.  Even if you're not already interested in mountains, you will find the information contained here interesting enough to draw you in. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Abby is plump and has endured some rude comments from the mean girls in order to be part of their circle.  But one day Abby decides she is sick of being around them and stands up for herself.  She is immediately ostracized  but finds that there is a whole other life for her once she begins to look beyond just trying to fit in.  She becomes friends with a group of boys who are not judgmental at all and she meets Anders, a younger boy who is homeschooled.  She also meets Anders' father, an Iraqi war veteran who is dealing with his post-traumatic stress.  I really enjoyed this book and the ways in which Abby finds herself and stops relying on others to define her.  My only complaint is the story of the fox that I guess ties into everyone else's story in some way.  I believe the fox was meant to be an allegory and significant but I found it unnecessary.  Abby is a strong character with her own story to tell and that story was already important.  In addition, I think this would be an excellent book for my sixth grade reading list but I feel unsure about it because of the fox storyline which I think would just be confusing for my sixth graders.  So if you choose to read it, I think you could skip the fox chapters and still have a really great book about self-empowerment.

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

 While at the post office hoping to hear from her brother, Eleanor is startled by the alarm that warns of the dead attacking.  Hiding behind a counter, Eleanor is approached by one of the walking dead who hands her a letter from her brother telling her that he won't be coming home as soon as expected.  Eleanor is concerned that her brother has already been killed by the dead and resolves to get to the bottom of the mystery about where he is and what his connection is to the zombies.  The only people she feels might be able to help her are the Spirit-hunters who have come to Philadelphia and set up an office at the World's Fair.  She also hopes to gain some information about her brother from handsome, eligible Clarence who went to school with Elijah and also seems to be taking an interest in Eleanor.  But Clarence has secrets of his own that make Eleanor wonder if he might know more about the necromancer that is controlling the zombies than he is saying.  This steampunk novel has a good deal of action and some very mean characters along with a strong heroine.  I saw the biggest twist coming but not the resolutions of either romance.  The cover is awful and not in period at all but I suppose it might attract interest from some who like that type of picture. 

What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang

In the unique premise of this book every body is born with two souls.  As the two people grow up one of them fades and the body settles into being one person.  Eva is the narrator of this book and she shares a body with Addie.  At age 16 Eva should have faded many years ago.  Addie and Eva knew that there was something wrong with them after their parents took them to many doctors to try to get them to settle, so they have pretended for several years that Eva doesn't exist.  Especially since hybrids are outlawed in their society.  But the girls learn that they are not the only secret hybrids and with the help of a new friend and her brother, Eva is slowly learning to express herself again.  But the risks to them all if they are found out are huge.  I found this an intriguing book as long as I was able to just accept the premise of the two souls in a body.  If I think too hard about what the would be like or how that would work, I get confused and can't accept the events in the book.  For a less analytical reader that probably won't be a problem and he or she can just enjoy the action.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Alina and her best friend Mal grew up together in an orphanage.  Now they are part of the military charged with a mission to cross the Fold, a dark area filled with human-eating creatures.  When their convoy is attacked and Mal is threatened, Alina exhibits a power she never knew she had and is hailed as the Sun Summoner.  She is whisked away to begin training with the Grisha, an elite force of people with many different magical powers.  Alina begins receiving special attention from the Darkling who is in charge of the Grisha and who usually has no time for anyone else.  He tells Alina that she is destined to defeat the Fold and reunited the two parts of the land separated by it, especially once she has an amplifier for her power.  Alina is happy with her change of fortune but she misses Mal who seems to have forgotten about her since he never responds to any of her many letters to him.  It is difficult to summarize more of the book without revealing too much about the plot twists contained in it but it is a great high fantasy title.  There is deception and magic and characters doing things you wouldn't expect from them.  Although it contains all the elements of fantasy, the premise and working are unique and draw you into a new world.

Dirty Little Secrets by Cynthia Jaynes Omololu

Lucy's mom is a hoarder.  After losing a friend who was disgusted by the house, Lucy has worked hard to keep to herself and make sure that no one else has ever come to her house.  She has tried to clean up the house over the years but her efforts always end with her mom being mad at her and quickly filling up any empty space with more things.  Lucy has resigned herself to her mom's sickness and is just trying to get through the next couple of years until she turns 18 and can move out like her older brother and sister.  But when she comes home one day to find that her mom has died, Lucy knows that their secret will be revealed if she calls the police.  Lucy feels shame about the shape of the house and scared about the names people will call her when they find out about the hoarding which will certainly be a huge news story.  She decides she can wait a day before calling for help and gets started trying to clean up enough to make the house presentable.  The narrative follows Lucy's cleaning efforts by the hour while revealing some stories from the past that show just how deep her mother's illness went.  With the show "Hoarders" on TV this will likely be a popular title.  But unlike the show this book takes you further into the mind of the hoarder and the effect on others in the family.  It takes you through the entire depths of the sickness doing more than just showing you the piles of things.  The story makes you uncomfortable and feeling as hopeless as Lucy (although she does manage to solve her problem so there's something of a "happy" ending).  An extremely well-done book!

The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees

Frankie's older brother Steve is a star soccer player and extremely popular but recently he has been acting more like a cholo - disrespecting their parents, staying out all night, hanging with gang members, and getting into fights.  Frankie has always looked up to his brother but he is getting more worried about him and Frankie has problems of his own.  He has begun dating Rebecca and finds himself being beat up by her ex-boyfriend Dalton and his friends.  Dalton's family owns a tortilla manufacturing plant which became famous with a recipe from Rebecca's family.  Frankie is also nervous about the fact that Rebecca's dad is the sheriff in town who has reservations about his daughter dating someone he finds questionable.  This book is made of the type of stuff teens love - fights, sketchy characters, sibling loyalty, romance - but the writing is not great.  Not something I enjoyed much at all but I'm sure students will.