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.