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!