Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hostage Three by Nike Lake

Amy is angry at her father who has remarried and seemingly forgotten about her troubled mother who committed suicide. She is so determined to make a statement to her distant father that she purposefully blows her final exams and any chance she has to get into the next level of school.  With no prospects in the future her dad takes the family on a one year trip around the world on a private yacht. At first life on the boat is a bit boring as Amy broods and gets annoyed at the staff.  But things change drastically when the yacht is seized by a group of Somali pirates who won't learn their names but instead give them each a number.  The pirates demand millions of dollars in ransom and the family, crew and pirates are forced to live together aboard the boat for several weeks while the details are worked out during which time Amy begins to bond with the youngest pirate, a boy only a few years older than her.  Although the pirates live by a code that forbids them from harming the hostages, there is no doubt that they will kill if their demands are not met.

This is a gripping, too true story of modern day pirates.  I had a hard time putting it down.  I am, however, a little dismayed by Amy's relationship with the pirate.  I'm not sure if it is a little too fairy tale-esque or not.  It seems like the relationship is romanticized but then again, there are definite reminders of who and what he is.  Overall, a good read.

Reckoning by Kerry Wilkinson

Silver is old enough to take the Reckoning, a process that determines your place in society.  No one can explain exactly what happens in the Reckoning because each person's experience is different.  After finishing Silver is pleased to find that she is a Member, the second highest ranking which will give her some special opportunities.  But she is not happy when she is one of people chosen to be an Offering to the King.  Each year 30 teens are selected randomly to go to the castle to help the king as a thank you for what he did to end the war many years before.  No one knows what the Offerings do but none of them ever return to their homes.  During a feast on their first night at the castle Silver and the others learn exactly what their futures hold as Offerings....

A great, great dystopia in an already crowded field!  I thought I knew what was happening but I was still surprised by lots of things in the story.  Truly evil characters, constant danger and strong protagonists.  

The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni

Since his father died Jax has been living with his young guardian, Riley.  Jax was originally living with an older cousin but when Riley showed up claiming that Jax's dad wanted Jax to live with him, the cousin handed him over.  Jax feels like Riley doesn't care about him at all, they are always short on food, no one even noticed when he turned 13, and Riley's dirt bag friend hangs around the house.  Then on the Thursday after his birthday Jax wakes up to find all the power off and everyone missing.  The whole town is quiet and empty.  Feeling a little panicked and sure that some apocalypse has hit, Jax breaks into the Walmart to get some food.  When he wakes up the next day, though, everything is back to normal. The only odd thing is that everyone seems to think it is Thursday and no one noticed anything unusual about the previous day.  Turns out that Jax is a Transitioner - a person who gets an extra day sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday each week.  Jax's dad was one too which is why he has entrusted Jax to Riley for protection from other Transitioners who have some nefarious plans for the world.

Wow, a lot happens in this book!  I wasn't sure about it as I read and finished it but in reflection I think it has more to offer than I originally thought.  Sorting out the different factions in the magical world and what they each wanted got confusing for me but it comes down to some good guys and some bad guys so I don't know that it matters in the end. 

Can't Look Away by Donna Cooner

Torrey is famous online for her fashion video blog with thousands of followers.  But Torrey's family has just moved to a new town to escape from the attention they are receiving after her younger sister was killed by a drunk driver. Torrey was the queen bee at her previous school and is careful to align herself with the most popular people at her new school but she is also terrified that they will find out who she is.  One thing she knows she can't do is hang out with Luis who is despised by her new friends for some reason.  But Luis is the only person she feels she can really talk to.  On top of all that, Torrey's mom is falling apart with the grief and Torrey is dealing with a secret of her own about her sister's death.

I found the book less engaging than it sounds from the description of what is happening and got frustrated with Torrey pushing Luis away when he was obviously better for her than the popular girls.  But Torrey's growth throughout the book does seem realistic by the time we get to the end of the whole thing even though it was annoying in the process.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Haven by Carol Lynch Williams

Shiloh lives at Haven Hospital, a place for the Terminals where they can be kept safe and won't infect others with their illness.  The Terminals are happy and calm at all times and spend their days eating well, going to school and drinking their tonic. The only disruption to their lives is when the director of the hospital comes during lunchtime to take one of the Terminals away after receiving medical test results.  When they return, those Terminals are always missing body parts - if they return at all.  Shiloh is lucky to only be missing one lung from her operation but she lives in fear that her test results might require her to be taken again.  When her friend Abigail takes Shiloh to a late night meeting with two boys she doesn't believe what they are telling her.  The others claim that there is no disease and that the Terminals are just body doubles for wealthy people on the outside.  But when she stops taking her tonic, Shiloh's mind begins to clear and the truth is more shocking than she imagined.

Sounds great, right?  But there was way too much lead-in to the real action of the story.  And although I dislike formulaic things, I was wishing that Shiloh was a little more feisty like some other heroines and wouldn't be the drugged sheep the administrators were expecting.  I just had a hard time getting through the book.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents by Marilyn Singer

If you are a librarian you need this book for your collection.  The poems are fun but filled with information about each president and his times.  The illustrations are lively and have other bits of info for those who want to take the time to study them.  If you're not a librarian, you still probably need this book to make history and biography interesting.

The End or Something Like That by Ann Dee Ellis

Emmy always knew her best friend Kim had a heart problem but she didn't believe Kim would actually die, until she did.  Before her death, Kim made Emmy go with her to learn about the dead visiting those still alive.  Together they learned that the dead are more likely to return on important days - birthdays and anniversaries.  Since Kim's death Emmy has been going to their agreed upon spot with all their favorite items but there has been no sign of Kim.  She has, however, seen the ghost of her mean dead science teacher along with several other ghosts.  Why are these other spirits bugging Emmy and her own best friend is nowhere to be seen?

I'm still not sure if Emmy was actually seeing ghosts or not but that's not really the point of this book about loss, guilt and grieving. 

Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

Harper is the quintessential Southern belle and school leader.  She has been preparing for the debutant ball but first she is ready to accept the title of homecoming queen.  But during one last check of her hair and makeup at the dance the school custodian stumbles into the bathroom with a fatal wound and then one of the teachers tries to attack her with a sword.  Harper is able to fight him off with abilities she never knew she had!  When things settle down, Harper learns that she has become a Paladin charged with protecting the life of David, a school reporter with whom she has always had an argumentative relationship.  Will it be possible to fulfill her mystical duty to David, save the world from the doom that is promised at the upcoming ball, AND maintain her status as the perfect girlfriend and belle?

Nothing too deep happening here but a good choice for something light but not so light it provides no fun.  I'm sure I would appreciate the Southern setting even more if I were a belle myself but it seems to me that Hawkins did a good job of presenting the south in a stereotypical but not demeaning way.  The aunties and the owner of the tea shop are a hoot and the way the town rallies at the ball is great as well.

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora

Lucy is a little shaken after her English teacher dies in front of her and her mother undergoes successful cancer treatment. She is happy to see that their summer reading list includes her favorite book To Kill a Mockingbird but dismayed when she finds that most of the other students in the class don't want to read it.  With best friends Elena and Michael she comes up with a plan to make everyone want to read the book as much as she does - by making it impossible to find.  The group calls their movement "I Kill the Mockingbird" and hides all the copies of the book in libraries and bookstores in their area.  Before they know it the movement has taken on a life of its own with people posting about it all over the country!

This is a fun book for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird and for adults but I really question its appeal to middle schoolers.  Lucy's mom's approach to living her life was low key but refreshing.  Actually, that sort of sums up the entire story.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Cadence is part of the Sinclair family.  Each summer all the Sinclairs gather on their own private island off Martha's Vineyard where the patriarch of the family has built a house for each of his grown daughter's families.  Cadence is the oldest grandchild but her cousins Mirren and Johnny are close behind her.  Together these oldest cousins call themselves the Liars along with Gat, the nephew of one of the adults' boyfriend.  The Liars do everything together on the island and Cady and Gat fall in love.  But something happens during summer fifteen.   Cady is found in the water wearing only her underwear with a bump on her head.  She doesn't remember how she got there or much of anything else from the summer and then she begins to suffer from migraines.  The following summer she tours Europe with her father but in summer seventeen she insists on spending at least half the summer on the island.  Slowly Cady begins to remember bits and pieces of the missing summer...

I was promised by a couple of readers and numerous reviews that this book had an explosive twist at the end.  I don't know that I was as surprised as I thought it would be, but it is still a pretty good resolution to the story.  Even if you don't know that some big reveal is coming it is obvious from the writing that Cady has some secret she has blocked out of her brain and I was eagerly turning pages trying to figure out what had happened.  The family is deeply flawed and yet loves each other deeply as well.  Just like many real families.  Try it for yourself!

Learning Not to Drown by Anna Shinoda

Clare's parents are extremely overprotective and don't allow her to do much of anything.  It's especially annoying for her because her older brother Peter has few restrictions and her oldest brother Luke is adored despite the fact that he has been in and out of jail and rehab lots of times.  Clare herself adores Luke, saving every letter her writes and counting the days until he comes home.  When he finally does arrive he is full of promises about finding a job and turning his life around.  But soon Clare sees him doing things that remind her of the past.  Clare's parents are willing to overlook everything Luke does to support their favorite child.  Despite knowing this, Clare could never prepare for the lengths her parents would go to in order help Luke.

This is a powerful book but difficult to read in its gritty look at the reality of dealing with a prodigal child.  Clare is also a difficult character at first in her  desire to protect her brother in spite of his many issues.  But the ending of the book and her realizations are good, if hard won.

Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos

Margaret's father has been sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit.  Margaret knows he is being punished unfairly by Judge Lucas Biggs and she learns from her best friend's grandfather that events in his childhood are what made the judge so cold-hearted now.  Margaret's family have the ability to travel back in time so she is determined to change the course of events that led to Judge Biggs being so corrupt.  But "history resists" so will Margaret actually be able to change the past and save her father now?  And will she have enough time to do it before she is kicked out of the past or dies trying?

 Although Margaret uses time travel to help her cause this is really more in the historical fiction realm.  Usually, that's something that would make me uninterested in the story but I was caught up in the events at the mining camp and the rebellion that took place there.  The resolution for Margaret's father felt drawn-out but was still satisfying in the end.

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon

As 16 year old Tariq Johnson runs away from the corner market the owner yells "Come back here!".  A white man gets out of his car and within a matter of seconds Tariq is dead from two gunshots.  Each witness tells the story of what happened a little differently but  each of them believes they have the true account.  As the many characters talk about what they saw their lives continue to be affected by Tariq's death and the ensuing consequences.

The bare bones of the story is ripped from the headlines but it becomes much more multilayered from there.  At first there is just the lack of agreement amongst the narrators but as the book goes on the pressure of living in the neighborhood becomes the more central point.  I was really saddened by Tariq's best friend struggling to stay clear of the gang but finding that he might not have any other choice.  And was Tariq keeping his word that he would not ever join the gang or was he already in?  It depends on which narrator you believe.  A really thoughtful, honest look at life in a gang-ridden neighborhood that doesn't rely on stereotypes.

Monday, October 20, 2014

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

Lara Jean's older sister is off to college - in Scotland!  Since her sister has always been the organized one who takes care of everything around the house,  things get a little hectic for Lara Jean, her younger sister and her father.  Lara Jean is trying to fill her sister's big shoes but life gets even more crazy for her when she discovers that all her letters to her former crushes have been mailed.  See, whenever Lara Jean had a crush on a boy she would get over it by writing that boy a letter and keeping it in her favorite hat box.  The letters were never meant to be seen by anyone other than her but now the boys are reading all of her innermost thoughts about them.  Worst of all, one of the letters went to her sister's ex-boyfriend and the only way to cover her tracks with him is to pretend to be dating someone else.

While I liked this book it could've definitely lost about 100 pages to make it a better read for me.  I will say, however, that I was happy with the ending and the realizations the characters had which surprised me and saved this from being a typical romance.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Taking by Kimberly Derting

Kyra has a bright future ahead of her.  She is a star softball player who should have her choice of colleges and she has the perfect boyfriend.  But all of that literally disappears with Kyra in a flash of light.  When she awakes she finds that she has been missing for five years and she has no memory of that time.  Kyra still has the bruises and cuts she had on the day she disappeared.  Her boyfriend is now in college, living with her best friend.  Her parents have divorced and her mom is remarried with a baby while her father has become an alien abduction nut living in a trailer filled with articles about government cover-ups.  The only person Kyra feels she can talk to is Tyler, her boyfriend's kid brother who is now the same age as Kyra.  Together, they find there are lots of others who have been taken and that her father's conspiracy theories aren't so crazy after all. 

Great start to this book but then I lost interest for the most part.  In particular, I had a difficult time with Kyra and Tyler's relationship which was too fast and intense for me to believe.  However, the very end of the book was intriguing and now I'm interested in seeing what exactly has happened to the characters at the beginning of the next one. 

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

Maggie is beginning a new school year and has decided to write a memoir of her life.  She knows that when she becomes president someday everyone will want to know about her childhood.  As always, she is at the top of her classes and is one of the students of the month every month.  She's also happy to be beginning her financial future with one share of Coca-Cola stock which she receives on her birthday.  Life at home is a little different than usual, however.  Her mother has now gone back to work to support the family while her father stays home because his legs go to sleep much more often.  As her father has more health issues Maggie decides that she will do her science fair project this year on Multiple Sclerosis to learn more about what's happening with him. 

Maggie is a likeable character if a little nerdy.  Her parents are also fun.  I thought they were really retro until I finally realized that the book is actually set in the 1970's.  The name of Dad's disease doesn't come up until at least halfway into the book which I found a little frustrating but I think the book is presented in the way a child would actually be experiencing living with this.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Emily and her best friend Sloane have planned the best summer ever.  But when summer actually begins, Sloane is nowhere to be found.  Her house is deserted and she's not returning any of the dozens of texts Emily sends her.  After a bewildering couple of weeks Emily gets a to-do list in the mail.  Although there is no explanation, she knows it must be from Sloane who had a habit of making such lists in the past.  Emily decides that if she completes the list it will lead her to Sloane so she gets started.  But many of the tasks on the list are things she would never do on her own - things she would only ever attempt if Sloane was with her.  Still, she gets started with "Apple picking at night" which leads her to an uncomfortable evening alone at a party in The Orchard made even worse when her car runs out of gas and she has to ask class president Frank to take her to a gas station.  Before Emily knows it she is trying all sorts of things she never would have imagined and is unexpectedly becoming closer to Frank.  But will all of her daring exploits actually get her closer to her best friend?

This book has a fun premise and the to-do list keeps the plot moving along.  But the story was much too long for me given what there was to work with.  And I found myself very frustrated by the bumps in Emily and Frank's relationship.  100 or more pages shorter and I would recommend this as a light read.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood

Cat wants the attention given to the Easter Bunny.  So he decides to take over his job, but he soon learns that delivering eggs and chocolate bunnies is harder work than Cat expects.  And there won't be time for the five naps a day to which Cat is accustomed! 

Such a cute story!  I love Cat and his expressions throughout. 

Scan by Walter Jury

Tate's cold father demands perfection and keeps secrets.  But Tate knows his habits well enough to break into his father's at home workshop and he takes a strange device to school with him.  Tate only knows that the device shows one of two colors when he scans people but shortly after using it he is on the run from mercenaries.  Tate's father is killed in the escape and he has no choice but to turn to his distant mother for help to rescue himself and his girlfriend.  Tate learns that the Earth is being taken over by aliens who look just like humans and his father's device is a way to tell who is who.  What's more, Tate's girlfriend is an alien and didn't even know it.  With humans the minority species on Earth now the remaining human bloodlines don't take kindly to mixing races and Tate and his girlfriend are both in extreme danger from aliens and humans alike.

Scan is a fast-paced adventure with lots of bad guys to spare.  The human compound was scarily realistic!  What the device actually is wasn't entirely clear to me but that didn't really matter to the action of the story.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter by Carmella Van Vleet

 Eliza can't wait to take a cake decorating class with her best friend Tony.  Tony and Eliza plan to take over his family's bakery when they grow up and the class is being taught by their favorite television personality.  But the class is expensive and Eliza overhears her parents talking about all the other activities she has started and quit which makes them reluctant to spend money on the cake class.  So Eliza decides to show them she can follow through!  She takes her brother's place in his tae kwon do class and gets her parents to agree that she can take the cake class in the fall if she finishes the summer class.  Although Eliza doesn't want her family to think she's a quitter, she finds tae kwon do difficult, especially when she discovers that her nemesis Madison is in her class.  Will she have the resolve to follow through on her latest class?

This book is meant for a young audience but I really liked it, especially with that in mind.  Eliza is funny and sweet and the chapter titles made me laugh.  Her struggle with martial arts was realistic because they aren't easy!  And being forced to interact with Madison revealed things about both girls.  The cover looks young and silly but I think there is more depth to the book than the cover might convey. 

Summer on the Short Bus by Bethany Crandell

Cricket expects the best of everything and she gets it.  Her very rich father has allowed her to become spoiled while he is off doing business and staying away from her.  But after she throws a wild party her dad decides that Cricket needs some discipline.  Instead of going to Maui with her best friend, Cricket is sent to be a counselor at Camp I Can.  Already out of her element, Cricket is even more stunned to find out that the campers are kids with special needs.  The only thing keeping her there is Zac Efron lookalike Quinn.  With her poor attitude Cricket is barely hanging in there but as she does she begins to see things just a little differently.  But an honest discussion of her feelings might make her lose everything.

I really liked this book even while I didn't like Cricket much.  But you're not supposed to like Cricket much for most of the book.  She is spoiled and says many politically incorrect things to and about the disabled kids she is working with.  In her note at the end the author talks about people having honest reactions to those with disabilities and not being perfect.  I think that presenting a character (and others who talk about their own initial reactions) who struggles in this way is so much more approachable for people - most of whom are going to have some issues - than having a book populated by goody good characters.  Even when Cricket comes around she is still not a paragon of virtue or good manners.  But that's what I liked about the book!  Great story!