Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Beware the Wild by Natalie Parker

Sterling's town is set right on the edge of a swamp.  Swamps can be creepy enough but their swamp is known to be dangerous.  People who go into the swamp never come back out.  In fact, Sterling's grandfather built a fence that separates the swamp from the town and no one ever crosses that fence.  But after a fight, Sterling's older brother Phin hopped the fence and went into the swamp.  Hours later Sterling is watching for Phin when she sees movement and soon, a person coming towards her from the swamp.  But the person who comes out is not Phin, it is a girl named Lenora May and everyone in town, including their parents, has forgotten Phin and acts as if Lenora May has always been Sterling's sister. What has the swamp down with her brother and is it possible for Sterling to get him back?

This is a deliciously creepy story in the typical southern literature fashion.  You can feel the swamp breathing down your neck and getting closer.  Lenora May is a great character as is Sterling's best friend Candy.  Good story with incredible atmosphere.

The Fire Wish by Amber Lough

Long ago the Jin and the humans worked together to advance knowledge and solve problems.  But some humans only wanted to use the Jin to grant wishes for their own gain and the passage between the two groups was closed.  Now each side seeks a way to win the war between them once and for all.  Najwa is a jinni training to be a spy.  On a classroom exercise she discovers that she can transport herself inside the walls of the palace, something no other Jin can do because of the wards in place there.  Eager to try again, she ends up on a barge looking at a human girl who looks exactly like her.  That girl is Zayele and she is being sent to marry the prince against her will.  Guessing the Najwa is a jinni, Zayele grabs hold of her and wishes to be sent back home with the jinni taking her place.  Unable to refuse, Najwa does indeed end up bound for the palace and Zayele disappears.  But she finds herself in the Jin's caverns.  How could her wish have landed her amongst the Jin and how can she escape before they discover who she is?

This is an interesting fantasy set in a different world than most of what we've seen recently.  The reason for the mix up is pretty simple to figure out but the characters are still interesting and their situations still fraught with danger and problems.  Their respective romances didn't interest me much and felt more tacked on, not something that was necessary for the story as a whole. Still, something unique and easy to read.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Four stories spanning decades with one magical harmonica in common.  Echo begins with a fairy tale of three sisters banished by a witch.  Their only hope of returning home rests with a harmonica that holds their essence.  The first person to find the harmonica is Friedrich, a boy who hopes to be a conductor one day but who first must try to save his father and uncle in Nazi Germany.  Two years later the harmonica has found its way to Philadelphia and into the hands of Mike, an orphan trying to take care of his younger brother.  Finally, the harmonica is used by Ivy in California.  Ivy's family has just moved to what they hope will be a better place with a permanent home for them shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

Each individual story it interesting and the characters are easy to identify with exactly as you would expect from Ryan.  Her writing, as always, is wonderful.  But while I liked the book and read it fairly quickly, I seriously question the appeal it's going to have with teens.  And how can I sell it?  "Here is a 585 page book about a magical harmonica."?  The right readers will like it but it will be hard to find those readers.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Badger Knight by Kathryn Erskine

Adrian is a master with a bow and arrow and wants to go into battle someday to prove it but his father won't allow that.  His father also won't hear of Adrian becoming his apprentice and learning to make bows.  No, the only future his father wants is for Adrian to become a scribe, something Adrian himself finds boring.  Adrian is further tormented by his aunt who sees him only as a laborer for her fields and someone to take care of her beloved ox, and the local boys who make fun of his pale skin, white hair and small size.  When everyone in town learns that England is going to war with the pagan Scots, Adrian convinces his best friend Hugh to go join the battle.  A few days later Adrian secretly leaves home to join Hugh certain that together they will be able to defeat the Scots and be regarded as the fine fighters they are.  But locating Hugh takes longer than expected and Adrian meets many people along the way, people who make him wonder if he knows as much as he thinks he does.

I had a hard time feeling motivated to get through this book.  I kept expecting Adrian to get to the battle but he didn't get there and to Hugh for a long time.  I realized at some point that this story is about the growing Adrian was doing along the way and some of those encounters were interesting stories in their own right.  However, it was still difficult for me to stay engaged.  I need to add as a caveat, however, that I was listening to the book, not reading it.  I don't remember ever doing that before because I read much faster than any narrator so I'm going to assume that I might've liked the story better if I'd been able to control the pace myself.

Blood Will Tell by April Henry

Nick, Alexis and Ruby are teen volunteers with the Portland Search and Rescue team and they are called out to help locate a missing young girl.  The girl is found but is seriously injured in the process and Nick is instrumental in helping her survive.  The very next day the team is called out to find evidence in a lot where a woman was murdered - only six blocks from Nick's house.  Before too long it becomes clear that the police consider Nick to be their prime suspect and with good reason; they found DNA that could only have come from someone in his family.  As the police work to get a complete DNA match, Nick and his friends have to figure out how this could have happened.  But time is getting short and the real killer is about to make his next move.

This book is the second in a series with these same characters although both books stand alone.  Like all of Henry's books, this one is a page-turner with suspense and red herrings.  It will be just as popular as her other titles and rightfully so.

I am Princess X by Cherie Priest

After meeting in 5th grade May and Libby make up Princess X, a heroine wearing red Chucks and wielding a katana.  They spend years writing and illustrating her stories but all that ends when Libby and her mother die in a car accident and the Princess X stories are lost.  Several years later May is back in Seattle visiting her dad when she sees a sticker on a light pole that says "I Am Princess X".  May begins investigating and discovers that there is a webcomic about Princess X that is becoming very popular but no one knows who the creator is.  The pictures and references in the comic are things that only Libby would know and May is sure that her best friend is alive somewhere and is using the comic to ask May to come rescue her from The Needle Man.  May enlists her neighbor Trick, an amazing hacker, to help her find Libby but their investigation into the comic begins to have real life consequences.

I've said before that my favorite genre is whatever offers something unique and this one filled the bill for me.  The Princess X comic is interwoven in the novel to advance the story but there's also the gripping mystery/adventure of what's happening in real life.  The pop culture and tech references are fast and furious but totally part of the story, not just added in to make it sound current.  This story offers something different and exciting and I just loved it.  I did feel like the end of the book was less exciting than all the mystery leading up to it but I'm also thinking that I might've felt that way because I was reading so fast that I didn't let it all sink in. 

I'll Have What She's Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting by Rebecca Harrington

In a rare occurrence I read book that is intended for adults!  Harrington embarked on a mission to try to follow the diets of many different celebrities and recorded the results in this book.  The premise is great and the book is short enough to read in one sitting.  I started it filled with the anticipation of reading about how ridiculous celebrities are in their eating and how impossible it would be for real people to follow their regimes.  I guess that's in there but it's not as obvious as I expected.  In fact, Harrington actually enjoys some of the food she tries.  She tries to emulate Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, and many more.  Some of the foods these people eat/ate are downright disgusting while others basically don't eat anything at all.  So I guess I did come away with the feeling that I'm glad I don't have to be THAT concerned about my appearance because I'm certainly not that dedicated.  I wish there had been a little more depth to the book - not in terms of meaningful content, just a deeper exploration of the people she is profiling - but it's still a fun and easy way to pass a couple of hours.

Monday, June 15, 2015

No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss

Abigail's parents sold all their belongings an moved across the country to join Brother John's congregation before the world ended.  But now it is the day after he predicted the apocalypse and they are still here, living in their van on the streets of San Francisco.  Abigail's parents are still devout followers of Brother John but Abs and her twin Aaron have their doubts and want to go back home to North Carolina.  Abigail wants her family to stay together and hopes that her parents will see that they are in dire straits.  Aaron just wants to leave and has a plan to get them home, no matter what it takes.

This was an intriguing story that had me thinking throughout.  Abigail's parents truly didn't see how bad off they were and didn't question their faith.  That's actually what I was liking the most of the story - how clueless her folks were even in the face of some bad things - but then the pat ending sort of ruined things for me.  Left me feeling "eh".

Seven Second Delay by Tom Easton

Mila and her mentor Julian are trying to cross into the Isles, the only place in Europe where people have enough to eat and don't live such difficult lives.  Mila is looking forward to leading a quiet life but Julian is killed and she is captured by the Agency.  When Mila is given a phone in her head just like the residents of the Isles she thinks she will have a chance to have a normal, although monitored, life.  But when her head is scanned to make sure the phone is in place the Agency discovers something else in her head that they assume is a bomb.  They will do anything to stop Mila from activating the bomb including destroying buildings and killing civilians who get in the way.  The only advantage Mila has is that the video feed from her phone has a seven second delay.  Mila has to be smart enough to use that seven seconds to her advantage.

This is an action-packed book and Mila's ingenuity and skills in eluding capture are impressive.  There are several situations that strain your ability to suspend your disbelief, but they are not too out there. 

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Grayson is a boy who knows that he is really a girl.  Grayson has always felt this way but he has been keeping it a secret which keeps him isolated at school and at home.  Grayson has lived with his aunt and uncle since his parents died when he was young.  Grayson is surprised to make a new friend at school and is further supported by his caring history teacher who is also directing the school play.  Grayson surprises even himself when he tries out for the play and asks to audition for the role of Persephone.  When Grayson is cast in the role his days of hiding his identity are over but not everyone is supportive of who Grayson really is.
Being transgendered is a hot topic now but not all treatments of it are equal.  Gracefully Grayson is a great, thoughtful story that takes you inside the mind of a transgendered teen. It makes you feel how difficult it is not being able to show who you really are.  Grayson faces some heartbreaking opposition but it's totally realistic.  If anything, her path is filled with more support than I would imagine is there for transgendered people in real life.  This is a story that will touch you and make you think.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Playing with Matches by Suri Rosen

Raina is living in Toronto with her aunt and uncle after she was thrown out of her school in New York.  Already lonely and uncertain in her new school, Raina is even more upset when her beloved sister arrives and blames Raina for her broken engagement.  Raina begins talking with a young woman she meets on the bus and accidentally ends up playing matchmaker for her by setting her up with a young man staying with her aunt and uncle.  Somehow, word gets around and soon Raina is receiving e-mails from desperate Jewish singles asking for her help in finding someone to love, including her sister who doesn't know who Matchmaven is.  Raina really wants to find a good match for her sister to heal their relationship and see her sister happy again but she is also getting pulled into the love lives of many of her other clients.  So much so that the rest of her life is suffering.

This was a really fun, if somewhat predictable, book.  I actually got just a little teary here and there at the end as things resolved.  Raina's big secret of why she was thrown out of her other school was not as shocking as we'd been led to believe but her reconciliation with her victim was sweet.  Nothing deep but thoroughly enjoyable!