Monday, January 30, 2017

100 Days by Nicole McInnes

Moira, Agnes and Boone are three misfits who used to be good friends until an event in sixth grade drove a wedge between the girls and Boone.  Now, as sophomores, they are back in the same school after Boone's alternative school was closed.  Boone is struggling to keep his cool with people at school while taking care of everything at home.  Ever since his father died in a terrible accident, Boone's mother has withdrawn from the world leaving Boone alone to keep them afloat. 

Agnes is about to turn 16 making her one of the oldest people ever with Progeria, a disease that makes people age ten times faster than normal.  Her disease makes her fragile so she relies on her best friend Moira to protect her in crowded hallways.  Moira, meanwhile, is self-conscious about her weight and appearance after years of being picked on by classsmates. When the three meet up after years apart, they help each other with issues they didn't even know they had but not without a good deal of misunderstanding along the way. 

This story reminded me of Wonder a lot in terms of the writing style and the warm fuzzies involved.  I liked all three characters and their arcs and the way they grew to support each other.  As a woman who is not small myself, I can particularly speak to Moira's growing acceptance of herself which is realistic and full of strength. Boone's appreciation of her is also lovely without being a token story throwing the overweight girl a bone, something that is very unusual in all forms of media.  Even though I am spending a good deal of time on Moira, Boone's story also touched me as I saw him barely hanging in there on the inside while looking together on the outside.  How many of us have been in that situation, although I hope in not quite so desperate circumstances?  Well-developed characters make this a sweet book.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar

The members of the Quick family have the ability to steal things from other people - things such as their feelings and memories.  Aspen has never thought twice about his magical talent nor how it might be affecting the people from whom he steals, not even after his mother left his father at least in part because of his father's stealing.  While spending his summer with his aunt and grandmother, Aspen has brought along his two best friends to keep him company.  Theo and Brandy have been dating which has Aspen jealous since he has been crushing on Brandy for a long time.  In order to help move things along, Aspen steals Brandy's love for Theo causing them to break up and giving Brandy a chance to realize she likes Aspen.  

While he's in town Aspen is also responsible for helping with a family ritual.  The town is in the shadow of a huge, unstable cliff.  Aspen's grandmother has a connection to the cliff, sensing when it needs some repair.  People of the town leave personal items at the base of a big tree and the family uses those items to reach into the owner and steal something that will help heal faults in the cliff.  After one of these rituals Aspen meets one of the donors in person and realizes that she still has the trait he stole from her and seems to be immune to his powers.  This leads to a series of questions about Aspen's family, their powers and the Cliff.

I expected this book to be lighter than it ended up being by the end.  I'm still rearranging it in my brain to see what I think about it now that I feel it was actually quite serious at the end.  With my new mindset I appreciate all of the unanswered questions - what has happened to Brandy and Theo?  What will be the future of their relationship?  Why is Leah not speaking to him?  How will Aspen handle his powers from here on out?  Soooo many more questions that won't make any sense until you read the book.  My main issue is that I feel the book might be a little mislabeled from the reviews I read.  But if you, like me, like something that keeps you pondering it after you've closed the cover, you might enjoy this one. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Small Displays of Chaos by Breanna Fischer

Rayanne thought that when she reached her goal weight of 100 pounds she would feel like she had accomplished something.  But when that day arrives the first thing she thinks is that now she needs to get to 90 pounds.  Rayanne is encouraged to keep losing weight by Edie, the person/voice that only Ray sees who tells her she's not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, just not enough in general.  Even before she hit 100 pounds, Ray's family became concerned so she now has to see a counselor to talk about her eating problem. Rayanne herself is starting to recognize that she has a problem that is getting out of control and she feels bad about the pain she is causing her family but she doesn't seem to be able to stop.

I feel as though the story of Ray's anorexia (or maybe bulimia since she often purged) was skimming over the top of the problem and could've delved deeper into the causes and process of recovery.  It also seemed like Ray was too aware of the pain she was causing and that she was even hurting herself and wanted to stop, but I only say that based on other books I've read with anorexic characters who fight against recovery as hard as possible.  That being said, I liked the line towards the end where Ray says that to the outside world it might look like she's recovered now that she's at a normal weight, but inside she has to keep fighting her disease every minute.  I think that's a good thought to pass on to readers about any addiction - it doesn't just end with sobriety or weight change.  I also appreciate the fact that the book is slightly over 100 pages.  It will make it much easier to sell to readers who are looking for something dramatic but not too long. Given its length, it does a good job dealing with its subject.

Dessert First by Dean Gloster

Kat's family is thrown into turmoil when her younger brother Beep has a cancer relapse.  Although he has been in remission from earlier bouts, it looks like his only hope this time might be a bone marrow transplant with Kat as the best match as a donor.  Kat's life at school is also problematic.  Her formerly close friend Evan wants to start writing songs again and spending more time with Kat but she is leery after he started dating the meanest girl in school and believed all the rumors she told him about Kat.  Evan has broken up with his girlfriend and claims to be back on Kat's side but she has him on friend probation while struggling with the bullying she experiences from the mean girls every day and her failing grades as a result of not doing her homework.  On top of everything else, her home life is not great. Kat fights with her older sister all the time, her father is almost always at work, and her mother panics about everything.  She has two online friends but one of them is suicidal and the other is a boy dying of cancer 3000 miles away.

I'm fine with emotional books where characters are sick and dying but I got annoyed with this one for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it felt to me like a lot of Beep's section of the story was overshadowed by Kat's thoughts about Evan and their relationship.  It was the typical story of a girl liking someone but shying away or misunderstanding the signals she is getting.  Admittedly, I'm pretty tired of that storyline in general, but it felt like it was focused on way too much and felt much too light given the seriousness of what was happening with Beep.  

Secondly, it was almost as if this were two separate stories.  First there is the story of Beep and then the second half of the book is about Hunter, the boyfriend across the country from Kat, and that the two stories were almost the same thing.  At the very least, it made the book drag for me without feeling like there was much new information pulling me into the story. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Never Missing, Never Found by Amanda Panitch

 At age 8 Scarlett was abducted and given to "Stepmother" where she became a servant and was told her parents didn't want her anymore.  Scarlett's life was harsh even though Stepmother seemed to appreciate her work.  After several years with Stepmother, Scarlett was found wandering down a road and reunited with her family.  But coming home has not led to a happily ever after ending.  Scarlett's younger sister Melody doesn't seem to want to have anything to do with her despite their closeness before Scarlett's disappearance.  Also, their mother has left the family with only a vague note to explain her absence.  When she begins a new job at an amusement park, Scarlett is in for another shock:  one of her co-workers looks exactly like Pixie - another girl who was forced to be a servant at Stepmother's house.  But it doesn't seem possible since Scarlett is sure Pixie is dead.

This is one of the most difficult synopses I have ever written because there is a twist that makes it hard to describe the book fairly without giving anything away.  The twist even made it hard for me to figure out exactly what HAD happened when I finished the book.  I fell asleep last night sorting it out in my head while appreciating how the author managed to write the book without giving things away.  I was caught up in the story and raced through the book to figure out what the heck was going on!  Now that I know, I'm not sure I loved the book or story overall, but I would recommend it to readers who appreciate crime/suspense books.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Crow Smarts by Pamela S. Turner

Humans are the smartest animals on Earth, right?  Most would agree with that but scientists are learning that there are other species who exhibit intelligence as well.  Preeminent scientist Louis Leakey said that tool use was what lifted prehistoric people up to become humans.  For many years this definition made sense as it seemed that other animals did not use tools.  However, Jane Goodall changed that preconception when she saw chimps using tools to get termites.  Since then, scientists have found other animals doing likewise.  My favorite example of this in the book is the picture of the alligator with a mouthful of feathers after using a stick as bait for an egret! 

Crows are one of the animals discovered to use tools.  This book deals specifically with the New Caledonian crow.  Scientists observing them first noticed that the crows used tools to get hard to reach food.  Since then, it has been found that the crows actually create their own tools and teach their young these skills.  In tests, the crows have used reasoning to figure out a three step problem and research is ongoing. 

The information about the crows' and other animals' intelligence is fascinating.  I wish the book had included even more of these stories.  For instance, the example of the crows who remember the people wearing masks many years later.  However, I didn't care much for the "funny" asides and comments.  I assume they were included to break up the "heavy" science-y parts - which weren't all that heavy in the first place - and to make the book seem more fun for younger readers.  But I found them to be a distraction from the topic.