Monday, January 28, 2008

Footfree and Fancyloose by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain

I was eager to see this young adult novel at the ALA conference this month in Philadelphia. I snatched up the advanced reading copy. The original is due to be published April 1. The first book in this series, Bass Ackwards and Belly Up, I described as a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for older teens. Other than being slightly confused by which character was what, I enjoyed this romantic, frilly chick lit novel.

Four best friends took the plunge in the last novel and decided to not go to pursue their dreams. Harper decides to stay home and write the next great American novel. Kate takes off for a European vacation but ends up volunteering in Africa to dig wells. Becca is dealing with her parents divorcing or marrying or whatever while she is on the ski team in college. Sophie is out in California trying to make it big as an actress. Throughout the novel, they come together for big events and stay in touch via email and phone calls. All four grow up, a few find romance and all find a little bit of happiness.

I do have a problem with the cover. There are four best friends in the book, so I don't like the three that are on the cover. I know, I know, Kate is in Africa, but she still deserves to be on the cover.

Big Boned: a Heather Wells mystery by Meg Cabot

I'm a little bit addicted to the Heather Wells' mysteries, I admit it. The same narrator of this audiobook, Justine Eyre, performed Size 12 is Not Fat. Now I just need to read the one about Size 14.

Heather Wells is an ex-pop star who now works as an assistant dorm director. Or, excuse me, an assistant residence hall director. Bodies always appear with her, and this time it's her boss. He is found in his office with a bullet through his brain. Who did it? The GSC (graduate student community) that is organizing for health care and better wages? His ex-wife? A student who lived in the dorm? Heather solves the mystery and this time she finds romance, too.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

After giving up on The Book Thief a few weeks ago, I felt like I had to give another award-winning Zusak title a try. This young adult title worked for me and I can see why it won the Printz honor award. It's definitely different and I have to admit I was a little confused at the end. I was enjoying the ride (and the plot) and the end through me for a loop. I didn't hate the ending, mind you, but it wasn't what I was expecting. I want to think that there are messengers and guardian angels out there in our world.

Ed Kennedy is a slacker (along with his friends) who doesn't have much direction in life. Until he foils a bank robbery and becomes a local hero. Someone begins sending him playing cards in the mail with cryptic messages. Ed has to remain the hero and solve problems for people. He helps a young girl feel comfortable with her running. He saves a wife and child from an abusive husband. He keeps an elderly woman company by pretending to be her long-lost Jimmie. But, most of all, Ed Kennedy matures, grows up, and comes-of-age. This is adventure, mystery, romance, and a little bit of everything else. I would recommend this for juniors or seniors.

And, the accent in this audiobook was wonderful. You can't beat Australian accents! (Well, except for Irish brogues)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Repossessed by A. M. Jenkins

This young adult novel won the Printz honor award this year so I had to read it and see what the fuss was all about. I'm not exactly sure why it won, but, then again, I'm not on the committee. I enjoyed this author's other books, Damage and Out of Order. But I didn't see why this one is better than those. This novel does push the limits of YA literature, though, which may be one reason why it got some attention. Just the cover makes it controversial in most school libraries. I purchased the book earlier this year because it received favorable reviews and it's by an established author.

The narrator is a fallen angel who wants to try something different. So even though he is breaking the rules, he possesses the body of a young man who is about to die. And what does he find? He finds that he loves being in Shawn's body and he loves what the Creator has created. He finds everything fascinating, including taking a shower. He falls in love with a girl. He aces quizzes and wants to fix everything, including a school bully. He wants to fix Shaun's relationship with his brother and mother. Basically, the fallen angel becomes quite the angel when he possesses Shaun. He doesn't realize he's making good. He's just trying to live and to see if the Creator even notices that he's breaking the rules by possessing a human.

This little novel was a quick read before bedtime last night, and it is different. So maybe that's why it won the honor award.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Beast by Walter Dean Myers

I was pleasantly surprised by the beginning of this young adult novel. Myers returns back to New York City in the novel, and focuses on Spoon, a young man who has found a way out of the hood. He is accepted into The Academy, a school where he is able to live and study. He comes home for Christmas break and sees his neighborhood for what it is for the first time. He sees the hopelessness, the drug abuse, the alcoholism, and the general despair. Even his own girlfriend has become addicted to heroin. But he can't abandon her for the white girl at his school. Because Gabi needs him. Her mother is dying and she must care for her blind grandfather and siblings. And Spoon is going back to school. He must. It's the only way he can get out.

I did think the book was a little preachy in spots, but this topic has to be. Do I think my students will love the book? Not really.

Freaky Green Eyes by Joyce Carol Oates

I've read this young adult novel before, but needed to read it again because I couldn't remember if I liked it or not! Actually, all I wrote in my notes was that I liked After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away better than this novel. So I wanted to give it a fresh read and see what I thought.

Oates is a great author, of both YA and adult novels, and here she tackles something eerily similar to O.J. Simpson. Franky's dad is a famous sportscaster and ex-athlete who has anger problems. He abuses his entire family and then manipulates them into thinking they are the problem. Franky's mother gets away by moving into a small cabin to escape to her pottery and art. But the kids are left with dad and they don't understand why mom left. Basically, the father threatened that he would kill his wife before they ever divorced. And so this is a tale of manipulation. Franky is a smart girl, yet still believes her father. Will she realize that her father is an abuser? or will she take the easy way out and conform to what her father wants her to be?

Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson

I've been meaning to read this young adult chick novel since it was published back in 2004 and never got around to it. Now there is a sequel, The Secrets of Peaches. Peaches started out disjointed and I had to push myself to keep reading. It didn't start clicking for me until around page 50, and that is when I sometimes stop reading books I don't like.

Three very different girls spend spring break and then the summer working on a peach farm. Birdie's family owns the farm, and she knows everything about it. But she's been home-schooled and doesn't know much about friendship and boys. Leeda is Birdie's filthy rich and spoiled cousin who lives in the shadow of her perfect older sister and uncaring parents. Murphy is the wild one who is sentenced to work at the orchard in return for dropping the charge of stealing alcohol from Birdie's house. It takes half the novel, but eventually these three become friends and the novel becomes a story of teenage friendship.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty

I have followed this series since I worked in Southern Illinois and feel like I've grown up with Jessica Darling, the narrator of these books. In the first one, she was in high school and crushing on Marcus Flutie, the cute bad boy of the school. Now she is in her early twenties and all grown up. But, after a string of other guys, she's back to dating Flutie. But now he's a 23 year old freshman at Princeton with a full scratchy beard who practices aspects of Buddhism. Jessica is trying to make it in New York City. They don't mesh anymore. And so Jessica tries to break up with Flutie in his dorm room and he responds by asking her to marry him. Uh oh. The rest of the book are journal entries written by Jessica to be given to Marcus at the end of the week. She has a week to decide what she is going to do.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich

Of course, this adult audiobook was a riot. I've laughed my way through Evanovich's previous thirteen books in this series and her newest one didn't disappoint me. I can't believe I'm going to say this though--the Ranger/Morelli controversy is getting a little old.

Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter and gets to chase after interesting bad guys after they ditch out on bail. The guy who creates urban taxidermy displays is hilarious, especially when his creations explode. The beaver scene made my eyes water (read it!). But really, this novel is about Stephanie's ex-husband Dickie who really lives up to his name. He is involved in a mafia/drug-dealing/money-laundering law firm and law partners are disappearing. Stephanie, of course, solves the case with help from Ranger, her dark Latino mystery guy, and Morelli, her old school police boyfriend.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

As Seen on TV by Sarah Mlynowski

I have read some of Mylnowski's young adult novels and I thought I would give this adult romance novel a try. It served the fluffy novel urge in me, but I'm not sure how many high school students should read it. It's about a girl who moves to New York City to live with her boyfriend. She gets a job on a fluke as a reality TV star, Party Girls. Next thing you know, Sunny is sucked into the false world of reality TV and all of its shallowness. Should she date the gorgeous movie star? Marry the boyfriend? Switch jobs?

Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

I read this author's A Nameless Witch and chucked a lot. So I wanted to read the Alex Award winning title by the same author. I must admit that I liked A Nameless Witch better. This adult novel was funny and made me snicker and roll my eyes. But I didn't laugh out loud.

The diner is haunted. Sort of. The gates of hell and everything evil want to come up and wreck havoc, all because Tammy, a teenage girl, is calling them to break free. But Loretta works at the diner and is pretty good at smashing evil beings. And a vampire and werewolf conveniently arrive to help save the day. Oh, and there is a ghost at the cemetery who helps, too. This is a snarky, satirical read. You either like Martinez or you don't! :)

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

Lyga's controversial new young adult novel was creating quite the stir on my librarian listserv, so I figured I needed to see what the fuss was all about. My findings? This is a great YA problem novel that needs to be high schools. Basically it's about a teenage high school boy who has trouble dating girls. He's cute, a great athlete, and extremely smart. So why does he have trouble? When he was 12 years old his social studies teacher seduced him. Yep, that's right. This novel tells his story in flashbacks. Sure, he thought his teacher was hot and was pleased when she started inviting him over to his house. But now he has to deal with her getting out of prison. And the flashbacks every time he tries to touch another girl. He knew how to act with a twenty-four year old woman. But he's not sure what to do with a teenage girl. His shrink helps. But his parents had a difficult time recognizing his abuse earlier, and they aren't much help now. Baseball helps. His best friend Zik helps. And his returned closeness with Rachel helps, too.

Some librarians are skeptical about placing this novel in their library, but I think it needs to be here. Sometimes teachers abuse students, and this book shows what happens to students after the abuse.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: a Year in the Desert with Team America by Johnny Rico

Let's just say I was disappointed in this adult war memoir. Looks pretty exciting by the cover and you can't beat the title, but the author is not someone I want to spend time with. Why? He's whiny and believed he needed to write a book about his year in Afghanistan with the C Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry of the 25th Infantry Division. I really can't believe it was published. I guess publishers are desperate for true war memoirs, but Johnny Rico doesn't deliver anything. I kept waiting for there to be a reason for the book, for some kind of message, or for something to keep me entertained. Never happened. Probably the best part of the book was when he wrote about the B1 bombers and how awed he was when they flew over. At the end of his tour, he is pretty rattled because of rockets hitting every night. And I wonder about men who actually fought feel after a tour of duty. Rico's tour didn't seem like much of one. He could have just skipped the time line of his book to about two months before his tour ended. Or he could have just not written it.

Monday, January 7, 2008

On Borrowed Wings by Chandra Prasad

For some reason, I felt like I read this book before. Or maybe I felt like the book was so contrived that it couldn't have really happened the way it did in this novel. Whatever.

Adele Pietra grew up in a limestone quarry town and her father and brother are unexpectedly killed in a mining accident. Her brother had just been accepted into Yale. (This is the first thing that seemed strange to me. Adele discusses how much brighter she is than her brother, yet the poor boy gets into Yale?) Rather than marrying a quarryman to support her mother, Adele cuts her hair and goes off to Yale. (The fact that her mother allowed her to do this is the second thing that bothered me. Adele would be spoiled goods after this and not marriageable at all). While the year at Yale is fascinating, I just didn't get sucked into the story. I just don't think Adele could have passed this test. She wasn't raised to be this independent.

Petropolis by Anya Ulinich

This adult novel is another case of a bad cover. I've been putting this book off because I thought it looked like a horrible, boring Russian novel. But it wasn't. It's about Sasha, a Jewish, 1/4 black Russian girl who has a baby by the age of 15. Her mother ships her off to art school in Moscow so that Sasha can find a better life, and her mother claims the baby as her own. So, how does a Russian girl escape? Through Kupid's Korner. Sasha comes to America to marry an Arizonan businessman. Luckily, the papers aren't signed. Even though she is in America, Sasha is surrounded by Russian immigrants who are willing to help her. More than what should happen to a teenager does in the next two years to poor Sasha.

Three Bags Full: a sheep detective story by Leonie Swann

I think I'll borrow the quote from The Guardian about this adult novel: "Genuinely odd and affecting...The best sheep detective novel you'll read all year."

Heehee. The shepherd is dead. And the sheep are going to figure out who killed him. Led by Ms. Maple, the "cleverest sheep in the flock" and stoically led by a few rams, the flock is set on investigating the mysterious events of Glenkill, Ireland. It works. While I didn't laugh out loud, I did smile. This is recommended to those who loved Watership Down or the movie Babe.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold, Read by Joan Allen

I was expecting another Lovely Bones or Lucky, but I didn't get it. I guess those expectations are hard to live up to though. Sebold did deliver another psychological, shocking, gruesome adult novel though. Maybe because I listened to the audio version, but I found the first chapter or two pretty disturbing. Why? Because the main character, Helen Knightly, kills her mother. And I'm not giving away the plot, because the back cover says this, too. Helen "accidentally" breaks her mother's nose as she suffocates her. But there is so much more to the story. Through a series of flashbacks, the novel covers 24 hours, but reveals so much more. Helen went through so much dealing with her mentally ill mother. If you liked her previous books, read this one, too. It's a bestseller because of the author, but lots of people will be talking about it, too.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Night Birds by Thomas Maltman

The author managed to throw in Indian uprisings, settler craziness, Missouri slave troubles, the Jesse James gang, mental illness, the effects of war, and all other sorts of things into a 366 page novel. It works, although it isn't an easy read. This adult novel switches between two time periods--the 1870s and the 1850s-1860s. Basically, it's a two-generation novel, but the older generation never told the younger generation anything. Asa, the young boy in the 1870s, gets to hear the tales of his family from his crazy old aunt who comes to live with them. But she isn't really crazy, he finds out. She has epilepsy and has lived for years in an asylum. Aunt Hazel begins telling Asa her story. And what a story it is. German folklore, Midwest plains folklore, and Dakota Sioux legends make the storytelling in this novel fascinating. I learned so much about all these cultures in this book. The dangerous inter-culture mingling caused many troubles, as well as the fact that Senger family members liked to be different. Different isn't always good in the 1800s. Old wives' tales, Native American spiritualism and Christianity don't always mix. But this is one heck of a coming-of-age tale about Asa, his father, and the rest of his family.

Two complaints:
1) It took forever to read and I'm not sure why. I liked the story, the characters, and loved the time period. Yet it wasn't gripping enough to make me read until 2 am. Sleep was always more important than finishing the novel, and that isn't a good thing for me.
2) I couldn't keep track of the characters, even with the years clearly labeled at the beginning of the time changes. Since both time periods were back in the "Indian" times, I couldn't even use contextual clues to help me figure it out. I didn't create one, but I felt like I needed a character list. And, don't yell at me. I have a horrible short-term memory and character names do NOT stay in my brain. I refer to characters as "that boy" and "that girl" unless I sneak a peek at the cover flap for clues.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Size 12 is Not Fat: a Heather Wells mystery by Meg Cabot

Everyone is allowed at least one fluff book on their Christmas vacation and this was mine! So now I have to read the other Heather Wells mystery adult novels. Basically, Heather was a teen pop sensation who eventually floundered and is now working as a glorified dorm assistant at a residence hall. Her mother ran off with her money and her manager, leaving Heather with nothing except a cheating boy toy, who she swiftly dumps. The boy toy might want her back, but Heather is eating her way to happiness and finds her ex's private investigator brother much more interesting. But, wait, this book is a mystery! Bodies are piling up in the elevator shaft of Heather's dorm and someone is trying to kill her, too. So Heather has to solve the crime, because, of course, the police aren't listening to her. I mean, really, she is just a former pop star who used to strut in shopping malls.

The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman

Matt Fuller is one of those MIT people who never seem to finish their dissertation. Instead he's tinkering with a machine that suddenly starts to disappear when fired up at steady increments. At first it's gone for a few seconds, then a few minutes, and then six hours. Since Matt is a MIT students, he charts everything and studies it, but then finds out that he's been fired from his job at MIT and heck, he might as well attach himself to the time machine and see if it fixes his troubles. In fact, that's what he does every time he goes into the future. The time machine only goes forward, but Matt doesn't seem to worry about the negatives of the experience. He only wants to get out of his present trouble, no matter what century it's in.

I really didn't care for this title. It isn't that I don't like science fiction. But I cringe when I read books about time travel. It's such an old concept and, no matter what other reviewers say, I don't think Haldeman treated the subject very well. I liked Jack Finney's Time and Again much better. Maybe because Finney's book goes into the past instead of the future? I'm not sure. But I had to force myself to finish this adult novel. It just didn't suit me.