Thursday, February 28, 2008

Have You Found Her: a Memoir by Janice Erlbaum

In this adult memoir, Janice Erlbaum returns to the NYC shelter where she once lived as a teenager to volunteer. She wants to "give something back." Instead she gets sucked into the world of one of the troubled girls, a nineteen-year-old junkie who is one heck of a manipulator. Janice doesn't know it at the time, but Samantha is an expert at controlling people. By the end of the book, Janice knows that she was duped, but the deception has already caused emotional turmoil in those surrounding her. This is purely a tale of deception. And Munchausen's syndrome, too.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, read by Natalie Moore

I really enjoyed Dairy Queen, so I had a feeling I would enjoy this sequel. In the first book, DJ (Darlene Joyce) trains the rival school's quarterback over the summer on her family's Wisconsin dairy farm. That's right. She trains him. Her two older brothers play college football, and DJ was trained right along with them. She loves the sport, and starts to fall in love with Brian. But in this book, she gets hurt during football season. Even good linebackers injure their shoulder sometime. So DJ has to decide--sit out football and rest her shoulder for basketball? or play through the pain and not let her teammates down? And what about Brian? The two of them are dating. Kind of. Except that he doesn't take her places or acknowledge her presence in front of her friends. The dairy farm is failing, too. Oh, and DJ's oldest brother gets hit and stays down. Spinal injury. DJ has to become a mom to her older brother--missing school to help with recovery and being the cheerleader to keep him out of depression. There's a lot packed into this novel, but it's worth it. DJ is one cool chick. And the read of this audiobook deserves a medal for the awesome Wisconsin accents. I felt like I was on vacation.

Conception by Kalisha Buckhanon

I thoroughly enjoyed this author's debut adult novel, Upstate, so I was looking forward to reading this one. I loved it! Whoo-whoo for Kalisha Buckhanon! She creates wonderful urban romances. Realistic. I mean, I kept thinking, "these kids are stupid" as the character's actions unfolded. But, I kept reading and stayed up late to finish the book in one sitting.

The setting is Chicago in the early 1990's (and I loved the few music references) in the "almost" projects. Shivana has an abusive mother and doesn't know a single man who is a good dad. In fact, the women around here don't expect a man to be good--which is so, so sad. Shivana ends up pregnant and finally meets a promising boy, although he's unemployed and getting his GED, so is that really promising? The two of them hold on tight to survive and leave Chicago to find a better life. Shivana's story is interrupted by the story of the fetus who is trying to be born. Beginning in slave days, the poor girl hasn't had the chance to grow up. She's trying to be born, but isn't too sure it's going to happen. This book reminded me of The Lovely Bones and the love story reminded me of Upstate. Realistic, gritty, thought-provoking, and just dang good. Read it!

City of the Sun by David Levien

For an adult crime novel, Levien's debut novel doesn't disappoint. I did, however, keep thinking of Chris Jordan's Taken, which I read a few weeks ago. The topics were awfully similar, but, hey, there are tons of kidnapping mysteries out there.

A twelve-year-old boy is kidnapped and the local police haven't done too much investigating the past 15 months. So his parents hire an ex-cop, a local private investigator, and leads are investigated. Frank is the kind of investigator everyone admires--gruff and mysterious. He has a secret past that he hasn't come to terms with either, and the investigation culminates in a trip to Mexico.

It was great to read a book set in the suburbs of Indianapolis. I'm really tired of reading about Chicago, New York, and L.A.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Diva by Alex Flinn

You can't beat good, clean, young adult chick lit. Caitlin (who some of you may remember from Flinn's great book Breathing Underwater) has to make a lot of important decisions. She loves opera and is good at it. But should she try to make it into the performing arts high school? Should she try to go to NYC over the summer for an opera program? Or should she just keep dieting and become a cheerleader like her friends want her to be? Caitlin deals with her mother who dresses a little young and wants a man to take care of her, a father who sees her twice a year, and an ex-boyfriend who abused her. Somehow Caitlin has to learn to stay strong so that she lives the life she wants to lead, and not the life that others want her to live.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell, read by Kate Reading

I think that Cornwell might be getting tired of writing about Kay Scarpetta. I absolutely love Scarpetta, Marino, and Lucy, but this novel doesn't do the characters justice. The three of them have relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, and all three are struggling with their own demons--so much so that their troubles swamp the mystery. Lucy has a brain tumor, Marino is an unhappy alcoholic still in love with Kay, and Kay is dealing with her abuse as a child and her love of Benton, who finally wants to commit. The mystery of the tennis star found murdered in Rome is overshadowed by the personal problems of the main characters, which is a little unlike Cornwell. Also, I guessed the outcome of the book, which isn't like Cornwell. Usually she keeps me hanging. Even though I was disappointed in this adult mystery, I'll still keep reading Cornwell's work. I still think she's one of the best popular mystery writers out there.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Vampire High by Douglas Rees

I'll have to purchase this cute, fluffy vampire young adult novel for my collection. Students will love it. First, it has vampires in it. And, because of the Twilight popularity, anything will vampires flies off the shelves. Secondly, the main character, Cody Elliot, is one sarcastic teenager, even when faced with a school full of vampires. That's right. After he tries to anger his parents into moving back to California by failing school, his dad places him at Vlad Dracul, where everyone is smart, wears sunglasses, and has dark hair. Even without a tryout, Cody is placed on the water polo team. Soon, he learns that he is a token non-vampire kid who will automatically get As if he goes with the flow. But Cody isn't like that. The slacker kid wants to do well, especially if the teachers don't care about him. Cody ends up succeeding socially and academically at his new school, finds a best friend, falls in love with a vampire princess, and raises heck at his new school for the undead.

Hitch by Jeannette Ingold

I read to page 40 in this young adult historical novel, and just couldn't continue. Not when I have so many interesting novels on my shelves begging to be read. I don't think this is a bad novel, but I just felt like I was reading a junior high Accelerated Reader novel. Maybe I wasn't in the right mood? But, anyway, I felt like I was wading through so much historical background information and waiting for the plot to kick in. I didn't want to wait. So I stopped.

The official Library of Congress summary: "To help his family during the Depression and avoid becoming a drunk like his father, Moss Trawnley joins the Civilian Conservation Corps, helps build a new camp near Monroe, Montana, and leads the other men in making the camp a success."

Taken by Chris Jordan

I was thoroughly engrossed by this airport-bookstore-like thriller. High school students would love this mystery-suspense adult novel, so I have to make sure I buy a copy for our library.

Kate Bickford is a successful suburban single mother with an adopted lovely 11 year old boy. Everything is normal until he disappears after his Little League game. Over the next few days, Kate (unrealistically) takes on characteristics of Jack Bauer and helps lead an investigation of her missing son, all the while serving as the lead suspect of a murdered sheriff's deputy who was found in a freezer in her basement. Kate's been framed, her money is gone, and her son is still missing. Why? She gets some help from her attorney and a kidnapping expert. The reader sees things from the kidnapper's point-of-view, too, and understands why the boy was taken. Of course, it doesn't make sense, but at least the kidnapper had good intentions. Everything is pleasantly wrapped up in the end, but this is an example of a clean, intense read.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Seeker by William Nicholson

Another fantasy trilogy. I shouldn't have read this one the same weekend as The Naming because I keep confusing the two.

Evil lives in the town of Radiance and a strange group of three people must save the day. Seeker is determined to find out why his brother was kicked out of the Nomana, the sacred brotherhood that he himself wants to join. Morning Star has always wanted to join the Nomana to find her mother. And Wildman just wants the power of the Nomana. But all three are rejected from joining the special brotherhood and instead decide to do something so brash and daring that the Nomana would want them. And so the three take off on a strange journey to Radiance to destroy the evilness and gain the respect of the Nomana. If you are a fan of epic journeys and fighting between good and evil, read this!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Naming by Alison Croggon

I love picking up a thick young adult fantasy book and reading it in one day! The First Book of Pellinor didn't disappoint me. It was hefty, but worth it. Maerad is a poor slave who is rescued by a young bard and taken on a journey. She discovers that she is important and needs to help save the world. Of course, she discovers that she has magic powers (think Harry Potter), and her bard helps her discover them. Basically, this is a fantasy. So think magic, ancient texts, secret languages, elemental beings, and, of course, the evil ones. The one part I didn't like was that the author includes author's notes and acts like the tale is a true one that she researched and found. I can imagine some poor kid Googling and trying to find out more information about the fictional tale. Sad. However, I can't wait to read the sequel!

Margaux with an X by Ron Koertge

I didn't realize that I had already this young adult novel until I was halfway through it--ugh! I have when that happens! So I kind of remembered what happened but had to keep reading to make sure. At least the little book was short and a quick read.

Margaux is the most beautiful girl anywhere, but struggling inside (like all beautiful girls in YA lit). Her mom acts like a tramp and her dad is a professional gambler. Not a good combination. She finally finds salvation of sorts in a dorky boy a year younger than her who works for the animal shelter. Danny is smart and able to hold his own again Margaux's caustic wit. They check on animals together and witness each other's downsides. Margaux finally confronts her parents with her history of abuse, which results in her leaving her family. Her parents are good for her, and won't change. Danny has problems, too, but at least he is capable of love and trust.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

I had to re-read this one because I couldn't remember if I liked it or not. It won the Printz award, so it's a big deal. I'm not all that impressed. It seemed like another angst-ridden teenage girl telling an end-of-the-world survival story.

Daisy leaves the United States because her dad is remarrying. The step-mom and Daisy don't get along, resulting in an anorexic Daisy. She moves in with her dead mother's sister in London, and her cousins heal her in ways no one else can. A war begins, in a big way, and all of a sudden there isn't food and no one can be trusted. Daisy's cousins support themselves on the farm until the army moves into their farmhouse. The gross part of this book to me was Daisy falling in love with her first cousin. Ewwwww. I'm sorry. I know it's legal in some states, but not where I'm from. Yuck. So I couldn't get into the whole romance portion of the book. Daisy struggles, along with the rest of her family, until the war is over and she is finally reunited with her cousins again. She finds her home with them instead of her father.

Daisy Kutter: the Last Train by Kazu Kibuishi

Yay! A graphic novel that I really liked! Whoo-whoo! This doesn't happen very often, so I'm a little excited. But I got sucked into the work of Daisy Kutter, ex-bad girl. She's in a Western world (that also has robots), but the scenery is very John Wayne-ish. Daisy is actually dressed in layers throughout the book, which is strange for a graphic novel. Usually the feminist part of me freaks out about the gleaming thighs and cleavage. But all that is missing. Instead Daisy decides to accept the challenge of robbing a train that can't be robbed. The owner actually pays her to test his authority. But things start to go wrong. Someone doesn't want her alive. And Daisy is slightly confused about Tom, her ex-partner in crime and now turned sheriff. Read this is you're in need of an adventure!

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

This book was published in 2004 and I never purchased it for my library because I hadn't read it. Anytime I walk into Waldenbooks in the mall and see 15 copies of an old book in paperback, I get nervous. Popularity with teenagers doesn't always make a good match for a high school library. But after reading this young adult novel in free verse, I realized that the concrete poems were fabulous. Hopkins has a real talent for using the visual aspect of her work to her advantage. Sometimes I didn't even notice the shape until after I read the page. I am impressed.

Kristina Shaw is a good girl who lives with her mom and step-dad, but three weeks with her dad down in Albuquerque results in major changes. She finds a bad boy who gives her crank (meth). Not only that, but she discovers that her dad does it, too. Ugh. Talk about disappointing. Her dad could have prevented all this, but instead pulls up a chair and asks for some drugs. Strange. So now, Bree (the other girl inside Kristina) is looking for meth or ecstasy or whatever else she can find to keep her high. Her grades slide, her attitude stinks, and her old friends abandon her. The poetry really gives the reader a sense of what it is like to take meth, and it isn't all fun and games. Sure, there are the high parts, but the low parts take over. Kristina is raped and she makes horrible decisions while high. She loses everything in her life and then finds out she is pregnant.

This book was a little too much like Go Ask Alice for me, but probably this is new to most teenage readers. It's the "Don't Do Drugs" book for the new century. A little too preachy for me at the end, but most teen readers probably wouldn't complain.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Code Talker: a Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac

I was really looking forward to reading this young adult historical fiction novel. I never did see the movie about the Navajo Code Talkers, but I remember reading about them. While containing a lot of very accurate historical information about the war and Navajo culture, I didn't think the novel flowed very well. I didn't get sucked into the world of the main character, Ned Begay. It felt like I was reading a history textbook in places, instead of a novel. I know that Bruchac had the best intentions and is a great novelist. But it didn't work for me. The concept was that the narrator was thinking back and addressing his grandchildren who asked him about his war medal. But the constant addressing of "grandchildren" broke up the narrative. In the author's note, Bruchac explains how his editor at Dial said "first full draft was so heavy with facts--names, dates, places--that you could have used it as an anchor." He edited it, but I think it needs more editing to make it work well. I was too disappointed in this attempt to uncover one of the most interesting aspects of World War II.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Of course, I have read the book before, but I wanted to listen to the audiobook, too. I could remember the general events of the novel, but I remembered how GOOD this book is! John Green is one of my favorite novelists and I was a faithful Brotherhood 2.0 subscriber. I looooooove this book.

Miles Halter goes off to boarding school to re-start his life and seek the "great perhaps." He finds it in his roommate, the Colonel, and Alaska, a girl he falls in love with at first sight. Alaska is outspoken, hot, smart, and loves teasing Miles. The three of them (and a few other kids) form a tight friendship throughout the year at Culver Creek Academy. Playing pranks is their game, as well as all sorts of other illegal activities in their dorm rooms and under bridges off-campus. But, as you can tell from the title and the book cover, things start to unravel. Miles does end up looking for Alaska and he grows up a lot in the process. Things aren't always what they seem. And some valuable lessons are learned while trying to get out of the labyrinth of sadness.

I love John Green's two books because he writes realistically about teenage students. Just like Catcher in the Rye, Green gets into the mind of Miles Halter and his friends. Yep, they cuss, just like the teenagers at my school. Yep, they do some things they shouldn't outside of class. But I still love and will always defend this title. Heck, it won the PRINTZ award!!! This book was considered the best young adult title published in one year!! It deserves to be in all high school and public libraries.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Liz is dead. But she doesn't want to admit it. She's on her way to Elsewhere, the place where dead people live and get younger. They get younger until they are babies and then are sent back down to Earth. What an interesting concept! I must give Gabrielle Zevin some credit for creating a fascinating afterlife. Liz gets addicted to the observation decks, where she can watch her family and friends. And she becomes great friends with the lead singer of her favorite band who died of drug use. She gets to live with her grandmother and finds out that she can speak canine. She has a love interest, Owen, and things get tricky when his wife dies and joins him in Elsewhere. And, Liz has a big decision to make. Because she was a teenager when she died, she can opt to return to Earth at the end of one year or staying in Elsewhere until her age reverses. Which will she decide?

Monday, February 4, 2008

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

I am so glad I'm not on the Printz award committee. Why? Because I never would have agreed to give this year's award to Geraldine McCaughrean for The White Darkness. The award is given to a book for literary excellence, and I just don't think this young adult novel cuts it. But, then again, I can disagree with the committee. And I know there are people out there who love this book, and I'm glad. But I don't. I wanted to stop reading it. It was boring to me. I kept thinking, yep, she's cold and in Antarctica, and it stinks. Whoopee. I know, I know, I should go on about the brilliance of the literary descriptions, and the extraordinary details of the setting, and blah, blah, blah, but I don't look for that stuff in a young adult novel. I just want a good book that I can read in one sitting. To me, that's a good book. This one I read over several days and had to force myself to read it. That's not a good sign. I've had this book for a few months now and it has been checked out once. By me.

Sym is a fourteen-year-old girl who takes off on a strange vacation with her pseudo-uncle. Next stop, Antarctica. Sym knows all about it because she is well-read on the subject. And her imaginary companion is the legendary Titus Oates, who died on the Ice years ago. That's right; she's in love with a dead man and pretends to talk to him. Her uncle is crazy, but she doesn't notice it until she's been with him on the Ice for a few days. Her naiveté (did I spell that right?) is a turn-off for me. She's 14 going on 9. She falls in love with a young man on the expedition and her imagination helps her survive.