Sunday, August 31, 2008

Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole

Laura, a Cuban American living in Miami, has been kicked out of school and kicked out of the house because she has a girlfriend. But then her girlfriend's family finds out and send her back to Puerto Rico to get married. Laura, never one to think of her self as a Lesbian now must figure out who she is and how she wants to live her life. Does she want to deny her instincts and live a life as a straight woman to make her mother happy or does she want to follow where her heart takes her and create a family made out of those who love her for who she is? This is a well done book and in interesting look at homosexuals are treated in a very ethnic community. Good and important but not great. I vote nay.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman

I really loved this book, probably because Lee Scoresby and his daemon Hester are some of the most memorable characters in His Dark Materials. After the general feeling of disappointment Lyra's Oxford generated, I think fans will be pleased with this short and pungent cowboy fantasy. Our hero arrives on the scene with a crash of his balloon, and the story doesn't slow down until the final showdown (its a cowboy story, so there has to be a showdown).

Iorek the Polar Bear makes a guest appearance, but not for very long, so don't read it expecting to get a lot of bear action.

I would give the book a hearty Yay, but it probably doesn't stand alone terribly well given that a person really needs to know what a daemon is, and the appearance of Iorek would seem rather abrupt if the reader weren't expecting it.

So, Nay, but it you love a good western, its not to be missed!

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce

This story is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale. Charlotte is a young woman who faces foreclosure on the mill she and her sister inherited from her father. When a man comes to her and spins straw into gold. Soon her uncle sends her on the brink of ruin once more. And the strange short man shows up once more. During this time Charlotte marries and has a son. Soon the payment becomes her son but that is something she in unwilling to pay. So now she must break the curse that has haunted her family for years. This is a good story but not great. I say nay.

The Big Field by Mike Lupica

"To Hutch, shortstop is more than a position - it's a way of life. Not only is his hero, Derek Jeter, a shortstop, but so was his father, a former local legend turned pro. Playing shortstop is in his blood." (from flyleaf)

Hutch is playing second base because D-Will is playing shortstop even though he doesn't live and breathe baseball like Hutch does. Hutch doesn't talk to his dad about baseball or much else. The championship games are approaching and the news media is circling. Will the story be about the rising team, winning or losing the big game, or a single super star?

Lupica gives a non-playing reader a glimpse of the anxiety, mutual support and smack talk, fragility and egos on the line in a teenage boys' summer baseball team. The writing is smooth despite the potentially limited scope (for a non-sports reader like myself) of interest in the topic and keeps a good pace. There are human interest aspects, twists to the action and background info that help bring along an uninformed reader. Lupica acknowledges parental roles in the life of players and teams and seems to capture teenage slang without going overboard. Lupica presents a mostly likeable protagonist and the friendship between Hutch and Cody is solid and enjoyable, contrasted with Hutch's relationship with his dad. Mom is sort of buffer/observer/reassurer but otherwise plays little role in the tale. An enjoyable, solid sports book about team, but not exemplary for TU. NAY

Unraveling by Michelle Baldini and Lynn Biederman

Amanda is a 15 year old teen who is still trying to figure out who she is. She doesn't get along with her perfect sister. She is convinced that her mother, "The Captain" hates her because she was her parents' teenage mistake. The whole family is constantly arguing. So when the a hot guy, Rick, from schools says he'll date her if she gives him her virginity at homecoming, she ends up on a downward spiral. After tragedy, the family finally starts coming together and communicating with each other. This is a very frank and honest look at an angry and confused 15 year old, who just can't seem to communicate with her mother. This is definately a girl book (lots of period discussion) Through most of it I was angry and frustrated at the mother and daughter who could never say the right things to each other but by the end I was enjoying it. I would love to hear what other's think about this book. I'm sitting on the fence. Definately a good book to have in a collection, I'm not sure about TU. So I'm Maybe.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Ben (that's short for Benevolence) probably should have died with her parents on the first page of the novel, but instead, she was home in bed with a cold when the assassin from the neighboring country attacked her parents' traveling party. During the course of the next year, Ben learns to be a proper princess, discovers she has magic powers, and of course, because it's a fairy tale, realizes that she's fallen in love with the prince of the country that allegedly murdered her parents, kisses him and marries him just in time to stop her country from being taken over.

In a lot of ways this is just another fairy tale, but there are some scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny, and I really like the character of Ben, so for now, a MAYBE.

Outcast by Michelle Paver

Book 4 in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. This story takes place in prehistoric times but after the last ice age. It is a time of hunting and gathering, of clans and of animal totems. The main character, Torak, is a young man who can talk to wolves, his best friend is a wolf and in the first book saw his father killed by a possessed bear. In this book he has been taken in by a clan but when they find out he has a mark of a soul eater they make him an outcast and if anyone sees him ever again they are to kill him. On his own, with only his wolf for a friend, he struggles against an evil viper mage. A cousin and friend come to help him and he is finally able to cast away the mark of the soul eater and kill the mage. I have really enjoyed this series and this was another good book. but I don't think this title really stands alone. Nay for me.

Thaw by Monica M Roe

Dane was on top of his game, on top of his world. He wins nordic skiing competitions with calculated casualness (taking side trips along the way) and doesn't appreciate the effort others need to put into the sport to achieve less. Dane contracts Guillain-Barré syndrome and his life turns upside down. Suddenly, it takes effort to speak. He can't move or feed himself, and he has little patience for those who do it for him. Dane has calculated the likelihood of his full recovery as high, based on the research he had his girlfriend, now ex-girlfriend, gather for him. Dane assesses his future options and figures he needs few of the people in the Florida rehab center and must connect with even less.

Dane is a product of his emotionally abusive father and emotionally absent mother. They placed him in the Florida site because of it's credentials, and the convenience of not needing to visit him frequently - too disruptive for their lifestyles. Dane's father expects to see him once he's up and walking again. Dane is emotionally frozen and thinks he needs no one and strives for perfection constantly. His pressure to succeed is both internal and from his father who spends no time with his children that is not productive.

It is interesting to have the first-person perspective of a male character going through so much of an emotional journey about his physical disease and challenges, family relations, internal pressures to succeed and friendships. Dane's life before GBS is told in flashbacks. The writing is good, but editing missed one detail early on: the therapist deliberately pulled down the shade to try and refocus Dane's attention on P 16. Once she leaves, Dane is looking out the window again, but there is no mention of how he can now see out - he is still paralyzed.

I am not convinced of Dane's father's turnaround following the visit. What would prompt his change of expectations? The mother is largely absent - sort of a pale and insignificant archetype. I am interested in having discussions about this one for TU and in the context of a contribution to teen lit - MAYBE

All Shook Up by Shelley Pearsall

Josh isn't happy about having to live with his dad in Chicago, but his parents seem happier when he agrees to their plans. Josh's mom goes to Florida to care for his grandmother who has fallen and needs her care. It may sound crazy, but Josh would rather be playing cards in a retirement community than kicking around Chicago with his dad.

Then he gets off the plane. And sees the parrots. And the bad dye job. And the gold sunglasses. And he sees older women taking a second look at his dad. Aka "The King".

Josh is fairly self absorbed, not unlike many 13 year olds. He feels like he needs to be independent as well as protective of his dad from his over-worrying mother, so Josh doesn't tell his mom the most salient points of change about his dad: he lost his job and he's impersonating Elvis.

All Shook Up is entertaining to a point, but Josh isn't very engaging or lovable (he's "poor me" pathetic). His strategy for getting in with the jocks by the vending machines at the school cafeteria isn't accompanied by any descriptions of who those students are, and he makes no internal observations of who his new "friends" would be after sitting for by himself for weeks watching them. When Josh is selected for the baseball team, there's no recognition that being picked by David brought Josh closer to achieving his "goal".

I remember the days when practically anything my parents did out of the ordinary was embarrassing at some level, but then we'd compare notes among friends - not further isolate ourselves all the while wishing for inclusion while rejecting the friendship overtures offered. Perhaps Josh's reaction was in line with his self-esteem, but he seemed to take great exception to his dad. Josh does make steps toward redemption and Gladys provides lighter fare with soul. Ivory is both wise and innocent and possibly a little shy, but it still seems like she would have greeted him face to face earlier and had some awareness of Josh's sensitivity to his dad's new vocation.


Rapunzel's Revenge by Dean Hale, Shannon Hale, Nathan Hale (Illustrator)

Rapunzel's Revenge spins western adventure, epic rescue, long lost family, despotic injustice and friendship redeemed into a fractured fairy tale in graphic novel form. The map in the middle of the story allows the reader to track the journey of Rapunzel and Jack through the desert, ghost towns, Devil's Armpit and treacherous territory of outlaws and Mother Gothel's henchmen.

The illustrations add to the depth of action as well as appreciated gags such as Rapunzel's reading material in the tower "Girls who get saved and the princes who saved them". There are a few tools in the illustrations that seem to be a nod to the influence of manga - distance shots with little detail and emotions expressed with eyes changing shape (not quite as dramatic as stars). I like the variations in the styles and perspectives in the illustration as well as the flashback washout.

The ending is good, especially with Rapunzel's refocusing her strength and motivation despite the upper hand of her opponent. Jack's presence weaves in another fairy tale, and he adds humor. Mother Gothel's reason for such oppression isn't explored at all which renders her as a flat character. Near the end, I thought we would have insight as to why Rapunzel was locked in the tower to better understand Gothel's motivation. Rapunzel's Revenge is worthy of being in library collections for upper elementary/middle school, but not TU exemplary. NAY.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Missing Book #1: Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This is the first book in a series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Jonah and his friend Chip (both adopted) start receiving vaguely threatening letters that seem to imply that they were stolen children. The boys and Jonah's younger sister embark on an adventure matching wits with rogue FBI agents, time-traveling mystery men, and other "missing" children.

What Haddix does well is come up with suspenseful adventure series for middle school kids. What this book lacks is depth of character, timelessness, and any type of timeless truth. Big nay from me.

Genius Squad by Catherine Jinks

In this sequel to Evil Genius Cadel has been rescued from his evil father and is in Australian foster care but a foster brother is very destructive and Cadel moves into a foster home for smart kids that is a front for the "Genius Squad." There, he is reunited with Sonja and work to bring down GenoME. But soon Cadel's supposed father escapes from prison and kidnaps Cadel and Sonja but is rescued the police officer who has been keeping an eye on him. I didn't read the first book and on the whole I followed this one well until the end when if finally comes out who Cadel's father really is. (at this point they start mentioning characters that aren't explained really well). It is a good book but not great. I vote nay.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Seekers: The Quest Begins by Erin Hunter

This is the story of three bear cubs: Kallik, a polar bear who grows up nurtured by her mother and playing with her brother; Lusa, a black bear born and raised in captivity who dreams of the wild; and Toklo, grizzly cub abandoned by his mother after his brother dies. From seemingly unrelated circumstances, their paths cross and they undertake a quest to reach the Northern Lights aided by a mysterious shape-shifting sometimes-bear cub named Ujurak.

This was a quick, light read and will probably do well in the hands of lovers of Hunter's Warriors series, and there are some absolute GEMS of quotes about remembering one's place in the universe. That being said, it definitely skews young and I'm not sure this is award material, but I'll give this a MAYBE for now.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Jennifer Harris was able to change her life after her only friend, Cameron, moved away when she was 9. She lost weight, changed her name, and moved. Now she is 17 and senior and high school, has a boyfriend and tons of friends but now Cameron has returned turning her life upside down. Secrets come out about his abusive father. They have to confront past memories with out letting anyone else know. Cameron ends up staying with her parents while they try to get everything straightened out but in the end he decides to return to California (where the rest of his family is) to help his brothers and sisters. A quiet novel about the strength of childhood friendships. I say yes.

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost

This quick read written in concrete poems and narrative about Diamond Willow, a young Alaskan girl, who's favorite dog is injured when she takes a dog sled out to visit her grandparents. She is watched over by a variety of animals who are reincarnated ancestors. It is only the dog Roxy who knows she is Willow's reincarnated twin sister. Each poem has another message printed in bold. It is a lovely story that sucked me in. I'm not sure if it would have huge teen appeal and it definitely falls in the younger end of the award (the main character is 12). I really enjoyed it. I say yes for now.

Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt

Two friends, Kari and Lucas, travel the world with Kari's mother and in the process they stumble across an art crime that involves lies, forgery and murder. The two girls observe, disguise themselves, and get kidnapped but they solve the crime when no one but a few would believe there was a crime to solve. It was a fun light read but part of the mystery is the discovery of a third Lucretia painting by Rembrandt and everyone thought it was real just by the composition and style of the painting. I kept thinking "what about scientific testing of the paints?" and I had a hard time getting past that discrepancy even though I know it is only a book. In the end, it was a decent mystery. Good, not great. nay.

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

Audrey breaks up with her boyfriend, Evan. He writes a song about their breakup. The song is a hit. First on college airwaves and then nation wide. The paparazzi isn't kind and Audrey isn't relishing the fame - she is the one who initiated the breaking up after all.

The story is told from Audrey's perspective to the reader as if we've been following the tabloids and Internet messages blogging her every move, especially the blunders. Audrey, Wait! is book candy - witty, sarcastic and featuring an obese feline as the straight man in the comedy. I wish I had Audrey's repertoire of repartee and banter. Observation: Audrey has a tremendously secure body image to not once worry about how her body looked in the videos and photos (except her fashion and hair). If you've never wanted to be famous, this story will endorse that aversion to the spotlight.

The style reminded me of Cupcake by Rachel Cohn - probably not coincidence since she's acknowledged by Benway at the end. It is a fun read with rapid fire comebacks and likeable characters. The quips may not be timeless although the communication technology IM, blogs, message boards are likely be to common tools or generally remembered in history. The band references will fade, but the quotes at the beginning of each chapter have significance even if the reader isn't familiar with the songs. (and anything can be found on Google after all...) Fun read, entertaining, but I don't think it qualifies as timeless. NAY

Me, The Missing, and The Dead

Just as Lucas's feelings about his missing dad are coming to a head, he discovers an urn being stored at a mini-cab office. Lucas endeavors to help Violet Park (the cremated remains) find a better resting place and through a bunch of coincidences and discoveries begins to feel that perhaps Violet was seeking him out from beyond the grave. Lucas starts researching Violet's life and is startled to realize that Violet may be the key to his dad's disappearance. As he gets closer to understanding why his father may have chosen to leave, Lucas must face the fall-out that his dad's abandonment has caused with his depressed mother, wild and angry sister, crushed grandparents, and guilt-ridden family friend, as well as how he (Lucas) has come to idolize a man who probably didn't deserve it.

Even summarizing this book makes me conflicted. Parts of it were fantastic contemporary fiction about a young man's self-discovery, parts of it could have been interesting paranormal fantasy. I think the strongest writing involved the former, the latter started to feel like a bit of a crutch to get to the meat of the story. However, this one did make me think. I'm giving it a high Maybe.

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

When Aunt Sempronia declares that Charmain must look after Great-Uncle William's house, she imagines she will read undisturbed away from her nagging parents. Charmain doesn't know how to cook or clean or do magic because it isn't respectable. Charmain arrives at the small seeming house just as Uncle William is wisked away by the elves with no introduction to the house or her responsibilities. Conveniently, William has made preparations to assist Charmain, if she just asks the right questions.

The fire demon and the dog were entertaining, but most of the characters lack depth and authenticity. We are told on p 3 that Mr. Baker never lets Charmain do anything "that was not utterly respectable", but his behavior at the end and handing over of the yellow folder belies this statement. Peter's parent declares her deep concern for his welfare, but blindly sends him away not certain of his reception at his destination.

I think there were inside jokes for readers of Howl's Moving Castle with naughty Twinkle and fire demon Calcifer. House of Many Ways is a better read than last year's nomination of The Game by Jones, but still not a TU contender. NAY

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas

"Conn should have dropped dead the day he picked Nevery's pocket and stole the wizard's locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus magic and work spells."

Conn lives in Twilight, a pickpocket able to open locks and survive alone in a treacherous city. Conn is streetwise, frank, intelligent and advocates well for himself. Nevery takes him on and Conn insists on being an apprentice, not a servant. Nevery, the crotchedy exile, ignores Conn's questions and insights about the dying magic of Wellmet.

Magic Thief is an enjoyable story with good pacing, and the characters have fun quirks and interactions. Conn's adventures and forthright observations have engaging appeal. It is a fun read, lighter than Harry Potter but can go on a HP read alike list. I think the series will be a sucess, but I'm not convinced it is TU material. NAY

Airman by Eoin Colfer

Aeronautics. Fencing. Inventions. Poison. Treason. Loss. Survival. Diving Bell. Diamonds. Fear. Love.

Nicholas comes to the islands of Saltee as king of a country he's never set foot on. The marshall, Hugo Bonvilain, obeys the king in form, but not in purpose or plotting. Declan and Catherine raise Connor aside Nicholas' daughter, Isabella. The children are tutored, and Connor is trained in skills needed to defend his king and country by Victor Vigny. Connor's youthful adventures and mishaps are summarily ended when he is framed and thrown in prison.

At first I found this tale difficult to get into because the beginning set off as a dry, non-fiction background story. It was a little confusing not to have an author's note at the back outlining the "true" parts of the historical setting. (I'm willing to suspend belief to read a story, but when it is so believably spun I like to know which parts are made up so I don't later espouse a fantastical tale as truth.)

More anecdotes during Connor's young life would have been enjoyable, but those that Colfer included were delightful and established reasonable enough "schooling" and natural ability to warrant Connor's invention successes and intrepid survival. There's old fashioned gadgets, and enticing descriptions of Saltee that could have readers looking on a map to plan a visit to the islands (which do exist).

A sequel feels possible, but unnecessary, and Airman stands on its own. I think it could get bumped out by other exceptional tales, but for now I'm giving it a MAYBE.

Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli

The flyleaf description teases the reader better than I can describe:
chess champ,
pepperoni pizza eater,
older brother,
sister hater,
best friend,
first kisser,
science geek,
control freak
(cracks me up that there's an error in this though - Will is the anchovy, extra sauce pizza eater - Mi-Su eats the pepperoni pizza)
Will Tuppence has two best friends and they play Monopoly and eat pizza at Will's or Mi-Su's house. BT is always broke, lives his life fearlessly and loves little kids, including Tabby, Will's sister. Tabby will be going into kindergarten. Will is in high school and he wouldn't know Tabby was around if she didn't torment him so much. Will is figuring out who he loves and how to express it.
By page 100 I was engaged enough to be happy to keep reading . The voices ring true, Spinelli writes about friendships and family, facing fears and navigating emotions in relationships. Will is devastated by a new science discovery and marks the days after the news of the event that turns his world focus away from himself - PD145, PD191 (like 2008AD). Some of Tabby's attention getting antics mirrors Will's attempts to be noticed by a certain girl. The romantic triangle was wrapped up a little too conveniently, but still believable. Spinelli creates compelling characters, and balances action, humor and dialogue with good pacing. This may or may not make it to the top twenty, but worthy of discussion. YAY

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Saenz

This story follows two young men from different backgrounds: Ramiro Lopez and Jake Upthegrove. Ramiro's brother overdoses and Jake struggles with his mother's materialistic life. though they are from different backgrounds, they share one thing. Niether have fathers. Slowly, and I mean slowly, they meet and become friends. It is told in alternating chapters in first person by each of the teens. I couldn't care for any of the characters until near the end and at the end I learn to absolutely hate Jake's mother. On the whole, I don't see alot of teen appeal. I vote nay.

Frostbite by Richelle Mead

It’s winter break at St. Vladimir’s, but Rose is feeling anything but festive. A massive Strigoi attack has put the school on high alert, and now the Academy’s crawling with Guardians—including Rose’s hard-hitting mother, Janine Hathaway. And if handto- hand combat with her mom wasn’t bad enough, Rose’s tutor Dimitri has his eye on someone else, her friend Mason’s got a huge crush on her, and Rose keeps getting stuck in Lissa’s head while she’s making out with her boyfriend, Christian! The Strigoi are closing in, and the Academy’s not taking any risks….This year, St. Vlad’s annual holiday ski trip is mandatory. But the glittering winter landscape and the posh Idaho resort only create the illusion of safety
When three friends run away in an offensive move against the deadly Strigoi, Rose must join forces with Christian to rescue them. But heroism rarely comes without a price…

One thing that stood out to me about this book is that is really does stand alone. I was able to follow the story with the quick recap that came at the start of the book. It reminded me a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but without the trademark snark. There is definite teen appeal, but I am not sure if it is an amazing example of literature. For now though, Thumbs Up.

Gone by Michael Grant

Haven't we all wished at one time or another that one of our teachers would disappear? Gone starts with just such an event. Everyone age 15 and over disappears and no one knows why. One reviewer described Gone as Lord of the Flies if written by Stephen King. Many hints of Lord of the Flies flavor the book but add to that some kids with special powers, the threat of a nuclear wasteland and talking wolves and you will get just a hint of the action packed adventure that is Gone.

I don't remember reading many reviews about this book or catching much hype but this may be the unexpected hit of the year.

Definite YAY

Bon Voyage, Connie Pickles by Sabine Durrant

This cute little book is the second in a series that promises to be a cross between Princess Diaries and Georgia Nicolson. Connie has fancy grandparents who don't know her, and lots of cute boys who *might* like her and of course she tends to pick the wrong one first. There is the usual friend-drama, (bffs who meet and like each other more than they like me!) family issues, and inebriated kissing, but in the exciting foreign world of France! The author attempts loose allegorical associations with Madame Bovary, which Connie is trying to read. NAY for Thumbs Up, but I definitely think funny-girl teens are going to enjoy this one.

The Other Book by Philip Womack

A boarding school, friends, mysterious magical happenings, suspicious teachers - does any of this sound vaguely familiar? Philip Womack's The Other Book combines each of these aspects into an intriguing and dark work that while perhaps lacking in originality, keeps the reader engaged. Edward Pollock, an avid reader, comes across a mysterious book in his school library. Soon after, things start getting wonky around the campus. Edward is ported to another dimension where he is instructed by a knight of the middle ages to protect the book from those who would use it to destroy the world. Edward reluctantly takes up the challenge, often alone and without the aids of his friends or even cousin. There are some rather detailed and gruesome scenes in this piece which I found interesting. Nothing too over the top - just enough so that readers might latch onto it and think awesome. I enjoyed The Other Book, but I also found it very similar to another well known YA series. Apparently there is no criteria for originality in the Thumbs-Up guidelines - so I can't simply dump it for that alone. I think I have to go thumbs down - because lacking originality often doesn't spur any new thoughts. Does that make sense?

The Joys of Love by Madeleine L'Engle

Caution spoilers--
The first incarnation of The Joys of Love was written in the early 1940s and the novel remained unpublished during L'Engle's amazing career. It details the story of Elizabeth, going into her senior year at Smith and working at a summer stock theater. She is there on scholarship and must contend with her crotchety old aunt Harriet who wants her to give up her pie-in-the-sky dreams of acting and concentrate on science. In fact, Harriet is ready to give up any financial support when she discovers that Liz and her roommates have invited boys(!) into their dorm for late night gossip-fests. Liz has a fun troupe of friends, including awkward Ben and ethereal Jane. She thinks she has fallen for charming Kurt, but finds later that he is more of a cad than a true soulmate when he tries to get too friendly in his bedroom. The summer ends with new resolutions for Liz and the possibility of really achieving her acting dream as the understudy of a popular actress.
This book, while a charming glimpse at early L'Engle, has zero teen appeal, does not stand the timeliness test, and is not particularly thought-provoking. Big Thumb's Down

Monday, August 18, 2008

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (adapted by P. Craig Russel)

This graphic novel follows the storyline of Gaiman's previously published novel of the same title. I really enjoyed the novel and I was greatly disappointed by the graphic novel. Too much show and not enough tell - which was doubly disconcerting considering the format. I know that Gaiman has published successful graphic novels so I'm not sure what happened here. The plot is basically this: Coraline (not Caroline) goes through a door (that is bricked up) to her other-mother and other-father's house and where they want Coraline to join them forever - all she has to do is let the other-mother sew buttons into her eyes to match that of the other-mother and other-father. Other-mother is in fact some dark creature who steals and eats children's souls and Coraline has to outwit the other-mother to save herself, her parents, and three ghost children. For this format there was just too, too much telling – for example, we shouldn't need to have the narrator tell us that the other-mother has button eyes, the pictures should be sufficient. I vote nay.

Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon

When Ben is a young teen his father tells both him and his mom that he is gay. Bens mom splits and Ben is left with his father, feeling like his very existence is a result of his dads lie. Now Ben is 17, and after he has been acting out with drugs, drinking, etc, for the last few years His father with his boyfriend Edward, also known as Ben's "Momdad", make the decision to move the family out of Spokane to rural Montana so they can live with Edwards rather strict mother, in the hopes that a new life will help straighten Ben out. Unfortunately the whole family sticks out like a sore thumb and Ben does not really fit in very well as the only skateboard punk in a town full of cowboys. As if this is not enough, he soon starts to realize that there are some dark secrets involved with his 11 year old neighbor Billy. Now Ben has to try and come to grips with his own situation all the while trying to fit in to his new surroundings and try to help his young neighbor.

I really loved this book. One of the reviews on the back said that this novel was very similar to a Crutcher novel, which is very high praise. The book lived up to it and more. The characters were well developed and the story flowed both quickly and effortlessly. In addition to being well written and a good story, it was absolutely hilarious and it should have great teen appeal. I also think it would be a very good read for any teens experiencing similar issues because you really start to understand where all the characters involved are coming from and a person in a similar situation would be given a lot to think about. I would give this book a very enthusiastic Thumbs Up!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools by Philip Caveney

Sabastian Darke is an Elfling (half human and half elf) and after his father, a court jester, dies he is left to support him and his mother. So he, his talking Buffalope, and diminutive Captain Cornelius Drummel (who he meets on the way) travel to the court of King Septimus looking for work. On their way they rescue Princess Kerin from brigands and escort her home to her uncle Septimus. Little did they know that Septimus is evil and set up Kerin's attack. Kerin once again disappears (thanks to her uncle) and Sabastian is framed. In the end the three friends rescue her once more and stop King Septimus. It is a fun book and I'm glad I've gotten a chance to read it. One of the teens at work has been telling me all summer I need to read it. It has great teen appeal and nothing in it would really date it. I vote yes.

Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs

Phoebe Castro excels at running and has the potential to get a full ride to USC for track. But her mother has decided to remarry and move them to a hidden island that houses a school for descendants of Greek gods. (Her new step-dad is the headmaster.) So Phoebe has to keep her grades up and continue running so she can secure the scholarship and get back to the US and her friends. But since she is the only NOTHOS at the school (a normal person) she faces a lot of prejudice not to mention an evil stepsister and a ton of competition against athletes with mythological powers. This was a really fun read, if a little predictable (she really loves her Nike shoes). It has a lot of teen appeal but I'm not sure if it'll stand up to the test of time and would like to hear others thoughts on this. I say yes for now.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

Huh, this one was interesting. Ted, a young teen with Asperger's, and his fashion-obsessed sister visit the London Eye with their cousin Salim. Salim goes up in the capsule and never comes down. The sibs and their family are thrown into chaos as they all try to figure out what happened to Salim and deal with their grief.
I thought Dowd's characterization of Asperger's was spot on, entirely believable without turning to mockery or stereotype. The rest of the characters (excepting Kat) were somewhat flat, but this could have been intentional due to Ted's perspective of the situation.
Ted is a young narrator (he's thirteen) and the resolution was not as strong as the rest of the story, but it certainly made me think.
I'm giving it a Thumb's Up.

Fortunes of Indigo Skye by Deb Caletti

Indigo Skye is a waitress by design. She loves her job and sees it more as a profession. She likes her boyfriend, her mom, brother, and sister. She has everything but money, until she receives a rather large tip that changes her life. I enjoyed this new title from Deb Caletti, and will definitely be recommending it to the readers who like Sarah Dessen and Joan Bauer. I just don't think it's Thumbs Up worthy, so I'm giving it a NAY.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

100 Girls by Adam Gallardo and Todd Demong

This graphic novel plays off of the idea of secret government experiments and mixes in people with X-Men type powers. Sylvia (and 99 other girls) are clones of a scientist and all have some sort of super power. 93 of these girls are still in incubator type containers, but Sylvia and 6 others are in the free world - but about to be picked up by the scientists who created them. As Sylvia meets the other girls, the all meld together to become one girl with the thoughts and powers of all the girls. It is a race between the free girls and those trying to capture them.

I enjoyed this story and I think that it does have appeal. However, small things bugged me: the reference to Natty Gann (how many teen readers of this book would understand this reference?), the Neo like picture in the last frame - of Sylvia (whose body now contains all 100 girls) flying, and questions that went unanswered - probably waiting for the sequal (it states "END OF BOOK ONE"). I'd like to read the sequal but I vote Nay for Thumb's Up.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

King Lear adapted by Gareth Hinds

There are some great graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare out there, but this isn't one of them. Even with the little dotted lines to follow to figure out what order to read the speech bubbles in, I was confused. The language is faithful (though abridged), but the art is so-so. Since adaptations really have to blow me away to get my vote, I'm saying NAY.

The Boxer and the Spy by Robert B. Parker

I went into this book craving a good mystery and came out wholly disappointed. I wanted so much to scream at the author "Please, please SHOW...don't just TELL!!" I felt no sympathy for the characters, no real sense of setting, and worst of all, no suspense. Also, I ask you, what teen in 2008 uses terms like "hanky panky?" So wrong. On so many levels. NAY

Amulet: Book One, The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet opens with a riveting car crash scene that takes the life of Emily and Navin's father. Emily and her mother must watch as the car teeters near the edge of a cliff, her father's feet stuck under the dashboard. Her mother tries in vain to wrench him free, but can only watch as the vehicle's wheels rise off the ground, then fall to the earth stories below.

Some years later, the mother needs a fresh start, picks the family up and moves them out to the country into an old family home that could be described as a Victorian fixer-upper. Soon thereafter, Emily and Navin happen upon an amulet, upon which Emily takes an immediate hankering. Yes, hankering. Unfortunately, she's not the only being that desires the long lost amulet. It isn't long before mother is swept away by a tentacled creature, and Emily and Navin must begin a journey to rescue her.

I enjoyed Amulet, which ends on a cliffhanger - leaving you wanting for the second book. That alone makes me question whether it can stand on its own. The animation (graphic novel) is nice, but nothing earth shattering. The story is nothing new - formulaic - I suppose is the word.

I'm gonna say Nay.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

How I Saved My Father's Life (and Ruined Everything Else) by Ann Hood

(adapted from previous e-mail posting sent July 28)
Madeline believes she performs miracles. She saved her father from an avalanche, and is convinced she should be a saint. She writes a lot of letters to the Pope, focuses on her next tremendous (or not so tremendous) miracle and discovers she needs to be Catholic...and be named a saint.

The most jarring thing about this book was that Madeline's new favorite song was on a cassette tape. Where would a girl today acquire a cassette tape of Catholic chants? (Backstory on how/why she acquired a cassette of nuns singing liturgical songs might have emphasized her misplaced zealousness to become a saint. She doesn't seem savvy enough to find it herself ....).

I would give this book to a young person searching for self, going through parents' divorce, needing a different slant on a parent's perspective/experience. Not engaging enough. I just didn't feel sufficient empathy for Madeline's obsession or self-blame. NAY

Into the Dark: An Echo Falls Mystery by Peter Abrahams

(adapted from previous e-mail posting sent July 28)

Into the Dark: An Echo Falls Mystery is a fast read, with mystery aspects the reader can deduce along the way (some far in advance of the main character, Ingrid). Ingrid is coping with mysteries in her family, and accusations in her community. Her best friend is avoiding her; her parents don't talk to her grandfather, and someone's been murdered.

Into the Dark (book 3 in the series) doesn't stand on its own - there are a few references to previous mysteries/incidents that are unexplained/out of context to a new reader - sort of a bone thrown to loyal readers. Editor error: In one scene Ingrid reaches down with her mittened hand and later in the same scene she has forgotten hat and mittens.

There's divorce and an affair so the appeal to much young readers is leavened with the messier aspects of adult relationships as well as a serious illness so that raises the age above elementary which I would otherwise say it's geared toward. A good mystery read for the younger end of our criteria range, but not superior. NAY

Nick of Time by Ted Bell

(adapted from previous e-mail posting sent July 28)
Nick of Time is a mixed bag of sailing adventure, pirates, pre-WWII spying, Nazis and time travel. The language harkens back to lush descriptions in an epic style. I am not sure if most young adventure readers will slog through the flowery adjectives to pursue the action. I couldn't figure out how Nick McIver's ancestor knew of his existence, where and when he would be in order to send through the message. Nick's 6 year old sister, Kate, is a hoot and intrepid side kick. Adventure romp with boy appeal, wholesome characters. I wonder if the epic would have been more satisfying without the time travel and with Bell sticking to espionage and wits. NAY

Generation Dead by Daniel Waters

Generation Dead is a fun story that took a while to capture my interest. The scenes in the school cafeteria and on the bus start off like a combination of Schooled, Stargirl, Prom Dates from Hell and Sixteen Candles all meet Twilight in a "don't be so biased against the new kids just because they're dead" sort of way. I think it will have appeal to goth, quiet rebels, social status deviants, musichead - how many authors besides Krovatin mention Slayer... ;) - and even football readers. Waters' cultural references seemed well integrated in characters' personas and not just throw away gags or glitter.

I enjoyed Generation Dead but didn't find enough impetus for some of the emotions expressed and actions not taken. It bothered me that Phoebe didn't tell Adam of Pete's threats when they both witnessed the attack on Tommy and experienced the menace against themselves. There was no reason to think she would want to protect Pete or that she feared standing up for herself. Waters had already established Pete and Adam weren't friends. Why wouldn't Phoebe have been more proactive against the anti-zombie violence when she was outspoken against the media not reporting deaths? Waters could have given more depth behind the fear of the "biotically different". The reason why some living impaired functioned better than others brought a "depth of living" insight to the story. I read an advanced reader copy so it is possible that some of the writing would be tightened up in publication, and this is the best of what I've read so far, but NAY.

Cherry Heaven by L.J. Adlington

This book is written two different ways. Some chapters follow Luka, an escaped Galrezi factory worker written in stream of consciousness. The other chapters follow Kat and Tanka and their move to an old cherry orchard in the frontier after their parents are killed during "the war" for carrying Galrezi DNA. (this takes place on a different planet where all the residents' DNA is based on three different group and the perceived lowest the Galrezi are persecuted and worse.) The community where they settle is supposed to be a bit of a utopia but they soon find out that the previous owners of the cherry orchard to slaughtered Galrezi's. Kat resents her sister's disregard to what happened to their parents and her use of racial epithets. Soon everyone is on watch Luka and it eventually comes out that she is the only surviving member of her family from when they were killed on the orchard. and the leader of this peaceful frontier community is really the man who shot her family. It is a complex book and I'm not sure it can stand alone (this book is a companion to "Pelly D." which I've never read.) They referred to some things that were obvious references to the previous book but it didn't seem to pertain to this story.
On the whole, I had to force my self to finish this book. Though not entirely written in stream of consciousness, I did not care for those portions and I ended up not caring for the characters. I don't see a lot of teen appeal. I vote Nay.

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

I read this book, and the first thing I thought was, "thank goodness, another series like Twilight!". Okay, its definitely not a Stephenie Meyer novel, it lacks the long, drawn out conversations and slow-build drama, but its got the usual cadre of monsters in the closet to keep you busy. It's the first part of the Darkest Powers series, and unless you enjoy abrupt, cliffhanger endings, you'll be waiting for that second book (I am!).

Our strawberry blond (yay) heroine Chloe becomes hysterical at school (you'll see why) and is forced to stay in a house for crazy teens.. or are they really crazy? At the Lyle House, she attracts the attention of handsome Simon and hulking Derek, as well as a catty, unstable cadre of girls. The pacing is fast and the reading level easy, making for a quick, zesty page turner with lots of plot twists and clever use of technology. YAY.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman

(adapted from e-mail posting sent to group July 28)

Gil Goodson seeks to secure his happiness by winning the ultimate trivia and puzzle contest and moving away to escape shame and bullying and (hopefully) false accusations.

Great for readers who enjoyed Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and who can suspend disbelief and use their imaginations well. While reading it I thought it was too similar to Dahl to not be deliberate. I was relieved that Feldman wrote in the author notes at the end of the book that Gollywhopper was written for those who wanted more adventures like Charlie's. Since there are other issues, I didn't bother worrying too much about whether this homage to the clever classic was reason enough to disqualify the book.

The scenes are outrageous and ridiculous on purpose, and appropriate for the context, and probably fit in with children's imagination and wishes for games and environment created just for them. I didn't find the characters to have enough depth for the Thumbs Up award, but can definitely see the appeal to younger readers. Rocky and his parent needed more backstory to be believable. I would put the appeal starting younger than 12 (9?) and have this book in our J Fic section. The puzzles were fun to figure out on the way. Gollywhopper could bring young readers to Dahl. Fun, but NAY.

I Am Scout by Charles J Shields

I Am Scout is about Nelle, which is Ellen spelled backward. Truman Streckfus Persons is her best friend. The book has several fact ingots about these fascinating people. If the reader wasn't aware the accomplishments of Nelle Harper Lee or Truman Capote as adults, much of the significance is lost because so much is taken for granted and not explained. The books needs more editing and citations. The author makes assumptions and observations without context or background to explain. For example, p 15, Mrs. Lee is described as "a 'brilliant woman,' killing time by playing the piano for hours or reading [which] is a sad portrait of a creative person with no outlet...Today her condition would probably be diagnosed as manic-depression" -- yet there is no citation backing up this diagnosis. Yet later on the page, eating watermelon and talking to people from the porch was cited. The observation "But actually her folks were upper-middle class" doesn't seem contrary to the description of Nelle and that bias seems out of kilter with quality non-fiction. The author appears to have conducted considerable research, but it was not seamlessly integrated into the narrative. NAY

Gem X by Nicky Singer

Gem X is a generation of genetic perfection. Maxo, 16, purported to be highly intelligent and molded to exquisite physique without aid of exercise due to calculated gene splicing and modification. Enhanced people live in Polis. Dating among the perfect elite is virtual (until screened and approved for genetic compatibility), and food comes in the form of pills. The Enhanced do not mix with the Dreggies (Naturals) who live in the Estates, and Poldrones and Clodrones serve the Enhanced with complete obedience. Then Maxo's perfection starts to crack.

Gem X takes on some of the foibles of an apocalyptic society run by a power scheming despot. Maxo doesn't strike me as being "preposterously intelligent" as it takes him a while to grasp concepts outside of the brainwashing he's been raised under and he doesn't exercise clever schemes, offer blinding insight or witty dialogue. He strikes me as a rich kid who has been isolated and protected from an unstable dystopia in his back yard and is beginning to experience a different point of view of his world. Some of his reactions weren't as strong as Mary's and John's revelations in Wall-E (great flick with a more benevolent ethos of protection and ignorance). I didn't see enough character development to warrant a Thumbs Up, but I would pass on to those not ready for deep sci fi and ready question authority. NAY

Friday, August 8, 2008

Thoreau at Walden by John Porcellino

This is a graphic novel, which depicts Thoreau’s time at Walden using only Thoreau’s words. The afterword describes it by saying “Thoreau at Walden is, like Walden itself, not a definitive or chronological account of Thoreau’s stay at the pond, but rather an impression of his experience there, and the philosophy that both brought him to its shores and resulted from his time there.”

I liked that this book took a fantastic piece of literature and succeeded in putting it in a very new format. It really works as a graphic novel because you can visually see Thoreau experiencing the world around him. It also compresses what can be a tedious read, especially for a teen, into a very simple and enjoyable one, yet at the same time it does do a good job of getting the major ideas behind Walden across. I also really enjoyed the very simplistic art style that Porcellino uses. The biggest down side for me is that I just don’t see there being that much interest in it for teens, or anyone for that matter. Walden appeals to certain people, but there are a lot of people who just don’t have an interest in reading it and I see that being the same for this book. Also, while I liked it, there is nothing truly exceptional about it. So, I am somewhat undecided but I would probably vote No for now.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

RiTS by Mariken Jongman

"RiTS" addresses issues of divorce and depression through the journal writings of 13 year old Maurits (Rits). Writing in the journal is a new activity for Rits, and the entries begin short and choppy, but improve as the days go by. Sent to live with his Uncle Crorry during the Summer, it isn't immediately apparent why. Rits is reluctant to address the reasoning even in his writings. The story follows the progression of Rits' relationships with his new friends Rita and Eva as well as the budding of Uncle Crorry from a depressed, out of work and boozing stranger into family. The humor with which "RiTS" is written makes for a fun read, but it can also come at the expense of it's main character. It is an enjoyable read, likely more so for the younger end of the 12-18 spectrum, but whether it is a "Permanent contribution to the genre" - is more difficult to say.

I'm on the fence, but leaning towards nay
- looking for other thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

the death of jayson porter by Jaime Adoff

This story it told in a stream-of-consciousness way that really gives it a powerful punch. Jayson Porter is a black teen in an urban city in Florida where he has to worry about his part-time job, making it through his prep school (he got in on a scholarship), his abusive mom and his drug addict father (who lives in another part of the city). He is contemplating suicide as a way out of the pain - having the option of suicide actually seems to give him the will to go on. Then he finds out that his mom and dad are not his real parents but that he was basically stolen (except it was all legal) from his real mom. Next, his best friend dies in a drug related explosion. Jayson makes the leap from the seventh floor. He realizes as he falls that he wants to live. Jayson survives the fall and is going to be put in foster care as his "parents" have disappeared. However his "mom" shows back up to get him and he wonders how he will survive her. Jayson's real mom finds out what has happened and comes and steals him back (with his help). This was a really powerful story. The format just gave it more oomph - for instance the six black pages where Jayson believes that he must really be dead. Of course, most kids in terrible situations wouldn't have the real mother out in the wings to swoop them off to safety, but this was handled in a way that lent credibility to the situation. I vote yes.

Love Me Tender by Audrey Couloumbis

This is a fun story about 13 year old Elvira, trying to understand her family. Her father is a Elvis impersonator and has gone to Vegas for a big competition. Her mother, "Mel," is pregnant with her third child. Mel, Elvira, and the younger sister - Kerrie - all head to the Grandmother's house after receiving a phone call from Mel's sister saying that it was "Mom's time" (which it wasn't). This was a light-hearted romp about love and families. However, a few things kept throwing me out of the story. Elvira was both very responsible and very irresponsible - I kept thinking: is this the same girl? Another aspect that threw me was how much was expected of Elvira at times. For instance, at one point she is re-painting a window frame while the adults help at first, and then leave her working while they drink iced tea on the porch. Small things maybe - but I kept thinking, what's going here? I vote nay.