Saturday, July 30, 2011

“The Outsiders” by S. E. Hinton

192 pages

Fourteen-year-old Ponyboy doesn’t have the easiest life. His parents died a few years ago, so he's being raised by his two older brothers: Darry, 20, and Sodapop, 16 (yes, those are their real names). In their world (the mid-1960s in Oklahoma), there are two types of people: the socs, rich society kids who get away with everything; and the greasers, who are poor and live on the wrong side of the tracks. The two groups have been enemies for as long as anyone can remember. Ponyboy, his brothers, and their tight group of friends are greasers. One night, their fued with the socs goes too far and Ponyboy's life is changed forever.

It's easy to see why this book is considered a classic; the story, characters, and issues are timeless. I love Ponyboy's voice and the honesty with which he tells his story. I think a lot of people can relate to the internal conflict he struggles with as he tries to differentiate between what he really believes and what he's been taught to believe by society. I think Hinton does a good job of showing how buying into stereotypes can be dangerous without lecturing readers or beating them over the head with the message. I wish I'd read this in high school!

Packing for Mars

by Mary Roach
318 pages

I love Mary Roach's previous witty non-fiction books and had to read this. And what timing, too! I started it right as NASA was having its final hurrah with the launch of space shuttle Atlantis. Packing for Mars is an in-depth look at traveling to/in space from the space race to 2010. Roach discusses the test flights, food studies, bathroom issues and even sex in space. Though she spent a tremendous amount of pages on the perils of pooping in space, I thought it was a great read and I normally don't like non-fiction.

It's Kind of a Funny Story

by Ned Vizzini
444 pages

I saw this movie first and got into a disagreement with my mother about the fate of one of the characters. I decided to read the book to prove her wrong. Well, the movie isn't exactly like the book, so we'll never truly know who is right (me!).
Craig Gilner is a depressed 15-year old in Manhattan who decides he is going to kill himself. So, he calls the suicide hotline. They tell him that he should check into a hospital. He goes to the emergency room at 5 o'clock Sunday morning and ends up in the Adult Psychiatric ward of the hospital for a five-day stay. He soon meets and makes friends with the patients and comes out of his shell, as it were.
I found this to be a very honest and hopeful story with a very believable narrative. I could really relate with the character of Craig.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie
230 pages

I think it has been said before on this blog, but I didn't think the controversial parts of this novel were really that bad. I thought this was a good coming-of-age story of a boy who doesn't really belong anywhere and his struggle to accept himself. I think it probably depicted life on a reservation accurately, even though it wasn't necessarily in a good light. I thought the character of Arnold Spirit could be looked at as a good example of how to not let the situation get you down and find a way to make things better, no matter what other people say.

Faerie Wars

by Herbie Brennan
368 pages

Henry is your typical British school boy who goes to school, causes trouble with his friends and helps the old neighbor down the street with chores. Then one morning, his parents throw him a curve ball and say they are separating . . . because his mother is having an affair with his father's female secretary. In a daze after hearing this news, he goes to Mr. Fogarty's house and comes across a fairy. Turns out there is more than one world, there is the fairy world, the analog world (where Henry is now) and Hael (but we'll get to that later). The fairy Henry finds is actually the crown prince of the fairy world. He has been sent to the analog world for his protection, but the transporter had been tampered with and he was sent to the wrong place. Henry and Mr. Fogarty must get him back where he belongs.
Meanwhile, in the fairy world, a war is brewing between the ruling class and the Faeries of the Night. The Faeries of the Night have demons from Hael on their side. Demons are little grey creatures with large heads, big black eyes and large, gangley limbs (what we think of as aliens, perhaps?!?).
Though it was as predictable as a book about a fairy war could be, it had some fresh ideas and was a good read.

The Tale of Despereaux

by Kate Dicamillo
262 pages

This Newberry Honor winner tells the tale of Desperaux Tilling, a mouse who was born with extremely large ears and doesn't quite fit in with his family. He gets himself into trouble when he speaks to the human princess, Princess Pea, and is banished to the dungeon to face the rats, which will most certainly kill him. Much drama ensues, he must save the princess from a rat named Roscuro and a girl named Miggery Sow. Yadda, Yadda, Yadda you probably know the story.

I thought this was a very dark tale. Not exactly what I expected, even having read some of DiCamillo's other works. I enjoyed the descriptive narrative and felt pulled into the story. Overall, I enjoyed it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Step Fourth, Mallory!

By: Laurie Friedman, Illustrations by: Jennifer Kalis,

175 pp.

Grade school is not always the easiest for kids. However, when Mallory McDonald gets ready to go into the fourth grade, she just knows it is going to be the best year yet! Well, it turns out that she just keeps breaking all of her teacher's rules even though she does not mean to. She tries to make things better between her teacher and herself, but they are just making things a lot worse!

To top it all off, her best friend likes the new boy in school and Mallory likes him too.

Mallory learns to start putting her best foot forward while also learning that as you grow up, you are responsible for your actions whether you mean the things you do or not...I think it is paying off for her - finally.

This is a very cute story. I think a lot of young kids can relate to Mallory's story of starting the fourth grade.

Peach Cobbler Murder ~ A Hannah Swenson Mystery

By: Joanne Fluke, 294 pp.

Hannah Swenson has another murder mystery to solve, but this time she is the main suspect for the police in Lake Eden. Her rival, Shawna Lee, has been found dead.

Along with the murder to try and solve, Hannah and her sister, Andria, have been asked by their mother to help her with a problem (and Hannah knows this is a serious problem because their mother never asks for the girls' help).

Hannah has been proposed to by both Mike & Norman! How does she respond? Will she say yes to either of them or turn them both down?

Find out all the excitement events when you read Peach Cobbler Murder by Joanne Fluke!

"Shut Up, You're Fine: Poems for Very, Very Bad Children" by Andrew Hudgins

113 pages

The tooth fairy. Moms cleaning faces with spit. Imaginary friends. Ice cream trucks. Lesbian stepmothers. These are the things of children's books (well, except maybe that last one), and some of these poems are from kids' points of view, but despite the subtitle, this is not really children's poetry. Most of the poems are funny in a dark way, and some are downright morbid. Here are the final lines of one of my favorite poems, "Kiss Grandma Goodnight":

Pucker up and kiss them

Act just like a chum

Lie that you love them
They're what you'll become

"Harry Potter Film Wizardry" by Brian Sibley

160 pages

This scrapbook-style book gives us the inside scoop on how the Harry Potter films were created. It includes essays from the cast and crew about the techniques used to bring the magic to life as well as anecdotes about things that happened on the set (for instance, Helen Bonham Carter accidentally ruptured Matthew Lewis' eardrum with her wand as she enthusiastically portrayed Bellatrix messing with Neville). We learn how they made the Quiddich players fly; how the underwater and in-the-air scenes were filmed; the methods used to create magical creatures and characters including Voldemort, Dobby, and the thestrals; how the sets were created in such fantastic detail; and much much more.

I can't get enough HP, and this book is bursting with fun stuff about my favorite wizarding world. In addition to the essays and stories, there are tons of behind-the-scenes photos, preliminary sketches, and story boards that were used during the production of the films. I loved learning about how the special effects were done--I was really surprised by how many parts of the movies that I'd thought were made digitally were actually created mechanically. I also enjoyed hearing what the cast and crew thought about what it was like to be part of the team. The amount of work it took to make these movies is overwhelming--even more than I'd imagined--but I'm so glad that they went through all the effort!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour" by Bryan Lee O'Malley

234 pages

With six of Ramona's seven evil exes dispatched, it's supposed to be time for Scott Pilgrim to face Gideon Graves, the biggest and baddest of her exes. But Ramona took off at the end of Book Five, so Scott thinks he's off the hook. He just can't forget about Ramona, though, no matter how hard he tries. It seems that destiny is pushing them together...but only if he can survive Gideon after all.

I love Scott Pilgrim! This final installment brings the story to a satisfying conclusion and wraps things up well. I think it's one of the funniest books in the series. I'm sad that there won't be more, though!

Across the Universe

by Beth Revis, 398 pages

Amy is cryogenically frozen, along with her parents, so she can take part in a colonizing mission on a distant earth-like planet.  She expects to "sleep" for 300 years, and then wake up at her parents side.  However, when she does wake up, it's 50 years too early.  She's alone, on a ship ruled by a rigid tyrant, in a society where the only "normal" people are deemed crazy.  Furthermore, the future leader of the ship, Elder, has taken a special interest in her, one that she's not sure she can trust.

One review that I read described this books as claustrophobic, and I think that's the perfect word for a book set on a spaceship roughly the size of a small island that flies nearly a lifetime away from any outside human contact.  At times, I could feel the metal walls of the ship closing in on me, a feeling which was made worse for being trapped with an all-powerful evil leader and a society of mindless drones.  This books was very well done, and will be great for people who like their sci-fi seriously creepy.  A word of warning- this book is the first in a trilogy, and while the ending has more resolution that some YA books out there, it still leaves you room to wonder "what now?"

How they croaked: the awful ends of the awfully famous by Gerogia Bragg

Follow 19 of history's most famous and infamous people to learn not how they lived, but how they died. Grusome tales of medicinal oddities, grave robbing organ-bandits, and the personal scarificies of those who truely obtained the height of their given careers adorn the pages of this book. Filled with wickedly dark humor and chapter titles such as "Marie Curie: You Glow Girl" and "George Washington: Little Mouth of Horrors", How They Croaked manages to make history icky and wildly entertaining and gives you just enough biographical information to encourage teens (and well...anyone) to go find out more about the people behind the deaths.

"Bull Rider" by Suzanne Morgan Williams

241 pages

Fourteen-year-old Cam O'Mara loves his family, but he doesn't feel like he fits in with them. His grandfather and older brother revered bull-riding champions in their small ranching town in Nevada, but Cam is not interested in partaking in the family sport; he prefers skateboarding. Everything changes, however, when Cam's brother, Ben, comes home from Iraq with a paralyzing brain injury. It appears that there might be a way for Cam to help Ben, but it involves getting on a bull. Cam has never wanted to be a rider, but he'll do anything to help Ben. And there was no way he could have predicted what happens when he finally gives bull riding a try.

I loved this book! Cam is a charming narrator who I liked right away. The secondary characters, especially Grandpa Roy and Grandma Jean, are fabulous as well. I like that the story brings up the idea of the morality of war in a way that young readers can understand, and it presents it as a complicated issue without one clear-cut right or wrong answer. The end comes with a nice twist that I enjoyed. This is definitely one of my favorite children's books of this year.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

2011/259 pgs

About the Book: Lacey Anne Byers has always been a good girl. She's grown up in the church, followed the rules, and she's never questioned anything. Lacey is excited to try out for a lead role in her church's Hell House production. When Ty Davis moves to town, Lacey befriends him. He's smart, funny, and Lacey likes him-a lot. Lacey can talk to Ty about her faith, something her friends have never discussed much. Ty asks questions that Lacey has never asked and she begins to doubt if everything is as black and white, right and wrong as she once believed.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: I have been a longtime fan of Melissa Walker's and I think that Small Town Sinners is Melissa's standout book. She writes a story about faith, first love, and searching in a wonderfully realistic way.

As a Christian myself, I'm often hesitant to read portrayals of faith and Christians in fiction. Christian fiction is too corny and unrealistic to me whereas secular fiction often portrays Christian's as crazy nut jobs. Small Town Sinners does neither. The story is non-judgmental and it's up to the readers to answer their own questions and decide what they think. While the adults aren't always the best and they do things that I didn't agree with, no one was over the top, and I found this to be more realistic.

Instead of taking one side or another, Small Town Sinners has a wonderful balance. Hell House's aren't shown in a way that's extreme good or extreme bad. I'm personally not a fan of the Hell House idea, but I liked the explanations that Lacey gave about the reason and how they can be effective. This worked for me and I didn't feel like the book was preaching to me one way or the other. There is scripture used, which so often I feel is corny in books, but for some reason I liked it here. Maybe because I knew this wasn't really labeled "Christian Fiction" so I didn't feel like I was supposed to be getting a message from the book. Instead of just being thrown in there just because it needed to be, I felt it fit Lacey's character as she struggled with her faith.

What I loved most about the novel is that Lacey is a relatable, real, character. She understands that her faith cannot just be what her parents believe, but it has to become her own. In order to make it her own, she must ask questions and discover what she believes-and that's not a bad thing. So often we're told, especially in Christian fiction, that doubt is a bad thing. But in Small Town Sinners, doubt is part of life and it's needed to better understand your faith. This is a message that very often gets lots and I think it added a wonderful depth to the story. There are never easy answers and Lacey isn't left knowing the answers to everything-and that's OK.

The supporting cast adds a layer to the story. This isn't just a story about faith, but it's a story of first love, teen pregnancy, searching for answers, friendship, loyalty, and forgiveness. It all wraps up into a fantastic package that I highly recommend to all readers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

X/1999: Volume 12: Movement

by CLAMP, 180 pages

Kamui and Subaru have it out on a rooftop with Fuma and Nataku, with Subaru bearing the brunt of it. Frustrated by his own inability to protect his friends, Kamui vows to learn how to create a spirit shield. But he forgets that for every new trick he acquires, his opposite picks one up, too.

Ah, there's a reason why first Subaru and now everyone else seems to see whom they want to see in Fuma. Sneaky young man. He's even got his cohort, Seishiro, looking uncertain. That, at least, makes me happy. And goodness, have CLAMP got a thing for stealing / blinding eyes, or what? If it works, it works, I guess. It certainly fits in with Subaru's and Seishiro's personal history.

Kamisama Kiss: Volume 1

by Julietta Suzuki, 198 pages

When Nanami Momozono's useless father skips out on his debts and his daughter, she finds herself evicted and alone with nowhere to go. After she "rescues" a cowardly gentleman from a dog in the park, he suddenly offers up his house for her to watch while he's away, kisses her on the forehead, and runs off. With no other options, she follows his crude map and ends up standing before a run-down shrine, not a proper house. Also, it's not exactly empty. Nanami isn't just house-sitting, she's been chosen as the new tochigami, or master deity of the shrine. Unfortunately, one of her new minions doesn't take too fondly to her. Should she stay? Should she go back into the human realm and fend for herself?

If I can't have more Karakuri Odette, then I will happily take more Kamisama Kiss. Suzuki's stories are fun and sweet and she makes you care about her characters from the get-go. Tomoe, the surly fox spirit, refuses to accept Nanami and doesn't bat an eyelid (or maybe just one, when no one is looking) when her life is in danger, but he's clearly been hurt by the abandonment of their previous master and possibly more before. It's his nature to care, but experience has made him wary. And Nanami, while understandably freaked out by the idea of legends turning out to be not so not-real after all, has her own harsh experience with abandonment and has been playing the responsible adult for most of her life, so she takes charge of her new situation as best she can. I look forward to watching the two of them develop some mutual respect. :)

Angel Sanctuary: Book of the Material World: Volume 2

by Kaori Yuki, 185 pages

Teenager Setsuna already has problems--he gets into fights at school and has an unhealthy crush on his sister--but finding out he's the reincarnation of a beautiful (female) angel named Alexiel, whose evil brother Rosiel has come back and is possessing whatever body is at hand to reclaim her, sends him a little over the edge. As angels and devils from all sides of the long-standing, cosmic balance-endangering sibling conflict try to either kill or recruit him--and Alexiel keeps taking over his body whenever it suits her--Setsuna just wants to keep his loved ones safe. But what can he do when his own emotions are part of what's endangering them?

Gah. The first volume of this series made clear it would be complicated and gory and goofy and melodramatic, but I thought it wouldn't hurt to read one more if I saw it in the system. If I ever pick up another, it will only be out of curiosity about the outcome and not actual interest in the story or characters. I've tried a few of Yuki's other series and found them to have the same problems--they're narratively too complex and visually too busy, with stories that skip about too much to give me reasons to actually care about the characters involved in them. She's got some good ideas, and some enviable talent, but she goes overboard and doesn't take the time to let the reader get invested, possibly forgetting we're not mind-readers who can see into her imagination and learn what she's neglected to show us.

Vagabond: Volume 19

by Takehiko Inoue, based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, 194 pages

As the surviving soldiers, and anyone else foolish enough to be in the area, try to make their way home from the battlefield at Sekigahara, they find that their ordeal is not yet over. Wandering mobs of local peasants, whose land and livelihoods have been sacrificed in the name of war, are scouring the countryside looking for stragglers on whom to vent all their frustration and misery. In the chaos, Kojirô gets separated from Ittôsai and Musô and must fight for his life alone.

Oh, poor Kojirô! He doesn't even understand what's going on except that people he doesn't know are trying to kill him. And the poor soldiers! Haven't they suffered enough already? And the poor peasants! They've been used and abused and thrown away by those with power. Arg. Inoue makes you feel sorry for everyone, even as they lunge for each other's throats.

"The Trouble With Poetry" by Billy Collins

88 pages

Collins was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003 and is currently the New York State Poet. The New York Times has called him "the most popular poet in America" and after reading this book I can see why. He writes poems that are accessible to everyone by taking everyday things and using them to say something more meaningful. This collection includes poems about all kinds of topics, from Mondays to flying on planes to the process of writing poetry. Many of the poems made me laugh, and most connected to my life in some way and made me think.

Five Wishes

By: Gay Hendricks, 149 pp.

I believe everyone has at least one wish that they have told someone about one time in their life. I know I have anyway.

In "5 Wishes," Gay Hendricks tells us how he had a conversation with a stranger at a party back in the eighties, and how that conversation has changed his life.

Hendricks explains his five wishes as if he were on his deathbed and how just by changing his wishes into present tense statements from what he had wished had happened can make a difference in how you see your wish and how you can make it come true for yourself.

Example: "Past tense: I wish I had a better relationship with my family. Know why you are saying this and then change it into the present tense. Present tense: I have a wonderful relationship with my family." Just by saying something in the present tense helps make it more positive for you and you can work with what you have and keep making it yet better instead of droning on about what should have been.

The last section of this book is for the reader to actually put their words into writing. Hendricks has given us a worksheet. He also tells us his website has the worksheet for free. I have mentioned the website above.

John Gray, PHD: "Five Wishes can help anyone find the power within to change their life."

While living on this earth, why should we be unhappy? If there is somehow to become happier with ourselves and with our lives, why not try to change things to feel that happiness we deserve?

Yes, this is a bit of a spiritual book, but it is also a (sort of) self-help book. It depends on what is needed in your life as you are reading this book to decide what it means to you. I am glad I picked up this book to read. It came a perfect time in my life.

If you need some light reading or you are looking for something more in your life, I highly recommend "5 Wishes" by Gay Hendricks.

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You: Volume 1

by Karuho Shiina, 207 pages

Sawako Kuronuma has always been quiet, polite, shy...and a dead ringer for the scary, murderous spirit Sadako from the horror movie The Ring. All she wants is to fit in and have friends, but everyone is too afraid of her--and she's too awkward--to make the effort to connect. But there is one person who treats her as warmly and kindly as he does everyone else. If Sawako can hold onto the strength that one person gives her, she just might be able to take some baby steps on her own.

Aw, sweetness! I've been reading good reviews of this series since it premiered but hadn't gotten around to starting it till now. Shrinking violet Sawako is thoughtful and kind and amusingly literal. And social butterfly Kazehaya is equally thoughtful and kind and, in his own way, just as shy. They're both honest to a fault and try to express themselves, but neither is very experienced in these things nor confident that they have a chance with the other. Watching them stumble and blush and squee their way toward clear understanding makes me smile. I want volume 2!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Eyeshield 21: Volume 36: Sena Vs. Panther

by Riichiro Inagaki (story) and Yususke Murata (art), 190 pages

The game against the American's is underway. The Deimon boys have trained and pushed themselves physically and psychologically for this day, knowing their opponents to be the kings of the sport. Will the Devil Bats be able to surpass a team as talented and crafty as themselves?

How can there be only one of these left? *sigh* I fear this arc will be a little too compressed and the ending abrupt, given the more relaxed pace of the series up to now. Oh, well. I hope Inagaki and Murata took a nice break before starting on their next projects (I hope they have next projects, as I got so happily attached to this one). I want the boys to trounce those who need trouncing and then go celebrate shared awesomeness with those opponents who are truly worthy (which, given the happy sportsmanship vibe of the series, is most of them). :)

Lola and the Boy Next Door

by Stephanie Perkins, 338 pages

Seventeen-year-old free spirit Lola lives in San Francisco with her two dads. When she's not working on her Marie Antoinette dress for the spring dance, she's working at the movie theatre or hanging out with her best friend Lindsey or her cool, rock'n'roller boyfriend Max. But she is definitely not thinking about the absent neighbor twins or her emotionally distressing past with them. Nope, not at all. So there's no reason to worry when they suddenly move back in next door. None whatsoever. Well, almost. It's those pinstriped pants. Blame them.

Lola is a fun character. She has...well, character. And quirks aplenty. She and the people in her life (including two familiar faces from the author's previous novel Anna and the French Kiss) all have personality and individuality and their dialogue is smart and fun. The teenagers act like teenagers (for the most part--some of them are perhaps a little wiser than their years would suggest, but that seems to be an intentional part of their personalities) and the grown-ups act like grown-ups (which isn't to say that they can't be immature at times, but what grown-ups do you know who aren't?). This was another enjoyable, happy, quick read from Perkins and I can only hope that she keeps writing. Thanks, Chelsea, for letting me know it existed and thanks, Sarah, for letting me borrow it! :P

They Never Came Back by Caroline B. Cooney

2010/208 pgs

About the Book: Five years ago Murielle Lyman disappeared. Now, Tommy believes he has recognized his missing cousin in new girl Cathy. Soon the whole school is looking up the Lyman scandel and wanting to know the truth. The Lymans took money and left-leaving their daughter behind. What became of her? And is Cathy really the missing Murielle?

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: This one was so hokey and corny! The mystery was so cheesy and unrealisitc. Seriously, the FBI couldn't find the missing parents for five years, but a teenage girl can after two minutes on social media? Maybe middle grade readers will like this mystery, but I wasn't a fan. Although the characters are 15 and in high school, it read more like a middle grade/young teen novel. The story wasn't that interesting and it read like a family made for TV movie.

Matched by Ally Condie

2010/384 pgs

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: I don't think I need to give a summary, since so many people have read this one already. I know there are lots and lots of readers who are big fans of this book, but I'm not one of them. I don't know why, but this book just wasn't for me.

For the most part, I got frustrated with the characters. I thought they were bland and boring. I didn't think Cassia was all that interesting and I just never cared about. And what made her like Ky other than the fact that he was forbidden? I hate love triangles to begin with, but I really hate when the girl decides she's in love with the new dark, mysterious boy for no reason other than he's dark and mysterious. Ky didn't have much depth for me and I found him annoying. Even Xander wasn't all that interesting and we didn't really see him enough for me to really care about it.

For most of it, I felt like Cassia was whiny and selfish. She's also somewhat of a wetrag character. She gets some guts in the end, but not enough for me to really cheer her on. I hated how she doesn't want to tell Ky what first made her notice him-that she saw his face on the card, but then she gets all hypocritical and gets mad at him for telling her that he noticed her because of the match.

I didn't like the worldbuilding. I felt like the society wasn't explained well enough and we got glimpses of what could make a cool story, but it never gets developed. It felt very much like the world from The Giver, which really bugged me. I wanted to know how the society was formed and why and I wanted more explanation about all those pills.

So while some readers might think this is a great dystopian, I'm not a fan and I don't plan on reading the others in the series.

The Best and Hardest Thing by Pat Brisson

2010/240 pgs

About the Book: Molly has always been smart, dependable, and she thinks it's boring. She's going to change this year. So when bad boy Grady seems to like her, Molly decides she'll be the girl to get his attention. She gets Grady's attention and ends up with a decision that will the hardest choice of her life.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Oh, teen pregnancy books-you could have a genre all your own! For me, this one was just OK. There are many, many entries into the teen pregnancy genre, and this one didn't stand out to me in any way. I liked that it was in verse and would give it to fans of verse novels for sure. But as far as a great contemporary read, I didn't think it was anything special. It's been a few weeks since I read it and I really can't remember much about it. I do think teens who like "issue" books or teen pregnancy stories will like it though-since it's a verse novel it's a quick, easy read.

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk

2010/248 pgs

About the Book: Will Halpin is overweight and deaf, making him the least popular guy at his new school. He's trying to integrate into a public school instead of attending a deaf school, and Will is discovering it isn't easy. But Will's ability to blend into the background and read lips may come in handy when a classmate dies and Will tries to solve the murder.

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin is very much a nod to The Hardy Boys. The characters mention the books and the authors mentions how he was a fan growing up and it comes through in the novel. I liked the writing and the characters. The story felt a bit cheesy (again, this is very much an updated Hardy Boys, so I could take some of the cheese). The author did a good job of putting many suspects in the path of the reader and making you suspect everyone-even characters you liked. My biggest complaint was that the mystery part of the story took too long to get going. I knew what was going to happen, but it took 100 pages to get there. I think mystery fans will like it, but they'll have to stick with the book to get the mystery. I am eager to read more from Josh Berk.

Split by Swati Avasthi

2010/282 pgs

About the Book: Jace arrives at his brother's doorstep needing a way out. His father is controlling and abusive and issued an ultimatium-so Jace had to leave. Jace doesn't want to turn into his father, but before he left, he felt the pull of his anger trying to take over. Can Jace be who he wants or does he have to give into his anger and turn into his father?

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: This is a very interesting read. I think it would make a great book club discussion book, especially with high schoolers. Jace is trying not to become his father and to get away from his anger and abuse, but Jace also inherited many of his father's personality traits. Before he left, he got himself into a scary situation with his girlfriend and now Jace is afraid to get close to anyone. He struggles with reconciling his two selves-the one he wants to be and the one he fears he is becoming. There are no easy answers and the truth is hard, but there is hope to this story, which I think will make it a great discussion starter.

All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab

All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab

2010/337 pgs

Sarah Teenlibrarian Says: Veronica Mars fans, get your hands on this one! All Unquiet Things is a very engaging and entertaining mystery told from two points of view. Both characters were close to the victim which offers two points of view for how we get to know Carly. Neily was in love with her, but is also trying to overcome the hurt of their breakup. Audrey was cousins and best friends with Carly and trying to deal with the fallout of her father being charged with Audrey's murder. The mystery kept me turning pages, but it was the characters that made me really like this novel. I really grew to care about Audrey and Neily and wanted them to get the closure they needed. The story also had a nice plot twist and no "the murderer tells exactly how the murder was committed" monologue which often ruins mysteries for me, so that made me like it even more. It's a smart, character driven mystery.

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

2010/344 pgs

SarahTeenlibrarian Says: I love a good road trip novel and this one is pretty much perfect! I love Amy and Roger, their individual storylines and issues to work through as well as how their storylines connect and weave together. I loved how they ended up needing each other, and an epic detour road trip, to work through life, fears, and emotions. And of course, the romance is wonderful-I want them to stay together forever. They totally will, right?:)

Suspect by Kristin Wolden Nitz

Suspect by Kristin Wolden Nitz

2010/224 pgs

SarahTeenlibrarian Says: This one starts out with a great mystery premise-girl trying to find the truth about her long-missing mother during a murder mystery weekend hosted at her grandmother's bed and breakfast. Unfortunately, it quickly looses any of the mystery. The mystery falls flat, the story is cut too short and the characters are just never fully developed. I would have liked this one more if the mystery hadn't been so cheesy and if the book had actually had about 50 pages more to the plot.

Law of Attraction

by Allison Leotta, 279 pages

Assistant U.S. Attorney, Anne Curtis, is a relatively new prosecutor, but she's had enough experience with domestic violence cases to know that the victims have a hard time breaking out of the cycle of abuse.  When Laprea Johnson, shows up in her office the day after Valentine's Day battered and bloody, Anne vows to do her best to see Laprea's abuser behind bars.  But when Laprea lies on the witness stand, there's nothing Anne can do to stop her abusive boyfriend from walking free.  Several months later, when Laprea turns up bludgeoned to death, Anne is drawn into the prosecution for Laprea's murder.  Despite fearing a conflict of interest, Anne's boyfriend is a lawyer for the defense, Anne promises Laprea's mother that she'll make sure Laprea's killer is brought to justice.

I found this on a list of promising debut thriller authors, and I'm glad I picked it up.  I haven't read many thrillers, sadly my experience with "thrillers" prior to this is limited to episodes of Law and Order  and the occasional summer blockbuster.  Leotta's book read a bit like both of these.  The plot kept me engaged and all law and police procedure seemed to be handled with expertise.  Leotta is a domestic violence prosecutor herself, and I think that translated well to the page.  This is another one I couldn't put down.

Scandal in Scotland

by Karen Hawkins, 333 pages

Captain William Hurst must deliver a mysterious artifact to the man holding his brother captive in order to ensure his release.  Just as he is about to set sail, a woman from his past, actress Marcail Beauchamp shows up in his cabin, drugs him, and steals the artifact for herself.  Marcail needs the artifact to pay off a blackmailer who threatens to destroy her sisters' future unless she delivers it.  When the artifact is stolen by a third party, Marcail and William must work together to retrieve the box and save both their families.

This was a fun treasure hunt of a book with misunderstood motives, theft, arson, and plenty of romance.  Hawkins does a wonderful job of injecting a bit of mystery and magic to her stories for a unique flair.  Great for anyone who loves a fast-paced romance.  This is the second book in the Hurst Amulet series.

The Sins of Viscount Sutherland

by Samantha James, 373 pages

Claire Ashcroft blames Viscount Sutherland for the death of her beloved brother.  Alone with nothing left to lose, she hatches a plot for revenge.  Grayson Sutherland has been in a downward spiral since the death of his wife.  He has a reputation for wild and reckless behavior with little regard for others.  Claire refuses to let fear of his reputation hold her back as she poses as a charming "widow" in and effort to capture and break his heart.

The appeal of romance, for me, has less to do with the revolutionary plot lines (can you think of a genre more open to recycled ideas?) and more to do with likable characters.  I wasn't sure I'd like this book based on the synopsis on the back, but I got hooked into the characters pretty quickly.  Both are strong-minded and set on their own purposes, but very desperate (even if they can't acknowledge it) for something more in their lives.  I couldn't wait for these two to find their happy ending!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Arata: The Legend: Volume 6

by Yuu Watase, 190 pages

Hinohara must deal with the repercussions of Kadowaki's presence in Amawakuni, but he's still on a mission to make the other shinsho submit to him so they can present a united front against the greater enemy. Meanwhile, Arata faces the flipside of Kadowaki's swap in the form of one of the Twelve Shinsho, the deadly Harunawa.

After the drama of his earlier encounter, Hinohara's current mission in a town that lives and dies by cold, hard currency seems a little silly. Also, I'm annoyed that Arata only gets one (one!) chapter. Kadowaki clearly needs some time focused on him, wherever he is (and with the introduction of another new character, it looks like he might get some more dedicated page time in the future), but even split three ways that would give Arata more than one little high-octane chapter. *harumph* I'm still enjoying the story just fine, but the continued lack of equilibrium in the telling's perspectives disturbs my sense of artistic rightness.

Ôoku: The Inner Chambers: Volume 1

by Fumi Yoshinaga, 205 pages

After a strange smallpox-like disease leaves the male population of medieval Japan a mere quarter that of the female, a shift occurs in the culture and politics of the country's traditionally patriarchal society. By the time Mizuno Yunoshin grows into adulthood, he knows nothing but a political system led by women, including the shogun, and a culture in which children--and the limited number of males around to contribute to their existence--are highly sought and deeply cherished. Coming from a poor if respectable family, Yunoshin's marriage prospects do not include the wealthy merchant's daughter O-Nobu with whom he has been mutually in love his entire life. When his parents announce a suitable match has been found for him, he takes the opportunity to make an announcement of his own--he intends to satisfy both his filial and patriotic duties by foregoing marriage and entering the Ôoku, the Shogun's highly restricted harem of servants and concubines, in order to provide a stipend for his family whom he'll never see again and to avoid having to stick around and watch O-Nobu eventually marry someone else. He takes his leave of his loved ones and enters the secretive, sheltered, complicated, and often dangerous world of the shogun's court.

The Ôoku is lifted right from history, only the real one was populated entirely by women instead of men. Yoshinaga flips the gender roles around but without pretending that they were never otherwise. Yoshimune, the Eighth Tokugawa Shogun, takes over when her seven-year-old predecessor passes away and finds that, despite being nominally "in charge," the traditional rules of the court--from naming conventions to greeting foreign dignitaries--all seem to originate from and promote a male-centric agenda. Neither does it escape her attention that her male advisors in the Ôoku and elsewhere in court have a tendency to try to steer her back into those traditions whenever she attempts to exert her authority. This does not sit well with her in the least. I think I'm going to like her.

As Yunoshin and Yoshimune learn about their new roles, the reader learns about their complex society right along with them. In such a rigid, rule-defined environment, the tiniest of oversights can have huge, life-affecting (even life-ending) consequences. The reader finds herself tiptoeing alongside the characters, worrying over who can or cannot be trusted. The history (real and creative) and social commentary are fascinating and the characters intriguing, though visually differentiating between the many, many similarly-uniformed male characters can be a bit of a challenge. Already a fan of Yoshinaga after reading her considerably fluffier but well-regarded Antique Bakery series (just thinking about it is making me hungry for luxurious cake), I am excited to see her exploring such important themes and look forward to following the series.

Ôoku is something different. It was nominated for the Manga Taishô award in 2008, and for the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize three years in a row before winning the Grand Prize in 2009. It has also won an Excellence Prize in the 2006 Japan Media Arts Festival, a special prize in the Japanese Association of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy's 2005 Sense of Gender Awards, and other honors in Japan. YALSA listed this first English volume on its 2010 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens list and the first two English volumes also won the 2009 James Tiptree, Jr. Award "for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender."

The Mortal Instruments: Book Four: City of Fallen Angels

by Cassandra Clare, 424 pages

Clary tries to settle in as a new Shadowhunter while her friend Simon gets used to life on an altered diet, but neither are finding the adjustments as smooth as they had hoped. Clary's Shadowhunter significant other Jayce is acting weird and avoiding her, and Simon's got multiple females pulling him in multiple directions (two as date material, one as her minion, and one as his mother's once-normal son). To make matters worse, someone's trying to breed demons from the wrong source material while someone else (?) is going around killing Shadowhunters and leaving their bodies lying around, apparently to foment discord among Shadowhunters and the various Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and faeries) among whom they've all been trying to build a new peace. Dots are connected and lives are affected.

I don't mind poor communication as a conflict-generator in a plot, but it can get old quickly when it's the main excuse for drawing out the conflict and putting off the resolution. If Jayce bottles up his feelings anymore, I'm going to drop-kick him. He's not the only offender, but for whatever reason it annoys me more when he does it (perhaps because it is such a habit of his and I'd rather hoped we'd finally got that out of the way after the first three books in the series). Angsty teen whinging aside, I definitely liked this one better than its last two predecessors (which I liked ok but which made me cranky) and Simon is still far and away my favorite character in the series. I find Clare's fondness for last-page cliffhangers to be a little frustrating, but I understand the desire to link your plots across volumes and snag readers. I just wish she'd do it more gently and maybe let us relax for the months / years between releases. I'm not sure when book five will be out, but right now, I think I'm looking forward more to Clockwork Prince, the second in her Infernal Devices series, which is supposed to be out in December (yay!). Nice of her to stagger the two series so we have something with which to occupy ourselves while we wait. :)

What is Tao?

by Alan Watts
(2000 | 92 p)

I'm on the lookout for a primer on the philosophy of Taoism. This little book was my first attempt... unfortunately I think I'll have to keep looking. The content of the book is in keeping with what you'd expect from the title, but there wasn't enough substance. And even as I write that I realize that's probably a very Westernized approach to the subject of Taoism, I'll have to work on it. In any case, I found Watts to be fascinating, of course. It's just that this book was so slight as to only whet my appetite for more. This book is perfect for what it is -- a very brief overview of a very rich and complex subject. It's just not what I was looking for in this moment.

The Last Unicorn

by Peter S. Beagle, 212 pages

A majestic, immortal unicorn has not seen or heard of another of her kind for a generation of men. After an unsettling encounter with a deferential, manic, quote-spouting butterfly, she begins to fear that she is alone. Without a plan, she leaves the security of her familiar woods to venture out into the world and learn the fate of her people. Accompanied by a twopenny magician and a rough-edged camp cook she unintentionally draws into her wake, she will also learn a little of what it means to be mortal, to know fear, pain, death, regret...and love.

I love this book. I sat down to write this review and instead wasted a few hours re-reading passages and smiling to myself and coveting my own copy and not writing anything. The language is beautiful and fluid, somber and silly, and I could live in it all day. Beagle's unique, organic way with words reminds me of a less dark and distant Neil Gaiman (whose own, lovely Stardust trails wispy echoes of this older story for me) or Diana Wynne Jones (imagination-blessed author of Howl's Moving Castle). Beagle creates these wonderful, deep characters but doesn't always tell you what's under the surface, instead letting you catch glimpses of who they really are in a glance, a cut-off sentence, a silent action lost in the tumult a few seconds later. The details and characterization he successfully encourages your imagination to supply would double the slender book's length if written out on the page, but he teaches you to create that substance out of thin air and you happily comply before you even realize what you're doing.

Melancholic, yet cheerfully optimistic; bittersweet, yet snicker-inducing. Quite a few snickers, actually. And awe. I want to read more Beagle. I want to know what tangles Schmendrick and Molly get into in the future. (Isn't Schmendrick just a wonderful name for a bungling magician with his heart in the right place? And Molly Grue sounds like she's just stepped out of the taproom to clobber someone over the head with a tray. And then there's Haggard...and Amalthea...and Lír.... All the names are perfect, really.) There are talking cats and bluejays, castles and curses, witches and harpies, spells and princes, and beautiful, beautiful words. If you like fantasy at all, read this book. If you've seen the 1982 animated film adaptation and thought it was a little incongruously dark and cartoony (which I did in 4th grade--I should watch it again now as a "grown up"), read this book and let your brain replace the images with your own interpretation (as I wish I'd done years ago). I was reminded that this existed when I saw that a new graphic novel version had been published, which I'd also like to read, but thought it'd be best to read the original first. I'm so glad I did, as it has given me a new author crush and set me off on another bibliography-consuming mission.


Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money

by Dolly Freed
(1978 | 218 p)

In 1978 an 18-year-old young woman wrote Possum Living to explain and, to a certain degree to teach, about she and her father's life of voluntary simplicity. It made a few waves and then seemed to slip beneath the surface of popular opinion until 2010, when the original publication was found in an attic and subsequently republished. This how-to manual on the simple life was penned by Dolly Freed, a blunt no-nonsense sort who is difficult to ignore. I started the book half-heartedly, expecting to put it down after a few chapters. But the rationale behind the arguments posited in this book are such an amusing mix of naivety and experience I just couldn't stop reading.

Although at the time she had no more than a seventh grade education, Freed is clearly a very intelligent young woman. In her chapter on housing she lays out how to buy foreclosed property with as much precision as any real estate lawyer. She also has quite a background in how to make moonshine. At the same time, her youth and lack of experience smacks you in the face. An excellent example of this being her chapter on how to deal with law, which basically proposes that you break out windows and verbally abuse anyone who isn't playing exactly fair. (Thankfully, Freed does retract that philosophy in this newer edition of the book, stating that age and wisdom have changed her thinking in this particular regard.)

If you're interested in back-to-the-land books I'd recommend Possum Living for you. But not so much as a how-to manual (as it was intended) but for the fascinating insight into the life of a young woman in the 1970s who was doing this "back to the land thing." I'd love to have met the 18-year-old Dolly Freed, I imagine she was a force to reckoned with.

Divergent (Divergent: 1)

by Veronica Roth
(2011 | 487 p)

This young adult dystopian is based on the premise that society as we know it has collapsed and been restructured around 5 "factions." These factions each encompass an aspect of human nature, they are: Dauntless (fearless); Abnegation (selfless); Erudite (scholarly); Candor (honesty); and Amity (peaceful). Our heroine, Beatris (Tris), is born into Abnegation but is now 16 years old, the age when each person gets to choose which faction they'll belong to for the rest of their lives. Tris' aptitude test shows that she's none of these factions, she's Divergent. She's told to never reveal this fact to anyone and at the choosing ceremony Tris shocks her faction (and herself, to a degree) by choosing Dauntless.

The means of this societal collapse and the subsequent rise of the faction system is never explained, which bugged me no end. And I just couldn't buy into the premise of the story which basically assumes that humans are sheep and will be easily corralled into one personality type or another. I think some world building would have made the whole thing easier to swallow. However, with that said, I still had a fun time reading this book (once I managed to shut up my inner sci-fi nerd and just go with the flow). I always judge my YA novels on their portrayal of young women, and Veronica Roth did a nice job in that regard. Tris is a tough little cookie. The romance, angst part ("why do I feel this way when I'm around him...") had me rolling my eyes a time or two, but it wasn't a deal breaker. This book is written for angsty teens, after all. I imagine I'll be reading the rest of the series.

The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle)

by Ursula K. Le Guin
(1974 | 387 p)

The Dispossessed tells the story of a man called Shevek, a brilliant physicist and revolutionary who was born to the arid climes on the moon Anarres. His Anarres is a civilization of utopian anarchists who were displaced from their "archist" homeworld of Urras nearly 200 years ago. They have had much success as an anarchy, but the inhospitable planet that is now their home makes life a struggle. Shevek starts to notice the his brothers and sisters (everyone is a "brother" or "sister" in this anarchy) are beginning to revert to a state rule mentality. Horrified by this prospect Shevek makes an unprecedented trip to Urras in hopes of sparking a revolution and reuniting the two worlds.

This novel is one of the densest stories I've read in a while, I enjoyed it no end. Action is replaced with introspection, plot points are based on esoteric theories of physics and governmental philosophy. Le Guin really got me thinking about our cultural norms, which I think was her point. I'd definitely not recommend this book to everyone, but if you are a fan of science fiction or fantasy you should probably just buckle down and read everything Ursula K. Le Guin has ever written. She's one of the masters of both genres.