Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wicked: A Pretty Little Liars novel by Sara Shepard

Pretty Little Liars could have ended with the fourth book Unbelievable, but that would be too easy. Hanna, Emily, Aria, and Spencer return in this fifth book, trying to start over and learning that their problems have only just begun. Maybe this book is a little bit more of the same, but it's still an intriguing novel that has me waiting for the next novel.

Wicked begins with Ali's killer in jail, A dead (I'm not going to give away their identities for those readers who have not caught up) and the girls trying to restart their lives. Emily is even more sexually confused when she finds herself attracted to a boy. Hanna's soon to be step-sister Kate is working to becoming her BFF. Aria's mother is trying to date again and Aria finds herself attracted to this new man. And lastly, Spencer's family seems to have disinherited her after what happened with the Golden Orchid. As the girls try to sort out their lives, Ali's killer is released into house arrest due to his/her dying mother and the minute that person steps out, A reappears. Could they be one in the same? Will the four girls ever be able to live their dramatic lives in peace? How can one person honestly know everyone's secrets? The questions remain and more pop up as the pretty little liars continue to deal with their inner demons, coming in and out of friendships, all the while learning more and more about who they truly are.

The book starts out a little rocky. The first page threw me off with the repeated mention of high end merchandise brands. That, however, faded as the novel progressed. Just like the other four novels, it started with a flashback to a scenario when Ali was alive. This memory reappeared throughout the novel. After that, is still dragged because we needed to set up where all of the characters were now that their mysteries have been solved. Once each story picked up, the story really started to get interesting, especially when A reappeared. Come the end, just like all the others, the characters' lives are in complete disarray and what we all thought isn't so. Once again you're sucked into the story wondering what will happen to Hanna, Aria, Spencer, and Emily. I really love the fact that the author gets the reader invested in every character.

While this novel at times feels like the same concept as all the others - Oh no, who's A? Why won't this person just leave me alone? - it still turned out to be an enjoyable novel. So much of it rides on the intriguing lives of these characters. A aside, I want to know where these characters are going and that bond between character and reader really keeps these novels alive. I look forward to number six and encourage teens to pick up this series. It is important, though, to read them in order. I don't think there's enough backtracking to pick up any novel and start. Plus, it's all worth the ride.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Garfield Minus Garfield by Jim Davis

Garfield has been a comic sensation for 30 years. I grew up with him thanks to my older brother and now, thanks to Dan Walsh, I have a whole new appreciation for the one supporting cast member - Jon Arbuckle. Walsh felt that he related to Jon and started to erase Garfield from the comic because when you really think about it, Jon is talking to himself because everything Garfield says is a thought bubble (I never thought about that). So Walsh erased everything that Garfield said, leaving Jon to his own devices. What's left is a amazing portrayal of a man trying to make the most of life, a man that many people can relate to and sympathize with. Before these altered comics became a book, Walsh created a website with his alterations (garfieldminusgarfield.net) and received fan mail from people with bipolar disorder who felt that they really understood what Jon was going through. When you stop to think about it, Jon is a bit bipolar. He has his crazy moments when he's manic, and he most definitely has his depressed lows. You don't even need to have an illness, though, to understand what he's going through - I saw myself reflected many times. What's nice about that connection, though, is that it allows you to stop and chuckle at yourself, that maybe life isn't as bad as you think. This book is a hilarious collection of Garfield comics minus Garfield. One nice thing about the book is that it includes the comic in its original form and the altered form. Jon is really the comedic relief to Garfield's sarcastic/cynical personality.

This book was excellent and should definitely be picked up for a quick chuckle. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and now I have a greater appreciation for the underrated character of Jon Arbuckle.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

First Time by Meg Tilly

First Time is a book from Orca Soundings, which takes deep, serious topics and writes them in a fashion that low readers can enjoy without struggling. The readability is easy, as intended, but I feel like the story isn't as developed as it should be.

Haley is starting to feel all alone. Her best friend, Lynn, now has a new boyfriend and car, which are taking precedent over her friendship. On top of that, her mother has a creepy new boyfriend, Larry. Things take a turn for the worst when Larry assaults Haley in her bedroom. Not wanting to ruin her mother's relationship and unable to talk to her best friend about it, Haley struggles to deal with the emotional damage Larry did to her.

This is an interesting story and for the most part it works in the condensed format, right up until the end. I felt like the ending didn't solve anything. The truth comes out but there's no healing. The book needed one more chapter and then I would have been perfectly happy with it. The topic of sex for the first time is dealt with without becoming a sex talk. There's an awkward condom buying scene, but that, like the language of the novel, felt genuine. The story and situations work, right up until the end. I simply felt like there needed to be more closure.

Orca Soundings is a great franchise for lower readers who want intriguing stories without the struggle of reading. That doesn't mean, though, that they need to lose out on the full depth of a story. They shouldn't be cheated out of a good ending. Just the same, this was an enjoyable book.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Dark Dude By: Oscar Hijuelos

This is a novel that makes one think about where we came from, and what are present status in life is. The main character, or player, Rico Fuentes comes from Harlem, in New York, and decides to hitch hike with his friend Jimmy to Wisconsin , where his older brother Gilberto rents a run down farm, where he has a few boarders. The farm does not produceany income. Although one boarder, grows marijuana, and makes a living.
I forgot to mention Rico has not finished High School, therefore he has a hard job to find employment . Rico is light skin, and has light hair, so it is easier for him to blend with the people of Wisconsin. One day, his older brother Gilberto comes home with a job offer for Rico pumping gas at the local gas station. He Rico says he will try it. Rico works the night shift. He has certain duties to complete during his shift. He must clean the men, and women's bathroom daily. That's besides keeping a toll of the cash, and taking care of his clients . He mostly fills up semi-trucks, and pick-up trucks.
Until one night, a car pulled up, and the man started beating up Rico for no reason, and breaking the mirror in the men's room. In fact, they threatened Rico's life, when he was thrown to the ground. Of course, the car was filled up with gas, and the men left without paying Rico.
The novel is a good read, and reminds me a lot of the book "Tom Sawyer" that I read in 9th grade. This novel is especially good for Hispanics 8th-10th grade .
LRD 12/8/08

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Blood of Flowers By Anita Amirreziani

The novel was super intriguing to me, because it dealt with many problems that arise in the Middle East, but in the specific country of Iran that used to be Persian. The beginning of the novel takes place in the rural area of Iran. This place or village have no means to acquire a good income. In fact the people who live in this rural village are considered poor. The basic way of living is creating elaborate Persian rugs for selling in the market. The rich people who are merchants ,but Shahs bargained the seller so much, that makers of gorgeous rugs after working hours on the rug made no profit. The family that depended on rugs in the village worked long hours on their tedious creation. Before the family made the trek to family in another town, the head of the household died it was the Father.
The main character of the novel was a beautiful female, who at the beginning was 14 years old in the novel. Her whole family left the Village to come to the city, where the wife/Mother had cousins where they could stay and have food an shelter. The food was not fancy, but suffice to live on.
There was a man who was rich, who lived in a mini-palace . He somehow the girl, who made the gorgeous rugs from the humble live in the village. He was attracted to her, and proposed a monthly marriage contract. This rich man had a wife, but he wanted an extra mistress, young to
boot.This novel has a lot of adventure, & this young women has to take her life into her hands. Book is good for 11 & 12 graders as they are exposed to a different culture. I loved the novel.
LRD 12/7/08

Friday, December 05, 2008

boyheaven by Kasischke

This was first reviewed by MM in September. Because it got great reviews, I wanted to read it too. Ok so here goes, MM already gave a summary of the plot so I won't. This is meant to be an urban legend. It says so in the first pages. As a scary true story told around a campfire and past on again and again, it could work. But its too thin for a full length novel. Its hard to keep in mind that this is supposed to be scary. Instead all the fleshing out makes it seem more like typical chick lit. The surprise ending is a long time coming. At least it was for me. Maybe it wouldn't be for kids who like Lite reading though and its basically a tight plot. Kasischke is a poet and I like the poetic flow of the words. I like much of the description though some of it gets a little silly. One of my favorites is "blackened drama of a burnt marshmallow". Also, I suspect most of it is done in an attempt to make the story longer. Joyce Carol Oates retells in fiction form tragedies that actually occurred such as the Chappaquiddick tragedy. So perhaps that's where her positive review came from? Or, maybe she is trying to help a struggling new author. This isn't a terrible story but its not a great one either. The legendary Dorothy Broderick, founder of VOYA magazine once cautioned reviewers not to review negatively books that may have an audience in readers looking for uncomplicated reads, perhaps that applies here. I couldn't help but remember reading Sweet Valley High when I was plodding through this. JDW 12/5

Useful Fools by Schmidt

This is an historical novel based on the political terrorism that started in Peru in 1980 and though mostly over there is still unrest and violence in Peru. The Senderista or Shining Path were revolutionaries that attacked sites where wealthy Peruvians were trying to help less fortunate residents. Rosa's father, a wealthy doctor started a clinic for poor pregnant women in an poverty stricken area of Lima. Magda a poor pregnant woman, Alonso's mother volunteered there as a nurse. Rosa and Alonso also helped out when they could though school limited what these teens could do. They fell in love there. On the day the Senderista attacked the clinic, Rosa froze under gunfire and Magda died saving her life. After, Alonso angry at his loss and punished by his father fro not being more responsible, seeks out his long time friend Rodolfo. Rodolfo has already decided to join the Senderista and takes Alonso with. Its a twisted logic that causes them to consider joining the revolutionary group that is more bent on violence and killing anyone that gets in their way, even people doing good works in impoverished areas. Readers will come to understand this. Alonso, does also and escapes even as Rosa goes looking for him at his home in the poor area of Lima and finds Alonso's younger siblings alone and terrified and Alonso's father arrested by the police because of Alonso's actions with the Senderista. This story has a happy ending which perhaps is unrealistic. In addition, somehow the true pointless horror of the violence and killing gets bogged down in the politics and dry telling. Frances Temple's telling of the violence in Haiti is much more riveting. The Senderista call wealthy people helping poor people useful fools. In the end these terrorists killed 70,000 Peruvians. Of their victims 75% were poor native people they supposedly were trying to help. The government and the wealthy except for useful fools went largely untouched. This according to the author's end note. This is a story worth telling, worth knowing about. If only it were a more lively telling. JDW 12/5

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

ruby's imagine by Kim Antieau

This is a short fats read. It is set in New Orleans at the time of the Hurricane Katrina disaster but it really isn't about Katrina. Ruby has an unusual connection with nature. She even has a special language she uses. For instance trees are rooted people. She works at a bakery,lives with her grandmother, attends school and lives a fairly good though poor and simple life. She also has memories of a life her grandmother says are not real memories. Her memories include living n the swamps, having two sisters, and a father with a white alligator good luck charm. Grandmother is one of the people who chooses to ride out the storm in her home since there have been others and nothing happened. Ruby stays with. This time is different, the house floods and they escape to the attic where the roof blows off. Grandmother in her fear tells Ruby that she has been lied to all these years, her memories are real. Grandmother had threatened to turn Ruby's drug using mother in to the authorities if Ruby wasn't given to grandmother to raise. Ruby is able to escape but not get help back to grandmother. The devastation to both land and people is vividly portrayed. When eventually Ruby is reunited with grandma, all the family secrets are revealed in a heartwarming, hopeful ending. Anyone who has ever felt close to nature as well as Ruby does will love this book. As will anyone who has lost family but gained a different one. JDW 12/3/08

Monday, December 01, 2008

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

This novel has a certain charm to it that I can't tell if it's in my head or actually present in the novel. I know that doesn't make much sense but for some reason, as I read this novel, I had an 18th century British accent speaking the words which may or may not have been influenced by the character's enthusiasm for Jane Austen. Whatever the case, it added something to the reading experience of this enjoyable novel.

Julie's best friend Ashleigh is a bit of an enthusiast where she basically becomes obsessed with one thing and won't give up, no matter how eccentric it is, until something else catches her eye. Her latest fad is Jane Austen and that includes dressing like the characters from her novels and speaking like them (i.e. the 18th Century British voice in my head). Ashleigh insists that she and Julie need to find their Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley and the only place for them to find suitable suitors would be at the all boy prep school in town, particularly at the fall formal. As luck would have it, they are successful in finding two such men, Parr and Ned. As perfect as it would sound, there being two girls and two boys, it turns out that the man Ashleigh hooks up with - Parr - just happens to be the same boy Julie has seen around town and formed a major crush on. And so ensues the constant struggle for Julie with her emotions over her feeling for Ashleigh's "boyfriend." To make matters worse, they join a musical at the boy's school where she's constantly in his presence while trying to hide her feelings and, on top of that, there's the "igsome" Seth who likes Julie despite the fact that she doesn't harbor the same feelings. Will Parr realize her true feelings for him? Will they ever be together with Ashleigh in the way? And will Seth ever get a clue that Julie just doesn't Like him?

This novel is really enjoyable, especially how it plays off of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and even incorporates some Shakespeare with sonnets and the musical based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. The situations and struggles are classic and thoroughly delightful. Ashleigh is a great character. I loved how eccentric she was and how loyal she is to both her cause and her friend. Julie, the narrator, is definitely a character that you cheer for and Parr, well, he's the guy you root for her to end up with. Everything fit together perfectly, although the accent started to drive me crazy. It was nice for Ashleigh speaking in the dialect - it made her enthusiasm authentic - but I felt as though the narrator tended to pick up some subtle undertones of the style and that maybe put it over the top. It did make it feel more attune with Jane Austen, but if I wanted to read an Austenian novel, I would have picked one up. Then again, maybe it's just the voices in my head and the whole style is what makes the novel so different.

Writing style and accents aside, I really enjoyed the story. It's a modern chic lit with the perfect hint of classic literature to make it a masterpiece - or at least a runner up.

Paper Towns - John Green

Quentin Jacobsen has lived next to Margo Roth Spiegelman since they were two years old. In high school Margo is friends with the popular kids and Quentin is friends with the kids in the band. A few weeks before graduation Margo climbs into Quentin's window and asks for his help. He agrees and drives her around while she gets revenge on her now ex-boyfriend Jason, her former best friend Lacey and Becca who was sleeping with Jason. The next day Margo doesn't show up at school, but her presence is still there. On Saturday a detective and Margo's parents are asking Quentin when he last saw Margo. Margo has disappeared before and come back, but this time its not likely she'll come back. Quentin and his friends are able to get into Margo's room to look for clues where she could have gone. There are highlighted parts in the poem "Song to Myself" by Walt Whitman, which Quentin reads over and over to find out where Margo has gone. Eventually he finds an abandoned building where Margo stayed the few days after their late night adventure. From there they find a comment on a blog and that directs Quentin, Lacey, Ben, Radar to find a fictional town in New York where she might be. They then skip graduation, and head on a road trip to New York where they hope they will find Margo.

After the first few chapters Paper Towns seemed to be a retelling of Looking for Alaska, but as the story moved on it became its own entity. The bonds of friendship resonate throughout the whole book. John Green shows us that old friendships can waver, but if they are strong enough will not break. New friendships can be formed just by a single event, and those might work out for a long while.

T.B. 12/1/08