Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fringe Benefits By: Valerie Frankel

I picked up this book, because I thought it related a bit to my teen life many years ago, when I lived in a bathing suit after school. I was on my high school swimming team. Little did I realize that the book's main character Adora Benet had to stay in Brooklyn, New York to work for a change. Adora was a teen who went to Europe on her summer vacations, and attended exclusive camps.
This novel is a must read if you have a sister in your family. The story is funny, and also keeps you on your toes constantly. This is the summer when Dora has to learn the true meaning of a dollar.
Fortunately, for Dora the working girl, there are fringe benefits that come with a job. For instance, with Dora there were older friends who know how to party, and have fun !
One example, was Dora made friends with a Veterinarian, who was a hot number. He the Vet, Zack gave a cat called Peaches, and said the cat may die in a few days. Dora was very fond of Peaches, and her home to stay in Dora's house, and keep her company. Remember, Dora was alone while her parent's were on holiday. The cat cat died much later than Zack diagnosed. I liked the novel, and it is a good read. I recommend the novel to any teen.
LRD 1/31/09

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A father and son make their way south on a road that has been long in disrepair, through a world much changed from the world we know. It is a mostly hostile world where survival is everything. The son perhaps is eight or so and has never known a world with crows flying, fish swimming, green trees and grass, goodness. Father once knew this other world and dreams about it and shares bits of it with his son. School, books even the boy's name are not important. He and his father survive by trying to fly below the radar as we say it today, trusting no one. Brutal well armed groups of people will shoot you and perhaps cannibalize your remains and steal whatever blankets, shoes and so on you have managed to scavenge. Death is everywhere. There are still supplies to be found if you look beyond the beaten path but you may have to go days without food and you cannot trust anyone. Much of the landscape is blackened by fire, the boy's father often cautions his son not to look and indeed I wished I too did not have to look. The father once perhaps had an objective in mind when the pair started down the road but he has long lost sight of whatever it was. McCarthy writes riveting, brutal stories and this is no exception. He does leave readers with a bit of hope in the end however. JDW 1/29/09

Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

I was hoping to find the edginess that was missing from Vizzini's book ITS KIND OF A FUNNY STORY and this title does has that. Jeff wakes up confused in what he grows to understand is a psychiatric hospital. Although he is initially in denial, he has tried to commit suicide and is in for a 45 day stay to sort things out. He claims to be perfectly normal, plain, boring, doesn't need to be there. Through his experiences with other patients eventually he comes to understand that he was indeed crazy like they all were. The suicide attempt came when his relationship with a long time friend Allie came abruptly to an end at the same time it became apparent that he didn't know for sure what his sexual orientation was. His relationship with Sadie who has tried twice to kill herself and comes to find that she no longer has any fear of death is especially interesting and with Martha who doesn't speak are especially interesting and revealing. Then there is Rankin, football star, also normal who doesn't need to be there but climbed in bed with Jeff while he slept and was shipped away elsewhere. The way Jeff goes from denial to understanding to determination to resolve his issues was very well done and not hurried as I have found many endings of late. JDW 1/29/09

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Feathered - Laura Kasischke

Spring Break is supposed to be a time to have fun, cut loose, enjoy yourself. For Michelle, Anne, and Teri their Spring Break is everything else but fun. After they arrive in the Yucatan Teri goes and finds boys to hang out with, while Michelle and Anne hang out at the beach. Later that day Michelle starts talking with the bartender who happens to be going to the Mayan Ruins and offers them a ride. Anne doesn't think it's a good idea, but decides to go along anyway. The next day while Michelle and Ander explore the ruins Anne waits for them and runs into a group of boys who say that they know Teri. Anne convinces Michelle to leave with the boys, but all they wanted was to drug them and have sex with them. They leave Anne on the side of the road, and she survives the night. The next day the police and Ander start searching for Michelle. Teri and Anne head back to Illinois to finish school and graduate. It isn't until 10 months later that Michelle is found alive, but has no memory of her friends and family.

A quick read that is all to real. We have all heard about girls on Spring Break who go missing and either are found dead, are still missing, or are alive but traumatized by the experience. So be cautious of people you meet in other countries because they may want more than just to get to know you.

T.B. 1/28/09

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Afrika by Colleen Craig

This is historical fiction. During apartheid in South Africa Xhosa tribesmen(native blacks), coloreds(mixed race), Indians were treated very badly by white Afrikaners (Boers). They could be dragged from their homes, which were really just shacks) beaten, imprisoned and never seen again. They had few or no rights. When apartheid was abolished and black man Nelson Mandela was made president of South Africa, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created. Both Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu believed that by allowing whites, who committed crimes against blacks, coloreds and Indians, to tell their stories and ask for forgiveness and amnesty, then the country could be healed and move forward. Many, who had suffered under the tyranny of the Whites did not feel the same way and protested, often violently. This the setting in which the story is written. Riana is a journalist from Canada, she is white and a native of South Africa. When she was a college student she became involved in demonstrations against apartheid and fell in love with a fellow student of mixed race and became pregnant. She was in disfavor with her family and knew how hard a life her mixed race child would have under apartheid and left. Hendrik chose not to abandon his country. Thirteen years after leaving, Riana is returning to cover the Truth and Reconciliation hearings for her agency in Canada. She has brought along her nappy haired, brown eyed daughter who knows nothing of her father or events that lead to Riana's leaving. Riana who has herself experienced traumatic events under apartheid is in turns apprehensive, depressed and reluctant to see her father, brother again, visit the family farm, and face Lettie a former slave now servant. Daughter Kim is determined to find her father and learn about the past her mother has kept secret. Lettie will be going before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as will the man who murdered her son. Lettie's grandson, Themba makes friends with Kim and introduces her to life in South Africa, all that is good and bad, and tries to help her find her father and come to terms with her mother's long silence and current struggles. As reviews state this is a vivid picture of a troubled country trying to move forward after apartheid. The truth matters, what you do with that truth matters more. Read this...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Truancy by Fukui

This book was written by Fukui when he was just fifteen. He isn't much more than that now.
As a creative writing assignment in an advanced high school or a college class this gets an A +. As a novel released to the public, it has problems. Ok so it has a little more depth than a violent video game so maybe young gamers are the ones doing the five star reviews and appreciate that depth. And the writing is well done, vivid. But, it has no noble cause that I know of, no reason for the huge amount of escalating violence that is killing upwards of 40 people a day, many of them kids except apparently to smash flat the tyrannical education system in the dystopic city . On page 395 of the book we are told that Truancy leader Zyid had a noble cause which simply got out of control - huh. Zyid has some unrevealed issue with the school system which angers him to the point of establishing a terrorist group of underage teens who have been expelled from school. There is a zero tolerance policy in the school and even passing notes can get you carried out of school bound and gagged by armed enforcers. Zyid is independently wealthy and financing most of the groups needs - he's under aged and there are no adults on his horizon - huh. The group is well armed with rocket propelled grenades, flammable liquids, guns, knives and swords. Zyid and other leaders of truancy have training in sword fighting perhaps samurai? The school system is indeed in need of reform but Zyid's plan seems to leave nothing to reform and a lot of kids accustomed to a lot of violence.
The other main characters are Takan who joined to kill Zyid who bombed an enforcer car where his sister had been taken when expelled and been burned alive, Edward, a kid without conscience and with a need for self aggrandizing who forms a kid militia to go against truancy for the enforcers, Umasi who is Zyid's pacifist brother and the one who trained the others in sword fighting and Noni, a girl who has suffered terribly in the past and has an ugly scar ( could it have been caused by abuse, cancer, car accident? no idea) and I guess a love interest but that is only very lightly touched upon. Most of the book is just violent battle, killing after violent battle, killing so -um- the reviewer that said teens write like they're playing video games but this one doesn't - how so? Fukui, what did you do -take all the terrorism in the middle east, Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq and turn it into a book about endless senseless violence? But they at least have a stated noble cause no matter how flawed their methods. That is what it feels like to me and frankly I am so weary of reading about violence and killing I won't be reading or buying the next in the series not even in the hope that all the puzzling stuff will be explained - oh and where are the parents, the caring adults? Are all adults evil? Really?
JDW 1/16/09

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bliss by Lauren Myracle

This novel, with it's 1969 time period and school dance with a blood obsession made me think of Stephen King's Carrie, especially when you throw in the poor girl who has no friends and is slightly possessed in her desire for acceptance. This book, however, is not a Carrie knock-off and proved to be a thrilling page-turner.

Bliss is the new girl in school. Sent to live with her grandmother after her hippie parents flee from a commune to Canada, Bliss is forced to enter the world of private school full of cliques and prejudices and ghosts. No one else seems to notice the ghostly presence, but Bliss does and it's not a friendly ghost. After watching a girl be snubbed because of her weight, Bliss befriends Sandy and their friendship seems great. When they visits the nursing home and Bliss learns about Liliana, the "ghost" of the school, Sandy suddenly starts acting strange and possessive over Bliss. As the plot thickens, Sandy longs to join with Liliana and take over the school, but that can only happen if Bliss helps, something she does not want to do. Can Bliss prevent Liliana and Sandy from taking over? Can she protect her friends and Sarah Lynn whom Sandy has a deep grudge? Will the prejudices of society cease?

At first this book intimidated me (I'll admit that I have a minor fear of thick books) but it proved to be a quick read that captures your attention and doesn't let go until the end, where it kind of falters. I'll admit that I was disappointed in the ending. I won't say that there's a happily ever after and I won't say that things don't work out in the end. All I will say is that I felt like it was a cop out. To me it felt like the author didn't want it to end the one way, so she made it head the other, but when they reached that point, she couldn't leave it there (for fear of displeasing the readers who want the other ending), so she made something up that left me unsatisfied. It felt very rushed, almost like a summary of what happened after the big event. Everything up the big event, however, was awesome. As the climax approached I moved to the edge of my seat and probably even held my breath. The author did a good job of making you feel sorry for Sandy and then fear her. There are some stylistic things with novel, like black pages filled with quotes from the Andy Griffith Show and songs and quotes from the Charles Manson trial (a historic event that sets some of the evil, bloody backdrop). The black pages don't really add much in terms of the story, but they were interesting to read. There are also journal entries from S.L.L. whose identity is cleverly misled (big gasp when I realized the truth) and who help reveal the truth behind characters that the first person narrator wouldn't know.

This book would be perfect if it weren't for the ending. It was full of twists and suspense and had me wanting to read more. It's just disappointing that the last ten pages fell flat. Ending aside, I still think it's a book others should read for a good chill.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Handcuffs by Bethany Griffin

Have you ever been obsessed with something, whether it be a person or a desire, and then come to learn that it wasn't what you thought? This novel explores the consequences of our desires and the steps we need to take to recover.

Parker broke up with her boyfriend, but she can't get him out of her head. They broke up because he couldn't give her the love that she wanted, but maybe his desire for her and her lust for him would be enough. One day, though, things get out of hand when her parents catch her in a pair of his handcuffs in a questionable position. Now Parker's grounded indefinitely but that won't keep her and her ex from being together, not even the nasty rumors that Marion is creating about their relationship on her blog. Parker has no idea why Marion hates her so much since it was Marion's brother who stalked Parker's sister and forced her to get a restraining order, but that's just another can of worms involving obsessions and misunderstandings. If Parker didn't have enough to deal with in her love life, her home life is complicated her perfect sister's marriage falling apart, forcing her back in Parker's life while her parents are ultimately broke and losing their house. In the end, Parker is forced to face how she really feels about her ex and who she wants to be because she's tired of everyone considering her an Ice Princess.

This book does a good job of showing things aren't as simple as they may seem. Things in life are rarely black and white and neither are people. This novel forces Parker to explore the truth about the world around her. Parker is also a great character because while everyone sees her as an Ice Princess and this behavior is occasionally exhibited, the reader sees the real her (being written in first person) who is really just misunderstood and trying to protect herself from the harsh reality of life and being a middle child. One thing that struck me as interesting about this novel is the fact that Parker's ex-boyfriend does not have a name. Throughout the novel he is referred to as the ex-boyfriend or him or he but never by a name. This was obviously a artistic move and it makes me wonder why the author decided not to give him a name. I think it's because the boyfriend could be anyone and the author wants the reader to explore his influence on not only Parker's life, but the reader's because the traps the Parker falls into with her relationship are traps that many other teens face. If the character is nameless, the reader can give him a name and maybe reveal something about themselves. Or maybe I'm just putting too much emphasis on something that is really unimportant to the point of the novel.

This book was enjoyable because you connected with Parker and wanted to make her life a little easier. She, like other characters, has good intentions but things just backfire. The book is a worthwhile read for teens.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Zombie Blondes - Brian James

Hannah and her dad have moved from place to place not staying in any one place for to long. When they arrive in Maplecrest Hannah feels that something is wrong when she sees all of the for sale signs on the lawns of a lot of the houses. When she heads to school the next day she notices something really strange about the cheerleaders and the jocks. The cheerleaders are just to perfect with their skinny bodies, blue eyes, and bright blonde hair. The jocks have the same blonde hair and blue eyes too. They all are a lot stronger than they appear as Hannah sees at a football game Lukas takes her to. Lukas tries to warn her to stay away from the cheerleaders because they are zombies. He knows that the whole town is zombies, and people who know the truth don't talk about it. Eventually Hannah becomes a cheerleader and popluar. Lukas continues to warn her not to become a zombie, because she will forget her old life. It isn't until she's tied down by the zombie cheerleaders that she realizes she doesn't want to become like them. They both escape and kill the zombies, but one of them doesn't make it.

I liked the book and it did read like a zombie movie at times. I did like the fact that the zombies needed the blood of the regular people to maintain their beautiful "human" bodies. That's something that you don't see or hear about in anything zombie. Basically if your bit you turn into a zombie, or someone kills you after you have been bitten so you won't turn them into zombies.

Caught Between The Pages - Marlene Carvell

PJ Barnes always late for class, doesn't do his homework at all, and is on the soccer team. He thought that being on the soccer team would help his poplularity, but to the rest of the team he's just a loser who happened to make it on the team. He's late to soccer practice because Mrs. Jordan, his English teacher, keeps him after school to make up the work he's missed. Then one day her journal accidently is given to him with other homework papers. At first he doesn't want to read it, but then curiosity gets the best of him and he reads it. Back at school Larry and Mike, known troublemakers, as PJ to deliver a message to Brian saying that they want their money or PJ will tell the coach that Brian is on steroids. Between Mrs. Jordan accusing him of taking her journal, getting picked on by his soccer buddies, and with Larry and Mike pestering him his mom is involved in a car accident in town. While she's in the hospital PJ has a big soccer game, and the star player Brian misses it and everyone wants to know where he is. It turns out that Brian had a breakdown, and went to the hospital after he broke his hand. After a confrontation with Brian PJ decides to return Mrs. Jordan's journal and start becoming a better student.

A quick book that resonnates the adage keep your friends close and your enemies closer. PJ is in a position where he's part of a team, but when most of the team thinks your a loser then it's easier to be associated with the less poplular kids at school.

T.B. 1/7/09

Monday, January 05, 2009

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

This is a fantasy but also a story of a serial killer - think Dexter

A graceling is a person graced with a special talent of some sort. It can be as simple as superior climbing ability or as complex as those of the three main characters. The story is set in a realm of many kingdom some known for peace and justice, some for manipulation and others for pettiness. Katsa has struggled since childhood with a grace that makes her a superb killer and a tool for her King's petty revenges. She does not want to be a horrid killing machine, she wants to be seen as a good person. To this end she begins going on missions to right wrongs such as recovering a kidnapped prince and soon has a network of supporters known as the council. To this council comes Po, also graced but with a much more elusive gift. He is searching for his grandfather, the kidnapped prince. Katsa and Po find their gifts complementary to each other and soon become sparing partners and perhaps friends. Still they must puzzle out why Po's grandfather was kidnapped, what scheming is going on among what countries to what end. They begin to suspect that Leck, a one eyed king with a reputation for kindness is anything but kind and is graced with a talent that allows him to control how people see him and think of others he considers his enemies. Leck's wife is Po's aunt, his daughter Po's cousin. Horrified by reports of sliced animals, missing children and Leck's wife and daughter barricading themselves in their rooms and refusing to see anyone, to eat etc, the pair set out for Leck's kingdom to rescue Po's relatives and confirm their suspicions. They arrive in time to witness the murder of Po's aunt and barely escape with their lives. Katsa has fallen under the power of the mad king's grace, Po's grace protects him. Once her mind is clear, she and Po set out to find Po's cousin who they sense has escaped. Po's failed mission to kill the evil king leaves him injured and unable to travel to safety with Katsa and Bitterblue. I think Katsa's grace should have enabled her to attack and kill King Leck simply because her grace means she will survive at any cost. King Leck wanted to control Katsa which she would not have allowed. But, Katsa and Bitterblue leave Po behind in seclusion and make a daring escape over a never before successfully travelled mountain pass in winter. Only, they go to Po's relatives for help and safety and right into the hands of the evil King Leck. Not sure why Katsa couldn't reason that this is what would happen, the outcome is ok in any case. The relationship between Po and Katsa continues to develop and I suspect a sequel or perhaps a trilogy to explore this further. Fast paced fantasy adventure with a couple of minor weaknesses. Anyone who has ever played Dungeons & Dragons may see some similarities to the game which allows players to have magical articles that give them special "graces" and aligns folks neutral, evil, lawful and so on. Readers wanting something more complex might want to try Judith Tarr's books. JDW 1/5/09

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Road of Bones By:Anne Fine

This novel is a fiction book, but to my personal knowledge could be a true story. Many parts,
or sections of the novel go along with Historical facts. This novel takes place during political problems in Germany . The main character of the novel is Yuri. Yuri is a young boy frustrated with his personal surroundings.
Yuri is trained to be a lumber jack, trained by his father. He lives in a log cabin house with his family. Yuri is an only child who is a bright young boy. He attends school till he is 8 years old. He is an independent operator, and knows what he wants in life. Yuri is very determined as to what his goals are in life will be. Yuri plans his life ahead One night without knowledge of his parents he escapes into the woods, and starts walking. He meets up with two other men, who were older than Yuri. Yuri dropped some words that were offensive to the German Government. The Germans had a dictator called Hitler. Yuri is on the run, because he is known by the government as an enemy to the State.
Now we see Yuri taking his life on a road of despair , which is built on other people who also dared to resist.
In the novel , we encounter tragedies, & definite hardships. For example, famine, lack of hygiene, & harsh conditions confronted constantly. Yuri made it with lots of faith, & courage. The novel is great, but makes you think of the freedoms
we have in the U.S. A.
LRD 1/4/09

Curse of the Pogo Stick By: Colin Cotterill

This novel is found in the adult mystery section of our library. It is a good teaching tool to learn about another culture and traditions of Laos, and Hmong villagers. After the first 80 pages of the book I was intrigued by every page. Everything happening in the novel was interesting, and new information for me to learn. Dr. Siri Pailboun, the main character in the novel, stands out to me. He is a coroner by profession in Laos. One day, Dr. Siri is kidnapped after his Communist Party meeting. Dr. Siri, is kidnapped by women (seven Hmong), who take him to their Shaman, who is 100 years old. He Veh Ming, wanted Dr. Siri to exorcise the devil that appears to possess his daughter . The Shaman believes the daughter was possessed by an object on his altar. On the altar is a pogo stick . Dr. Siri has to pretend to be a Shaman, which he does a good job.There are a lot other incidents in the novel that I could write about, but one needs to read the book.
One special event is that Dr. Siri marries Madame Daerig. This novel is a good read, and appropriate for 11&12 grades, who enjoy learning about other countries traditions.
LD 1/4/09