Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NATION by Terry Pratchett

A tidal wave races through an alternative world much like the islands of the South Pacific. Entire islands are washed away. Tall Sailing Ships sank. Natives in their canoes vanish. One small island remained, all its former inhabitants save one washed away. That one was a boy returning from boys island expecting to be officially become a man. The first survivor to be washed ashore was a girl on the remains of a tall sailing ship. A white girl wearing trousers and using a language most strange and wielding something the boy later found out was a gun, was very weird and scary to Mau. And Mau was very scary to the girl. Somehow they manage to communicate with each other and get on with surviving as they must. Over the days a rag tag bunch of survivors in many small numbers in many ways begin to arrive. Their need for help and later to help others gradually help this group of peoples of many languages, cultures, indeed colors become a working community. I kept thinking how different these marooned people were from those in the book Lord of the Flies. Always they worked together for the common good (survival) always they took pleasure in helping each other and learning amazing new skills. Just think of a ghost girl (white) not yet an adult learning to make beer to honor the island's gods. And they found an amazing thing as they were trying to rebuild their lives. In the back of a cave was what appeared to be an ancient planetarium or perhaps stellar observatory. This find coupled with knowing just who would be interested preserves this new community from exploration, settlement, takeover by some powerful country. To me, the story got bogged down in mysticism sometimes. Mau who is never formerly declared a man is respected enough to be called the leader though quite young and has many trance like discussions with the island gods. On the whole this is an uplifting and sometimes funny story.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby

Historical fiction is not my thing, so I thought I'd step out of my comfort zone and try this novel, intrigued by the promise of something with a "throbbing romantic pulse." While I found the romantic pulse more faltering than throbbing, this book did intrigue me enough to actually google Catherine Howard.

Since this is history, don't yell at me for ruining the already happened and there's no creative license allowed in changing it. Catherine Howard is only 15 when she marries King Henry, a man who is 40 with multiple wives already under his belt, many of whom he sentenced to death. He is also overweight with a festering wound/ulcer on his leg, which makes him all the more less appealing to a thriving 15 year old, crown or not. Marrying the king isn't as simple as she thinks. The King wants a virgin and Catherine hasn't been a virgin since Francis Dereham and she started playing husband and wife when she was twelve. That, however, didn't stop her aunt, the Duchess, from flaunting Catherine and securing her marriage to the King under the disguise that she is, in fact, a virgin. While she struggles to perform her wifely duties, Catherine also struggles with the fact that she is in love with someone else, Thomas Culpeper (yes, he is her cousin, but times were different back then). As she waits for her coronation, Catherine knows that the only way to ensure her safety as queen will be to get pregnant. However, try as much as she and Henry can given his illness, she cannot get pregnant. In an effort to do such a thing, Catherine, the Duchess, and her trusted confidant Lady Rochford hatch a plan to use Thomas as a means to an end. While Catherine knows this is treason, she can't hide her desperation for a child and her lust for Thomas and soon an affair ensues. In the meantime, people from her past appear in her life, including Francis Dereham. Desperate to keep her shady past secret, she offers them jobs at the castle, but only so much can be done before the truth comes out and this King doesn't take too kindly to being played the fool. Before she knows what hit her, Catherine and her family and friends are being interrogated, held prisoner and some even tortured to the point that they confess the deeds done against the king, most resorting to only versions of the truth to protect their own skin while taking down the queen. No one is safe, not even the queen, something she should have learned from her beheaded cousin Anne Boleyn, Henry's 2nd wife.

My dislike for the genre obviously tainted my enjoyment of this novel. I had hopes that it would prove as passionate as the front flap led me to believe, but it didn't really come through. There's not much you can do with history without going crazy on the creative licence, but I think some of it was watered down for the young adult audiences. There were definitely scenes that I saw going further that didn't take that leap. I sympathized with Catherine and her position, torn between duty that her family placed her in and her own personal desires, but at the same time, I found her a bit whiny and I got tired of hearing about her desperation to get pregnant and her love for Thomas. I wanted her to realize that she lost her chance, but that's not how the story goes, so I had to deal. It did seem to drag, leading up to the point that she and Thomas finally come together, and even then, it wasn't as satisfying as I hoped it would be. It picked up a bit when she was found out, but that high was fleeting and the story ended. I thought the novel did a good job, though, of showing the corrupt nature of the court and how people would do anything and sacrifice anyone for the cause.

If you enjoy historical fiction, feel free to pick up this novel. If it's not your thing, well, it's up to you to give it a shot. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't as thrilling as the front flap leads you to believe.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Last Templar By Raymond Khoury

This novel was very interesting reading, because although it is fiction, it gave the reader some historical facts . The novel opens up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, N.Y. during the exhibit of the Treasures from the Vatican. All of a sudden, four masked horsemen dressed as Templar Knights appear on horses in the Museum. In the Museum as a invitee was the Archaeologist Tess Chaykin. Only 0ne masked man made it out of the Museum, & he took a valuable instrument that he thought would be valuable to himself. It was a type of instrument that could locate a treasure .
After all this big event, an FBI agent, Sam Reilly, and Tess Chaykin are in the pursuit of clues about crusading knights. They both work together, and travel many places. They do many dangerous activities that might risk their lives searching a treasure ship. They in fact scuba dive over 100 feet deep to find what they were looking for. All that ends with their determination, and perseverance . Tess and Sean find the treasure. Sean ends up in a coma in Greece. Tess has minor injuries compared to Sean.The clinic is located in Greece where there two bodies were recovered by fisherman on the beach.It seems that Sean and Tess were clutching a piece of wood, which saved their lives.
This novel is fascinating , and I recommend it to 11th & 12th graders, who like adventure,& History.
LRD 4/27/o9

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Surface Tension Tension By:Brent Runyon

This is a novel during the four summer vacations of Luke and his family Mother & Dad at the lake at their cottage. Luke's first trip to the cottage he was 13 years old , by the the way he is the main character 0f the novel. The cottage is close to a lake, so Luke is happy to be there. He explores a lot, and can skip flat stones on the surface of the lake. There cottage on the lake has their own cove. There are a couple of of other cottages close to Luke's cottage.The Richardson family are next door neighbors to Luke, and his family that Luke gets to know. The furthest cottage is is owned by a Minister, who is very odd, and unlikeable. The telephone between the cottages is a party line, which means, the phone cannot be used if another family is talking on the phone. It seems the location of the cottages where not near any stores, or even a drugstore. When you traveled to your cottage you had to plan, & bring your supplies for a couple of weeks.
This novel shows the reader how we are formed by, or shaped by both both the place, and people we love. As Luke gets older, we learn how he deals with incidents that happen to him around the cottage . After Luke turns 16 he has no interest to go anytime to the cottage.
On one occasion, Luke finds a waterfall that intrigues him. He jumps from a high cliff into a river. Luke's father gets out of storage a kayak that's fun on the lake. The problem with Luke at 16, he had a girlfriend, he was really in love with her. Luke had a cell phone that had no reception to reach her from the cottage. The girlfriend attended drama school, while Luke was at the Lake. The girlfriend ended up two timing Luke. The novel was good, & was fast reading, plus interesting were Luke's incidents at a summer cottage. This can happen to anyone of us.
LRD 4/26/09

Friday, April 24, 2009

If I Stay by gayle forman

Fans of Zevin's Elsewhere and Sebold's Lovely Bones might like this. Mia, seventeen, classical musical prodigy from a loving home of hippie rock musicians, and one of the girls fortunate enough to have a boyfriend she thinks she loves and whom seems to love her back. One day when school is called due to weather, when the weather doesn't seem so bad, the family decides to take advantage, go on a day trip from which they never return. None, save Mia survive a freakish auto accident. Mia, in a coma in a hospital, can see and hear everything being said. She can out of body travel but not through walls. And, she understands that her family is gone, she is critically injured and can choose to stay and fight back to life or to go and join her family. And, she understands the profound affect her choice will ultimately have for herself, her beloved boyfriend, her grandparents, friends, relatives. Riveting, thoughtful story.

Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith

Anyone who has ever gone wandering through the wilderness or wanted to should love this wonderful story. Horse lovers especially can find a lot to like here. First, the title gets its name from something elusive and ultimately special that comes the way of the three main characters via their relatives and horses which are no longer living. Tommy, Stotts and Gabe become close friends during one magical summer of working together on the horse farm belonging to Gabe's father, Camping under the stars, participating in an annual riding event and helping an elderly lady in getting supplies and caring for her horse herd. They rescue her herd and hoped they had rescued her from a wild fire. Things sour when the trio come upon the local bully hurting Gabe's sister Luz who Stotts love and a later encounter with him and his buddy ends in death. Still Stotts has inherited land from the elderly neighbor and has already begun to make money from the horses in the herd. The ending is bittersweet but hopeful. JDW 3/24/09

Silverfin by Charlie Higson

This is the first of the "Young Bond" series. James Bond 007, spy extraordinaire is just beginning high school at an elite prep school in England. He has recently lost his parents. His father and his father's brother Uncle Max both worked for the military and Max was a spy. Max's stories and his teaching Bond to drive are most entertaining. Bond is about to have his first adventure. James, new kid at school quickly makes enemies with the upper class bullies Hellebore, Pruitt and Sedgepole. Hellebore's father, an American Millionaire, initiates a triathlon race with trophy expecting his son to win the entire race. James is known for being a great athlete and there are hopes that he will beat the bully. While that doesn't happen, he does win the foot race and reinforce his enemy status. While on holiday from school, Bond and Hellebore find they are staying near each other in Scotland. Bond has met and helped stowaway Kelly who is going to the same area in search of his recently missing cousin. Rumors abound about the goings on at the Hellebore Castle and at its silverfin loch. Its believed Kelly's cousin met his end there. Its believed something sinister is going on behind the heavily guarded compound. Bond agrees to help Kelly investigate. Indeed there are mad scientists at work trying to create the right pill that will lead to a superhuman. Bond is captured and perhaps will become one of the experimental subjects. Beyond that it would be telling too much! The story takes place just as Adolf Hitler is rising to power. Light reading for adventure enthusiasts, readers of Horowitz and MacHale. JDW 3/24/09

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Look Both Ways - Jacquelyn Mitchard

After the events in The Midnight Twins Merry and Mallory are ready just to be regular girls in high school. When Mallory dreams of a white lion walking through the school, and sees a pair of hands putting tape on a cheerleader's shoes, she knows that danger has surfaced once again in their lives. As they figure out what Mallory's dreams mean, Mallory is invited to a pow-wow by her friend Eden. There she learns about the history of the tribe and that Eden is supposed to become the medicine woman for the tribe, even though she believes that her destiny lies elsewhere. As the weeks go by reports pop up of a white lion roaming the woods. Merry and Mallory find out that it was Kim who put tape on the head cheerleader's shoes because her mom wanted her to get onto Varsity so badly that Kim would do anything to get on the squad. Around Thanksgiving Mallory and Merry find out that their mom is pregnant, and wants to attend Medical School. At the twins birthday party on New Years Eve Eden and her brother get into a fight about her destiny and Eden wanting to be with James. As spring break approaches Eden decides to leave and go be with James, but destiny has a different fate in mind for Eden.

T.B. 4/22/09

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Spinning through the Universe by Helen Frost

This novel is a series of poems that link together since they are "written" by the fifth grade class of Room 214. The poems illustrate the lives of the multiple students. There is the initial introductions to see how some a struggling to fit in, to identify the queen bees, the students struggling in not only school but figuring out how to make it through life. In the second part of the novel, they are a little more settled and things are starting to fall into place. A few poems deal with the death of a student's father, poems about a student finally excelling in school and problems like abusive fathers and homelessness being faced.

There are a lot of students, so it is at times difficult to remember which story belongs to which student, but it's not too terrible. I think that there could have been one more section because some of the stories are really just starting. Like does the abusive father really change? Does the homeless family get a home? Will the two kids with a crush explore that relationship? The novel really could have used one more part. Another thing I noticed, or failed to notice, was that each poem in the first part was written in a different form, at least according to the author. I didn't notice that, although I didn't really read the novel in hopes of understanding the stylistic aspects of the poem; I read for the story. I didn't really feel like the poem form added anything to the novel, but it didn't exactly detract. I think that if this was more of a traditional story that the poem form might have bothered me, or detracted from the story, but since this is just snapshots of these students' lives, I think it works. You could easily see this as a poetry unit in the class and this was the end product.

This novel of poems isn't anything spectacular or mind blowing, but it's a nice and easy read. You feel for the students and almost wish it didn't end quite so soon. If you're looking for something light and quick to read, you could try this one.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Stein

This is a wonderful adult fiction book good enough for thougthful teen readers.
Enzo is a dog of above average understanding of his human companions. He is at the end of his life and hopeful of being reincarnated as a human as he narrates this tale, looking back over the years. Denny is his main human. He is a gifted race car driver, loving father and husband. His wife Eve dies a heartbreakingly from brain cancer and her parents try for three years using every trick they can come up with to gain permanent custody of their granddaughter, his daughter. For three years, using the skills of steadfastness, confidence and so on that make him a good race car driver, he perseveres. Throughout Eve's sickness, Denny's struggles and Zoe's life Enzo has been loyal, comforting, there at the right time, in the right way. Now with the court cases resolved and Denny embarking on a new career his job is done. JDW4/15

Monday, April 13, 2009

Something Rotten by Gratz

This is one of a series of teen mysteries with Horatio Wilkes as the detective. Its important to note that these mysteries have an ecological component to them. So if your teacher assigns you to read an ecological fiction book you can't go wrong here. The stories use people and place names from Shakespearean plays. Don't let that stop you from reading them. They are good mysteries with a little strong language and some violence. Horatio's friend Hamilton has just lost his father. A video tape left behind points to murder by poisoning, but how it was done is a mystery. There is also the issue of Elsinore Paper Company polluting the Copenhagen River and fudging water quality studies. Hamilton's girl friend, or former girl friend perhaps, is all over that. And someone has spies inside the Company hoping for a takeover.
Olivia's hard work, including drinking and getting very sick from the supposedly clean water, exposes the truth and we can presume water quality will improve, especially with Hamilton at the head of the company. It takes Horatio quite a while and and a couple brushes with death before he sorts out the true story of the death of Hamilton's father. Hamilton himself narrowly escapes a fiery death in a automobile explosion rigged by his father's killer. All's well that ends well and I look forward to reading more books from this series. JDW 4/13/09

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spectacular Now by Tharp

High School Senior Sutter seems to think that if he drinks enough everything will stop bothering him. He keeps a light buzz on during school and at work. He finds all the best parties every chance he gets and doesn't think twice about driving drunk. He is always the center of attention, always the best story teller, gets the best laughs. There is a little issue with his failing math grade but hey he can handle it and probably the teacher will give him a break. The boss at his part-time job has warned him about coming to work buzzed but Sutter figures no one can tell and he can handle the 7/7's he always carries with him and do the work. His girl friend leaves him for a different guy who, really isn't that in to drinking even though Sutter figures Cassidy is making a mistake and really likes him more. Sutter decides its up to him to help dateless kids get connected at parties and takes on Aimee, who is from a lousy home and is quiet and sweet. She is so taken by Sutter's interest in him that she believes they are in love. A car accident, failing math and not graduating, learning the truth about his father's leaving, losing his job, Cassidy's intervention on behalf of Aimee combined makes it look like he may straighten out, ever so briefly. This is a hard, sobering book to read. There is very little to like about Sutter. I couldn't even feel compassionate towards him. He is so relentlessly self-destructive. But, this book is on the teen best books list and is called a very accurate portrayal of a teen alcoholic. Don't expect teens heading down this path to see themselves and reform. Maybe people who care about such kids will realize the completely self-destructive trajectory and reach out to help them, maybe even successfully.
jdw 4/10

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Evermore by Alyson Noel

The trend for supernatural romance continues with this new series by Alyson Noel known as The Immortals. For the first half I prayed it wasn't another vampire novel and while I'm not going to give away whether it is or isn't, it turned out to be an enjoyable read and hopefully an interesting series.
Ever is a teenager who lost her entire family in a car accident. She would have died too, if she hadn't become distracted by the beautiful scenery on the way to the proverbial Light. Now left behind, Ever acquired two new "gifts" - the ability to see people's auras and read their minds, therefore preventing her from leading a normal life without becoming overwhelmed by everyone else. She also sees her dead sister Riley, but that's one ability she doesn't mind. Ever does anything and everything, though, to stop her other gifts from making her feel like a freak, and then she meets Damen, a new boy in school who has the ability to create silence around her. Something, though, is fishy about him and a girl named Drina who is taking Ever's friend Haven down a dangerous path. Soon the truth about Damen and Drina comes out and Ever learns that they also have a mysterious and deadly connection to her life. Will things work out for Ever or will the thought of immortality scare her away.

This novel didn't turn out how I expected but I think it worked in the novel's favor. While it is an interesting interpretation of immorality (maybe vampire, maybe not, I'm not saying) but I felt like some of the explanation was a little fuzzy. To me it really sounded like a lot of fancy language to sound important and logical but it really just left me confused. I chose just to accept the character's state as it is and I don't know if that's a good or bad thing. Immortal aspect aside, the novel is full of interesting character. Ever's friends really help define her as a character and give the story more depth. I really liked her sister Riley and how the novel handled the idea of death, the afterlife, and guilt.

A lot of this novel is setting up the characters for the next novel. There's a lot about Ever accepting and learning to deal with her gift and the aftermath of the car accident. There's also a great deal spent on the mystery of Damen and Drina, therefore leading up to whole aspect of The Immortals. Even with that necessary setup, it proved to be an enjoyable novel. It will be interesting to see what happens with the sequel now that all of the inital problems in Ever's life are solved.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Angel of Death by Alane Ferguson

Assistant to her father, the coroner, Cameryn has a gift for forensic investigation and has been deputized, a rare thing. First a dog, then a beloved teacher are found apparently burned from the inside out without any evidence to explain it. Solving the murder of Brad Oakes seems to be reliant on discovering clues about any secrets in his past and present life. Investigations point a finger at the wrong person and leave no one else as a possible. It looks as if this ugly murder may go unsolved as a random act of madness. Cameryn has a lot going on in her life. First, the new deputy sheriff is interested in her, though she is older and unsure what to think. When a popular student in her class takes an interest in her (or is it in her crime solving ability) she is flattered and begins dating him instead. Cammie and her father have lived a long time without her mother who deserted them. Now she has returned and wants to see Cammie, without the father's knowledge. And, Cammie's father has a new romance beginning with a judge in a nearby town. Cammie, her father, her friends are practicing Catholics. This is interwoven into the story and helps round out the characters somewhat. There are more problems than mystery to sort out. The story is not fast paced, but rather thoughtful. There are details left open at the end.
Ferguson has written a series of mysteries for teens and has won awards for some.
JDW 4/3/09

The Big Splash by Ferraiolo

Vinny, the most bullied kid at Franklin Middle School, takes matters into his own hands when he sets up a "hit" on his tormentor. Right in front of all the kids in a full lunch time cafeteria, the kid is splashed with a liquid making it appear that he has peed in his pants. He skulks away never to bully again. It doesn't take long before kids are asking Vinny to hit their tormentors as well. He sets up business in a corner of the lunchroom. For a small fee, Vinny will arrange for one of his henchmen to take out the offender. All is well til someone makes a hit on a former Vinny follower, without Vinny's permission. Who did this dastardly deed? Why? Enter Matt Stevens who has made a name for himself in mystery solving. He is "hired" by Vinny to get the truth behind the hit. It proves to be a twisted and surprising plot involving many characters. Its kind of a fun mystery, its kind of fun to imagine that the kids control the school they attend - COMPLETELY, but its kind of unbelievable. I mean how many middle school kids can have a locker full of water pistols and super soakers, and how on earth does one get cat pee into a balloon?
JDW 4/3/09

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fate - Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Bailey is part human, part Sidhe and is also the third fate. For the last two years at night she goes to the Nexus and weaves peoples lives with the other two fates. While she is in study hall the other two fates call her to the Nexus and tell her that her Reckoning will begin that night. Bailey tells Annabelle, Delia, and Zo what happened while they go out to eat lunch. On their way back to school they run into Morgan, who they encounted two years ago. Morgan gives them each a necklace, which can show whether something is Sidhe, human or both. The following night Bailey meets the other Sidhe, who turn out to be the Greek Gods. They tell her that on her day of Reckoning she must choose to either join the Seelie Court or the Unseelie Court. If she chooses neither the Sidhe will cross the barrier to the human world and wreak havock on the humans. To prove they aren't joking two of the Sidhe cross over and cause one of the poplular girls hair to be turned into snakes. When Bailey's day of Reckoning comes it will take her human friends as well as some of the Sidhe to help her become the person she is destined to be.

T.B 4/1/08