Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley

Charlie and her father are on their annual summer vacation to visit grandpa in the small town where her parents grew up .. This time neither Grandma nor Mother is with them. Mother died several years ago and this is the first vacation since grandma died. Grandpa just wants to sleep all the time and father is a shadow of his former self. Neither is very aware of Charlie.
For the first time in the many years she has been visiting, Neighbor Rose and her two friends decide to befriend Charlie. Rose's reasons aren't exactly simply to be friends but rather to use Charlie to get out of the town she feels stifled in. Dave seems to have fallen in love with Charlie which she finds very interesting but both are very awkward. There are trips to the water falls, a camping trip in which Charlie hears the others singing a song that makes fun of her. This results in Charlie dumping every one's friendship. There is a little swearing. Charlie tries to learn to drive. Dave is bitten by a snake and nearly dies. Throughout the story, which is narrated alternately by Rose and Charlie, Charlie hears music in everything and writes songs and sings mostly to herself and Rose speaks of the science in everything. Charlie is a shy one, reluctant to show others who she is, hurt before by teasing and possibly dumped by a close friend just before vacation. Gradually the group of likable sort of friends sort out who each really is and come to terms with all that has happened in this one eventful summer vacation. I think this would be great for middle schoolers who like Natasha Friend. jdw 10/27/10

Three Illinois State High School Book Awards Books aka Abraham Lincoln Books

1. Sontag. House Rules
This is a memoir of growing up in a household with a very controlling, emotionally abusive father, who worsened in time. Sontag looks at why her mother could not break free of abuse, why she sought so hard for positive recognition she could never get, how her sister, the invisible one faired. How people tried to help her. What it has all meant in time. I would recommend this to folks who have read Pelzer's A child called it and needed a more thoughtful look at abuse and its impact.

2. Corben. Hold Tight
This is an adult thriller with a couple of teen protaganists. Its difficult to summarize this story as it has a large cast of characters, all of whom are necessary to this very twisty plot. A suicide of a friend has changed Adam dramatically and caused his parents to start spying on him and restricting his movements. He reacts by running away. Which causes the parents to go searching, even as the cops claim he is a run-away who they will not search for and that one son of a cop is not involved. A school girl has been harshly, unjustifiably criticized or made fun of perhaps by an otherwise well respected teacher which leads to her being cyberbullied and her father to stalk the teacher and her mother to threaten him. There appears to be a serial killer on the loose having done one horrendous murder with another woman missing. Jill, Adam's sister is being shoved aside while her parents worry about her beloved brother. Jill is also the only remaining friend of the girl being cyberbullied. And Adam's father is a renowned organ transplant surgeon who is trying to find a kidney for a neighbor boy whose father does not know he is not the boy's biological father at the same time he is searching for his missing son. It all ties together very neatly and unexpectedly in the end. There is also a teen nightclub that may be a cover for an illegal drug operation that perhaps Adam and the boy who committed suicide may have been involved in it. Corben never loses track of any of his characters. Its one very fast roller coaster ride.

3. Giles. Right Behind You
At age nine a young boy, upset about a number of things tries to burn a friends new baseball glove in a fit of anger and winds up burning the kid to death as well. The public judges the boy to be a sociopathic murderer. However, he spent several years in a mental institution, catatonic so horrified was he by what had happened. His father never gave up on him, his doctors never gave up on him. Eventually, as a teenager he is released to try to live a normal life. How he learns to forgive himself and live again, experience happiness and love is a hard trip with many errors along the way.
jdw 10/27/10

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When the Ghost Screams by Leslie Rule

In honor of Halloween, I decided to read a series of true ghost stories with the promise that this book "will leave you with goose bumps and a strong desire to sleep with the lights on!" at least according to the back cover. Unfortunately, this book did no such thing, maybe because I'm a skeptic, but I really just think it's poor storytelling.

This book focuses on who the ghosts are, looking mostly at victims. There are stories of missing persons that are believed to haunt places, accident victims, war victims, and even those that fell prey to the witch hunts. One section discusses prisoners that have yet to move on, another looks at just odd occurrences with ghosts, and then it all ends with places you can visit or stay at that are haunted. There are a lot of stories, some which are barely even a page long. Most of the information in the book focuses on telling the back story of the ghost and how they came to their untimely end, not so much on the ghostly actions.

Unfortunately, it seems like more time is spent on their story than the actual hauntings. That seems to be one of my biggest complaints is that I don't think the collection does a good enough job convincing the reader that hauntings are going on. It almost feels like there's a big long story about the person and then "people have reported seeing a woman's ghostly form" story. The encounters feel vague and most everything is from a third person. People say this or this happens at this place but it all feels so removed or like it's hearsay. To me it didn't feel reliable. Maybe I'm just looking for proof or more specifics of what people saw - create some imagery for me! It all just feels like a story, not anything true and there aren't enough details of what goes on in terms of the hauntings to have me convinced something odd is going on. My other major complaint are the pictures. This book is filled with photographs, which would normally be a great thing, if the pictures showed anything. "This is the store that is haunted" tells me nothing! In the entire book, there is only one picture that actually shows a "ghost." It really irked me when in one story the book talked about how photographers capture great "spirit-like streaks...exiting the structure" (96) and the accompanying picture is a 1930s postcard. Where are these pictures with the spirits?!

This book proved to be a huge disappointment. I can't say that a single story scared me. There was too much of who the person was and not enough of the things that go bump in the night. The author failed to create a picture for the reader so that they could feel the presence of the ghost. Maybe I'm just a skeptic, but I would think a book like this would have me thinking things might be amiss in terms of whether ghosts are real or not. This book did nothing to make me think ghosts might be walking among us.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dust - Joan Frances Turner

Jessie died nine years ago, and was reborn a zombie. She has been apart of a zombie gang, and has led a good afterlife, well as good as any zombie can. Then one day she notices that their leader, Teresa, doesn't smell like your typical zombie. At first she dismisses it, but then the zombies notice humans who start looking and smelling like zombies. Jessie's brother, Jim, finds her in the forest, and tells her that he's part of a group of scientists who are trying to find out why some people come back as zombies. The thing is that the bacteria they released into the surrounding area is making humans turn into zombies, and zombies back into humans. As most of the human population dies before they turn into zombies, the zombies turn into humans, but with a voracious appetite. They eat anything and everything until nothing is left. Can the zombie/humans survive, or will their hunger consume them all?

I absolutely enjoyed this book. It wasn't your typical zombie threat unleashed, and the few humans remaining try to fight back and survive. Dust gave the zombies personality, feelings, and a sense of belonging somwhere. To them they were almost human, even though they were dead.

I also recommend the Generation Dead series by Daniel Waters.

T.B. 10/22/10

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Huge by Sasha Paley

I picked up this book because I started to watch the TV show based on the book. Most times people will say the book is better, but in this case, I think the TV show does a better job of life at a fat camp.

Wil has been sent to Wellness Canyon because her parents own a health club and it's embarrassing to have an overweight daughter. She, however, doesn't see this being a problem and decides to gain weight at camp instead of lose. Her roommate is April, who, on the other hand, has saved her money for years to go to this camp and wants to lose as much weight as possible. The two butt heads with their conflicting attitudes towards camp until they discover a common enemy - a boy named Colin who they both like and who then humiliated both girls. Now bent on revenge, the girls join forces, losing weight and gaining friendship.

The book was decent but I think it's very misleading. While I don't have any experience with fat camp, I feel like this book was very misleading. First off, 15 pounds in 2 weeks is not a very realistic or necessarily healthy. Also, if you're exercising, chances are you might actually gain weight because you're gaining muscle which weighs more. Everyone had amazing weight loss results and they treated it at times like they weren't even trying. Wil didn't even want to lose weight yet suddenly she's so skinny her parents can wrap their arms all the way around her and she doesn't fit into any of the skinny clothes her parents "optimistically packed." Not to mention that they all magically fit into "normal" sized clothing. Yes I know that fat camps are designed to have drastic weight loss, but it doesn't work for everyone. Wil didn't even seem to put forth a conscious effort and she had amazing results. At the same time, everyone was so casual about weight that this could easily have just been an average run of the mill camp, nothing to do with weight. There is so much emotion and struggle going on with addressing weight loss that wasn't addressed, such as eating disorders and the fact that not everyone is going to lose weight. I think this novel just showed the positive side of it and I think it did an unrealistic job at that.

At the same time, I don't think this book gives a positive outlook for overweight people. I liked Wil at the beginning of the book because she seemed to have the attitude of "I'm happy the way I am, why can't you just accept me." Yet that attitude disappeared and she seemed to have no motivation towards either side of the spectrum and was losing all this weight. Then there's April who just wanted to be accepted and popular, which only happened once she became skinny. So is this novel saying you can't be happy unless you're skinny? Not in so many words, but everyone lost weight which makes me feel like you can't be satisfied if you're not skinny.

I dislike this novel because I think it sends the wrong message. It makes it seem like fat camp is the cure-all for overweight people. Without even trying you'll lose weight and then you'll be popular - which, if that's the case, why aren't fat camps more prevalent? True there's a message about friendship but that seems to get lost as the characters don't change or learn until the last three chapters. The book is an easy read, but take it all with a grain of salt and don't expect the full experience of life in "fat camp" because much of the emotional ride is missing.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Shadow Hunt by Langrish

This is a fantasy with monasteries where an orphan boy might be sent to live, cloisters of nuns where a girl might go for "finishing", the world of elves, dark riders, white lady, and more.

Wolf ran away from the monastery where he felt he did not belong, while running he sees a possibly naked girl dash into a cave. She looked like she needed rescuing. Then the lord of a nearby estate and his hunting party ride by. Wolf breathlessly tells of the girl and Lord Godfrey agrees to go to the rescue. Wolf goes into the cave sees illusions and rescues the girl. Certain she is elf and possibly able to connect Lord Godfrey with his recently dead beloved wife, the lord takes Wolf and the girl back to his estate. The wild girl is housed in the barn with the horses and one beloved pig. Wolf is set to guard and teach her. Lord Godfrey's daughter , Nest, has met Wolf and the girl and is enchanted by them both. This is much more interesting and less scary than sewing for her up coming wedding to a man she doesn't know. Nest names the girl elfgift. Much of the story is the day to day activities of Wolf, Nest and their problems keeping track of elfgift and their failure to teach her to talk by Lord Godfrey's deadline. There is a hob who lives in the hearth at the estate and is a wise prankster. There is a festival. There is a trickster demon. The story climaxes when Lord Godfrey grabs elfgift and takes her off to the cave he hopes will be the entrance to the land of elves, the unleashing of the wild hunt and a tragic death. The story wraps up nicely, though it feels finished, it does leave just enough open so that a sequel might be possible. For those of us who enjoy the world of elves, fairies and the like this is an enjoyable story. I personally hope there is a sequel! jdw 10/10/10