Wednesday, December 26, 2012

If We Survive - Andrew Klavan

It began as a mission trip to a town in Costa Verdes, but ends in a revolution.  Pastor Ron, Nicki, Jim, Meredith, and Will were getting ready to leave after helping rebuild a wall for the school in town.  As they are waiting for Palmer, their driver, Mendoza, a mercenary, comes in and shoots the owner of the cantina dead.  Mendoza says he was an enemy of progress.  On the TV there are scenes being shown from all over the country of revolutionaries rebelling against the capitol and government.  Mendoza has orders to take all Americans prisoner for suspicion of being spies.  All of them are taken to a prison in town.  Pastor Ron is taken from them and dragged down the alley and shot to death.  The order is given to execute all of them.  Palmer had given the revolutionaries the slip to go get his van to escape.  Palmer rescues them and they head to the airstrip.  Once they get there they discover that the revolutionaries have destroyed all of the planes to prevent anyone from leaving the country. They escape into the jungle and everyone thinks they are going to die there.  They encounter an old Indian tribe that lives there.  The tribe helps them out of the jungle and they all head to the village.  Palmer, Nicki, Jim, Meredith, and Will leave the next day and get to the airfield.  Once there they are captured again by Mendoza's men.  Will they be able to escape back to America, or will their lives be cut short because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

I enjoyed this book just as much as Klavan's Homelanders series.  It had the same pace of action and adventure, and it kept you guessing about who really wanted to help Nicki, Jim, Meredith, and Will escape and get back to the United States.  I also recommend Klavan's Homelanders series.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen by Susin Nielsen

Nielsen has written several teen novels which all have received good reviews.  In this story, Henry's older brother has committed the ultimate crime and left his parents' and Henry's lives in shambles.
Since the story of the crime comes out slowly, I think that's the way the reader needs to get it so I won't reveal the details.  Suffice that Henry has been eating for comfort and gained lots of weight.  Mom is in counseling in a different city.Henry and his father moved away and tried to start new lives where no one would know them, judge them but they cannot  escape the impact on their lives.  Henry is in therapy which does not always go well.  Dad drinks and works.  There is an odd group of geeky kids at school that sort of adopt Henry when they discover he can be an asset to their "brain bowl" team.  Even when he tries to avoid them, they are there.  Gradually he really becomes friends with them.  At a regional meet he sees students from his past, that he is trying to both hide from and forget.  This threatens to ruin everything for him.  Instead, things turn out differently, not perfectly but differently.  Henry and the most annoying kid on his team get together to earn money by recycling to take Henry, Farley,  Henry's parents to a pro wrestling meet in nearby Seattle.  There is a bully who over hears the pair and ultimately beats up Farley and steals the money.  This is the point where Henry can no more run from his problems.  Dad mean time has found someone to talk with and is doing better, though Henry disapproves since she is a pretty female and Henry wants his parents together.  Henry fears this woman will cause the marriage to break up.  In fact it really just helps everyone.  Mom is the slowest to come around, after a mental breakdown and we know the least about her.  There are a lot of funny scenes in the story that help lighten the mood of this serious book on friendship, mental illness, the effects of bullying and more.  Some books I feel beaten over the head with the lessons.  Not so here.  Its an enjoyable read.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Final Journey by Gudrun Pausewang

This novel was written twenty years ago in German. A few years later it was translated to English and is a timeless tale of a young girl's journey during the Holocaust.

The novel takes place almost entirely on a train. Alice is an eleven-year-old Jew who was taken from her home with her grandfather and grandmother. Her mother and father had already left and were at a "dentist clinic." She believes that she is going to join them in the east. Forty-nine people are crammed in the cattle car with no bathroom and no seats and no idea where they are going. As they pass station after station without stopping and without being given water, the reality of their situation slowly worsens. The naive Alice soon learns the truth that her loved ones tried to protect her from and begins to connect the dots of her memories living in the basement. As the journey comes to a close, even those who seem to know it all don't really know everything.

This novel about the Holocaust only touches briefly on the horrors that Jews and others faced - but that doesn't make it any less powerful. There isn't the excessive suffering and withering away that one usually reads about - the utter hopelessness - but there is the unknown future that hangs over everyone. It captures the complete disregard for human life these victims suffered and how, despite loss, one needs to carry on and how people can come together in the face of tragedy. The ending itself, while somewhat ambiguous for someone unfamiliar with the history, is equally haunting given the characters' naivety.

While this book might not talk about all of the experiences one faced during the Holocaust, it shows the reality that not many people made it beyond that final train journey. It is filled with characters you care about and, while some may not be as developed or memorable, you worry about their fates. Overall, this is a haunting journey for both reader and character.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay

The timeless tale of Romeo and Juliet gets a new twist when we discover what happens to their souls after that fateful night in the tomb. Now one is on the quest to insure true love in others while the other is out to destroy it.

Shakespeare's tale supposedly isn't the true telling of the love between Romeo and Juliet. The details are a little sketchy, but it basically ends up that Romeo sells his soul to the "Mercenaries" in order to insure Juliet's happiness, but when she kills herself, her soul joins the "Ambassadors." Now their two souls are on a mission. The Ambassadors fight to bring soul mates together while the Mercenaries are working to tear lovers apart and destroy the Ambassadors. Juliet and Romeo are now on a mission to help/hurt two soul mates. Juliet's soul inhabits the body of Ariel and believes it's her mission to bring Ariel's friend Gemma together with her soul mate Ben. However, Juliet has fallen in love with Ben and he shares her feelings, which isn't right because he belongs with Gemma. In the meantime, Romeo is there getting in Juliet's way. Also, this mission is different than all of their other missions. They are alone, being haunted by specters which can only mean this is their last mission, which doesn't bode well for their souls. Will true love prevail or will their souls be doomed?

This is an interesting book, especially when you see the parallels with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. There's a love element and a creepy element with the specters. Some of the Mercenary and Ambassador elements were a bit confusing, but I listened to this on audio book, so it was difficult to reread. The story pulls you in because you're worried about Juliet and the threat of Romeo and the specters. Then you're wondering how she'll get Ben and Gemma together when Gemma is such an unworthy character, but you're hoping she can find a way to be with Ben because they're such a perfect pair. There's a lot going on, but it all fits together into a intriguing love story that's not overly sappy.

Overall though, it's an interesting book and ends with enough of a cliffhanger to pull readers in for the sequel - Romeo Redeemed.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tune Book 1: Vanishing Point - Derek Kirk Kim

Andy Go is in college studying art for the past three years, and with 1 year left he decides to drop out.  He thinks he doesn't need to finish and he's good enough to make it in the real world.  Two months later he's sitting at home doing nothing but watch television.  His parents finally intervene and tell him he has a week to find a job or he's kicked out of the house.  As he is resting in the park before the next interview he runs into his old friend and crush, Yumi.  They talk and she shows him her sketch book.  When Yumi forgets her sketch book Andy reads it.  He discovers that Yumi is in love with him.  He runs around town saying she loves me, getting weird looks from everyone.  He heads to his last interview.  Although they look human the two people are from a parallel Earth called Praxis.  They want living human specimans for their zoo instead of boring objects that do nothing at all.  At first Andy thinks that all of this is crazy, but after he thinks it over he signs the contract.  He then leaves Earth and goes to Praxis where the real adventure begins.

This book had me laughing just about every page.  Anyone who has gone to college knows someone like Andy.  I can't wait for volume 2 to see what happens to Andy.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Leverage (A Sports Novel) by Joshua C. Cohen

This is a very dense, not easy to read novel.  It has in it, questionable recruiting of football players, money exchanging hands, steroid use, drinking parties, brutal hazing, even more brutal bullying resulting in a suicide, child abuse and lousy foster homes. I think that's everything. 
So, Kurt once implicated in a murder but cleared is recruited to play on an already winning football team.  Money is given his foster mom and given to him to keep up the good work, keep him well fed.  the best players on the team all take d-bol to bulk up further though they really don't need to.  Money is being diverted from other athletic teams for the football field and a state of the art jumbo tron.  The gymnasts have always shared the weight training room with the football players.  This time however, the footballers take offense.  A challenge takes place which gymnasts win, which embarrasses the footballers.  The captains seek revenge by stuffing a dead squirrel in a gymnast's sports locker, gymnasts retaliate for that offense.  Problems escalate with no one talking to coaches til the captains of the football team catch two gymnasts, duct tape one up and attack the other while yet another remains unseen in the equipment room.  Kurt comes to the rescue.  He had been working out with the gymnasts, after coach gone.  The beating was kept secret, but the victims and Kurt are made ill by the events and miss several practices, the beaten kid commits suicide.  There are more attempts at revenge with more injuries until finally too many kids are at risk of being killed.  Kurt, for instance is taken hunting by his football team captains and has to dodge bullets.  Kurt, Danny the kid hiding in the equipment room and an unexpected friend find a way to end the torment, reveal the secrets not meant to be kept so that there is no doubt in the minds of the coaches that the truth has been told.
I had to stop reading this after every few pages because there was so much brutality in this book.  Hazing of the new football team members was shaving their heads bloody.  Kurt, foster child had boiling water dumped on him, was cut with a scissors and duct taped with another foster kid in a garbage can.  The other kid died.  The beating Ronnie, who committed suicide was very vividly described.  The son of a town cop was beaten by his father as was Kurt.  I want to believe that the world is not mostly brutal like this book with only slivers of good.  I hope I am right.  All these thinks undoubtedly go on, we do hear of them, just not all in the same place at the same time.  Just my say.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

I read this book because I am updating our GLBTQ bibliography and other lists have mentioned this title.  I suppose that we can assume that the Catholic Priest, who is abusing a teen, is gay. But I don't think it belongs on my above mentioned list. This is a story about child sexual abuse.  I would put it on a list with Lyga's Boy Toy.  The teen never had a chance to determine his sexuality. 

Jocelyn has always been friends with her neighbor Gabe, even when he has seemed to push her away.  The friendship has never been as close or predictable as she wanted.  She didn't understand Gabe but never gave up on him.  Occasionally, he would unexpectedly share a deeper part of himself with her like when he took her to the hideaway in the woods.  New boy Benny comes to town and Jocelyn soon become a couple, both of them smart and on the fringes of popularity.  Gabe remains elusive til he simply disappears. 

The priest is at the center of the search for Gabe.  More than once kids have told Jocelyn to ask him whats up with Gabe.  Jocelyn wants more desperately than most to find her friend.  When she does ask Father Warren about Gabe, his intrusive questioning creeps her out.  When Gabe reveals himself in his hiding place, to Jocelyn, and only to Jocelyn, she tells him he absolutely must come home, the priest may be approaching Benny now.  He must be stopped.  The story, set in the 70's rings tragically true.  Perhaps it needs to be told as a fiction story, I don't know.  JDW