Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thin Space - Jody Casella

Three months ago Marshall and Austin, identical twin brothers, were in a really bad car accident.  Marshall survived while Austin did not.  Two months ago their elderly neighbor Mrs. Hansel passed away.  Whenever Marshall and Austin helped Mrs. Hansel she would talk about thin spaces.  Thin spaces are barriers between our world and the other side.  They are created where a person first came into the world and passed on to the next.  Marshall walks around barefoot everywhere trying to find a thin space so he can see his brother one last time.  He knows there is one in Mrs. Hansel's old house, but with a new family moving in it will be hard to get in.  He befriends Maddie, the new girl, so he can get into her house.  Maddie doesn't know what to think as she's heard how strange he is from her brother Sam and his friends.  Once he gains entry he walks over to where Mrs. Hansel died.  He is disappointed to find no thin space there.  When Maddie sees him trying to find the thin space he explains to her what he trying to find.  Maddie understands what he trying to find, but is still trying to wrap her head around everything.  The next day at school Logan, Marshall's girlfriend, tells him they need to talk.  They head to a coffee shop where they talk about everything that has gone on since the accident.  On the way home they see Maddie walking barefoot trying to find thin spaces where people died.  They take her home, and he's worried about her since he's been going around barefoot for the last few months trying to find thin spaces.  The next day Kate, Austin's girlfriend, tries to talk to Marshall and he blows her off.  Brad, a jock, then comes over and starts a fight with Marshall.  Marshall receives a four day suspension for fighting.  He does a lot of thinking over the first three days.  On the fourth day he patches things up with Maddie.  She has been researching the history of thin spaces, and wants to help Marshall see his brother one last time. 

This was a very good story about the loss of one person affects everyone around them.  I really liked the whole idea behind the thin spaces.  Most of us have those people who have passed away that we would like to see one last time.  

T.B. 12/26/13

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentray Canal

This is a journey of a different kind. Yes, much of the book was about gross stuff, but it was seriously interesting. Roach truly is the funniest, best science writer I've ever had the pleasure to read. Roach has a way of taking you along this field trip asking all the questions that you know you wouldn't have the guts to ask, of the professionals who are passionate about your gastrointestinal tract.  
 We're basically an evolved digestive system. The alimentary canal is the core of the man-beast. It creates our energy & all the rest of the body is simply a way to spread the wealth & get a return investment to feed it more efficiently. She also explores the similarities & differences between our digestive system & that of herbivores a bit.
  If you've ever had a colonoscopy, constipation, heartburn, or were interested in medicine or history, this book is for you. Mary Roach did an excellent job of presenting the alimentary canal to the non-medically educated reader. As always her eye and ear for the interesting, bizarre, and absurd make wonderful reading.

RPA 12/21/2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shifter - Kim Curran

Scott is hanging out with his friends at an abandoned church.  To prove he is cool Scott decides to climb to the Pylon.  The Pylon used to supply electricity to the church and is supposedly turned off.  As Scott climbs it looks like he will make it and then his world goes black.  He is lying face up on the concrete outside the Pylon.  Aubrey is standing over him asking if he is a shifter.  He doesn't know what she's talking about.  Aubrey then takes him to a casino and explains he has the power to undo choices and create a new reality around him.  She tells Scott about the government agency in charge of the shifters called ARES.  She also tells him about the SLF, who thinks shifters should be allowed to do what they want and not be governed by rules.  When ARES shows up unannounced they head back to Aubrey's place.  As Scott falls asleep on her couch he thinks about choices he's made and wakes up on concrete.  He has shifted to a reality where his sister Katie was killed in a car accident.  He finds Aubrey in this reality and then ARES shows up looking for him.  They agree to help him undo the shift he's done as long as he agrees to join ARES.  Scott shifts again and everything goes back to the way it should be.  He explains to his parents that a special government program wants him in it.  He calls ARES and says he'll join.  He tells Aubrey he's joining ARES, and then tells his parents it is a fast track IT program.  The next day he heads to ARES headquarters to begin his training.  After the first day he is told he's one of the most powerful shifters to come through ARES.  Over the next few months his training continues.  One day on the way to the Tube he picks up a penny.  This decision leads him to be on the Tube when a bomb goes off.  He shifts to where he is on  the platform and not on the Tube when it explodes.  As Scott is recovering in the hospital the news is saying it was a suicide bomber.  ARES thinks the SLF are involved somehow.  As ARES tries to piece together what happened, Scott thinks there is more behind this than ARES is letting on. 

I enjoyed this book.  It was a fun read and reminded me of Fair Coin by E.C. Myers, which is also about different realities and choices that shape those realities.  This book is a really good story to start this series.  The second book in the series is called Control which came out in August of 2013.  There will be a third book called Delete, and the only information on the author's website says it is coming soon.  I look forward to reading the rest of the series. 


Thursday, December 05, 2013

Pluto by Urasaw Tezuka

Much in the later future, robots walk among humans. Some as military, others as civilians with jobs, even androids fitting into human society. Everyone is treated equal, or so everyone thought. A killing spread, the assassin targeting big robot figures had happen and it's up to a robot officer to figure out what and why is this occurring. With only a few clues at his disposal and "Pluto" the only thing being related to this atrocity, Gesicht will find out the things he had been suppressing all his life.

The art it's beautiful and has great story telling. A story that will make you stick to it to the very end.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Torn by Erica O'Rourke

So, this is a supernatural romance/adventure.  Its hard not to compare, just a little, to Twilight.  A twit of a girl with two love interests, but Mo turns out not to be as light weight as Bella.  I would never have made it through this book otherwise.  Mo's best friend is killed by really scary other world beings and Mo was witness.  She has vowed to avenge her friend's death even before she really knows what is going on.  Luc eventually fills her in reluctantly as she gets in the way of  supernatural activity that is spilling over into the flat world.  Flat meaning without magic.  There is a powerful ring involved and a destiny to be a vessel to stop a torrent of evil.  It had been thought that Verity would be the vessel to stop the evil torrent.  With her gone it must be stopped some other way and that turns out to involve Mo and nearly cost her her life.  She is a very determined, self sacrificing person which makes her likeable for me.  Luc is similarly likeable and they both mature considerably on the way to the final pages.  Collin, the other guy is never as strong a character as Luc and Mo.  There is room for a sequel here.There is a discussion guide at the end of this book that bring out some issues to think about.  Its a good idea to read these issues even if you don't discuss with anyone.  JDW 12/13

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

This novel creates what could best be described as a young adult version of the hit show Criminal Minds. As the first book in what will hopefully be a series, it not only sets the stage for all of the characters, but throws them into a captivating murder mystery that tests all of their talents.

Cassie has the ability to profile people - she can spend a few minutes with a person and figure out their inner workings. While she doesn't advertize her abilities, it catches the attention of people that can benefit from what she does - the FBI. Special Agent Briggs runs a special group of "agents" who are teens with special abilities like Cassie known as the "Naturals." Michael and Lia are good at reading emotions with Lia specializing in lies. Sloane knows numbers and statistics while Dean is a profiler like Cassie. Together they go through cold cases, hoping to pick up things the FBI missed. While Cassie brought into the group and learning her way, Briggs and another agent, Locke, pick up an active serial killer case. It's a tough one that has them stumped, which peaks the interest of the teens who think they can help. As Cassie looks over the current case, she is eerily reminded of her mother's murder, which she is convinced is connected to this murderer. The killer then starts targeting Cassie. Can she help solve this mystery or will she become the killer's next victim?

Since this is what I assume to be the beginning of a series, a good portion of the book sets up the backgrounds of the characters and gets Cassie acquainted with the program. In no way does this slow the story down because everyone is interesting. Of course there is also the love triangle between Cassie, Michael, and Dean - all of whom have complicated histories that make them complex characters. In terms of the mystery, it is intriguing how the characters get into the mind of the UNSUB to figure out who did it. A nice twist at the end heightens the drama, creating a captivating story. This book, though, is as much about the characters as it is the mystery. It's a quick read that pulls you in and makes you not want to put it down.

This is an enjoyable book that is very character driven, but still a great mystery. I look forward to the next case.

Counting By 7's by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Characters are Willow, genius with a very positive attitude, Dell inept school counselor, Mai and Quang-Ha real friends of Willow though older, their mother Pattie, Jairo the Mexicano Taxi driver, Saduh and Cheddar the Cat. Setting is somewhere in southern California.  Willow is a misfit in school, she is way to smart and serious for the average middle schooler. But, she has her garden which is spectacular, understanding parents, a lot of determination. When she takes a standardized test and gets a perfect score she ends up in counseling for cheating. Dell is largely inept as a counselor but he recognizes genius when he sees it and winds up a friend of sorts for Willow. Quang-Ha is also being unsuccessfully counseled by Dell. Willow and Quang-Ha and Mai his sister aren't supposed to meet but they do. Willow recognizes a fellow genius and quickly makes friends of Mai, her first friend actually. Quang-Ha finds a way to use Willow's genius to his advantage and slowly becomes less of a trouble maker. Tragically both Willow's parents are killed in a car accident. Family services wants to place Willow in a locked residency for troubled teens till a permanent placement (adoption) can be found. Willow knows she cannot survive this. She calls on Mai to help keep her out of there. Mai enlists her mom Pattie. This family's living situation is unusual to say the least, not something family services would approve of. So, with the help of Dell and Jairo an acceptable living environment is created using Dell's apartment and sending him to live with Saduh. They do succeed in getting temporary placement of Willow and eventually even better. There are a lot of near disasters along the way but this odd group of people become true family and everyone is thriving in the end, at least for now... I was happy to see some good capable adults (Pattie, Jairo) in this story, even though Dell is a bit of a stereotypical adult in teen novel. I have a hard time thinking of a teen or tween who would be attracted to this quirky story. Maybe readers of Holes or Hoot or Walk Two Moons would enjoy this. Certainly it will take a reader who understands and appreciates intelligence. By the way, counting by 7's isn't some freaky obsession, its just something Willow happens to enjoy! And when she cannot enjoy this the reader knows how deeply sad she is. This story is worth reading. JDW 12/4/13

Monday, November 18, 2013

All Our Yesterdays - Cristin Terrill

Em and Finn are being held captive in a military facility run by their former friend James.   Em uses a spoon to dig around the drain in her cell.  She finds a piece of paper written in her handwriting telling her "you have to kill him".  One night Connor, a guard at the facility, helps Em and Finn escape.  They head to the control room for Cassandra, the time travel machine built by James.  Em and Finn travel back four years to January 4th.  Marina, Em's past self, has been waiting for James and his brother Congressman Nate to get back from Connecticut.  After they are back home Nate asks Marina to keep an eye on James.  He asks her to look out for anything out of the ordinary.  Marina agrees but doesn't understand why.  Not to far away Em and Finn appear where the military facility will be.  They convince a younger version of Connor, the guard who helped them escape in the future, they aren't crazy and the future needs to be changed. Connor helps get Em and Finn to where the banquet Nate is speaking at is taking place.  When they get ready to find and kill James shots ring out as Nate has been shot.  Nate is taken to the hospital and James rides with him.  Finn and Marina head to the hospital to be with James.  When James wants to be alone he heads outside and Em attempts to kill him.  Everyone regroups as Finn, James, and Marina head to Finn's house since James and Marina's are swarmed with reporters.  Em and Finn follow them and Em has a another chance to take out James, but she can't do it.  Finn, James, and Marina head back to the hospital the next morning where Nate briefly regains consciousness.  He uses sign language to tell Marina they should head to Connecticut to find answers about why he was shot.  In Connecticut they find evidence of the government experimenting in time travel.  They also find evidence the government is also interested in James.  As they leave the house James gets the news that Nate has died.  Em and Finn decide that even though James is at his weakest now, this is the best time to kill him.  They are hopeful with the death of James the horrible future they come from will be prevented. 

I really enjoyed this book.  It was a good time travel book that didn't confuse you when the future Em and Finn came back to the past to try and kill James.  The ending played out differently in my mind, but I liked the way the story ended.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Reality Boy by A.S. King

If ever a pair of teens deserved do overs, the stars of this book do.  Gerald and Hannah have both had very punishing lives, in some ways abusive.  They are almost finished with high school, the hold jobs at a sports stadium concession stand.   They dream of escaping their lives and starting fresh.  Gerald's family is famously dysfunctional having been subject of a reality show that supposedly aimed to fix their problems.  In fact it helped nothing.  It did give Gerald a crude nickname and a bad history that makes it impossible for him to attend regular classes.  Hannah's family has its own problems, they just aren't public.  The pair are attracted to each other but jittery about dating because of their backgrounds.  When eventually they do connect, they talk about running away.  So, when things fall apart at Gerald's when his psycho older sister throws an out of control party, they run.  This is just the start of their coming to terms with their childhoods and teen years but this is where it ends.  Truly, I want more!  It was tough to get into but once I was hooked, I raced through this title.  Highly recommended.  JDW 11/15/13

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Until It Hurts to Stop

Maybe you were teased, made fun of, bullied in grade school or middle school and maybe your tormentor changed schools.  Maybe you had begun to believe all that was over, that you could have friends, talents, succeed.  Then that person reappears and you are on red alert sensing that the worst could start all over again, thinking, feeling you could lose everything you have.  So you start acting towards and thinking about everything that is going on as if it means something different than it does and you really do almost lose the most important people and stuff in your life.  That's exactly what happens to Maggie.  It takes her a while to see that it isn't all about her and that all is not lost and that her one time tormentors have issues too, aren't so perfect.  Twice I had nemeses while in elementary and middle schools.  Twice they kept popping up other places when I least expected it.  Twice, I got to see these people for the flawed pathetic people they really were.  Having gone through some of what Maggie experienced, I really appreciated this book about trying to move on and being too insecure to do it.  Others may see themselves here too.  Its quite a good read.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Infects - Sean Beaudoin

Nick works for Rebozzo AviraCulture, a chicken factory that supplies Fresh Bukket.  When he comes into work one night the boss wants a talk with him.  Nick thinks he is getting fired, but it turns out he is getting offered a promotion.  He is to be the head butcher of the Blue Room, which processes a new breed of chicken they have been testing.  The work days begin to take their toll on Nick, and one day he cuts himself with a knife.  Nick isn't able to stop the conveyor belt before he passes out.  The chickens plop off the conveyor belts covered in his blood.  When Nick comes to he is fired and then arrested.  At his trial he is charged with gross negligence, vandalism, destruction of fifty thousand dollars of poultry, and possible collusion with animal rights activists.  Since Nick can't pay the fifty thousand dollars, he's sentenced to three months in juvie camp.  Everyone heading to the juvie camp is given a new name and Nick's is Nero.  On their way to the camp they come in contact with a group of girls going to the same juvie camp.  Nero is shocked to see Petal, who used to work with him, among the girls.  He thinks it is his fault for her being there.  As they arrive at the trail they are to walk to the camp the boys go one way and the girls go another.  They camp for the night and most everyone chows down on Fresh Bukket food.  In the middle of the night Nero wakes up and sees one of the counselors eating another counselor.  Nero, War Pig, and Yeltsin make a run for it and encounter a few others who haven't turned to zombies.  They head for the girls camp, and when they get there no one is in sight.  They find two kids in a port-a-potty who are zombies.  They attack one of the counselors and turn him into a zombie.  With a hoard closing in on them they find refuge in a lodge where one of the girls, Joanjet, is in charge.  As they get settled, or as settled as your going to be with a group of zombies wanting to eat your flesh, Joanjet reveals that she has taken prisoners.  They are hunters who already turned into zombies.  When one of the other survivors says that they aren't zombies, the chicken they ate was poisoned, everything starts to make sense.  Everyone who has eaten the chicken from Fresh Bukket has turned into zombies.  After the connection between the chicken and the zombies Joanjet says she has one more thing to show them.  The third person who she's captured is Petal, and she is infected. 

I liked the book.  It was a different take on the zombie apocalypse by having the chicken infected with the zombie virus. In most of the zombie books I have read it is a virus that causes the zombie apocalypse, not chicken. I really liked the ending.  I'm not going to spoil anything, but it gave the feeling that maybe the zombie apocalypse isn't as bad as all the other stories make it out to be. 


Friday, October 25, 2013

Tiger & Bunny by Masafumi Nishida

Super powered humans had appeared in the world, and they had been walking among us for 45 years. Some of them fight crime while promoting their sponsors on the hit tv show HERO TV.

They are called NEXT. Thanks to HERO TV, people love NEXT, even though they are far from understanding them. However not all NEXT use their powers for good.

But this story revolves around a veteran hero Wild Tiger. His years of experience doesn't help his ratings and they are not to pick up any time soon. Ordered by his employer, he has to try and work along a rookie named Barnaby Brooks Jr.  with a big attitude. Being the water to his oil, Wild Tiger will have to overcome his differences with Barnaby, if they want to take down the bad guys.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Diamond Willow features a 12-year old girl in inner Alaska. The overriding theme is her relationship with her family, friends, and particularly with one of her family's sled dogs. Willow doesn't feel very special, her best friend likes a boy better than she likes Willow and her dad seems to love his sled dogs more than her.  Tragedy strikes along the way and Roxy's ,her favorite dog, eyes are harmed. As she tries to do what is best for Roxy, Willow finds herself on a path that leads directly into a snow storm. 

Diamond Willow is written in a short writing style, the majority of the pages contain diamond-shaped text. Within each diamond-shaped page is a "hidden" message in bold print. This may seem gimmicky, but in my opinion I feel that this  works because Frost is such a great writer who has so much respect for her audience, her audience include 10-14 year olds. Is a beautiful story,  the story itself has a deep plot and beautifully written.

RPA 10/24/2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

What starts off as a typical teen romance, surprises the reader with its depth and moral issues.

Samantha Reed lives a charmed life as the daughter of a Senator, but the life next door seems far more appealing. The Garretts are chaotic and messy, while her life is full of order and perfection. When Jase Garrett crosses the border between their homes, Samantha becomes a part of his world and his family. As she adjusts to this new love and new life, her mother is planning her next campaign, with the help of a man named Clay who has as much interest in Gracie Reed as he does her campaign. Samantha feels as if she's losing her mother to this man's influence, but that's not the only thing she's losing over the summer as friendships get questioned. Then her life gets completely turned upside down after a horrible accident affects not only her family, but also the Garretts. Samantha is then faced with a tough decision where, no matter what she decides, someone is going to get hurt.

This book starts off as a simple romance. Samantha meets Jase and at first he's new and tempting, especially because her mother has always disapproved of the Garrett's lifestyle. Then the novel throws in the situation with her mother and Clay and how Samantha can see the man corrupting her, but Gracie is oblivious to everything. On top of that is the character Tim, the brother of Samantha's best friend, who is basically throwing his life away with drugs and bad decisions. While Samantha is finding real love, her best friend Nan is dealing with long-time relationship that doesn't seem to make any sense anymore. Then tragedy strikes and everything is complicated further. It seems like so much is going on, but it all works flawlessly together. You fall in love with all of the characters - even Tim who is an unlikeable character at the beginning becomes a champion at the end. You want to see things work out but you realize that Samantha is in an impossible situation. This book is about sacrifices and second chances and doing what is right despite the consequences.

I've read plenty of "fluff and stuff" romances that are nice for that warm, happily-ever-after feeling. This book isn't like that. Not to say that it doesn't have some form of a happily-ever-after, it challenges the reader and has a depth to it you don't see in many teen romances. It is definitely worth the read.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Etched in Sand
by Regina Calcaterra

This is the true story of the life of Regina Calcaterra and her four siblings.  It's a story that details the horrific abuse and torture that all five children endured their whole childhood by their mother.  Each child had a different father, and there was no contact with any of them. Their mother, Cookie, would abuse and torture the children because she hated their fathers.  Cookie was mentally ill, an alcoholic, and drug addict.  It's also the story of how the welfare and foster care systems failed to provide  and protect the children from their mother.

This is also the story of  Regina's determination to keep her siblings together. She did her best to try and provide the basic needs for her sisters and brother at any cost.  She always insisted that they all attend school as she believed that was the only way they would be able to have a better life for themselves as adults.  Along with the love that they had for one another and their survival instincts they were able to survive and achieve their goals.

Regina's sisters and brother eventually married and have families of their own and are doing well.  Regina put herself through law school and is a lawyer in New York and lives on Long Island.  She also ran for a Senate seat in 2010. She is a board member to You Gotta Believe, an organization that works towards finding older foster children forever homes, just to name a few of her many accomplishments.

I didn't know if I could finish this book it was hard to read the unspeakable things that the Calcaterra children had to endure.  It was heartbreaking when the children were returned to their mother time and time again. I kept going because no matter how many times Regina's mother beat her down, Regina never lost hope that she and her siblings would someday have a better life. 


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

In Quill people are sorted in three different groups. The Wanted are those who are strong and intelligent. The Necessary are those who are needed for farming and other tasks. And then there are the Unwanted, the creative ones. Many people in Quill did not want to be labeled as Unwanted, for the Unwanteds are put to death, or so everyone thought.  Marcus Today (or the Death Farmer as Quill knows him), has a little secret. He is sent the Unwanteds to eliminate, but he saves them instead and brings them to a place called Artimé.  Artimé is a place of creative, magic, and wonder. Quill is a gray dim place, with a ruler who will fight to keep it that way. Each year during the Purge, the thirteen-year-olds are sorted, among this year are twin brothers Alex and Aaron Stowe. When they are separated, Alex is deemed Unwanted and Aaron is deemed Wanted, times in both Quill and Artimé are in for a change. KS10/13

Friday, September 27, 2013

In The After - Demitria Lunetta

One day They come.  All it takes is one night and most of humanity is wiped out.  Amy has come to acknowledge the fact that her parents are gone.  She has survived mainly because her mom, who worked for the government, had an electrical fence put around the house.  This has kept Them at bay.  They have good hearing and any sound brings them running.  Amy walks around barefoot or with socks as not to make any noise.  She has gotten food by raiding houses around her and making trips down the block to the convenience store.  On one of these trips she comes across a toddler left behind in the store.  Amy takes her back home and calls her Baby.  For three years it is just Amy and Baby.  Amy teaches Baby sign language and this is how they communicate to not make any noise.  Amy also teaches Baby how to be quiet when they go looking for food.  On a trip to gather food and clothing they come across Amber, who has been left behind by her brother and his gang.  Amber comes home with Amy and Baby.  Amber stays with them and Amy teaches her how she and Baby communicate and to be quite so They don't come.  On one of their trips to a neighbors house to get clothes Amber finds a Prada bag in a closet.  She squeals and that brings Them to the house.  They think they are done for when a black helicopter comes and captures one of Them.  Amy, Baby, and Amber are able to escape and make it back home.  Amy tells Baby that Amber has to go, but Baby doesn't want her to.  The next morning Amber is gone.  Shortly after Amber leaves a group of men come looking at the electrical fence outside the house.  When Amy suspects they are connected to Amber she tells Baby to get things ready in case they have to go.  When the fence goes down Amber and Baby run away.  They make it to a nearby lake and as they are bathing the black helicopter comes and takes them away.  They are taken to a government facility, which used to be a college.  It is run by Amy's mom, who she thought was dead.  Amy finds it a bit hard to live with other people when it's just been her and Baby for the last three years.  She starts poking around and finds out the truth behind the They.  She is put in The Ward and is given drugs to make her forget what she knows. 

I really liked this book.  It is a good story about doing what you need to do to survive, especially when the enemy can hear really well.  I liked how Amy was resistant and kept on trying to get information about what goes on in the building.  She knew something wasn't right and her mom was hiding things from her.  I liked the way the book ended.  Even though most of the human race was killed, what remains of humanity still fights and lives on. 

T.B. 9/27/13

Monday, September 23, 2013

Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler

This novel explores what it means to redefine yourself after a tragedy changes your course. Certain subject matters makes this book better suited for mature teens.

In high school, the name Chelsea Keyes was synonymous with basketball. Her whole like was planned around the sport, until a slip on some spilled soda shattered her hip, thereby ending her basketball career. With her whole sense of self now put into question, Chelsea and her family head out to a lake resort where Chelsea is signed up for a "boot camp" program to get back to the person she once was (with or without basketball). The person running this camp, Clint, has his own demons that have prevented him from pursuing his own favorite sport. The two form an instant connection and spend most of their three weeks together discovering each other as well as re-embracing their past passions. Things get a little complicated, however, when Chelsea's current boyfriend is considered in this equation.

This book is a good romance, although somewhat questionable when you consider the fact that Chelsea is basically cheating on her boyfriend. However, it does factor into the whole "self-discovery" aspect of this novel considering how different Clint is from her boyfriend Gabe. The novel does explore the loss of Chelsea's virginity - at times in some mature detail. For someone wanting a meatier romance, though, I think this book is a good fit.

This novel is more than just falling in love. It is a great story about getting back up and recreating yourself when life throws you a curveball. It's about not letting life's hardships prevent you from living life to the fullest, or - as the book says "Never live timidly."

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown - Holly Black

Tana wakes up in a bathtub after a night of partying only to find almost everyone massacred in the house.  Besides her the only other people "alive" are her ex-boyfriend Aidan, who is tied to a bed and infected, along with a vampire named Gavriel in chains next to the bed.  As they escape the house with a group of vampires after them, Tana is bitten on her leg.  She fears that she's infected and will turn into a vampire.  They stop at a gas station an hour away from the party massacre to decide what they want to do.  The best thing for everyone is to head to the Coldtown in Springfield, Massachusetts.  The Coldtowns were set up to contain the vampires and people who are infected and may or may not turn into vampires.  At a rest stop outside of Coldtown they encounter Midnight and Winter, a brother and sister who want to become vampires.  Midnight and Winter run a blog about vampires.  Midnight wants to interview Aidan since they've never encountered someone going through the transition into a vampire.  When he attacks her during the interview Tana decides it is time to get going to Coldtown.  As they approach the checkpoint before Coldtown, Gavriel is put into chains to make it look like he is their captive.  Tana fills out the paperwork to get the bounty and a marker for herself so she can leave Coldtown.  All of them enter Coldtown and are put into cages.  They escape and head to a house where Midnight has a contact.  His contact locks Aidan and Tana in a room together where Aidan's hunger for blood is to much for him to control.  He attacks Tana and she escapes.  She encounters Jameson who tells her who Gavriel really is and his connection to Lucien, the most famous vampire in the Springfield Coldtown.  Tana begins to question if bringing Gavriel back to Coldtown was the right thing to do. 

After not reading a vampire book for a while this was the perfect one for me to pick up and read.   It was a well told story with the right mix of a dangerous and serious situation Tana is in, along with some comic relief.  I like the way it ended too.  It was left open for a possibility of a sequel, and for the reader to imagine what might happen.  The book had the feel of episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which made the book even more enjoyable for me to read. 

T.B. 9/23/13

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

This book is a memoir of a young boy's journey during the Holocaust and how Oskar Schindler helped save his life.
Leon grew up with his family in Poland and had a typical life filled with everyday struggles. Although he was Jewish, he got along with non-Jews and went about his business not causing any problems. When the Germans started to take over Europe, they figured everything would quickly come to a close, just like the last time Germany came to town. This time, however, was different. Pretty soon families were forced to board trains and leave town. Leon and his family escaped this fate initially because they had work permits. Then the entire town was forced to move into a ghetto, made to share cramped living quarters and struggle to find food to survive. Before long, Leon's family started to separate - first one brother was sent on a train, then another brother, his father and sister had to leave for a labor camp while Leon and his mother went to another ghetto. The next stop became a labor camp where Leon found himself alone and struggling to survive, until he finds a way to contact his father who is working for the infamous Oskar Schindler. Although Schindler finds a way to reunite Leon's family, the fear they live in doesn't cease until the end of the war when they can finally start over, although knowing that life will never be the same again.
While this story is captivating and enjoyable (or as enjoyable as a Holocaust memoir can be), this book feels focused on its target audience of young readers. It has a great voice where you can hear the young Leon telling his story. As an adult reading this book, however, it felt as if something is missing. In no way am I trying to lessen what Leon went through because the reader definitely sees his struggle and sympathizes with his plight for survival, but his story is only 206 pages (small pages, a lot of spacing). At times I felt as if he was telling rather than showing. Maybe this comes from the fact that this memoir is based on the speeches he gives about his experiences, where he has a limited time and can't give every detail. Even though I personally wanted more, it was a gripping memoir that peeked my interest in Oskar Schindler and other tales of survival.

No Holocaust story is going to be easy to tell - especially when it is one you personally lived through. With so many books out there telling all of the horrific details, you almost expect that when you pick up a Holocaust book, which threatens to desensitize you to the emotional pain one experiences. Leon's story isn't as heavy on the details as you might expect, but that fits with the audience and doesn't do much to lessen the horrors he experienced. This book gives a great view of the Holocaust from the eyes of a boy who was barely even ten when the world around him began to change and nineteen when he had a chance to start anew. For young readers wanting to know about someone's experience in the Holocaust, this is a worth the read.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

The setting for this book is France and the British Isles during World War II.  The author is clear in the afterward that this is not based on a true story but that it could have happened.  There were women flyers, there were women spies.  SOE, ATA and other military organizations did exist.  A military spy plane crashed on arrival in Nazi occupied France.  Shortly thereafter pilot Maddie finds herself part of the resistance movement in France even carrying out the secret mission set for her friend who has been captured by the Nazi's.  Julie (code name Verity)  has bargained with the Nazi's.  She will give them information for her life.  It stops most of the torture.  Julie writes almost daily, almost all day long weaving tales with hidden meanings, the Nazi's don't understand and with information they surely already have or is slightly off.  Most of the story is Julie's in capture and all that she endured and her knowledge that she was sentenced to die and did not want to.  Then it switches to Maddie.  By this time the resistance has tried several times to get her out of France and now another friend is here as well.  They believe they know the Nazi's have Julie and where.  This is more than half way through the book and by then I fear many readers will  have lost interest.  But things are absolutely heart rending, riveting from here to the tragedy filled ending.  It is here one realizes how close a friendship Maddie and Julie had by the sacrifice Maddie makes.  It is here that attempts at rescue prove only partially successful.  It is here that Julie's original mission is successfully carried out.  This story got a lot of praise and I could not figure out why till I got very far in.  Give it a chance, stick with it till the end.  Its worth the wait.  Its not the first time I've had to wait for the pay off.  JDW 9/16/13

Monday, September 09, 2013

Letters To Nowhere
An Adoption Story
By:  Anthony Wallace

This is the story of Anthony Wallace who was given up for adoption. Jean his birth mother wanted to keep him, but it was 1965 and girls did not have babies out of wedlock.  Her family sent her away to have the baby and give it up for adoption. When she returned back home she was told never to tell anyone about her pregnancy and that it would be best if she never thought about what she had done.  As much as she tried she was unable to forget about her baby who she named Anthony.  She felt the need to honor his birth, so every year on his birthday she would send a birthday card addressed  to Anthony and mail it. It didn't matter that the cards just sat in the " dead mail" bin at the post office.

The family that adopted Anthony told him that he had been adopted but there was never to be any discussion about his birth mother. Anthony secretly thought about his birth mother often and especially on his birthday each year.  Anthony had a brother who was also adopted. The Grady's tried to provide a loving family environment  for Anthony and his brother.  James Grady traveled a great deal for his job and the boys were raised mostly by their mother Anne.  When their dad returned from  his long trips the boys were told not to bother their father that he needed time alone to unwind, so the boys would avoid him as much as they could.  As the boys got older their relationship with their father became verbally and sometimes physically abusive.  Their mother always sided with their father to keep him happy even though she knew it wasn't fair for the boys. Both boys eventually  moved out and had little contact with their parents.

Anthony met the love of his life and eventually his wife while he was in college, Jane came from a close loving family that Anthony couldn't get enough of.  The two were married and Jane  always encouraged Anthony to keep in contact with his adoptive parents. When he tried, their conversations always ended  badly.   When Anthony and Jane decided that they would to try to have children Jane encouraged Anthony to contact the adoption agency that handled his adoption to try to get any medical information that they may have on his biological parents before they started their family.  This lead to Anthony finding out that his birth mother had tried to find him, and since Anthony expressed his desire to contact her, the adoption agency was able to provide him with his birth mothers phone number. Anthony called Jean and was invited to her house for dinner.  From the moment Anthony met his birth mother, two half brothers and sister he felt as if had found a missing piece of himself that he hadn't realized he had been searching for. Anthony and Jane were welcomed into Jean's family and Anthony keeps in touch with his new found brothers on a daily basis. 

Anthony still contacts his adoptive parents as he feels grateful that they tried to provide for him and his brother the best way they knew how.  He has never told them that he has found his birth mother.       

This is an inspirational book encouraging anyone who is looking for their birth parents, or birth parents looking for a child they placed for adoption never to give up as "you never know what life has in store for you."


Sunday, September 08, 2013

Insomnia by J.R. Johansson

This novel is a little reminiscent of Wake by Lisa McMann with the idea of stepping inside people's dreams, but it definitely has its own twist on the concept. Insomnia is the first book in a new series.

Parker has not had a restful night's sleep in the past four years. Every time he goes to sleep, he slips into the dreams of the last person he made eye contact with. Watching other people's dreams, however, does not allow his brain to get the rest he needs in order to survive. Parker realizes he's living on borrowed time. That is, of course, until he meets Mia. When he steps into her dreams, they are so peaceful that he's able to sleep and form his own dreams. Before long, he becomes obsessed with seeing Mia's dreams. Things take a turn when his obsession makes him a stalker and Mia starts getting threatening emails that she believes are from him. When her dreams start turning into nightmares and Parker can't account for what he's doing in his sleep, something needs to change in order to save Mia and possibly himself.

I wouldn't necessarily say this book is filled with terror or an over abundance of spookiness (like the comments lead you to believe), but it is an entertaining story. Something is clearly going on and you don't know how much you can trust Parker - the narrator. You definitely sympathize for him. What's going on is out of his control and he really wants to do the right thing. You care for him and want to see him survive. The novel ends with the start of a secret being revealed to hook a reader into the next book.

The whole idea of Parker and his abilities is intriguing, but I wonder how far the story can go before it gets a bit redundant. McMann took this concept and made only a trilogy. It will be interesting to see how this series develops.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Three Books in which No Dogs Die

SEARCH AND RESCUE by Colleen Coble is a gentle read in which a young teen almost loses a chance at getting her own puppy to train for search and rescue missions in the woods near Lake Superior.  This happens when she is accused unjustly of stealing a valuable necklace from a booth at an art show.  Emily has long been helping her mother and the search and rescue leader with their missions.  She has also been creating her own jewelry from fused glass to sell.  The accusations and the thought of missing out on training her own puppy are heart rending for her.  She had her friend do their own detective work to solve the mystery of the missing necklace and enlist the help of a reporter along the way to solving it.  Before the mystery is solved Emily has redeemed her reputation and received her puppy to train as well as participated in yet another search and rescue mission.  There are a lot of characters in this story, none of them more than superficial but the plot does carry the story ok.

DUKE by Kirby Larson intended for upper elementary readers this historical fiction novel is entertaining  and easy enough for reluctant readers through middle school and even into high school.  Its 1944 and in the throes of world war II.  Everyone is doing their best to help with the war effort.  When a neighbor recruits Hobie Hanson's beloved German Shepard Duke for the war effort it is extremely hard to give him up. In fact, he tries to get Duke back by writing letters of discouragement to Duke's Handler, a marine private.  When his father, who is in the service, becomes a prisoner of war, when his teacher's husband is killed in action and when Duke saves the life of marine private Corff, Hobie regrets his actions.  Things mostly turn out ok in this story.  The language, the attitudes and behaviors of the people reflect the time period of the novel.  So, to readers today it may seem way to sweet and unrealistic.  But that was the way it was back then.  Keep this in mind if you read this story.

ROTTEN by Michael Northrop  JD Dobbs return home after a summer upstate without really telling anyone where he was or why.  He finds that his mother has adopted a rescue dog. Its a Rottweiler named Jon-Jon by mom and Johnny Rotten after the Sex Pistol's Singer by JD.  The dog had been abused and has anxiety issues that require sort of gentle handling.  JD catches on pretty quickly, I thought,  but one of his friends corners JR and gets nipped.  His parents choose to turn a minor bite into a full blown issue in an attempt to get money from JD's mom.  JD knows the truth of how the bite happened and how bad it really is but cannot prove it.  It looks as if JD and mom will lose everything including their home.  JR will have to be euthanized.  That is unless JD can find a way to prove JR is not as bad as he is portrayed...  So most of this story is JD relating to the dog, which is pretty cool and figuring out how to save JR's life.  That includes revealing to his friends and others how he spent his summer in what is for him an uncharacteristic show of honesty.  JD and his friends, even Janie his girl are not the most upstanding students in school.  The guys have been known to hang outside and smoke pot during school, to skip school, to start fights and to routinely get detention. This could make an ok read for a reluctant reader.  Northrup's books are more about the issue than about the people and I prefer character driven stories.
JDW 9/6

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Boy on the Bridge
By:  Natalie Standiford

This is a historical fiction novel taking place in Russia in 1982, a time when Russian people lived fearing their government knowing that they could do anything to anyone without explanation.

Laura is an eighteen year old foreign exchange student from California studying abroad at the Leningrad State University in Russia.  She is there for one semester to improve her Russian speaking skills and observe the lifestyles of the Russian people.  She has been warned by her chaperons that fraternizing with the wrong people could get her sent home and the possibility of Russian friends being arrested.  Laura has also been warned that Soviets often seek out Americans in hopes of marrying them and escaping to the United States.

Shortly after arriving in Russia, Laura is rescued from thieving gypsies on a bridge leading to her dorm by Alyosha, a handsome Russian artist. Alyosha  asks Laura if she would be interested in tutoring him in English and he would help her with her Russian and show her some of the local sites. Alyosha gives Laura his phone number and tells her to call him the next day, he also reminds her to be very careful that she is not being watched by anyone from the University.  They meet the next day and from that day on they become inseparable.  Laura ignores warnings from a few of her close friends and starts missing classes and not returning to the dorm at night, her best friend covers for her the best she can. Laura begins living recklessly, going to public places that she shouldn't be seen at with Alyosha, buying things for Alyosha that Russians are not allowed to have. Alyosha introduces Laura to his friends, takes her to parties, and even takes her away to a friends summer house for the weekend. Alyosha tells Laura that he loves her, she admits that she feels the same. Eventually Alyosha proposes to Laura and convinces her that he could become a famous artist in California and would support her for the rest of her life.  Laura thinks that she is to young to get married but her heart tells her otherwise, she accepts his proposal.  They must get married before Laura leaves to go back home.  Laura goes wedding dress shopping with Olga who is Alyosha ex-girlfriend, Laura notices that Olga is wearing Calvin Klein jeans and asks where she had gotten them from.  Olga explains that Alyosha had gotten them from American friends. Olga goes on to explain how every semester Alyosha goes to the university gates becoming friends with Americans with hopes of finding a girl to marry. Olga goes on to explain that he hadn't found the perfect girl until he met Laura.

I don't want to spoil the ending so you will have to read this book to find out how this love story ends! 


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Text Game by Kate Cann

This book is from a publishing house that generates books which are considered short fiction and at a level accessible to all. This book is only 62 pages and is definitely at a lower reading level, although that doesn't mean it lacks in story.

Mel is dating a boy she believes is out of her league. She simply cannot believe he is that into her. Just when she thinks she can put her insecurities away, she receives a text message implying that her boyfriend is cheating on her. At first she tries to ignore it, but then the texts keep coming. Rather than talking to her boyfriend when it began, she wait a while and tries to find proof. Once she has it, she accuses her boyfriend and destroys their relationship with her lack of trust. Now in a deep depression, Mel wonders if there's anything she can do to make things right.

Since this is short fiction, this book obviously lacks some depth in storytelling that you would find in a novel. That does not mean, though, that it isn't good. The story is definitely something that teens can relate to. The prevalence of technology in the lives of teens is growing and it adds a whole new level of bullying and opportunities to cause trouble in another person's life. The message and theme of the book are definitely important. This book will appeal to teens who struggle with reading but want a good story.

Unremembered by Jessica Brody

This is the first book that I read by Jessica Brody, I did not know what to expect but I really enjoyed it !! I thought this book was about a girl who lost her memory and there was going to be a boy in the story trying to help her and then they had a happily ever after. But I had no idea it would turn into a whole different world of sci-fi and mystery which you figure out about along the way!

At the beginning of the book, Sera didn't know or remember anything about herself. Her mind was basically blank. When reading it, I also felt an emptiness and I couldn't connect to her character. But as she started to figure out who she was, she gained a personality and I got more and more into her character.

I was more than halfway through the book when I realized Sera loved Zen. Nonetheless, I thought the relationship between Zen and Sera was absolutely amazing! Their love was so strong that even though scientists erased Sera's memories over and over again and she kept forgetting who Zen was, they still stayed together and she somehow managed to fall in love with him all over again!

This book was a mix between Mystery, Sci-Fi and Romance. It was an absolute thrill to read! I believe this is the first book in a series and I cannot wait for the others to come, is a book that you cannot put down because you just want to finish it in the same day you started it.

RPA 8/27/2013

The Sigh by Marjane Satrapi

The Sigh is a story that is very reminiscent of fairy tales and fables. It is about a young woman named Rose who asks her father to bring her the seed of a blue bean. When he fails, she lets out a deep sigh, which conjured a magical being known as The Sigh. The Sigh gives the father the seed, who is so grateful he tells The Sigh  he'd do anything to repay him. A year later, The Sigh returns to collect his debt - he wants Rose. She agrees to go and ends up falling in love with a mysterious man she meets. However, something tragic happens and she begins a journey to make up for her mistakes that caused the tragedy.

This is a really short book - only 56 pages. It's easily read in one sitting. The book is filled with illustrations that help tell the story. Just as fairy tales and fables had a deeper message, this one talks about the fragility of life and other topics, such as a woman's obsession with a man, the need to protect oneself for sadness, and lengths one will go to get what one wants. It is a quick and enjoyable novel with plenty of subtle depth.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies is the first book in a series and hooks the reader into picking up the next book.

This book takes place in what sounds like the future where everyone is considered ugly until they turn sixteen. On their sixteenth birthday, the person undergoes extensive plastic surgery and is turned pretty. From then on, life is about having fun and being beautiful. Tally, the narrator, can't wait until her birthday which is in a matter of weeks. But then she meets Shay, a teen who doesn't know if she wants to be pretty. Shay challenges the idea that you have to have surgery in order to be considered pretty or happy, especially because your looks aren't the only thing that changes after surgery. She knows of a secret group of people who live in "The Smoke," an area of people who chose not to have the surgery and are happily living in the wilderness. She wants Tally to join her there, but Tally isn't sure if she can live her life as an ugly. On the day of her surgery, something goes wrong. Tally is taken in and told the only way she can have her surgery is if she leads the authorities to "The Smoke." Although she does go to "The Smoke," she battles with whether or not to activate the tracking device which will lead the authorities to them. Things get even more complicated when she learns some secrets about what it really means to become pretty.

This was a really engaging book. It challenges the idea of what makes a person pretty and the power people put on looks. The concept sounds great to a degree - that no one will ever be prettier than another person - but you see how much gets lost when everyone is the same. The novel is about friendship and loyalty and standing up for what you believe in. This book flawlessly gets you thinking while still providing a thoroughly entertaining novel. It connects you with the characters and leaves you longing for more, especially because the drama takes a turn at the end and creates a great cliffhanger. I really enjoyed this novel.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bunny Drop by Yumi Unita Vol.1

Daikichi a thirty-year-old, headed home for his grandfather's funeral. To his surprise, his grandfather had a illegitimate child with a younger lover.  Everyone was shocked and surprise at the news. A conversation to be based on what the fate of the child would be turned into a sour conversation, due to nobody wanting to take the silent little girl, Rin, in. Fueled by the insensitive comments of his family, Daikichi decides to take child home. It takes him a little bit to adjust to such responsibility, how long would it take you to realize you will be raising your aunt? As Daikichi gets to know more about Rin, the more curious he is about his grandfather.

The art is pretty simple but just fitting enough for the kind of story telling this book it.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

We get something new from DC. Animal Man!

Buddy,  also known as Animal man, has the unique power to take on the abilities of any animal.  Not only does he has his hero duties to deal with. He also struggles with the challenges of being both a husband and a father.

His troubles really being when his daughter Maxine starts showing her own disturbing powers. Now Buddy begins a journey, leading him to discovering the root of his and Maxine's power. And a war that will depend whenever life will go on.

As this journey continues, Buddy will be question everything he has known about himself, the real origin of his powers and his true identity.

Art by Travel Foreman, shows a much darker side of the DC universe.

Little Girl Gone by Drusilla Campbell

This is an adult book with lots of teen appeal, especially since the three girls in Cleveland escaped from their mentally off kidnapper.
Willis has a mission to keep wayward teen girls safe from being murdered.  To that end, first he takes Madora to an abandoned house in the mountains of Arizona then several years later shows up with a pregnant teen girl he handcuffs and keeps prisoner in a run down trailer behind the house. 
Madora, now in her early twenties was a confused, grieving teen who had lost her father to suicide when Willis took her from a party while she was very drunk.  Madora believes he loves her and she loves him.  But reality appears to be different, she seems a slave to his every wish.  Linda was begging for food at the edge of a highway when Willis picked her up and imprisoned her.  She is very clear eyed as to what kind of a creep Willis is. 
Willis, a high school drop out and a veteran trained as a medic, believes it is his right to be a doctor like his father.  He ekes out a living as a caretaker for elderly folks.  He says they like him and give him gifts. He also works as a sometimes orderly.  He does not allow Madora to work saying she has to care for the tied up Linda. When he takes on another patient, he crosses paths with Django who recently moved in with his aunt after the tragic deaths of his parents. 
Django is determined not to go back to the new school where students rejected him on the first day.  He has seen what a creep Willis is and decides to investigate where he lives.  This brings Django in contact with lonely Madora and a stray pit bull puppy named foo that she cares for and about. 
On a day when nothing goes right for Willis, he loses his temper and beats Madora up.
Django had already put ideas in her head about escaping and setting Linda free.  This is the turning point of the story.  Lives unravel and reassemble rather differently than they were before.  Madora has hope for a future, Django helps her a lot.  He and his aunt forge a friendship.  We do not really know what happens to Linda.  We do know that Willis had had his eyes on yet another teen girl to kidnap but instead is spending time in prison.
I think Jody Picoult fans may like this one.  Its a quick, easy read with a controversial subject that really held my attention.  Absolutely read this!
JDW 8/13

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Columbine by Dave Cullen

This book is about the Columbine school shooting in 1999. This book is a well-rounded account of what happened at the school, the shooters, victims, and investigation.

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold brought guns and bombs to their high school and killed thirteen people and injured multiple others. They had an elaborate plan to outdo the disasters of Waco, Texas and Oklahoma City, but many of the plans fizzled out due to technical errors. While the death toll wasn't as high as they hoped, the lives they changed were numerous. Many of the injured faced struggles to recover and the families of the victims would never be the same, nor would the parents of the killers. With the killers dead, the investigation should have been open and shut, but larger questions loomed, like what led the boys to this point? As the truth about the boys and their evolution emerged, people couldn't help but wonder if this could have been prevented. This novel addresses how the boys got to April 20th, as well as the victims' struggles to move on and get their answers they need.

The attack on Columbine is one of those moments in history that affected the nation. It seemed to be one of the first major attacks on a school, and while there have been many afterwards and even bigger ones, such as Virginia Tech in 2007, Columbine has made a lasting effect on history. I work in a school, and you can see how the events in 1999 set forth a reform to classroom procedure. Reading this novel, there didn't seem to be any kind of procedure for teachers and students. Now, though, on top of tornado and fire drill, schools practice lockdowns. It even changed the way police handle these types of situations.

I felt as though this book did an excellent job recreating the event without glorifying the killers. While I read this book, the  account of what happened on April 20th sent chills up my body to realize the horrors that people went through and the coldness of the killers. In general, I found this book fascinating, especially to realize all of the warning signs, particularly from Eric, and how maybe it all could have been prevented. As chilling as it was to read about the killers' downward spiral, it was encouraging to see the victims rebuild their lives and yet heartbreaking to see many struggling.

Non-fiction is not my genre of choice, but this book held my attention and even had me looking online for more information. While this book does not serve create a profile for teen shooters, this book is eye-opening and worth the read.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Haunting of Gabriel Ashe - Dan Poblocki

Gabe and his family have lost everything when a fire consumes their apartment.  They move in with Gabe's famous grandmother.  She did illustrations for the well-known horror author Nathaniel Olmstead.  Gabe and Seth, the next door neighbor, start playing a game in the woods behind their houses.  They are princes looking for their enemy called The Hunter.  Before school starts Gabe is invited to a pool party at Felicia's house.  He goes over with Mazzy and everyone has a good time.  Just as everyone is about to leave all their bags and towels are thrown into the pool.  No one sees anything, but Gabe suspects Seth since he wasn't invited.  Seth and Gabe are playing their game after school on Friday, and Seth uses a M-80 to blow up a pile of rocks.  The next morning the pile of rocks is rebuilt.  Gabe tells Seth to fess up about rebuilding the pile, or Gabe will stop playing the game.  At school the following Monday Seth avoids Gabe until lunch when he tries to get Gabe to not sit with his friends. Seth then pours chocolate milk onto Felicia and takes off from school.  Gabe sees Seth after he gets home.  Seth warns him that the Hunter will come for him.  A few weeks later Malcolm is over to watch horror movies with Gabe.  The doorbell rings and Gabe thinks it's Seth playing a trick.  It turns out to be Mazzy, Felicia, and Ingrid coming over unexpected.  Gabe gives them a tour of the house and shows them the puppet his dad is working on.  All the sudden it comes to life.  They hear a growling sound from inside of the puppet.  Everyone thinks it is Seth playing a trick on them.  The next morning the puppet is missing and Gabe thinks Seth took it. He and his parents go over to Seth's house, but they can't find it there.  At school the science lab rat has disappeared.  When it appears again only the bones remain.  The Tuesday before Halloween Felicia's death by chocolate cake is blown up by a M-80 at the school bake sale.  The Wednesday night before Halloween almost everyone is visited by a ghost.  The next morning everyone at school is talking about the ghostly visitor.  Thursday night Gabe's Grandmother tells him about Mason, the man behind the story of The Hunter.  Is it really The Hunter causing all of this mayhem, or is it Seth using the story of The Hunter to cover up what he's really doing?

I enjoyed this book.  As I was reading it was like a horror movie in my head instead of on a movie screen.  I even had a few chills when Gabe's grandmother told the story about Mason.  The ending of the book is sad.  It wouldn't be a horror story without a death now would it?

T.B. 8/6/13

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Running Dream
By: Wendelin VanDraanen

Jessica is a sixteen year old high school track star, running is her life. She discovered her passion for running while she was running on the soccer field in third grade.  Returning from a high school track meet Jessica's school bus is involved in an accident.  Lucy a fellow track team member is killed and Jessica loses her leg.

Jessica's recovery is slow and painful but her doctor's are optimistic and tell her she is healing well  and can soon be fitted for her first prosthetic limb. This should be happy news but Jessica constantly struggles with the fact that she will never run again.  She just wants her normal life back.

While she is waiting for her prosthetic leg to be made Jessica returns to school in a wheelchair.  Since there is no room for her wheelchair at her desk in  math class she is placed in the back of the class at a table next to Rosa, who is also in a wheelchair. Rosa was born with cerebral palsy and will never walk. Jessica and her friends never paid any attention to Rosa they just saw Rosa as the girl in a wheelchair with a disability.  Jessica needed help with math and it turned out that Rosa is a genius at math and offers to tutor Jessica. The two girls become friends and Rosa  gives Jessica encouragement especially when she is feeling down about not being able to run.  Rosa tells Jessica that she used to sit  out on her front porch on Saturday mornings just to watch Jessica run by, wondering how it would feel to be able to run and cross a finish line.

Jessica's track coach tells her about a special running leg that would enable her to run and rejoin the track team next fall, the only problem is the running leg costs $20,000.00, and her insurance will not cover it.  Her track team decides to try to raise the money by doing community events.  Gavin a reporter from the school newspaper, decides to do a special interest story about Jessica and sends a copy to the local television station.  The television station decides to air a story about Jessica and the fund raising efforts of the track team.  Soon the whole town is aware of Jessica's situation and donations start pouring in.  An anonymous donor offers to match whatever the track team has raised and in a short time Jessica has her running leg!

Jessica starts running and decides to train for the River Run ten mile race, the local town race.  As she is training she realizes  just about everyone in town knows her because of her disability, and not for the person she is.  She now knows how Rosa has felt all her life.  Jessica decides that she is going to run the race pushing Rosa in her wheelchair not only so that she can experience running a race and crossing a finish line, more importantly to make people see Rosa the person, not her condition.

Jessica and Rosa cross the finish line a victory for both and a new beginning for Jessica.

Although the ending was very predictable, the story kept my interest.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Keeping Hope Alive by Dr. Hawa Abdi as told to Sarah J Robbins

Abdi is a medical doctor who had the fortune to train in Russia on scholarship at a time when few women did.  Later her daughters and son would also receive education in Russia on scholarship.

While doing her residency in various specialties, she changed her mind many times about she wanted to do.  When she began caring for women and children she unexpectedly found her niche.  She wanted very much to help the many poor women receive needed medical care, find jobs, feed their children.  Abdi had resources both in land and in a bit of money that she used to establish first a clinic then a hospital for these needy people. Any money she had she poured back into the compound, adding farming, job training and so on. When drought hit and later during spurts of violent clashes between warring clans, Abdi expanded her hospital, served anyone in need who did not bring the fighting and intolerance into her compound.  Such was her dedication that she sent her children to safety in Kenya and remain behind to administer to the needs of those caught in poverty, starvation and violence. 

Abdi has a charisma, wisdom and strength that allowed her to keep out of politics, and keep her growing compound neutral territory.  As problems deepened aid groups from around the world tried to step in and help. One such agency was Doctors Without Borders which had to pull out when some of the aide workers were killed in violence.  Eventually the United States tried to help as well but their military tactics tended to add to the problems rather than help with solutions.

Things are a bit more settled now.  Abdi's two daughters do much to run the compound for their aging mother.  Abdi still focuses on women, children and anyone else in desperate need.  She concentrates on schooling and on campaigning against female circumcisions which are so harmful to women.  She has received several prizes for her tireless work for her beloved Somalians.  She has established a foundation to keep her projects funded.  See

Although Abdi was blessed in many ways her life was not without hardship, errors in judgment, heartache.  I think its important to remember this. 

What bothered one reader most was that there was not more Somalian History and Politics explained.  For another reader the frequently out of sequence memories were confusing.

This memoir is mostly well written and quite riveting.  It would make a good Common Core Narrative Nonfiction selection.  It could be paired with Nick Lake's historical fiction book In Darkness as there are similarities in the cause of violence, and poverty.
LD/JW 7/22/13

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Are you Alice? By Ninomiya Ai

We all know and heard about Alice in Wonderland. However this book gives a new twist to the usual story we all were use to.

A boy wonders into Wonderland by accident. To his surprise he is given the name of Alice by the Queen of hearts. Even though he still refuses to take the name, it matters not for the habitants of Wonderland. Holding the name of Alice qualifies him for the game of Kill the White Rabbit. A game he refuses to take part of. However due to his circumstances and the fact that he still holds the name of Alice he has no other choice but to participate in the game if he ever wants to get out of Wonderland.

We will see familiar characters in this story but a bit difference from the ones we have known. Artist Katagiri Ikumi gives a different aspect to the characters in the story, as well as very detailed backgrounds. Lovely art in general.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

In Darkness by Nick Lake

This is a fictionalized account of Haiti's history as told through the thoughts of Shorty.  He is a boy who was buried in a cave of rubble and dead bodies after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010.  There was actually a boy pulled alive from the wreckage after 8 days, after rescue workers no longer expected to find anyone living. The real boy was badly dehydrated but otherwise mostly ok. 
The fictional boy is a gun toting, murdering drug gang member. While in his dark cave, he sings songs he can remember words for.  He thinks about his recent experiences in the gang, when his father was hacked to death and his sister stolen.  He remembers revolutionist Dread Wilme's voudou funeral.  He remembers making mud cakes to tide himself and his mother over til real food can be gotten.  He remembers the poverty, violence, chaos.  When he drifts off to sleep he dreams of Toussaint L'Ouverture an early revolutionary leader who tried to stabilize his people and government after the French pulled out, freed the slaves and the British tried to take over. 
In the early 1700's and in the 1600's Haiti was a thriving trade center.  One of its export/imports was,  unfortunately,  slaves.  The country became unstable, violent, and impoverished when the French pulled out and a new strong government failed to be formed and it remains so today. 
The darkness in the title has multiple meanings as readers will discover.  This is a hard novel to read.  There is a lot of violence.  And, there is much difficult to understand language from French, from Kreyole (creole or Haitian dialect), from blanc (a blend of English and gang language and swearing), from voudou and African language.  I did not understand all of it and most readers will not, though perhaps unfamiliar words could be found on the Internet.  This is a Prinz Award winner which is the top honor for Young Adult Literature.  It could easily be an adult crossover book.  Anyone wanting to become more familiar with Haiti and its history could learn from this title.  But, most teens are unlikely to get through story. JDW 7/14/13

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Face on the Milk Carton Series by Caroline B. Cooney

This book series follows Janie Johnson, a teenager who discovers that she was kidnapped as a child. The first book in this five book series was originally published in 1990 while the last book came out this year. Despite a twenty-three year gap between books, this story flawlessly bridges that gap in a timeless tale.
Book One: The Face on the Milk Carton
In this novel, Janie Johnson looks at the back of a milk carton during lunch and sees the picture of a three-year-old girl that went missing twelve years ago. Janie instantly recognizes herself in the picture and struggles with the realization that she had been kidnapped as a child.
Book Two: Whatever Happened to Janie?
The truth about Janie's kidnapping comes out and now she's being forced to live with her biological family - the Springs. They expect her to resume live as their long lost daughter Jennie, but how can she be Jennie when all she's ever known is Janie? How can she be with one family without betraying the other?
Book Three: The Voice on the Radio
Janie's boyfriend Reeve has the opportunity of a lifetime to host a radio-show at college. When he gets on-air, however, he draws a blank. The only thing he can think to talk about is Janie's riveting story about her kidnapping. He figures Janie will never figure out about his betrayal, but things don't always go as planned after his stories become a huge hit.

Book Four: What Janie Found
After the father that raised Janie suffers as severe stroke, Janie is asked to take over his financial responsibilities and makes a shocking discovery - he knows where her kidnapper is and has been supporting her with monthly checks. Janie doesn't know what to do with this information because bringing the kidnapper to justice would destroy her already fragile mother.

Book 4.5: What Janie Saw
This is an e-book update on Janie. I did not read this book and it is only about 32 pages long.

Book Five: Janie Face to Face
This is the conclusion of Janie's story. This novel finally tells the kidnapper's story - from why she kidnapped the little girl and what she's been doing for the past fifteen+ years. It also wraps up Janie's life with college and marriage.

This is a great series with characters that you care about. Everyone is a victim in this situation and it seems as if no one will walk away a winner because the villain cannot be punished. It is nice to see everything work out as Janie finds her place with two families who both love her.

While the multiple years between books seems to work flawlessly, there are a few issues - although they might go unnoticed depending on how you read these novels. I read them all within a few months of each other, so the details of one book were still fresh in my mind when I read the next. There were thirteen years between book four and five and I noticed an inconsistency in the sense that according to book four, a large amount of money was being sent for only three years, whereas book five said the money had been sent since the kidnapping and it wasn't nearly enough to survive on. This point with the money is a minor detail that people might not even pick up, but it definitely had me stopping and saying "Wait a minute...," probably because I'd just read the previous book. It did affect a few other points in the novel, but I suppose a few forgotten points should be expected and forgiven in a gap thirteen years in storytelling. 

On the other hand, an intentional change was that book five acted as if this kidnapping happened fifteen or so years ago via 2013. Now the characters have Facebook accounts and cell phones and all of the modern technologies. Does this change or the point about the money alter the overall message of the story - not so much. It would have been interesting, though, to see how the story would have evolved if the author had kept the story authentic to the original time frame - as in five years later via 1990. It might also be interesting to see how the original story might change if it all started only a few years ago.

Changes aside, I really enjoyed this novel. Many people might shy away from a novel written "so long ago," but this is really a story that bridges that time gap. Children are kidnapped all the time, so the story itself is not dated (aside from an occasional mention of a phone booth or payphone which don't really seem to exist in the age of cell phones). This is definitely a series worth reading.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkins

Mara Dyer wakes up in a hospital not knowing how she got there. Her friends have died and she can't remember what happened in the accident. Her family moves to another town to help her start anew, and because she keeps seeing her dead friends everywhere. There she meets Noah, the guy all the girls want, Mara included, reluctantly. She also meets Jamie her only other friend. Noah helps Mara remember what exactly happened in the accident and fall for him at the same time. The subtle supernatural part disappears a bit in the middle as Michelle Hodkins focuses on the romance angle, but you're so involved you get lost as well. She smoothly brings it back in and ends with a vengeance. It looks like this book is the start of a series, there is just enough action and romance.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Testing - Joelle Charbonneau

      The world is trying to rebuild after The Seven Stages War.  Most major cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles have been decimated.  The buildings and houses are in ruins, and the water is so contaminated that it cannot be purified.  Malencia Vale, Cia to her family and friends, lives in Five Lakes a small colony.  Each year the government of the United Commonwealth evaluates the scores of all the graduates.  The highest ones are chosen and taken to the Testing Center where they are put through four different tests.  Only twenty make it to The University each year.  This year graduation day comes and goes with no word from a Tosu City official.  Cia is worried because she knows she did well enough to get selected.  The day after graduation Cia and three others are told they have been selected to go through the testing.  They leave the following morning.  Cia breaks the news to her family.  Her dad, who also went through the testing, tells her about nightmares he's had about people he may have known during The Testing.  He tells her not to trust anyone including Tomas, her closest friend, who is also going for The Testing.  The four of them are some of the last testing candidates to arrive, and all the others are buzzing about the four from Five Lakes.  Five Lakes hasn't had a testing candidate, let alone four, in over ten years. 

      Everyone is divided up and the testing begins.  Phase one tests their knowledge of History, Math, Reading and Language, and Science.  Some candidates don't come back after phase one, including Cia's roommate Ryme, who kills herself.  Phase two has boxes brought in and all the candidates in the group are to complete one box and then start a new one.  They are to complete as many as they can in the time given.  Several more candidates don't return after phase two.  Phase three tests how well the candidates work together in groups.  After this test the remaining candidates are told whether they pass or not.  Out of the initial one hundred and eight candidates only fifty-nine remain after three phases of testing.  The fourth phase is the longest and difficult.  The candidates will be put in an area that hasn't been revitalized and travel back to Tosu City.  The starting point of this journey is Chicago.  Cia and everyone else remaining have to travel 700 miles to just outside of Topeka, Kansas.  This phase will test every strength and weakness Cia and all the other candidates have.  This phase is the true test to see who is fit to go on to the university and then become leaders of the world. 

     I loved this book.  After I finished reading it, especially the last chapter, I had chills running down my spine.  When I added this book on Goodreads, I glanced at the first few reviews and people were saying The Testing was The Hunger Games rehashed.  While I did see some similarities to The Hunger Games, this book is it's own story.  Fans of The Hunger Games and other dystopian novels will enjoy this book.  There is a sequel coming out in January of 2014 called Independent Study.  I'll be eagerly awaiting the sequel.