31 March 2009

Chasing Lincoln's Killers; James L. Swanson

Chasing Lincoln's Killer (Young Reader's Version) Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first I knew of the Assassination Conspiracy was via Richard Halliburton's Complete Book of Marvels' chapter on Fort Jefferson... on Homicide, Crosetti is obsessed with it. It's not surprising that this year, with the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, there are a number of new books about him and his death.

I loved how the assassination of Lincoln, the attempted assassination of Seward, the manhunt, and the various characters were really brought to life in a way that will appeal to almost anyone. Often, these types of books are rather dull to read if you're a younger reader but this will grab those hard-to-reach middle school boys (I know, I've tried it out on some).

Pity there aren't more books like this.

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29 March 2009

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya; Nagaru Tanigawa

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is supposed to be a huge hit in Japan, the start of a series that has another seven titles (to date) in it. I'm not sure if this is as a novel or as a graphic novel...

Haruhi is introduced to us as an extremely rude, beautiful and not-a-little strange girl starting her first year of high school. Kyon, through whose eyes we meet Haruhi and with whom we will participate in all the action, is also a little strange: he's convinced that there probably are such strange beings as aliens, "espers", etc. (but not Santa). For some perverse reason, he is determined to break through Haruhi's walls and initiate some sort of conversation with her; he succeeds beyond his wildest imagination.

As I read this, I wondered whether or not Haruhi was simply an incredibly rude person, ignoring normal conventions and merely dragooning people into her plans or whether there was more going on. As the members of her S.O.S. Brigade start opening up to Kyon, I wondered if there was something going on in his mind - perhaps he was imagining things, or mentally embellishing them?

Turns out that Kyon is the only "normal" in the group, and that Haruhi is incredibly important to our survival (or, as one character puts it, microevolution). I'm sure that many readers will want to get further into the series to find out more, but I think that I've read enough.

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28 March 2009

Access Denied; Denise Vega

Access Denied (and other eighth grade error messages) Access Denied by Denise Vega

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rather predictable sequel to Click Here - Erin's Year of Horrible Events is over, and she's hoping to have a great 8th grade year. You just know that she's going to make more blunders and have boy problems, but that ultimately it'll all work out in the end. I wish that there was something new, or really different about the characters or the plot but, well...

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27 March 2009

Marcelo in the Real World; Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo in the Real World Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

This reads like a good follow-up to both The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and The Speed of Dark - a character on the autism spectrum (here, Marcelo is high-functioning Aspergers), a mystery of sorts (I kept waiting for DennyCrane to appear), and the emergence into the world of the "normal" people.

Marcelo's awareness of his differences from others comes more from his school's training than from anything else, and his "special interests" are, to him, not obsessions. What's sad is that as he grows more aware of, and interacts more with, the real world, some of those wane. His internal music is lost, as is his "remembering" (which he translates roughly into praying). His thoughts, once very clearly black and white, become clouded and even a little emotional. Some of what happens feels like what normally happens as people grow up, just at a later date and perhaps more accelerated pace.

Unlike Curious Incident, but much like Speed of Dark, there's a lot to think about regarding normal vs. abnormal, and where we fit on that spectrum.

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The Dark Volume: Gordon Dahlquist

The Dark Volume The Dark Volume by Gordon Dahlquist

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

DO NOT read this if you have not read the first book, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters - it will take you too long to get into the book, to pick up the narrative thread and sort out the characters. The writing style is Victorian florrid, with many italicized words and overwrought description. But if this is your genre, enjoy!

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26 March 2009

Skeleton Creek; Patrick Carman

Skeleton Creek Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars


Blair Witch for the younger crowd...

Ryan wakens after being in a 55-hour coma to be told that he and his best friend, Sarah, can no longer communicate (there's even tracking software on his computer). Why? Because he was in the coma, and seriously broke his leg, late at night at the old gold dredge outside town. There's something going on, something that involves the town's name change, a mysterious group called Crossbones, the death of Old Joe Bush, and alchemy; they're going to figure out what happened.

The reason I don't know what happened is because the book is linked to a website, and every few pages there's a new password that'll bring up video shot by "Sarah" (each video is apparently more terrifying than the one before). The passwords are macabre in tone, ranging from allusions to Poe and Stevenson to Dracula and Poltergeist. Here's the thing: if I'm reading, I don't want to interrupt my book to go to the computer. Chances are, looking at the video won't drive me back to the book, it'll drive me to check my e-mail, IM a few friends, fool around on Facebook, etc.. So I've now missed something important, plot-wise.

The other problem with that trend is that it makes the book ephemeral. A good horror story (and Ryan talks about some of the great Poe stories) will be around for ever. Even Blair Witch can be eerie without the accompanying website and multi-media campaign that surrounded it. But this book? Without the website, it doesn't really make sense. So what happens in a few years, when someone finds it, tries to go to that site, and the publisher has allowed it to close?

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Skunk Girl; Sheba Karim

Skunk Girl Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Nina's parents are Pakistani Muslims, while she wants to be an Americanized teenager. She's got two girlfriends, both white, and a crush on the new boy Asher. Problem is, of course, getting her parents to allow her to do anything that might involve boys, dating, dancing, etc., which of course they won't because they want her to be a good girl. Asher appears to like her, though...

The ending is, I think, supposed to let us know that Nina has somehow made peace with her American and Pakistani sides; it just comes across as a tacked-on coda.

Skunk Girl is set in the 1990s, and I'm guessing that is because the author grew up in a similar situation during that time. Because there's no real reason for it to be set then (by which I mean there's no great event or person that would require it to be set in the '90s), the lack of cell phones, texting, computers and all the other teen "stuff" stands out.

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25 March 2009

Softwire: Worm Hole Pirates of Orbis 3; PJ Haarsma

The Softwire: Worm Hole Pirates on Orbis 3 The Softwire: Worm Hole Pirates on Orbis 3 by PJ Haarsma

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars


One of the ways I judge series books is by how difficult it is to jump into the action in a later book; never having read the previous two Softwire books, I found this one to be relatively easy to grasp.

A "softwire" is someone that can self-link into a computer, rather that use the neural port that apparently we've been given (no idea how far in the future this book is set, but Orbis is not Earth, it's some other planet in the Universe). JT is a softwire, and at the start of the book he (and his friends, who appear to be slaves) are on a transport ship to Orbis 3, having had adventures on Orbis 2 and possibly 1. The ship is invaded by worm hole pirates (pirates who use a worm hole to hide before attacking), and they become a theme in the book - who are they? what do they want (besides the obvious)? how do they function?

JT and his friends are given to a newly-minted Citizen, Charlie, who will act as their Guarantor (which is roughly equivalent to a slave owner). They knew Charlie earlier and don't understand how he suddenly became a Citizen, much less a wealthy one who only wants them to go to school and learn rather than forcing them to work. At school, they are teased by other Citizen children and accused of cheating when they do well on the placement tests. Riis, an alien girl, semi-befriends JT, which has repercussions later.

Outside the questions about Charlie and the pirates, there's also a game, played in a holographic labyrinth, that is supposed to be unique to Orbis 3 but was taught to JT and the others by "Mother" on their first ship out of Earth (I think). This game, something like Survivor mixed with Caged Death Match, forms the real backbone of the book.

I think the series will be more interesting to MS-aged boys than older boys or girls; the world Haarsma has created is just foreign enough to feel different but not so confusing that it overwhelms what is ultimately an adventure series.

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23 March 2009

Al Capone Shines My Shoes; Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Shines My Shoes Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cute. Moose is only interested in baseball, keeping his sister Natalie from having a fit, and his crush on Piper, the Warden's daughter. Living on Alcatraz has it's pluses, definitely. Owing Al Capone a favor isn't one of them.

Because Moose is one of those polite, trying to please people kids, he ends up in more trouble than he should, but in the end it seems that Scarface kinda likes him. Or maybe he likes Natalie.

Nice sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts.
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North of Beautiful; Justina Chen Headley

North of Beautiful North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Terra (yep, that's her name) is beautiful, from behind. From the front, you see her port wine stain - and she's become expert at covering it up, deflecting. She (and her brothers and mother) are also expert at deflecting their father's verbal abuse. Then she meets Jacob, and learns that True Beauty, like True North, isn't exactly where one thinks it is.

Despite the obvious signs that All Will Work Out Somehow, and the generic bones of the plot, this book really works. Perhaps it's because Terra and Jacob make for interesting people, or perhaps it's because there's enough going on outside the generic plot (a trip to China, geocaching) that make it interesting.

It doesn't matter which, though. Read this.

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22 March 2009

Breathing; Cheryl Renee Herbsman

Breathing Breathing by Cheryl Renee Herbsman

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

This time, the poor girl is from the South, named Savannah after the city in Georgia (it's a little more complicated than that, though). Dad ran off a few years earlier, and she, her brother (named Dogwood and called Dog) and their mother live in a two-bedroom house on the poorer side of town. Savannah loves to read (sigh) and has asthma. The asthma's why her mother never holds a job for long, as she misses work too often when Savannah's in the hospital. Fairly early on, she meets Jackson Canning and falls in love while an asthma attack brings her mother and DC together. By the end of the book, love conquers all.

The biggest problem I had was with the use of dialect during the narrative. While this was all told from Savannah's point-of-view, it just felt gimmicky and forced.

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Absolutely Maybe; Lisa Yee

Absolutely Maybe Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is filled with the usual suspects: mother who is over-beautiful and over-married, guys for best friends, girl who doesn't fit in... and yet somehow it all works. Maybe (short for Maybelline) has a life in Kissimmee that isn't enviable, and when she and her friends Ted and Hollywood leave for LA (Hollywood to attend USC, Ted to spend the summer and Maybe to get away from Mom), her life doesn't seem to get much better. Of course, the usual coincidences happen and her life does get better, including that all-important Finding Herself piece. I think MS girls will like it, particularly if they haven't read too many of this type of book before.

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Also Known As Harper; Ann Haywood Leal

Also Known As Harper Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know you're not supposed to judge a book by it's cover, but there was something about the front of this this one that told me everything I needed to know: family down on its luck, daughter talented, somehow it works out somewhat in the end. And I was right - the story takes place over the span of about a week, a week in which Harper's family gets evicted from their home and then the motel room they're in, a week in which Harper finds a new friend, and a week in which their lives without Daddy finally start.

Not a bad book, but, well...

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Operation Redwood; S. Terrell French

Operation Redwood Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

At first I was concerned that this would be one of those Heavy Message books, but it's not. There are two stories here: one, the story of trying to save an old growth redwood stand, the other the story of a boy finding family. Neither are overdone, but both are a little trite.

Julian's father died when he was seven, and his mother had gone to China to photograph people and temples. Since there is only her mother (a traveling journalist) on her side, he is taken to live with his father's brother, Sibley. The problem is the Sibley and his wife Daphne are clearly unhappy to have him, in typical Cinderfella-style fashion (minus the chores). One day, Julian is sick and falls asleep in his uncle's office, where he "accidentally" reads some e-mail...

One e-mail is from a young girl, Robin, who lives next to an old growth stand that has been bought by the uncle's company and is due to be chopped down. After a series of e-mail exchanges, Julian essentially runs away to Robin's family's farm, which serves as an exchange program for children who want to learn more about sustainable living, farming, etc.. This part of the book is one of the more message-laden, as Robin continually spouts off about people like Julia Butterfly Hill and how she's going to live a green life.

Ultimately, Julian and Robin, and some friends, manage to save the redwoods, and Julian meets his father's mother (a classically formidable woman who clearly has little use for Sibley, her son). All's well... and all's pretty predictable.

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21 March 2009

The Well Between the Worlds: Sam Llewellyn

Well Between The Worlds Well Between The Worlds by Sam Llewellyn

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm an Arthur-legend junkie, so this book was one I looked forward to reading (well, that and the Lewisian Well in the title). I wasn't disappointed: Lyonesse is sinking, due to too much water being pumped from the Wells as the men hunt, capture, cut and burn monsters from another world. Idris is clearly born for greater things and escapes drowning only to have to flee his city and home; lucky for him be becomes an apprentice with Mage Ambrose.

Ambrose is the Merlin here, and Idris' coming into his power and becoming King is all under Ambrose's tutelage. It's not quite what you read in the other versions of the story, but it is an interesting twist on the tales. I liked the addition of the Well and the monsters, particularly Digby. The Morgan/Idris connection also worked for me. The explanations of the monsters and Wells and the sinking and the history were, at times, a little sloppy or rushed, but overall the story works.

Clearly the ending is meant to be a cliffhanger, and there will be another volume (or two?) coming. Can't wait.

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20 March 2009

A Taste for Red; Lewis Harris

A Taste for Red A Taste for Red by Lewis Harris

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Poor StephanieSvetlana Grimm - moved from Texas to California, going from being homeschooled to in Middle School, and worse: only liking red foods, sleeping under her bed, able to control other's thoughts and a heightened sense of smell. What is going on? She must be a vampire, right?

Well, not quite right. It seems that Svet is actually a version of Buffy, an Olfactive and a potential member of the Circle of Red. But she also has to deal with Sandy and her minions (Marsha and Madison) and form her own Scoobies, Foote and Fumio. And then there's her dog, Razor, and her treehouseOak of Doom.

All-in-all, this feels like the start of a good series for younger MS students.


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A Different Life; Quinn Bradlee

A Different Life: Growing Up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures A Different Life: Growing Up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures by Quinn Bradlee

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wish I'd liked this book more - Quinn's tale of what it was like growing up with VCFS is interesting and his "voice" is engaging. Part of my problem is that he is the son of Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee, so his story is also that of a rich child with VCFS and parents that could afford good treatment, good schools, etc. (not that it always turned out good for Quinn socially). It's admirable that he wants to be so open and honest about his life to help us understand what it is like to not be "normal", but by virtue of his birth he'd never have been "normal".

Still, his descriptions of being learning disabled and the struggles he (and others) go through will help those of us that aren't on that curve understand, and thus have a positive impact on those less economically fortunate than he.

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19 March 2009

The Girls; Tucker Shaw

The Girls The Girls by Tucker Shaw

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
I sort-of get how this was supposed to be a pint-sized version of "The Women", but it really read more like a tamer, Aspen-based version of Gossip Girls (albeit one that I wouldn't mind MS students reading). The recipes in the back look pretty cool...

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Love or Something Like It; Deidre Shaw

Love or Something Like It: A Novel Love or Something Like It: A Novel by Deirdre Shaw

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe I wasn't in a terribly discriminating mood, but I really liked this semi-coming-of-age story. I say "semi" because a woman in her 20s-30s is, for all intents and purposes, already Of Age. Lacey's journey from childhood (divorced parents, runaway scapegrace brother) to marriage (to a Peter Pan type) to living on her own and finally being ok with that resonated. Not because I've had similar experiences, but because the archetypes felt real - I understood her journey.

One major quibble: impactful is NOT a word.

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18 March 2009

The Bellini Madonna; Elizabeth Lowry

The Bellini Madonna The Bellini Madonna by Elizabeth Lowry

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yet another in the Discover a Big Secret Masterpiece genre, and not the best entry in the genre either. The writing was florid and repetitive (how many times did I have to read that Anna was plain? clumsy? or that Harry was an oaf?). Worse, the Big Reveals were telegraphed long before they actually appeared in the plot. Still, if this is your genre, you may find it enjoyable.

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17 March 2009

Punkzilla, Adam Rapp

Punkzilla Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jamie, aka Punzilla, tells his story in a series of letters to his brother, P. 'zilla's a runaway (from his family and from the military academy), living in Portland when he hears that P has cancer - and has given him $200 to get to Memphis before he dies. Most of the letters are about 'zilla's journey to his brother, but they're also about his journey away from his family and his experiences in military school. Every so often there's a letter from someone (mom, dad, Other Brother), but the voice is almost purely Jamie's monologue to his older brother.

The people he meets and the experiences he has are so clearly drawn you feel as though you've also met (or done) them. I think boys will really like this book and can't wait to introduce it to them!

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16 March 2009

Deep in the Heart of High School; Veronica Goldbach

Deep in the Heart of High School Deep in the Heart of High School by Veronica Goldbach

My review


rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rather predictable story of three girls, two friends since forever and one new addition to the trio. Even the addition of the occasional Spanish phrase and continually mentioning the Alamo (the setting is San Antonio) didn't elevate the plot.

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15 March 2009

20 Boy Summer; Sarah Ockler

Twenty Boy Summer Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted so much to like this book and instead was vaguely disappointed by the lack of depth and inner dialogue at several critical points.

This is the story of three friends, Anna, Frankie and Matt (Frankie and Matt are siblings, Anna is the girl-next-door), and how Matt's death changes things. Just before he died, Anna and Matt had started a clandestine relationship while Matt waited for the right moment to tell Frankie. After his death, Anna keeps it all to her self, writing letters/journal entries and "talking" to him, while outwardly portraying her grief as that of best-friend-to-sister-of-Matt.

Matt's death wasn't due to carelessness, drunk driving, or anything "teachable": he had a heart defect and was unlucky enough to be driving (with Anna and Frankie) at the time. This was one of those could have happened anywhere/any time events, and so is glossed over. The majority of the book takes place a year later, as his family heads to California for their annual vacation and Anna comes along to help Frankie get over her grief.

You see glimpses of what Frankie's going through (dressing more provocatively, smoking, grades going down, acting out) but you never really get a sense of what Anna thinks about this or what she has tried to do other than be there for Frankie. She even goes along with the "20 boy summer" idea without a lot of internal process.

Most disturbing was the almost blase way in which Anna's losing her virginity was handled. Dubbed "Anna's Albatross" (and the reason for the 20 boy idea - surely one of them will Do the Deed) by Frankie, you never get how Anna feels about it. When she finally does have sex, any thoughts or emotions are swept away by the drama of Frankie finding out about Matt/Anna.

Given that there was a lot of Anna "hearing" Matt's voice, talking to him, thinking about him, I expected something more in the way of self-reflection and internal conflict at times. Anna seemed too passive in places, which didn't ring true. Perhaps as an adult I expected more, and younger (eg, teen) readers will not.

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14 March 2009

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had; Kristin Levine

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in 1917/18, this story of the friendship between a white boy and a colored girl in Moundsville AL is not a Heavy Message Book; it's a book about being friends, growing up, standing up for what's right and making choices without a lot of preaching.

Dit's reaction to learning that the new postmaster's son is a girl is spot on, as is his slow realization that to be a man means being kinder to others and being honest. Emma's character also rang true... most of the time. Possibly that's because we see her through Dit's eyes. The only character that I didn't quite "get" was Mrs. Pooley, at the end. It felt as though her character did too big a change to be real.

Racism, both casual and overt, is the main thread in this book; Levine does a decent job of showing what a complex thing it really was back then.

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13 March 2009

The Blue Notebook; James A. Levine

The Blue Notebook The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine

My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars

An incredibly difficult book to read, in the same way McCormick's Sold is difficult to read. Batuk is a young Indian woman, sole into prostitution by her father (for what reason, we're never told, but there's a hint of debts owed). Prior to that, she led a relatively happy life, albeit one tinged with a case of TB and an overactive imagination. During the TB recovery, she learns to read and write, and this forms the basis of much of the book.

The blue notebook is like a journal, written by Batuk in between rounds of "making sweet-cake" with customers. When she is again sold, this time to Bubba, she switches to using hotel paper to write on. Her role in the hotel is to help Bubba's son become ready to be a husband; unfortunately, he's a little premature in that area. Batuk is not as smart as she thinks she is, and it all goes very, very badly for her. Of course, as a prostitute, who would care about her?

One would like to believe that this is one person's grossly fabricated tale, but it left me feeling that all too often this type of thing actually happens.

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11 March 2009

No Such Creature; Giles Blunt

No Such Creature No Such Creature by Giles Blunt

My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute caper book - an old English actor and his great-nephew spend their summers traveling across the US with an eye to interesting sights and a little grand larceny. Problems arise when an old "friend" from "Oxford", Zig, decides he wants in on the take... and then there's Sabrina.

This read like one of those books that would be better as a movie (and perhaps was written with that in mind).

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09 March 2009

The Plague; Joanne Dahme

The Plague The Plague by Joanne Dahme

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Based on the back blurbs touting the author's previous, horror-based works, I thought that this would be somewhat the same. Instead, what I got was fair-to-middling historical fiction about the Great Plague, intertwined with the story of Princess Joan and the Black Prince and a hint of The Prince and the Pauper.

Nell, the Princess' look-alike, is taken into the royal household (along with her brother George) when her parents die of the plague. Two years later, they accompany the Princess on her trip to Castille for her wedding; the plague strikes them at Bordeaux and their troubles begin: the Prince decides that Nell should become Joan, the marriage should go on. Nell, having scruples and sensing something Not Quite Right, rebels and tries to escape, only to be caught (along with George and her now-faithful soldier/friend Henry) and brought to London to be tried for treason.

The adventure was decent enough, but the plague parts were glossed over and the Prince's control of the rats was left vague. George's amulet was clearly evil, but in what way was never really laid out for the reader. A "what really happened" section would also help, as this is a time period most students know little about.

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08 March 2009

Jack Tumor; Anthony McGowan

Jack Tumor Jack Tumor by Anthony McGowan

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Difficult to think of a book about a boy and his brain tumor as funny, but this one really is. Hector, who's been having rather severe headaches, starts hearing a voice. Not just any voice, it's the voice of Jack... Jack Tumor (who TALKS LIKE DEATH if you know what I mean).

Jack's funny at times, cranky at others. It's sort of like Heck's subconscious but better - at one point (and I'm paraphrasing here) Jack admits that he has access to everything in Hector's brain, including stuff he doesn't know is there. Some of that is girls (Uma and Amanda), some of that is how to best the school bullies, and some of it is bad graveyard poetry. Go figure.

Mom's a hippie from the CND demonstrations, serving mung bean soup and various icky-sounding teas, and doesn't seem terribly good at Mom-stuff, particularly when her son is finally diagnosed with the tumor. Or after, it seems.

The majority of the action takes place in a fortnight, which seems short but there's a lot packed in. I think the boys will like it, despite its being written in English, not American.

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07 March 2009

The Homeschool Liberation League; Lucy Frank

The Homeschool Liberation League The Homeschool Liberation League by Lucy Frank

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm usually not one to be pro-constructivist education (I'm firmly in the "you need a good solid background before you Follow Your Bliss" camp) but this book captures what's right about homeschooling.

Katya's back from summer camp, feeling very much as though she's changed from the Kaity who'd gotten into trouble the year before, the Kaity who'd not cared about school, and the Kaity who'd gone out with Tyler. After walking out before the first day of school even starts, she engages in a campaign to get her parents to allow her to home- (or un-) school. The rush of passion she feels for all things science-related is very much how I experience 8th graders: the desire might be there, but the focus and discipline aren't.

Things get off to a rocky start, resolve, get rocky again, and ultimately work out... but here again the conflict feels real. Also real to me was Francesca's trying to change, but feeling locked into her "perky/candy-colored" role. What didn't feel so real was the Milo/Preston relationship (and believe me, I know about prodigal violinists and their parents!). Still, a minor quibble in an otherwise well-written book.

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While I'm Falling: Laura Moriarty

While I'm Falling While I'm Falling by Laura Moriarty

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Veronica's father finds Roofer Guy in the marital bed, and decides to divorce her mother. As a result, Mom starts on one of those downward slides where everything just snowballs into A Bad Life. Veronica, in college as a pre-med, is heading in the same direction. Not doing her job as an RA well, not getting Organic Chemistry, just Not Doing in general.

The problem is that I just didn't feel sorry for her. I know what depression can be like, and yet there was a part of me that wanted to say "Grab hold of yourself - snap out of this!". It just felt that Veronica didn't want her life to be better, that she just didn't care. Since she wasn't sympathetically drawn as a character, I just didn't care. Which is a pity, because my first thoughts were that this book might make a nice progression up from Sarah Dessen's oeuvre for my students.

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06 March 2009

Never Cry Werewolf; Heather Davis

Never Cry Werewolf Never Cry Werewolf by Heather Davis

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have a feeling that my MS girls will like this far more than I did: the story of a "misunderstood" girl (misunderstood by her brand-new stepmother, ignored by her widower father) sent to brat camp where she meets this incredibly sexy boy. Except this guy has a small problem. Not only is his father a very famous/infamous rock star, his family has a small genetic mutation called lycanthropy. Yep, Beauty and the Beast meet at summer camp!

Still, in some ways it's better than Need, and I can see an audience for it.

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The Birthing House; Christopher Ransom

The Birthing House The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom

My review

rating: 1 of 5 stars

Pardon the pun, but this book was stillborn: the horror factor was lukewarm, the gratuitous swearing and sex (I'm sure some readers may think that they weren't gratuitous but they really do feel that way, like they were added for effect rather than organically coming from the book), and the prose were just not doing it for me. I got flashes of The Others (the Nicole Kidman movie, not the Tyrone book), Amityville Horror, Stephen King, Mickey Spillane and Horror Writing for Dummies. Not even halfway through and I gave up.

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03 March 2009

Darkwood; M.E. Breen

Darkwood Darkwood by M.E. Breen

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sort-of selkie tale, set in one of those Countries Gone Bad (evil miners, silly king), orphans, dark woods, and a bunch of other fairy tale tropes combined into one interesting book.

The action sequences were a bit confusing - almost as though they weren't really plotted out on a map but just thrown in as "gee, this sounds good". And the ending left me equally confused: was the prophecy finished? What actually happened to Gibbet? I'm not sure the confusion was meant...

Two things I loved: the character names, and the watch-cats, Izzy and Prudence.


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02 March 2009

Don't Cry; Mary Gaitskill

Don't Cry: Stories Don't Cry: Stories by Mary Gaitskill

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

None of the characters in this selection of short stories appealed to me. Their lives didn't make me want to learn more, and the obsession with sex that permeated the book just turned me off. Pity, because I usually like Gaitskill's work.

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01 March 2009

The Amaranth Enchantment; Julie Berry

The Amaranth Enchantment The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wonderful take on fairy tales: part Cinderella, part fallen-star, part lost prince and yet wholly original.

The idea that our world is linked to others is not new - the whole Well Between the Worlds is one of those ancient tropes, right? But the idea that criminals from another world might be sent to ours (with a "keeper") via this well (or they might end up in other worlds), and be almost godlike here, isn't that widely used as a plot. Beryl's trip through the well and her life here play on that, along with her finding Lucinda, the poor little rich girl/Cinderella and becoming her fairy godmother (alien godmother? whatever.) Even the "be back from the ball after midnight" has a twist: Lucinda returns early!

Peter's story was equally interesting, but a little too quickly wrapped up, and a little too facile. There was always something about him that telegraphed I'm Not What I Seem.

Best part? Dog. 'nuff said about that.

They're billing this for Ages 10-14, but I think 10+ is more accurate: the more you know about these stories, the more you'll enjoy this version.

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