Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chasing Lincoln's Killer

Chasing Lincoln's Killer
By James L. Swanson
Scholastic Press, 2009. 194 pgs. Nonfiction

Working from letters, manuscripts, trial transcripts, newspapers, government reports, books, and other documents, Swanson has pieced together the story of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the ensuing chase of John Wilkes Booth. Readers not only follow the course of Booth and his co-conspirators, but also Lincoln's final moments and the reactions of those around him.

The attention to detail in this book paints a surprisingly vivid portrayal, and everything comes together to form a cohesive and compelling picture of these days so important in American history. I was moved and silent after reading the chapters depicting Lincoln's final moments. The story is accompanied by eye-catching typography and many illustrations and photographs showing the major participants and scenes. I think for any young person needing to get their feet wet with history, this book will help you jump right in.

BHG

Okay for Now

Okay for Now
By Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, 2011. 360 pgs. Young Adult

Huzzah! Fans of The Wednesday Wars will rejoice in Schmidt’s latest book. Doug Swieteck, a character from Wars, headlines this fantastic effort. Doug’s father announces that the family is moving to Marysville, which Doug promptly declares as stupid. But when he follows a cute girl into the local library and sees one of John James Audubon’s bird drawings, Doug’s life in Marysville brightens. What follows is an up-and-down year for Doug, as he experiences highs, such as learning to draw, performing on Broadway, and becoming a part of the community. Unfortunately the low points mostly relate to his abusive father and his father’s friend. But Doug’s growing confidence and friendships help him through the bad times.

The humor, depth, and great writing that fans expect from Schmidt are all on full display here. It is a pleasure to see Doug evolve and move out from under his father’s and brothers' shadows. I cried, laughed, and rejoiced in Doug’s triumphs; this is one Schmidt’s best.

MN

Branch Rickey

Branch Rickey
by Jimmy Breslin
Penguin, 2011. 146 pgs. Nonfiction.

What better book to read on Opening Day 2011 than Breslin's new bio of Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Dodgers who signed Jackie Robinson and broke the color line for Major League baseball? Opposition to blacks in baseball was so terrible that one team chose to field a one-armed man rather than let a black man play. Branch Rickey changed all that, not, as I always thought, because he knew that Robinson and Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella could take his team to the Series, but because he knew not letting blacks play was not only stupid but wrong. His signing of Robinson was undertaken with beneficence aforethought: he knew it was wrong to exclude anyone from baseball or from anything else, and he set out to change things. How much things have changed between then and now is apparent from the epilogue when voters at the Jackie Robinson elementary school when a Brooklyn election official mimics Jackie's back-and-forth pre-steal moves while overseeing the voters put a black man in the White House. All this sounds very earnest but Breslin is, as always, punchy and acerbic relaying the life of not just a great manager, but a great man.

LW

Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon
By Cara Chow
Egmont USA, 2011. 309 pgs. Young Adult

Chinese-American Frances is a high school senior whose mother has scrimped and saved to provide for her--and who insists that Frances will attend Berkley and become a doctor and return the care that she has given Frances. However, when Frances is accidentally enrolled in a speech class instead of calculus, she realizes she might not want the same things her mother does, but she doesn't know how to achieve her dreams without lying to her mother.

This coming-of-age story is a realistic portrayal of a girl struggling to fill the duties imposed upon her by her culture while simultaneously trying to be true to herself. Secondary plots (including a dash of romance) round this book out, giving most readers something to which they can relate.

AE

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tiger's Curse

Tiger’s Curse
By Colleen Houck
Splinter, 2011. 403 pgs. Young Adult

Kelsey Hayes has just graduated from high school and is not quite sure what to do with her future. When she finds a temporary job helping care for animals while the traveling circus is in town she figures it will at least fill the time until she can find something else. What she doesn’t count on is feeling a connection with a white tiger that eventually leads her to India to try to break a 300-year-old curse.

This book was enjoyable but I think I would have liked it more as a teenager. This is another young adult book with a teen girl that doesn’t feel worthy of the attention of a man that she considers perfect. Mr. Perfect also has a flirtatious brother who further complicates everyone’s feelings. Adventure, mystery and romance make this a good read for teens and Twilight fans. The next book in the series comes out in June 2011.

AL

Fool Moon

Fool Moon
By Jim Butcher
New American Library, 2001. 342 pages. Fantasy

This is an interesting mash-up of two genre staples, the wizard and the cynical, world weary private investigator. The protagonist of this novel is Harry Dresden, the only openly practicing wizard, private eye and occasional consultant to the police. Dirt poor and hungry for work, Dresden is dragged into an investigation of several murders, apparently committed by werewolves. As the clues and bodies pile up, Dresden is tossed from one deadly predicament to another. With the aid of friends and dubious allies, our hero saves the day once again by the skin of his teeth. This is a decent adventure fantasy novel with a quick, action packed pace to it. I thought the novel’s premise had potential, but the execution was less than compelling. Sci-Fi and Fantasy fans will likely enjoy this book.

Camo Girl

Camo Girl
By Kekla Magoon
Aladdin, 2011. 218 pgs. Young Adult

Ella is the only African American student at her school, and she has a skin problem that leaves her with light patches on her face, earning her the nickname of Camo Girl. Her only friend is "Zachariah," a homeless boy who shields himself from the harsh reality of their lives by living in a fantasy world. Ella goes along with him until Bailey, a new kid in town, who is also African American, seems to want to strike up a friendship with her. Torn between the lure of Bailey and a chance at popularity and her loyalty to Zachariah, Ella has to take a new look at her life.

Ella's dilemma is realistically portrayed, although I did find the style of the book to be somewhat simpler than many other YA books, and I think it would appeal more to younger teens than older ones.

AE

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Steel

Steel
By Carrie Vaughn
HarperTeen, 2011. 294 pgs. Young Adult

Jill Archer is on vacation in the Bahamas with her family after a disappointing match in the Junior World Fencing Championships. When she finds the rusty tip of an old sword in the sand, she pockets it and through its magic travels back 300 years to the pirate ship Diana where she is surrounded by strangers and is forced to sign on as crew. Over the passing weeks she learns the ropes (literally!), practices dueling with real swords, and witnesses the freedom and danger that come with being a pirate. But Jill is desperate to get home and senses that the key to getting back is through a notorious and deadly pirate, Edmund Blane.

This was great fun to read. Jill is an appealing character who acquires a new, deeper understanding of her sport when given the chance to fight with real sharpened blades that could draw blood - or end a life - with one swift stroke. I also enjoyed the sights and sounds of life as a pirate. Vaughn paints it with a realistic touch, highlighting the work just as much as the adventure.

BHG

Queen of Water

Queen of Water
By Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango
Delacorte Press, 2011. 352 pgs. Young Adult

Virginia lives in poverty in a small village in Ecuador; she is indígena in a country where mestizos hold the wealth. When a mestizo family wants Virginia as a servant, her parents let her go. Virginia is beaten by the mistress of the house, although the husband, initially, is kind to her. She spends years with as a servant, thinking that her family didn't want her, and only when her situation becomes desperate does she think about leaving. But leaving means going back to her family, and Virginia doesn't want to be a poor indígena anymore, so she has to figure out how to achieve her dreams.

Based on a true story, this book provides an inspiring story of a girl who is determined to succeed in life as well as an interesting look at the social structure in Ecuador, but it reads more like a biography than a novel. So, for fans of narrative nonfiction, this would be a good fiction title to pick up, but those who are looking for a quick plot, this one isn't a good choice.

AE

Strings Attached

Strings Attached
By Judy Blundell
Scholastic Press, 2011. 310 pgs. Young Adult

Following a horrible fight with her boyfriend Billy, Kit Corrigan has fled to New York City, where she's trying to forge a career as a dancer. Billy's father, Nate Benedict, who is a lawyer for the mob, finds her and offers her an apartment, clothes and favors in exchange for her getting Billy, who has enlisted in the army and is preparing to be shipped off to Korea, to come to New York for a visit. Kit accepts, but soon finds that she has gotten herself in over her head.

This book is filled with drama, as one might expect when a young girl winds up connected to the mob. The story flashes between the present (1950, with Kit in New York) and Kit's earlier life, as she remembers things that have happened previously and begins to understand they have more significance than she realized at the time. Although the book ends hopefully, there are many sad things leading up to that, so readers who are looking for something light and fun should look elsewhere.

AE

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Death of a Chimney Sweep

Death of a Chimney Sweep: A Hamish Macbeth Mystery
By M.C. Beaton
Grand Central Publishing, 2011. 247 pages. Mystery

In the isolated villages of northern Scotland, the residents rely on chimney sweep Pete Ray. After Police Constable Hamish Macbeth finds a dead body stuffed inside a chimney, the entire town of Lochdubh suspects Pete. Then Pete’s body is found on the Scottish moors, and the mystery deepens.

I have a crush on Hamish Macbeth and look forward to every new book in the series. Since I long ago reconciled myself to the idea that Hamish will never progress in either his personal or professional life, I was able to enjoy this cottage mystery without expectations. I found it to be as light and charming a read as its predecessors. Although Chimney Sweep is the 27th entry in the Hamish Macbeth series, it can easily stand alone.

LF

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Mermaid's Mirror

The Mermaid's Mirror
By L.K. Madigan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. 316 pgs. Young Adult

Lena has always wanted to learn to surf, but her father, who had a surfing accident when he was younger, has always refused to let her try. When she decides to defy his orders, drawn by a power that seems beyond her, she finds herself stumbling onto secrets beyond her wildest dreams.

This contemporary fantasy novel features an interesting, in somewhat underdeveloped, alternate world. The choices Lena faces seemed to be resolved a little too easily; while her decisions seemed realistic, sometimes they just seemed to come about too quickly. Overall, though, readers who want fantasy without vampires and the like may enjoy this new story.

AE

Flesh and Blood So Cheap

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy
By Albert Marrin
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 182 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

The subtitle might lead a reader to suppose that this book is all about the Triangle Fire and the aftermath of that horrible event, but this is misleading. Marrin spends the first half of the book documenting the reasons behind immigration in the early 1900s and the life immigrants had once they arrived in America. He describes the tenements, the areas in New York City they settled in, the jobs immigrants were able to find, and the unions that grew because of the way immigrant workers were treated. Marrin then details the Triangle Fire, what occurred during it, and the aftermath, including how it led to the creation of labor laws. This book, designed for younger readers, contains great information about the immigrant experience and explains it in a way that is clear and easy to understand.

MN

Amelia Lost

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
By Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011. 118 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

In 1937, Amelia Earhart disappeared while completing one of the last legs of her flight around the world, vaulting her into the status of a legend. Before that, though, she was a little girl who loved an adventure, a teenager dealing with her father's alcoholism, and a young woman who initially thought she might want to be a doctor and then decided she wanted to fly and carefully courted the spotlight to vault herself to the status of a hero.

Here, Fleming gives readers insights into who Amelia Earhart really was, in a biography that clearly demonstrates Amelia's spunk as well as some foibles, such as how her future husband already had a wife when he and Amelia met. It's told in alternating chapters about Amelia's last radio contact and the people who heard her but couldn't find her, and chapters about her life. All in all, I vote this one of the best pieces of young adult nonfiction I've ever read; it's easily accessible to readers, has an inviting format, and is informative and entertaining. I was hooked from the first page and wholeheartedly recommend this book to history buffs, anyone wanting to read about spunky women, and those just looking for a great read.

AE

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Beowulf on the Beach

Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits
By Jack Murnighan
Three Rivers Press, 2009. 374 pages. Nonfiction

Writer and professor Jack Murnighan says it’s time to give literature another look, but this time you’ll enjoy yourself. With a little help, you’ll see just how great the great books are: how they can make you laugh, moisten your eyes, and leave you awestruck and deeply moved. Beowulf on the Beach is your field guide for helping you read and relish fifty of the biggest (and most skipped) classics of all time. For each book, Murnighan reveals how to get the most out of your reading and provides a crib sheet that includes the Buzz, the Best Line, What’s Sexy, and What to Skip.

This book is probably most appealing to people who are already lovers of classic literature and would be little help for a non-reader looking for a quick summary of storylines. Although I rarely agreed with Murnighan’s What to Skip recommendations—the first chapters of Jane Eyre? the last chapters of Pride and Prejudice? really?—I did enjoy reminiscing over my favorite classic literature, and learning more about books I haven’t yet read, with someone who clearly enjoys reading the classics as well.

LF

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lirael, Daughter of the Clayr

By Garth Nix
HarperCollins, 2001. 487 p. Young Adult

Lirael is a daughter of the Clayr, but has not yet received "the Sight"--an ability to glimpse possible futures. Lirael is disappointed that she has not received "the Sight" and doesn't feel like a true daughter of the Clayr. Most all the Clayr are women and live beneath a mountain at the northernmost tip of the Northern Kingdom. Of course, Lirael is no ordinary member of the Clayr and she is destined to save both the Old and New Kingdoms from destruction.

This is a tale nicely told with interesting characters, some nice plot developments, and a bit of humor that kept me so engaged in the story that I was loath to put it down. Lirael is a smart, talented, and fearless character. This book is part two of a trilogy bookended by Sabriel and Abhorsen.

SML


Bringing Adam Home

Bringing Adam Home
By Les Standiford
Ecco, 2011. 291 pgs. Nonfiction

In July 1981, Adam Walsh was kidnapped outside of a Sears store in Florida. When his severed head was found two weeks later, life in America changed forever, and Adam's parents, John and Reve, pushed for legislation and organizations to better support victims of kidnapping and their families. Even as they advanced their cause, no one was charged with the kidnapping and murder of their son, despite the fact that Otis Toole confessed numerous times. Detective Sargent Joe Matthews, who tried to help the local police department from the start but was rebuffed many times over the years, did eventually piece together the evidence to the give the Walsh family the closure they needed.

This was a fascinating true crime story. It will draw readers into one of America's most infamous crimes. The writing can be a bit disturbing, due to some language and the nature of the crime, but overall, I think the author handled the subject matter as tastefully as he could while staying true to the story. A superb piece of narrative nonfiction.

AE

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Tenth Power

The Tenth Power
By Kate Constable
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005. 306 pgs. Young Adult

In this final book of the Chanters of Tremaris Trilogy, Calwyn has returned to Antaris to find some healing and peace only to discover that a sickness is attacking many of the chanters and that winter is not ending as it should. Now she must set out to find a way to not only heal the people but also the whole land of Tremaris. There are many twists and turns in this story and I enjoyed learning more about the history of the land and its' people.

The magic of song combines with the magic of dance in this final book to bring a satisfying conclusion to the series. Once again this book combines adventure, magic, mystery and a little bit of romance. This trilogy would appeal to many different readers.

AL

Friday, March 18, 2011

Secondhand Charm

Secondhand Charm
By Julie Berry
Bloomsbury Books for Young Readers, 2010. 342 pgs. Young Adult

Evie is a small-town girl who seems to have a knack for healing. When she's offered an opportunity to study at the Royal University, she jumps at the chance to fulfill her dream of becoming a physician. However, along the way, her coach is waylaid by a bandit and then her boat is shipwrecked and her friend Aidan, with whom she seemed to be forming a blooming romance, becomes suddenly distant as they both realize that Evie isn't exactly who she thought she was. Soon, Evie is struggling with her new identity and trying to figure out what she really wants in life.

This book was a fun mixture of fantasy, adventure, and romance. I enjoyed the characters and the plot. I read this in one sitting because I was anxious to see how it would turn out. A great choice for fans of Shannon Hale's Bayern series.

AE

The Weird Sisters

The Weird Sisters
By Eleanor Brown
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2011. 320 pgs. Fiction

Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia Andreas are the daughters of a renown Shakespearean expert and grew up in the small college town of Barney. When their mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, the three sisters each find themselves moving back home and being forced to face the consequences of the decisions they have made on their way to adulthood. Each of these women seems to be running from the fear that they will never live up to their parents’ expectations, constantly trying to define themselves as an individual, distinct from their other two siblings.

Brown writes with a great deal of heart and insight. The Andreas family is filled with all the complexity of a real family. But what truly makes this novel stand out is the author’s unusual choice to have all three sisters narrate the story using a first person plural voice. This choice creates an intimate and unique reading experience that I found captivating.

CZ

All in the Family

All in the Family: A Look-It-Up Guide to the In-laws, Outlaws, and Offspring of Mythology
By Steven Otfinofski
F. Watts/Scholastic, 2010. 128 pages. Young Adult Nonfiction

What would Apollo's online profile look like? What would Aphrodite say if she had her own blog? Greek mythology hall of famers meet the modern age in a new series that brings the superstars of Greek myth to life with stories that put them in the pantheon. Complete with profiles, headshots, family trees, fascinating sidebars and irreverent surprises, Mythlopedia is for readers who love action, romance, power struggles and more.

This entry in the Mythlopedia series, directed at a young adult audience, profiles the lives (and usually deaths) of several non-Olympian heroes and mortals. At times, Otfinofski tries too hard to sound hip (Midas: “Aw, snap! Check this out, player—anything I touch turns to gold!”), but most of the information is provided in a concise, easy to understand format. The book is a good resource for anyone trying to understand basic plots of Greek mythology, but despite its attempts to make family connections clear, I still find the Olympian family tree a muddled mess.

LF

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Death Instinct

by Jed Rubenfeld
Riverside/Penguin, 2011. 464 pgs. Fiction


Well before the Oklahoma City bombings and the 9/11 attacks, Wall Street was attacked by terrorists on September 16, 1920. A wagon filled with shrapnel and explosives detonated shortly after noon, killing thirty-eight people and wounding many more. In Rubenfeld's crackling good yarn, Detective Jimmy Littlemore of the NYPD and Dr. Stratham Younger, war veteran and former student of Sigmund Freud, are on site when the bomb goes off along with a beautiful young French woman, Colette Rousseau, a student of Marie Curie. Littlemore immediately begins an investigation which quickly runs counter to official explanations; Younger falls in love with Colette and is kept hopping when several people try to kill her. Though the original case of the Wall Street bombings was never solved, Rubenfeld comes up with a credible explanation thanks to the legwork and brainpower of Littlemore and Younger. Suspense, romance, and a wry humor enliven these pages. The book is longish but I doubt anyone will want to set it aside too frequently before reaching the end. A fine history and a fine mystery.

LW

A World Without Heroes

A World Without Heroes
By Brandon Mull
Aladdin, 2011. 446 pgs. Young Adult.

In this first volume of the Beyonders series, Jason Walker doesn't waste time fiddling around in an old wardrobe to find his way into a fantastical world--he dives down a hippo's throat. Finding himself in Lyrian, the world whose heroes have essentially been eliminated by Maldor the evil emperor magician, Jason hunts for a way to get back to Colorado but instead manages to get on the wrong side of the bad guys when he looks in a skin-covered eyeball-ridden book that tells of a Word of Power that will destroy Maldor and free the Lyrians. Hoping that his quest to save himself will coincide with his unexpected responsibility to save the Lyrians, Jason sets out with Rachel, another Beyonder, to find the syllables that will bring Maldor down. Macroid the Giant Crab, the Pythoness of the Sunken Lands, the detachable appendages guys, and my favorite, the Duel to the Death (almost) with Billiard Balls all either help or hinder the two teens along their way to a cliff-hanger ending that will have to wait until next year for the temporary resolution of a second volume. Jason and Rachel are fine, funny young people who should appeal to and inspire Mull's many many many many readers. A more rigorous editorial hand could have tightened the narrative some, but the story is imaginative and memorable. Brandon Mull has done it again.

LW

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Anya's War

Anya's War
By Andrea Alban
Feiwel and Friends, 2011. 188 pgs. Young Adult

Fourteen-year-old Anya is a Jewish girl who has recently moved with her family from their home in Odessa to Shanghai to escape persecution in the years prior to World War II. Anya must deal with changes in her family (her mother is no longer the loving, fun woman she was in Russia), adjusting to a new country, and the normal aspects of being a teenage girl (namely, dealing with boys). At the same time, she is worried about her missing heroine, Amelia Earhart, and whether or not Japan will be attacking Shanghai.

This story, based on the author's ancestors' experiences, addresses an aspect of World War II and the Holocaust that isn't normally addressed, but at the same time, I found it hard to get into the story. There seemed to be a lot going on, but it isn't weaved together well enough to make it a truly cohesive piece of writing. Also, while the Hebrew and Chinese phrases and customs thrown in give the book an authentic feel, they are used in such a way that they seem to break up the flow of the story rather than contribute to it; I think most readers will be frustrated by it rather than drawn into the different cultures.

AE

OK

OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word
By Allan A. Metcalf
Oxford University Press, 2011. 210 pgs. Nonfiction

OK is a quiet but shining star in the universe of American dialogue. We use it daily in a multitude of contexts. But how did this little combination of a couple letters rise to its present prevalence? Well, it started as a joke, became a political slogan, was adopted by telegraph operators as a quick way to acknowledge receipt, and slowing but surely planted itself in the hearts, minds, and mouths of a nation. Metcalf’s book tells the story of this little word’s interesting origin, rise, and dominance in the vocabulary of the world.

There is not doubt that OK has a great history. OK is said to be the most commonly used word in the English language and yet most of us have never given its origin and history any thought. This book presents everything you could possibly want to know about the word and, for the most part, does so in an entertaining way (minus the chapter listing business named OK of which there are a surprising number of dry cleaners). Most readers will be able to sate their interest in this topic with a quick skim of the first and last few chapters.

Heresy

Heresy
By S.J. Parris
Anchor, 2011. 448 pgs. Mystery

Giordano Bruno spent 15 years as a monk in Italy before being excommunicated and hunted for reading books banned by the Catholic Pope. After narrowly escaping with his life, Bruno became a philosopher, scientist, magician and poet seeking the protection and patronage of powerful men throughout Europe as he seeks for truth in all forms. Now on an assignment from a new patron, Bruno is sent to Cambridge to debate the nature of the universe as well as search the academic community for dangerous papists plotting against Queen Elizabeth. Soon after his arrival, a series of strange and brutal murders capture his attention and he is swept up in a labyrinth of lies and deception placing his life, once again, in grave danger.

This period of European history following the rise of Queen Elizabeth is an excellent era to set this new series of thrillers. The intrigue and distrust that permeated all levels of society and the great number of religious fanatics willing to go to brutal extremes to further their missions is fertile ground for literary adventures. Parris does a good job of evoking the time period and keeps the reader guessing, along with her protagonist, at who is killing off the college’s fellows and what their motive could possibly be. A great start to a new historical mystery series.

CZ

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Delta Anomaly

The Delta Anomaly
By Rick Barba
Simon Spotlight, 2010. 223 pgs. Young Adult

A string of murders are breaking out in San Francisco, and when a Starfleet cadet is attacked on the street, luckily Kirk and a few friends are there to scare the attacker off. The cadet is treated by a medical team including Leonard McCoy, who notices a mysterious grey substance that brings up more questions that it answers. The attacker's recorded voice is analyzed by the gifted cadet Uhura, who finds that the recording is not one voice but several. They soon realize that this was no ordinary attack.

This is a new young-adult series based in the Star Trek timeline that was created for the 2009 movie. It focuses on the years that Kirk attends the Academy in San Francisco before the main action of the movie. This was basically a murder mystery wrapped up in Star Trek trappings, with a dash of Kirk's brash personality and Starfleet Academy pressure. While a few shortcomings were irritating, I still found this to be a fun read overall. Teens who liked the Star Trek movie should enjoy this series.

Technically the second book in the series is The Edge by Rudy Josephs, but that book takes place chronologically earlier than this one. It doesn't really matter which one you read first.

BHG

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Water Wars

The Water Wars
By Cameron Stracher
Sourcebooks Fire, 2011. 240 pgs. Young Adult

In a future America, water has become the world's most precious commodity. Vera and her brother Will live in a region of the former U.S. where water is scarce, and their mother is dying from the lack of it. When Kai, a new kid, says he knows where water is, Vera is intrigued, but soon Kai is missing and she and Will set out to find him before it's too late.

The characters in this book aren't developed as well as I would have liked, but it certainly has an interesting plot, with the demand for water a frightening possibility.

AE

Ptolemy's Gate

Ptolemy's Gate
By Jonathan Stroud
Random House/Listening Library, 2006. 13 CDs (72 mins. each). Young Adult

In the final installment of the Bartimaeus trilogy, Nathaniel is the information minister and has the responsibility of rousing sympathy for the war Britain is raging with the American colonies, as well as dealing with rebelling commoners in Great Britain. He has kept Bartimaeus in slavery so long that the dijnni is approaching death, his essence constantly weakening. Meanwhile, Kitty Jones is busy trying to research magic, intrigued by something Bartimaeus said in their previous meeting, and soon, the three will be brought together in their most difficult task of all.


I enjoyed this book most of the trilogy; seeing some of Bartimaeus's back story really helped make him a round character, and the growth that all three of the main characters experience, paired up with an intense plot, makes this book particularly gripping. As with the others, Simon Jones provides terrific narration, and while I'm sad to reach the end of Nathaniel's story, I'm definitely glad I listened to this trilogy.

AE

The Golem's Eye

The Golem's Eye
By Jonathan Stroud
Random House/Listening Library, 2004. 14 CDs (72 mins. each). Young Adult


In the second book in the Bartimaeus trilogy, Nathaniel, now fourteen, is acquiring more authority and responsibility in the government--as well as more enemies. As a powerful force in unleashed on London, Nathaniel, with the help of the unwilling Bartimaeus, sets out to figure what--and who--is behind the attacks.

I didn't like this book quite as much as the other two in the Bartimaeus trilogy, but it's still a fun adventure. This is a great series to listen; Simon Jones is a fantastic narrator.

AE

The Hidden Reality

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos
By Brian Greene
Alferd A. Knopf, 2011. 370 pgs. Nonfiction

In his previous books, Brian Greene has brought to us nonscientists, explanations of the theories being explored by some of the world’s brightest physicists. String theory, quantum theory, and the search for a unified theory have all been visited and broken down. Now, he presents a look at the different theories allowing for multiple universes and what this means to science.

This is not light reading for the casual scientific dabbler. This isn’t to say that Greene doesn’t do an excellent job attempting to explain extremely complex concepts, he does as well as anyone can be expected to. But apart from the first and last couple of chapters, I’m going to admit a lot of this went straight over my head. If you are looking to understand the universe on both a grand and minuscule level, Greene’s books are certainly the best place to turn. Just be prepared to take it slow.

CZ

Madame Tussaud

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution
By Michelle Moran
Crown, 2011. 448 pgs. Fiction

Eventually known around the world for her amazing wax museums, Madame Tussaud’s early adulthood was spent in Paris during the French Revolution. Her family had ties with both the revolutionaries and the royalists, a situation that forced them to walk a fine line as they waited to see which faction would be left standing. The terror and uncertainty of that violent period of history is vividly brought to light in this detailed piece of historical fiction.

Most of the fiction I have read depicting the French Revolution have focused on either the nobility and their flight from the guillotine or their English rescuers like the Scarlet Pimpernel. Moran’s novel brought a whole new viewpoint to life, that of the common people of France. This is perfect for historical fiction readers who don’t mind a bit of violence and enjoy a thrilling story.

CZ

The Education of Hailey Kendrick

The Education of Hailey Kendrick
By Eileen Cook
Simon Pulse, 2011. 256 pgs. Young Adult

Obsessed with order and safety after her mother’s death, Hailey Kendrick lives by the rules and is content with her stable boyfriend of four years. But when her father suddenly, and with no thought of Hailey’s feelings, cancels their summer plans together, Hailey vandalizes school property. She starts breaking other rules and soon finds herself surrounded by three boys who offer three very different things. With all this new chaos, Hailey begins to wonder who she really is. This book wasn’t really worth my time. Hailey’s problems could be interesting, but she doesn’t stand out in a crowded field of young adult realistic novels. Also, some of her schoolmates’ antics were tiring and crass.

MN

Remembering Raquel

Remembering Raquel
By Vivian Vande Velde
Harcourt, 2007. 137 pgs. Young Adult

Various people recall aspects of the life of Raquel Falcone, an unpopular, overweight freshman at Quail Run High School, including classmates, her parents, and the driver who struck and killed her as she was walking home from an animated film festival.

This short novel looks at the affect we have on each other, whether we realize it or not. Raquel’s classmates didn’t think much of her when she was alive, and some of their opinions didn’t change after she died. However others realized that they should be a little nicer to those around them. In the midst of tragedy, new friendships were formed. If you are looking for a short book from a variety of viewpoints, this book is for you.

AMM

Friday, March 11, 2011

Avielle of Rhia

Avielle of Rhia
By Dia Calhoun
Marshall Cavendish, 2006. 397 pgs. Young Adult

With her silver skin and silver hair, fifteen-year-old Princess Avielle closely resembles her great-great grandmother who practiced evil magic. Everyone in Rhia expects Avielle to turn evil, too. Shunned by those around her, she feels unloved and unable to love others. In addition, Rhia is on the verge of war with Dredonia, where the evil Brethren of the Black Cloaks have placed impossible demands upon Rhia. After a devestating attack by the Brethren, Avielle goes into hiding among the common people and soon learns she has a magical gift for weaving. But Avielle is unsure if this gift will help free her people, or if it will unlock the evil that possessed her great-great grandmother.

This was an okay fantasy: it tells an interesting story but it did drag a bit while several supporting characters were built up. I think if you are a fan of young adult fantasy (similar to Shannon Hale's books), you will find something to enjoy in this book.

BHG

Cate of the Lost Colony

Cate of the Lost Colony
By Lisa Klein
Bloomsbury Children's, 2010. 329 pgs. Young Adult

Thrilled to be a ladies maid to Queen Elizabeth, orphaned Catherine Archer sets out for London realizing that a person’s fortune can change on a whim as she discovers the Queen’s mercurial nature. Catherine soon captures the attention of Sir Walter Ralegh, a favorite of the queen’s, and they begin a whirlwind, secret romance, but it doesn’t last among the jealousies and spying of the court. The Queen dooms Catherine to the New World, which does not turn out to be the paradise everyone envisioned. Catherine and her fellow colonists struggle to survive on Roanoke Island, but realize they might need help from the native Indians. This book isn’t a bad read for a lazy afternoon, especially for readers who are interested in an interpretation of what might have happened to the lost colony of Roanoke or those wanting a little romance.

MN

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography
By Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón
Hill and Wang, 2010. 152 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

Anne Frank and her family left Germany as Hitler rose to power, settling in Amsterdam. When the Nazis increased in power, the Franks went into hiding but were betrayed only months before the end of the war in Europe. This graphic biography of Anne Frank really brings Anne Frank's story to life.Excellent illustrations, based off of photographs of the Franks and their associates, make Anne Frank's important story accessible to a whole new generation readers. Those who have read her diary will want to check this out, while fans of graphic novels and comics can appreciate the work that has gone into this book and be drawn to Anne Frank's diary in return.

AE

The Lying Game

The Lying Game
By Sara Shepard
HarperTeen, 2010. 307 pgs. Young Adult

Emma is a foster care kid about to be kicked out of her foster home when she finds a girl on Facebook who looks just like her. Wondering if she has a long-lost twin, Emma contacts her ad the girls arrange to meet. However, her twin, Sutton, never shows up, and Emma gets sucked into Sutton's life, with everyone thinking she's Sutton. However, Emma realizes that Sutton is actually dead, and someone is using Emma to cover up that very fact. This whole mess is complicated by the fact that Sutton and her friends like to play a game called the Lying Game, where they mastermind horrific pranks, and are adept at lying--and at invoking the wrath of others. Emma tries to figure out what happened to the sister she never met--and to keep herself from being the next victim.

This book is an interesting addition to the teen mystery genre; it's a bit difficult to explain, with all its many plot twists, but it's definitely worth picking up. It's the first book in a series and nothing is resolved, but many readers will be hooked by this one and eagerly await the next. The style can be a little bit confusing, since Sutton, who is indeed dead, is the first-person narrator, but she can only see through Emma, so a lot of the book is told through Emma's point of view, as interpreted by Sutton. However, the plot is enough to drive the book, and Emma is a nice girl that will draw readers in as they hope she can outwit whoever is after her. A little bit of language, but otherwise, a clean read.

AE

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Nomansland

Nomansland
By Lesley Hauge
Henry Holt, 2010. 243 pgs. Young Adult

In a future world, on an island that has been populated only by women for hundreds of years, a group of teenage girls come across an underground shelter filled with strange objects from the time before the Tribulation. These objects are considered Pitfalls—things that will distract them from their purpose and unity, like mirrors and makeup. After finding this stash of objects and witnessing other events on the island, Keller, one of the girls, begins to question her allegiance and if what she has been told all her life might have been a lie.

The premise intrigued me—a society with no focus on beauty and life’s frivolities. But the book left me with more questions than answers; there seemed to be something missing in the story. I think part of the reason I also did not enjoy it was the character Laing. She reminded me of the stereotypical cheerleader in most teen novels, the mean girl everyone wants to be friends with. Teen girls who want a different take on the dystopia genre might want to pick this up, but I would not recommend this to teen guys because they might be uncomfortable with some of the subject matter.

KK

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1
By Stephenie Meyer and Young Kim
Yen Press, 2010. Unpaged. Young Adult

Volume One covers the beginning of the Twilight story, from Bella’s move to Forks, Washington to her discovery that Edward is a vampire (if that was a spoiler, than I just don’t know what to say about that).

The graphic novel is done in black and white with a splash of color during certain key scenes like “the meadow.” This artistic choice added to the story, making important events stand out. I really liked how the artist used black and white photographs spliced throughout the book with his own drawings, giving the story a little touch of an eerie supernatural feeling.

KK

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Unraveling Freedom

Unraveling Freedom
By Ann Bausum
National Geographic, 2010. 88 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction

While the United States entered World War I after an impassioned speech by President Woodrow Wilson, who stated that the U.S. needed to fight for freedom, ironically, the U.S.'s involvement in the war led to limited freedoms at home. With the passage of the Espionage Act, the Sedition Act, and the Alien Act, democratic freedoms were lessened, particularly for those of German descent. With the denouncement of Germany and all things German, anyone with connections to Germany could be suspected of being a spy or a traitor to the United States.

This book is fabulously illustrated and highly informative. Readers will definitely come away with a better understanding of how the U.S. was affected by their involvement in World War I and decisions by the government. Additionally, a brief section at the end of the book explains similar actions taken during other U.S. conflicts, helping readers see how these patterns may be repeated throughout history. This book was a pleasure to read and is very teen-friendly, particularly in regard to the format.

AE

Monday, March 7, 2011

Prisoners in the Palace

Prisoners in the Palace
By Michaela MacColl
Chronicle Books, 2010. 367 pgs. Young Adult

Elizabeth Hastings is newly orphaned and impoverished. Her hopes for a bright future are dashed, and she finds herself working as a maid--for Victoria, who is next in line for the British throne. Victoria's mother and her mother's "friend," Sir John, are desperate for power and want Victoria, when she is crowned, to make her mother Regent and give Sir John powerful positions in the kingdom. Victoria longs for a life of her own, beyond the restrictions of her mother and Sir John, and she enlists Liza to help her in her schemes. Liza has plans of her own: to win Victoria's good graces and reestablish her position in society.

This is an interesting look at Victoria and her life before she became queen. There were times when she grated on my nerves--she's very frivolous and self-absorbed at the outset of the book (and the middle...and even somewhat at the end). Liza was a more sympathetic character, and the book contains a little adventure, intrigue, and romance.

AE

Friday, March 4, 2011

Where the Truth Lies

Where the Truth Lies
By Jessica Warman
Walker & Co., 2010. 308 pgs. Young Adult

Emily Meckler lives at a boarding school, and she and her parents (who work, and therefore live, at the school) meet with the school counselor to try to figure out why Emily has terrifying nightmares about fire and water. Then Del Sugar comes to school, and Emily, who has always been shy, finds herself sneaking out to be with him, even though her father is adamant about wanting her to stay away from him. Emily soon finds herself in over her head, and as she experiences one traumatic experience after another, she finds out her life is much different than she thought.

This book is a whirlwind of teenage problems; while I can't list all of them without giving away plot lines, I will say that by tackling so many different dilemmas (and there really are a LOT of problems), the book was drawn too thin and none of them get the attention they deserve. The book wraps up too neatly and easily to make it really plausible. Still, for readers who can suspend disbelief, I did find Emily to be a likable character.

AE

To a Mountain in Tibet

To a Mountain in Tibet
by Colin Thubron
Harper, 2011. 227 pgs. Non-fiction.

At 22,027 feet, Mount Kailas is a bit of a shrimp of the Himalayas, not even making the 100 Highest Mountains in the world list, but it sits at the top of the holiness scale, a mountain held sacred by a fifth of the world's population, including Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and Bons. After the death of his mother, his last blood relative, Colin Thubron undertook a pilgrimage to Kailas as a means of grieving and honoring his family. In this, as in so many other travel narratives, it is the journey rather than the arrival that matters, although reaching Kailas means the beginning of another journey--the cleansing "kora," or circumnavigation of the peak which takes travelers to a dangerous 18,600 feet above sea level. Thubron's description of his trek in Nepal and Tibet is rich with historical, cultural, and spiritual references; nor does he spare the reader a stark look at the grinding poverty which is rarely referenced in romanticized Western views of "mystical" Tibet. And yet his journey to the mountain and then around it is steeped in the breathtaking beauty of the land and the vigor and kindness of her people. Though I at first regretted the absence of pictures in the book, I soon came to realize that Thubron's exquisite descriptions and atmospheric text were better than any number of Google images, and much more memorable.

LW

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Sweetness of Salt

The Sweetness of Salt
By Cecilia Galante
Bloomsbury, 2010. 311 pgs. Young Adult

Julia has her post-graduation life planned out exactly: internship with the district attorney’s office in the summer, attend Pitt (even though it is not her first choice), and become a first class lawyer. Celebrations on graduation day don’t go as planned though for Julia. Her sister Sophie arrives and starts her usual fight with their parents about life before Julia came along. Something this time is different though and Julia realizes her parents have kept a big secret from her. Mad at both her parents and her sister, Julia drops her carefully laid plans to spend the summer with Sophie and discover the truth behind the secret.

Julia is a relatable character who is not too angsty or melodramatic. Sophie comes across as too much at times, but eventually shows her softer side. Julia’s relationship with a slightly older guy who gives her the much-needed friendship and guidance she needs is a great part of the story. It was refreshing to see a young man and young woman engaging in a solid friendship without worrying about it being more. The only thing that bothered me were the parents and their refusal to tell Julia the truth behind their secret; it seemed implausible.

MN

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
By Beth Hoffman
Viking, 2010. 306 pgs. Fiction

Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt has spent her whole life in Ohio, taking care of her mentally ill mother after her father abandons them. When her mother is tragically killed, CeeCee's great aunt shows up to whisk her away to Savannah, Georgia. Once there she is surrounded by strong southern women who show her love and wisdom in the face of life's trials.

Mrs. Odell, Aunt Tootie, Oletta Jones, and Miz Goodpepper were just a few of the eccentric characters that I came to love. There were many hilarious adventures and heartwarming moments and I finished the book feeling good about life. I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially readers who enjoyed "The Help" or "The Secret Life of Bees".

AL

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales
By Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Penguin Books, 2009. 206 pages. Fiction

This volume of otherworldly tales by an award-winning Russian author blends fantastical and macabre themes in a treasury that incorporates supernatural and darkly whimsical storylines.

I had high hopes for this short story collection. For one, I couldn’t resist its title. I also have an affinity for Eastern European literature. Sadly, the first few stories left me disappointed. Although the author is Russian and the stories take place in Russia, I felt like I'd heard many of them before. In fact, some read like a rehash of scary stories I heard at sleepovers as a child. I also felt no spark in the writing—which might have been a problem with the translation. The more I read, though, the more interesting the narratives became. I got into Petrushevskaya's rhythm and found the stories fascinating although traditional. I wouldn’t describe the book as scary, but it definitely leans towards the morbid.

LF

The Latte Rebellion

The Latte Rebellion
By Sarah Jamila Stevenson
Flux, 2011. 328 pgs. Young Adult

Asha Jamison wants to earn money for a fabulous post-graduation trip and raise awareness abou mixed-race people like herself. So she and a couple of friends form the latte rebellion, to promote that it's good to be brown or mixed. But what starts as a small website selling t-shirts to earn money goes viral, and as more people join the cause, there are reactions and repercussions that Asha never anticipated--some of which may even get her expelled.

I really liked the issues that this book discussed, particularly how mixed race people may not feel comfortable with any particular group and Asha needing to figure out how much this cause means to her. There's a little bit of language (of the milder variety), but other than that, it's a clean read, and definitely a thought-provoking one.

AE

The Ropemaker

The Ropemaker
By Peter Dickinson
Delacorte Press, 2007. 375 pgs. Young Adult

For 20 generations the Valley has been safe. The old stories speak of two people from the Valley who went in search of a powerful magician to help protect them from the marauders to the north and the evil empire to the south. But the magical protection he set in place is starting to break down, and Tilja and her family can sense that danger is approaching. She sets out with her grandmother and two others to find the magician Faheel, if he's even still alive, to ask him to renew the magic that keeps her Valley safe. Along the way Tilja is dismayed to find that she seems to be the only one in her family without any magical abilities, until she realizes that she doesn't just lack magic, she has the ability to render it powerless.

Despite a few technical problems that could have used some editing, this was an enjoyable coming-of-age story and a very imaginative fantasy. It reminded me a lot of the style of Lloyd Alexander, so I think fans of his books would enjoy this. There is a sequel called Angel Isle that picks up the story 200 years in the future.

BHG