Wednesday, December 29, 2010

As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins

Picture this. You decide to go to camp in Montana (you live in Wisconsin). On the train you open up a piece of mail from said camp to learn the camp is not going to be open when you get there. Your train breaks down. In an attempt to get a cell phone signal to call home, you get off the train, despite being told not to. While you are trying to call home, the train is fixed and starts to move. Without you.

Now what?

Well, if you're Ry, you walk to the nearest town (hours away). You meet a friendly man Del who offers to drive you back to Wisconsin. Meanwhile, your grandfather (who's staying at your house in Wisconsin) takes the dogs for a walk and falls into a pit in the woods. And your parents, on their first vacation in forever in the Caribbean, leave their cell phone on a volcano.

What other option does Ry have but to find his parents and his grandfather?

A good book, although some suspension of disbelief is necessary. Ry is a great character, flawed but not too much. He's the main story, although his grandfather, his parents, and even the dogs get a chapter or two here and there. A good road trip and adventure story.

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Calla Tor is the newest alpha in her family. As such, she's given her own pack--the other wolves her age--to rule over. She is promised to Ren Laroche--the alpha in another pack--also her age. Together they'll form a new pack to help protect the Keepers. On their eighteenth birthday they'll be mated and set up in their own territory as Guardians.

Before that can happen, Calla saves a young man attacked by a bear. Defying the rules she's followed her entire life, she saves him by sharing her blood. Now he's showing up everywhere--at school and with the Keepers. Somehow, Shay has an important role to play, and Calla is asked to keep him under her wing. Unfortunately, she also starts falling for him, placing herself and her pack in danger. Especially when she learns the real reason he's been honored by the Keepers.

Will saving him condemn her to death?

Not a lot happens in this book. There will be another one, so this one really sets the scene. Calla follows rules and orders without questioning why, while Shay questions everything. While some of the scenes could have been shorter or cut out completely, anyone who is a fan of books like Twilight, Shiver, or Vampire Academy will be interested in this new addition.

The Everafter by Amy Huntley

Madison is dead. That's the only thing she knows for sure. What she doesn't know is how she got that way. And she'd like to know.

In the near distance she sees a light. As she gets closer, she sees an image of a bracelet she lost when she was younger. When she touches the image, she gets taken back to the memory of what happened when she lost it. Even more strange, she can enter her body at that time and try to alter that specific event. Each time she does that, she can't remember the details of the original memory, just the altered one. Pretty soon, she's trying every object she can find to see moments from her life which all ultimately lead to the scene where she lost her life.

Some memories shouldn't be altered though. And others can't change.

I liked this book for the overall concept and story. Madison loses a lot of objects during her lifetime, even though she's only 17, so there are many memories for her to follow. The switching from the past to the present jars a little, but it gets better as the story goes on. While the ending was a little surprising, Madison's feelings are not.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Alex wakes up in a strange boy's bed, a bad taste in her mouth, and without any of her clothes. She can't remember how she got that way. She makes her way back to her room across Themis' campus, determined to forget everything.

But her roommate T.S. has a different idea. She believes Alex was raped and wants her to go to the Mockingbirds to turn Carter in. The Mockingbirds is a student-run justice force to police bad behavior.

While Alex decides to talk with the Mockingbirds, she has doubts about what really happened in Carter's bed. And when he tells all his friends about her and their "great" time together, she starts avoiding him at all costs. This event has completely changed her life, and thanks to the Mockingbirds, it's about to change Carter's as well.

Then Carter and his friends get pushy about her silence. And have no problem smearing her to anyone who will listen. Especially at the Mockingbirds' trial.

While I agree with the reviewers that it seems implausible the adults at Themis have absolutely no idea what's going on, I can fully believe they'd turn a blind eye to misbehavior and misconduct.

The real story here is Alex's coping with being date raped, her acceptance of what happened to her, and the beginning of the healing process. Alex spends much of the book in agony that she asked for what happened, she can only remember bits and pieces, and she worries about Carter not being found guilty. I found the character and story to ring true with what I know, and thought it was just amazing. Well worth reading.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B Cooney

I decided to re-read the Face on the Milk Carton because I couldn't remember everything that happened. I've read the other two sequels, so the story got a little mushed together in the mean time.

Janie has a pretty good life for being almost sixteen. She actually gets along with her parents, has great friends, and enjoys school (as much as one can). So when she's at lunch one day, she can't believe the picture she sees on the milk carton of a 3-year old kidnapped girl. It's her.

Janie becomes obsessed with learning about the family she may or may not have been taken from. She convinces the boy next door, Reeve, to drive her to their house in New Jersey so she can see it. She goes through old boxes and finds the dress from the picture. And her memories start coming back of another family and of the woman who bought her an ice cream sundae and convinced her to go for a drive.

Janie can't believe her parents would kidnap anyone, but it's obvious they must have, right? Things start colliding together until Janie is left with no other option but to tell them she knows.

I've always enjoyed this story, but re-reading it gave me a chance to step back and look at it again. Janie is a likable character and her fears and emotions come across well. Her friends don't play an important part of the story, so while there, they're more background noise, other than Reeve. Janie is a little more wrapped up in her own world than anyone in her life appreciates, but it's understandable.

And you can try to ignore the references to cassette tapes and pay phones as well as the lack of cell phones and other forms of technology. The story isn't any worse for missing those.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Big Field by Mike Lupica

Hutch loves baseball. He lives for it. He breathes it. And in the summer, it's all he can think about. Even having to play second base instead of shortstop (his real position) doesn't dim his love for baseball. Not even the hotshot now playing shortstop.

When his team gets their chance to play in their version of the World Series, Hutch is ecstatic. Baseball season is never long enough. But the road there is paved with problems...Hutch zoned out and stole a play from Darryl (the hotshot), he catches Darryl and Hutch's dad practicing together (something Hutch's dad never does with Hutch), and Hutch gets suspended a game after starting a fight.

In the world of baseball, it's all about teamwork and balance. Hutch needs to find both to help the team make it to the championship.

Hutch is a great character, but he is only one of many. Most of the characters are fleshed out--at least the main players (his best friend, his parents, Darryl...). The action of the game is clear and the author clearly knows baseball lingo. A great book for any sports nut--especially baseball.

Grace by Elizabeth Scott

Grace is an Angel. To the People, Angels are used to bring justice to their world. By taking out government officials. By suicide bombs.

It's an honor to be chosen. Or so Grace and her fellow Angels have been taught to believe. Grace can't accept they were chosen for death. She doesn't want death. So when her chance arrives, she leaves the bomb and walks away before setting it off. She shames her father and the man she was promised to by this act alone.

Shunned from her people, Grace must escape before the government finds her. She is given a traveling companion--Kerr--and a story to get them across the border. What she doesn't realize or even suspect is Kerr is one of the men she's been taught to fear, hate, and kill her entire life.

Sometimes things aren't always what they seem.

Told from Grace's point of view, the story jumps from present day, to the past, and back again. You get the full story in bits and pieces. Grace is a likable character, even if she struggles to understand everything going on around her and where she fits. There are a few plot skips, but the perspective is interesting--what goes on in the mind of a suicide bomber (a young one) and are they ever given a choice.

Hunger by Jackie Kessler

Lisabeth Lewis is seventeen and anorexic. When a friend confronts her about it, she decides it's time to end everything and tries to commit suicide. But she's interrupted by a young man with a package and a command, "...go thee out unto the world." The package is a Scale. Lisabeth has just become Famine, one of the Four Horsemen (women?) of the Apocalypse.

Of course, she believes it has all been a dream. However, she can't ignore the Scales that appear out of nowhere (that no one else can see) or the black horse in her backyard eating her mother's flowers. Or the riot she starts in Sydney, thousands of miles from home.

Once Lisabeth learns what real hunger is like from villagers eating dirt cookies, how can she continue to live like she has been? And how can she use this power to help instead of hurt?

An interesting concept--I've never read anything like this anyway. Lisabeth is a hard character to really like at first, but she has many redeemable qualities as the story goes on. There are amusing parts (especially when Death is singing) and the ending is especially moving.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shutout by Brendan Halpin

Amanda loves soccer--so does her best friend Lena. The two are inseparable and unstoppable on the soccer field. Until Amanda contracts Severs disease (heel pain) and can't keep up.

So when it comes down to tryouts before their freshman year of high school, Amanda's sure they'll still be playing together. But they aren't. Lena gets bumped up to varsity while Amanda's left on JV. At first, this really bothers Amanda, but she tries to shrug it off and still be Lena's best friend. Until Lena starts ignoring her. Amanda can't take it anymore and tells her off. And the friendship that lasted 6 years is over.

Amanda realizes things have to change, but didn't think it would happen so soon. Then the varsity team makes a huge mistake that costs them their rights to play and the JV needs to step up.

Amanda's a likable character and while the book is mostly about friendships and soccer, there's humor here too. The story is well-written and for someone who doesn't know a lot about soccer, I was never lost in any of the jargon (there isn't a lot). I could hardly put this book down.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale

Bobby Pendragon is your typical 14-year old guy who loves to play basketball and is good at it too. On the night of the final game, Bobby is running late so by chance his Uncle Press finds him still at home.

Press tells him there are people who need his help and he won't take no for an answer. Thinking it would be faster to just go with Press before the game, Bobby agrees. Before he knows what's happening, he's traveling down a flume on his way to Denduron, a different territory and time than Earth.

With no answers (or uncle) as to what he's suppose to do or how, Bobby kind of stumbles into situation after situation. Life on Denduron is primitive--at least for the Milago, slaves to the Bedoowan. Not to mention running into another Traveler--Saint Dane--who is determined to have chaos and war at every turn.

Bobby is a likable character who fumbles with his destiny. He doesn't want anything to do with being a Traveler, but he learns he has little choice. The story is told in alternating parts--Bobby's journal which he sends back to his friends Mark and Courtney. Mark and Courtney's reactions are the other half of the story. Looking forward to reading the other 9! (Yes, I said 9!!)

Boarder Patrol by Erin Thomas

Ryan is determined to be a professional snow boarder, so he practices whenever he gets a chance. Pretty easy when you're a junior Ski Patrol. So when a famous photographer catches him dinking around, he thinks he's got his shot.

Which then turns bitter when his snowboard is stolen. Kevin, his cousin, gets it back for him, which makes Ryan wonder just what Kevin knows about the string of stolen ski equipment.

His determination to get to the bottom of everything and learn the truth puts his own life, and Kevin's, in danger. And his chances of going pro along with it.

A quick novel, as this is one of the Orca Sports series. The pace is steady and the action keeps coming. A little easier to read for those who know the lingo, there's enough here to keep anyone turning the pages. Enjoyable and fast.

Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams

Ingrid, thirteen, has a habit of zoning out while reading, ignoring math homework, and attempting to emulate her idol, Sherlock Holmes. So when she finds out Cracked-up Katie was murdered the same day Ingrid was at her house, she is unsure of what to do. Should she step forward to the police and tell them what she knows (not much)? Or should she try to find out more information?

Ingrid opts for more information, once again in the wrong place when she returns to the scene to get back her cleats. Now the police chief is suspicious, two men Ingrid knows are innocent sit in jail, and the real killer is still out there and knows about her investigation.

All this on top of practicing for an upcoming play Alice in Wonderland. What's a young Holmes to do?

Ingrid is a likable character with an interesting thought process. There is a little romance here as well, but most of the story is concentrated on figuring out who killed Katie Kovac and watching Ingrid figure out clues. A nail-biting ending concludes this story, but not the series--this is book 1!

Three Quarters Dead by Richard Peck

Kerry believes her life is on it’s way to the top—she’s a sophomore invited to sit with the three most popular girls in school at lunch!

And while no one questions Tonya, Kerry can’t believe her luck until she learns she’s expected to give something in return.

At first it’s just pranks, but when Tonya, Natalie, and Makenzie die in a freak car accident that could have included Kerry, she starts to wonder if they might want or need something else from her too.

It took a while for me to get into this book. Kerry narrates her tale, and while interesting, the best part of the book happens in the later half. Not a huge fan of Peck's work but the horror in this one makes it worth it...for the most part. The ending is anti-climatic, and the beginning is slow, but the middle and last half of the book are interesting enough to keep reading.

Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

I've been wanting to read this book since it came out, and I finally got a chance!

Alcatraz is prone to breaking things. Not like you and I would think--big things. In the first few pages, he breaks the stove and sets his foster mother's kitchen on fire! That kind of breaking things.

Then he gets a strange package filled with sand. An old man shows up, claiming to be his grandfather. Alcatraz doesn't believe him...not until another man appears with a gun and tries to shoot him and his grandfather.

Alcatraz soon learns he lives in a world controlled almost entirely by Librarians. The lands they control are called Hushland (like the United States). The Librarians control everything, including information. His ability to break things is actually his Talent--and a powerful one. He'll need it to break into the Librarian's headquarters (the Library) and steal back the sands they stole. He just needs a plan and a little help.

There is action and humor here. The author or narrator intervenes a lot with comments or sidebars as the book goes on, but it doesn't get too distracting.

Flipped by Wedelin Van Draanen

Bryce and Juli have lived across the street from each other since the second grade. From the day they met, Juli's been a thorn in Bryce's side and Bryce has been the only one Juli wants.

Now in eighth grade, they both have to recognize some truths about themselves and each other. Bryce is forced to see behind the annoyance that is Juli, and Juli slowly realizes Bryce has never been who she thought. Just as she decides to have nothing to do with him, Bryce realizes he can't live without her.

So who do you root for?

Told in alternating voices, it's hard to dislike either character. They describe their relationship from the beginning. The story is touching, funny, sad, and joyful all at the same time. A great book.