Sunday, April 25, 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Our 16th president led an extraordinary life, and according to this work of fiction, we only knew the half of it.

At the age of 12, Abe's story begins. From humble beginnings, Abe declared war on vampires when his mother was murdered by one. He spent most of his young life hunting and killing those who used humans as cattle. The Civil War wasn't just about slavery of African Americans--it was about slavery of all vampires.

Grahame-Smith weaves vampires into the true story of Abraham Lincoln's life and presidency, focusing on the events in Lincoln's life that truly made him an amazing man..and in my opinion, the best president in history. Even without the vampire killing.

Heist Society by Ally Carter

Kat had enough with the family business until someone framed her in a school prank and her father is accused of stealing a private collection of extremely valuable paintings. And the owner won't hesitate to hurt everyone Kat cares about if he doesn't get them back.

So Kat has two weeks to find and steal back the five missing paintings. She knows her dad didn't take them--his alibi is stealing something else and having Interpol on his tail. Kat needs the skills and help of a few old buddies--Hale, Gabrielle, Simon, and the Bagshaw boys. Uncle Eddie, the unofficial leader of the family, has washed his hands of the whole mess and told her to do the same. But she can't do that with all of their lives on the line.

Kat knows who took the paintings and where they stashed them. Can she and her crew pull off an amazing heist to save her father and not get caught?

Lots of action and movement--Kat runs around Europe pretty easily. The characters all interesting and everything is well described. If you liked I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You, you'll definitely love this story!

Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont

Sydney is sixteen and has a problem--she's pregnant. And when she and her friend Natalia are caught stealing Natalia's parents' car, neither share Sydney's condition or the fact Sydney was trying to tell Tommy, the baby's father.

The last straw, Sydney is sent to her dad, who then sends her on a canoe trip in Canada for a month. No technology, just a group of teens camping in the wilderness. Then surprise--Natalia's parents think it's a suitable punishment for her as well, and both girls are in the wilderness together. Sydney had hoped she could forget about being pregnant for a while--but Natalia thinks and talks about it through the 4 weeks.

Along for the ride comes boys, friendship, and food poisoning that ends in Sydney's decision about the pregnancy.

Sydney is your typical teenager--she gets into trouble and can't tell her mom the real reason behind it. She forgets about the pregnancy for as long as she can, ignoring the whole issue until she can't anymore. This is one of the rare books that tackles the issue of abortion without being didactic. The only thing I wish is the book had some resources for girls in Sydney's situation. The book is very realistic and poignant.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Freaksville by Kitty Keswick

Kasey Maxwell thoroughly believes she is a freak. She fears touching anything with her bare hands because she sees things. Her visions usually involve death or mayhem and end with her in pain. Which is true when she gets a vision of Josh, the foreign exchange hottie from England.

Kasey assumes her vision means she should follow him, but Josh catches her. Then Kasey gets caught in auditioning in the school play, or admitting she was following Josh around. No one knew she'd land the lead. Just like she didn't realize the theater was haunted and she'd start seeing ghosts. Now everyone around her appears to be keeping secrets--Josh, her parents, and even her best friend.

Before she knows it, Kasey is up to her neck in Freaksville. And it isn't as bad as she feared.

Yet another paranormal romance mystery/suspense. There is a lot of things going on--the ghosts in the theater, Kasey's relationship with Josh, her dad's secret and his job, her mom's secret, and the normal high school struggles. The book is written in blog form, with much humor, action, suspense, and a little romance in the mix.

The Poison Eaters: And Other Stories by Holly Black

A collection of short stories all having a fairy tale or fantasy twist to them.

Black has published most of these in other anthologies, she just collected them all here in one novel.

"The Coldest Girl in Coldtown"--vampires
"A Reversal of Fortune" --deal with the devil
"The Boy Who Cried Wolf" --shapeshifters
"The Night Market" --elves and curses
"The Dog King" --shapeshifters
"Virgin" --faeries and unicorns
"In Vodka Veritas" --Bacchus and his followers; fairies (sort of)
"The Coat of Stars" --faeries
"Paper Cuts Scissors" --books, characters out of books (think Inkheart but darker)
"Going Ironside" --faeries in our world
"The Land of Heart's Desire" --faeries in our world
"The Poison Eaters" --far away kingdoms and getting rid of opposition

I don't usually like short story collections, mostly because the stories are really good and I want to keep reading them. With this compilation, I didn't feel that way. Several of the stories could have been longer--I would have loved to keep reading. Most of them had an ending that I was satisfied with and happy to turn the page and go on to the next one. "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" and "In Vodka Veritas" were my favorites.

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Brittany and Alex can't be farther apart in appearances. Brittany is upper middle class, from the north side, and has everything. Alex is Mexican-American, belongs in a gang, and lives on the south side. Unfortunately for both of them, they are stuck as chemistry lab partners for the year.

They do have a lot in common though, as they realize. Brittany has a hard home life with a sister with cerebral palsy and parents who fight constantly. Alex lives in a tough neighborhood and the only way to save his family is to be a member of the local gang, like his dad. They both spend more time thinking about the other than they should. Their different worlds threaten to tear them apart right when they can't live without the other.

Told from both points of view, this is a fabulous love story. It reminded me a little of West Side Story, with a much better ending. Brittany and Alex fight the odds to be together. There is a lot going on here though--not just love and romance. I could barely put it down, and can't wait to read Rules of Attraction.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder

Ava can't believe Jackson is gone. The love of her life died and she can't help but think it's all her fault.

But Jackson isn't really gone--at least not yet. He's still around, letting her know he still cares for her. All she wants to do is stay home and feel his presence.

Life has a way of moving on and after a summer vacation away from her house, Ava realizes she can't hold on to him. Her guilt increases as Jackson struggles to communicate with her.

Can she move on and let him go? That is her hardest choice.

This story is a novel in verse and very well done. Schroeder gives hints about what happened to Jackson as the book begins at his funeral. Ava's feelings of guilt are apparent on every page and each flashback reminds her what they had and how she lost it. Lots of emotion and grief--probably more than if the book was written in prose.

My So-Called Death by Stacey Jay

Karen didn't know she had a genetic mutation that would keep her alive when she fell off the top of the cheerleading pyramid in front of the whole school.

Now she's head to a boarding school for the Un-Dead. As soon as she arrives bad things start happening. Some students at DEAD aren't mutants like her--they were raised from the dead by a magician and rescued. Those students are now in jeopardy, including Karen's new friend Trish. Girls have been found with their brains missing and Karen and Trish are determined to find the culprit. Karen gets distracted by cute Gavin--her number one suspect and then Trish is attacked. Now Karen and Gavin must find the attacker before they're the next victims.

An interesting paranormal romance--all the elements are here. There's a lot of description from Karen about being a zombie (including brains and eating them). The real killer is one of the plot twists and Karen's reaction to everything is as well. I wouldn't say this is on par with Jay's other Undead series, but I still enjoyed the story.

The Stolen One by Suzanne Crowley

Kat has lived a simple life with Grace and Anna, Grace's daughter. They survive in a small village but life cannot continue in the same manner forever. Christian, Grace's nephew, asks for Kat's hand in marriage and Grace receives a visitor wanting to collect a debt. Then Grace dies, leaving far more questions than answers.

Hoping to find those answers, Kat and Anna take off for London with nothing but a note from Grace and a hope they can survive. Kat's taken into court by Queen Elizabeth herself. Kat gets attention from many who wish to do her harm or distract her. In all that goes on, Anna heads home, Christian comes looking for her, and Kat realizes who her parents really were.

A good historical novel, with lots of truth/fact wrapped in all the fiction. There's enough mystery to keep the story going even when it lags a bit. A definite read for anyone interested in the Elizabethan era.

I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It by Adam Selzer

Alley can't believe the craze vampires, werewolves, and zombies have stirred up. Ever since they've gone public, most teens try to be goth or just date one--everyone wants to be a vampire or werewolf. Not Alley though. She and her friends stand back and watch the mayhem without getting too involved.

Then she meets Doug, and to her, he's the perfect kind of guy. They like the same music and he isn't a poser--he's the real thing. She ignores the warning signs until all the popular girls tell her they're dying to meet him. Apparently, Doug is a zombie--something Alley didn't figure out on her own. Now she has to decide if she's going to die to be with him or break up. Before a vampire decides for her.

As a satire on the whole paranormal romance movement, it succeeds. However, by the way the author narrates through Alley, it's apparent he didn't date in high school. The characters are all stereotypical girls and guys--girls and guys are both attractive and pretty brain-dead. Alley's comments and observations are amusing. The book was very entertaining--hand off to anyone annoyed with the Twilight era.

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain

Grace has always been close to her family, even though they have many secrets from her. Like her brother Jude, who came home one night covered in his own blood and his best friend Daniel disappeared.

But Daniel's back and Grace is more confused than ever. Wanting to be loyal to Jude, she can't help but be drawn to Daniel again and again. Daniel appears to feel the same way, but when she gets close to him, he pushes her away. When Grace's baby brother disappears, Daniel is the one to find him. Jude is even angrier at this and Grace must decide who to trust. Secrets have a way of coming out and Grace is determined to know Daniel's. Determined to save him too, if she can.

I did enjoy the story, but there were a few irritations as I read it. For one, when Grace finds out Daniel is a werewolf, she tells him over and over again how he can be a hero. She's 17, and doesn't seem to be that naive in the rest of the book. This is the story of the prodigal son with werewolves. There are Christian fiction overtones as well, but they aren't heavy or preachy. A good werewolf romance with plot and mystery.

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Meghan thought her only worries would be getting the most popular guy in school to notice her. And he notices her all right, enough to publicly humiliate her. But that's the least of her worries--her brother Ethan begins acting strange and even attacks her. Her friend Robbie explains Ethan's been kidnapped and replaced with a changeling.

Meghan can't believe it at first, but Robbie proves his story and the two head off into Nevernever to rescue Ethan. Robbie's real name is Puck, like in Midsummer Night's Dream, and he acts as Meghan's guide. Much more is going on than meets the eye, as Meghan learns of her heritage and the danger facing all the fey.

An interesting first in a series. A lot of character development and action, but the story kind of drags in the middle. Meghan falls for Ash, one of the fey princes, without much of a back story or interaction, and there is some forced dialogue as the author struggles with her themes. A mix between Midsummer Night's Dream and Alice in Wonderland. Despite all of this, I'm still going to be waiting for the next one in the series!

The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott

Sarah's had a crush on Ryan since at least the 8th grade, something she thought her best friend Brianna knew about. But Brianna starts dating him anyway, determined Ryan is the one for her. Small problem--Sarah still has a crush on him and Ryan appears to have a crush on her.

The Unwritten Rule--don't fall for, don't date, definitely don't kiss your best friend's boyfriend makes Sarah feel especially guilty. Brianna has a hard home life--her parents either ignore her or treat her like a complete failure, which means Brianna needs support from Sarah and Ryan. When Brianna makes out with another guy to get Ryan's attention and it doesn't work, Sarah may think she's found a way to calm her own conscience.

Sarah tells a good story. She is the friend that is "stealing" the boyfriend, but you don't hate her. Brianna gives her a lot of backhanded compliments and is angry and perplexed why Ryan would like Sarah more than her in the first place. Sarah and Brianna's friendship doesn't survive, but as the reader, I didn't really want it to anyway. I found Sarah to be a much more likable character. She shows remorse and Brianna never does.

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Sophie is a witch and in big trouble. No matter the reason, every time she casts a spell it goes horribly wrong. She is finally sent to Hectate Hall, where all witches, shapeshifters, faeries, and other creatures go when they fail to fit into a 'normal' existence.

Hex Hall isn't so bad--Sophie's found a good friend in Jenna, her vampire roommate, and a huge crush on Archer, the school's resident hottie. Not that it's all sunshine--some of her fellow witches are showing up dead and Sophie is seeing a girl in green wandering around. Sophie can't help but wonder why her power seems so different from everyone else's and if she can learn how to control it.

I really enjoyed this story. Sophie is a great character, full of smarts, spunk, and her own sense of self. There are instances where the story twists in unexpected ways. If you liked Harry Potter, you'll probably like this one too.

The Guardian by Julius Lester

Down in the south, segregation is a part of life. It's 1946, and even though African Americans have been free of slavery, not everyone things they should be. They certainly aren't treated the same.

Ansel has been friends with Willie his whole life. They both work in Ansel's dad's store, but Willie only works there because of Esther Davis. Otherwise, Bert-Ansel's dad-would have never hired Willie. He wants nothing to do with "their kind."

Then a girl is murdered and the boy who did it goes free after accusing Willie's dad. And in that instant, everything Ansel thought he understood disappears and life for him will never be the same.

This is a powerful story but confusing. The prologue talks about the trees used for hanging people and the last chapter talks about the survivors being guardians to pain, shame, and murder. The book is about lynching, so no easy topics discussed here. A short, painful, and necessary book.