Thursday, April 15, 2010

A few miscellaneous titles....

Alt Ed by Catherine Atkins (NY: Speak, 2003).
CIP Summary: "Participating in a special after-school counseling class with other troubled students, including a sensitive gay classmate, helps Susan, an overweight tenth grader, develop a better sense of herself."
Good for grades 7 & up. Language, intense & sexual situations.

Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson (NY: Point, 2010).
CIP Summary: "Fifteen-year-old Scarlett, who is beginning to get over her break-up with Eric, stays busy as assistant to her theatrical agent friend who is not only promoting Scarlett's brother Spencer, but also a new client whose bad-boy brother has transferred to Scarlett's school."

This is the second book in the series, but I had no trouble diving into the characters and plot. Scarlett is a lively outspoken teen, and the novel is an easy read, though it deals with some serious issues, too. Grades 8 & up. Language, sexual situations.

Cookie by Jacqueline Wilson; ill. Nick Sharratt (NY: Roaring Book Press, 2008).
Set in Britain. Young girl named Beauty Cookson has to deal with snarky classmates who make fun of her name and pudgy appearance. Her father's volatile temper makes home life difficult as well. Good read for girls grades 3 & up.

Out of My Mind

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper (NY: Antheneum, 2010).

The premise of this novel is immediately compelling: imagine what it would be like to be trapped in your own head with a genius brain and photographic memory, but completely unable to communicate. That's what life is like for 11-year-old Melody, who was born with cerebral palsy. Then she gets a miracle that should be life changing--a computer that can talk for her--yet the changes are not all that she anticipated. Draper evocatively explores the prejudices faced by differently abled individuals in this beautiful novel. Highly recommended for grades 3 & up, this story should encourage children to examine their own actions and attitudes toward the kids they see in the special education room of their own schools every day.

The Life of Glass

The Life of Glass by Jillian Cantor (NY: HarperTeen, 2010).

CIP Summary: "Through her freshman year of high school, fourteen-year-old Melissa struggles to hold on to memories of her deceased father, to cope with her mother's return to dating, to get along with her sister, and to sort out her feelings about her best friend, Ryan."

Good teen read. Cantor uses the Arizona setting evocatively in this coming-of-age story. Grades 9 & up. Sexual situations, language.

Peace, Locomotion

Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson (NY: GP Putnam's Sons, 2009).

Touching epistolary novel about a 12-year-old boy named Lonnie Collins Motion, aka the eponymous Locomotion, who is writing letters to his younger sister as a way of maintaining family connections. They are living in separate foster homes after their parents' death in a fire and Lonnie explores the nature of remembering in his missives as well as detailing his new life with his foster mother Miss Edna and his foster brother, an aspiring teacher who has moved back home. A second brother returns home wounded from a lengthy tour of duty in Iraq. Beautiful exploration of love and relationships and the changes people must endure. Highly recommended for grades 4 & up. Good for boys, high/low readers.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

North of Beautiful

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (NY: Little, Brown, 2009).

Awesome exploration of the nature of beauty by an artistic teen girl, named Terra, with a port wine stain on her face. She is shackled by her own fears of others' perceptions of her, fears exacerbated by a dysfunctionally critical father and enabling mother. Headley weaves in multiple layers of metaphors for maps and treasures as well, making this a rewarding read. Grades 9 & up. Language, intense situations.

Swedish Girl Times Two

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005; NY: Vintage, 2008).

First there's Mikael Blomkvist, a famous Swedish financial journalist and magazine editor who's just lost a libel case and faces a prison sentence. An intriguing offer from wealthy octogenarian Henrik Vanger to solve a forty-some-year-old family mystery takes Mikael to the hinterlands of Sweden, a fine way to escape from his current problems. In addition to an amazing fee, there's a bonus: Vanger entices Mikael with the promise of information that may help clear his name--but only if he can find out the truth about what happened to Vanger's niece Harriet, who disappeared during a family reunion at age sixteen.

Next there's Lisbeth Salander--enigmatic, tattooed loner and research genius with mad computer skills. She performs a background check on Blomkvist for the security firm that employs her at the behest of Vanger's lawyer. When Blomkvist ends up needing help that only Lisbeth can provide, they connect on multiple levels, which is surprising given that Lisbeth generally avoids connections. Together they untangle a web of family secrets almost too horrible to believe...and barely escape with their lives!

* * *

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (2006; NY: Vintage, 2009).

Mikael Blomqvist has returned to familiar ground. The hubub over his his new book has died down somewhat, and the magazine Millennium, which he co-edits with his long-time friend Erika Berger, is back in the black. They've just agreed to publish what they believe will be a blockbuster expose of the sex trade in Sweden, with an article in the magazine and a more in-depth book published separately. Tragedy strikes when the two writers are murdered on the eve of publication--and the evidence seems to point to Mikael's secretive former researcher, Lisbeth Salander. Mikael hasn't seen her in months--she disappeared after the Vanger story broke and refused any contact with him--but he can't believe she's guilty, so he starts investigating on his own, as much to clear her as to discover the truth of why his two writer friends were killed. Lisbeth herself has some ideas and uses her computer skills to investigate, while the police and Lisbeth's former employer pursue leads. As in the first volume, the mystery unravels slowly yet explosively, with many dark and interesting twists and turns.

Overall, these are must-read novels that will inevitably become crime classics! The third in the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, is due out in May.

Time, Love, Travel

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2003).

Clare Abshire spends most of her life waiting for Henry DeTamble. A quixotic genetic mutation has the hapless Henry continuously and helplessly winging through time. By chance he meets Clare and forges a connection that maintains itself through the myriad shifts of each of their lives. Part science fiction fantasy, but largely epic romance, this novel captures the reader's imagination--and heart.

An unforgettable read.

Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (NY: Vintage, 1988).

This novel won the Booker Prize, and it's easy to see why. Ishiguro perfectly catches the nostalgic yet insular world of postwar England as experienced by Mr. Stevens, a career butler who has lived most of his life at Darlington Hall. As he drives through the English countryside on his first ever holiday--courtesy of his new employer's largesse--he reflects and writes about the changes he's seen. Although he maintains a clear perspective on the events in his life and his role as a butler, especially with regards to his relationship with former Darlington Hall housekeeper Miss Kenton, the reader lingers over alternative perspectives. An enticing, bittersweet read that touches the soul.

Dreamhouse Kings, Book 1

House of the Dark Shadows by Robert Liparulo (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008).

Xander King is less than thrilled when his dad takes a new job in a remote northern California town. And the house his mom falls in love with? Totally creepy. Is it haunted? Or possessed? Male and female readers will fly through the pages of this book to find out in this first installment in a great horror-fantasy series. Good pick for grades 5-8. Gore, violence, intense situations.


Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (NY: Scholastic, 1997).

This fabulous Newbery Honor novel--a take on the Cinderella story--features Ella as a girl cursed by a fairy at birth to obey any command she receives. Ella's mother and nurse protect her from many of the evils of this odd curse for a good part of her life, but when her mother dies and her dad remarries, Ella faces difficult times. Readers will delight in noticing how Levine intertwines elements of the classic Cinderella into this tale of triumph through adversity.

Excellent for grades 4-7 (ages 9 and up).

Zombie Dance

Never Slow Dance with a Zombie by E. Van Lowe (NY: Tor Teen, 2009).

Fun read about a girl whose goal is to become popular in high school. While the chance Margot Jean Johnson gets isn't optimal--a virus turns most of the kids in her high school into zombies--she takes it and runs. Lots of good shots at how craptastic it is to be at the bottom of the high school food chain, but how life at the top isn't all it's cracked up to be. The most popular boy in school for a boyfriend--when you have to feed him raw meat so he won't eat you? Naturally Margot learns valuable lessons about life, love, and friendship.

Great for grades 6 and up.