Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June by Robin Benway (NY: Razorbill, 2010).

This novel marks another great effort from Robin Benway, whose Audrey, Wait! displayed a fine ear for teen snark. The eponymous April, May, and June are three sisters, stressed from their parents recent divorce, a move to a new house, and the start of a new school year at a new school with no friends. April is the eldest, the smart, responsible sister who tries to keep her wits about her even as she starts seeing red...an aura of visions of the future. May, the sarcastic middle sister, wants to disappear...and then finds out that she can, literally. June, the youngest, wants to be popular as she starts high school in a new place and gleefully uses her new mindreading powers to climb the social ladder. Despite their extraordinary powers, the girls face ordinary teen problems in this coming of age trifecta. Laughs and mishaps ultimately show them how much they need each other.

Super read for teens, ages 13 & up. Sexual situations, language, alcohol.


Delirium by Lauren Oliver (NY: Harper, 2011).

Magdalena is counting the days till she has the procedure that will protect her forever from contracting the dreaded amor deliria nervosa. She knows it can kill people--her own mother proved incurable and actually committed suicide rather than submit to another attempt to alter her resistant brain. Lena's older sister tells her that the procedure will make all her days easy, an endless stream of calm with a suitable mate selected just for her. Still, Lena is nervous about the evaluation that comes a few months before the actual procedure. Her best friend Hana claims to not be worried, but even she makes a cryptic remark about knowing happiness right before they enter the laboratory. Maybe it's that comment or just the atmosphere, or her own doubts about what she might have inherited from her mother, but Lena stumbles during the evaluation, giving answers she knows will give her a low mark. Then there's an interruption...the rebels living in the Wilds outside the city have somehow herded cows into the facility, and Lena catches a glimpse of a boy with hair the color of autumn leaves who winks at her from the observation deck above the evaluation room as the mayhem ensues. Lena's remarks may go unrecorded since she'll have to retake the evaluation, but she thinks the boy may have heard what she said.

He's also seen her before, when she and Hana run through the streets. Suddenly Lena is doing things she never would have dreamed of doing in the past. She and Hana break into the grounds of the lab, trying to see how the cows got in. The boy, Alex, is a guard there and Lena again feels a tug of attraction to him. Their romance, played out against the precepts of this dystopian society that has essentially outlawed love, develops with all the delicious intensity of the forbidden. Although you know this can't end well, you will still cry at the end.

Awesome read, especially for fans of Westerfeld's Uglies series and Collins's Hunger Games trilogy. Sexual situations. Ages 13 & up.


Halo by Alexandra Adornetto (NY: Feiwel & Friends, 2010).

What's the deal with all the angel books? Is it all part of the paranormal romance binge inspired by Twilight Inc.? Whatever it is, I've read a bunch and I have to say Halo, in spite of some shortcomings, is one of the best. First, Adornetto actually researched (gasp!) angels and employs the Catholic tradition rather than a hodgepodge of random angelology. The angels in this story have actually come down from heaven, where there is an actual God. And they want to help humanity by battling dark forces, though they take a remarkably long time to pinpoint the obvious demon, especially considering they're supposed to be ultraperceptive and have all these superhuman powers.

Gabriel, Ivy, and Bethany pose as three human siblings; Gabriel and Ivy are experienced and have had many missions on earth; Bethany is a relatively young and inexperienced angel, only seventeen years old. She is the most human of them, though they're all described as ethereally beautiful. They all have wings, too, that they have to hide under their clothes (as improbable as that sounds...). Once they've acclimated to earth, Bethany starts high school, and Gabriel teaches music there. Ivy spends her time doing good in the community. The emphasis on good works and community service is probably one of the highlights of the book--definitely an excellent message for young people. From her first day at school, Bethany is attracted to Xavier Woods, and the story revolves around their burgeoning romance, which of course has many stumbling blocks. Yes, they're chaste for the most part, but there is one (unfortunate, imho) scene where they get naked. And there is some (also unfortunate) discussion of why angels and humans can't have intercourse (it'll kill the human), and Bethany has to mull that over. The plot climaxes when the dark-and-scary new kid--guess who!--kidnaps Bethany, and Xavier and Gabriel have to come to the rescue. Naturally, the novel ends with a possible new enemy on the horizon so that there can be another book in which Bethany and Xavier have to fight demons and their baser impulses, as improbable as it is that an angel would even have them.

Despite these lapses, the story itself is entertaining and the romance engaging. Bethany's naivete provides some humor, as does Xavier's rambunctious family and the normal kids at the high school. Fine for ages 13 & up.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Stork by Wendy Delsol (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2010).

Transplanted from trendy LA to the frozen wilds of Minnesota, Katla can't believe she's behind the counter of her grandfather's general store literally scratching her head. She's gotten off on the wrong foot by getting drunk with the wrong guy the night before school starts, pissing off his girlfriend, and then another hot guy shows up at the store and seems to think she should remember him. Argh. She hasn't been to this town since she was six, for heaven's sake. Now she finds herself immersed in family drama and ancient magic, all while she's freezing her butt off. Who knew that her Norse heritage would give her special powers? Yet a light draws her across the street to a seemingly abandoned fabric store owned by an ancient woman, who opens the door for Katla and sweeps her into the special world of the Storks. They are all old ladies, and now Katla is one of them! They are tasked with placing babies in the right families, using their unique magical abilities. And there's more magic in the arctic air, fed by the Norse sagas of the town's Viking heritage, as Katla discovers.

Engaging romance with supernatural elements. Recommended for ages 13 & up. Sexual situations, alcohol.

The Grimm Legacy

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman (NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2010).

Elizabeth hasn't made any friends at her new school, and she's treated like a servant at home, where her stepsister's needs take precedence over hers. Mostly, she feels invisible and ignored, so she's delighted when her history teacher singles her out to apply for a job at the New-York Circulating Material Repository, a library like no other that archives highly unusual objects from every era: tea trays, parasols, desk lamps, even a wig worn by Marie Antoinette! Yet the repository holds even more amazing relics, as Elizabeth soon learns, in the Grimm Collection--magical items from the Grimm Brothers' famous fairy tales, of which Elizabeth is an ardent fan! Moreover, Elizabeth makes some friends among her fellow pages and soon sets out to investigate some mysterious disappearances of objects from the Grimm Collection. Is it magic, something more sinister, or both?

I loved Polly Shulman's awesome first novel, Enthusiasm, so I gladly snatched The Grimm Legacy off the new arrivals shelf at the library. It's a wildly imaginative tale peppered with realistic details, guaranteed to engage readers. Elizabeth is immensely likable and the world of the repository is breathtaking. Ponder going to work and talking to an enchanted mirror or shelving seven-league boots! At the same time, Elizabeth has to deal with the standard problems of trying to fit in and understand her co-workers, even the guys. Especially the guys. Shulman masterfully paces the novel, laying the foundation for the ensuing action that leads to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended for upper elementary and middle school readers, ages nine and up.

Angel Burn

Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, May 2011) [reviewed from electronic galley provided by publisher].

Willow is a seventeen-year-old high school junior living in Pawtucket, New York, with her cranky Aunt Jo and her mentally unstable mother. She has mad mechanical skills, and she's psychic--she can see people's futures when she touches them, and she feels compelled to help people when she senses their pain.

Seventeen-year-old Alex has never gone to school. Raised with his older brother by their father in a remote New Mexican desert camp, he's spent his life training to be an Angel Killer. Now that his father and brother are dead and the CIA has taken over the operation, Alex works solo, heading to whatever location the CIA's text messages send him to kill the latest threat to humanity. Angels have been draining human energy for years now, leaving people dead, diseased, or damaged, but recently it seems like there are more of them. He doesn't hesitate when he gets the message to head to Pawtucket to kill another one. Luckily, he watches first when he ends up at Willow's house, and sees something he's never seen before: a half-angel. He doesn't kill her, but he feels immediately drawn to her. He calls his CIA contact, but gets a bad feeling about the situation, as if it's angels feeding him information, not the CIA. He ends up following Willow, then rescuing her when she goes to a Church of the Angels to try to talk to a high school classmate who's become a victim of the angels. Together Alex and Willow head to New Mexico where Alex hopes his old friend and fellow AK Cully can help them foil the angels' plot to take over the world. He's sure that Willow's special powers will be pivotal in the operation and equally sure that the angels know it and want to destroy Willow. Along the way, Alex and Willow discover deep feelings for each other, feelings they try unsuccessfully to stave off, just as they face endless skirmishes with the angels.

This is an excellent paranormal romance with lots of action and suspense thrown into the mix. Weatherly portrays the evolving relationship between Willow and Alex nicely, as both characters are initially reluctant to acknowledge their feelings yet compelled to at last. The ending is somewhat forced, as Willow's actions fail to stop further angel incursions, but it's not clear why. Alex manages to save her, of course, but only one surmises so that there can be a sequel. Nonetheless, the story reads superbly and paranormal fans will enjoy it. Recommended for teens, 13 & up. Intense and sexual situations.

Between Two Ends

Between Two Ends by David Ward (NY: Amulet Books, 2011) [reviewed from ARC provided by publisher].

Yeats and his parents haven't visited his grandmother for years, years in which his father has slowly disintegrated, his mind plagued away by the memory of the past disappearance of his friend Shari in this very house. Shari's father still lives there, desperate for resolution. He mutters a few cryptic words, and Yeats confronts his parents, who refuse to talk. Then Yeats hears a voice coming out of the abandoned well in the backyard and unearths an old pirate bookend that, when united with its mate in the library, casts Yeats into The Arabian Nights. There he must convince Shari, now called Shaharazad, that she belongs in his world, not this one, before the story swallows--or even kills--him as well.

Ward has crafted a highly allusive, action-packed fantasy adventure. Yeats is an unwilling hero, compelled by his love for his father and then by his feelings for Shari to battle wild fictional forces as well as real live scimitar-wielding palace guards. This is an awesome read, highly recommended for upper elementary, ages 10 & up.

The Secret of Rover

The Secret of Rover by Rachel Wildavsky (NY: Amulet Books, 2011) [reviewed from ARC provided by publisher].

Twelve-year-old twins Kate and David are happy in their new suburban home. It's a huge step up from their former rat-infested house in a rough DC neighborhood. The government has purchased the spy tool called Rover that their parents and uncle have invented, so now there's money and bright future for them. Then their parents get the call they've been waiting for: a baby available for adoption in a small Middle Eastern country, but they must act immediately. A nanny is quickly arranged for the twins, and their parents depart. Kate immediately senses something off about the nanny, from her too-new clothes to her saccharine smile and fake-sounding agreeableness. The suspicions take a cruel twist when the twins' parents and new baby sister are kidnapped by insurgents, and it turns out the nanny is one of them! What can the twins do? They guess that their best option is to find their uncle, a recluse in Vermont. And fast. Before something happens to their parents....or them.

Fans of Gordon Korman's On the Run series will devour this fast-paced, suspenseful adventure tale. Kate and Dave meet danger at every turn in a race for their lives--and the lives of those they love. Highly recommended for ages 10 & up. Would make a great read aloud!


Shine by Lauren Myracle (NY: Amulet Books, 2011) [reviewed from ARC supplied by publisher].

It's a ripped-from-the-headlines scenario: gay teen bound, beaten, and burned by unknown thugs and left for dead with a gas nozzle in his mouth. Except he's not dead, and his former best friend, Cat, wants to find out whodunit. She's pretty sure the sheriff of their rural North Carolina town won't do it, and she feels that getting justice for Patrick might make up for not talking to him for the past three years--ever since something happened to her that she just couldn't talk about to anyone. Her investigation forces her to view her community with a fresh eye, taking in the drugs, poverty, and insularity that led to Patrick's beating, and her own problems. Much as she wants to escape and not look back, she feels the ties that bind her to the place, and she wants to hope for something better.

Myracle treads on grittier ground than in some her previous fiction here, delving into the ugly underside of Southern, rural culture. Vivid, realistic details sparkle throughout this well-told story with enough introspection and romance, plus danger and suspense, for both male and female readers. Highly recommended for teens, ages 13 & up.