Thursday, November 29, 2007

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

Elaine of Ascolat is the only girl living in the military camp led by a young, soon to be king, Arthur. She is secretly in love with her friend Lancelot, tries to befriend the uptight and conceited Gwynivere, and confronts her jealousy for the betterment of the nation.
I am pretty tired of retellings this year. This one didn't strike me as anything terribly noteworthy. Nay

Nobody's Princess by Esther Friesner

Helen of Troy might have grown up to be one of the world's most celebrated beauties, but Friesner imagines her childhood as that of a tomboyish youth who learned swordfighting with her brothers, horseback riding with Atalanta, had an awkward adolescence, and set sail, while undercover, on a ship to further her adventures.
Not a bad book, but not award worthy.

Mistik Lake by Martha Brooks

In the prologue, we learn that a car accident on Mistik Lake killed three teens in 1981. The survivor, Sally, never overcomes her sense of guilt, a burden she unwittingly passes on to her three daughters. Odella and her sisters can never quite figure out why their mother is so unhappy, but the underlying depression and shame shape their childhoods. Later, Odella finds herself growing and breaking away from her family, falling in love, and questioning all that she knows about her mother and her family's history.
I liked this coming of age story. Brooks was able to make all of the characters believable and human. The intertwining stories, told from different perspectives (Odella, Gloria, and Jimmy) were compelling. I thought about them after I had moved on to other books. Yay

Houdini: The Handcuff King by Lutes and Bertozzi

This was an interesting GN. It details Houdini's jump into the Charles River, near the end of his career. There is not a lot of character development and the plot is minimal, but the inks were good and the endnotes were good reading. Not TU material, but a good (albeit quick) read.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Being by Kevin Brooks

Robert goes into the hospital for a routine endoscopy and it's discovered that his insides are more machine than human. Some officials in suits try and capture him, but he takes off. What follows is a basic cat and mouse thriller. He finds a girl who makes fake documents and they flee the country (England) together and, of course, fall in love. The questions about what makes one human abound. Robert always thought of himself as human and now he doesn't know what he is. The book ends without resolution and is very unsettling. It's well written but I didn't love it. I'd give it a maybe.

Prom nights from Hell by Meg Cabot, etc..

What a great fun read! I finished it in one sitting, and it was very light and humorous. Certain tales (Madison Avery and the Dim Reaper) felt like they would make a great novel.. I think this will be very popular, especially with a short story by Stephanie Meyer (not amazing, but entertaining). Yay.

Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth

While this is an informative story about old provincial customs of India, I found it lacked liveliness and couldn't hold my interest. NAY

"Bone by Bone by Bone" by Tony Johnston

David is a young, white boy growing up in Tennessee in the 1950s and Malcolm, who is black, becomes his best friend, much to the disappointment of David's racist father. The book covers about 4 years of the boys' lives and the adventures they encounter. David begins to see the extent to which his father might go in his hatred of blacks and wonders if his father is a member of the Klan.

I thought that this story was slow to start and the writing choppy, but I am glad that I stuck with it. The language used can be very raw and "authentic" in parts, which adds to the effect that it had on me. This book is short but carries a very powerful message. I give it a YAY.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hush: an Irish Princess Tale by Donna Jo Napoli

I was much more impressed with this kidnap/survival story than I thought I would be. Melkorka, Irish princess in the 900s, has been raised in semi-secluded privilege. Due to a series of events for which she blames herself, Mel is kidnapped by Russian slave traders, along with her young sister and several Irish serfs. Mel finds she must learn to think as a captive and use any tools she can to survive. By staying mute, Mel is able to carve out her own place among those on the ship, especially when the traders reveal that they think she is enchanted.
I fully expected this to be a "Young Royals" type of princess story. Napoli makes the characters much fuller and human, does not shy away from the violence slaves faced, and brings the story to a satisfactory conclusion that stays true to its ancient Icelandic saga roots. Yay.

Schooled by Gordon Korman

Cap (that's short for Capricorn) was raised on a commune, homeschooled by his grandmother (a leftover hippie named Rain) and hasn't had much contact with the outside world. Then Rain has an accident and Cap--tie-dye, cornhusk sandals, long hair and all--is thrown into a public school while she recovers. The result? Classic Korman, hysterically funny with deep reflective and poignant moments mixed in. For making me laugh and making me cry, it gets an enthusiastic YAY and a "Please write more, Mr. Korman!" from me.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Yellow Flag by Robert Lipstyle

This is a very fun book about racing which I really enjoyed. Kyle has an incredible talent for music, but unfortunately his family only cares about racing. When Kyle's brother is injured, Kyle steps in, but what he thinks is temporally helping out his family could soon ruin what he wants to accomplish with his music. His loyalty to his family and enjoyment racing make it tough for him to make a decision between racing and music and this is the best part of the book. Unfortunately, there are some very unrealistic parts and the ending is extremely blah, so I say NAY.

I'm Being Stalked by a Moonshadow by Doug MacLeod

This book is completely absurd...though in a good way. 14-year old Seth Parrot lives with his quirky family in Australia. His dad begins a feud with a city inspector when he "accidentally" flicks manure (which the family was using to line their walls) on Mr. Raven. When Seth gets a crush on a muscular kickboxing girl, he finds that she is Raven's daughter. In order to give his life some semblance of normalcy he is trying to woo Miranda, avoid her ex-boyfriend who keeps punching him and get his parents sex life back on track. This is crazy and ridiculous and I liked it a lot. YAH.

The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb by Edward T. Sullivan

I enjoyed bits of this book, especially the part about life in classified cities where the people worked on developing atomic bombs, but mostly, this book was really boring. I can't see myself as a teen picking it up or as a librarian giving it to a teen. NAY.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke

Lily's dad left before she was born, her mum works long hours at the adult foster care home, her big brother has dropped out of a number of universities, and her grandparents are a bit daffy. Lily's the sensible one of the family, and seems to me either too young or too old to be 17 as the book says she is. Other than the Australian slang, the book has no sense of place and as far as I could see, no plot. NAY for me.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I Am Rembrandt's Daughter by Lynn Cullen

This is great historical fiction. It not only gives insight into Rembrandt himself, it gives clues to the era and Holland. Cornelia is the bastard daughter of Rembrandt and his mistress/common law wife Henjricke. Her best friend is her half brother Titus, son of Rembrandt and his wife Saskia. Titus marries into wealth, even as Rembrandt sinks further into debt because society has shunned him, not only for his relationship with Henjricke, but also because his painting style has changed from smooth canvases to bold strokes painted on with thick oils. Cornelia deals with embarassessment over her social status, a crush on a wealthy boy and the plague, which took her mother and is again threatening her city. There are notes in the back and brief bios. Only one character is completely fictional. The rest are based on real people who touched Rembrandt's life. I couldn't wait to get a book of his paintings to see the ones referred to in the book. Yay for me.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Hail Caesar by Thu-Huong Ha

Caesar is king of his school, popular, obnoxious, rules his friends, can get any girl he wants even though he treats them all like dirt. Enter the new girl in school, the only one who doesn't fawn all over him, and, predictably, now he wants her. I couldn't get much further than that.

Yeah, the author was only something like 16 when she wrote this, but it shows. It reads like a teenager who is using as many four-letter words as she can get away with just because she can get away with it. NAY.

Notes for a War Story by Gipi

This graphic novel follows three teens in a war-torn country as they try to adjust to the breakdown of their society. Nothing really spectacular here, and again, a book with teens as characters, but more aimed toward adults. NAY.

InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I'm a ginormous Neil Gaiman fan. So it would be really easy for me to say "Oh, this book is fantastic, he should WIN!!" just to try to get him to come to Spring Institute and get the opportunity to pick him up from the airport. And probably never return him.
And it is a really cool sci-fi book -- kid must travel along alternate universes with alternate versions of himself in order to save all the universses -- that does not dumb down in the least. I was really impressed by the passing references -- if a reader did a wikipedia search on all the asides, they could come away with an impressive sampling of knowledge of math, physics, philosophy and art. But it's basically a really fun, well-executed read that just didn't make me jump up and down enough to want to give it an award. A reluctant NAY from the woman who desperately wants to someday stand in an airport holding a sign that reads "Mr. Gaiman."

What They Found: Love on 145th Street by Walter Dean Myers

Supposedly this collection of short stories is pulled together by the location of 145th Street, and some of the characters do cross stories. But to me there was no true common thread, and not a single character in here that I could care about. Myers' writing style varies wildly between stilted, archaic sounding narration and authentically urban sounding dialogue. I'm surprised I finished it, it's so far from being Myers at his best. A big NAY.

God Save the Queen by Mike Carey and John Bolton

John Bolton is one of my favorite comic book artists, so I was excited to read this. It's a modern story with an interesting update on the realm of faerie. However, even though the main character is a teenaged girl, I felt the subject matter, language, and imagery (though classic Bolton in its dark beauty) wasn't intended for teens at all. A good buy for your adult graphic novel collection, but a NAY for Thumbs Up.

Evolution, me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

Okay, brace yourselves, folks...... I loved this book!!! This is my favorite so far. Mena has been ostracized by her church, but you don't really find out why until about halfway through the book. The story unfolds tantalizingly as Mena relates more and more details about a letter that she wrote and why it ended up getting a large number of her church's congregation sued. So now here's Mena stuck in high school with a bunch of enemies who used to be friends and a whole lot of questions as her science class starts studying evolution.
How this book manages to pack in so many issues -- science vs. religion, evolution vs. intelligent design and how/what should be taught in public schools, peer pressure, homophobia, first love, questioning one's faith -- without sounding like an afterschool special is beyond me, but first-timer Brande did it with aplomb and a laugh-out-loud, stronger-than-she-thinks-she-is narrator, much like Catherine Gilbert Murdock did with Dairy Queen. A big, huge, resounding YAY!!!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

Heavy hitting in content, mental, physical, and emotional violence. Garrett chooses to be with the woman he loves, disobeying his parents - something his high performance, image conscious parents won't tolerate. They send their 15 year old son to a boot camp to reform his ways, his thoughts, his attitudes.

NPR has done some pieces on boot camps, deaths and abuse that are concealed in the camps where parents voluntarily send their children - spending thousands of dollars, agreeing to confidentiality and willful ignorance or convenient denial of the abuse inflicted on their progeny, seeking obedience and capitulation.
(Boot camps have been in the news enough that, in my opinion, parents choose not to know. This is not something Todd Strasser included in his book.)

The book is important in raising awareness about boot camps although a non-fiction piece with Strasser's talented writing might have greater impact for social change. He captures dialog, emotion, effects of bullying, intimidation and systematic tearing apart of a person's soul.

Boot Camp is a powerful book, but not Thumbs Up award winner. I'll put spoiler remarks in the comments section as courtesy for those yet to read. I vote NAY.

The Snows by Sharelle Byars Moranville

This is a sort of sweet tale that kind of makes me gag a bit in the back of my throat. Well written blah blah blah Nay.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner

This book is hysterically funny in a high school boy sort of way, though not incredibly deep. I found myself laughing out loud several times and recommended it to my mom. It gets a MAYBE because even though it seemed to be more slapstick humor than anything else, it did make me laugh and was a quick, light read.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Click by David Almond et al.

Click is a novel featuring chapters by popular authors based around a general storyline. George Keane was a famous photojournalist who leaves a strange inheritance to his grandchildren, Maggie gets seven shells and Jason gets autographed photos. Overall, I was impressed by the individual chapters. Maggie, Jason, and Gee's stories remained connected and intriguing, even when very different genres and formats were employed to tell them. I'm not entirely sure that this is a novel that will become a classic, but it is one of the more interesting concepts from this year. I'll give it a YAY.

Deadline by Chris Crutcher

18 year old Ben receives a routine physical for the football team and learns that he has an illness that will allow him only one year to live. Instead of getting treatment, Ben decides to keep his diagnosis a secret and live the remainder of his life without anyone knowing. Crutcher delivers another great novel with football action and other heavy topics. The only thing that bothers me about the novel and his previous Sledding Hill is that they tend to get a little preachy. Yes we know Crutch is totally against censorship of any kind and again uses this novel as his platform. While the novel was good overall, I give it a Maybe.