Tuesday, March 30, 2010

YA Pick


by Paula Morris

Scholastic, 2009.

309 pages
Rebecca hates the idea of leaving her friends in New York City for a semester in filthy post-Katrina New Orleans attending a snooty boarding school full of the city's richest families. She hates living with her weird Aunt Claudia who reads tarot cards for tourists in the Bourbon Street district and seems to know an awful lot about voodoo legends and curses.
The prep school kids are cliquish and rude to Rebecca and consider her an outcast. Only one boy, Anton Grey, talks to her, but he is careful not to let his other "friends" know that he is nice to Rebecca. Once Rebecca follows Anton and his friends into the Lafayette Cemetery and stays hidden from view. As she is leaving, she stumbles upon a young girl named Lisette. Lisette is easy to talk to and tells Rebecca all about the history of New Orleans and the rich families who live near the cemetery. There's only one problem: Rebecca is the only one who can see Lisette--because Lisette is a ghost.
Rebecca and Lisette try to discover the reason that Lisette is not at rest. They also are thrown into danger when an old Haitian voodoo curse threatens Rebecca's life.
Part ghost story, part high school clique novel, Ruined is an entertaining read that will appeal to mystery and gothic readers who have a penchant for dark and gloomy places and mysterious happenings in the Big Easy (New Orleans). Recommended for YA collections grades 7-up.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Middle School Pick

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
by Jeff Kinney
Amulet Books, 2009.
217 pages

The fourth book in the Wimpy Kid series is a real joy. Jeff Kinney keeps the laughter coming with Greg Heffley's summer vacation--which turns out to be no real vacation at all. Greg recounts the grisly story of the muddy hand which can travel mysteriously across the United States and sneak up on unsuspecting middle school boys and kill them! His fear of the muddy hand causes much anxiety and sleep loss, until he finds a way to sleep with his entire face under the covers. He spends one night sleeping in the bathtub with all the bathroom lights on. Ridley, Greg's older brother, is his devious, bullying self. Greg's mom tries to start a Reading is Fun club for all the neighborhood children, but only has one member by the second meeting--Greg, of course!

Greg is terrified to go to the public pool, not because he's afraid of water, but because he's afraid of having to enter the pool area through the men's showers! Greg says, "The first time I walked through the men's locker room at the town pool was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life." The illustration with this statement shows really hairy men showering in a "common" shower and Greg looking mortified. Kinney's illustrations are spot on, and readers who enjoy a good joke will love this book.

Recommended for all collections, grades 4-up. Recommended for reluctant readers.

Middle School Pick

I So Don't Do Mysteries
by Barrie Summy
Scholastic, 2008.
264 pages

A really funny take on the traditional ghost story, this novel has readers laughing out loud at Sheri's (short for Sherlock) antics. She's a fashion diva with a hilarious sense of humor and a penchant for understatement. When she meets her mother's ghost--no kidding...her mother needs Sheri's help with a mystery in California...Sheri tries to say no. Eventually she ends up relenting and flies to California for a "vacation" with her best friend and elderly aunt. While her aunt takes care of a sick friend, Sheri locates her ghost mother and grandfather--who is now a bird in the afterlife. With their help, Sheri is out to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill the rhinos at the wild animal park and why.

Quirky, funny and appealing, this novel is a fun read for anyone who enjoys a mystery with just a little ghost story thrown in the mix.

Recommended for YA collections, grades 6-up.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fantasy Pick

The Garden of Eve
by K.L. Going
Sandpiper Books/Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
234 pages.

After her mother's untimely death, Evie doesn't believe in fairy tales or magic anymore. If magic were real, wouldn't it have saved her mother? Evie's father moves them to New York state where he has bought a dried up apple orchard and a rickety house next to a cemetary. Evie can't stand the house or the apple orchard. When she sees a boy in the cemetary she befriends him even though she suspects he is a ghost!

An elderly lady gives Evie a box for her 11th birthday telling Evie that the box was left in her care and she was only to give the box to "Eve." Evie opens the box and sees a single seed. Is the seed magical? Where did it come from? What does it do?

Part fairy tale, part ghost story, part Biblical allusion, and symbolic throughout, this novel is magical, compelling, and poetic.

A must-read for grades 4-8. Older readers who enjoy fairy tales will enjoy this one. Simply fantastic!!!Highly recommended. Don't miss this book.

Teacher resources and more at www.klgoing.com

Thursday, March 11, 2010

High School Pick

Creature of the Night
by Kate Thompson
Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrinck Publishing, 2008.
250 pages.

Bobby leaves Dublin, Ireland, kicking, screaming, and swearing that he'll never move to the country. He vows to return to Dublin and his checkered past. Bobby's mother has other ideas; she moves Bobby and his younger brother Dennis to the Irish countryside to escape the poverty of Dublin and to get Bobby away from the bad influence of older neighborhood thugs who use Bobby as a "bag man." They know if he is caught by the police, they will let him go because of his age.

Bobby is quite a criminal for one so young--he is a practiced purse snatcher and thief, hot wiring and stealing cars, and joy riding all over Dublin. He is headed for prison for sure. This "urban fiction" book is today's version of The Outsiders.

Once in the country, the family settles into a cozy cottage with a shady past. It is whispered that an old couple killed their daughter in this cottage years before. They were never convicted and never faced time; still, where is that daughter? Then, more recently, a Swedish tourist rented the cottage and soon disappeared.

Irish folk tales of fairies and little people make this book magical and help cushion the volatile relationship between Bobby and his mother. The landlord and his family take an interest in Bobby and show him how to work their large farm. Bobby, although learning new skills, keeps trying to turn away from good and go back to his criminal past.

Kate Thompson walks a fine line in handling a fast paced plot with a tragic character who seems to have no shining qualities, telling a mystery story within the story, and sprinkling magical Irish fairy dust betwixt both. It takes artistry to evoke sympathy for a character like Bobby, a hardened youth, but Thompson is able to force the reader into caring what happens to Bobby and to root for him.

Several mysteries meet in the denouement but one question remains unanswered: Who really is the creature of the night? Class discussions and book groups would have a good time with this read.

Recommended for grade 8-high school readers.
Language, criminal behavior, adult situations. No sex.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

High School Pick

by Rachel Ward
Chicken House/Scholastic, 2010.
325 pages.

In this gritty debut novel, Ward leads readers into the underbelly of the London slums. These are the mean streets, and the author doesn't sugar coat anything. Jem is 15 and being raised in foster care. When she was 8, Jem discovered her mother's lifeless body, a needle nearby. Since then, Jem has avoided people. She doesn't want to get close to anyone because one thing she knows for sure--all people die. Her mother's death is not the worst thing that has ever happened to Jem. The living nightmare that is her every waking hour happens when Jem looks at a person's face and sees a number--the number of their death date.

Jem soon finds a friend in loner Spider. A dysfunctional childhood causes Spider to seek out trouble, and he usually finds it. When Jem and Spider have to flee London, they are forced into terrible perils. Teen readers will like Jem and root for Spider. This novel is not a "feel good" read. It is gritty and grimy and ugly. Ward paints London in harsh colors--not the pretty, well-maintained streets with a "bobby" on every corner, but a dark London with alleys full of trash and drug dealers and creeps. Readers who like a story that is compelling and rough will probably like this novel.

Some sex, though not graphic, langauge, adult situations. Recommended for YA collections grade 8 and up.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Middle School Picks

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw
by Jeff Kinney.
Amulet Books, 2009.
217 pages.

Funnier than the first two installments, this third book in the series is Jeff Kinney at his comic best. The plot line follows Greg Heffley during the school year; Kinney's illustrations are laugh out loud funny and goofy. The author has tapped into the middle school brain of a nerdy, wimpy kid. Greg and his best friend Rawley have grand plans for the year--they put together a time capsule and bury it in Rawley's yard. The note on the outside reads: "Do not open until time travel is possible." Just a few days later, in withdrawal stages from junk food, Greg digs it back up to retrieve the $3.00 he buried--he buys chips, a soda, and candy. So much for the time capsule.

Greg is now responsible for doing his own laundry, and in typical teen boy style, he decides he has enough clothes to last the entire school year if he wears everything in his closet. Late in the year, he is running out of clothes, especially underwear! He finally breaks down and wears the last pair--a pair of Wonder Woman underoos that were given to him at Christmas as a gag gift from his Uncle Charlie. Imagine the giggles when Greg's pants fall down and his underoos are exposed to the world!

Greg spends every waking moment planning how to say "hi" to a girl he likes. He never does get up the nerve, but it's pitifully funny to see him squirm. Greg's dad is on a mission to "de-wimpify" his son and it includes sending Greg to military school. Greg needs a plan and he needs one fast! Follow the hysterical adventures of Greg Heffley--your average wimpy kid. The movie of the first book is due out March 19--if it can capture Greg's sense of humor, it should be the first hit of the movie season. Recommended for all collections, grades 4 and up. Suitable for high school readers who like humor.

Monday, March 1, 2010

YA Pick

The Compound
by S.A. Bodeen
Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan), 2008.
248 pages.

This first novel was surprising. Surprisingly great! The Compound strikes close to home in this era of the Internet and streaming video where news stories hit the net within seconds. Because we are so aware of government coups, upheavals, gorilla warfare, and nukes, we are afraid of something happening as it does in this novel.

Eli and his family are forced into a safe compound underground built by his eccentric billionaire father. Eli's twin and grandmother don't make it before the iron door shuts. They are lost to the family. The world as Eli knew it has been destroyed by nukes and radiation. They are only safe stuck in the compound for the next fifteen years. The vault cannot be opened until fifteen years pass and the world is "safe" from nuclear fall-out. His father has planned this safe haven for years and stockpiled supplies, even medicine and a medical wing. They are prepared for anything. Except the livestock start dying, flour is running short, and they are facing a real food crisis. His father has planned for that. Every year a new Supplement joins the family. These are the offspring of Eli's mother and father--yes, children--, but they are not considered part of the family. They are raised in case the food runs out.

Eli and his sister find shocking news. They discover that their father has been in touch with the outside world through the Internet. They wonder, if there is Internet, people are still alive! And if there is Internet, most of the world must be normal! Eli confronts his father about the lies, and the novel continues to shock. Readers who like thrillers will love this one. Recommended for all YA collections, grades 7 and up.