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Monday, January 25, 2010

Mystery Pick

Closed for the Season
by Mary Downing Hahn
Clarion Books, 2009.
182 pages

When Logan moves to a new town, he has no idea his new home is the "murder house." Neighbors tell his family that Mrs. Donaldson was murdered there years before, and the murderer never caught. Not only that, there's the case of the missing money. Thousands of dollars is missing and it is believed that Mrs. Donaldson stole the money from the local amusement park where she worked. Gossip has it that the murderer found the money, killed Mrs. Donaldson, and hightailed it.

The Magic Forest now sits empty, dark, and foreboding. It's broken down and taken over by vegetation and swallowed by kudzo vines. Logan and his new "friend" Arthur are drawn to the park and the mystery of the missing money. As they begin to uncover clues, they find themselves deep in trouble. Who are the good guys? Who do we trust? Are people really who they say they are?

Hahn is always a great storyteller with an "ear" for kids' dialog. She makes us laugh along with the nerdy kids and cheer when they win. A former children's librarian, Hahn must have spent a great deal of time studying her "subjects."

A great read for grades 5-8 and older readers who enjoy a mystery.
Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reads for Girls


by Amy Kathleen Ryan
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.
249 pages

Meet Kristi Carmichael--quirky, inconsistant, moody, self-absorbed, a little overweight, and she can read minds! Because of this ability, she sees the real thoughts of peers and adults who judge her because of her weight and appearance. This only makes her more moody and self-absorbed and causes her to binge on junk food. The more she tries to lose weight, the more she seems to self-sabotage.

Kristi listens to opera on headphones to drown out other people's thoughts that she is able to hear. She feels, "Opera is the perfect soundtrack for the tragedy of modern life." Dealing with high school angst, body image, and her parents' impending divorce doesn't make her life any easier.

Girls will gravitate to Kristi--especially those girls with weight/body image issues. Kristi is at times confused, embarrassed, searching, and mostly, angry--not unlike any other teen-age girl. She is a typical hormonal teen--except for the fact that she can "hear" what others are thinking. The outcome of the book is trite--Kristi's problems seem to melt away when she finally finds a boyfriend, and he's totally HOT! Kristi says, "And I'm still me, a big-breasted, slightly freaky, opera-loving, possibly psychic seamstress, and cat enthusiast who now has a totally hot boyfriend." The message to girls seems to be--get a boyfriend and everything else will be fine. If girls read Vibes for fun and not for life's lessons, they will likely enjoy the read. Like many recent novels, Vibes has a gay character. Recommended for YA collections, grades 8-high school.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Middle School Picks

by Gordon Korman
Scholastic, 2007.
208 pages

Gordon Korman has done it again--written an unforgettable novel that kids will love. They will laugh out loud at Cap's (Capricorn's) problems to fit in to a "normal" middle school environment. Cap has never been to a school before--he has been raised by his hippie grandma, Rain, on a 60's style commune called Garland Farm. The trouble is that there are only two inhabitants left on the commune, Cap and Rain--other "hippie commune" types moved away years ago before Cap can remember. When Rain falls out of a tree and breaks her leg, Cap is forced into the state's foster care system. Lucky for him, the social worker assigned to his case grew up on Garland Farm, was once raised by hippies and home schooled like Cap. She takes him into her own home to her daughter Sophie's chagrin. Imagine a 13-year old boy who has never watched television, never played a video game, and never been to the mall or Walmart! Cap is like an alien who drops out of the sky into this hideous place called middle school. Poor Cap, he's heard of pizza and crime, but never seen either one. At one point, he asks Rain, "What is a Starbuck?"

The story is told in chapters by all the players: Cap's grandma Rain, Cap's social worker--Floramundi Donnally, Cap himself, Zach Powers--the most popular boy, Hugh Winkleman--the nerd, even the principal tells a tale of woe. Cap becomes president of the 8th grade class as a prank on him, but the other middle school kids are drawn to his easy smile, happy outlook, and "love everyone" attitude. The pranksters fail at humiliating the new kid and learn lessons in the end.

You gotta love Capricorn Anderson; he's the real deal--a product of a hippie commune, a gentle soul who believes in sharing and love, a boy untouched by media hype and whose mind is open to all that is around him, a kid whose nose is not buried in his Iphone or text mail.

Highly recommended for all middle school collections. Suitable for grades 5 and up. Suitable for high school readers who like Korman's earlier novels.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Destroy All Cars

Destroy All Cars
by Blake Nelson
Scholastic, 2009
218 pages

Move over, Holden Caulfield. There's a new misanthrope in town, and his name is James Hoff, the teen protagonist in Nelson's latest YA novel. James is a dark soul who is fed up with consumerism, mindlessness, abuse of the planet by humans, and humans, in general. He thinks most Americans feel that "mental accuracy is a bad thing," and writes rants in his journal that his English teacher compares to "manifesto stylings." He thinks the answer to saving the planet is to destroy all cars. James is a thoughtful character who has difficulty fitting in with his peers--peers who are typical flat characters interested in high school gossip, clothes, who just broke up, who is back together, who is hooking up, who is in trouble, and other vapid conversations. Also troubling James is his parents' complete lack of passion for anything that matters to him. They keep pushing him to pick a college, and he keeps avoiding the topic. He has no plans for post-high school. He is just trying to make it through his junior year.

The only person James connects with is a high school activist, Sadie Kinnell, who tries to save the planet by starting in her neighborhood with a petition to save a pond from greedy developers. James and Sadie have a love-hate relationship, and do end up having sex, but they both are sorry afterwards. James feels regret and is wistful to be the "old" him before the encounter. Readers will feel empathy for James, a typical teen who is confused, lost, and searching for answers to easy questions like: where do I want to go to college? and hard questions like: why do people have to have kids?

Grades 8-high school. Some language, sex, though not graphic. Recommended for high school collections.

Monday, January 11, 2010

High School Picks

Shutter Island
by Dennis Lehane
Harper Collins, 2003
325 pages

Shutter Island is one crazy dream of a book. U. S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner are sent to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of an escaped patient from Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Soon, they are neck deep in mystery--how does an insane woman escape from a locked room? What are the cryptic clues Teddy is receiving and who is leaving the clues? What really goes on in Ward C? Are the doctors a super-secret government medical team investigating drug experimentation and mind control? Since the story takes place in 1954, Lehane is able to use history fact and fiction to present a sense of disbelief yet belief that the U.S. government would actually use a mental hospital to experiment on mental patients.

In a superb twist, Lehane makes readers question what is really going on--who is in charge, who is really insane, who is sane, and what constitutes sanity? Is the whole island an experiment to control thoughts and behaviors? There is no one better than Lehane at capturing character through subtle action and dialog. Shutter Island ranks right next to Mystic River as a great character study. Any budding novelist should read Lehane to get dialog right. He is the master.

The movie starring Leonardo di Caprio as Teddy should be a spooky tale.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Genesis Alpha

Genesis Alpha

by Rune Micheals
Ginee Seo Books, 2007

208 pages

Science, medicine, ethical questions, and the age-old struggle of good vs. evil collide in the debut novel by Rune Michaels. Josh worships his older brother Max. He emulates his clothing, his taste in music, reading, and their favorite on-line role-playing game, Genesis Alpha. When Max is accused of murder, Josh knows the police are wrong. As the evidence mounts, Josh uncovers a secret that will change everything. Josh was born so doctors could use his stem cells to save his older brother's life. Josh begins to question -if he was never born, then Max would have died and there would have been no murder.

This page-turner will have readers engrossed and captivated. A quick read at 208 pages, this is a must read for all teens. You will have trouble putting this book down! Genesis Alpha is a great read for a teen book club or a reading class, as discussions over medicine and ethics are sure to provoke teens to think about issues of what is right and wrong and what happens if medicine goes too far. Recommended for YA collections; grade 7-high school.



by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic, 2009
400 pages

In a fresh coming-of-age, girl meets wolf love story, Grace watches a wolf pack from the swing in her back yard each winter. She is fascinated by a yellow-eyed wolf who seems to watch her, too. Grace begins to think of this wolf as her wolf. He disappears every summer, but is back again when the weather turns cold. The attack and murder of a high school classmate brings girl and wolf/boy together, and Grace accepts Sam as a human/wolf, and tries to make him stay "human" to be with her always. To solve this problem, author Stiefvater turns to medical science. Part Twilight, part Beauty and the Beast, Shiver is sure to be the next great teen love story. The movie rights are probably already in the works, and this should make a great teen love story movie. Recommended for YA collections.

The Tomorrow Code

by Brain Falkner
Random House, 2008.
349 pages

The Tomorrow Code by Falkner is a thrill-ride for readers who enjoy sci-fi and adventure. Teen genius Rebecca and her friends Tane and Harley "Fat Boy" discover a code from the future. Once Rebecca writes a computer program that looks for patterns, they are able to see messages that someone or something is sending them from the future. Using numbers from the code, they win the lotto and are instant millionaires! With new-found wealth comes a ominous warning: sos, stop the Chimera Project. Rebecca, Tane, and Fat Boy have to break the code, find the professor, figure out what the Chimera Project is, stop a pandemic, and save the world. The code is their only key.The outcome, although not pleasant, allows Rebecca and Tane to change the present and affect the world's fu ture. The story becomes a time loop in which Rebecca and Tane have another chance to save the world. Teens who enjoy Anthony Horowitz and Scott Westerfeld will probably enjoy this book. Probably for grades 6-9 and older sci-fi fans.