Friday, September 24, 2010

Capt. Hook : The Adventures of a Notorious Youth by J.V. Hart

Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth
A spin-off of Peter Pan, this book tells us the background of the boy who became Capt. Hook. James Matthew, the bastard son of a nobleman, is sent to Eton for schooling. Having been ignored by his father for almost his entire life, he's resentful of the absent father. Rather than him giving him money and things, he'd rather his father spend time with him or acknowledge him in public. Shunned by many and tormented by an older boy (one Arthur Darling) at Eton, James is determined to do as he pleases and resist bending to the will of others. With his ever-present sidekick, Roger Davies, Jas causes all sorts of uproar, including upsetting Queen Victoria over his behavior with a young, visiting Sultana.

Capt. Hook was delightful fun, a fast-paced adventure that will appeal to many. I especially enjoyed the humor that was wickedly sly, and may be overlooked by some not especially familiar with Barrie's story. (And you can't just rely on the Disney film.) I was cheering for Jas/Hook in this tale, which seemed odd since I'd known him as the villain for years. Quite satisfying story -- I give it a 'B.'

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility
Jane Austen is a favorite of mine and one of the few authors whose books I actively reread. I've read Sense and Sensibility before, but it had been several years. Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters are forced to live in reduced circumstances, after the death of Mr. Dashwood. (Most of Mr. Dashwood's estate was left to his son, the stepson of Mrs. Dashwood.) Elinor and Marianne, the oldest two of the daughters, have opposing views of what type of man would make the best husband. Elinor is more practical, and wants a sensible, steadfast man, while Marianne dreams of a deeply romantic and demonstrative man. When each sisters meets her ideal man, she finds that her ideals can lead to complications.

Jane Austen is an author that I appreciate more and more every time I read one of her novels. Her style takes some getting used to, for it's not easy to read. The language is that from the early 1800's and not the common speak of today. Those willing to take the time and commitment to delve into Sense and Sensibility will find a fantastic story, but it's definitely not for everyone. I give it an 'A.'

Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

Prophecy of the Sisters (Prophecy of the Sisters, #1)
Lia's father has unexpectedly passed away. She and her twin sister, Alice, and their younger, disabled brother are left orphans. When Lia discovers that she and Alice are key parts of an ancient prophecy, tied to good versus evil with the fate of the world in the balance, everything she knows is thrown into chaos. Suddenly Lia and Alice are pitted against each other, danger is everywhere and Lia doesn't know whom to trust.

Spooky. That's the best description I can give Prophecy of the Sisters. It has a dark, Gothic feel, where I could just sense the evil presence threatening the heroine, Lia, on every page. I read each chapter, just waiting for Lia to realize how close she was to those waiting to destroy her. This story should please many teens, especially if they enjoy those stories that scare you, but aren't necessarily filled with blood and gore. The ending leaves the reader with a feeling that the story isn't over, and one will eagerly await the next chapter in the lives of Lia and Alice. A fabulous, chilling read -- I give it a 'B.'

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Does My Head Look Big In This?
Amal, an Australian teen of Palestinian descent, decides to wear the hijab (the Muslim head scarf) at the end of her winter break. She's just a normal teenager, embarrassed by her father's behavior and disagreeing with her mother over the state of her bedroom. After donning the hijab, Amal learns to deal with the odd stares and questions from classmates and friends with lots of humor.

I could tell just by the title, Does My Head Look Big in This?, this story is told with lots of humor. Amal's first person narrative gives a spotlight to her humor, where I could imagine her as a typical teen adjusting to the changes in her life. Although I don't know much about the Muslim culture, I didn't feel lost, because the author used Amal to explain the differences. By using a humorous tone in this novel, the author was able to explore some of the conflicts a young Muslim must face in today's world without changing the feel of the novel.

I think this will appeal to many teen girls, whether they are Muslim or not. Anyone who has to deal with making an important decision and standing up for it will feel camaraderie with Amal, for this story is more about growing up than growing up Muslim. Most enjoyable story -- a 'B' grade from me.

The Shadow Project by Herbie Brennan

The Shadow Project
When Danny discovers the old house he breaks into is actually the base of a secret spy organization called the Shadow Project, he's given a choice of either joining the group or going to jail. Of course, he chooses to join. This group is using experimental techniques to have teens use a form of astral projection to spy on a terrorist group. Opal, the daughter of the leader of the Shadow Project, doesn't return after her latest spying mission, and Danny is sent to find her and bring her back. What happens next is a game of cat and mouse set among the spirit world, where Danny must hunt down one of the leaders of the terrorist group.

The Shadow Project has one of the best openings of any book I've read in a long while. The first chapter has Danny discovering the secret entrance to the Shadow Project's underground base. The author tightens the tension so that you're hooked by the time Danny is captured by the project's members. Unfortunately, it begins to ramble after that, and doesn't fulfill its promise. I actually found parts in the middle boring and I really wanted to skip a few pages or chapters to find out the conclusion. I held out and forced myself to keep reading, and yes a few times, I caught a glimpse of that earlier promise. Not enough to completely redeem the book, though. I've read better spy stories (Alex Rider) and better stories featuring astral projection (Stranger with My Face). My grade? A 'C'.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

After Ever After
Ever since hearing that there would be a sequel to Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I loved, loved, loved DGADP - one of my favorite books of all time. I wanted to know what happened with Jeffrey and Steven later on and After Ever After gives us that story.

Jeffrey is now in eighth grade, and still struggling with the effects of being a cancer survivor. Yes, he's cancer-free, but he has a limp and some slight brain damage that leads him to sort out things slower. With Steven away in Africa, Jeffrey doesn't have his big brother close by to go to for advice, and he must muddle through some typical eighth-grade problems, from school to girls, alone.

I didn't immediately feel the connection to this story that I did for DDADP, probably because Steven wasn't in the story as much as I'd like. But, it really didn't take too many chapters until I was attached to Jeffrey. Mr. Sonnenblick grasps the nature and attitude of middle school students and these characters feel real. I could easily see these kids walking down the halls of the school where I work. Like Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, After Ever After is an emotional story. I focused on one aspect of the story, thinking "please no," so that I was blindsided by the ending.

After Ever After will appeal to many teens with its heart-tugging events and true-to-life characters. It's not necessary to read Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie before reading this one, but Jeffrey's story now will mean more having followed his cancer treatments with him in the previous book. My one biggest critique is that Steven was almost an afterthought here, and I would have loved to have seen more of him. All-in-all, a fabulous book and highly recommended to all. I give it an 'A'!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Season by Sarah MacLean

The Season
In The Season, Alex and her two best friends, Ella and Vivi, are preparing for their first Season. They will attend various balls, parties and events with the goal of finding a husband. Well, at least that's the goal of their parents. The girls don't want to get married yet, for seventeen is way too young. Each wants to experience more in life before settling down, and Alex isn't even sure she wants to get married at all. Alex becomes involved in unraveling the mystery surrounding the death of the father of close family friend, Gavin.

I loved reading a YA set during the Regency, for there's not much being written for teens set in that time period. It's accessible for readers that want something like a Jane Austen novel, but find the language in JA too difficult. Alex, Ella, and Vivi delight the reader with such normal teen behavior. They gossip, long for the time when they are independent, complain about their lives and how no one understands them. The mysterious death of Gavin's father, linked to rumors of French spies in England, leads to a thrilling adventure and romance for Alex . I admit, I was thoroughly entertained. Definitely a 'B+' book for me!

Monday, September 20, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me
So many people have raved about this book, telling me, "You must read it!" I really wasn't excited about reading it, because the blurb didn't sound all that exciting and the cover is kind of blah. Yes, I know, I'm not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we all do to a point. Well, I finally read it, and now I'm kicking myself for not reading it sooner. (And the cover makes much more sense after reading the book.)

Miranda receives a strange note shortly after noticing that her apartment's key is not in the hiding place she and her mom had selected. "I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter." After this Miranda receives more strange notes that give clues to events occurring in the future. The solution of this puzzle is amazing as Miranda attempts to put all the pieces together.

I could so relate to Miranda's obsession with her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, and how she carried it with her and reread it again and again. My favorite book wasn't A Wrinkle in Time, but I still remember my favorite book and how I would return to it again and again. I'm sure it was the comfort of something familiar for me and probably to a point with Miranda as well. I really liked how the story of the mysterious notes were woven into the story about Miranda's life with her mom and her friends at school. I'm not sure how much a person who hasn't read A Wrinkle in Time would get all the references to Meg and the story itself. It's probably best to at least have a working knowledge of A Wrinkle in Time, but not an absolute must.

When You Reach Me uniquely ties together a realistic story with a fantasy story in a way that allows the reader to question events and maybe investigate the long term results of his decisions. I loved how the story kept you puzzling over the clues in the mysterious letters along with Miranda. This is one of those books that you don't realize how good it is until you finish it. Wonderful story! I give it a 'B+.'

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima (Seven Realms #1)

The Demon King (Seven Realms, #1)
I became a fan of Ms. Chima's books after reading The Warrior Heir several years ago. I know any time I pick up one of her books, it'll be a dramatic story highlighted by complex and dynamic characters. I will be on the edge of my seat, anxious to discover what happens to each and every character, and knowing that just about anything could happen.

Although The Demon King is over 500 pages long, I became so caught up in what was happening with Han and Raisa that I scarcely even noticed the length. In fact, I really didn't want it to end. Obviously, the first in a series, The Demon King doesn't conclude the story at the end of the book, rather it's a pause, and I, for one, can't wait to find out what happens next.

I highly recommend The Demon King to fans of fantasy and adventure stories. You won't be disappointed. I enthusiastically give this book an 'A.'

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, #1)
I held out for a very long time, before reading any of the Wimpy Kid books. I wasn't sure I was going to like them, no matter how much kids raved about them. I finally broke down and decided to read the first one, just to "see." I sure was curious as to why these books appeal to all kids, boys or girls, high or low ability. Well, it didn't take me long to understand.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a super fast read, and I finished it in one sitting. Not only is it easy to read, but the story keeps your interest and you hate to put it down. The illustrations on each page enhance the story, so that each are integral to the action. I felt like you couldn't have one without the other.  Honestly, I was feeling Greg's pain, even though I'm not a boy and not in sixth grade. I think everyone can understand the feelings of uncertainty Greg faces starting middle school and looking for a way to make himself stand out from the others and at the same time fit in.

Excellent story, written in the ideal format (a combination of journal and comic), Diary of a Wimpy Kid deserves all the raves and attention. Now, I must read more about Greg, but finding these books on the shelf may be the hardest part. I give it a B+.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Old Country by Mordicai Gerstein

The Old Country
I read The Old Country on the recommendation of one of my students. I have to admit it's an original story and I quite liked the ending. I won't spoil it here, but suffice it to say I liked how the ending wasn't nice and sweet.

The story begins with the Great-Grandmother Gisella arriving for a visit and gifting the narrator with her violin. She then proceeds to tell a story of her life in the old country, how she escaped from the war there and how she used to be a fox. The rest of the book is Gisella's tale. It's a mixture of fairy tale and family lore.

I really started out liking The Old Country much better than when I finished it. The prologue has a fabulous hook to engage the reader, but then the story slows way down and at times is boring and tedious. Fans of traditional tales or re-tellings of those may find The Old Country entertaining, but I think most will be bored and leave it for something else. Saved by the hook in the beginning and the "difficult" ending, I give it a 'C.'

Pandora of Athens, 399 B.C. by Barry Denenberg

Pandora of Athens, 399 B.C.  (The Life and Times Series)
I wasn't sure if I wanted to read Pandora of Athens or not, simply because of my dislike of another book in the Life and Times series. I thought it was best that I give the series another try and picked Pandora up, hoping to view this one without any influence from the other book.

Pandora is a young girl growing up in ancient Greece. She's sheltered like most girls in Athens at that time, and the most she has to look forward to is getting married when she turns fourteen. Pandora's been taught that girls should be silent and obedient and they should be protected from the outside world. They aren't even allowed to go to plays. Her only freedom is her daily trips to the Fountain House. While she's collecting water, she's able to meet and talk with other girls and experience just a tiny taste of freedom. Her life changes completely when she meets Socrates one day at the well. In discussions with him, Pandora begins questioning her fate more strongly and looks for ways to change it.

While not exactly life-changing, Pandora of Athens, is surprisingly much better than I had expected. Readers can easily put themselves into Pandora's shoes and empathize with her feelings about not having control of her future, and lack of understanding from her parents. Not a bad read, but nothing out of the ordinary. A 'C' from me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Killer Pizza by Greg Taylor

Killer Pizza
Killer Pizza, a horror story with an eye-catching cover, tells the story of Toby, a fourteen-year-old wannabe chef. He'd just about given up in finding a summer job, when he's offered a job at a new pizza restaurant in town, Killer Pizza. Toby's super excited about the opportunity, because how else is he going to get experience in the kitchen in order to one-day fulfill his dream of becoming a famous chef. After starting work there, Toby and his two co-workers, Strobe and Annabel, learn that Killer Pizza is actually a front for a monster-hunting organization and are recruited to become its latest trainees.

Teens will be drawn to Killer Pizza by the striking cover and will be hooked immediately after reading the prologue, which describes a monster attack on a teen. The story is fast-paced and action-packed which will keep even the most reluctant reader turning the page. Personally, I found it a bit campy, almost like a B-movie of the past come to life. This allowed me to look fondly on a story which probably would be forgettable otherwise.

I know many teens that will love this story much more than I did. From me, it gets a 'C.'

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Twilight : The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Stephenie Meyer, Art & Adaptation by Young Kim

Twilight: The Graphic Novel # 1 (Twilight the Graphic Novel, #1)
I am so sick and tired of the Twilight mania, not that I didn't like reading the books. By now, most everyone knows the basic plot, whether they've read the book, watched the movie, heard someone talk about it, or maybe see or read a parody. I did enjoy them, but I don't get the total obsession with them. That said, I did attempt to read this graphic novel version of Twilight, part one with fresh eyes.

Obviously, this is only the first book in a series, for it only partially tells the story told in Twilight. From what I could tell, it pretty much stays faithful to the original storyline. I could detect a few homages to the film version, but I didn't get the impression of being overdone or solely relying on it.

The book's definitely uses the artwork to give the reader more insight into Bella's feelings and moods. I especially liked the use of colors to emphasize a dreamlike feeling. The frames where some images are sharp, while others are blurry help to highlight some of Bella's confusion and to make the reader key right in on certain plot points or characters.

I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. I could tell that thought went into how and why of the images, and it wasn't a slapdash attempt to cash in on the popularity of Twilight. I give it a B.

Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

Inside Out (Inside Out, #1)
Trella's a scrub. Her life is filled with endless hours of cleaning the pipes and trying to attract the least attention. That way, you don't get hurt and you don't die. The Pop Cops control everything in the life of a scrub, from when to work to what you eat. Trella's heard all her life about the mysterious outside and the rumors of a secret exit. Frankly, she thinks it's all made-up stories to give the scrubs false hope. When her friend Cog introduces her to a new prophet, called Broken Man, Trella's life is changed forever. Suddenly, her days of being invisible and only worried about finding time and a place to be alone are no more. She's thrust into the center of an uprising that leaves her as the #1 target of the Pop Cops.

I love SF stories, which is why I picked up Inside Out. The story is very easy to read, flowing smoothly from one chapter to the next. There's plenty of action and an intriguing mystery to keep even the most reluctant reader's attention. While I found Inside Out entertaining, I kept thinking in the back of my mind that I'd read this story before. Yes, I could predict almost exactly what would happen next. Maybe it's because I have read a lot of SF -- it's a familiar theme and setting for this genre. I don't think it takes a great deal away from the enjoyment of the story, and would be just a minor negative for me.

Inside Out, while maybe not completely original in plot, gets a 'B' from me for it's fast-paced style and ease in reading.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Runaway by Meg Cabot (Airhead #3)

Runaway (Airhead, #3)
Having read the first 2 Airhead books, I knew that Runaway was going to be a must-read for me, just so I could know what happens to Em. Even though I'm a huge Meg Cabot fan, I was a bit skeptic about the premise of Airhead. Yes, it's silly to think about a full body transplant, but crazy as it seems, I'm able to ignore that and just delve into Em's life.

The second book in the series, Being Nikki, left the reader at the climax, uncertain about Em's future. Runaway begins almost exactly where the previous novel left off. Em is at Brandon's beach house, blackmailed into staying there with him, the real Nikki, her brother and mom. Forced to lie about her feelings for Christopher, Em's feeling depressed and uncertain about what her future holds, when she has several surprising visitors at the beach house. Still trying to figure out what Brandon's dad, Robert Stark's ultimate plan is, Em recruits her cohorts in helping her get one step closer to the truth.

I adore Lulu, Em's roommate and partner in crime. She's an adorable and fun-loving sidekick that finds some well-deserved happiness in Runaway. I was also thrilled to find Em's sister, Frida, plays a much larger role. The ultimate climax is over-the-top, but works well in this fantastical story.

Fans of Cabot's other stories will find another hit here, but I do feel one needs to read this series in order. I'm not sure the latter two books will make much sense if you don't already know Em/Nikki's story. Runaway is another fast-paced, suspenseful adventure with just enough romance to make you smile. Loved it! A 'B' book for me.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games #3)

Mockingjay (Hunger Games, #3)
Having read (and loved) The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I could not wait for Mockingjay to finally be released. I bought it for my Kindle, so I could start reading it on the Tuesday it was released. I didn't want to have to wait for the UPS or FedEx worker to deliver or drive to town to pick up a copy at the book store.

I eagerly began it the day it was released, only to find myself willing to put it down after reading one or maybe two chapters at a time. At first, I claimed I was just savoring the final Katniss story and taking my time. After a while, I realized I was slowing down in reading it, because I could just sense that the story was doomed. I wanted to know what happened to Katniss and Peetah, but at the same time I DIDN'T want to know. I dreaded turning the page for fear of what I would find out. Did I really want to know or would it be better to just imagine things the way I'd like them to be? That's something I'm still thinking about, almost a week after finishing the book.

I waited a bit to write my reaction, because I wanted to let time give me a bit of a perspective. I'm not sure if it helped or not, because I still feel emotionally empty. I was emotionally pushed, pulled, wadded, and thrown out, but I'm still glad I read Mockingjay. I didn't like it as much as the first two in the series, because I wanted more descriptions during some of the action scenes. Many times, as the reader, we'd just hear about an event afterwards, rather than experiencing it at the same time as the characters in Mockingjay. That's not to say I didn't find it a compelling, but disturbing read. In fact, I'd say it's a must-read for those that read the first two Hunger Games books, but be prepared to be taken for quite a ride.  My grade? I give it a B.