Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature - Robin Brande

If Mena knows one thing, it is that she is hated. Well, it is actually more like despised, loathed, abhorred, etc. In other words she's an all around social pariah. All because she told the truth and did the right thing. She's just started her first year of high school and has absolutely no one to talk to. Not one person - everyone she used to know refuses to talk to her. They may shove her in the hallway, push her books out of her hand, or make rude comments, but actually talk to her? No way.

"I knew today would be ugly. When you're single-handedly responsible for getting your church, your pastor, and every one of your former friends sued for millions of dollars, you expect to make some enemies. Fine. Its just that I hoped my first day of school - of
high school, thank you, which I've only been looking forward to my entire life - might turn out to be at least slightly better than eating live bugs. But I guess I was wrong."

So we know she's done something BIG, we know she says she did the right thing, but until about half way into the book we have no idea what incredibly awful thing it is that Mena did (and by that time we know that Mena did in fact do the right thing and that it wasn't an awful thing at all). What we do know is that Mena's family belongs to a very strict evangelical church that doesn't let you associate with anyone other than fellow members, she can't watch movies rated over PG, she doesn't watch or read anything that isn't first approved by her parents, and the pastor creates "missions" for the youth group to conduct. It was during one of these missions that Mena decided that maybe her youth group Isn't actually doing God's work.

This is also the year that the students learn about evolution in science class. Mena is assigned a very cute, smart lab partner, she has an amazing science teacher that helps open her eyes to science for the first time, but she also has several church members in her class. And her pastor decides that stopping the teaching of evolution will be the youth group's next mission. A massive show down ensues.

This was a funny and light book to read even with the religion VS science themes. I really liked Mena's voice. The book is in diary form, although it didn't seem quite like a diary to me and if you took out the dates at the beginning of every chapter, I'm not sure anyone would even notice that it was supposed to have been anything other than Mena just narrating her story. The other characters were relatively good, her lab partner being the most developed of all of them. Her parents are trying to do the right thing but are actually completely unreasonable (they continue to attend the church even though Mena is no longer welcome and they have her write essays about TV sermons while they attend services, she isn't allowed out of the house, and so on). The pastor and youth group are all suitably awful, none of them are very well developed but they don't need to be for you to dislike them all which is sort of the point. And we should all have a Ms. Shepherd in our life to make science interesting. She was fantastic.

If you're looking for a book that discredits and refutes religious beliefs, this is not the book for you. Mena is staunchly Christian, she feels a bit sorry for people who aren't, and by the end of the book that doesn't change. What changes is that she's able to keep her religious beliefs, but she no longer fears the unknown and so is able to open her mind to new ideas. But the book isn't without its criticisms of evangelical Christianity - it has plenty of those.

Visit the website for more info www.biblegrrrl.com

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson

Girl at Sea, is, sadly, my first Maureen Johnson book. She's one of those authors who has just blown by me and I realize now how deprived my reading experience was because of that omission.

So with the above, I bet you're thinking, Joanna, you must really like Girl at Sea. The answer is that it didn't quite hit my enthusiasm button, but it is a quality summer read. One thing for sure, I am a huge fan of Maureen's bright, crisp writing and her and sly nudges of hilarity. She reminds me quite a bit of one of my other favorite YA novelists, Sarah Dessen. While I haven't loved all of Sarah's books, I will certainly read her next one the very moment I can get my hands on it. I feel this will be the same for Maureen, too. But on to Girl At Sea.

Clio is 17, lives with her art school mom, and just landed her dream job at the local art supply store where, not coincidentally, a certain 6 foot 5 hottie works. Clio goes home to tell her mom the great news when it is shattered by her mom's news that she is moving to Kansas for the summer for an art restoration project, taking her boyfriend with her, but not Clio. Our heroine is going to be shipped out to her somewhat estranged father for the summer. He has a boat that he's taking out to the Mediterranean and wouldn't Clio just love to go? Um, no. Hello? Hottie at the new super wonderful summer employment! Commence Clio's Summer of Suck.

Clio's dad has been sort of a disappointment. She blames him for a lot of stuff including the divorce. In one of the genius plot lines, Clio and her Dad are former celebrities... for developing a board game! They made a lot of money fast, had a quick, charmed life, and then it all went to hell. So now Clio is in Italy on a boat with her dad and a crew of 3 more, including a Cheese Goddess. The whole reason for the trip is a mystery and to top it off, her father refuses to tell her why. Seems everyone knows why but her and they have been ordered not to tell her. Oh wait, it gets better, he denies her contact with the non-boat world, she isn't permitted in certain rooms on the boat, and she has to be the cook! No “please”, no “would you mind”.

Okay, this is where I lost it. I wanted Clio to raise hell. I wanted her to throw stuff overboard, break down doors, and confront her dad and all of his secrecy. Literally, I had to put the book down and walk away.

I'm a 32 year old adolescent. This is what this book did to me. Getting passed my childish reaction actually took effort. You'll be glad to know that Clio is a better adult than I am.

So, yes, there is a mystery which makes this a little more than a sea story and a girl who has a very weird relationship with her dad. Intertwined are chapters that take place at the turn of the 20th century that shed light what the whole boat trip may be up to. There is action. There is suspense. There is kissing. Have fun with this one this summer.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Off Season - Catherine Gilbert Murdock

How can I talk about this book without ruining the whole story???? The Off Season is the eagerly anticipated sequel to Dairy Queen, which was about this awesome high school girl who single handedly saved her family's dairy farm, trained the rival high school's quarterback all summer, and then decides to play football herself on her own high school's team. I'm really not that into sports (or cows for that matter - i.e. First Boy) so you know if I LOVED the book that it had to be GOOD.

Dairy Queen ended at the very beginning of the school year and the football season, so I have to admit I was a bit confused about the title, The Off Season, but the reasoning soon becomes very clear. And that's pretty much all I'm going to give away. The book went in a totally different direction than I was expecting, but I admire the author so much for going there. And although I might have liked this book a teeny tiny smidgen less than Dairy Queen, Catherine Gilbert Murdock completely, completely landed the ending. Oooh I can't wait till everyone gets a chance to read it!

And now for my rant about the cover. At TLA we (Deban, I and one other person- Kerry???) were talking with the publisher about these new covers vs. the cow with the tiara, which I liked better. Apparently, the covers with pictures of real people tested better with teens. Ok, ok I'll buy that. BUT the girl on the cover of The Off Season does not look anything like the girl described in the book! D.J. is consistently described as a big girl, tall with maybe not the largest frame, and definitely not fat, but certainly bigger than the girl on the cover! It's a major plot point for goodness sakes! I just hate that society is so superficial that to sell books, "they" can't even put an honest representation of a girl football player on the cover. Grr... if D.J. were real, I think she would be pissed!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hero: A Novel - Perry Moore

"I never thought I'd have a story worth telling, at least not one about me. I always knew I was different, but until I discovered I had my own story, I never thought I was anything special. My destiny began to unfurl during my very last game at school. What started with an accident on the court ending with the single most devastating look I ever got from my father. And it made me want to die."
Thom's life has been changing. He's realized he likes dudes in non-platonic kind of way, he's being followed by someone someone who now knows he likes guys, he's shot up several inches and started getting serious seizures, and he's also discovered that he just might have some superpowers. A big no-no in a house where his father has banned any and all superhero references. You see, his father was Major Might, a superhero that fell from grace in a very public, horrifying, and disfiguring way. After the "incident" Thom's mom started fading into the background, until one day she disappeared completely. So when Thom gets the opportunity to try out for The League, the it superhero group (and the same one that his father belonged to before his disgrace) he just adds that to the growing pile of secrets that he's keeping from his father.

At the tryouts Thom gets assigned to a probationary crew. Among them, Typhoid Larry, who's superpower is that he literally gets people sick when he touches them; Scarlett, who refuses to take off her stained, dirty pizza delivery jacket; Ruth, an old lady with an ever present cigarette; and Golden Boy a sidekick who's in charge of training them (and who seems to have it in for Thom). A motley crew indeed.

Whoo! What a fun story! I really enjoyed the reality that the author created for the story. He uses characters that we're familiar with (Warrior Woman is based on Wonder Woman, Justice is Superman, etc.) and then changes them for the purpose of his story. It was fun trying to figure out what was real, who was really a superhero and who was potentially a villain in disguise. I was suspicious of several characters that were cleared by the end of the story. I figured out the secret identity of a couple of the main characters far before Thom did and although I thought he should have figured it out sooner, that's just sort of nit-picking.

It was funny, it was touching (especially the resolution between Thom and his father), and it was satisfying seeing Thom come into his own. Its one of those rare YA novels that will be enjoyed equally, if not more, by adults. And did I mention its funny? It was. Very.

Too bad I couldn't find an image of the cover online. Its a good one. Although I did discover the author was elevated to the coveted status as one of the Hot Men of Children's Literature on Fuse #8 awhile back.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Demon Keeper - Royce Buckingham

Nat has a very special ability; he is one of a very few individuals who can actually see demons. Of course most of the demons aren't made up of pure evil; they are simply very mischievous. Orphaned at the age of 12, Nat was rescued from the foster system by his demon keeper mentor, Dhaliwahl. Dhaliwahl trained Nat in the art of keeping demons and keeping humans safe from demons. Demons are meant to be kept, not destroyed! But now Dhalwahl has disappeared and it’s up to Nat and his minions (isn’t it great to be able to use the word minion in the literal sense?) to rescue the world from the worst demon of all, the Beast, which has managed to escape from the basement of Nat’s demon house.

Nat gets helps along the way from his potential love interest/junior assistant librarian, Sandy, and a runaway named Richie. Boys will really love the crazy antics of the gross and ridiculous demons. The ick factor is certainly high with fish guts, slime, blood and gore prevalent throughout the story. Demon Keeper is a fun, lighthearted read with definite potential for sequels!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Splendid - Julia Quinn

And now for something completely different...

Alexander Ridgely, Duke of Ashbourne, has no intention of marrying. Neither does Emma Dunster, American heiress. Both, for their own reasons, are quite clear on this point, despite the pressures of Polite Society. But when Emma, dressed in her maid’s clothing, runs into the path of a carriage to save the life of Alex’s nephew, the best laid plans of dukes and heiresses begin to go awry…

I quite enjoyed this book. Quinn fills her characters with life, and you can’t help loving both Alex and Emma, even when they are showing their less loveable sides. His history with his father is clearly a part of who Alex is and what has been driving him all these years and Quinn tastefully and earnestly weaves this into his current relationship with Emma. Emma herself is a delightful character, a young and exuberant woman who doesn’t want to be what society expects of her. It was fun to watch Alex and Emma discover lasting love.

The basic storylines in this book are certainly not new. I have read at least one other romance novel including an American, a titled Englishman, and a serendipitous accident (Until You by Judith McNaught), but it’s a delightful romp through regency England. And although Quinn herself states that this debut novel (published in 1995) is not as polished as her current writing, I still found it to be fun and definitely one to read again.

The True Meaning of Smekday - Adam Rex

The year is 2011 and eleven-year old Gratuity Tucci’s mother has been kidnapped by aliens. Again. After her first abduction, Gratuity’s mother returned with a disturbing mole on the back of her neck that actually blinked purple, red, and green. Gratuity (or “Tip” to her friends) was the only one who thought something was seriously wrong until the aliens, the Boov, colonized the planet Smekland, formerly known as Earth. After a couple of months the Boov decide that all of the natives would really be happier if they all moved to Florida and thus Gratuity begins the road trip of a lifetime. She manages to pick up a renegade Boov, learn the secrets of the Happy Mouse Kingdom, find her mom, and clone her cat on the way to saving what’s left of humanity from another, even more sinister race of aliens, the Hoegardians. Sound complicated? Believe me, it was. The best parts of the book are the hilarious comic illustrations of Gratuity and her Boov friend, J.Lo.
I mean I loved, loved, loved the illustrations! And I wanted to love the book too because I love science fiction and funny science fiction in particular. But the humorous drawings and complicated storyline were not enough to justify the lengthiness of the book (four hundred and sixteen pages!) especially when you consider the intended audience- ages 8 and up. Author-illustrator Adam Rex (of Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich fame) definitely has a great concept for the book, I just think it would have been better with a tighter storyline. I would recommend it to my advanced younger readers who are into the genre. Other recommendations? The My Teacher is an Alien series by Bruce Coville and Under Alien Stars by Pamela Service.

Red Glass - Laura Resau

"Even before the boy appeared, I thought about the people crossing the desert. I imagined how scrub brush scratched their legs as they walked at night, how the
sun dried out their eyes during the day, how their hearts poinded when they threw their bodies to the ground, hiding from la migra. I imagined them pressing their cheeks against the dust, thinking about the happy lives they would have if
only they reached the end of the desert."

Sophie and her family live in Tuscon. Although Juan, her step father, no longer helps people crossing the border due to the fear of punishment, in the past he was a frequent stop for immigrants who have just illegally crossed and are in need of water, food, and shelter before they can continue their journey. Somehow his business card gets into the pocket of a 6 year old boy who was crossing the desert with his parents. Everyone died except the boy. The boy won't speak and so the border patrol takes him into custody. Because of Juan's business card being in the boy's pocket it seems like a sign that Sophie and her family should take custody of the boy and so they do. This sets into motion a chain of events that will change Sophie's life forever.

Sophie has always been phobic. She suffered from terrible allergies as a child and it has clouded her outlook on life. She's withdrawn from life because of her fears. Her fears of germs, new things, her shyness all serve to alienate her. And then she's asked if she'll go on a road trip to reunite Pablo (the boy from the desert) with his family in Mexico. It is a journey that is bittersweet from the beginning. Everyone has fallen in love with Pablo and wish him to remain in the U.S. with them, but they feel that he should have the option of living with his family in Mexico. And so Dika (her Bosnian great aunt), Mr. Lorenzo (Dika's boyfriend), Angel (Mr. Lorenzo's son), and Pablo (the boy from the desert) all pile into a van and travel to Mexico to reunite Pablo with his family.

This book...I don't even know how to write about how much I loved this book. It's a book about immigration, about survival, about opening your heart, taking risks, and family - the kind with blood ties and the ones that we create along the way. I fell in love with every single character. Seriously, every character is so perfectly written I don't think I could pick a favorite. There is Dika, who has survived a war zone in Bosnia and has a larger than life personality. There is Mr. Lorenzo, also a survivor of war who immigrated illegally with his son to escape violence in Guatamala. There is Nola, Pablo's great grandmother who just lies down wherever she feels like and takes a nap (although never in the middle of the road. anymore). There is Angel, the boy Sophie is willing to take unprecidented risks for. It is beautifully written, the characters are all well developed, there is personal growth, not only for our main character. Everyone changes, grows, evolves. Just like real life. I can't recommend this book enough.

It's a Mall World After All - Janette Rallison

Charlotte has gotten herself a job at the mall as a perfume seller. She doesn't particularly love her job, but she does appreciate the unique vantage point it gives her into her fellow teen's lives and psyche whom she can watch from the perfume counter. As she points and spritzes, she can tell who's depressed, who's looking for a new boyfriend, and who's susceptible to overpriced perfume.

"It's not like I'm even good at this job. To tell you the truth, I'm not that
impressed with designer fragrances. I mean, what exactly do they put in the
bottle that makes it cost so much? Ground diamonds? Nearly extinct flora? Every
time some woman stops, sniffs her wrist, and murmers, 'Well, that's a delightful
scent,' I nearly say, 'Yeah, but so is spring-fresh Tide, and they don't charge
a hundred dollars for it.'"

Charlotte is sarcastic. She's also a national honor student, very pretty, and has a policy of never dating any boy who goes to her school. Ever. She also has a major grudge against her best friend's boyfriend that stems from middle school. It's this grudge that immediately sets her senses tingling when she sees Bryant (the boyfriend) and Colton (his best friend) meeting up with two very pretty girls at the mall. She sees touching, she sees smiling, she sees what she knows is flirting. She immediately sets upon a course to proove once and for all that Bryant is no good. A course that causes more than a little trouble for Charlotte along the way.

This book is very cute. Charlotte's amusing narration of what's going on, her bumbling attempts to catch Bryant cheating, her liquid drenched attempts to get a date with Colton (breaking her own strict policy), her mortification on several occasions including the one where she unknowingly eats the centerpiece at a posh party is very, very funny. I read this in one day, in fact I read this while steadying a wobbily ladder, outside in the direct sunlight, while my husband was at the top painting our house. Not ideal circumstances to read. But I couldn't put it down, so that speaks to the book's perfect beach reading potential if anything does.