Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dead is the New Black by Marlene Perez

Daisy is the only "norm" in a family filled with paranormal powers. Her mom is psychic, one sister telekinetic, and the other can read minds. So naturally, when her mom starts working on a new case involving a dead teenage girl, it is not Daisy she recruits to help her. Not only does this irritate the fire out of Daisy, but it also prompts her to begin investigating on her own.

Dead is the New Black is a really fun new paranormal mystery series set in the town of Nightshade. The town name alone clues you in that this is anything but a normal place to live.

"I faced [name removed to prevent spoilers] and squared my shoulders. She wasn't going to get away with this, not without a fight anyway. She was a soul-sucking vampire and I was a sixteen-year-old cheerleader, but I was damned if she was going to suck the life out of all my friends. High school was hard enough."

Daisy is a really likable heroine. Her strained relationship with her ex-best friend alone makes it a worthwhile read. Add in a cute boy, funny writing, and the paranormal murder and you've got a winner. This book is also so clean it squeaks. But the writing is strong enough that it will appeal to older girls as well as younger. Which is quite a feat in itself. I laughed out loud more than once and will definitely read the sequels.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

How irresistible is this concept?

AND it's edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. The only thing that could have possibly made this book more appealing to me is if it came with a gooey chocolate center.

Alas, inside are 15 short stories and a smattering of comics by the super Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley. (Bryan's illustrations were not included in this ARC. Boo!) The authors comprise a swoon-worthy list of YA litdom rock stars: Westerfeld, Nix, Green, Bray, Zarr*, Anderson, Levithan... you know who they are you YA lit geek. It's a love-letter to fans celebrating the glorious nerd in all of us.

All kinds of geek- and nerddom is explored here. I was pleasantly surprised with the breadth of topics: Star Wars, Star Trek, Buffy, academic teams, astronomy, high school spirit!, dinosaurs, online gaming, LARP (live-action role-playing).

On the whole, it's a good collection with just a couple stories that didn't work for me. My stand-out favorites, in no particular order, are Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith's "The Wrath of Dawn", M.T. Anderson's "The King of Pelinesse", John Green's "Freak the Geek", Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci's "Once You're a Jedi, You're a Jedi All the Way", and "The Quiet Knight" by Garth Nix.

I'd also like to give props to David Levithan for mentioning my hometown of Clearwater, FL.

Biographies of the authors also list their (substantial) geek credits. Also check out the very tiny print on the back cover regarding the definition of "geek".

Pub date August 2009, Little, Brown

Reviewed: Reading Rants

*Sara Zarr's story was not included in the ARC.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Need by Carrie Jones

Review contains spoilers.

After the sudden death of her father leads to a downward spiral of depression, Zara’s mother sends her to live with her Grandmother in rural Maine. Which is strange since Zara has never once visited her grandmother’s house – instead her grandmother had always gone to visit them. Nevertheless, there she is, freezing in a chilly Maine winter, starting a new school, meeting new friends, and being followed around by the same creepy guy who has been showing up since her dad died.

Need is a paranormal romance with were-creatures, pixies, and normal humans all mixed into the pot. For the most part it works, I certainly read it very quickly and was always interested to see where it would lead next. However, there certainly were parts of the book that made me groan. Mostly the unbelievable plan where Zara and her crew foil the evil boy blood loving pixies. She surrounds them with an iron fence and they are stuck in their pixie mansion. But pixies can fly!!! We just learned that a few pages earlier so I was unsure as to why they couldn’t just fly over the fence and escape. The book is also all in the present tense, which jarred me out of the story on more than one occasion.

One of the reviews I read strongly suggested that this was reminiscent of Twilight, but I didn’t find it overly so. Nick, our werewolf hero and love interest of Zara, did have some similarities to Edward in that he was a bit bossy, a bit over-protective, and there were many mentions of his extreme good looks. However, Zara, even though she does need help, didn’t strike me as overly similar to Bella. Zara had strong outside interests, maintained outside friendships, didn’t think she was unworthy of Nick’s love (and did go on about it ad nauseum either). Really she seemed to me to be rather independent.

I think the girls will snatch this one up, not least because of the amazingly beautiful cover. I don’t think they’ll be disappointed either.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo

The Big Splash explores the ugly criminal underbelly of a middle school in America. It is hard-boiled fiction set in Junior High and it is so much fun! The fraudulent forged hall passes, the water gun attacks, the enforcers! It’s all there!

Our hero is Matt, the detective hired to find out who put Nikki Fingers in the “outs” (or in other words the untouchably unpopular crowd). Our cast includes Vinny, the mastermind and boss of the Franklin Middle School crime family. Kevin, Matt’s former best friend, before he accepted a position of second commander in Vinny’s operation and turned into a snake. Liz, Kevin’s younger sister (a love interest for Matt). Nikki, the former enforcer who left the organization only to be betrayed and her younger sister Jenny, a wide-eyed innocent intent on finding out who “popped” Nikki.

Truly, it has all the set ups of a classic gangster movie. Betrayals, crooked officials, love triangles, good girls gone bad (and not in a gross sense), revenge, and a bit of redemption. The writing is over the top with metaphors and similes out the wazoo, but it works. It is very funny and fast paced.

“He promised me money and power. I wouldn’t have to work my way through the ranks; I could start out at the top, helping him mold and shape his organization. I felt like a diabetic at an ice cream buffet: I was tempted, but I knew it wouldn’t be very good for me.”

This is a fantastic book for older elementary, younger middle school boys.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Kissing Booth by Lexie Hill

Spring break is over and Lisi and her three best friends are planning to run a kissing booth for the Spring Carnival. However, the problems begin mounting up. Mo (short for Molly) has defected to the Populars; Bella is deep in pursuit of an out-of-her-league jock; Johnny is completely distracted over his film project; and Lisi herself has to find a way to get her crush, Brett, to be her first kiss before the Carnival. Before it's all over, secrets will be revealed, friendships will be tested, and Lisi will be kissed. But by whom?

This book was much more entertaining than I was expecting. Granted, Lisi was a bit more oblivious than I could handle at times, but she is supposed to be. And here friends are fabulous! Everyone had more depth than it first appears. The pacing of the story is good and the build-up pays off in the final chapter.

And yet, probably the main reason I liked it so much was that it reminded me of my favorite teen movies from the Eighties. Now that might be a turn-off for some, but it was great to discover that the simple confusion and fun of teen romance can still create a great story.

So, if you feel like a little romantic situational comedy, here is your book!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Winner of the 2009 Printz book, Jellicoe Road, from what I can tell, seems to have gotten some very mixed reviews online. It didn’t find its way onto too many Printz prediction lists, and I’ve heard talk from some that they think it is more of an adult book, or even that it has a plot too complicated to follow. These are balanced out by those who loved the book.

Jellico Road is not an easy read. It is definitely written for someone who is a skilled reader. I found the plot complicated, but not overly so, and truthfully, it was only for the first quarter that I wondered how the pieces fit together. After that all the disparate pieces begin to fit together in a way that was emotional and beautiful and made me tear up many a time.

I won’t say it didn’t give me pause once or twice. There were some supernatural elements that didn’t quite work for me, I thought Taylor should have put together her history a bit quicker, that there was probably a coincidence or two too many in the plot, and that in her desire to be loyal Hannah did Taylor a grave disservice.

However, the strengths of the novel far outweighed any problems I had with it. The characterization was superb. I felt like I knew these characters. I loved their interactions and their relationships. LOVED them. Seriously, I loved Taylor and all her friends. Simply put, the friendships are beautiful. The emotion contained in this book was incredible and overwhelming and believable in all the right ways. And the dialogue couldn’t have been more top notch.

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Another lovely gift from ALA Midwinter!

If you are a Sarah Dessen fan, you already know this story of a boy and a girl and a summer. No new territory explored here. Kissing? Check. Tears? Check. Hilarious and snarky moments that will make you laugh out loud and reinforce your belief that Sarah Dessen is wicked-funny? Yup. And, as Patti said to me last week, cue the loner boy. Well of course! These are not bad things. These, in the hands of Sarah Dessen, are potentially very good things. In fact, these are things we want from her because no one writes it like she can. You will purchase this book for your library.

This book made me happy. First of all, we return to Colby, setting for one of my favorite Dessen books, Keeping the Moon. There are some returning characters and, of course, the Last Chance Cafe. (mmmm onion rings...) Second, the supporting characters are nuanced and interesting, another Dessen hallmark. Heidi, Maggie, Adam, and the mom and dad = awesome. Third, the insomniac storyline works. Lastly, and totally biased here, baby. Descriptions of first smiles and sleepy cuddles warmed my mommy heart. She had me at the wave machine. [Note to Sarah: Thanks for "the elevator". Totally worked on my 3 month old.]

On the downside, I never bought into "the breakup" and found the introduction of the ex eye-rollingly convenient. But really other than that, color me pleased. If the truth is to be told, I did not like Lock & Key and am not a huge fan of Just Listen, either. Shocking! I really worried that perhaps my appreciation for The Dessen was waning. Thankfully Along for the Ride kicks it back into gear.

Notes on the cover: Really, faded jeans with a white polo shirt? For Eli? A dress, dress, for Auden? In pink? Did the book designers even crack this book open? ::sigh::

For a more detailed review: Teen Book Review

To be published June 2009

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fire by Kristin Cashore

There is no doubt that when a friend came back from ALA with this arc I could barely keep myself from ripping it out of her hands. After all, I along with everyone else in existence adored Graceling. I was dying to know what happened next to Katsa and Po. Much to my dismay, I found myself entering an entirely different set of characters. Who are these people I wondered? Where is Katsa? What is going on? I feel angry!

Luckily, I didn’t feel ripped off for long. Cashore introduces an entirely (well almost…and that there is a teaser people!) new cast of characters that I quickly grew to love. According to Cashore's website this is a prequel-ish novel not a sequel and takes place 30 years before Graceling.

Fire, our heroine of this novel, shares many similarities with Katsa. She has a “talent” that she is not proud of, she is beautiful, deadly, and underneath a remarkably moral person. However, Fire, is not a graceling. Nope. Fire is a monster. Yes, a monster. In this kingdom, there are creatures that resemble normal animals in every way shape and form except that they are extraordinarily beautiful and colorful and they use this advantage to become predators. Fire, a monster human, inspires lust, envy, hatred, rage, in everyone and everything and this all by just looking at her. She inspires fear as well through her ability to read and control minds.

I don’t want to tell too much, because it would be an absolute travesty to spoil the plot. However, I don’t think it is saying too much to say that Cashore definitely has a writing style. Besides the likeness her heroines share, there are many of the same themes from Graceling revisited in her second novel. Redemption, love, love triangles (or love squares as is the case here), use of power, good versus evil (with plenty of shades of grey to keep it interesting). And all this with a distinctly feminist edge.

One final note, it drove me crazy trying to figure out what kingdom this story took place in. I was surprised and rather amazed when that answer became clear. Clearly Cashore is able to expand and fill out her mythology without any detriment to her story.

Anyone who has read Graceling will be dying to get their hands on Fire. And those who haven’t read Graceling yet? What the heck are you waiting for?

Untamed by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Guilty pleasure time! I love that part of our job is to read things that we enjoy just for fun, not just literary merit.

SPOILER ALERT--If you haven't read the House of Night books, this synopsis might spoil a few things from the previous books.

So, I read the newest episode in the House of Night story and it is probably my favorite so far. It is action-packed, serious, and much less angsty than its predecessors. In the beginning of Untamed, Zoey Redbird has alienated her circle of close friends, lost all three boyfriends from the previous volume (1 feels betrayed, 1 is no longer Imprinted, and 1 is violently dead), and has incurred the wrath of the school's principal and Head Priestess, Nefret. And while Stevie Rae is no longer the walking undead, we're not sure what she is and in saving her, Aphrodite is now human.

Now a new student shows up, the mysterious and hot Stark, an archery champion from the Chicago House of Night. What part will he play in the ongoing drama? And which girl will snag him? And Erik is not out of the picture completely, either. Did Heath survive the breaking of the Imprint and is he angry? Plus, what are these strange flapping night creatures that seem intent on attacking Zoey when she is alone?

This volume has it all: demons, angels, dogs, new cats, nuns, witches, war, blood, redemption, and a new evil for the group to face. How will they thwart what could possibly be the end of the world as they know it?

One other cool part of reading this series is finding out who in our world is actually a vampyre. Here is my favorite reveal in this volume:

" Feeling better now that Nala was working her purr magic on me, I tried to lose myself in the book I was reading, Ink Exchange by my current favorite vamp author, Melissa Marr, but not even her hot fairies could keep my attention from wandering."

Yeay, Melissa Marr! So, if you enjoy your vampire stories with a little bit of teen angst, check out House of Night. I consider it YA lit's answer to Laurell K. Hamilton!