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Friday, April 30, 2010

Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett

Johnny and the Bomb: Johnny Maxwell Series Book Three by Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Corgi Books; Random House
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (264 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 suns
Reviewed by Orchid

Twelve-year-old Johnny Maxwell has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This has never been more true than when he finds himself in his hometown on May 21, 1941, over forty years before his birth!

An accidental time traveler, Johnny knows his history. He knows England is at war, and he knows that on this day German bombs will fall on the town. It happened. It's history. And as Johnny and his friends quickly discover, tampering with history can have unpredictable—and drastic—effects on the future.

But letting history take its course means letting people die. What if Johnny warns someone and changes history? What will happen to the future? If Johnny uses his knowledge to save innocent lives by being in the right place at the right time, is he doing the right thing?

Mixing nail-biting suspense with outrageous humor, Terry Pratchett explores a classic time-travel paradox in Johnny Maxwell's third adventure.

Johnny Maxwell has been into space, he’s spoken to the dead - what next?

Life is seldom normal for Johnny. He finds local bag lady Mrs Tachyon wounded in an alley and calls an ambulance to take the old lady to hospital. The supermarket trolley containing all her possessions and Guilty, her cat, is left behind. Johnny puts it in his grandfather’s garage to keep it safe. Guilty is not happy. The cat is the scourge of the neighborhood. Even savage dogs find an alternative route when they see Guilty heading their way.

The trolley is full of black bags which are the gateway to the past for Johnny and his friends. They arrive in 1941 on the day a large bomb is due to wipe out part of their town. They try to alert people to the approaching danger, but return to their own time unsuccessful. Some minutes pass before they realize of the five who travelled to the past there are now only four. Wobbler has been left behind.

Johnny and his friends make plans to return 1941 and find the reason why Wobbler was left behind and put it right. Next job is to save the people from the bomb. Help comes from an unexpected source and an explanation about trouser legs!

I enjoyed reading all three books in this series. Traveling to the past is frightening for the friends and only Johnny’s determination to save the people from the bombs keeps them from falling apart.

In this third book of the Johnny Maxwell series we travel to war torn England. All through the book the reader is aware there is an underlying reason for Johnny to be here. The support of his friends is important to him and Terry Pratchett shows how friends can help, hinder or support when something needs to be done.

Humor and war are not usually found in the same place, but in Johnny and the Bomb the two go hand in hand. The differences between the friends create many funny situations as do some of the explanations they use to try and explain the weird situations they find themselves in.

This is another extremely good read. Terry Pratchett is best known for his Discworld series, but the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy is also up there among the best.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Geek High by Piper Banks

Geek High by Piper Banks
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (235 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

At this school, everyone's a geek. And Miranda Bloom still can't fit in...

Miranda is a math genius with divorced parents, an evil stepmother, and no boyfriend in sight. She can't even fit in with the other geeks at the Nottingham Independent School for high-IQ students, because they actually have useful talents. Miranda, on the other hand, is known as "The Human Calculator," which doesn't amount to much when people have, you know, their own calculators.

Then Miranda gets stuck planning the school's Snowflake Gala. And as she struggles to find a date and drum up some school spirit at Nottingham-aka "Geek High"-she finds that who you are means more than where you fit in.

Angst comes in so many forms... ability, love, relationships... and Geek High lives up to the hype!

I saw this book on the shelf and the title captured my attention. I thought, gee, this book could be about me. I wasn’t wrong. I like the general plot—she’s a super genius at math and she’s an outcast among her intelligent peers. She’s not exactly heroine material... in fact she’d rather blend into the background. I could relate to her because she doesn’t want to showcase her math ability. She’d rather be a normal teen with normal parents.

Miranda is an interesting heroine, but I have to admit, I liked her best friends Charlotte aka Charlie and Finn. I loved their interactions—no matter what, they disagree, but the romantic undercurrent is always there. Their arguments kept me in stitches during some of the parts of the book that otherwise took me out of the story.

Yes, there were some predictable parts and a few that dragged a tad, but nothing too drastic that ruined the story. I enjoyed reading and liked the contrast between Miranda and her step sister. I liked seeing how evil isn’t always in the form expected and surprises do happen to good people. But if I go into more detail, well that would give away the ending!

If you want a perky, fun read, then grab a copy of Geek High. I give it 3.5 suns.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Feast of Fools by Rachel Caine

The Morganville Vampires Book 4: Feast of Fools by Rachel Caine
Publisher: Penguin Group
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (242 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

The wait is over. dig into the feast...

In the town of Morganville, vampires and humans live in relative peace. Student Claire Danvers has never been convinced, though—especially with the arrival of Mr. Bishop, an ancient, old-school vampire who cares nothing about harmony. What he wants from the town’s living and its dead is unthinkably sinister. It’s only at a formal ball, attended by vampires and their human dates, that Claire realizes the elaborately evil trap he’s set for Morganville.

Just when you thought it was safe to go outside in Morganville, evil comes along to mess everything up.

In the fourth book in the Morganville Vampires series, Feast of Fools, the town is about to meet the head vampire—or the devil himself.

I’ve read all the stories in this series and I have to say this one is my favorite. The circle of characters is tight, yet loose. What do I mean? I knew who everyone was, but I finally got to see them grow a bit as humans or vampires whichever the case might have been.

Yes, Claire tends to save the day at every turn, but I got to see more of why Shane acted so cranky and how Claire planned to go about saving the blossoming relationship with him. But then again, she’s got her work cut out for her because there are further complications on the horizon. The different issues tests Claire’s mettle and made her more of a heroine to me.

I really enjoy that there are multiple antagonists that I still liked. Not many authors can make the characters likeable, but for Ms. Caine, she does this with ease. Bishop is a real bad guy, but his slick intentions made me not so adverse to him. But my favorite character in this story was Myrnin. He’s not playing with a full deck and he’s got his own ulterior motives, but he’s hysterical.

There is a lot going on in this story, but as the title suggests, a feast of fools is about to take place—the humans are being fed to the vampires (in the form of dates for a dance). But the question becomes, who is the greater fool—the humans or the vampires?

If you want a story that will make you think as well as keep you on the edge of your seat, then you need to read Feast of Fools. I give it 4 suns.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Emmy’s Heart by Christy Trujillo

Emmy’s Heart (book 2 in the Maldito series) by Christy Trujillo
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Paranormal
Length: Full Length (273 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Snapdragon

The day she met him, Emmy thought she was meant to be with Cale Cruz. After discovering her blood was the cure to the curse his family had suffered generation after generation, she knew it was true. Now Emmy is the center of an ancient battle between vampires and Maldito, a race of half-vampire, half-humans, and is fighting for her own life. Betrayed and alone, Emmy will come face to face with the enemy, and the lines will blur. Caught between good and evil, she will have to make a decision which side she is on. Will her love for Cale help her to stay in the light or will her taste of darkness send her spiraling out of control to a place where no one can reach her? With each passing moment a choice is not made, the possibilities for disaster grow. But as we know, when love is stronger than death, anything is possible.

Humans vampires and half-vampires populate Emmy’s world; quite an alternative universe from the ordinary world she grew up. Her love for Cale Cruz and her acceptance of a destiny with him, sets her on an unpredictable path into deadly danger, and worse.

Worse than deadly danger? It will be, for Emmy will be caught between the Maldito and the others, and between good and evil. She will be threatened, but also tempted. There are things out there that she doesn’t even know enough about to fear – but Cale will struggle to both warn and protect.

High drama blends with suspense in the way of the best of the vampire stories, but with a super original twist. The incredibly likable main character could be anybody – she’s ordinary enough, except in the way she is not. She’s in the midst of a first love… but is it a true love? As the story moves forward, Emmy becomes less heroic and more reliant on Cale. It’s cleverly done, and incredibly humanizing.

Cale Cruz could suit any girls dream… but he is about as far from boy-next-door as one could imagine. Still, he seems so incredibly loyal, above all else, that every reader will have to fall for him a little, too.

Trujillo has a gift for tense and revealing dialogue. Combative dialogue fuels the fast pace throughout, so much so you’ll wish for a breather every once in a while. Still, no one lets Emmy have a break.

Emmy’s Heart will appeal to paranormal fans, and certainly to adults as well as YA audience.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett

Johnny and the Dead: Johnny Maxwell Series Book Two by Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Doubleday: Transworld Publishers
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (173 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 suns
Reviewed by Orchid

The town council wants to sell the cemetery, and its inhabitants aren't about to take that lying down! Johnny is the only one who can see the outraged ghosts, and the previously alive need his help to save their home and their history. Johnny didn't mean to become the voice for the lifeless, but if he doesn't speak up, who will?

The continuation of the “Troubled Times” of Johnny Maxwell’s family have led to him and his mum living with his grandfather. He and his friends often take shortcuts through the cemetery on their way to and from school.

A rumor goes around the town that the council have sold the cemetery for redevelopment for the huge sum of five pence (about seven cents American). Most people in town mutter about this but do nothing. Johnny wonders what the dead would think about being moved to a new site. Curiosity makes him knock on the door of one of the mausoleum tombs. To his surprise the deceased occupant appears and asks him what he wants.

Alderman Bowler is only the first of the dead to appear to Johnny. Soon most of the cemetery inhabitants, who object to being called ghosts, are talking to him. When they find out about the redevelopment, the dead demand that Johnny help them stop it.

Johnny’s friends cannot see or hear the dead, but they believe in Johnny so they promise to help.

How can Johnny, his friends and the dead fight the council and the developers when the bulldozers are ready to start their engines and destroy the cemetery? And what will happen now the dead have risen and want to experience the live world again?

Once again Terry Pratchett has given us a fascinating story. Twelve year old Johnny Maxwell looks at life slightly differently than most boys his age, but only Terry Pratchett can make the situation funny, weird and slightly spooky all at the same time. This is an excellent book for children from twelve years upwards. There is just the right amount of mystery, humor and scariness to bring the book to life and fascinate the reader.

With summer on the horizon this book can be enjoyed when you have the time but put down when there are other things to do, but it always draws you back to find out how Johnny can solve other people’s problems (including dead people). A very enjoyable read.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Midnight Alley by Rachel Caine

The Morganville Vampires Book 3: Midnight Alley by Rachel Caine
Publisher: Penguin Group
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (245 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Claire Danvers's college town may be run by vampires but a truce between the living and the dead made things relatively safe. For a while. Now people are turning up dead, a psycho is stalking her, and an ancient bloodsucker has proposed private mentoring. To what end, Claire will find out. And it's giving night school a whole new meaning.

What do you do when you’re a human blood bank and you’re in the care of a vampire? Hope he’s not really hungry!

That said, you need to read Midnight Alley.

I read the other books in this series and I have to say each ends with a cliff hanger, but this one is a doozy. Things are going from bad to worse in the college town and there seems to be only a handful of individuals who can make things livable.

I liked Claire in the first two books. Here, she becomes a tad predictable. You know she’s the one who will save the day. She’s got a keen sense of who is good and who will cause trouble. It’s nice for continuity sake, but I wanted to see her trip up and trust the wrong person without getting hurt.

Whereas Shane was a hunky hero for Claire in the prior books, in this one, he comes off as a huge jerk. But there are reasons for his attitude. I identified with his moodiness because he sees the world crumbling around him and the only way he knows how to deal is to let the anger bubble over.

There is a lot of back story and side explanations that can trip the reader up. I found myself rereading in a handful of place to keep track of what’s happening. Still, the secondary characters have their own little foibles and quirks which kept me entertained. I liked her over protective parents. Who doesn’t think their folks hover too much? It added a sense of realism and humanity that seemed a bit overshadowed in the book otherwise.

If you want to read a quirky vampire novel, then you need to read Midnight Alley. I give it 4 suns.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Dead Girls’ Dance by Rachel Caine

The Dead Girls’ Dance (The Morganville Vampires Book 2) by Rachel Caine
Publisher: Penguin Group
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (238 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Claire has her share of challenges. Like being a genius in a school that favors beauty over brains; homicidal girls in her dorm, and finding out that her college town is overrun with the living dead. On the up side, she has a new boyfriend with a vampire-hunting dad. But when a local fraternity throws the Dead Girls' Dance, hell is really going to break loose.

What happens when there is a dance involving lots of college age men and you’re invited? You do The Dead Girls’ Dance.

I like a good vampire story. I want action, adventure, and a healthy dose of fangs. This story supplied all three. The characters were engaging and helped buoy what could be a heavy plotline. Ms. Caine writes the characters like they are my close friends. Even the antagonists have their moments when I really enjoyed them.

Claire is an interesting heroine. She’s smart and sassy in a situation where most high school girls would be more inclined to party. Although I was a bit bored by her constant ability to save the day, I enjoyed seeing her grow as a person. I also liked seeing the interaction with Shane as well. There is something deep happening and I can’t wait to see what.

The secondary characters make this book a memorable read. Eve and Michael have a little vamp/human romance blooming and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. Monica, the town snobby girl, was my favorite. She’s in all kinds of trouble and she’s not exactly the type to bring home to mother, but I got the feeling there was so much more going on with her and that’s what drew me in.

One note, this is a series best read in order. Each book has ended with a cliff-hanger and each makes sense when you know what’s going on prior. That said, you can, as I did, read them out of order and still find them enjoyable. And yes, the ending for this one will leave you breathless!

If you want to read a story that will have you begging for more, then you need to read The Dead Girls’ Dance. I give it 4 suns!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Age Recommendation: 8+
Length: Full Length (375 pgs)
Rating: 5 Suns
Reviewed by Honeysuckle

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school...again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect. Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’s stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves. With cover art from the major motion picture, this first installment of Rick Riordan’s best-selling series is a non-stop thrill-ride and a classic of mythic proportions.

Sit back, strap in and get ready for a very exciting ride that includes a minotaur, Medusa and a plethora of gods and goddesses. Book 1 of Rick Riordian’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series sets the stage for an adventure straight out of Greek mythology but centered over modern day New York City. I began reading the first book, The Lightning Thief, just a few weeks before the movie’s release. While the movie was good, the book was amazing!

Mr. Riordian did an incredible job of creating a main character that was so pivotal to this fantastical story and yet so average – at least until he meets and fights his first monster. One of the first things I tend to notice about a well written YA book is the shared dialogue and the internal conversations of the characters. Does it sound like something a pre-teen would say? Did the author give them too much insight or is it typical young adult thought processes? Mr. Riordian completely nails the angst and idiosyncrasies of a pre-teen young man in the character of Percy Jackson.

Percy has never met his birth father and like any young man he wonders how much of his father is apparent in his own looks and actions. You just couldn’t help but feel anxious for Percy when he finally learns of his heritage and accepts his fate.

The supporting characters in The Lightning Thief do exactly that…they support the story and keep it relative to young men and women as well as older readers, such as myself, who grew up watching and reading classic tales such as Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, Hercules and The Odyssey. Without giving too much away let me just say Percy’s friend and fellow half-god, Annabeth Chase, is quite possibly one of the coolest characters I’ve read in a YA book in some time. Also, I come to the conclusion that everyone needs a best friend/satyr like Grover.

Mr. Riordian gives the reader so many individual character story lines interlaced within the main plot of the novel. You come to learn how they each are integral to the journey of Percy and his friends. What makes Mr. Riordian’s style of writing so easy to read, is that you never feel like he is “chasing rabbits” or writing filler details for the sake of lengthening the book. The chapters are well laid out and keep the reader engaged from start to finish with adventure and clever, and often humorous, dialogue.

Having read all five of the books in the series I would suggest that you have book two, The Sea Monsters, close at hand when you finish book one. Trust me!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Vampire Diaries: Dark Reunion by LJ Smith

The Vampire Diaries: Dark Reunion by L.J. Smith
Publisher: Harper Teen
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (312 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Elena: transformed, the golden girl has become what she once feared and desired.

Stefan: tormented by losing Elena, he's determined to end his feud with Damon once and for all—whatever the cost. But slowly he begins to realize that his brother is not his only enemy.

Damon: at last, he possesses Elena. But will his thirst for revenge against Stefan poison his triumph? Or can they come together to face one final battle?

Sometimes love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Is the love of your life enough to make you shut out friends and turn away acquaintances?

The Vampire Diaries: Dark Reunion tackles that thought and much, much more.

When I first cracked the book, I thought the narrative was a tad corny, but it made me remember a time in my life—high school. L.J. Smith does a great job of taking the reader back to high school. But it’s more than just a run down memory lane. By the end of the story, I felt like I was leaving my good friends behind.

For all the great parts of this story, the jocks, the cool kids, the outcasts, there were a few things that might stick out to some readers. I found the switch to Bonnie’s point of view a little jarring, but I realize that there needed to be a bit of switching up. I got to see how she felt about having her best friend changed, how she dealt with life in general, and a picture of Elena and Stefan that the reader wouldn’t get through the eyes of Elena or Stefan. I wanted to see more of Damon who almost poofs out of this installment. Who doesn’t want to see what the resident bad-boy vampire is up to?

I thought the ending was a bit quick, but worth the ride. I must say, it had me aching to get the next book to see exactly what happens and to have the ending smoothed out. And it was worth it.

If you want a story with sweet romance and the confusion of the teen years, then you need to read The Vampire Diaries: Dark Reunion. I give this novel 3.5 suns.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett

Only You Can Save Mankind: Johnny Maxwell Series Book One by Terry Pratchett
Publisher: Harper Collins Ebooks
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (220 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Orchid

The alien spaceship is in his sights. His finger is on the Fire button. Johnny Maxwell is about to set the new high score on the computer game Only You Can Save Mankind.

We wish to talk.

We surrender.

The aliens aren't supposed to surrender -- they're supposed to die! Now what is Johnny going to do with a fleet of alien prisoners who know their rights under the international rules of war and are demanding safe-conduct? It's hard enough trying to save Mankind from the Galactic Hordes. It's even harder trying to save the Galactic Hordes from Mankind.

But it's just a game, isn't it? Isn't it?

Master storyteller Terry Pratchett leaves readers breathless -- with laughter, and with suspense -- in a reality-bending tale of virtual heroism.

“We surrender!” How can a computer game surrender? A “we give up” message is not what you expect to see when you’re playing a space invaders game.

Johnny Maxwell thought his friend had hacked the program. Every time he turned the computer on he got the same message. Then his dreams were taken over as he found himself in a fighter in space every time he fell asleep. The captain of the enemy Scree Wee insisted they were surrendering. It had to be a dream. A visit to the computer shop proved how wrong he was. Customers were complaining all the spaceships had disappeared from the “Only You Can Save Mankind” game.

Johnny sometimes has odd ideas and his three friends range from an overweight computer ace, to skinhead who isn’t really. Humor from misunderstanding lends a light touch to the story. Just as Johnny feels he’s making progress the Scree Wee demand provisions as is their right under the rules of war. He’s still trying to solve the problem of feeding the huge Scree Wee fleet when another human fighter appears in the otherwise empty space.

Set in the time of the space invaders games, this book is very entertaining. Johnny and his friends are normal boys who are thrown into a situation way out of their control. I liked the way the friendships helped Johnny to attack the problems thrown in his way, without any of the heartiness often found in books of this period. The answers to his problems were not always what he thought they would be.

This book is the first one of a trilogy and Mr Pratchett has worked his usual magic. He shows a boy going through ‘Troubled Times’ with his parents, who can still find time and energy to help aliens. It doesn’t matter to Johnny that the aliens are part of a computer game.

Well done Mr Pratchett. While not as gripping as some of your other books, this is a story which makes the reader keep coming back to see what happens next.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Little, Brown and Co.
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (288 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: Best Book
Reviewer: Dandelion

In his nationally acclaimed, semi-autobiographical YA debut, author Sherman Alexie tells the heartbreaking, hilarious, and beautifully written story of a young Native American teen as he attempts to break free from the life he was destined to live.

I had seen this book recommended on a number of “Must Read” lists of Young Adult fiction – but I’ll be honest, the rather awkward title put me off. Do not make this same mistake! The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a brilliant, heart-breaking, funny, powerful story that will remain with you long after you finish the final page.

Loved it.

Absolutely loved it.

Arnold “Junior” Spirit is a self-admittedly dirt-poor teen living on a Spokane Indian Reservation. He’s the awkward, cross-eyed, friendless son to drunken but well-meaning parents, and he’s also too smart to stay on the “rez” (that’s what a teacher tells him one day, anyway). Oh, and he’s also a cartoonist, which means that hilarious sketches appear throughout the book. After sitting in class one day realizing that life on the rez means a dead-end life, Junior takes the very daring (or very stupid) step of choosing to attend the all-white school twenty-two miles away and becomes one of the first and only Indians to leave.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the story of Junior’s freshman year as the only Indian at Reardan High School (well, besides the mascot). He’s picked on, ignored, beat up – and then, miracle of miracles, accepted, not only by fellow nerd Gordy, but by the beautiful. blonde Penelope and even the jocks. Amid this adjustment, though, Junior has to deal with the fact that his best friend on the rez, Rowdy, is furious (and heart-broken) at being deserted. The rest of the Indians aren’t any more forgiving. They generally drink and fight and turn their backs on Junior, accusing him of forsaking his heritage.

The brilliance of this book is Junior’s voice. It is poignantly honest, funny, offensive at times, smart and smart-assed, and it doesn’t shy away from telling the horrible truths about what life is like on an Indian reservation – and what happens when you’re the single minority in a brand new school full of white faces. As he says in the opening pages, "It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it…” But of course there is something he can do – and he does it, though it’s harder than he ever dreamed it would be.

You must read this book. You’ll alternate between tears and laughter, between asking “Is that what it’s really like?” and “Have I ever acted like that?” One warning, however: there are a lot of sexual references and vulgarity, so even though it’s tagged as appropriate for grades 7-10, I’d recommend this book for older readers rather than middle schoolers.

Appealing to male and female readers alike, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a brilliant piece of YA fiction that deserves every accolade it’s received. I give it my highest recommendation!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Forest Heart by Liberty Stafford

Forest Heart by Liberty Stafford
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (158 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Cholla

Ancient magic erupts from the earth, leaving Helena spellbound. Not many have ever laid eyes on Jack O’The Green, the old man of the woods, the green man, let alone become his forest dwelling wife.

Where Daniel goes, trouble is sure to follow. As he does battle daily with the urge to give in to his heritage and the will to stay human, his friends are being confronted with their own magical –- and dangerous -– secrets. Katarina’s magical powers are growing, unbeknownst to her, and Helena’s becoming distant. And this is just the tip of the iceberg… much evil is lying in wait for Daniel and his friends.

Daniel is torn in many different directions during this third installment in the Bad Blood Corpus series. His first instinct is to protect Katarina, whether she wants him to or not, but there are other pressing issues needing his attention. In this way, it’s a very realistic parallel to a normal teenager’s life – work, school, friends and family all pull at your attention, demanding your full focus, even when it’s not available. However, he deals rather well with everything coming to pieces around him.

Katarina has her moments during Forest Heart. She’s strong and sure one chapter, and then the complete opposite the next. She becomes very self-involved at one point and I almost didn’t recognize her. However, this is also something that teens face every day – with the constantly changing sea of life you experience during high school, it becomes a test of will power to remain true to yourself and not become one of the masses. This fight to first find your true self and then hang on to it can cause you to become quite self-involved. She is a good kid at heart, however, and does eventually find her way back to herself.

As the series progresses, we learn more and more about Daniel, Katarina, and Helena, bringing them more and more to life with each new story. I’m interested to see where we go from here and what the future brings for these three as well as Mr. Underwood. Also, as we move forward, the plots become more involved and more intricate, creating a better and more mature story. However, my only complaint is that Forest Heart may have had just a bit too much going on for its own good. There isn’t so much that you will get lost, but sometimes you do feel a bit crowded.

All in all, it is a very good story and a natural progression for the series. An enjoyable, action-packed novel of the paranormal for adults young and old alike.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It by Adam Selzer

I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It by Adam Selzer
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (177 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Algonquin “Ali” Rhodes, the high school newspaper’s music critic, meets an intriguing singer, Doug, while reviewing a gig. He’s a weird-looking guy—goth, but he seems sincere about it, like maybe he was into it back before it was cool. She introduces herself after the set, asking if he lives in Cornersville, and he replies, in his slow, quiet murmur, “Well, I don’t really live there, exactly. . . .”

When Ali and Doug start dating, Ali is falling so hard she doesn’t notice a few odd signs: he never changes clothes, his head is a funny shape, and he says practically nothing out loud. Finally Marie, the school paper’s fashion editor, points out the obvious: Doug isn’t just a really sincere goth. He’s a zombie. Horrified that her feelings could have allowed her to overlook such a flaw, Ali breaks up with Doug, but learns that zombies are awfully hard to get rid of—at the same time she learns that vampires, a group as tightly-knit as the mafia, don’t think much of music critics who make fun of vampires in reviews. . .

Every once in a while, a book comes along that you just have to read. I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It is one of those books.

Now that’s not to say this book is perfect. No book truly is. But there is a poignancy despite the over-use of one liners and bluntness that got to me. Doug is dead, no two ways about it. He’s a zombie and nothing’s going to change it. That being said, he desires what a lot of teens want--a life. I liked that he was a tragic figure because, can zombies really come back to life? And if they do, what kind of life would it be?

I won’t give away any more details, but suffice it to say, when I cracked this book, I wasn’t expecting the ending at all.

At first, I thought the use of snark on Alley’s part was a bit too much. She uses her razor sharp tongue to keep everyone at bay. But that resonated with me once I really got into the book because I saw how sad she really was. She wanted a place to fit in, in a sea of cliques and snobs. I liked how this book shows teens that it’s okay to be different and it’s just fine to deal with what happens in life in your own way.

Although this isn’t a standard HEA, I must admit, I found the ending to be totally worth it and more than I expected. It showed the best in the characters and how even tough situations can bring out our true colors which don’t always have to be depressing.

If you want a book that will make you think and wonder, then you need to read I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It. I give it 4 suns.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Something Terrible Happened on Kenmore by Marci Stillerman

Something Terrible Happened on Kenmore by Marci Stillerman
Publisher: WestSide Books
Genre: Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (200 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Cholla

Set against the backdrop of a child murder in 1930s-era Chicago, three teenagers’ lives are about to change dramatically. From different sides of the tracks, Zane and Fred forge a bond through their shared love of cartooning. But Fred quickly realizes that Zane has a dark undercurrent, especially when he violates Maizy, the sturdy but na├»ve working-class neighborhood girl whose lack of self-esteem and lifelong love for Zane overwhelm her judgment. Meanwhile, Zane’s father harbors a shocking secret that only Maizy and Fred discover, and the events that follow lead all three teens to make difficult, life-changing decisions. Told with compassion and honesty from each teen’s perspective, Something Terrible Happened on Kenmore unflinchingly examines love and loss, friendship and sexuality, all significant factors on the path to becoming an adult.

When the desperation of the Great Depression reaches its darkest, it’s not only the adults that suffer its dire consequences. Children of all ages are drawn into the darkness along with their parents, friends and relatives. Fred, Zane, and Maizy are only three of them, but their story rings true across the decades. You’ll be touched by their stories, angered at their inability to save themselves, and rejoice as they find their way through one of the most difficult times in American history.

While told from alternating perspectives, from the very beginning I felt like Fred was the main character of sorts. He’s the new kid on Kenmore and is learning his way around the area and the people. He seems to be the most average of the three narrators and I liked him a lot. He battles the constant tide of wants vs. what is right and he handles things well usually. While he makes his mistakes, I do believe that they’re all made for the right reasons. For me, Fred was the most relatable of the narrators and I could identify with his situation at home.

Zane is the minister’s son and the only kid from the right side of the tracks. Despite being rich, he feels like he doesn’t fit in with the kids from his own street so he hangs out on Kenmore where the kids are more honest and real. He starts out as an arrogant, self-absorbed rich kid but, as the story progresses he’s forced to change a lot. Of the three, he probably grows the most over the course of the novel. His faith is broken and he’s forced to rebuild, not something that comes easily to a sixteen-year-old. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his shoes for anything.

Maizy was probably my favorite narrator. Her unrequited love for Zane and her honest, if simple, outlook on life was different from any of the others in the novel. Forced to stay home and care for her brother, Maizy’s life revolves around her front porch. She’s profoundly affected by the murder that starts the story off and it haunts her thoughts. I appreciated her complete and total devotion to her brother and the honest way she interacted with everyone who passed her way. She still had hopes and dreams, even knowing that most would never come to fruition. But it didn’t stop her from hoping for a better life for them all.

Despite the rather bleak circumstances that set the stage for this coming of age novel, the trueness of the narrators’ voices shine through the darkness. I loved the way that the narrator changed, each revealing just a piece of the mystery surrounding the murder haunting Kenmore, giving you the briefest of glimpses into the answer to it all. Very well written in an easy to read style, Something Terrible Happened on Kenmore is a stark and yet hopeful portrait of a teenager’s life in Depression-Era Chicago. Things were by no means easy, but there was still hope on the horizon.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Star In The Middle by Carol Larese Millward

Star In The Middle by Carol Larese Millward
Publisher: WestSide Books
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (303 pgs)
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Fern

At age sixteen, Star’s life has changed drastically now that she’s become the mother of a baby boy. Because of the baby, Star’s planning to drop out of school to care for him instead of starting the eleventh grade. Star’s taking classes in parenting at a center for teen moms as she tries to learn to do what’s best for him. But she’s having trouble keeping up with the baby’s demands, and her grandmother is threatening to send her to foster care and force her to put the baby up for adoption if things don’t change. And to top it off, Wilson, the baby’s father, a popular star athlete with a bright future, refuses to believe that the baby is his. But there’s so much he doesn’t know about Star—terrible, painful secrets she’s hidden for years—even from her grandmother.

Star suffers in silence and doesn’t know whom to trust, but she finds support from her friends. She reconnects with Todd, a Goth-style former classmate who’s now a teenager raising an infant daughter. As Wilson’s friends and family push him to accept responsibility for his child, he begins to learn the truth about Star and her disturbing past, facts that ultimately change his life forever. Alternating between Star’s and Wilson’s points-of-view, Star in the Middle allows readers to eavesdrop on the teens’ innermost thoughts and fears, revealing an astonishingly realistic, compelling snap-shot of the difficult lives of teenage parents.

Star In The Middle is a complex and multifaceted story that addresses the issues of teen pregnancy, sexual abuse, responsibility, coming to terms with your mistakes and learning from them. While dark and gritty, the material offers a glimpse of something better for all involved. Told through the voices of Wil and Star, you are given a direct insight into what they are thinking and experiencing.

Star is a young girl who became pregnant and believed the boy she loved would always be there for her only to discover just how much a baby changes things. Her voice isn’t easy to read, especially as her innocence and longing for what she’ll never have – a childhood that is untainted by events in the past – surface time and again. She’s the character you sympathize with, as the burden of responsibility rests on her young shoulders. Wil, on the other hand, is a character that is very difficult to relate to. He left Star when she needed him most and believes the baby isn’t his. It takes time to understand him and at times I absolutely detested him. Yet, it is that very thing that makes the story so believable. Teenagers by design are selfish creatures, so Wil’s actions, while deplorable, ring true.

Although a majority of the story focuses on Star, Wil, and their son, there is also an undercurrent of mystery and suspense. At first, I didn’t see it coming. You are aware that Star has issues, but when you learn where they come from it’s both horrific and incomprehensible. Think of it like an intricate and carefully plotted puzzle, which snippets provided along the way. As they begin forming the bigger picture, you’ll better understand the characters, their motivations, and the ties that continue to bind them.

The themes are not intended for young children, which mean Star In The Middle should be targeted for a 14+ audience. This isn’t anything like the average YA material on the market. Rather, Star In The Middle provides a realistic portrayal of what happens when children have children and the complexities and heartbreak that can arise as a consequence.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Wicked Fairy Stepmother by Maddie Esposito

My Wicked Fairy Stepmother by Maddie Esposito
Publisher: Cerridwen Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Short Story (126 pgs)
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by: Orchid

Welcome to the first day of the rest of your horrible, awful, wicked-stepmother filled life!

I was positive Dad was playing a sick joke on me and my sister and little brother. What kind of guy seriously brings home a blonde bimbo he met on a singles cruise to play mommy to his three kids? My dad, evidently. And not only did he ask her to live with us, but he says he’s going to marry her.

Over my dead body. Seriously. It might be Over. My. Dead. Body.

Because Morgan isn’t good people. There’s something more sinister going on in my house than your average stepmotherly wickedness. Morgan’s got evil plans for my family, and she’s not going to let me get in her way, even if it means making sure there’s one fewer Anthony living in her happy home.

When your father brings home a woman he’s only known for two weeks and announces she’s going to be your new stepmother - what do you do? Accept it or fight?

Sierra Anthony decided to fight and couldn’t understand why her twin sister and three year old brother happily accepted the woman. She believed Morgan was evil, but no one else felt the same.

When Sierra’s twin, Dee, seems to have no problem with Morgan she began to wonder if she is being paranoid. Maybe Morgan only seems to be evil. But Sierra’s "vibe sensor" convinces her she is only trying to fool herself--her sense had never led her astray before.

Unfortunately, Morgan’s actions could be construed as merely trying to help. Everything Sierra does only makes her seem more wrong. When she finds a believer in Carter, a new boy at school, the two of them work to expose the real Morgan. The timetable is moved up when Morgan convinces her father Sierra is taking drugs.

I thought this book was going to be the usual daughter thinks stepmother is evil, but eventually realizes the woman is nice. Boy was I wrong!

It shows that parents should listen more closely to their children. They occasionally have a clearer view of things than adults, especially adults blinded by so-called love. The teenagers in this book are all different, but they are easily identifiable with fifteen-year-olds you might know, whether they are your peers or your children.

I could not put this book down. At times I found it funny, at others sad and a few times it sent chills down my spine. The story is presented from Sierra’s viewpoint. At the beginning of the book she is confident, well adjusted and competent. Morgan’s arrival pits sister against sister, and makes Sierra feel an outcast in her own home.

The author made me believe Sierra could possibly be right in her feelings about Morgan, but I still wasn’t prepared for the startling conclusion. My Wicked Fairy Stepmother is an excellent read and will appeal to teenagers of any age. Congratulations Ms Esposito for such a well written and enjoyable book.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Intertwined by Gena Showalter

Intertwined by Gena Showalter
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (440 pgs)
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Fern

Like most teens, Aden Stone has friends. They just happen to be the four human souls living inside him.

One can time travel. One can raise the dead. One can tell the future. One can possess another human. And they’re causing him all kinds of trouble. All he wants is peace.

Then he meets a girl who quiets the voices, whenever he's near her. Why? Mary Ann is his total opposite. While he attracts the paranormal, she repels it.

Somehow, they share an inexplicable bond of friendship that will soon be tested by a werewolf shape-shifter who wants Mary Ann for his own, and a vampire princess Aden can't resist.

Two romances, both forbidden. Now the four will enter a dark underworld of intrigue and danger—but not everyone will come out alive...

Four souls, trapped inside the mind of one sixteen-year-old boy. One can time travel, one can see the future, one can call the dead, and one can possess another human -- as if adolescence wasn’t bad enough already.

Young Aden is never alone, though he wishes to be. Graced and cursed since birth with the entities inside his mind, he’s been in and out of institutions for as long as he can remember. Now, he’s gotten a new lease on life. Living on a boy’s ranch, he’s had a vision of a girl with dark hair who kisses him, comforts him, and offers more than the hell of a life he’s always known. Yet, when he meets Mary Ann, he realizes she’s not the girl from his dreams. Instead she nullifies the voices, allows him to live for the first time with only his own thoughts to guide him. It’s not until the beautiful vision from his dream truly arrives that he learns the world is far more complex than he ever imagined -- and so is he.

Intertwined is an exceptional story with multiple twists and turns. Gena Showalter has written something that reminds a reader why her books are best sellers the world over. The premise is utterly fascinating, the varying subplots are intriguing, and the characters will captivate and excite you. You have the lovely Mary Ann, a girl who always does the right thing and refuses to rebel. You have the vampire princess, Victoria, who yearns for the freedom and love she only experiences with Aden. And you have the sexy werewolf, Riley, who protects Victoria, yet, longs for a future with Mary Ann who is a human and therefore considered off-limits by his kind.

From the moment I started this story, I was unable to put it down, and although there is a lot to process, I enjoyed every single moment of it. Each of the characters provides something fascinating to draw you in, and I couldn’t decide who I wanted to hear from most. Aden, while the centerpiece, is only one of four people you will fall in love with. I adored Mary Ann, ached for Victoria, and cheered for Riley. Each is unique and adds a necessary amount depth and richness to the material. The dual romances also create a nice dash of tension and suspense, while the fantastical creatures and entities make this so much more than your average young adult story. You get it all here -- magic, romance, love, hate, fear, anger, betrayal, and just as the blurb promises, death.

I’ve been very careful issuing my best book ratings, but it would be impossible to rate Intertwined as anything less than that. I can’t wait for the next book in the series and will be the first in line to snag my copy on release day. This is the storytelling that separates good books from excellent ones, and I’m so delighted I was given the opportunity to read and review it.

Young adults fans, be sure to place Intertwined on your TBR pile if you haven’t already. This is one book you definitely do not want to miss.