Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mind Control and Domed Cities

A Crack in the Sky (Greenhouse Chronicles)
The Greenhouse Chronicles: A Crack in the Sky by Mark Peter Hughes is the first book in a planned series about global warming, climate change, and how the population deals with the crisis. With so many post-apocalyptic, young adult books out there these days, it seems all new books to the genre suffer as heavy a comparison as new vampire and werewolf books do! It's stiff competition out there, but this planned series seems to have the guts to stand up with the others!

Eli lives in one of many domed cities run by InfinCorp. In fact, Eli is sort of royalty in the domed cities since his grandfather was one of the leading people to make them a reality as the face of the world changed drastically. The domes include climate control, air conditioning, and something called CloudNet- an ever-present mix of mindless ads, games, and other things for the citizens of the domes to watch. What the people don't know, though, is that the CloudNet is also a means to keep its citizens docile, mindless, and pliable. It is a type of mind control the people living in the dorm either don't know about or don't care about.

Eli continues on, living his life as normal, when his grandfather gives him an odd pet, a mongoose named Marilyn. Marilyn may seem like your typical mongoose, but she was implanted with a chip that makes her super smart and telepathically able to communicate with Eli. When there is an attack on the dome by Foggers- outside crazies who want to destroy life in the domes- Eli can't help but investigate with Marilyn in tow. When he starts to investigate, he realizes life in the dome might not be as ducky as InfiniCorp wants the people to believe. In fact, there is a very real possibility the domes may be breaking down little by little.

Although InfiniCorp, including Eli's scary cousin Spider, wants Eli to stop his digging into the failure of the domes, he can't help but continue. When he gets too close to the truth, Spider has him put in the closest thing InfiniCorp has to a jail- a "rehabilitation" facility in an off-shore oil rig. There, surrounded by a dying ocean, Eli is having a hard time fighting the CloudNet. What InfiniCorp doesn't know, though, is that another prisoner on the rig is ready to help Eli find his way past the controlling CloudNet. Tabitha knows Eli is more than he seems, and she suspects he is the one the legends talk about that will save people and help them escape the scorched earth and dying or mutating world. Tabitha and Eli must risk everything to get out and spread the word of the dying domes, but can they escape?

Climate change is a very real, very scary scenario. Unfortunately, it is also the subject of much debate. Some people work hard to discredit the theory, some work very hard to inflate or exaggerate what is happening. Basically, we have a whole lot of conflicting and confusing information that no one can agree on. One thing we can agree upon though? That we are doing irreparable damage to our planet slowly but surely. This book not only fictionalizes a possible outcome to our damage, the author also takes the time at the end of the book to explain which parts of the new world are fiction and which are steeped in fact. I find this refreshing, as the author clearly wants kids to read this book and know where his new world came from. He isn't trying to hide his exaggerations, just showing his creative license with the story. Hughes also clearly wants to encourage kids to know more about their world, challenge what is told to them, and always ask questions. I really find it hard not to love a story that encourages children to be aware of the world around them and to not just accept what authority spoon feeds them! Sure it might be easier with dull, docile, mindless young ones, but how boring would "easy" be?!

The book has a relatively moderate reading level. It would be fine for any high skilled middle school student through high school. While it appears to be a series and does end with the possibility of continuing, it isn't a huge cliffhanger that leaves the reader hanging. The scenarios are scary, but not gory. This is a great book to start discussions about our climate, our government, and our lives. The end notes by Hughes also lead to great research opportunities for teachers and students on climate change. I am looking forward to the next story, Mr. Hughes!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Who Would Your Match Be?

Having just finally read Lois Lowery's The Giver, I knew I had to read the book recommended to me as "a romantic Giver". Ally Condie's breakout dystopian/utopian novel Matched challenges all we know about life, questions, and choices. Very similar to The Giver's false utopia, this world has done everything to make sure there is no pain, no confusion, and no choices. But in taking away our ability to choose, have they also taken away our ability to live?

Cassia is excited about her Match Banquet. Here she will meet the man she will eventually marry. He will be from another city, but through interactions monitored by Officials, she will get to know him and they will eventually start a family. In Cassia's world, the Officials have created a life where no one has to make choices. The food they eat, what they wear, where they live, the jobs they do, and even the people they marry, are all choices carefully made by sorters who evaluate data in order to assign choices for everything. Food is delivered every day prepackaged and ready to eat. Even the waste they throw into their disposal is monitored to make sure it is the right amount and proper density compared to the amount of food and products they are given. Without any choices to make, people can't make the wrong choices.

Something strange happens at Cassia's Match Banquet. She is assigned to Xander, he best friend. Usually Matches occur with people from other cities, but she got someone in Mapletree Borough. Cassia is excited, but the situation means they won't have the typical courting scenario since they already know each other. Still, Cassia gets the box with Xander's card in it and plugs it into her portscreen to read the information about Xander, but it isn't Xander's card- it's Ky's- another boy from town. While Cassia knows this was a mistake, she still can't stop thinking about Ky, especially when she learns of his status in the society- Ky Markham is an Aberration. Aberrations are outsiders within the society. They can live and work in the Boroughs, but they aren't given important jobs and aren't allowed to Match. They aren't dangerous like Anomalies, who aren't allowed to live in the Boroughs, but they aren't exactly accepted either.

Ky's status intrigues Cassia, and when they are put together in the new hiking group for free time, she grows to really enjoy his company. In fact, Ky is the only person she shares the illegal poem her grandfather gave her before he was released (everyone is "released" at the age of 80). The poem, "Do Not Go Gentle" by Dylan Thomas keeps swirling around in Cassia's head. It is not part of the Hundred Poems (the Society has only saved 100 poems, 100 paintings, etc. Everything else was destroyed and the people of the society are only allowed to view the 100 that have been deemed appropriate). In fact, it is dangerous for her to even know about the poem, but she can't forget about it since her grandfather gave it to her. And Ky understands why.
The poem, Ky, and so much more are making Cassie question the Society and the lack of choices. She knows why the Society has created the world she lives in, but she isn't as willing to accept it's rules anymore. She likes Xander, but she starts to love Ky. She is angry about losing her grandfather, and hates that the Officials can come into her home and take anything they want. She chooses to Not Go Gentle. She wants to Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light.

Cassia has become exactly what the Society has worked hard to eliminate- a young woman who wants to make her own choices.
I am so intrigued by the thin line between utopia and dystopia. A utopia is always flawed and therefore teeters on the edge of a dystopia, such as in Matched. A dystopia may be a horrible new world, but there is always hope, always someone willing to stand up to the tyranny. This story is beautifully written and will make you appreciate each and every choice you make- including the ones that might seem difficult at the time. While choices might not always be easy or fun, they are still ours to own and be responsible for. Sure it might be easier not to have to decide what to wear everyday, but where does it stop? Where does giving up control become too much lost?

This is an amazing book filled with deep questions and budding romance. You can feel Cassia's dilemma between Xander who has always been her friend and confidante, and Ky who just knows her. Both young men are great people, so you don't even know who you want her to choose! But in the end, we all have to ask ourselves, how many choices are we willing to give up? If we were Cassia, would we be willing to continue our humdrum lives with Xander, or slip into the vast unknown with Ky? Give this story a shot... after all, it is your Choice to Make!

There is always a Duff...?

The DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)
The title of Kody Keplinger's debut novel caught my attention: DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend. I thought to myself, "Ugh! What the heck is this?!" Then I looked at the blurb on the inside jacket and was intrigued. The Duff is that girl in the group of friends- the one who isn't as pretty or tall or thin as the other girls. A beautiful girl can be the Duff, as long as her friends are prettier, taller, or thinner than she is. It's all about who your friends are.

For Bianca Piper, being the Duff was a label she half-expected but was still hurt by.
Bianca is a strong young women. Her friends, Jessica and Casey, are endearing and the three of them get along well enough in high school. When Wesley, the hottest guy in school and the leading jerk/woman user/abuser of the school, comes up to her and calls her the Duff, she unceremoniously dumps her Cherry Coke in his face. She plays it off as if she doesn't care, but inside she can't stop think about the label: Duff.

When Jessica's brother comes into town- Bianca's first love who broke her heart when it turned out he was sleeping with her and still had a girlfriend- Bianca can't tell her friends why she is so upset. They still don't know she was ever involved with Jessica's brother. On an impulse, Bianca kisses Wesley. When they are partnered up on a school project by chance, Bianca is desperate to limit their contact as much as possible, but that might not be possible. She planned on bringing him to her house, but her father is not taking the impending divorce well. In fact, he starts drinking heavily after 18 years of being sober. Out of necessity, Bianca agrees to go to Wesley's house. Out of anger, Bianca ends up sleeping with Wesley. She can't believe what she has done, but at the same time, it feels really good to be with Wesley.

Over the next month or so, they continue meeting up at his house since his absentee parents are nowhere to be seen and her father is too drunk to know where she is. While the relationship may have begun as a physical contract only, Bianca and Wesley quickly realize they have more in common than they realize- namely no one else to confide in about their family problems.
When it appears Wesley is enjoying Bianca's company in addition to the company of other ladies, she tells him to stuff it, but Wesley won't give up. Even when Bianca tries to move on with a nice, safe, albeit boring and obnoxious, new guy, Wesley won't leave her alone. In fact, when he catches her with this new guy, he almost seems hurt. But his true colors shine when he is confronted with the true reality of her father's alcoholic rages. Wesley will protect Bianca even if he can't admit how much he cares about her and how much she cares about him.

Wow. Don't even know where to begin with this one except, Wow. I am not going to lie or mislead you, this book has a lot of choice language, quite a bit of sex, and situations most adults are simply not comfortable talking about in relation to teenagers (even though we all know it happens). As I got about halfway through, I found myself absolutely shocked by the nature of the book- gritty, severely honest, and no BS. In fact I couldn't believe an adult wrote something so honest! Then I looked on the back flap to see that the author is actually only 18! Of course! No adult would speak to young adults this way- only another young adult could!

And thank the Gods she did! Young women need to hear this stuff. They need to know they aren't alone. They need to understand their insecurities are the same insecurities we have all felt.
The idea of the Duff is painful and honest, probably because it hits home with such a strong right hook. I know I feel like the Duff with my friends all the time (because they are beautiful, strong, incredible women), but there is more to the idea of the Duff than just one girl's insecurities. In this book, Bianca is assumed to be the Duff, but in fact, her friends Jessica and Casey also feel like the Duff of their little threesome. Sometimes, when you feel like the lesser of the collective, it is hard to imagine the others feeling the same way. This life lesson is one that is invaluable to young women. Sure, I know we all feel insecure, but even my beautiful, strong, independent friends have insecurities. I might see them as strong and impenetrable, but they aren't. Knowing this makes the Duff label less like a stigma and more like girl power- we choose to own our insecurities as well as our strengths and talents. We aren't perfect and we are fine with that. Sometimes we feel bad about ourselves, but we can share that with our friends because they do too. Being the Duff is about being a woman, good and bad.

This book does have fairly mature language and situations, but it is nothing most teens (save the sheltered and the Amish) haven't already seen, heard, and sometimes lived. I think the adults recommending this book should be aware of the nature of this book and make the decision as to whether it is worth the benefits of such a book to give it to children/students. Personally, I think it is absolutely worth it. The mature circumstances in this book are not gratuitous or overdone, they are simply the nature of adolescence as it is today. We can choose to keep it from our kids in a healthy, empowering medium such as this, but we can't shelter them from everything. Personally, I would rather they saw these situations and related to them here, with an empowering moral, than to only hear about them on the school bus or in the hallways. I applaud Keplinger for taking such a stand and putting in a book for young adults what young adults want to hear and should hear. Brava!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Do You Dare?

If you want to start your Christmas shopping early, run right out and get Dash & Lily's Book of Dares for a young person in your life (or an older person who loves a good YA read). It's a great story anytime, but it takes place over Christmas, which makes it a perfect choice in December. I read it in the weeks before Christmas, and it made me all warm and holiday-spirit-y inside. Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, authors of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and Naomi & Ely's No Kiss List, teamed up again to write alternating chapters of this novel.

Dash is home alone for Christmas. He lied to his mother, telling her he was spending Christmas with his father.  He lied to his father, telling him he was spending Christmas with his mother. As a result, both parents booked vacations with their "post-divorce paramours." Since his parents haven't spoken in 8 years, this situation leaves him with a lot of time to spend alone, doing what he loves most, hanging out in the Strand bookstore. Although he is a popular kid who could be spending time with his friends and their families, he actually embraces the opportunity to spend the time alone. He hates Christmas and looks upon his self-imposed hermitage as an escape from the holiday hubbub.

Lily is home with her older brother Langston for Christmas. Their parents fled New York City for a second honeymoon. Grandpa, who lives upstairs, is on his way to Florida to propose to his Snowbird girlfriend. Langston sees their parents' absence as an opportunity to hole up with his new boyfriend Benny. Lily, however, LOVES Christmas, from the caroling (she organized her own caroling society), to the shopping, to the movies, to the baking (she and her mother baked all the cookies ahead of time  to be enjoyed when the family is together again). Even though their family plans to celebrate Christmas on New Year's Eve, when everyone has returned, Lily is devastated. She is abandoned and alone on Christmas.

At this point enters a red, Moleskine notebook, one of the key players in the story. 

Langston and Benny develop the notebook scheme as part of their quest to find Lily a boyfriend and keep her busy while they enjoy their time together. Although Lily is in no rush to find a boyfriend, her disappointment about being alone for the holidays and her curiosity allow her to relent.  The initial questions in the notebook are designed to weed out all but suitable suitors, those who would be interesting and literate. “Are you going to be playing for the pure thrill of unreluctant desire?” 

Dash finds the notebook when he is browsing the shelves at the Strand, his favorite bookstore. It was right next to his favorite author's books (J.D. Salinger) and bore a note written in black Sharpie that inquired "DO YOU DARE?"  Now, really, wouldn't you?  Dash answers some of the questions that have been left in the book, which lead him on a scavenger hunt of sorts, until he reaches a page that reads:

So here we are.
Now it's up to you,
what we do (or don't) do.


If you do all these things,
you very well might hear from me.
Thank you.

In the next several days, Lily and Dash lead each other on a chase around the city. They leave clues with their friends and family and hide the notebook in various New York landmarks. In the meantime, they develop an epistolary friendship as they leave pieces of themselves in the pages of the red, Moleskine notebook. They grow fond of each other as they JUST MISS meeting each other several times. There is a lot of discussion of whether they should meet, or whether they are each other's soul mates in real life or in idea only. Should they meet? Do they really understand each other better than anyone else? Would their friendship hold up in the real world?

Unfortunately, when they do meet, it is under Shakespearian circumstances. The despondent Lily, having given up on a relationship with Dash, strikes up a relationship with Edgar Thibaud, an old acquaintance from elementary school who turned out to be cute and charming (but ultimately still a jerk). She gets drunk accidentally at a party with her caroling friends and almost literally runs into Dash as she is about to waste her first (drunken) kiss on the charming-but-heinous Edgar Thibaud. Although Dash does the honorable thing by escorting Lily home safely while Edgar remains at the karaoke party, he cannot hide his disappointment that this flesh-and-blood Lily does not resemble the dream girl of his notebook. The despondent Dash, having given up on a relationship with the Lily-of-the-Notebook, attends a New Year's Eve party where he sleeps with his ex-girlfriend Sofia, who recently moved to Spain but is visiting for the holidays.

And now what? Are Dash and Lily meant to be? Are they doomed by the failure of their real selves to meet the expectations of their "notebook selves?" Can the network of friends and family who helped bring them together, and then tear them apart, bring them together again? And what will happen when the parents come home?

Cohn and Levithan are talented at capturing what it means to be a young adult who is trying to find his or her self withing the labyrinth that is adolescence. Their voices are authentic, and they create a magical charisma between the main characters. For those who understand this reference, reading Dash & Lily's Book of Dareswoohoo, but it's not particularly graphic, and the characters learn from the choices they make. Although it is very much a book about relationships, it's not a "girly" book, and I think plenty of boys would find it engaging. I'm not familiar enough with the New York City landmarks to get much out of them, but they will appeal to anyone who knows the city. Read it. I double dog dare you.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Lord of the Flies Meets Mad Max

Tribes: The Dog Years
They aren't kidding when they say you "pay for the art" when you buy a graphic novel! Sadly, my book budget can't afford too many of them. But alas, my post-apocalyptic craze couldn't keep me away from this gem, and I am glad I couldn't resist it! Tribes: The Dog Years is the start to a brilliant series set hundreds of years after a nanovirus reduces the human lifespan to 21 years. Now the world is run by tribes of teenagers... scary isn't it?!

Sundog belongs to a tribe, the Sky Shadows, who believe the humans were punished for their wicked ways. They live beyond the tumbling ruins and keep to themselves, when they aren't being tormented by a headhunter tribe, of course. When Fallingstar, the girl Sundog loves but can never have, is promised to the new chief, Sundog accepts his fate and continues his duties. On watch one night, he sees a marvel he can't understand- a helicopter is flying directly at him! Helicopters haven't flown in centuries! When Sundog finds the crash site, he sees an ancient- a man clearly in his fifth or sixth decade who can't be real.

When they take him back to the tribe, the shaman of the tribe wants him killed, so Sundog and Fallingstar break out the old man and run away with him. They travel to the lab the old man claims has the only cure to the nanovirus that has run the world for 300 years. On their way, they are captured by the headhunter tribe. In a holding cage they meet two other kids from two different tribes: one from a tribe that specializes in gadgets and tinkering and another who lost her entire tribe to the headhunters. Together, they escape and continue to the lab, but the headhunters follow them. Now they must find a way to escape and get the cure to the old man's people in the city beneath the sea. Can they survive long enough to get there? To be continued...

Not only is this a BEAUTIFULLY illustrated graphic novel, but it also has something you don't find often in graphic novels- it would only be rated PG-13! Do you understand how difficult it is to find a graphic novel that doesn't have very adult language and situations? I have a great PA graphic novel series called Y: The Last Man that I would love to give to students, but it really is a fairly mature series. The beauty of Tribes is that it is exciting, incredibly illustrated, and clean! This would be a perfect book for students of all ages!

The writing is fairly simple. The only possible confusion is the pattern the frames run in. Most graphic novels run in panels left to right, up to down, but this one deviates from that often. There are a lot of small insets and confusing frame patterns. I can imagine it might confuse or distract a student occasionally, but this doesn't detract horribly from the merits of this story. I think the series (and I can't wait for the next volume) would be perfect for boys and girls alike, but especially boys. There is enough action for everyone!

Who Knew Pixies Could be so Enticing?

Entice (Need)
Pixies, like faeries, are sweet, cute, harmless creatures, right? WRONG! What happened to the cute little pixies we remember from our childhood stories? Now they have blue skin, are tall, with jagged teeth... Oh, and they drink people's blood and torture them... Yeah, these are creeper pixies who can barely be controlled. But Zara was turned into a pixie at the end of the second book in this series, Captivate. Has she become one of these creepers in body and soul in Carrie Jones's third book, Entice?

Now that Zara allowed Astley to turn her into a pixie to save Nick, she has to deal with who she has become- is she still Zara, the girl who writes letters for Amnesty International and worries about keeping people safe or is she Astley's pixie queen with a legion of pixie followers (and traitors)? Most importantly, how can she save Nick from Valhalla where the Valkyrie took his warrior soul? Frank, the pixie king who let the trapped pixies loose, not only "killed" Nick and caused him to be sent to Valhalla, he has also unleashed pure evil upon the small town in Maine. With all those pixies loose, Zara and her "were" (were-eagle, were-bear, etc.) friends are struggling to maintain the protection of the people in town. Already a dozen young men have gone missing and the police and FBI believe a serial killer is loose. But Zara and her friends know the truth- pixies are capturing the teen boys to feed off of and torture.

While Zara continues the search to find Valhalla, she and Astley find themselves in a lot of danger. It seems someone else is aligning pixies that should be loyal to Zara and Astley. Each attempt to find Valhalla leads to unspeakable tragedy and loss. Zara also quickly becomes conflicted. She knows she loves Nick, but Astley has been so good to her and the few kisses they have shared are unbelievable. She feels as though she is betraying both men in her life- Nick for caring about Astley and even being a pixie and Astley for not being the queen he needs to rule his people. Can she figure it all out and still find Nick in Valhalla before it is too late?

All I can say is this had better not be a trilogy. Don't get me wrong, the story was fun and exciting, but if this is truly the end, I cry foul! Sure, some stuff was definitely resolved, but is this really it?! NO! All I can say is there had better be a fourth book, or I am going to formally lodge a complaint with Ms. Jones!

The story is a little creepier than the others. It is definitely darker and more sinister, but the creepers aren't as one dimensional as they have been in the previous two novels. This time, the pixies have some redeeming qualities and aren't quite as evil... well some of them anyway. Others are still just creepy blue people with huge shark teeth. As long as this story continues, I will count it as a great installment. If this is the end, I admit I feel cheated...

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Virus You Don't Want to Avoid

OK, I must admit I LOVE the television show "Bones". And no, it isn't just because David Boreanaz is adorable (although that might have something to do with it)! I love the character Temperance Brennen in all her awkward, scientific loveliness. The supporting characters are hilarious, and the cases they all solve are so interesting. Kathy Reichs writes the books the television show is based off of, but I have never read them. So when she delved into the YA genre with a story about Temperance Brennen's niece Tory, I couldn't resist. Now that I have read (and loved) Virals, I might have to pick up the dozen or so other books Reichs has written!

Tory had to move in with her father (who she never knew existed) after her mother was killed. She found out she was the niece of the famous Temperance Brennen, which explains a lot about her! Her father is also a scientist, and along with a few other families, they live on a small island outside Charleston. The only people who live on the island are the scientists who work on a nearby private island and their families. The island itself is quite unique with monkeys running free and a pack of canines with a wolf mother, a German Shepard father, and two wolfdog pups. While it is off limits to the general public, families of the scientists are welcome to visit as long as they don't roam to far.

Tory and her misfit band of friends (all their parents work on the island) are always finding themselves in some sticky situation, but when one of the wolfdog pups is missing, the same pup Tory saved once, they want to get to the bottom of the disappearance. The rest of the pack has been terrifying the lab, so they go to the island to investigate. While their, they are assaulted by the monkeys who hurl something at them (along with other projectiles)- a dog tag. The dog tag is seriously weathered and damaged, so to read the information on it, they must get into the labs where they are never supposed to be. When they sneak into the labs and clean the dog tag with the lab equipment, they hear a dog in a nearby, sealed off lab. It turns out to be the missing pup who Tory and the boys rescue and hide in their hidden bunker on the beach. What they don't know is the parvovirus the pup was infected with is a new, super strain that can pass to humans. It also comes with side-effects they could never have imagined.

Now the foursome find themselves dodging bullets, digging up bodies, suffering strange symptoms, surviving horrible illnesses, and trying to get to the bottom of a decades old murder someone doesn't want them to solve. Meanwhile, the virus they were exposed to has made them different, changed them down to their DNA... made them VIRALS!

Virals is just as I would have hoped it would be. Exciting, great characters, and tons of twists and turns. Think you have the mystery all solved? Guess again! You will never figure out how everything fits together, and when it is all revealed, you will slap your head for not seeing it earlier! The story is fun, action packed, and never ceases to keep you guessing. This is the start of a great new series that Reichs had better look like pumping out quickly, because I can't wait for the next book!

The writing is fairly simple, but the size of the book might make it more appropriate for an older crowd or a younger student who has the stamina to keep going (although the story doesn't really give you a chance to stop reading, so that might not be a problem!). The story is very clean, and just full of exciting mystery. Reichs is a genius and, like other adult authors, has finally realized the young adult genre is much more fun than those stuffy adult books they have been writing! More and more they keep trickling over to the young adult books. Pretty soon no one will be writing adult books anymore. But do you blame them? Young Adult readers rock!

A Summer You Will Never Forget

Twenty Boy Summer
Covers really can be deceiving. Titles are no better. When you look at this cover, what do you think is going to happen? Girl seeks boys, girl finds one boy, boy changes girl, life continues happily? Boy are you wrong. Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer has more going on than you might think given such a deceptive title...

Anna, Matt, and Frankie were best friends. Of course, Frankie (Francesca) was Matt's little sister and Anna was in love with Matt. But that all changed when Matt professed his love for Anna at her birthday party. He asked her to keep their love a secret until he and Frankie went away with their parents for the summer so he could explain the relationship properly. Unfortunately, they never got that far, as after a month of hiding their relationship, the day before Matt and Frankie were to leave for Zanzibar Bay, the three of them decided to go for ice cream. On the way home, a car accident leaves Anna and Frankie shattered emotionally and Matt gone forever.

Now it is a year later and Frankie's parents decide they have to go back to Zanzibar Bay. Still grieving for the loss of Matt, they pack up with Anna in tow and head for the beach. Before they leave, Frankie convinces Anna to make a pact to hook at least twenty boys in their three weeks at the beach. Since the loss of Matt, Frankie has changed to someone Anna barely recognizes. Although she can only think of Matt and the only secret she every kept from Frankie, she agrees to the pact just to make things better with Frankie, and relieve a little guilt.

Once on the beach, Anna meets one boy she can't stop thinking about. Frankie continues on her quest, but Anna is torn between really liking this local surfer boy and feeling like she has betrayed her first love, Matt. When Frankie reads Anna's journal and learns of her relationship with Matt, it seems like nothing will ever bring the friends back to the way they were before the accident.

This book blew me away. The grief Anna, Frankie, and Frankie's parents suffer is so real, almost palpable. When Frankie's mother admits to Anna she knows the relationship with Matt was more than friends, you can almost feel the ache in Anna's heart. When the family arrives at their beach house, the pain will course through your body. You can see them grieve. You can feel them hurt. Ockler has delivered a story that will make you suffer and survive right along with the characters. It also shows the difference in how people grieve, which is an important lesson for people to learn. Anna turns within herself and refuses to open up. Frankie opens up to everyone just to fill the void. Frankie's mother and father are barely speaking or holding themselves together. This vacation to Zanzibar Bay was a life journey the reader should feel both privileged and saddened to journey down.

The writing is fairly simple, but this story really deals with mature situations. There is a decent amount of sex as Frankie tries to find solace anywhere she can get it, but nothing is graphic. Instead, it is usually just implied. The grief and loss is handled beautifully, but is a very heavy subject that might be too much for a student who has suffered any great loss recently. The beauty of this story is it will hook a girl who doesn't usually read serious stories with its lure of fun and beaches, but it will deliver lessons they never saw coming. If you give this book a chance, I promise you will never be the same.

Divinely Supernatural

The Dark Divine
The vague description on the jacket blurb is what kept me from this story for a full year. In retrospect, it was a good thing because the sequel has already been released! But I am a little behind the times by just reading this story now. The cover and the blurb don't give away much of the story, so readers might feel like they are flying blind at first, but gratefully the story gets really interesting really quickly!

Grace Divine is the pastor's daughter, and she and her family must live up to that status. Her brother Jude is the epitome of a pastor's son. He always thinks of others first, never fails to go out of his way to help people, and is the apple of everyone's eye. When Daniel Kalbi returns after a mysterious disappearance, Grace is drawn to him. Despite the memories of her brother returning covered in blood from seeing Daniel right before he disappeared and Jude's warning for Grace to stay far away from Daniel, she keeps finding herself with him.

As Daniel's story unfolds, Grace isn't sure who she can trust. Stories of ancient beings created to do God's bidding swirl into modern day stories of werewolves and monsters. Meanwhile, the town is again plagued with odd deaths and mutilations just as it was years ago before Daniel disappeared. Jude insists Daniel is evil, but Grace can't see beyond the kind, caring Daniel she used to know. Now Grace must decide whether she can make the ultimate sacrifice to save Daniel, and must weigh the consequences of her choice.

While this story has certainly been well played int he past few years, Despain does a good job of changing up the ready worn. She takes a supernatural creature and gives it new life and new purpose. I was glad this story did not take as long as some others (*cough* Hush, Hush *cough* Fallen) to reveal the nature of the odd stirrings and bumps in the night. Sometimes when the meat of the story is revealed too late, I find myself wondering whether it was worth the work to get through. Instead this is a well-paced story with interesting characters and plenty to keep you interested.

The writing is relatively clean with hints of creepy happenings and violence without any real gore. It would be suitable for any junior high to high school student, but would probably appeal mostly to girls (the cover might have something to do with that). Excitingly, the second book, The Lost Saint has just been released and is at the top of my "to read" list (of course that list is about 40 books deep, but I desperately want more of this story!). I can't wait to see what happens to Grace Divine and Daniel Kalbi next!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Paranormal Roller Coaster

With so many paranormal books out there, it is hard to know where to turn next. Do I want vampires? Are werewolves (and were-bears and were-tigers) what I am looking for? How about Faeries and Fae and Pixies? What if you had a book that had all of those things, but also had a CIA-esque agency called the International Paranormal Containment Agency (IPCA) that kept track of all the creepies and beastlies in the world through an amazing young woman who can see right through the glamours beastlies put up to keep silly humans serving themselves up on a silver platter. Welcome to Paranormalcy by Kiersten White!

According to Evie, Edward might look hot in Twilight, but real vampires are not so pretty. They project a glamour that makes them look hot, but under the glamour they are just nasty shriveled corpses. It's the unfortunate side effect to immortality. The reason Evie knows this is she can see through the glamours of all paranormals. You name it and she can tell you it isn't human. In fact, Evie is the reason the IPCA was created. When she was discovered in a park late one night, alone, an orphan, and screaming because the vampire attacking her didn't look so pretty, the Paranormal Agencies in all the major countries bound together with a treaty and made Evie the primary stipulation of that treaty- she was to work for the agency and help them find, tag, and "neuter" any paranormals that threatened humans.

The work is fine for Evie, but what she really wants is a normal life. School, prom, and a locker are her biggest dreams. When she steps into her boss's (and surrogate mother) office to find a creature she had never seen before "wearing" her boss's face, she stuns him and captures him for the agency. This creature, Lend, is like flowing water on the inside and can morph into anyone he wants to on the outside, which is how he broke into IPCA. Now he is being held in the agency and Evie is determined to figure out what he is, much to her boss's irritation. After all, he is the only other person/thing she knows who is roughly her age! What she learns from her time with Lend is that she really wants to know people her own age and live a normal life. She also begins to realize the Agency might be keeping her less as an asset and more like prisoner.

When something starts killing all the paranormals, the Agency tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. They aren't interested in killing paranormals, just making sure they don't harm any humans. When the threat breaks into IPCA, Evie knows she must save Lend. They go back to his home where she finds out just how normal life can be for a paranormal like Lend- school, dances, friends, movie theaters- you name it! But there is more to the story of Lend's parents, the IPCA, the paranormal killer, and Evie herself. Can she figure it all out before everyone she cares about is taken from her?

This was such a fun story! It reminded me of the agency in Buffy that controlled all the paranormals in Sunnydale, right down to "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" sentiment! I liked Evie's character a lot- you feel so bad for her when she realizes how much the agency used and controlled her. Plus, a girl with a faerie as an ex-boyfriend and a mermaid for a best friend has to be cool, right?! It is a really interesting take on the whole paranormal genre and gives new energy to the well covered genre. The characters are interesting the story is full of twists and turns, and nothing is quite as it seems.

The writing is fairly simple and clean. This is a great story for a wide range of students. Unfortunately, the cover, while cool, might not attract a wide range of students. It looks a lot softer than it really is. The story is very serious and dark at times. If you can get kids past the girl with the pink dress on the cover, I think you will find it appeals to a lot of students (and adults too)! Now I can only hope White continues Evie's story!

Dracula meets Princess Diaries

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side
You know the saying "Don't judge a book by its cover"? Well don't judge this book by its cover or its ridiculous title because you won't be sorry if you pick this gem up (which you might not do with a silly title like Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side). While Beth Fantaskey might not have chosen the best title for a great story like this, she sure knows how to write!

Jessica is a normal, everyday senior at Woodrow Wilson High School. She thinks about colleges, boys, friends, and parents, until Lucius Vladescu shows up at her high school. Lucius is an exchange student from Romania who seems intent on gaining Jessica for his own, but there is more to the story. It turns out Lucius is a vampire prince, as is Jessica (princess), and they were betrothed to one another before they were born in order to bring peace to two warring clans of vampires. Jessica's adoptive parents were entrusted with her safety when the villagers attacked her clan and killed her birth parents. Now Jessica is supposed to return to Romania as Lucius's queen. The only problem? She thinks they are all nuts! Vampires?! There is no such thing as vampires!

Lucius refuses to give up (and knows his uncle will not be happy if he returns without Jessica) so he decides to stay in town and win her over. Of course, his over-privileged, vampire life doesn't compare to Jessica's life on her vegetarian parents' farm. He feels assaulted by their obsession with lentils, is horrified (and disposes of) their collection of international folk art (in particular the dolls... he really hates the dolls), and is forced to play basketball, although he insists on doing so in leather loafers. Lucius is so annoyed by having to endure life in Jessica's home and town he can barely stick it out. When she starts dating a local boy, Lucius can barely contain his irritation, but when other kids in school start to suspect something is up with Lucius, and by default, Jessica, the situation quickly escalates to a dangerous one. Lucius's dangerous, sinister uncles come into town to force the engagement along and the townsfolk are coming dangerously close to the truth. Jessica just wants to be a normal girl, but it looks like the lives of her people she can barely accept exist are hung in the balance of her decision.

This book is so easily underestimated by that ridiculous title and cover that I am concerned it won't get the attention it deserves. The story was hilarious (I mean laugh out loud, adore Lucius and his cantankerousness completely), the writing was really good, and the characters were great. This is one of those books that really takes you by surprise! Lucius's character is the best part of the book. His correspondence with his uncles back in Romania will literally keep you in hysterics. I can't describe him accurately enough to do him justice- you just have to read the book and see how funny he truly is (watch out for the two page long tirade about the lentils!)!

The writing is moderate and the situations are not too mature for your average middle to high school student. Like I said, the cover and title are going to sadly scare away a lot of kids and adults who would otherwise love this book, so be sure to read it and spread the word (or bully them into reading it if you must- whatever works!). It is a story you will love and wish there was more of (please Ms. Fantaskey- write a sequel!!). The first part of the story is very funny, very humorous, but the second part of the story gets very serious as the danger of the situation unfolds. This is a great book, in fact one of the best I have read in a long time. So go ahead- read it, and I dare you to try and NOT love Lucuis!

Boot Camp for Goddesses

Goddess Boot Camp
Tera Lynn Childs knows how to whip up a fun, flirtatious story! Goddess Boot Camp, the sequel to Oh. My. Gods., continues the story of Phoebe, a normal girl who found herself transported to an isolated island in Greece when her mom is remarried. At the end of the first book, she learns of her status as a descendant of the goddess Nike. Now she is suffering the consequences of that realization.

Being the descendant of a God or Goddess sounds all fun and laughter, but it is a big responsibility. It comes with powers, the responsibility of keeping the life secret from non-descendants, and the isolation of Serfopoulos- the island where the Gods school is. Phoebe is a closer descendant than most of the other kids at her school, which means her powers are even more powerful, and therefore more difficult to control. All she has to do is daydream about the ocean and her living room is saturated. One thought about her annoying stepsister as leaves her covered in frosting and very unhappy. The problem? Her unpredictable powers have put her on the radar of the Gods, and if she can't get them under control, there is some serious smoting in her future- no one wants to be smoted!

Now, in addition to training for a marathon at the Pythian Games and dealing with her boyfriend spending a lot of time with his beautiful ex-girlfriend Adara, Phoebe has to attend Goddess Boot Camp. To make matters worse, Boot Camp is run by her irksome stepsister Stella and Adara and Phoebe is the oldest one there by 6 or 7 years! The summer is full of misunderstandings, power malfunctions, heartbreak, and the truth about Phoebe's father's death, but even with all that seriousness, there is still fun, goofiness, and laughter!

This is a fun follow-up to the first book with plenty of Greek mythology and teenage goings-on to keep a wide range of readers happy and engaged. Childs does a good job of writing complete books that don't leave the reader hanging, but still continuing the story of Phoebe and her misfit Gods and Goddesses. The story is very clean and appropriate for all ages, much like the first story. It would be acceptable for middle school through high school students. While the mythology is the background of the story, it doesn't go into a great deal of depth into the mythology. Still, the series is a lot of fun and will make you wish you were descended from the Gods!