Saturday, January 30, 2010

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern

How is it that someone becomes a dork?  Do they choose to, just like Bizza and Char decided to turn punk?  Are they born that way?  What makes some people like punk music and Denny's and other people like costumes and Dungeons and Dragons?  And where do I fit into all of this?

These are the questions that sophomore Jessie is dealing with as her two "best" friends from life turn punk, steal her crushes, and use her for whatever they need.  She sees these two friends, Bizza and Char, change into "mall punk" versions of themselves weeks before school starts sophomore year.  At the same time, her once punk brother contemplates getting rid of his mohawk and going out with the homecoming queen.  Jessie is caught in the middle of all this and starts to look for more friends...but all she sees are dorks, nerds, and band geeks - but they're all really nice?  She's a smart, straight A students and a super math whiz.  Is she a dork already??  If she starts hanging out with the band nerds or even worse the Dungeons and Dragons kids, will she lose any hope of being normal or cool?  Does this even matter?  Read this amazingly funny book to follow Jessie on her friend search as she travels Into the Wild Nerd Yonder.

This is a book I've been waiting for forever!  I've read lots of books that have cool, smart, nerdy characters, but they've all sort of already made the journey that Jessie is working on.  This is a book that made me proud of my nerdiness...or dorkiness...I think I am actually probably more nerd than dork, but anyway - I love the way Halpern navigates the cliques in high school and where she takes Jessie on her journey.  A great read for nerds and an important one for people who think they're all cool but really are missing out on true coolness because they aren't nerds.  Fabulous read!!!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

"What I would have liked to have done way to hop to this sucker and beat his head it, but it would've been the same as beating my own head in, because I would be the one doing the most suffering."

This is the dilemma that fourteen year old Reese Anderson finds himself in almost every day at the Progress juvenile detention center. Reese has been in for about two years for stealing some prescription pads, and all he wants to do is get out, have his freedom back. But every day situations get in the way. He gets signed up to work for a program at he jail where he goes out and works at a retirement home. It's weird at first, but even if Reese is just picking up trash, at least he doesn't have someone staring down his back all the time. He works with this old man named Mr. Hooft who is really crazy and racist, but again, this is nothing compared to life in the jail. Torn between wanting to help his friends not get the crap beat out of them all the time and not wanting to be in trouble, Reese has to navigate the world of the jail very carefully. If he plays his cards right, he could get out. But if he makes one wrong move...he's toast.

This book was a good look inside the juvenile's not a fun place to be. But jail aside, what really got me in this book were the conflicts that Reese felt inside. He wanted to defend helpless kids in the jail, but he knew he wasn't supposed to fight anymore.  Reese also has his family on his mind.  He needs to help his little sister Icy achieve her dreams, keep his mom off drugs, and hopefully his brother Willis out of jail.  His family needs him.  But how can you just stand by and watch a weak kid get beat up and not do anything to help him? Fighting is the only freedom he's got, so should he chill out or help his friends?  Lockdown takes you inside with Reese and shows you how he makes his decision about where the rest of his life is headed...if anywhere.

This great new book by Walter Dean Myers will be in bookstores this Tuesday, February 2.  Check it out!

Grade: A-

Monday, January 18, 2010

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

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The Lowdown:
Scarlett Martin lives in a hotel in New York City.  How cool is that?  It's great, but not as perfect as it might seem.  On her fifteenth birthday, Scarlett expects to have the fabulous waffle breakfast that is the tradition in her family, only to find out that their amazing cook has been let go - the Hopewell Hotel is in a tight is tight, and Scarlett's parents need her to stay around and work there for the summer.  When the kids in her family turn fifteen, they are given a room to manage in the Hotel.  Scarlett has the Empire Suite and all of her summer plans right there in front of her - hotel work. While her friends are all in faraway places learning languages, partying, and helping others, Scarlett is where she always is - home.  It seems like her summer will be pretty dull until a guest arrives to stay in Scarlett's Empire Suite - all summer!  Mrs. Amberson is a "star" of sorts who is back in the city after being gone for thirt..."some years."  She has lots of energy, dreams, goals, and Scarlett is there beside her to help her with anything she desires.  Mrs. Amberson puts Scarlett to work immediately, and what began as a slow summer quickly pics up.  Scarlett has her siblings to save, revenge plots to assist with, and boys to fall for!  Pick this book up to head to NYC for some summer fun!

What I Liked:
I loved being able to spend a summer in New York City most of all.  It was so wonderful following Scarlett and friends around the city.  I felt like I was right there.  Scarlett is a great character and very real.  I loved reading and observing the different sibling relationships between Scarlett, Spencer, Lola, and Marlene.  The hotel that Johnson has created is fantastic as well...the descriptions of the rooms were vivid and beautiful...this was the perfect setting for the book.  This book has tons that I love:  love, kissing, acting, theater,'s just a fabulously fun ride.  I just now read this (been meaning to for a year) and I found out that Scarlett Fever - the second book in the series - is coming out at the end of this month...I can't wait!

***Oh, and Hamlet is in this book!  I've been amazed at how many YA books mention Hamlet...I saw some references in The Monstrumologist, too!  Yay for Hamlet in YA!

Read This If...
You want to hang out in NYC for the summer.
You like acting.
You have ever dealt with brothers and sisters.
You know what it's like to fall for some one.
You are a theater kid.
You dream of making it big.
You want to experience a big city adventure.
You love to save the day!

Total Oblivion, More or Less - by Alan Deniro

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The Lowdown:
Macy is a sixteen-year-old girl who lives in St. Paul Minnesota.  Her high school life is as normal as can be for a high school kid.  She does her thing and deals with parents and siblings as best she can.  Until things start to change:  power stops working, the horsemen come to town, and her family packs up to get out of St. Paul (now "Pig's Eye) to head down the Mississippi River to St. Louis.  As they travel down the river on a steamboat called the Prairie Chicken, Macy tries to make sense of all the strangeness she sees around her.  Worried about the plague and the strange behaviors of her brother and his dog, Macy goes into survival mode.  Her family is together now, but will they be able to make it through all that the river and world will throw in their way?  Macy is tested in more ways than a girl her age should be, and you'll have to read on to see if she makes it in this strange new (old?) world.

What I Liked:
I liked this family.  They were weird; they weren't perfect.  I liked that I got to see them make it through all the weirdness that they encountered on their trip.  Also, the relationships were complex and honest.  Macy is very honest with herself and the reader about how she feels about her brother, dad, and the others.  There's a talking dog in this book.  I loved him.  I will say, however, I wanted to know what was happening to the world.  Like The Road and other post-apocalyptic novels I've read, you don't really know exactly what is going on or why it is happening.  I guess, though, if this were reality, you wouldn't experiencing it all like Macy - bits and pieces at a time - is how it would feel if the world changed like this.

***This book isn't written for teens, but does have appeal for the YA audience.  This book does contain some strong language.

Read This If...
You want to go on a really crazy trip down the Mississippi.
You want to experience a future that includes the past.
You're interesting in learning about crazy plague-loving wasps and talking dogs.
You like family stories.
You want to see what it takes for a family to make it when the world seems to be ending.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Monstrumologist - by Rick Yancey

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The Lowdown:
Will Henry is an orphan in New England during the late nineteenth century.  He has nothing save his little hat and his "caretaker," if you can call him that, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop.  Will's life is like nothing you could ever imagine because Dr. Warthrop isn't your regular kind of doctor...he's a monstrumologist - one who studies and hunts monsters.  Don't go thinking about Monsters, Inc...or anything sweet right now, though...the kinds of things that the doctor studies are creatures you've never imagined.  Will's seen his fare share of oddities and gruesome creatures, but nothing could even begin to prepare Will for what he sees one night when a gravedigger arrives in the middle of the night.  What the gravedigger brings Dr. Warthrop is disgusting, sickening, sad, "a crime." 
I daresay your average adult would have fled the room in horror, run screaming up that stairs and out of the house, for what lay withing that burlap cocoon laid shame to all the platitudes and promises from a  thousand pulpits upon the nature of a just and loving God, of a balanced and kind universe, and the dignity of man.  A crime, the old grave-digger had called it.  Indeed there seemed no better word for it, though a crime requires a criminal...and who or what was the criminal in this case? (14)
Once Will and the doctor unwrap this "package," and view its contents, and answer this question, their worlds are not the same, for inside of the burlap covering is a creature that will reek havoc on everyone until it (or they...should I say) is stopped.  Will and Dr. Warthrop have to figure out not only how to stop these creatures but also why and how they came to be in New England to begin with.  This night takes Will and the reader on a journey they will never forget.

What I Liked:
This book made me almost run and hide, throw up, scream out get the picture.  This is one of the sickest (I mean that in all senses of that word) books I've read in a long time.  I loved the writing and the style.  It reminded me of Octavian Nothing in that I really felt that I was taken back right to a particular time and place in history.  The setting was perfect, and these characters are amazaing.  Will, Pellinore, and the wonderful fabulous and insane Jack Kearns were so fun to read about.  I wanted to run away from them and their monster-hunting tasks but also be a part of their strange monster-hunting team.  More than anything the extremely graphic and gory descriptions written by Yancey made me "ick" and "oh my lord" and "ugggghhh" aloud the entire time I read the book.  I was more into and freaked out by this book than I was by watching Paranormal Activity.  This creepy book was a wonderfully scary horror tale.  I loved every moment. 

Read this if...
You want to be grossed out.
You love horror stories and scary movies.
You want to be bad and hunt monsters.
You want to take a journey back in time.
You want a thrilling read.
You want to go on an adventure into graveyards and undergound scary places.
You want to see creatures that you've never even been able to imagine.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fire by Kristin Cashore

The Lowdown:  This companion novel to Cashore's Graceling brings a wonderful new side of the world to life.  It's not a sequel, and only has one character in common with the other book, but it's just as entertaining.  In this story, Fire, a human "monster," is the last of her kind.  While normal people and animals are just as they are, monsters are vibrant, beautiful, strong versions of themselves.  Beautiful as they are, they are different...they eat other monster flesh.  Fire's life has never been normal.  Her brilliant, bright red hair tells everyone she is a human monster.  Not only does her beauty dazzle others, but she also has the ability to control the minds of those around her.  When the kingdom faces a threat from other rulers, Fire leaves her quiet life and heads to the King's City.  She sees wonders she's never seen, and has to use her power to help the kingdom.  This scares her, though, because it's a power inherited from her father, who caused problems during the reign of the last king.  On top of all of this, she struggles to make way with the prince Brigan who doesn't like her that much.  Fire must find a way to get along with all of the new people she meets and harness and use her power for good in order to save herself, the kingdom, and all those that she loves.

What I Liked:  I liked Graceling a lot when I read it.  Katsa was a strong character who had to make sense of her place in the world.  Fire is similar to Katsa, but a more tender, compassionate character.  I loved all of the new characters that I got to meet in this new book.  I also enjoyed the way that Fire and Brigan's relationship grew throughout the book.

Read this if...
You liked Graceling.
You want to travel to a new fantasy world.
You want a good action AND love story.