Monday, April 18, 2016


Swagger  by Carl Deuker

Jonas Dolan doesn't have a lot of post-high-school prospects until a canny basketball coach helps him improve his game--and his grades.  For the first time, Jonas considers going to college.  But then the family moves from California to Seattle, and all the friends, coaches and teachers supporting Jonas are too far away to help much.

In Seattle, Jonas finds a new friend.  Levi is also a talented basketball player, but halfway through the season, Jonas discovers why Levi seems so withdrawn and depressed, especially when Coach Hartwell is nearby.  Although Levi begs his friend to keep quiet and pretend that nothing is wrong, Jonas knows that he will need to do something.

But, what?

Excellent characters facing a truly horrible situation.  I even read   made sense of    didn't die during the basketball sequences.  (Basketball lovers will love the basketball parts.  Me, not so much.)  Overall, a strong story, recommended for readers (especially sports fans) ages 14 to adult.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Reckless (series)

Reckless  by Cornelia Funke

Jacob Reckless is 12 years old when he discovers the secret in his father's abandoned study:  a mirror that can transport him into a magical world of fairies, witches, dwarves and shapeshifters.  He spends  twelve years exploring and exploiting the magic, and thinks less and less often of his sickly mother and lonely younger brother...until the day that younger brother Will finds the mirror portal and immediately falls into trouble in the Mirrorworld.

German author Cornelia Funke's skillful blend of traditional magic tropes (child-eating witches, enchanted apples, princesses spelled to sleep until kissed awake) and fantastically horrible original creatures fills the quest to save Will from certain doom with a dark (very dark) charm.  

This series was originally cataloged and shelved with the children's collection at KCLS; on review, the series will be shifted to the teen collection due to adult characters, somber themes, blood and violence, and references to sexual situations in later volumes.  It is much darker and more violent than this author's Inkheart series...and it is possibly a stronger story because of the darkness.

Highly recommended for ages 12 to adult.  

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Orbiting Jupiter

Orbiting Jupiter  by Gary D. Schmidt
Jack is twelve years old when his foster brother comes to live with the family on their little farm in Maine.  Joseph Brook is fourteen years old, recently released from a facility called Stone Mountain.  And he has a daughter named Jupiter, whom he loves deeply although he has never seen her.

The story is slowly revealed, in tiny, agonizing bits.  Jack narrates with clear eyes and a farm boy's practicality:  that you can tell all you need to know about someone from the way cows are around him.  That leaving a guy to get beat up while you go find a teacher is not okay.  And that being family means you've got somebody's back.

Just when things are looking brighter for Joseph, the end of the book comes crashing down.

What this book is: sweet. compelling. impossible to ignore.
What this book is not: easy.

Highly recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Rebel Mechanics

Rebel Mechanics:  all is fair in love and revolution  by Shanna Swendson

The year is 1888.

In our history, the American colonies broke away from England more than a century earlier, but in this timeline, the British still rule the New World colonies because the magisters control all access to magic that provides power for everything from wool mills to private cars.  But now an underground rebel group is developing alternative energy sources:  electricity, steam, and other fuels that require no magic and are available to everyone, regardless of social class.

Young Verity Newton has come to New York City to work as a governess, and finds herself immediately surrounded by the factions of the rebellion.  Her employer, handsome Henry Lyndon, seems sympathetic to the scientific cause, although he is a magister by birthright.  Her new friends, Lizzie, Nat, and the dazzlingly handsome Alec, are outright rebel mechanics.  Where does Verity belong...and with whom?

The annoying romantic triangle resolves soon enough (whew) and the action sustains the narrative throughout.  This is a ripping good adventure, and probably first in a series.  No cussing, small amounts of blood, a few kisses, and plenty of scientific curiosity. Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rebel of the Sands

Rebel of the Sands  by Alwyn Hamilton

Amani has great plans to get out and away:  out of Dustwalk, away from the mines.  Out of the desert and away from the bullies.  Out of her uncle's reach, away from a husband who might be chosen for her.

Nothing goes according to Amani's plan, and the adventure begins: a windswept mixture of Arabian Nights and the Wild Wild West, with secret heroes, a train robbery, desert horses made from sand and magic, and a concealed oasis.

All this, and romance too, with a strong-willed main character and a colorful cast of supporting folks including the Rebel Prince, shape-shifting twins, and many hidden secrets.

First in a series--but the story does not stop on a cliffhanger, which is nice.

Recommended for ages 12 to adult; no cussing, some blood, a few kisses, no sex (yet).

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl  by Jesse Andrews

Senior Greg Gaines has planned out his last year at Benson High School:  he's going to keep an insanely low profile, make lousy films, and survive until June.

It's good to have a plan.  A plan makes excellent traction when you crumple it up and drive over it.

And that is, essentially, what happens Greg's plan.  His mom greets him at the end of Senior Year Day 1 and tells him that Rachel has cancer, and that he, Greg, will go and befriend her.

If this was a regular book about cancer, Greg and his friends and family would learn a touching lesson about the sweetness of life and the bitterness of death.  If this was a book by John Green you would need three boxes of tissues just to face the world after the final page.

But it isn't.  Here are a few lines from the final chapter, just to give you a taste of the narrative voice:

...doesn't mean I'll be making a film out of this book.  There is no way in hell that is going to happen.  When you convert a good book to a film, stupid things happen.  God only knows what would happen if you tried to convert this unstoppable barf-fest into a film.  The FBI would probably have to get involved.  There's a chance you could consider it an act of terrorism....

Greg's sarcastic, self-deprecating voice throughout the story rings true to anyone who has ever been a teen--or even spoken to a teen lately.  However, Earl nearly steals the show several times.  I won't quote any lines from Earl, partly because I don't want to spoil the fun of reading Earl in context, and partly because he cusses so much that every other word would be bleeped.  And that is absolutely all I will say about Earl, except maybe this:

Great story, great characters, buckets of cussing and talking about sexual situations, but no bare skin except sometimes the bald head of Rachel, which looks (according to Greg and Earl) like Darth Vader when he takes his helmet off:  "insanely white, like it had been boiled, and sort of veiny and lumpy."  Not exactly an erotic image, but hey:  cancer isn't very pretty.

Oh, and by the way:  there is a movie. 

 And according to folks at Sundance, the movie didn't totally suck.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Carry On

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • A boy magician, identified at age 11 as "the Chosen One" and taken away to a magical British school
  • A series of books about the boy and his friends as they battle the enemy of all Wizard-kind
  • Lots of magic, magical creatures, action, adventure, mystery, and good vs evil

You know the boy I'm talking about, right?  Yes!  It's Simon Snow!

Wait.  What?

Simon Snow's evil roommate Baz says that Simon is probably the worst Chosen One ever chosen, and he's probably right.  Most of the time Simon doesn't know what his magic is going to do...if it does anything.  His magic wand is a hand-me-down, his spell casting is capricious, and although the Sword of Mages comes to his hand sometimes when he needs it, it's never reliable.

And then there's Baz:  rich.  pale.  mysterious.  wicked.  and a vampire.

Wait.  What?

The reader joins Simon and Baz mid-story, after they have already survived adventures in six other books fighting chimeras, goblins, bone-teeth hunters...and each other.  Unlike that other series of books about a boy magician in a magical school, this series has never been written.  And Carry On isn't the series itself either, it's a fan-fiction novel.

Keep up, will you?

Only Rainbow Rowell could write a fanfic salute to a series that she invented as a "prop" for a different novel...and only Rainbow Rowell would start by writing the end of the story but not the beginning!

And just wait until you get to the romance between Simon and XXXXXXXX    ....oops.  Sorry, no spoilers here.

Fast-paced adventure and a flawed hero with flawed friends, awesome love story and terrific world-building.  

Highly recommended.