Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Here and Now



The Here and Now  by Ann Brashares

Prenna and her mother immigrated to New York five years ago...from the future.

When Prenna was only five years old,  a mosquito-borne plague began killing millions of people.  The world of the future is warmer and wetter, and the mosquito season is always. A few plague-immune people travel backwards in time to try to prevent the pandemic...but the rules that govern the community of time travelers seem designed to prevent changing the future.  They must stick together, avoiding attention from contemporary medical practitioners, and absolutely avoiding inclusion in the historical archive--print, photography, and video--and above all, they must never develop a physically or emotionally intimate relationship with a time-native.

This is fine with Prenna at first.  Then she falls in love with Ethan Jarves, who is not from the future, but somehow seems to know a lot about it.

Together Prenna and Ethan follow a series of clues leading them ever-closer to the original source of the blood plague, and the circumstances that allowed it to spiral out of control.  The clues are small at first, the pace is fast, and the suspense will keep readers turning pages in an attempt to keep up with the main characters' race to save the world.

This is not Connie Willis' time-travel-and-plague book.  That one was absolutely outstanding, and won the Nebula award in 1992 and the Hugo award in 1993.  This one isn't as nearly as good...but it isn't 592 pages long, either.  Instead, it's a quick, fun, mind-bender with a strong female main character, a bit of social thinking, and a touch of romance.

Recommended for ages 12 to adult.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Since You Asked


Since You Asked  by Maurene Goo

High school sophomore Holly Kim has always tried to fly below the radar of student attention to avoid some of the inevitable Asian-American stereotypes and keep her mom from bugging her too much.  But when Holly's snarky parody of an article is accidentally published in the school paper, administrators decide to "punish" Holly by assigning her to write a feature article for each monthly issue.  Most of the students (and some teachers) hate what Holly writes, but (for reasons not disclosed to the reader) she writes on, dissing the Student Council, her school's Homecoming traditions, and her family's skewed, modern version of the American Dream. In October, she uncovers an accusation of rigging the Homecoming court elections but doesn't ever find out if they are rigged or not. In February, she acquires a secret admirer who writes horrible rhyming couplets.  In June she defies her stereotypical Korean mom and goes to L.A. with her friends for the weekend and gets busted by the cops, and...

Wait, what?

Funny at times, snarky all the way through, and with a randomness that echoes the inability of many high school sophomores to look more than three days into the future, this book meanders through the school year, not even sticking to its own inner structure.  (Hello?  If the book is supposed to feature a monthly newspaper column, what happened to January?  And March?  and May?)

I wanted to love this book, and I'm so sorry that I didn't.  Several chapters were awesome, but the whole thing never stuck together as a cohesive unit.

Despite hints of sexual situations, nothing like that happens on-page or off. There is some underage drinking, and some fairly dreadful rock-and-roll, plus the aforementioned rhyming couplets.

Shrug.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Girl Defective

Left: Australian cover art.  Right:  American cover art.

Girl Defective by Simmone Howell

Sky's family of misfits lives above a vintage record store:  her father is an alcoholic deep in denial and firmly stuck in the past, her little brother Gully pretends to be a secret agent and won’t take off his pig snout mask, and her mother left the family behind for an avant-garde career in music.  Sky is drawn to Luke, the older brother of a girl who mysteriously drowned, and she yearns to emulate her worldly friend Nancy, while at the same time considers herself a “resident bird,” intent on finding her place (whatever it may be) in St Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne.

In keeping with a family obsessed by vintage vinyl, Sky often describes people and situations by comparing them to old (and often obscure) music recordings.  Readers (like me) who lack knowledge of these recordings will still be able to follow the story, but probably miss some of the nuance of the story.

The well-written characters are quirky, flawed and layered. The dialogue is snappy and sometimes brutally honest.   The mysterious death of Luke’s sister Mia is not the focus of the story, but investigating it brings clues forward to inform other issues and other characters.  Few situations are actually resolved, but the conclusion holds many notes of redemption.

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.


Nearly Gone

Nearly Gone by  Elle Cosimano
Nearly Boswell used to have money.  Then her father disappeared; her mother became a strip-tease dancer; they moved into a trailer park.  Now Nearly reads the personals in the local paper.   At first, it was because she saw an ad that seemed like her dad was trying to get in touch with her.  Later it was just something that seemed to express her own loneliness.  She still has a friend from those earlier days, wealthy Jeremy, and a friend in science class, Anh Bui, who is also trying for the same scholarship Nearly needs to go to college.  
One other thing about Nearly-  she can sense feelings when she touches someone - so she avoids touching anyone.
Every Friday, a personal ad now appears in the paper, leaving a scientific clue about a crime:  a hurt cheerleader, a dead cat, and then a string of murders.  
Nearly tries to solve the mystery, aided--and distracted--by the new "bad boy in town" Reece, who hangs out with the drug dealer in her trailer park; has a police record; and attracts Nearly to an extent she doesn’t understand.  She wants to touch him.
 This is one story that will leave you sweating, looking for clues, wanting to throw things, but definitely engaged.  Can you guess the killer before the last person is killed?  I doubt it.
One last thing- who names their child Nearly and why???
The story will draw the teen crowd, but the violence and sexual decisions place it with the 15 and up crowd.

The Glass Casket

The Glass Casket  by McCormick Templeman 
Rowan Rose lives in a small medieval-ish town.  Girls are not allowed schooling, and the town worships a goddess.  It is a quiet town, and the only thing that is of any consequence is that a new girl, about Rowan’s age, has arrived.  Fiona Eira is Rowan’s long-lost cousin, and is a very beautiful girl, but aloof.  Rowan is required by her father not to speak to her as well.  Then five riders from the king are found dead, laid out naked on the snow.  The town officials decide these were wolf attacks...and when people in the town are suddenly killed- literally ripped apart, sometimes inside their locked houses--the officials still look for wolves.
The horror and blood are graphically detailed, as is the affair of Rowan’s best friend, Tom, and Fiona, which borders on necrophilia.  The town officials finally agree to fight the “thing in the forest.”  
Not for the faint of heart.
Containing elements of Snow White, and Snow-White and Rose-Red, and of course, many vampire stories, this is really its own folktale, featuring good witches and greywitches.  The mystery is very well done and will keep surprising readers right up to the end.  
Unfortunately, the characters are less well drawn, and we only really care about them as instruments to unravel the plot.
Recommended for readers ages 15 and up

Monday, July 28, 2014

Erebos : it's a game. It watches you.


Erebos  by Ursula Poznanski
translation from the German by Judith Pattinson

Like most of his friends, Nick Dunsmore enjoys playing video games.  But he's never played anything like Erebos.  The rules are strange:
*  Always play alone.
*  Do not talk to anyone about the game.
*  Don't copy the disk unless instructed by the game.
and strangest of all:
*  You have only one chance to play.  If you break the rules, or if your character in the game dies, the game is over and you can never play again.

Strangest of all, the game itself seems to know when players break the rules.  But how?

As more of Nick's classmates join the game, things get even more bizarre, especially when the game insists that players conduct "missions" in the real world.  Some missions seem quite innocent, like picking up a box hidden in a park and hiding it in a different park.  But soon enough, the missions become sinister.

The story is nearly as compelling as the game itself.  Players quickly become addicted to the adventure, and many are willing to do anything to gain status within the world of Erebos.

Yes, anything....

More dire than Ready Player One (Cline, 2011), with less gore and fewer technology details than REAMDE (Stephenson, 2011), this game-gone-bad novel will appeal mostly to teen gamers.  Sophisticated readers may trip on some of the setting details, some politically incorrect racist and sexist statements which may or may not be a result of translation into English from German, and the distinctly Scooby Doo ending: "foiled by those meddling kids!"

Recommended for ages 13 to adult.




Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ice Dogs




Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

14-year-old champion musher Victoria Secord has always loved racing her sled dogs through the Alaskan bush...and, after her dad dies in a trail accident, the sport is Victoria's lasting connection to him.  He taught her how to be independent, self-reliant, and an expert at surviving in the wilderness.  But when she and her dogs encounter first an injured "city boy" and later a blizzard, Victoria's skills are put to the ultimate test: life and death.

This fast-paced adventure, written by an experienced musher, features lots of stuff I like in a book: realistic action, suspense, and a convincing touch of romance between the two main characters.  The events are entirely plausible, and Victoria's response to them makes sense.  Her relationship with her dogs is wonderful--she knows them as individuals, and identifies their strengths within the team.  Plus, she is a smart, awesome protagonist in a sport that is mostly dominated by men.  Victoria doesn't dwell on her "minority" status, but she acknowledges that being a girl (and not a very large one) gives her both advantages and disadvantages in competition, and she is smart enough to use whatever edge it takes to win...and to survive.

With two modern main characters, this book may appeal more broadly than Gary Paulsen'sDogsong, which also tells the story of a dogsled journey.  Pair Ice Dogs with Julie of the Wolves and Hatchet for lovers of survival fiction.

Highly recommended for readers ages 10 to adult.