Thursday, May 31, 2012

Now Playing: Stoner and Spaz II

Now Playing: Stoner and Spaz II  by Ron Koertge

Colleen and Ben are back: a few months older, and only slightly wiser than they were in the first book, Stoner and Spaz.

Ben's documentary has gained him a little bit of local fame, and he is taking film-making a littler more seriously now. Colleen has been flirting with sobriety. 


Cinder  by Marissa Meyer
In this re-told story with a sci-fi twist, Cinder is a teenaged cyborg with two stepsisters and a stepmother who hates the "subhuman" left in her care.  While working as an android mechanic in the public market, Cinder meets up with the charming Prince Kai, who invites her to the fancy ball being held in his honor...but Cinder knows that her stepmother will never allow her to attend.

Fairy tale elements are artfully re-cast, with the story returned to its original Chinese roots;  however, futuristic New Beijing is very different from the ancient city.  The fairy godmother is a household droid with a "defective" personality; the pumpkin coach is an ugly vintage motorcar (one suspects an orange VW Bug!), and the glass slipper is a too-small cyborg foot that doesn't attach securely enough to Cinder's artificial leg.   The plot is relatively predictable, but the ending is a cliff-hanger that will be continued in the second part of the projected 4-volume series.

Recommended for readers who enjoy folktale retellings, romance, and futuristic societies, ages 12 to adult.  No cussing, nekkidness, or excessive violence.  There is (of course!) a kiss.  Pair this with A Long, Long Sleep, which is another retold-in-the-future fairy tale.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Purity  by Jackson Pearce
Just before 10-year-old Shelby's mom died, she made Shelby promise three things:  to love and listen to her father.  To love as much as possible.  And to live without restraint. 

Now Shelby is 16, and her father has asked Shelby to join him in attending the Princess Ball, an annual father-daughter event that culminates with the girls taking a vow of purity.  Shelby panics at the thought of a conflict between Promise One and Promise Three--how can she live an unrestrained life if she vows to live a pure life?

Aided by her friends, Shelby tries to exploit a loophole in the process by losing her virginity before taking the purity vow...but she has mixed feelings. 

Although the plot sounds fluffy, this story is filled with great characters.  I laughed frequently, and needed a hanky for the final chapter.  Purity is a quick, fun read, recommended for readers ages 14 and up.

On-page but non-graphic sex; no cussing, no blood, no violence, some under-age drinking.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy  by Robin LaFevers
The daughter of Death is determined to serve matter what happens.

The year is 1485, and young Ismae is rescued from a potentially brutal marriage by a local hedgewitch, who recognizes the terrible scars on the girl's back as a mark of her true parentage:  her father is Mortain, the god of death.  Spirited away across Brittany, Ismae ends up at the convent of Saint Mortain, where she is instructed by nuns in the skills needed to serve their god:  poisoning, fighting with swords, knives and crossbows, as well as the miscellaneous useful skills for assassins and spies, tactfully referred to as the "womanly arts."

Leaving the convent for the first time as a trained killer, Ismae's assignment is to journey in the disguise of "cousin" (mistress) with handsome Gavriel Duval to the castle of the young Dutchess of Brittany, and kill whoever needs to be killed in order to protect and support the dutchess.  Sometimes the killing is quick and ruthless; occasionally, it is an act of kindness.  But when the order comes for Ismae to kill Duval, she looks beyond her convent education for answers.

An engaging narrative voice and colorful world-building turn a predictable plot into an exciting tale of romance and intrigue.  The book is first in a trilogy, but stands alone well.  No cussing and limited gore;  contains violence and references to lusty situations, but the sex occurs off-page and late in the book.  References to "old gods" masquerading as "modern saints" may bother some readers.

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult who enjoy historical and supernatural romances with strong female characters. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Don't Let Me Go

Don’t let me go  by J.H. Trumble

Nate and Adam believe their relationship is forever.  

Adam is graduating from high school and moving to New York to begin an acting career.  Nate has said he “needs to know who I am without you," but the year is much harder than he imagined without Adam.  

Last year they came out to their parents, the school, and the world.  Last year, Nate had Adam by his side.  Now, entering his senior year, he is not sure if he is strong enough alone.  His best friend Lucy is still there to help, and Danial, a new student from Pakistan, befriends him as well, especially when Nate Skypes Adam only to find a topless roommate cavorting around and kissing Adam.  

The plot moves back and forth across time from the present, to various times in the past.  This can be disconcerting for the reader, but in this case it works.  Slowly we are fed bits to understand Nate and Adam’s relationship, Danial’s almost too-perfect friendship, and Nate’s physical and sexual assault at the hands of some high school bullies.  Family relationships, friendships and even sexual activities are brought out through the ensuing court trial as the book skips back and forth in time.  For the reader, the story in bits and pieces is much easier to absorb, and better for deeply understanding relationships and the horror of the assault.  The focus is always the present though, and how Nate will cope this year, especially with Matthew, a gay student who is attracted to Nate, but is unwilling to take the step toward coming out.  

The almost too-perfect Danial nearly drags the story down, except we find that we are all cheering for him, and want a Danial in our schools.  

Recommended for readers ages 15 and up; graphic sexual situations; some violence.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tale of Two Summers

Tale of Two Summers  by Brian Sloan

Hal and Chuck have been best friends for 10 years.  The summer before their junior year in high school, they spend the summer apart.  Hal wants to continue their friendship over the phone and through emails,  but Chuck sets up a blog to which they both contribute.  Thus begins the two summers of two very different guys:  Hal, bored in their small town of Wheaton, MD: about to enter driver’s ed, and gay.  Chuck, entering drama summer camp: excited, and straight.  Both looking for a summer romance, and sex in particular.

The blog is not just clever and funny; it gives each of them the opportunity to say things they might not say otherwise.  The anonymity of the computer allows them to talk about issues that bother them that a sixteen-year-old might not feel free to discuss face-to-face.  In the process, they teach us, the reader, about gay issues in a very readable, witty, format.  That said, the two seem more adult than most sixteen-year-olds.  Then they become the "as a mother, I'd like to knock you over your hormonal head" kind of guys. 

When Hal finds “the love of his life,” he is willing to forgive the marijuana, the illegal activities and the sexually reluctant behavior of Henri, newly arrived from France.  The scenes where they enter into a sexual relationship are very explicit, but tastefully done. In the meantime, Chuck has fallen in love at acting camp, although the girl seems to like their young director much more.  Chuck’s roommate at summer drama camp is gay, and readers experience a different gay perspective from him.  

This book addresses both the myths and realities of gay reactions and sex in a way that straight and gay teens will understand. At times, the novel feels like a vehicle to educate the public on gay issues.   Perhaps it is, but we forgive the author because these two are just great characters.  While all the characters are more than one-dimensional, the relationship between Hal and Chuck is the best part of the book, and you just have to cheer for them to make their own relationship work.

Lots of cussing, drug and alcohol abuse, body parts, sexually explicit scenes.

Crazy in Love

Crazy in Love  by Dandi Daley MacKall

Mary Jane enters her senior year of high school having just been at a party where she flirted, with reciprocation.  The trouble is that Jackson is dating the popular and gorgeous Star.  

Her entire girl posse breaks into two factions:  those who would like to support her, and those who are definitely upset at the breach.  Mary Jane also hears two very distinct voices in her head telling her opposite
directions:  Plain Jane, who wants her to be the “good girl” and M.J., the sexy alternative. Mary Jane and her two best friends, now both in college, have taken a vow of chastity before marriage.  Her friend Alicia is now having sex with her college boyfriend; Red is not, because her boyfriend believes in God.

The banter between the voices is funny and witty.  The obvious, hit-you-over-the-head moral is not:  all girls who have sex before marriage will live in utter disappointment; all girls who remain chaste will be happy.  The book is witty and funny.  Mary Jane could have made the same decision without bringing in the God-talk and the obvious conclusion that breaking the chastity vow ruins your life.  The overt preaching ruins it.

No cussing, lots of kissing,  off-page sex.  Not recommended.


Divergent  by Veronica Roth

Beatrice and Caleb are both turning sixteen, which is the year they must choose among the factions:  Abnegation (living for others,denying yourself); Candor (always telling the truth); Erudite (learning and research);  Amity  (understanding for others and yourself); and Dauntless (fearless action and fighting).

Now they are living in Abnegation, but the test they take will tell them what qualities they have that will induce them into the faction path.  In this dystopian society in torn apart and deserted Chicago, you don’t have to choose the faction where the test points, but Beatrice is shocked to learn that she is a Divergent: she has qualities of several of the factions instead of a single one.  To be known as Divergent is dangerous; the condition must be kept hidden.

Beatrice ultimately chooses Dauntless; Caleb chooses Erudite.  This is Beatrice’s story.  She learns to jump off moving trains, fall into a net six stories down; fight in many combat situations; and overcome both prejudice and years of training in Abnegation.  Only ten initiates will survive; the others will be left Factionless and homeless...or dead. Tris meets Four, who is two years older and is alternately enticing and irritating. There is also something sinister edging its way into the novel:  the Dauntless faction is becoming more focused on anger and cruelty, and someone is trying destroy all Divergents.

The characters of Beatrice and Four are central to the novel; all others are pretty one-dimensional.  This is a trilogy, so perhaps more attention will be given to others as the story develops.  It is an enjoyable and fast-paced novel, full of action and surprise.  At times it seems pretty derivative:  there are lots of aspects of The Hunger Games and the romance between Beatrice and Four builds and falls in a pretty standard pattern.

There are also several holes left in the story:  What is the world like outside Chicago?  Who runs the trains and do they ever stop anywhere?

Some kissing; lots of longing, off-page intimacy.  
This is Mary Jo's review.  To read Aarene's review of this book, click HERE.

The Mis-Education of Cameron Post

The Mis-education of Cameron Post  by Emily Danforth

Cameron is 12 when her parents die in an automobile accident.  She is already feeling guilty about kissing her best friend Irene.  In fact, "guilty" would be a word to describe how Cameron feels about her yearnings for girls in general--and her guilt becomes stronger still when Aunt Ruth comes to take care of her, and introduces Cammie to conservative Christianity.  

Several loves enter and exit Cammie’s life as she is trying to understand who she is and who she loves, or shouldn’t, love.  At age fifteen, Cammie develops a relationship with Coley, also from the church, but when Aunt Ruth finds out, Cammie is sent to  “God’s Promise, a school affiliated with the National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality.  

Cameron is a very likeable and well-drawn character, as are most of the characters in the book.  Cameron’s story is compelling  and personal , giving it an autobiographical feel.  Chapters about young Cameron (age 9) could be a problem for some readers.  While those chapters have a great impact on Cameron’s life and awakening sexuality, it takes a mature reader to understand that.  The story also takes place in the 1990s, which has an historical impact on the Christian School and Center for Healing ( brochure pictured in the book. )  This is a hefty tome, but well worth reading.

Cussing, drug use, sexual situations.  Recommended for readers ages 14 and up.


Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith

The 3rd book in the “Tantalize” series returns to Quincie’s story, after taking a wrong turn in the second book, Eternal.

Quincie has struck a bargain with Brad (“the Impaler”) Sanguini, who had turned her into a vampire:  she will suck Kieren’s blood, but  stop in time.  If she does this, Brad will leave.  And although this did happen, Brad is still inside her mind.  Quincie goes to live with Kieren's parents when he leaves to futher his werewolf education, but people pop into her life to help her. In particular Zachary- the guardian angel from Eternal-  arrives to be Quincie's Guardian Angel in an attempt to save her immortal soul.  This is still possible, because she IS only a neophyte.  Remember Quincie P. Morris from Stoker’s Dracula?   There is now great interplay with that original Dracula, as Brad is slowly becoming that “Dracula Prime.”  

Coincidentally, anyone who ate the “baby squirrel” dish from Tantalize has also been “blessed,” and will turn into a vampire in 3 weeks.  Quincie now has to save those folks as well.

This is the “Bella/Jacob” relationship that fans of Twilight wanted, featuring Quincie as a much stronger heroine who still has problems fighting the thrall of Brad.  Clyde, the were-possum, returns to this book as its semi-hero.   Overall the story is improbable, but great fun.  At times pretty gruesome (these are still vampires)  Welcome back, Quincie!

Recommended for readers age 13 and up; kissing, grinding, allusions to sex, but no body-parts on the page.
A Million Suns  by Beth Revis

This sequel to Across the Universe, continues the saga of Godspeed, the ship carrying 2000 people and 300 earthlings in suspended animation to Centauri-Earth.

At the end of the first book, Elder and Amy had just defeated Eldest, the clone who was the leader of the ship, and learned that they were not going to land at all and had, in fact, been in space for centuries already.  We now take a dramatic turn again, with new findings that threaten everyone’s life.  Orion, now in suspended animation himself, has left Amy clues about the new reality of the ship, urging her, as both an earthling and shipmate, to make the right decision as a result of her findings.  16-year-old Elder is having immense problems ruling the ship, with hourly information that makes good decisions critical.  The people, now without the phydus drug that kept them cooperative-but-mindless, are now in rebellion.  Murders keep happening.  The clues left by Orion for this critical time are an odd plot device for this novel, but do keep the reader interested, as any mystery would.  There seems to be little character development in either Elder or Amy, who appear to have learned no lessons from Across the Universe, and their romance seems to be on hold.  

There is a planned 3rd novel; perhaps it will return to the style and excitement of Across the Universe.

Recommended for readers ages 12 to adult; contains  kissing and an off-screen rape.


Insurgent  by Veronica Roth

In this second of the trilogy, the dystopia that was Chicago moves closer to an inevitable war. 

Picking up where Divergent left off, Roth explains little of the first story, making it imperative that they are read in order.  After escaping from the simulation-controlled factions, Tris, Tobias, Marcus, Caleb, and Peter all head toward Erudite headquarters to both make sense of what has happened and to plan for the future.  There are many twists awaiting them, including the Factionless, now ready to join the inevitable war, secrets held by Marcus, and in the center, the mystery of the Divergents themselves.

Tris is still the steady, unrestrained heroine, now so torn after killing her best friend Will, that she cannot hold or fire a gun.  Her romance with Tobias is so much like the roller coaster at Riverside Park, we are reminded that she is, after all, a sixteen-year-old girl. 

We race to the end so fast, we forgive the gaping holes in the story.  For example, if Jeanine knew the "truth," why was she so anxious to destroy the Divergents?  This middle story of the trilogy gives us much more than a bridge to the third.  It is an exciting ride on it's own and leaves us wanting the final thought-provoking episode.

Heavy kissing, off-stage sex.  Recommended for readers ages 13 to adult.  (mjh)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Photos from Sex in the Library at Einstein Middle School

Mary Jo: home from India,
and talking about Sex in the Library again!

Aarene: showing off the Mission Statement cue card

Sex-in-the-Library virgin no more:  
Anne has a Mission Statement cue card of her own!

Talking about books:  The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez

CAUTION: SITL books on display
Biggify the photo to see the covers clearly.