Saturday, November 30, 2013

Teen Spirit

Teen Spirit  by Francesca Lia Block

Julie feels bereft after the death of her beloved grandmother Miriam.  Soon after, she and her mom have to move from their beautiful home in the hills to a benighted apartment on the wrong side of Beverly Hills.  Then, her mom meets a loser guy and seems to forget about Julie.  Then Julie meets Clark...who is haunted by issues of his own.

Usually, Francesca Lia Block can easily pull off a complex plot like this, and fill the story with lush, nuanced details and sensuous descriptions of life and love and death.  

But not this time.  The writing is stilted, the characters lack depth and purpose. The plot is twisty for no apparent reason, the ethnic details seem tacked on, and poorly edited elements (an answering machine?  in 2013?) yank the reader out of the story too often.  A near-miss sexual situation is awkward.

Not particularly recommended.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Just Between Us

Just Between Us  by J. H. Trumble
Luke Chesser is a high school junior and band member.  We met him as a character from Trumble’s book, Don’t Let Me Go.    This is not really a sequel, although the story is richer if you read the earlier book.  In that book, Luke “came out” because of Nate, a senior who was his first relationship and subject of a hate crime.  Luke is still looking for a good relationship and thinks he might find it in Curtis, a college sophomore who is helping the band this summer.  The two are strongly attracted to each other, and Luke is hurt and at a loss when Curtis suddenly rejects him.  

The reader knows (but Luke doesn't know) that Curtis has just been told by a former boyfriend that he has been exposed to the AIDS virus.
Curtis keeps his secret, even after a verifying test, and we all would like to shake some sense into him, because while this is huge and possibly fatal information, we also see that Curtis has a very supportive family who would help if he would let them.  It is true that Curtis has just spent the last year exploring many sexual avenues and now feels guilty, self-destructive, and depressed.  Luke is just too sweet, he thinks.  Curtis needs to face that year again if he is to face the AIDS.  He is also not getting treated.
Luke is meanwhile facing problems with his own family.  His father is not supportive, and in fact cannot seem to fight his homophobic reactions.  In one instance, he hits Luke.  Luke has romanticized his relationships since Don’t Let Me Go.  He is now a year older, and more mature, but still emotionally na├»ve.
There are very few books that cover the fallout and repercussions of HIV, but Trumble does it beautifully, creatively interspersing the story with updated facts you all wanted to ask.  We truly care about Curtis and Luke; when they hurt each other, we hurt too.  That too is done well in only a few YA books.  Certainly in this one.

Recommended ages 15 up.

Picture Me Gone

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

Mila and her father are on their way from London to New York to see her father’s best friend, Matthew.  They had not seen each other for many years.  A phone call from Matthew’s wife alerts them to the fact that he has disappeared.  They decide to go anyway, and show up at the house to see if they can help.

Mila is a rather unusual girl who deeply notices her surroundings.  She sees the picture frame and notices the stance people take and where their arms are placed; she sees the shoes in the corner, not cleaned in years since their son’s death; she notices the items left un-dusted and ponders the reasons why.  

Mila uncovers the love, loss, and deception felt deeply by each of the characters, eventually facing each of these herself.  The relationships of all the other characters weave through the novel in a delightful way.

Mila also texts her best friend in London, whose parents are going through a divorce, and whose relationship with Mila has been a little shaky and distant: very similar to Mila’s father’s relationship to Matthew.

The lack of punctuation is disconcerting.  Rather than enhance the story or character development, it serves to disorient the reader.  Perhaps that was intended. 

Recommended 10 up. 


Butter by Erin Jade Lange

Butter is obese, a boy who expects to be bullied, lonely, and ignored , especially by his father. 

How the “Butter” nickname evolved is a sick story on its own, but at 429 pounds, Butter is now just done. He decides that he is going to eat himself to death- on New Year’s Eve- videoed live on the internet.  

When he posts this idea online, he (and we) are unprepared for the reaction from his classmates:  cheering!  

In an awful twist, Butter becomes the hero of an idea increasingly difficult to stop.  He now has social standing with all the popular kids, invited to parties, sits at their table at lunch, and one step closer to Annie, the girl of his dreams.

Of course, as we understand the real Butter, we become increasingly alarmed and appalled as we watch the train wreck.   Butter began an online relationship with Annie, posing as an anonymous, handsome football player from another school.  What could go wrong there?  

He is an amazing saxophone player, whose sound, according to his teacher, is “smooth as butter.”  He is not alone in the world, either.  He has a great doctor, his mom, and a friend from “fat camp.”  But those are not the kids in his school.

This is a complex look at eating issues, relationships, and high school culture.  There are few two dimensional characters in this book, so the problems are not going to be simple, or even have straightforward solutions. Expect to get involved in Butter’s life.

And if you have read the book- can you remember Butter’s real name?  Did you get sucked into the group that continues/enables/excuses the bullying behavior?  

Or do you remember his name?


Altered by Jennifer Rush

Anna’s father works for a secret lab.  The specimens in the lab are four boys:  Nick, Cas, Trev and Sam.  All have special skills that are being cultivated through drugs and procedures.  All are “enhanced genetic specimens,” (read "great-looking hunks") however, their minds have been wiped clean.   

Because she is bored, Anna helps her father with the tests, but becomes involved with the boys, even sneaking down after hours to talk with them, or play a game of chess.  Eventually, she falls in love with Sam. 

When the Branch arrives with guns ready to take them away, Anna’s father helps the boys escape, but demands they take Anna as well.  Why?  Everyone is baffled about this, but there is no time to talk about it. 

The remainder of the book is the story of runaways, finding clues about their backgrounds and staying away from the Branch, those out to get them.  Then Anna finds secrets from her past: clues about Sam’s past are tattooed on his skin, and they run from safe house to safe house, as Sam remembers bits and pieces.  

The story is a bit scattered, raising more questions than answers, and although the genetic mutation is never fully explained, the plot twists and turns, giving a wild (and crush-worthy) ride.   We gain some understanding by the end of the book, and while there is a LOT to explain, we are not left on a ledge until the sequel.  Although Sam is as hot as any boy-hero, we will need to wait until book two to see if anything is realized between Sam and Anna.

We know that of course, there will be a sequel or more.  Great, because we still do not know the origins of most of the boys!  Maybe January will tell.

Recommended 14 up

This is What Happy Looks Like

This is what Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

“What do you mean?" he asked, his voice hoarse, and she sat up, turning to face him with a serious look. Her green eyes were large and her red hair was tangled from the wind, but she looked beautiful, the kind of beautiful that makes your heart fill like a balloon, so light you worry it might carry you away.

Ellie O’Neill and her mother live in a tiny Maine village, running a kitchy souvenir-type shop, hiding their secret. 

Graham Larkin writes an email about pig-sitting to a friend, accidentally mistyping the address, and ending up meeting Ellie online.  Graham too has a secret.

Ellie and Graham become friends online, but when they meet each other, their secrets threaten to separate them forever.  Graham is actually Graham Larkin, the newest boy star and heart throb to hit the box office. Ellie in no way wants photographers hanging around or taking her picture.

Even after they meet, have problems, become sorta-friends, they continue the emails, which now become pretty funny.  In fact, clever retorts are the name of the game in person too.  Even with the predictable plot, you have to really like both teens.

This incredibly sweet romance will never make it to the Sex in the Library archives, but will be a huge hit in the pre-teen crowd.

Recommended 12 up

Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

“Every night, in every Coldtown, people die.  People are fragile.  They die of mistakes, of overdoses, of sickness.  But mostly they die of Death.  Death drinks down their warms until their veins are dry.  Death forgets restraint.  The older vampires might grow dusty and careful, but those freshly made want to glut themselves and sometimes, foolishly, they give in to Death and do.”

As the story opens, our heroine, Tana, wakes the morning after a particularly long night of partying…to find everyone dead.  Sucked dry by vampires.  Finally, she finds her friend (and ex boyfriend) Aiden alive, but having been bitten by a vampire, chained to the bed. Another vampire, Gavriel,  is also chained.   

Of course she helps her friend escape, but what about the vampire?  Escape they do, and all head off to the closest “Coldtown,” picking up Midnight and her brother Winter, hitchhiking to Coldtown to become vampires and film the process for their ongoing blog.

This is a dystopia where vampires exist, sometimes admired, sometimes hunted. They are required to stay in “Coldtowns” where vampire parties are televised as the ultimate reality tv:  where vampire “wannabees” place shunts in their arms so they can be used as food.  Killing is often and very bloody.  Humans are attacked; vampires are killed, all in very many violent ways.

The fact that we stay tuned in through all the gore for the end of this mystery says a lot for Holly Black’s gorgeous writing.  That and the romance:  kissing can be so very hot.  Tana is a wonderfully witty and resourceful, if way too  impulsive, heroine.

Vixen (Flappers series)

The Vixen (Flappers series) by Jillian Larkin

Three girls, three spoiled socialites, one very restrictive era.

Gloria, seventeen, wealthy, engaged to wealthy, sexy Sebastian.  She seems to have it all.  But of course she doesn’t.  From seeking out speakeasies to falling in love with a Black jazz player, Gloria becomes the stereotype of the independent flapper without regard for consequences.

Lorraine, best friend of Gloria would do just about anything to have Marcus pay attention to her, but he only has eyes for Clara.  What is a woman without a man?  Booze becomes Lorraine’s best friend.

Clara, Gloria’s cousin is sent to Chicago after an unmentionable scandal. As a former very accomplished flapper, she now has to play the “country bumpkin” cousin.  

Of course the mob controls the speakeasy nightclubs, and graft and corruption abound. Especially with people you would not suspect.  Isn’t that always the case?  

The era comes alive, and the feeling of being trapped abounds, not only for the girls, but also with the musicians, the nightclub owners, the people who need to stay in high society, even the younger mobsters!  Freedom is not independence.  

This is a fast and fun read with some historical understanding.  Secrets and intrigue and booze and mobsters.  And some very real growing up.

One minor pique:  the clothes here are highlighted often, which makes the cover a bit off.  With every other attention to details of the 1920s, this is odd.

Anatomy of a Single Girl

Anatomy of a Single Girl by Daria Snadowsky

I always knew I wanted my first time to be with someone I loved and who loved me, which it was…. But shouldn’t I want that for every time?

Dom (Dominique) returns the summer after her first year in college.  She has had a bad break up with the boyfriend she thought would be forever.  Her first love, first kiss, first sexual experience, and now first breakup. (Anatomy of a boyfriend, 2008)  Then she meets a handsome guy- named, appropriately enough, Guy. He wants no part of romance, but does want sex.  Duh.  Dom is sure that she wants the whole romantic love thing, but sex is fun too.  Duh again.  What this book really is, is a treatise on safe sex.  

Before Dom, a pre-med student, will agree to the “friends with (lots) of benefits thing, she wants to be sure they are both following the right rules.  It’s pretty one-sided:  Dom tells Guy all the requirements, and he agrees.  We don’t see enough discussions of safe sex in teen lit, but this is pretty clinical - like Snadowsky was trying too hard to get the information out.  Because it’s couched in Dom’s pre-med background, it is understandable within the plot.  Will it be ignored because it is so dry and one-sided?

There are other parts that help get the book through its tough times:  Dom’s feelings ring true as an eighteen-year-old, just out of first year college.  She alternately loves her parents (she declares that she won the parent lottery) and hates her parents being too restrictive.  Her best friend Amy is fun and believable.   There is a nice balance between wanting to be a little girl, and wanting to grow up, and lots of frank talk about sex.  

Dom’s parents are a hoot.  Even Guy is not entirely one-sided.  He does care for Dom, and he is honest about just wanting sex, not a relationship.  Perhaps he shares a few too many sexual positions with Dom, or maybe just the reader?  This is not meant to be a sex manual, but it comes close at times.

But really, as Dom says, shouldn’t ALL her sexual experience be with someone she loves and loves her? 

Wolf Gift

The Wolf Gift Ann Rice

Gothic novel?  Philosophical novel?  Neither, actually.

Originally, we hoped this might be an adult for YA novel.  Not so. 

Cub reporter and really wealthy aristocrat, Reuben Golding, is doing a story on the Mendocino mansion of wealthy aristocrat Marchent Nideck, who must now sell the estate.  Reuben falls in love with the estate and, after a one-night stand, falls in love with Marchent, who deeds him the entire estate (and pays the first year’s taxes) after one hot night.  However, later that same night, Marchent’s two druggie brothers break in, killing her and nearly killing Reuben.  He is saved by what he thinks is a large dog, who kills the brothers but merely bites him.  

It doesn’t take a deep thinker to figure out that Reuben was bitten by a werewolf.  In fact, there were of course, many allusions to wolves already, and you did get the title, right?  But it takes a loooong time to get the reader to the point where Reuben understands.  

This purports to be a philosophical/spiritual novel, and his brother, the catholic priest, does bring some religion into the mix, and whole chapters are devoted to the writings of Dejardin.  Whole chapters also become filler, (do we need to know what is in the salad or how many times to toss it?) in fact, with Reuben’s musings on being a wolf and being able to discern the scent of evil.  If you didn’t get his thoughts the first time, not to worry, he will repeat them three or four times.
As a philosophical novel, this fell flat.  The mixture of Roman Catholicism didn’t really mix with the werewolves’ penchant for playing God, and the discussions of pure philosophy were restated too many times. The sexual exploitations felt like titillation, not an important plot line.  The constant rain in San Francisco and Mendocino did not even ring true, although the lush descriptions of the Mendocino coast were a treat.

Rice puts most of the werewolf information in the last chapter, making it anti-climatic and obviously setting this as a series. 
Random House published the audio book, aptly read by Ron McLarty.  Feel free to sleep through whole chapters on salad making or the third time you hear the philosophical DeJardin discussions…

Monday, November 4, 2013


Scarlet by Marissa Meyer  (Lunar Chronicles, part 2)

In the second volume of this futuristic fairy tale retelling, Scarlet, a spunky French farm girl in a red hoodie, is frantically searching for her grandmother.  Was Grand-mere kidnapped?  Or worse?  

Scarlet reluctantly accepts the help of Wolf, a tattooed street fighter.  But Wolf has some secrets he prefers not to share with Scarlet.  

And speaking of secrets, apparently Grand-mere had a few of her own...secrets about a missing princess now known as Cinder.

Fairy tale, science fiction, political intrigue, and romance intertwine to create a fast-moving narrative and leave readers eager for the next volume:Cress, the story of a long-haired girl who has been kept isolated on a satellite since childhood, is scheduled for publication in February 2014.

Recommended for readers ages 12 to adult.  Minimal cussing, some violence, some blood, some tactful off-page canoodling.