Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Fangirl  by Rainbow Rowell
audiobook read by Rebecca Lowman and Maxwell Caufield

Cath assumed that Wren would always be by her side, no matter what.  After all, the girls are identical twins, and have shared every aspect of their lives together, always.   But when they leave home for their first year of college, Wren wants to try living her life as an individual, leaving Cath feeling abandoned and alone.

The only time Cath doesn't feel pathetic is when she's writing fanfiction.  She takes characters from her favorite book series and writes her own stories about them--and Cath's version, in which the two main guy characters are in love, has thousands of fans of its own!

But Cath is so busy writing fanfiction that she is overlooking some awesome real people.  Like her dad, who loves her.  And like that cute boy who asks her to read out loud, maybe....

For readers who would sometimes rather stay inside a fictional world.  Isn't that all of us, sometimes?

The audiobook is completely engrossing, with Rebecca Lowman reading Cath's world and Maxwell Caufield reading exerpts from books and stories about Simon Snow.

Some cussing, allusions to sex and sexual situations, and a fantasy-world-within-the-real-world.  Highly recommended for ages 14 to adult.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Between Two Worlds

Between Two Worlds  by Katherine Kirkpatrick

Eqariusaq has had an almost life-long association with polar explorer Robert Peary and his family.  When she was very young, the family renamed Eqariusaq "Billie Bah" and brought her to spend a year in America with the Peary family, where she spoke English, wore "civilized" clothing, and was the first of her people to see the modern world filled with trees, horse-drawn carriages, trees, museums, and more.  Billie Bah successfully returned to her people, but she thinks that her journey inspired others to go with the Pearys, and none of these have ever returned.  All save one died of disease...including Billie Bah's own parents.

Now 16 years old, Billie Bah must face changes in her life.  She loves her husband, but she also grows to love one of the sailors she is "traded" to (temporarily) in exchange for guns and ammunition.  She discovers the truth about her parents' death, and she tries to sort out her feelings for Peary and his family and find her own place in the world.

The real Billie Bah with Robert Peary

Woven into the story are fascinating details of life in this tiny Greenlandic community.  Tribal customs and expectations, vocabulary, and descriptions of building fox traps, auk snares, and  rock igloos are described with meticulous detail that never becomes didactic or boring.  Extensive author notes identify factual (and fictional) aspects of the story.

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  An excellent choice for historical fiction or diversity assignments.

Alcohol, death, ghosts, grieving, guys, multi-ethnic, recommended, religious beliefs, sexual situations, star trek sex.

The Moon and More

The Moon and More  by Sarah Dessen
Emaline knows that her life will change dramatically at the end of summer.  That's when she'll go away to college, leaving behind her family, her boyfriend, and the familiar people in the small beach town of Colby where she's spent most of her life.

What Emaline doesn't know is that her life will also change dramatically before the end of summer:  her boyfriend cheats on her, her absentee father shows up with Emaline's young stepbrother in tow, and Theo, a handsome and sophisticated boy from New York, comes to town to help make a documentary film about a reclusive local artist.

As she always does, author Sarah Dessen draws readers into a cozy story of summer love, a little bit of heartbreak, a flawed but not irredeemable main character, and a cast of friends and family who are just enough like our own that we feel we know them all from the very first paragraph.  Unlike many teen novels, Dessen writes the parents (both bio-parents and step-parents) as well-rounded, mostly-likeable characters.

Recommended for readers ages 12 to adult.
Alcohol, cussing (mild), friendship, guys, parents, star trek sex, step-parents.

The Taking

The Taking by Kimberly Derting                            

At sixteen , Kyra is a star softball pitcher.  In the car after the championship game, she has a fight with her father.  Running down the street, she sees a flash and is blinded.  The next thing she remembers is waking up next to a dumpster, still in uniform.  When she makes her way home, she finds strangers in the house- a man and little boy.  Although she runs into the house, calling for her mother, she is forcible removed by the man.  

Across the street is Kyra’s boyfriend’s house.  They have a serious relationship, so it is a natural place to go for comfort.  As she goes in the back door, she runs into the arms of her boyfriend, Austin.  Except that it isn’t Austin, it’s his younger brother, Tyler who looks a lot like him. Tyler was twelve last time she saw him. 
In fact, five years have elapsed.  Kyra still feels sixteen.  The world however, has gone on, and lives have been changed.  Her boyfriend Austin, now in college, has become involved with her best friend, Cat.  Her parents are divorced since her father is now and alcoholic, spending full time trying to understand what he believes is an alien abduction.  Her mother remarried, and the man and boy in Kyra’s house are the new husband and son.
In trying to make sense of it all, Kyra has to understand the missing time.  In a growing relationship with now seventeen-year-old Tyler,  Kyra is approached by other missing and returned teens as well as men in black suits from the government. 

First in a series where we will most likely encounter more aliens and chase scene after chase scene now that they are discovered.

Faking Normal

Faking Normal   by Courtney C. Stevens

When we first meet Alexi, she is at the funeral of her mother’s best friend.  Alexi knows the son because he goes to her school and is known as “the kool-aid kid:” an unkempt, seemingly uncaring student.  Every single morning he colors his hair with kool-aid so it is never normal.  

During the funeral, Alexi thinks, “But this is always what he’ll go back to: No Mom.  That’s a forever change.  I never understood life could be so dramatically sectioned, but it can.  And is.  There is only after.  And before.  My moment was by the pool, Bodee’s is by the casket.”    

Readers slowly get clues about what happened at the pool.  Alexi can’t talk about it, but whatever it is causes her to continually scratch her neck, smell chlorine in lots of places, hide in her closet, and ultimately hurt herself.  When Bodee comes to live with them, he immediately sees through Alexi's "normal" fa├žade.  Slowly they develop a relationship, and Bodee reveals his own secret.  Both are faking being normal.

Of course Alexi was raped, (any reader will intuit that), and most readers will be able to discern who the rapist was.  The crux of the book is really how any teen would handle a rape.  Alexi blames herself, makes excuses for the rapist.  As teens react to Alexi’s choices, adults hope that teens also understand how to react if something like this happens to them or to a friend.  This was a good read, and while the book is perhaps not the most lyrically written, it is an important subject to keep teens talking about. 

As with many recent books, there is a playlist of songs throughout the book.  Music is important to both Alexi and Bodee, and music has power.

Recommended 8th grade up

bullying, child abuse, cussing, death, drinking,  grieving , kissing, rape

Bright Before Sunrise

Bright Before Sunrise  by Tiffany Schmidt                                

Brighton Waterford is the “It” girl in her high school: peppy, happy, wealthy, and just plain nice.  Seriously.  Really nice.  All she wants is for Jonah, the new kid, to join a school group, get involved.

Jonah Prentiss is the new kid and just wants to be left alone to wallow in the unhappiness that was created when he moved with his his mother and step-father (and new baby sister) into this upscale town, leaving his girlfriend, school friends, and place on the baseball team behind.

The entire book takes place on a single night when Brighton is babysitting Jonah's baby sister and Jonah is asked to take her home.  As they are thrown together, each learns the secrets of the other.  

Bright is not the happy, spoiled child.  Jonah is not really the tough, angry kid.  The characters never fall into that two-dimensional hole.  As they spar, doing the approach-avoidance dance, readers are entertained and fascinated.  We even root for them, although we really know the eventual outcome.

Even though we can see the plot lines from blocks away, the story still sucks you in and leaves you with hope.  Change can happen.  For everyone.

Recommended 12 up.

Mild cussing, death, grieving, kissing.

Somebody Up There Hates You

Somebody Up There Hates You  by Hollis Seamon

Richie has cancer. 

At seventeen,  he knows that it is a matter of a couple of months, not years.  

He is now living in a Hospice unit, one of two teenagers.  The other teen is Sylvie, fifteen, who also has cancer, and also has a matter of months.  

When Sylvie announces to Richie that she does not want to die a virgin (and recruits him to help with this), there is a problem: her father alternates between hovering around his little girl as a protector, and drinking so much the staff is likely to throw him out of the unit. 

This is a reality-based book of teens dying; of teens not giving up; of those dying around them, and of elderly people whom we see in a different light.  With lots of plot twists inside a narrow story line, the entire cast of characters is simply wonderful, unusual, and not at all predictable.

While Richie’s mother is ill herself with a cough and cold, but not allowed into Hospice because of the germs she carries, Richie is entertained by his uncle and grandmother, characters you will love and cheer.  Then you will be glad they aren’t your relatives.  Richie’s uncle sneaks him out of the Hospice unit on Halloween, allows him way too much beer, pays a girl to pay attention to him, then disappears.  Richie’s grandmother is a gem of a smart-mouthed (wonder where Richie got his mouth?) blowsy woman who barges her way through situation.

Alternately sad, poignant, and hilarious, smart-mouthed Richie and SUTHY (Somebody Up There Hates You- the persona who is responsible for the cancer in his body) are impossible to forget.  A tough subject so very well handled, any teen will love it, although the parents might balk at the potty mouth on that kid!  Obviously ready to pair with Green’s Fault In Our Stars.  The parallels are impossible to ignore, although Somebody Up There Hates You easily stands on its own pedestal. 
Recommended 14 up. 

alcohol, bullying,(a lot of) cussing, death, drinking, gay friends, grieving, kissing, masturbation, nekkidness, prejudice, religious beliefs, sexual situations, Star Trek Sex, and violence.

The Cellar

The Cellar    by Natash Preston

Sixteen-year-old Summer heads to a club to meet a friend, refusing her boyfriend’s offer to walk with her.  It’s a small town, safe; it’s a short distance.  

She doesn't know that “Clover,” a psychotic abuser, is looking for a replacement for “Lily,” one of the girls who are his "flowers." The flowers are girls he has kidnapped and keeps in his cellar to be his family.  The girls are named as those flowers:  Rose, Violet, Poppy, and now Lily.  He is given breakfast and dinner by the girls; he dresses them alike; occasionally he sexually abuses them.  If they complain, fight back, or try to escape, they are killed: knifed in front of the other girls who must clean up the mess and place the girl in a body bag.  There have been many girls in the past, although only one Rose.

Slowly we learn Clover’s real identity and back story, with insight into the psychological stimuli which lead to his bringing prostitutes home and killing them with his knife, leaving the bodies for the “Flowers” to clean up and place in a body bag.

Summer is missing for a year, and the story unfolds through the eyes of Summer, her boyfriend, and Clover in alternating chapters. It is a slow descent, with plenty of time for readers to be struck with the slow horror.

My biggest pique with the story is that Summer never really deals with the psychological aftermath.  She may in fact have Stockholm Syndrome, but no one is stressing the need for a therapist.  It is impossible to believe that she could even remotely deal with all that happened on her own.

The Cellar is similar to Coley’s Pretty Girl Thirteen, although that story dwelled on Stockholm Syndrome.

Recommended 9th grade up.

bullying, child abuse, cussing, death, grieving, kissing, prostitution, rape, sexual situations, Star Trek Sex, and violence.

Since You Asked

Since You Asked  by Maurene Goo

Holly Kim is the stereotypical Korean girl:  skinny and shy with long black hair; expected to make the best grades, get into the best college.  She fights back, refusing to do the “dress up for first day of school” thing, and associating with a variety of best friends. (the “one of these, one of those…”)

She is also a copy editor for the school newspaper.  On the first day, a bored Holly edits a story sarcastically as a “real world” version of the saccharine line put out by a senior; then accidentally files it instead of the real story.   Despite the trouble she incurs from the principal, her one-time column becomes a sort of “tell-all” hit.  The snarky column spins off reader responses to high school life, dances, and Asian Americans. 
Although predictable, with little plot, Holly is witty and funny, and a good read.  She ultimately breaks through the stereotypes to become a real teen (at times whiny, rude, and rebellious).   

Series probably?
Recommended 12 up.

Cussing- oh yes!

Pretty Girl 13

Pretty Girl-13  by Liz Coley

Angie is introduced to us in a backflash prologue: at thirteen she is at Girl Scout camp.  When she is alone in the woods peeing behind a bush, she is accosted and then kidnapped by a male adult.

Now, flash forward to Angie arriving home, just walking up to the door of her house, not knowing how she escaped.  Homecoming has a few problems however:  she has actually been three years, and although Angie has total amnesia of her time away, she has the telltale marks of manacles on her wrists and feet.  

While she is actually sixteen, Angie still feels like she should be in eighth grade, and wants to learn what she has missed.  After all, she still feels thirteen.

Angie’s parents take her to a therapist, who through hypnosis, discovers multiple personalities who have taken over her psyche in an effort to allow Angie to detach from the trauma of the situation a thirteen-year-old could not handle.  The alternate personality completely takes over, “tucking” Angie into a corner of her mind.  However, inside Angie there are five distinct personalities. 

This is a dark, dangerous path for both Angie and the reader.  It is pieced out slowly since it is not easily read by an adult, and will be even more difficult for a high school student.  And yet, as readers cheer for Angie and just want her to be a “normal” student in school, it's obvious that this will never happen.  

Just what can we hope for?  This book will captivate you and touch you in the way that few books touch on your emotions.  Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl did that in a different, chilling, way.

Coley talks about new ways to treat Dissociative Identity Disorder, some of which are not really used yet.The Afterward is just as interesting as the book, with more information on the disorder and famous people who have suffered - and recovered.  

For mature readers, 14 and up.

Child abuse, cussing, death, grieving, kissing, pregnancy, rape, sexual situations, violence

How to Love

How to Love  by Katie Cotugno
We first meet Serena as a teen mom.  Her daughter, almost two years old, is the result of sex with Sawyer, whom Reena has loved all her life.  Sawyer disappeared over two years ago, not knowing he had fathered a child.  And at the beginning of the story, Sawyer reappears.

From there the story is told in alternate chapters of “Before,” and “After,” from Reena’s point of view.   Having spent an emotional childhood, teen life, and even pregnancy tied with Sawyer, Reena is determined not to fall back into that life.  And of course she can’t resist.  Sawyer wants her back, with his baby.  The problem seems to be that while they were busy having sex, they forgot to find out if they even liked the other person! 

There are other complications:  Reena and Sawyer’s families own a restaurant together, and both of them work there still. Both families are strict Catholics- creating obvious conflicts for a pregnant teen daughter.  Reena’s father has mostly avoided this fact, but also avoided the fact that Reena has worked hard to go to college, and is doing a really good job with her daughter.  Reena has had to give up her dreams.  Is she grasping at a returned Sawyer as part of rekindling those dreams?

The plot is slow and the angst is palpable.           

A side note: the family is obviously Hispanic family, but nowhere does the narrative announce this with a neon sign.  Nicely done.

Recommended 14 up
Cussing, death, gay friends, grieving, kissing, pregnancy, sexual situations, star-trek sex.

The F*** It List

The F*** It List   by Julie Halpern
As our story opens, Alex is at her dad’s funeral when she learns that her very best friend forever, Becca, is having sex with Alex’s boyfriend.  Never mind that Alex really knows he is a jerk, this just isn’t BFF behavior.  Alex decides to avoid Becca for the remainder of the summer.

As their senior year opens, Alex finds out from another girl that Becca is not at school because she has cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma.  After school, Alex rekindles the BFF status with Becca, only to find that Becca, while hopeful for a cure, also has a bucket list, which they rename. (see the title)  

The catch:  since Becca won't be able to complete her list, Alex must now complete the list on behalf of Becca.

The list contains some easy items, like #7  Eat a hot pepper.  (in a charming scene with Alex’s younger brothers).

But it also contains some more interesting items like #20:  Masturbate  and #23:  Make love with someone you love and who’s in love with you.  

Along the way, Alex meets Leo, fortunately, a boy who smokes (#30:  Kiss a boy who smokes) who brings some harsh reality to Alex, who has still not really dealt with the death of her father, let alone the fact that her best friend might be dying.
The silly premise actually works into a very sweet book about two friends dealing with lots of high school issues in unusual ways.  It is funny, sad, and since it is high school, angsty.  Alex is not a heroine.  She is self-centered, tactless, and abrasive.  We love her as we watch her grow up.  Perhaps not an award winner, but a great summer read. 

One pique:  why aren’t these teens at least talking about unprotected sex????

Recommended 15 up.

Cussing (lots!) death, grieving, kissing, masturbation, sexual situations, star trek sex,