Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Stars Never Rise

The Stars Never Rise    by Rachel Vincent  
Delacorte Press, 2015.  978-0-385-74417-1.  $17.99.  359p

Sixteen-year-old Nina and her sister Melanie struggle to survive while their mother is strung out on drugs sleeping all day.  

In this dystopian world, the Church rules everyone through the fear of demons, purity, and people who must die to “gift” their soul to a new baby (all born without a soul.) 

Nina is an exorcist and must try to save her sister, now pregnant without consent of the church, and without being married.  And of course, save herself since all “real” exorcists are rogue. Including the really cute boy with amazing green eyes.  

This wild ride of a novel is the first in a series, which might be good, since the book raises more questions than it answers.  Woven in through the novel are people who inhabit dual bodies, sexual situations, lots of innocent dead bodies, and of course, demons.  

Because of the world setting, there was a lot of information to get across, and some of that bogged the story down.  The twists are nicely done, and your nerves will be raw by the end.

Recommended 14 up

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Joyride   by Anna Banks
Feiwell and Friends, 2015.  978-1-250-03961-3  $1799.  276p

Carly Vegas lives with her older brother, going to school and working at night, helping to earn enough money to pay the smuggler who will bring her parents and younger twin siblings back across the border.  

She needs to keep a low profile, not attracting attention because what they are doing is obviously illegal.  She needs school to get a real job, a good college, and  move ahead. Her life revolves around school, grades, and work.  So why then, does she keep finding herself going out with Arden Moss, son of the local sheriff?

The attraction of the two opposites, we know, will lead to disaster.  It is impossible not to watch and root for the two.  While it is heartening to see racism addressed in YA lit, the sheriff father’s racist reactions to Mexicans is just too stereotypical.  Carly’s reactions to racism in the book are spot-on.  She is a smart, capable heroine who has goals and sticks with them.   Arden is a less-defined character.  Although likable, he carries lots of baggage, dealing with it in inappropriate ways.  There is growth on his part, but in the long run, life is too easy for him.  Even Carly comments on this.

The ending is too swift, too pat to be believable.  Although this was a Quick Pick, many teens will find that it drags in the middle.  It is also sad that Banks uses the need to make money as a reason why the family promotes a “you shouldn’t care about school” attitude. 

Despite these problems, the book is still a good read.
recommended 12 up

This Raging Light

This Raging Light   by Estelle Laurie.  
Houghton Mifflin, 2016.978-0-544-53429-2.  $17.99.  288p

“These are all the things Mom did while nobody noticed.  I notice her now.  I notice her isn’t.  I notice her doesn’t.”

In her senior year, Lucille gets her little sister Wren ready to begin 4th grade.  It appears that their mom has left them, although she declared that she “just needed a vacation.” Dad is in an alcoholic rehab. 

During the rest of the book, Lucille deals with keeping their family together, facing all the things you need to do as part of a routine:  making breakfast, making a lunch your sister loved yesterday but hates today, doing laundry so you have clean clothes.  Lucille is determined, but has difficulty keeping away adults who notice.  While she can keep Wren’s teacher at bay with notes and visits, excusing her mom, she can do little about the dwindling money.  Then things fall more apart:  best friend Eden stops talking to her; the car dies.  She gets a job with little trouble, but without Eden babysitting, Wren is a problem.

Then there is Digby, the twin of her best friend.  Who has a girlfriend.  For whom she has fallen.  The fact that he helps her with babysitting Wren and is just NICE doesn’t help. 

Lucille deals with her issues like any overloaded teen:  guilt, over-compensation, and overwork.  She loves Wren, but understandably hates their circumstances and the fact that she can’t deal with what should be adult issues.  She is in uncharted territory,  at home, at work, and with the non-boyfriend boyfriend.  Lucille deals with it all in a humorous, teen angsty, even poetic, way.  Everyone itries on the adult persona, and fails– then tries again.  And again.

Recommended 12 up


Invincible  by Amy Reed
Katherine Tegen Books, 2015.  978-0-06-22957-4.  $17.99.  325 p.

Evie is a patient in a teen cancer ward.  

She has had Ewing’s Sarcoma for most of her life, and feels more at home in the hospital with her fellow patients.  Like any teen, she wants to act out.  Stella is only too happy to help her.  Stella becomes Evie’s outlandish roll model until they escape the hospital for a day and Stella dies.  Evie falls into despair, as she knows her own death is also imminent.  This is a 3 kleenex box portion of the book.

Suddenly, Evie’s cancer disappears!  She goes home, finds that she is a stranger at home, at school, with the boyfriend who has stuck by her, and in her mind.  She can’t shake the depression, and falls into prescription drug abuse.  Her parents too have spent so much of their lives dealing with imminent death, that they become pretty ineffectual.   Evie also meets Marcus, who is scarred in different ways, and while he tries to help Evie, the descent is horrifying to watch.

Reed creates real characters.  This is not Fault in our Stars.  It is a visceral reaction to finding that you are going to live after years of preparing for death.   Tough themes are tackled with grace and realism, adding to the difficulty in placing this book in a school library.  We can’t read only tearful, sweet stories of death and acceptance.  This is the real world.

Set for a sequel, we will not read how Evie’s story ends until next summer.

Recommended 14 up.

Dark Shimmer

Dark Shimmer by Napoli, Donna Jo
Wendy Lamb books, 2015.  978-0385746557.  $16.99.  369p.

Dolce (Sweet) is a fifteen-year-old girl who lives as a “giant” among a race of dwarves on the island of Torcello outside Venice during the Middle Ages.  

Most babies born who are not dwarves are taken from the parents.  Dolce’s mother could not stand to do that, but when her mother dies, Dolce leaves the island, finding refuge on a neighboring island inhabited by monks- and a family visiting there.  The father, a widower, falls in love and marries Dolce, who becomes a loving mother to his daughter, Bianca.  (White) This is the story of how Snow White’s stepmother became the wicked witch.

 On Torcello, Dolce learned how to make mirrors, and does so in Venice, first to become accepted in society, and later to purchase and free any dwarf who has become a slave.  The problem is, of course, that the quicksilver used in mirrors  caused one to descend into madness. 

While Dolce is a sympathetic character, she quickly becomes so stereotyped that we are reduced to a reader of any fairy tale book.  Bianca is not well developed, and Marin, the husband, barely exists.  His sister Angnola becomes the most interesting character in the book. 

The story follows the original fairy tale, and we turn pages only because we want to see how Napoli will play out the tale we know, not because we are invested in the characters.  The story reads as an impersonal fairy tale:  still a good tale, just a forgettable one.  Napoli has turned many fairy tales into novels, some of which have been well done (Sirena, Breath, Beast [both versions.])

Recommended 12 up

A Thousand Nights

A Thousand Nights  by Johnston, E.K.
 Hyperion, 2015.  978-1-4847-2227-5.  $18.99.  295p.

The story of Lo-Melkhiin is a cross between 1001 Arabian nights and Beauty and the Beast.  

In order to save her sister, ­­­­­the protagonist, called Al-ammiyyah (Common,) volunteers to be the 301st bride of Lo-Melkhiin., a king who is consumed by a demon.   Each night she tells a story of her life in the desert, is not afraid of her husband, and is alive the next morning.  During her castle wanderings, she finds that she has magic of her own and vows to free the monster and save the king.

This is a Middle East tale.  The desert comes so alive, we can smell and taste it.  The inherent sexism of the tribes does not seem so misogynistic, but filled with the understanding, and constant power of women.  A-ammiyyah’s tales show the power of the women around her, even over men.  However, the book reads like a fairy tale- where the reader does not really become involved with the characters, and while it is a wonderfully told story, the reader doesn’t make you feel any of the characters’ lives are important in a human sense, as fairy tales are wont to do.


Dime  by Frank, E.R.
Atheneum, 2015.  978-1-4814-3160-6.  $17.99.  314p
Thirteen-year-old Dime has been in the Foster Care System, and has been abused by it.  

She decides to run away, unfortunately trusting the first "nice" man who offers her help.  As she slowly realizes that she is being groomed as a prostitute, she also believes that this is her “family.”  She has food, a good place to sleep, and “sisters.”  When the world again falls apart, it is so difficult to watch.

Human trafficking is a popular theme currently, and this slight book brings that home once again through human interaction.  Dime is thirteen.  There are many girls in middle school like her.  The sexual situations are not graphic, but still real.  The book is not without hope, but hope is only in the background.  Dime has so much to overcome that the sheer weight threatens to drag both you and her down.

For teens looking for the feelings involved with the “why” of a teen becoming a prostitute.  Difficult to read, but important to discuss and understand.  Frank has long produced gritty, well-written novels. This BBYA selection is no exception.  It is an important book to read and discuss.  Dime’s voice will stay in your mind for a long time.

Recommended 13 up

99 Days

99 Days by Cotugno, Katie
Balzer & Bray, 2015.  978-0-06-221638-0.  $17.99  372p.  $17.99.

Molly Barlow has returned from her senior year, spent at a boarding school.  She left because of an incident involving two brothers:  one she was dating (the twin of her best friend) and one with whom she had sex.  Understandably she lost her best friend and her boyfriend.   Not understandably, her author mom used the incident to create a best-selling book so now the entire (small) town knows.  

Molly has come home to simply survive the summer before going to college.  However, the town will not let the incident rest.

Molly is hired by a newcomer who is renovating the local resort, and finds that she has a talent for this possible career.   She also finds that Patrick, her former boyfriend, has a new girlfriend, now working at the resort.  Gabe, the older brother, seems to want to befriend her, possibly being more.  Molly, needing a friend, wanting love, is pulled emotionally by both boys- again- all the while knowing it could end in disaster.

Molly is a great flawed character.  She is an intriguing, strong-willed, normal teenager.  As she alternately pulls herself into a new life and falls back into the old one, she grows as a person.  The “why” of having sex with Gabe to begin with is shrugged off, never fully explained, and remains a flaw in the story.  The character of Patrick also did not ring true, and could have been more developed. Nevertheless, we the reader develop from feeling sorry for, but not sympathetic to Molly, to cheering for her in the unexpected ending!

Recommended 8th up.

Love Fortunes and Other Disasters

Love Fortunes and Other Disasters  by Kimberly Karalius
Feiwel and Friends, 2015. 978-1-250-04720-5.  Paperback, 9.99.

Fallon Dupree is attending Grimbaud High- a Boarding School where her family has attended for generations.  

The town personifies LOVE.  Every place, every shop, every statue, every Thing is devoted to Love.  When you arrive at school, you receive your love fortune from Zita’s Love Charms Shop.  They are never wrong.  Generations of her family have found their true love here, through the fortune.  

When Fallon receives a fortune saying “your love will never be requited,” she is devastated- and decides to fight against it- joining a small group who believe Zita’s hold on the town must be broken.

This is a cute, sweet story with some interesting twists- some you see coming; others are more subtle.   An easy read that will make you chuckle, then very forgettable.  Simple kissing makes it appropriate for 6th/7th/8th grade. There are discussion questions for book groups in the end papers.  The message that your first love as a 9th grader will be your love forever, however, is just plain nauseating. 

Kissing, some violence, lots of LOVE!