Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What Light

What Light by Jay Asher

At sixteen, Sierra is looking forward to spending Christmas in California again.  Her parents own a Christmas tree farm in Oregon, and every year before Thanksgiving, they follow the trees to LA to sell the trees on their lot.  She loves Oregon and her two best friends there, but also loves California and her best friend there.  Unfortunately, she knows this might be the last year: independent tree lots are becoming fewer, and the business might go bust.

Then she meets Caleb, a boy with a past filled with rumors and a very violent incident.

This feel-good Christmas story is just right for a Hallmark special.  Sierra’s own parents met at sixteen on this same tree lot.  Can’t Sierra have a happy-ever-after romance too?  Evidently she can.  And it IS Christmas.

Missing from the story is all the pith and conversation you experienced with Thirteen Reasons Why, for example.  There is little conflict.  When Sierra’s parents find out about Caleb’s past, they allow her to decide that he is not really a violent character.  The violent incident included a knife he pounded into his sister’s bedroom door.  The “trust” issue should skid to a halt with violence when it comes to parents dealing with sixteen-year-old dating.  Caleb never receives counseling, never is violent toward anyone again; in fact, he philosophically accepts all the abuse his friends and family heap on him.  But again, it’s Christmas.  The Light shines.

Sierra’s friends in Oregon want her home for a drama production where one of her best friends is suddenly the star.  “Just take a train,” they indicate.  While it doesn’t say where in California Sierra is, the northernmost city, Redding, (where there are lots of trees….) is over 19 hours to Portland.  Not very realistic, and causes a huge rift when Sierra decides not to go.

It is tough to recommend this book because of the possible dating violence when Caleb has never received any help, “Christmas season” and “redemption” aside.

Suffer Love

Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake

Told from the point of view of two teens, Hadley and Sam, in alternating chapters, we learn of two dysfunctional families.  Hadley’s parents are trying to piece their marriage back together after her father’s affair.  Sam has just moved into town with his mom and sister after mom’s affair.  Seems like a match.  Except that it was Sam’s mother who had the affair with Hadley’s father. 

While the teens’ struggles with their families is painful, it is also unreal.  This is the usual “teens are more mature than their dysfunctional parents” novel.  Not diminishing the stress the teens feel within their relationship, it is a titch unrealistic.  Sam and his sister know the truth of Hadley’s father and their mother, but Hadley does not.  In fact, Hadley deals with her father’s mess by drinking to get drunk, and going to bed with anyone who crooks their finger.  She treats Sam awfully just to keep him from getting too close. 

Throughout the novel, we wait for the “big reveal” and its aftermath.  Will the teens’ relationship survive?  The tension in the novel is the hook, and it works.

Peppered with Shakespeare references throughout lending an interesting quality to the novel.  But first, you have to buy into the premise.  Or not.  Teens will grab the story and not bother about the implausible story line.

Recommended for ages 14 and up

Totally Awkward Love Story

Totally Awkward Love Story by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Hannah and Sam meet in the bathroom of a party after exams in this British comedy. Each feels a connection, but need to leave before learning the other's name.  She goes off to lose her virginity, and he becomes “Toilet Boy," because that is where they met.   

Throughout the rest of the book, they keep finding and losing each other through lies, missed communication, and just plain stupidity. Each chapter was written alternatively by two separate authors, whose real-life story this was originally. In fact, it reads as if there are two separate diaries. Who wants to read their high school diary?  

Sam's first sexual encounter/explosion is really funny.   There are many raunchy jokes and a lot of swearing.  When these silly romantic kids finally get together, their their own first sexual encounter is cringe-worthy. There are relationship problems, ego problems, self-esteem problems, and of course, clueless parents.

The plot device using two authors has been done well elsewhere, but not here.  Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist (Rachel Cohen and David Levithan) was a better story with superior writing. 

This could have been a good story with cute subplots. Instead there is no character development for any of the teens, and subplots, while cute, add nothing to extend the story line. The continual use of the word "literally" will grate on your nerves.  It is literally a book teens will find funny, read the "naughty bits" to each other, and forget.  

For readers 10th grade and older.

Still Life with Tornado

Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King

At sixteen, Sarah has lost her ability to create artwork.  Her best friend Carmen is drawing tornadoes.  She tells Sarah that it is not a picture of the tornado itself, but of everything it scoops up and carries inside.  This metaphor for Sarah’s life allows us to see the chaos more clearly.  Sarah’s older brother has moved away and is no longer speaking to anyone in the family.  She would like to reach out to him, but cannot.  She refuses to go to school, and wanders the streets of Philadelphia, meets a homeless man, goes to an abandoned school- and then meets her ten-year-old self, her twenty-three-year-old self, and her forty-year-old self. 

This is more than a little confusing for the reader. Is Sarah crazy?  

Certainly she thinks she is.   Does she need a psychologist?  Should we just quit reading and toss the book as silly?  All of the Sarahs have information that Sarah needs to move on with her life.  Especially ten-year-old Sarah, who helps Sarah remember what happened before her brother left.  Then her mother also meets and talks to ten-year-old Sarah while Sarah is present. 

Somehow it just works:  all the Sarahs become magic that everyone simply accepts.  The plot device has been used before, and we accept it too, though.  We know Sarah has been lying to herself and want to see her pull through.   Sarah is a complex character, as is her mother, when King allows her into the plot.  If you can’t accept the magic, you probably won’t like the book.  For the rest of us, the story IS the tornado, and the characters worth the read.  This is a book that will make you think.

Recommended 13 up

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Like a River Glorious

Like a River Glorious  by Rae Carson (Gold Seer Trilogy #2)

Lee Westfall and her companions have arrived (mostly) safely, in California.  Soon Lee's "witchy" senses are detecting more gold than all of them will ever need--it's in the water, in the dirt, and in the rock walls above the small encampment they build.  

But the citizens of Glory are not the only gold seekers in California.  Her wicked uncle Hiram still hunts her, and he has plans for Lee that she has never dreamed, even in her worst nightmares.

Solid historical fiction with just a touch of magic.  The issues faced by the Chinese, the local native tribes, and the "confirmed bachelors" are not ignored, which is refreshing.  Of course the problems faced by women--considered akin to property or livestock by US and territorial law at the time--are essential to the story.

This is a fitting companion to Walk on Earth a Stranger, with some (not lots) of cussing, discussions of drug use (laudanum), and some referrals to prostitution (not shown on the page).  

Recommended for readers ages 12 to adult.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Learning to Swear in America

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy

Well, that Asteroid that is about to hit Earth could possibly be moved; or maybe it will only hit (and annihilate) the entire West Coast.  

And Russia has loaned us Yuri Strelnikov, the seventeen-year-old wonder-kid with a PHD in anti-matter.  

And we have 17 days to figure this out before it hits Earth.  (“The pizzas came in, smelling of oregano and despair.”)  

How do American scientists deal with this?  How does anyone, really, even Yuri?  Wouldn’t you swear?  

But the new girl, Dovie, a slightly pudgie hippie, (her words) won’t teach him.   He’ll just have to continue reciting the Nobel Prize winners, in order, for now.

Romance, impending doom, international intrigue, computer hacking (“Yuri nodded back, thinking that there was remarkably little security around the {Jet Propulsion Laboratory } computers, particularly considering what was at stake… but it had only taken him a cell phone and fifty seconds to hack in- not because he was a genius, but because he was a teenager.”), car chases/crashes, and witty dialog.  This is a movie waiting to happen.  Also not to be missed by science nerds, teenagers, and anyone who likes a great, fast-paced read.

recommended for ages 12 and up

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Girl From Everywhere

The Girl from Everywhere  by Heidi Heilig

I'm one of those readers who always skips over the maps embedded in books.  But to skip the maps in this book would be a big mistake.  The maps aren't just illustrations:  they are part of the story.

Nix was born in Honolulu around 1868 but she has spent her life on board her father's sailing ship Temptation, sailing across the world, across time, and across mythology itself.  She has seen magic and collected mythical artifacts like the caladrius bird that can cure any illness, sky herring from the clouds above legendary Skandia, and a bottomless bag that will carry anything, of any size.  

As long as the captain has a map for it, he can sail the ship to any place or time, real or imagined.

However, the combination of the captain's opium addiction and his obsession with Nix's dead mother are bound to take the Temptation into trouble.  If he succeeds with his goal of revisiting Hawaii before Lin's death, he might even erase Nix's entire life.

With a strong female narrator, a terrific premise, and a fabulous setting ("everywhere!"), this story is sure to be a hit with readers who enjoy a ripping adventure through mythology and history.  With a little less action (and much less blood) than either Bloody Jack (L.A. Meyer) or Pirates (Celia Rees), this book will still appeal to fans of both. There are a few intimate scenes but no body parts on stage--is there Star Trek Sex or not?  If so, it's pretty subtle. The reader will have to decide.

The audiobook, adeptly read by Kim Mai Guest, kept me in the truck and making excuses to drive places so I could listen.

Highly recommended.

Monday, October 3, 2016

WSL First Tuesdays webinar: here's the booklist!

Sex in the Library presented by Mary Jo Heller and Aarene Storms
·       Tuesday, October 4, 2016 from 9:00 – 10:00 a.m. PDT
Do you have sex in your library? If not, why not? The authors of Sex in the Library (VOYA, 2013) explain their unique and popular approach to talking to parents, teachers, administrators, and librarians about selection, public and school library missions, censorship, and the power of school and public librarians working together. This interactive webinar features an honest discussion of books and their intended audience. Participants will leave with clear knowledge of books discussed, guidelines for looking at others, and a list of the newest steamy books for teen readers.
First Tuesdays webinars are designed as a continuing-education opportunity for staff of libraries in Washington State. This free web presentation allows attendees to share their skills and successes and learn about new topics. The special-subject presentations, lasting about 60 minutes, are recorded so that others may listen at their own convenience.

Most titles have links to complete book reviews elsewhere on the SITL blog.

Deal With It : a whole new approach to your body, brain and life as a gurl by Esther Drill

George  by Alex Gino

Beauty Queens  by Libba Bray

If You Could Be Mine  by Sara Farizan

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children  by Kirstin Cronn-Miller

It Gets Better: coming out, overcoming bullying, and creating a life worth living  by Dan Savage and Terry Miller

Beyond Magenta: transgender teens speak out by Susan Kuklin

This Book is Gay  by James Dawson

Dime  by E.R. Frank

The Things You Kiss Goodbye  by Leslie Connor

Everything, Everything  by Nicola Yoon

Poisoned Apples: poems for you, my pretty  by Christine Heppermann

All the Truth That's In Me  by Julie Berry

Room: a novel  by Emma Donoghue

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Carry On: a novel  by Rainbow Rowell

All Our Yesterdays  by Cristin Terrill

Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Daughter of Smoke and Bone  by Laini Taylor

Divergent  by Veronica Roth

Learning to Swear in America  by Katie Kennedy

The Serpent King  by Jeff Zentner

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Serpent King

The Serpent King  by Jeff Zentner

Dill has two friends and two problems.

Dill's friends are Travis and Lydia. Travis is big, shy, kind, and so obsessed with his favorite sword-and-sorcery book that he can mostly ignore his lousy home life. Lydia is cute, smart, rich, upwardly mobile, and aimed OUT of the dinky backwater Tennessee town (named for a founding member of the KKK, wahoo!) where they all live.

Dill's problems are his name and his future. His name is Dillard Early, Jr, and he was named for his father, Dillard Early, Sr., (known locally as the Pervert Preacher), and for his papaw, (known locally as the Serpent King).  His future looks a lot like his present day, and that's not good.

Then something happens to make Dill's life unbearable.  The reader knows that something is going to change.  But...what?

If you think you know what will happen to the preacher's kid from "one of those crazy snake churches,"  you are probably wrong.  The journey is not predictable, and yet, it all makes sense. Extra stars for religious extremists who are deeper than the paper on which they are written, and for religious questioning without obvious answers.

You may see this book compared to the works of John Green, and while I understand the comparison, I also don't think this reads like a JG book.  It has some excellent (and some dreadful) parent characters, it has super-tough situations, there is kissing on the page.  But JG rarely touches religion, and I don't know if he could handle (pun intended) a snake church.

And if there's sex, I missed it.  It might have happened off-page.  In fact, I kind of hope it did.

Rivoting read; recommended for readers ages 12 to adult, and it definitely needs to be a movie!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Amazing Fantastic Incredible

Amazing Fantastic Incredible: a MARVELous memoir   by Stan Lee and Peter David and Colleen Doran

Of course Stan Lee's memoir is told in comic format.  

Mere print could never capture the exuberance, the ego, and the buoyant zest of the most legendary name in the history of comic books.  Stan Lee not only co-created many of Marvel Comics' most popular superhero characters like Spiderman, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk and the Uncanny X-men, he spent his long and prolific career writing, editing, promoting and publishing comic books and the comic book industry.  

Stan Lee narrates his own life story with the same bouncy, conversational narrative style that he uses when talking to groups at comic book conventions:  big gestures, big ideas, and lots and lots of enthusiasm for the fun life he has had.  He doesn't skip over the sad stuff or the hard stuff, but he doesn't dwell there, either.  There are lots of little anecdotes from his life and plenty of unexpected stories too, like the time he worked on a WWII US Army campaign to combat venereal disease (give yourself a giggle and do a Google Image search for "VD Not Me" to see some of the vintage posters created by the campaign).

The narrative reads like a brag sheet splashed with copious amounts of super-radioactive slime:  it's not great literature, but it is great fun.  There are mentions of sex and sexual situations, references to comic book violence, and plenty of scantily-clad female superheros pictured.  Plus a few epic superheros who turn green or burst into flame periodically.

Highly recommended.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

If You Could Be Mine

If You Could Be Mine  by Sara Farizan

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has shared kisses and romantic dreams of the future with her best friend Nasrin since they were little girls.  But modern Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love.  The punishment for homosexuality might be a beating, or it might be death by hanging.  So far, their love has stayed secret...but when Nasrin's family arranges a marriage for her, Sahar feels she must act.

Although homosexuality is a crime in Iran, transsexuality is not.  In fact, the government will pay for sexual reassignment.  Sahar knows she isn't really a man in a woman's body.  But, what if this is the only way she can ever be with Nasrin?

This absorbing peek into another culture features a wide cast of well-written characters:  Sahar, who loves Nasrin.  Nasrin, who loves candy, and Bollywood movies, and pretty clothes, and being the center of attention...and probably also loves Sahar.  Sahar's father, who still mourns for his wife and refuses to move forward with his life.  Sahar's cousin Ali, a gay man trying to find his place. Ali's friend Parveen, who tries to help Sahar sort things out.  And Reza, the doctor engaged to marry Nasrin, who is not as simple and two-dimensional as Sahar might wish.

Kissing, mild cussing, sexual decisionmaking and sexual situations.  Recommended for ages 14 to adult.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Guy in Real Life

Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

Lesh does not have romance on his mind as he staggers home drunk at 2:30am after a heavy metal concert in downtown Saint Paul.  He is thinking about his head, his guts, and the sidewalk, and how soon those three things are going to connect in vivid, pukey Technicolor.

That's why Lesh isn't watching where he's walking...and he walks right into Svetlana,

Svetlana isn't thinking about romance either.  She's riding her bicycle, thinking about her friends, and contemplating the amazing artwork she has created for the upcoming Gaming Club campaign...until Lesh wobbles into her path and sends them both sprawling into a puddle.

The collision of Lesh and Svetlana starts a series of events that might be reminiscent of a modern reboot of a 1970's television sitcom...until the plot takes a sudden twist and everything changes.

Lesh is so fascinated by Svetlana that he secretly creates a online MMO  character that looks just like her.  He even names his character "Svvetlana" (with two V's), and campaigns her up to level fifty, gaining power, virtual gold, and lots of magical online loot.

Lesh enjoys spending time with Svetlana (one V) in real life, but he also enjoys being Svvetlana (two V's) in the game.

What could possibly go wrong?

In alternating narrative voices (Lesh and Svetlana, and also the virtual warrior orc Kugnar and the virtual elf priestess Svvetlana), the story gradually stumbles and reels to an unexpected--and sort of wonderful--final chapter.

Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  Lesh is verbally misogynistic (calling girls "skanks" etc.) which is somewhat disturbing, especially considering his own gender questions.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Learning to Swear in America

Learning to Swear in America  by Katie Kennedy

Apparently, it's difficult to calculate how much stuff from space lands on Earth in an average year.  But in Learning to Swear in America, there's only one object that anybody worries about. 

Asteroid BR1019 is a big one.  Not kill-the-dinosaurs big, (probably), but destroy-the-West-Coast-of-America big (possibly).  That's why NASA has borrowed Russian teen physics prodigy Yuri Strelnikov:  in the hope that Yuri can save California with math.

Yuri's research in antimatter will win the next Nobel Prize (presumably), but he is still a seventeen-year-old boy and the NASA scientists are disinclined to listen to him.  That's enough to drive Yuri to use obscenities, if only he knew how.

With help from hippie-girl Dovie (who declines his offer of quick sex before the world goes cold) and her brother Lennon (who sees the world clearly from his seat in a wheelchair), Yuri learns how to swear.  

And then, Yuri (maybe) has a chance to save the world (or at least, California).

Highly recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.  An excellent pair for The Martian by Andy Weir with (significantly) fewer cuss words.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Into the River

Into the River  by Ted Dawe

Te Arepa Santos lives with his grandfather Ra, surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles, descendants of a Maori woman who married a heroic Spanish pirate.  The day that Te Arepa encounters the giant eel in a haunted stream, his life changes.  Soon Te Arepa, like his piratical ancestor Diego Santos, will leave his family home and his traditions.  Soon, he is on his way to an exclusive boy's boarding school in Auckland.

Into the River was the first book ever to be banned in New Zealand, although that country has much stricter "decency standards" than we have here in America.  The book wasn't even banned when it was first published; actually, it spent two years picking up prestigious awards like the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year first.  Then it got rated "for mature readers ages 14+".  Then it was banned entirely: not available for sale to any reader in New Zealand at all (although sales of the international Kindle edition went up as readers circumvented the ban).

Why all the fuss?  That's what I wondered.  So I read it.

The story contains sexual situations--including naked body parts, masturbation and intercourse--on the page.  There is cussing, and drug use.  There is homosexuality, bullying, underage drinking, suicide, lawless behavior and rampant racism. 

My verdict:  the censors in New Zealand really need to get out more.

In other words, Into the River contains nothing we haven't seen in teen lit before.  Why this particular book bothered the outspoken members of Family First, I cannot say.  

Unfortunately for my feelings of unfettered righteousness, I did not love the book.  

Not because I object to sexual content in teen books (obviously) but rather because I thought that the main character had tremendous potential as a young Maori man entering Western society...and he quickly turned as mainstream as the bullies around him.  


While the first half of the book raced along with the glory of Maori words footnoted on each page, the last half trudged inexorably towards the main character's expulsion from school.   

Buy this to diversify your collections, or to demonstrate the power of censorship (sales soared!), but if you want to read a great coming-of-age story of Maori New Zealand, you may have to write it yourself.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Walk on Earth a Stranger

Walk on Earth a Stranger  by Rae Carson

For her own safety, and to elude capture by the wicked uncle she is sure murdered her parents back at their little homestead cabin in Georgia, Leah disguises herself as a boy and flees West, to California and the gold recently discovered there.

While travelling, Lee must not only conceal her true identity, but also her most dire secret:  she can sense the presence of gold.  Small nuggets, deeply buried veins, gold buttons or rings, and even gold dust caught under a fingernail call to Lee like a sweet song.  She knows that some would call this talent "witchcraft."  She also knows that in California, her power might make her very, very rich.

But first, she has to get there.

With rich, round characters and plenty of fascinating little historical details, Lee's engrossing journey from Georgia to California kept me turning pages.

Some blood, some violence, and some cussing but no sex...so why is this book presented on the SEX IN THE LIBRARY blog?

I'm so happy you've asked!

The author includes a small group of  men in the wagon train group headed west.  Without much detail provided, it is clear to the astute reader (and made more clear by the author's note at the end of the story) that these are, in fact, gay men.  It is not a huge plot point, and that's the beauty of it:  at last, teen literature has matured to the point where a character's sexual preferences are no longer the Central Issue of a book.  In fact, the young men's status as "confirmed bachelors" is less of a conflict point than the status of another character who is Presbyterian instead of Methodist.  These details are important, but they are not The Problem.

The story clearly leads to a sequel, but stands alone with a satisfying point of pause while we wait, patiently (or not) for the next volume.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

I am Princess X

I am Princess X  by Cherie Priest

May is still mourning her best friend Libby, who died a couple of years ago when the car went off a bridge.

But maybe Libby didn't die.

The comic character created by the girls, a princess with blue hair, red Chuck Taylors and a katana suddenly shows up in graffiti all over Seattle.  Then, May finds clues hidden in a webcomic: clues that lead her all over town, with a trail that might end with the discovery of a hiding, still-alive Libby.

This quick-moving story is interspersed with pages from the Princess X comic, and features action, adventure, friendship, mystery, and NO ROMANCE.  Extra points for racial and gender diversity among characters that does not feel forced or tokenistic.  

Things get a little name-droppy in the Seattle department, but at least the author used to live here and understands that just because there's a Starbucks on every corner doesn't mean that most natives actually buy coffees there.  

Recommended for readers of print and graphic novels, ages 12 to adult.  

Monday, April 18, 2016


Swagger  by Carl Deuker

Jonas Dolan doesn't have a lot of post-high-school prospects until a canny basketball coach helps him improve his game--and his grades.  For the first time, Jonas considers going to college.  But then the family moves from California to Seattle, and all the friends, coaches and teachers supporting Jonas are too far away to help much.

In Seattle, Jonas finds a new friend.  Levi is also a talented basketball player, but halfway through the season, Jonas discovers why Levi seems so withdrawn and depressed, especially when Coach Hartwell is nearby.  Although Levi begs his friend to keep quiet and pretend that nothing is wrong, Jonas knows that he will need to do something.

But, what?

Excellent characters facing a truly horrible situation.  I even read   made sense of    didn't die during the basketball sequences.  (Basketball lovers will love the basketball parts.  Me, not so much.)  Overall, a strong story, recommended for readers (especially sports fans) ages 14 to adult.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Reckless (series)

Reckless  by Cornelia Funke

Jacob Reckless is 12 years old when he discovers the secret in his father's abandoned study:  a mirror that can transport him into a magical world of fairies, witches, dwarves and shapeshifters.  He spends  twelve years exploring and exploiting the magic, and thinks less and less often of his sickly mother and lonely younger brother...until the day that younger brother Will finds the mirror portal and immediately falls into trouble in the Mirrorworld.

German author Cornelia Funke's skillful blend of traditional magic tropes (child-eating witches, enchanted apples, princesses spelled to sleep until kissed awake) and fantastically horrible original creatures fills the quest to save Will from certain doom with a dark (very dark) charm.  

This series was originally cataloged and shelved with the children's collection at KCLS; on review, the series will be shifted to the teen collection due to adult characters, somber themes, blood and violence, and references to sexual situations in later volumes.  It is much darker and more violent than this author's Inkheart series...and it is possibly a stronger story because of the darkness.

Highly recommended for ages 12 to adult.  

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Orbiting Jupiter

Orbiting Jupiter  by Gary D. Schmidt
Jack is twelve years old when his foster brother comes to live with the family on their little farm in Maine.  Joseph Brook is fourteen years old, recently released from a facility called Stone Mountain.  And he has a daughter named Jupiter, whom he loves deeply although he has never seen her.

The story is slowly revealed, in tiny, agonizing bits.  Jack narrates with clear eyes and a farm boy's practicality:  that you can tell all you need to know about someone from the way cows are around him.  That leaving a guy to get beat up while you go find a teacher is not okay.  And that being family means you've got somebody's back.

Just when things are looking brighter for Joseph, the end of the book comes crashing down.

What this book is: sweet. compelling. impossible to ignore.
What this book is not: easy.

Highly recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Rebel Mechanics

Rebel Mechanics:  all is fair in love and revolution  by Shanna Swendson

The year is 1888.

In our history, the American colonies broke away from England more than a century earlier, but in this timeline, the British still rule the New World colonies because the magisters control all access to magic that provides power for everything from wool mills to private cars.  But now an underground rebel group is developing alternative energy sources:  electricity, steam, and other fuels that require no magic and are available to everyone, regardless of social class.

Young Verity Newton has come to New York City to work as a governess, and finds herself immediately surrounded by the factions of the rebellion.  Her employer, handsome Henry Lyndon, seems sympathetic to the scientific cause, although he is a magister by birthright.  Her new friends, Lizzie, Nat, and the dazzlingly handsome Alec, are outright rebel mechanics.  Where does Verity belong...and with whom?

The annoying romantic triangle resolves soon enough (whew) and the action sustains the narrative throughout.  This is a ripping good adventure, and probably first in a series.  No cussing, small amounts of blood, a few kisses, and plenty of scientific curiosity. Recommended for readers ages 14 to adult.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rebel of the Sands

Rebel of the Sands  by Alwyn Hamilton

Amani has great plans to get out and away:  out of Dustwalk, away from the mines.  Out of the desert and away from the bullies.  Out of her uncle's reach, away from a husband who might be chosen for her.

Nothing goes according to Amani's plan, and the adventure begins: a windswept mixture of Arabian Nights and the Wild Wild West, with secret heroes, a train robbery, desert horses made from sand and magic, and a concealed oasis.

All this, and romance too, with a strong-willed main character and a colorful cast of supporting folks including the Rebel Prince, shape-shifting twins, and many hidden secrets.

First in a series--but the story does not stop on a cliffhanger, which is nice.

Recommended for ages 12 to adult; no cussing, some blood, a few kisses, no sex (yet).

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl  by Jesse Andrews

Senior Greg Gaines has planned out his last year at Benson High School:  he's going to keep an insanely low profile, make lousy films, and survive until June.

It's good to have a plan.  A plan makes excellent traction when you crumple it up and drive over it.

And that is, essentially, what happens Greg's plan.  His mom greets him at the end of Senior Year Day 1 and tells him that Rachel has cancer, and that he, Greg, will go and befriend her.

If this was a regular book about cancer, Greg and his friends and family would learn a touching lesson about the sweetness of life and the bitterness of death.  If this was a book by John Green you would need three boxes of tissues just to face the world after the final page.

But it isn't.  Here are a few lines from the final chapter, just to give you a taste of the narrative voice:

...doesn't mean I'll be making a film out of this book.  There is no way in hell that is going to happen.  When you convert a good book to a film, stupid things happen.  God only knows what would happen if you tried to convert this unstoppable barf-fest into a film.  The FBI would probably have to get involved.  There's a chance you could consider it an act of terrorism....

Greg's sarcastic, self-deprecating voice throughout the story rings true to anyone who has ever been a teen--or even spoken to a teen lately.  However, Earl nearly steals the show several times.  I won't quote any lines from Earl, partly because I don't want to spoil the fun of reading Earl in context, and partly because he cusses so much that every other word would be bleeped.  And that is absolutely all I will say about Earl, except maybe this:

Great story, great characters, buckets of cussing and talking about sexual situations, but no bare skin except sometimes the bald head of Rachel, which looks (according to Greg and Earl) like Darth Vader when he takes his helmet off:  "insanely white, like it had been boiled, and sort of veiny and lumpy."  Not exactly an erotic image, but hey:  cancer isn't very pretty.

Oh, and by the way:  there is a movie. 

 And according to folks at Sundance, the movie didn't totally suck.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Carry On

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • A boy magician, identified at age 11 as "the Chosen One" and taken away to a magical British school
  • A series of books about the boy and his friends as they battle the enemy of all Wizard-kind
  • Lots of magic, magical creatures, action, adventure, mystery, and good vs evil

You know the boy I'm talking about, right?  Yes!  It's Simon Snow!

Wait.  What?

Simon Snow's evil roommate Baz says that Simon is probably the worst Chosen One ever chosen, and he's probably right.  Most of the time Simon doesn't know what his magic is going to do...if it does anything.  His magic wand is a hand-me-down, his spell casting is capricious, and although the Sword of Mages comes to his hand sometimes when he needs it, it's never reliable.

And then there's Baz:  rich.  pale.  mysterious.  wicked.  and a vampire.

Wait.  What?

The reader joins Simon and Baz mid-story, after they have already survived adventures in six other books fighting chimeras, goblins, bone-teeth hunters...and each other.  Unlike that other series of books about a boy magician in a magical school, this series has never been written.  And Carry On isn't the series itself either, it's a fan-fiction novel.

Keep up, will you?

Only Rainbow Rowell could write a fanfic salute to a series that she invented as a "prop" for a different novel...and only Rainbow Rowell would start by writing the end of the story but not the beginning!

And just wait until you get to the romance between Simon and XXXXXXXX    ....oops.  Sorry, no spoilers here.

Fast-paced adventure and a flawed hero with flawed friends, awesome love story and terrific world-building.  

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Last Leaves Falling

The Last Leaves Falling  by Sarah Benwell

18-year-old Abe Sora lives in modern-day Kyoto with his mom...and with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).  He is dying, and he's scared.

Sora derives some comfort from a book of haiku poems written by ancient samurai warriors, but is helped even more by the love of his mom, his grandparents, and new friends Mai and Kaito, whom he met online.  As Sora's body fails him, he must face the knowledge that, as much as he longs to face his future with dignity, soon he will have no control over his life or death.  He makes a plan, and he asks Mai and Kaito to help.

The sparse language of the story is perfectly suited to the character of Sora and his love of both haiku poetry and Hayao Miyazaki's animated movies.  Neither of these forms wastes time or syllables to explain a situation, but rather depends on the intuition of the reader/viewer.  So it is with Last Leaves, in which characters meet online and form a strong friendship (and possibly a romance between Mai and Kaito!) without a bunch of exposition from the author.  

Sora's end-of-life choices may be distressing to some readers and objectionable to others.  However, the grace of the telling is undeniable.  This is an excellent book for discussion.