Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wish You Were Dead

By Todd Strasser
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Rating: 4 stars

When popular girl Lucy Cunningham disappears, everyone in the elite community of Soundview is surprised, but no one fears foul play. Not until the days begin to stretch out and no one calls for a ransom demand. Madison is particularly worried since she was one of the last people to see Lucy before her disappearance. Then Madison receives a note, warning she might be the next to disappear. She also is harried by an online stalker, PBleeker. And what about Tyler, the attractive new student who seems to be obsessed with books on serial killers? Is he trustworthy? Or is he hiding more information than he is sharing? Str-S-d, a girl who writes a blog, is also concerned--she wished Lucy dead on her blog and now she's gone. And when the next person she names also disappears, Str-s-d can't deny that there seems to be a connection. Who is behind these disappearances? And why? Madison knows that time is running out for her missing friends. Can she figure out the culprit before it is too late for them and herself? This is a very engaging thriller of a story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats as they try to unscramble the clues they have to figure out who is behind the crime.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


By Malinda Lo
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Fans of fairy tale retellings will have much to cheer about in this excellent twist on Cinderella. Ash (Aisling) is devastated when her mother dies, and takes refuge in the fairy tales and stories she used to tell, and even wonders if some of them could be true. Do fairies really exist? Then her father remarries, bringing two stepsisters into the mix, and true to the Cinderella story, soon Ash is a servant in what was her home. But when she goes into the Wood for solace, she meets Sidhean, an actual fairy. He is beautiful in an unearthly sense, and Ash is drawn strongly to him. Her life is so miserable that she wishes he would take her away with him to his land. But although Sidhean also seems to desire Ash, he tells her the time is not ripe. Ash returns to her miserable life, but one day she meets the King's Huntress who commands the Royal Hunt. Kaisa is kind to Ash, treating her not as servant but as an equal, and the two strike up a friendship as Kaisa teaches Ash how to ride. When Kaisa asks Ash to participate in the first hunt of the season, Ash wants to accept but how can she escape her stepmother? She goes to Sidhean for help, but he warns that if he does help her, Ash will have to pay by going off with him forever. Ash is willing to pay the price...or is she? Is she ready to give up this world for one so different and unknown, even if Sidhean is with her? What about her feelings for Kaisa? And can one every escape a fairy bargain? Readers will be drawn into Ash's world and will eagerly turn the pages until the very last one. Fabulous storytelling of a familiar fairy tale with a dark side.

Monday, December 14, 2009


By Scott Westerfield
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Readers won't want to put down this fast-moving adventure mixing history with science fiction to create "steampunk." If you took the historical events surrounding World War I and mixed them with more advanced war machinery and genetic experimentation far ahead of its time, you'd get this story. Alek is the son of the Archduke Ferdinand and his commoner wife, the heads of Austria. When the archduke is murdered, teenage Alek (as heir to the throne) and a few loyal retainers must flee for their lives to neutral Switzerland, with Germans in hot pursuit. Meanwhile, Deryn is a girl who loves flying. She has disguised herself as a boy so she can join the British air forces, something women were outlawed from at the time. The British have seized upon creating different creatures out of DNA strands, including flying jellyfish, and Leviathan--an airborne whale-ship cross which uses many other creatures like bats and bees to keep its hydrogen panels full. Can't picture it? Don't worry, the book is littered with illustrations to help your imagination along. As Alek dodges his would-be killers, Deryn finds herself a midshipman on the Leviathan which is bound to Europe to help out in this new war. But when the Leviathan crashes near Alek's hiding place, it is destined for the two to meet and to form an alliance. The action is non-stop and we are left with some questions and a bit of cliffhanger, eager for the next installment in the series. Thumbs up!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bewitching Season

By Marissa Doyle
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Persephone (Persy) and Penelope (Pen) Leland are twin girls ready to face their first "coming out" season in pre-Victorian age London, a husband-hunting jaunt that Persy finds particularly nervewracking to contemplate. But these twins are no ordinary girls--they are both able to do magic and have, in fact, been taking magic lessons with their governess for years--a fact they are proud of, but must keep hidden from everyone else. But then, right before they get to London, their governess Ally disappears--supposedly on private business, but both girls and Ally's family get the sense that she was taken somewhere against her will. They trace her whereabouts to Kensington Palace where the queen-to-be, Victoria, lives. But how could they possibly find a way to search the palace? And why would Ally be there in the first place? Add to this mystery Lochnivar, a childhood friend of the family, who Persy finds herself falling firmly in love with. But convinced he may be interested in her twin, Persy casts a love spell and is dismayed to find it actually seems to be working! She doesn't really want Lochnivar to love her against his will--so miserably, she does her best to put him off. While Persy and Pen work through the London season of balls and parties, they also do their best to find Ally and soon discover that when they do, it will put themselves in grave danger as well. Readers who particularly like talk of dresses and outfits will especially be happy with the portions of the book devoted to such chat, while those who enjoy the plot will be interested to see how and where the story ends. With magic and romance in heavy helpings, many a girl will enjoy this book.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Catching Fire

By Suzanne Collins
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 4 3/4 stars

This is the second book in the Hunger Games series and we pick up where the first book left off. Now that Peeta and Katniss have won the games, they are living privileged lives in beautiful homes with plenty to eat. But Katniss feels hollow--she has no purpose, no reason to sneak into the woods and hunt, and Peeta will barely look at her after he learned about her pretense of love during the games. And her relationship with Gale is even more confusing--is there romance there or not? Then President Snow pays a call on Katniss to inform her that rebellion has been brewing in the other Districts due to the way she showed up the government during the games. He threatens the lives of everyone she cares about if she can't calm the masses during her and Peeta's victory tour and convince him and the world that she and Peeta are truly in love. Katniss does her best, but is sickened by the government's deathgrip on the people who seem buoyed up by her appearances, even wearing her mockingjay pin symbol themselves. But her best is not enough, and President Snow has another trick up his sleeve--a trick that promises to bring about the end of Katniss and everything she holds dear. Readers MUST have finished The Hunger Games to have a prayer of following this story, but it is well worth everyone's while for this series continues to be brutal, intense, psychological and downright mesmerizing as we follow Katniss down to the cliffhanger of an ending that will have fans panting for book 3.


By John Feinstein
Genre: Sports Story (baseball)
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Fans of Stevie and Susan Carol, the young sportswriters, will be thrilled to see them return to investigate another mystery at a major sporting event. This time, the pair are at the World Series, covering the Washington Nationals versus the Boston Red Sox. Stevie quickly realizes that Norbert Doyle, a late call up of a minor league pitcher--is a great story and manages to catch an interview with him and his kids before the big news breaks--Norbert is actually going to be a starter in the World Series! In his interview, Doyle mentions that his wife was killed by a drunk driver years ago, but when Stevie and Susan Carol hear a slightly different story, wheels begin to turn in their heads. Then Doyle's son David confides something in Susan Carol that she is not at liberty to repeat and even through Stevie's jealousy, he realizes something isn't quite right about Doyle and his story. Bobby Kelleher, Stevie's mentor, sends him down to Lynchburg, Virginia to dig up the truth of the car accident and as he digs into Doyle's past, the details become more and more confused. What really did happen on the night that Norbert Doyle's wife died, and why is it being covered up? And what should Stevie and Susan Carol do about it? Plenty of baseball fills in the action around this bit of investigative reporting, and readers will be reluctant to put the book down. A good sports read!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

By Mick Cochrane
Genre: Sports Story (baseball)
Rating: 4 stars

In this quiet and introspective story, eighth-grader Molly can throw butterflies, otherwise known as the knuckleball pitch. Her father had taught her over long hours in the backyard and Molly loves throwing that pitch. But now, six months after her father has died in a car crash, Molly doesn't know how to fit baseball into her life. She tried playing softball, but it wasn't the same game. Nothing is the same since her father died--her family feels broken and her mother doesn't even seem to try and understand her. Then Molly gets an idea--she decides to try out for the baseball team, which is, of course, full of boys. And as she goes through try outs, Molly finds she has to learn brand new things about the game as well as some brand new things about herself as some of the boys make room for her and others strike out at the lone girl trying out a man's game. If she survives try outs, can baseball heal her heart? With plenty of baseball action, readers will root for Molly to do her best. A book with a lot of the beauty in baseball to it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tales of the Madman Underground

By John Barnes
Genre: Realistic
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Karl Shoemaker goes into the first day of senior year with a goal: Operation Be F---ing Normal. For the first time ever, he wants to get out of the therapy group he has to attend every week and just be a normal kid. Forget about the 4 jobs he works, his alcoholic promiscuous mother, his house filled with a dozen or so cats, his dead father, and the nowhere town of Lightsburg, Ohio. But actually avoiding his best friend Paul, also one of the Madmen (their nickname for the therapy group), is more painful than he would like. Then new girl Marti joins the group and chooses Karl to let her know what is what in Small Town, USA and as he recounts stories of the Madmen, Karl begins to think some things about belonging to the group aren't quite so bad. On these first six days of the new school year, Karl will have more happen to him than might happen to the rest of us in a year, but through it all, Karl realizes there are more important things than just being normal. At times achingly painful and at others rolling on the floor funny, you can't help but like Karl and many (although not all) of his Madmen friends. There's some disturbing issues brought up as well as sex, drugs and smoking for those who don't like that kind of thing. But it is also a fast-moving read that propels itself along to a finish that can't be called happy but it can be called hopeful. Guys will especially like this book, but girls will be glad to have read it, too. Thumbs up!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Highwayman's Footsteps

By Nicola Morgan
Genre: Historical Fiction/Adventure
Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Will is an upperclass teen, never thinking twice about his priveleged life until he runs away from home and steals another's purse to get by. But his life really begins when he is held up by a highwayman. Just when Will thinks he will be killed, the highwayman collapses and Will discovers it is really just a girl, his own age, gravely injured. Almost against his judgement, Will decides to try and care for the girl--partially out of a need to do the right thing and partially out of loneliness for his new situation in life. As Will and Bess become allies and then slowly, friends, Will learns about her history of being the daughter of a highwayman and an innkeeper's daughter, both unjustly killed by redcoats. Will's new life is fraught with danger, as he ends up chased by the redcoats, harboring fugitives, and accepting life as a highwayman himself. There is quite a bit of danger and excitement in this life, and Will spends a great deal of time questioning his old existence and what he didn't know about the lives of the poor and lowborn. This is a quick moving story with likeable characters that those who like some historical fiction will eat up in a few big bites.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tender Morsels

By Margo Lanagan
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 3 1/2 stars

This well-written retelling of Snow White and Rose Red is filled with flawed and compelling characters that pull the story along. Liga is a 15 year old girl who has been abused by her father and then later, after his death, a gang of town boys. In desperation, Liga manages to create her own heaven--a world that is based on the one she lives in, but without any of the horrible people or "bad" things--a safe place to raise her 2 daughters. But when a dwarf and then a couple of bears who act unnervingly human intrude upon the family over time, the younger daughter, Urdda, realizes other worlds may exist. One day, Urdda's curiousity enables her to push through to the real world. And that signals the beginning of the end of Liga's heaven. But can a family used to heaven exist in the real world? An unwary reader may pick up this book and think it might be a charming retelling of a fairy tale, as so many of them are. But beware! The world that Lanagan creates is filled with brutality, prejuidice, rape, abuse and worse. Be prepared to deal with the heavy issues that infuse the real world and hurt and confuse our beloved characters. A powerful book, but not one for every reader. Try it if you dare!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Edge on the Sword

By Rebecca Tingle
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

In this excellent bit of medieval history set in the 800's in Great Britain, 15 year old Aethelflaed is the daughter of the West Saxon King Alfred. She is happy living her quiet life becoming educated in the scriptorium by the priests and slipping away with her brother Edward to the woods. Then she is dismayed to discover her father has bethrothed her to the Mercian leader, Ethelred. She is even more unhappy to discover that a man has been sent to watch her every move to protect her from those who might oppose the union--a Mercian man named Red who wears the bonds of slavery. Disgruntled, Flaed begins to experiment with ways to slip away from her careful guard, even as she begins to like him. But her stubborn bid for a moment alone comes at a cost--one day when she does manage to elude Red, Flaed is abducted by some men awaiting just this opportunity. After Red rescues her, a decision is reached. Flaed must learn how to protect herself and how to lead, however reluctantly she may wish for these skills. There are many exciting scenes in this novel, and readers will be pleased to discover that Aethelflaed not only was a real person, but one of the most famous female leaders remembered from that period. Thumbs up for an excellent piece of historical fiction.

Intensely Alice

By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Rating: 3 3/4 stars

This is the 23rd book about Alice McKinley, and we've been able to grow with her and her friends Elizabeth and Pamela since they were all in 6th grade together. Now it is the summer before Alice's senior year in high school and her friends are all engaged in typical summer activities. They hang at Mark's pool, work their summer jobs, and spend time with family. Alice looks forward to her cousin Carol's wedding in Chicago with the added attraction that she can go visit her boyfriend Patrick at the University of Chicago where he is taking summer classes. Alice is both excited and nervous about the prospect of sleeping over--will this finally be the time she and Patrick will be able to get intimate? Along with her trip to Chicago, Alice volunteers in a soup kitchen for a week, gets escorted home by the police, has deep discussions about God and religion, gets to apartment-sit for her brother Lester and by book's end, has something so huge happen to her entire group of friends that things may well be changed forever. Alice fans will gobble this volume up and be waiting to find out how her senior year progresses in the next addition to the series.

Monday, July 6, 2009


By Katy Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction/Adventure
Rating: 4 stars

Set in early 7th century Britain, Essa is devastated when his father, a traveling singer, leaves him behind in a small village. Since his mother is dead, Essa is raised by the head of the village, Hild, and soon becomes absorbed into the rhythm of life there. He does have one special skill--the ability to get inside of an animal and see what it sees, hear what it hears. Then when he reaches the age of 14, everything changes. War is coming, and his small village could well be crushed under its inexorable path. Essa becomes the man of Egric, one of the local princes, who asks him to spy on the nearby Mercian camp. But while on his mission, Essa is caught--luckily by Wulf, the son of the savage Mercian king Penda, who remembers Essa from childhood days. Essa is unexpectedly reunited with his father Cai, also there spying, and is sent on a task with Wulf to bring back his bride. Essa knows what he needs to do to stop Penda, but can he bring himself to become a killer? This journey will reveal more to Essa about himself, his true heritage and the path he wants to take in life. Essa's story is compelling and filled with violence, loyalty and friendship. Readers who enjoy their adventures immersed in history will love this story.