Some of the Bluford books are quite engaging - The Fallen comes to mind - and readily appeal to reluctant readers. I'm not sure this hits the mark. InSome of the Bluford books are quite engaging - The Fallen comes to mind - and readily appeal to reluctant readers. I'm not sure this hits the mark. In this, Darcy, a shy, academically oriented sophomore, tends an ailing grandma, encounters new friends, suffers as her younger sister grows ever-more sullen, and struggles with the fallout of her father's abandoning of the family five years ago. Put another way, there's plenty of plot.
It was fine, in the same way that other formulaic mysteries are fine. But there wasn't much here to really recommend it, beyond African-American characters and simple, easy-to-read prose. And to me, cover suggests that the pages might have a hint of paranormal or Gothic horror, while instead the book is contemporary realism. As of this writing, references to boom-boxes and CDs probably make this historical fiction....more
An accessible thriller that feels like some of those creepy movies that played on late-night TV before the advent of cable. Our PTSD-ing main characteAn accessible thriller that feels like some of those creepy movies that played on late-night TV before the advent of cable. Our PTSD-ing main character is closing down a remote resort in the wilderness, trying to forget the death of his young brother. He and a couple of coworkers deal with some odd happenings and an irrational boss. There might be ghosts. There might be murder. The weather goes from bad to worse.
The cover has nothing much to do with the book, and "night-terrors" are only a jumping-off point for "The Shining" - lite plot. Still, it might work well for readers who are beyond elementary "Spooky Stories." The protagonist is 18 and so drinks beer and mentions "weed." Nothing earth shattering or controversial, but worth considering for some collections....more
The Orca hi-lo books are a mixed bag. Some - Down - are quite good, while others are aren't. "Triggered" isn't great, but it is completely serviceableThe Orca hi-lo books are a mixed bag. Some - Down - are quite good, while others are aren't. "Triggered" isn't great, but it is completely serviceable as it reveals a relationship between Mick and Jade that he's ready to move on from and she's holding onto. It alternates between his voice and her diary entries, and over all is quite readable. For an experienced reader, the Munchhausen twist is easily predicted, but the target audience will possibly not see it coming. This is a good pick for those seeking an 'after-school-special' kind of story....more
Good for a short read. As is the case with stories about sexual assault, there is intensity by p. 45 that propels the text. Unfortunately, our protagoGood for a short read. As is the case with stories about sexual assault, there is intensity by p. 45 that propels the text. Unfortunately, our protagonist never really takes charge of her life; she accidentally makes tough decisions leading to the ambiguous end. Anderson's "Speak" I'd richer, but this can work if that title is too long....more
As a kid, I'd visit the local book shop and marvel at the covers of Don Pendleton's "Executioner" series that stretched over several feet of shelf, moAs a kid, I'd visit the local book shop and marvel at the covers of Don Pendleton's "Executioner" series that stretched over several feet of shelf, more than thirty five titles. Never actually read one, but there was something exciting and appealing about a saga that was obviously worthwhile. With so many books, they must be good, right? The same phenomenon draws readers to The Hidden Staircase and The Tower Treasure, readers who appreciate being able to finish one title an pick up the next. Harlequin has built a publishing empire on that gambit.
"Conspiracy" will certainly appeal to readers who want a clearly laid-out reading path. One book per month, each under 200 pages, each entirely plot driven. As an adult, I found this first volume to be completely devoid of characterization; every person is a type: concerned mother, earnest best friend, sinister villain, and so on. And that may work for its intended audience.
Because the main character is fifteen, this can work for teen readers a bit older and younger. There's nothing remotely objectionable - beyond standard TV-show violence - that would keep it out of an elementary school library. There's none of the warmth and humor that really good books have, but there's no shortage of action. Comparisons to the television series "24" are apt. Cal lurches from one implausible situation to the next.
I do wonder if American readers will pick up that it is set in Australia. There's no specific mention of this and the text is largely free of confusing colloquialisms, but it begins on January 1st, and the weather is hot. A small point that probably weaker readers will miss and stronger readers will catch.
This isn't as satisfying a story as Robert Muchamore's "Cherub" books, and Cal isn't Alex Rider (of Stormbreaker) or even Charlie West (of The Last Thing I Remember). Still, if "The Bourne Identity" is the kid's idea of a great movie, this may be a good place for him to cut his teeth and develop his action-story chops. Lord has supplied plenty of easy-to read pages....more
Wouldn't it be good if a book of ghost stories could capture the attention of reluctant readers by incorporating video? Tie the love of shock to readiWouldn't it be good if a book of ghost stories could capture the attention of reluctant readers by incorporating video? Tie the love of shock to reading? Make use of text and motion pictures? Perhaps someone will create that book, but this isn't it. Skeleton Creek manages the mixture much more effectively, and that still isn't perfect. This collection of ten short "scary" stories tries to mine the vein Alvin Schwartz did decades ago. There's a pizza story, a skiing story, a skateboard story, book-ended - a la "Twilight Zone" - with supplementary sound and film clips on line.
There are several problems with this collection. A major bug is that each climax and conclusion occurs in the on-line portion, so the book can't stand on its own. A minor complaint I have is that all but one of the characters shown in clips is white; it would have been easy to be more inclusive. But the biggest problem is that the stories themselves are weak tea when some genuine spooky would have played better....more
Gretchen Yee goes to an arts high school in New York City, but her story is EVERY girl's story: she pines for a boy, she has drama with a best friend,Gretchen Yee goes to an arts high school in New York City, but her story is EVERY girl's story: she pines for a boy, she has drama with a best friend, and her parents' divorce is leaving her a little angry and a lot unsettled. And when she wakes up as an actual fly-on-the-wall (of the boy's locker room) she turns her artist's eye to the legion of boys who parade through. Be warned: there are extensive remarks that comment on human anatomy, in all its peculiar wonder. The words 'vermin' 'biscuit' and 'gherkin' get tossed about with astonishing regularity for such irregular terms.
Lockhart's story is slim and light; a practically perfect beach read for teens not looking for anything deep. ...more
A solid outing from the ORCA Soundings series for teen readers. This comes off like an episode of "Law and Order" with David's step-father being murdeA solid outing from the ORCA Soundings series for teen readers. This comes off like an episode of "Law and Order" with David's step-father being murdered and then the investigation turning to David. There's a little bit of poker, a bit of dealing with the death of a younger brother, a police-station confession. McClintock keeps the action moving. This isn't quite as good as Riley Park or Down, but it is well worth checking out. ...more
This is an unusual book and well worth reading. It combines teen-problem-novel with romance, dystopia, and literary writing. The prose is simple, toldThis is an unusual book and well worth reading. It combines teen-problem-novel with romance, dystopia, and literary writing. The prose is simple, told as it is from Daisy's fifteen-year-old point of view. But the issues and themes that she encounters over the course of this slim volume are deep and profound. To be clear, it doesn't start out fast: Daisy has been shipped from NYC to England, where she complains about her father's new girlfriend, considers the roots of her anorexia, and generally complains about being somewhere without cellular connections. As she develops relationships with her English cousins, Daisy becomes less whiny and more aware of the complex world around her.
By the time the full force of war lands, Daisy had my complete interest. Then, with a sliver of the book left, Rosoff changes the voice of the narrator, a delightful and impressive move.
I'd suggest this for anyone who wants a strong, authentic teen-girl narrator, and particularly for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent who might be looking for something that feels less sensational and more grounded in reality....more
A curious and engaging book that almost any high school student could read and ponder. The first person narrator, Mal, tells his story with simplicityA curious and engaging book that almost any high school student could read and ponder. The first person narrator, Mal, tells his story with simplicity and soul as he describes a life many teens will recognize - alcoholic parent, absent other parent, feeling like an outsider. His sense of alienation is all the more palpable because Mal believes that he was abducted by aliens. A good read for those looking for a deeper story without fussy language or confusing complications. ...more
A surprisingly strong entry in the teen-prostitution sub-section of YA (Tricks, Chloe Doe, Trafficked, Sold). The story is familiar: sixteen year oldA surprisingly strong entry in the teen-prostitution sub-section of YA (Tricks, Chloe Doe, Trafficked, Sold). The story is familiar: sixteen year old Angel, grieving over her departed mother, falls in with a drug-supplying pimp. The story isn't so much about how Angel falls into prostitution and addiction, but about her efforts to effect redemption, which comes through tremendous will power and a little inspiration from John Milton's "Paradise Lost." Leavitt moves the plot along quickly, striking a near-perfect balance between gritty realism and decorous modesty. The 240 pages of verse took only a few hours to read, but there are dazzling lines and images that demand re-reading.
There's virtually no profanity and Angel's sex-work is rendered obliquely enough for middle school readers who might not appreciate the darkness of Ellen Hopkins and Adam Rapp. Well worth reading....more
There is plenty of action here as Canadian teen Allie contemplates her pregnancy and failing report card, runs away from home with her skater pal, is almost assaulted, and nearly dies in a massive tornado. Perhaps that's a strength: Allie's pregnancy is a piece of the story and not the focus, and her friendship with skater Razz never dips into romance.
However, the story wraps up on a note of optimism that feels a bit too much like a Family Chanel TV show, and throughout the book Allie isn't quite real enough. Also, this 2002 title shows its age, with references to "Walkmans" and lack of communication that cell phones make unlikely....more
Rich Wallace does an excellent job of writing short novels about athletes who are more than their sport. Like One Good Punch, "Dishes" centers on a ruRich Wallace does an excellent job of writing short novels about athletes who are more than their sport. Like One Good Punch, "Dishes" centers on a runner who has some job issues, girl issues, and family issues. I liked "One Good Punch" for the realism, the honesty about drug use and its consequences, the realism of the relationships between major and minor characters. There's more of the same here: this time the hero's a year past high school and washing dishes for the summer at a gay bar. Hi-jinx ensue, as Danny sorts out his feelings for his Dad who was never around growing up and his VERY friendly co-workers.
Set in Ogunquit, a beach town near Kenebunkport but worlds away, Wallace captures the confusion and energy of the first steps of adulthood. Not enough books for teens take on this important transition from school-aged to whatever-comes-next. The uneasy father-son detente reads well, if a bit simplistically. I especially enjoy that all of the characters have jobs and must work, another rare breed among YA titles.
"Dishes" handles the static and friction that occurs when different types of people must learn to co-exist, in this case gay and straight waiters and dishwashers. Well worth reading for the right audience....more
More of a short story than a novella, this 114 page book moves quickly along a single track: senior track captain, newspaper gofer, and all-around gooMore of a short story than a novella, this 114 page book moves quickly along a single track: senior track captain, newspaper gofer, and all-around good-kid Michael Kerrigan has plans that are about to be derailed by a drug bust. A fair part of the first act sets up Michael and his home town of Scranton. Athletes, especially runners, may appreciate the Chris Crutcheresque attention to sport.
It earns three stars for being interesting and suggestive of big things without feeling preachy, but not quite substantial enough to be truly earth-shattering. There is a believably complicated relationship with Michael's maybe, maybe-not gay female friend. His pleasant but ineffectual parents and various mentors also seem real.
I think this book would actually be a reasonable whole-class text. Wallace raises some interesting issues (how do we handle hard situations? what keeps us from giving up? when is enough enough?) and it moves so quickly that it could be completed in short order. Took me almost no time to read....more
The opening is solid: one of the best gang fights I've read in a long time. Azael narrates with strong voice, and the author does some interesting thiThe opening is solid: one of the best gang fights I've read in a long time. Azael narrates with strong voice, and the author does some interesting things by alternating between 'then' and 'now', in and out of incarceration. Themes of 'guilt' and 'innocence' permeate the book. It is more 'R' rated than Soto's "Afterlife," which will entice some readers and make some adults uneasy. There is a twist ending, so it would be best not to pre-read the last chapter. ...more
A compelling read by the author of Girl, Stolen. The pages flew by in this action/adventure story that held my interest from page one. The plot alternA compelling read by the author of Girl, Stolen. The pages flew by in this action/adventure story that held my interest from page one. The plot alternates between Cassie's kidnapping and flashbacks to the days leading up to it. I was hooked from page one, and I expect many teen readers will be fascinated by the idea of being caught up in de facto prison. If this were a movie, it would be PG, and I think middle schoolers might also enjoy it, even if the central character is just turning sixteen. It all wraps up a little too neatly, and Cassie is a little too perfect, but these are the quibbles of an adult reader. I wouldn't hesitate recommending this to teen fans of realistic thrillers who don't need the graphic elements found in adult-oriented books....more
A tight little mystery for less-skilled readers about a DJ trying to flush-out a serial killer. Although the characters - radio personality Charlie D.A tight little mystery for less-skilled readers about a DJ trying to flush-out a serial killer. Although the characters - radio personality Charlie D. and his producer Nova - are adults, the suspense and buildup will appeal to HS students. There are many citations of song lyrics in the story, and most of the performers are Canadian (Bare Naked Ladies, Joni Mitchell, Sarah McLachlan, Leonard Cohen), but I suspect that this won't date the story, as each song serves to make a point about obsessive love. The plot moves along well to its dramatic conclusion.
The end was a little too tidy for me in this otherwise good read for those who might want to tackle the suspense genre, but aren't quite skilled enough to handle longer, more complex titles. Besides a mention of a XXX movie rental store an murder, there's nothing in this book I thought might raise concerns for even middle school audiences.
This series from Orca Books is targeted at adult learners. I slightly prefer another title in the Rapid Reads series - The Barrio Kings - but this is a worthy title for developing readers. ...more
This short murder/mystery is an interesting idea, if not such a compelling story. In 100 pages of 1-to-2 page first person poems, Glenn manages to intThis short murder/mystery is an interesting idea, if not such a compelling story. In 100 pages of 1-to-2 page first person poems, Glenn manages to introduce multiple perspectives on the life of the recently killed Mr. Chippendale. Some characters - his ex, the investigating officer, the assassin - speak up several times, while several others only appear on a handful of pages. Between a bit of profanity and a couple of gay characters and the dark subject, this is for an older audience than books by Sharon Creech and Karen Hesse, although it doesn't approach Ellen Hopkins intensity.
I can imagine teachers using this with lower readers to introduce ideas of unreliable narration as a readers theater. Some of the individual poems are especially pointed, some are ironic. There are themes of 'a life well lived' and 'what is the truth.' The many characters made following the story a challenge, and the conclusion isn't sufficiently powerful. I don't know that many teens will find it satisfying....more
For early high-school or middle school, this isn't a bad book. Brett Gerson is a spoiled rich kid who has to adapt to a much-reduced level of income wFor early high-school or middle school, this isn't a bad book. Brett Gerson is a spoiled rich kid who has to adapt to a much-reduced level of income while his father serves time for securities fraud. This first-person narrative alternates between Brett raging about his father's failures, ranting about his unfortunate circumstances, and drooling over the girl of his dreams. He quits a job, gets another, learns to drive, throws a party, yearns for a girl, grows up a little, and comes to detente with his imprisoned pop.
There are some clever lines and some earnest attempts at seriousness, but "Pool Boy" barely skims the surface. Alfie is great as Brett's Pool-man boss, but all the other characters - including the wacky aunt - aren't memorable. Brett's whining overwhelmed whatever else was going on. Perhaps this is because there isn't all that much going on. By half way through the story, I wanted shake Brett. Maybe slap some sense into him. When he gets some sense (on his own - I did not slap a 16 year-old fictional character; that's my story and I'm sticking to it) I didn't much care.
If the description on the back cover or inside sleeve entices (Oh! Wait. My library's Perma-Bound copy doesn't have either. Dang and Blast and why do they do that with YA anyway? It is the kiss of circulation death) perhaps a moderately skilled reader will like this PG read (light profanity). I'd recommend The Summer I Got a Life or Notes from the Midnight Driver before this one....more
Average and predictable, and perhaps a few too many characters for a Hi/Lo: coaches of three teams, players from three, cheerleaders from two. And theAverage and predictable, and perhaps a few too many characters for a Hi/Lo: coaches of three teams, players from three, cheerleaders from two. And the ending is completely saccharine. It may work for football fans, but this doesn't excite me for other titles in the "Surviving Southside" series....more
Strange little verse novel. Anna has killed herself and the story chronicles 20+ reactions from peers, friends, teachers and the like. Some touch on eStrange little verse novel. Anna has killed herself and the story chronicles 20+ reactions from peers, friends, teachers and the like. Some touch on each other, but there isn't a narrative thread. By the end, I was left scratching my head feeling a little befuddled instead of touched or moved....more
This starts out promisingly, with a strange co-worker, a gun, and a carjacking. But once the initial problem passes and the deeper conflict emerges, tThis starts out promisingly, with a strange co-worker, a gun, and a carjacking. But once the initial problem passes and the deeper conflict emerges, the story flounders. Rather than being about our protagonist's survival, it becomes about the carjacker's forlorn, hard-to-swallow motivation. So while this is easy to read, it isn't all that rewarding to read....more