Saturday, June 30, 2007

Looking for Lucy Buick, by Rita Murphy

When Lucy was a baby, she was found abandoned in a Buick that one of her "uncles" had won in a card game. When no one could find her real family, the uncles and aunts of the Sandoni family raised her. Now nearly grown up, Lucy longs to find her real family and fortune (in the form of a fire at the Sandoni factory when Lucy is presumed to be inside) provides her the opportunity to make a break. Her search brings Lucy to Iowa where she befriends a kind old lady, a Japanese butterfly breeder, and a storm chaser -- all of whom (along with the ghosts of Lucy's past) guide Lucy in her search.

A tale of searching for one's roots has a lot of potential. Add in some eccentric characters and a touch of the supernatural and yoy should have a pretty good story. However, this one falls flat, mostly because the story is so thin and the characters are poorly developed. A disappointment.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sugar Rush, by Julie Burchill

When money gets tight, Kim's father has to pull her from her private girl's school and send her to the loacl public comprehensive - a place with a very poor reputation. Kim quickly falls under the spell of sexy alcoholic Maria ("Sugar") and falls in love with her. But their on-and-off lesbian flirtations combined with drugs and alcohol spell trouble.

The book is tough going because of all of the Brit slang, but even once you get used to that, you realize that the author is complete shite. Intoxicated with clever overblown prose, Burchill seems to think that writing about teens doing drugs and sex is a sufficient substitute for story. Shockingly badly written, skip this one with a vengeance!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dramarama, by E.Lockhart

Sadye and her gay black friend Demi have never quite fit in at their high school in Benton OH. Far too dramatic and theatrical! But then they both apply to go to a summer drama school and get accepted. For Demi, it is a dream come true and he flourishes in the environment, but Sadye doesn't do as well. And as the summer progresses, their friendship undergoes stress and strain as the life-changing experience of living amidst other dramaramas takes its toll.

As you may already know, I am an intense fan of E. Lockhart's writing. All of her books to date have gotten my four-star rating. It may be a bit churlish of me then to not give this one the same (I'm giving it three stars). Dramarama is an excellent book and light years better than many of the books you will read this year, but it was slightly less funny, slightly less poignant, and just sightly less spectacular. But only slightly! You will thus waste no time reading this book and you will enjoy it, but it is still not as great as her previous outings (they're a hard act to follow).

Tender, by Valerie Hobbs

After her grandmother dies, Liv has to go live with her father - a man she has never met before, the man who walked out when she was born. And Dad is not an easy man to get to know. He's silent and unreadable, gone all day out to sea fishing for abalone. But what starts as a living hell for Liv slowly becomes a new life and she begins to realize that her family ties are stronger than she thinks.

Hobbs is a good writer with a decent sense for strong and believable characters. The story itself breaks no new ground or reveals any new deep truths, but it is a decent read. You could easily do worse, and would have a hard time doing better.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones

Picking up exactly where What My Mother Doesn't Know ended, but switching viewpoints from Sophie to Robin, this sequel tells the continuing story of the romance of the unlikely beauty-and -the-beast pair of teenaged artists. It is hardly a happily-ever-after story as Robin gets an opportunity to audit an art class at Harvard and discovers that there is life after High School. And both of them must struggle with the problems of a popular girl dating an unpopular boy.

The first book is among my very few four-star books and my absolute favorite of Sones's books. Sequels always have a tendency to disappoint (or at least lack the novelty of the originals). But what really killed this book for me was the change of perspective. Sophie was a fascinating character, Robin simply is not. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that Sones really doesn't have as good of a hold over adolescent boys (as she does on adolescent girls). But I also think that the teenaged male psyche doesn't lend itself as well to free verse poetry as her girls do. A stereotype to be certain, but it is honestly hard to find Robin's voice to be plausible. It's an interesting experiment and a lot braver writing than Sones has done before, but it falls flat.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gracie's Girl, by Ellen Wittlinger

Bess's mother is so busy helping the homeless down at the shelter that she doesn't have any time for Bess at all. Worse still, she wants Bess to come down and help as well. Bess can't stand the idea. She's much rather be planning her transformation to popularity as she starts middle school. But when she goes to the shelter and meets Gracie, her life changes and she realizes that there are more important things in life.

Fairly predictable and lacking an authentic voice, this story is not one of Wittlinger's best works. I'm a minor fan, so I was disappointed that Bess turned out to be such an uninspiring heroine. I suspect that Wittlinger herself didn't find the story all that exciting. It certainly doesn't seem that way. The dialogue is flat, plotting is erratic and uneven, and there isn't much that is new here. Give it a pass.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Crushed, by Laura and Tom McNeal

Audrey's life changes when the new boy at school shows an interest in her. Complications ensue, including a school bully, an infidelity and a friend's betrayal, a rumor monger, and her father losing his job and their house.

This is a novel with too many characters and plot lines to make much sense. Ostensibly, the authors are writing a story about committing mistakes and making amends, but since that is a generic part of any dramatic storyline, we are really stuck with a mess of incoherency. Give it a pass!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Lost It, by Kristen Tracy

Tess has a strange life. From her parents who leave you to learn survival camping from an inspirational leader to a grandmother who's won the Illinois Lottery and buys you sexy underwear to the friend who is plotting to blow up an annoying poodle. Never mind the exploding shoes and chance to lose it to your boyfriend....

Essentially the same old girls meets boy, girl loses boy love story format, Tracy has thrown in enough non-sequitors and weird conversations to feed a decent season of Gilmore Girls, but it all seems a tad contrived. The characters are quirky but never quite engaging and the plot twists are outrageous enough that this story just putters along, with a disappointing attempt to bring closure at the end.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Owl in Love, by Patrice Kindl

Owl has a crush on her science teacher, which is probably pretty natural for a 14 year-old girl. But she's not actually your typical 14 year-old girl. In fact, she's part owl, which greatly complicates things, especially when she encounters another (very strange) owl and an (even stranger) boy in the woods.

This rather clever story of teen crushes and raptor mating habits is amusing and fun. With a touch of fantasy but grounded simultaneous in a mundane reality (Kindl's apparent trademark), you get two stories in one -- an adventure/romance combined with some outsider/teen angst. A pleasant and fun read!

Such a Pretty Girl, by Laura Weiss

In this harrowing novel, Meredith has to face the fact that her father -- the man that sexually abused her and several other children in their town -- is about to be paroled (six years early). As it becomes apparent that he has remained unchanged and that she is in danger, Meredith must figure out who are her friends and can be relied upon to help her.

While the praise runs really high on the jacket (to the point of BS -- one reviewer compares her favirably to Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird!), I found this to be a functional, decent read...and not much more. It won't open any new doors about abuse and survival, or the teens who experience it. But it is a decent gritty read.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Hana in the Time of the Tulips, by Deborah Noyes

In the 17th century, Holland was beholden with tulipomania. Little Hana doesn't understand why there is such a fuss over the pretty flowers or how something that is so beautiful can make her father so unhappy. But she does know that father is very unhappy and she asks everyone around her for help in making Dad feel better.

A bit of a departure for me, but this lovely children's picture book tells a touching and timeless story of a girl reaching out to her father to remind him that the most precious things are not reaches or "means" but the flowers we cultivate in our families. The story is augmented by absolutely charming illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline, based loosely on Rembrandt and other contemporary Dutch masters. The text can get a bit thick for younger readers and it may be a bit gratuitous to cast Rembrandt in a guest role, but this is a beautiful book.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Drowned Maiden's Hair, by Laura Amy Schlitz

Maud is a troublemaker and the least likely of all the girls at the Barbary orphanage to be adopted, so when she is picked out by a trio of rich old ladies to live with them everyone is a bit surprised. But it becomes apparent that these old ladies have tricks up their sleeves and Maud may have gotten herself into bigger trouble than she ever managed on her own.

Placed at the turn of the century, Schlitz has captured all of the maudlin qualities of a novel of the era, riffing on that style to create an original work. The main characters are engaging and hardly old-fashioned, but Schlitz is a weak writer. The blurb on the jacket indicates that she has some background as a playwright and one imagines that she often just wanted to "fade out" on some scenes as overwhelmingly her transitions are awkward and painful. The dramatic arc weaves all over the place as well. She could well improve on a second effort or with a better editor and this is not a painful read -- it is just rough.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate Di Camillo

Edward is a china rabbit, not a doll (dolls are silly things!) and loved deeply by Abilene Tulane. But no matter how much he is loved (or, in fact, no matter how much he moves himself!), nothing can prepare him for being lost. But lost he is, and Edward is now forced to undergo a trying long journey where even a toy rabbit can learn a few powerful lessons.

This touching story combines Di Camillo's sense of the odd that made Because of Winn Dixie such a strong favorite (and one of my all-time faves) with the magic of an anthropomorphic toy. But this is no silly Toy Story (or even a whimsical tale like Toys Go Out). Instead, this story has a darker edge and some strong messages about the importance of opening your heart. It's all a bit too intense for younger children but those of us who are biologically older (but still young at heart) can appreciate it.

The book also has some wonderful illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline that really make the book.

Grandfather's Dance, by Patricia MacLachlan

In this final installment of the Sarah, Plain and Tall series, we see Anna finally get married and a long-expected funeral of another long-running character. But for the most part, this is a story more about reunions than changes.

MacLachlan retains a very spare style that works beautifully in many of her books (Sarah, Plain and Tall and Seven Kisses in a Row are among my favorite books). The Sarah series though is a bit out of steam by this point. While it is nice to revisit with old charactersone gets a feeling that the reader has overstayed his/her welcome. This final book doesn't really have much to add.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Ask Me No Questions, by Marina Budhos

Nadira and her family are illegal aliens living in New York City. They dream of someday becoming legal and being able to live a normal life. But when 9/11 happens, a crackdown on illegal immigrants (and Muslims like Nadira's family in particular) changes all of this. Nadira's father is detained and she must find the strength to keep her family together.

A harrowing tale which is fictional, but based on real life events, this novel will intriniscally appeal to more liberal readers, who will feel indignation at the social injustices documented in this story. The author (to her credit) doesn't stretch this, reminding us at several points that the family has broken the law. Beyond the politics, there are some strong characterizations but a strangely thin and underdeveloped plot. And when teh story wraps up a bit too neatly at the end, I felt that the effort had been fairly wasted. A powerful topic, but a mixed review for the story.

Anahita's Woven Riddle, by Meghan Nuttall Sayres

In 19th century Iran, Anahita is coming of age and must soon be married. The local Khan would ahve her hand and alternates gifts and threats to win it. But Anahita's heart is restless and she wonders about kind teacher Reza, local boy Dariyoush, or a mysterious stranger who seems to understand her heart. To help her choose between them, she decides to pose a riddle in her woven qali (a wedding rug) that each suitor must attempt to answer.

Starting with the tired plot device of the historical girl with an anachronistic opportunity to choose a mate for love (rather than having one imposed on her), we are on pretty familiar plot ground throughout this book. What does stand out is all of the rich historical/cultural detail (so much so, in fact, that the book comes with a study guide!). This shows a tremendous amount of research went into the book, but the story itself does not quite hold up to it. Beautiful, but ultimately unsatisfactory.