Saturday, October 25, 2008

Clementine's Letter, by Sara Pennypacker

Clementine's world is thrown into chaos when the principal announces that her third grade teacher Mr D'Matz may win a chance to go away on a trip to Egypt for the rest of the year. Mr. D'Matz is her favorite teacher ever and he promised that he would be with them for the entire year! So, Clementine hatches a plan to make sure he stays. Simultaneously, she is working out a plan to buy her Mom a present and continues her search for new names for her little brother.

This third installment of the series remains as charming as the first two and it stands as one of the few series books that I've enjoyed enough to rate all of the books with my highest (****) rating. While I still would find Clementine a bit of a pain to take care of as an adult (and maybe a bit obnoxious as a classmate/playmate), reading about her is a delight!

Savvy, by Ingrid Law

Living in the boondocks of Kansaska-Nebransas is a good idea for the Beaumonts, a quiet farm family with a secret: when a Beaumont turns 13 they develop their savvy (a special supernatural talent). Mibbs's grandfather can move land, her older brothers cause storms and electricity, and her mother is just perfect. Now Mibbs is turning 13 and she wonders what her talent will be. But rather than have the wonderful celebration she wants, there is a cloud over the family as her father lies in the hospital after a terrible accident, her mother is gone from the house attending to her, and the nosy pastor's wife insists on putting on a huge party. Chaos and a frantic roadtrip through Kanasaska-Nebransas ensues.

Clever and a mildly funny, this quick read will appeal to younger readers for just being fun, while older readers will get the whole puberty metaphor. Both will hopefully enjoy the funky characters and wild adventure. There's not a lot to the story and it moves along in a fairly predictable fashion, but that won't take away from the enjoyment. Did I mention it was a fun read?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Paper Towns, by John Green

One night toward the end of his senior year, Quentin's sleep is interrupted by the girl-next-door Margo, who wants Quentin to join her on an all-night prank fest. He consents and after the evening is over, she disappears. In the weeks that follow, Quentin becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her and starts to assemble clues about her disposition. As his last year in high school closes, Quentin realizes that time is running out. Assisted by his odd assorted friends, he embarks on a desperate road trip to save Margo before it is too late.

John Green is a major powerhouse in YA writing and Looking For Alaska ranks in my all-time top ten. However, he seems to be in a rut. While still very funny and endlessly capable of creating quirky and memorable characters, Green's stories end up sounding much the same -- horny but sensitive loser-boy longs after mysterious girl. It's a lovely formula and it rings true (as the male version of the teen angst novel), but it's really time for Green to move on and write a new book. I don't really need to keep reading the same one over and over again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hot Lunch, by Alex Bradley

When too-cool-for-you Molly gets into a destructive food fight with new girl Cassie, their initial punishment is being forced to work in the school cafeteria for Mrs. Zetz the lunch lady. But when the two girls drive Mrs. Zetz into early retirement, they are ordered to run the place for themselves. Now they must overcome their dislike for each other and simultaneously turn out decent school meals. It will be a long journey!

Another fun book with a good dramatic arc, but also some strange subplots that just sit out there and some really clunky character development. Molly is so unsympathetic at first that the author has trouble turning us around to liking her (almost as if he realized that he had gone a bit overboard with making her mean). As a result, we get all sorts of out-of-the-blue revelations (example: major crush that is only revealed about 90! pages in). The subsequent attempts to give Molly a heart of gold did not work for me.

Oh, and I totally can't get the Fame song "Hot Lunch" out of my head...

The Possibilities of Sainthood, by Donna Frietas

Antonia Lucia feels she has some pretty good ideas about sainthood, whether it is for a new saint of fig planters (to help her in winterizing the family trees) or a saint of pasta makers (for when Mom and Gram have her covered in dough to feed every Italian in Providence). She also hopes that some day she'll become the first living saint (she doesn't want to die in order to do so!). This is especially important because she hasn't even had her first kiss yet!

A funny and charming book that is mostly about being a boy-crazed 15-year-old Catholoic schoolgirl (which is probably about as far removed from my personal experience as you can get!), but the story is also about a quirky young woman going for what she wants. It's a romance novel with just a little bit of intellectual ambition thrown in. A great read with a satisfying ending, and also a nice book about growing up Italian.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Glow Stone, by Ellen Dreyer

After her uncle dies, Phoebe seems to be the only one who still feels close to him. Her mother in particular is withdrawn and distant. She even insists that Phoebe sell her much-loved desk that her Uncle gave her! So, when an aunt offers to take her spelunking, Phoebe jumps at the opportunity to do something new and different. The trip into an old cave, however, brings Phoebe face to face with the truth behind her uncle's death and reveals a secret about her family.

This is a weird book that is not really sure if it wants to be a family drama or a supernatural thriller (or maybe both?). The overall result is just odd. Dreyer has a number of interesting ideas but in a short book like this there is not enough space to develop them. The ending comes up a bit too abruptly leaving the reader confused. The overall result is a book to skip.

The Comeback Season, by Jennifer E. Smith

It's been five years since Ryan's father died, but Ryan is philosophical about these things because she is a Cubs fan. And being a Cubs fan means having to deal with 100 years of loss and dashed hopes. For Ryan, rooting for the Cubs will always be linked to spending time with her Dad. On the anniversary of her father's death (which also happens to be Opening Day), Ryan finally musters the courage to return to Wrigley Field and revisit the site of her memories. While there she meets Nick (a boy from school that she barely knows) who is drawn to Wrigley for similar yet different reasons. With Nick, she is destined to learn new lessons about struggle and hope.

I'm not a sports fan (if I had to root for a baseball team, it would be the Phillies) and I'm even less into novels written in the third person (which this one is). So, I figured that I would simply hate this book, but I don't. That should give you an idea of how great this author must be. But Smith is much more than the writer of a good book, she is a phenomenal spinner of words. Using baseball as an analogy of life is hardly new, but she takes it much further than I've ever seen before - combining good observation with a way to make you sit back and nod. This is a beautiful book with a lot to say about life. Even if sports are not your thing, this is a book that is well worth your time to read.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway

When Audrey breaks up with her boyfriend Evan, she has no idea that it will inspire him to write a song. Or that The Song will become an international pop sensation and rocket both of them into fame. But it does. And as the pappazzi descend and life goes crazy around her, Audrey manages to discover a great deal about herself even as the rest of the world has trouble seeing it.

A nice light read, full of plenty of convenient plot twists that eventually wrap up better than fine in the end. And while Benway gives profuse kudos to Rachel Cohn (and has a debt to Meg Cabot as well), this is a much better indy-rock themed book than The Book About Two Teens in the Indy Rock Scene That Recently Became A Movie. Unfortunately, it will age about as poorly (as much as I would like to imagine that kids will be rocking to Death Cab for at least another decade!). Escapist fun!

Imaginary Enemy, by Julie Gonzalez

Jane struggles with life. She means well, but lacks discipline, leaving her homework undone and managing more often than not to screw things up. But it's OK, because these things are not her fault -- they are caused by her imaginary enemy Bubba. Ever since second grade, Bubba has persecuted her and gotten her into trouble. Now, as she is growing older, the trouble seems to take on bigger dimensions, just as things are starting to work out for her.

A rambling mess that reads more like a series of reminiscences than a real story. This novel covers some ten years of Jane's life, just briefly touching on the highlights. There are of course a few cute moments, but no real point to the overall story. Jane's flaws will endear her to some readers but I found her irresponsible behavior hard to take. She seemed mean and selfish. So, the novel lacked even a character that I wanted to read about.