A sweet middle grade book about friendship and forgiveness, with all of the messy subjects of acknowledging hurt and learning how to let go of negative feelings. In a vast universe of books about friendships and how to cultivate them, this story has some valuable life lessons to offer and the work that is involved in being a good friend. I found Mai's stubborn attachment to vengeance a bit arrogant and it made it hard to like her, but she's certainly a good educational example. The lessons come on a bit too heavy and elements of the story will age poorly, but the kids in the story are relatable and there's a sweet romance and an overall innocence to a story that is hard to find nowadays.
Thursday, April 27, 2023
When he is not searching for ghosts, he plots elaborate pranks against Father James -- a mean-spirited blowhard priest who dominates their parish. Cassie, who has never liked Father James, finds it amusing but it is very dangerous. And when Elias gets caught, Father James turns the community against him and he and his family are forced to move away again. Lonely without her friend, Cassie is determined to continue her search for the ghosts. Her search comes to an end with a cataclysmic flood.
An ambitious novel that is loosely based on the life of Saint Eia of the Celts which explores Cassie's search for God and contains a heavy ecological theme. As a straight story, the plot is a mess, taking significant shifts at several points and drifting between ideas. That said, the writing is lovely and deep and there are profound moments scattered throughout the book. It's artistic, but it's a strange read.
Wednesday, April 26, 2023
She is surprised to find that she is actually warmly received. Even the "three Chloes" (queen Chloe Orbach, insecure Chloe Schmidt, and pleaser Chloe Clarke) who rule the cheer team accept her as a team member. Jadis is shocked though and feels betrayed. She warns Shade that she's being exploited but Shade doesn't care. And to everyone's surprise, Shade and Chloe Orbach grow surprisingly close, upsetting the prevailing social hierarchy.
Then, at the Homecoming dance, while the girls are experimenting with Ecstasy, Chloe Orbach collapses and dies. Suspicion falls on Jadis (who supplied the drugs) and Shade (who connected them). But would Jadis really try to kill her perceived competition? All signs seem to indicate so, but Shade isn't sure she believes it Jadis meanwhile tries to warn Shade that the remaining Chloes are out to frame them.
A taut psychological thriller about adolescent insecurity and the depths that girls will go to in order to preserve their friendships and their place in the social hierarchy. Less exploitative than other novels in the genre, I was taken by the complex relationships between the girls. I also liked the way the adults were portrayed, with greater-than-usual multi-dimensionality.
But things are changing and she worries that automation will end the use of human operators and there may not be jobs for her in the future. That may be far-fetched worry, but she also knows that her Dad wants to find them a stable home now that she’s about to become a teenager. The trouble is that she doesn’t want to ever settle down to a house in the burbs with a frilly bed in a pink bedroom. She’s rather live free on the road.
A bit thin on an overall plot, the book consists mostly of vignettes (some of them quite outlandish) that fill the pages but don’t really advance the story. I liked the characters, but when we’re adopting cats who survive plane crashes and rescuing a group of special needs children from flood waters, I have to start questioning the realism of the story. It's a fast entertaining read that taught me a bit about the trucking lifestyle and the basics of the business, but didn’t have a compelling dramatic arc to carry it through.
Thursday, April 20, 2023
Sunday, April 16, 2023
When two meteors collide one night in the skies above her, Tiffany feels like something significant has changed in her life. Inexplicably, she finds herself gifted with talents that she never imagined possessing. She gains the ability to sing like queen bee Candace, the talent to sink three-point shots like smoldering Brady, and even the ability to do card tricks like her grandmother's old friend in the nursing home. But the magic comes with two caveats: it is temporary and it requires that Tiffany steal it away (the person who had the talent becomes normal while Tiffany possesses it).
With such magic, Tiffany could really fix things and make everything right. But the ethics of the power vex her. Very quickly she realizes how much harm she can cause to others. And while there are instances when hurting others might feel justified (stealing Candace's voice before a performance so she flubs it), it is never nice. And moreover, what does it say that you can only get ahead by stealing from others? In the end, Tiffany comes to realize that being successful comes as much from self-confidence and the support of others as it comes from any talent.
A fine fantasy novel that approaches the morality of playing fair. I was put off by the character of Tiffany who never really felt authentic to me and by the setting (planetarium? really?). I also found the characters rather thin. But I appreciated the nice age-appropriate development of a theme that allowed Tiffany to explore the pitfalls of her incredible power.
Wednesday, April 12, 2023
While waiting at the hospital, Graham meets Lou who coincidentally is also waiting with her family for a donor heart to come. With their shared situation, Lou and Graham bond easily and they discover a shared love for birding. Going through Graham's mother's old things back home, they find Mom's birding journal and learn that she had been on a quest for a rare bird called a Snail Kite that she never found. Determined to complete his Mom's quest in her honor as she waits for a donor, he and Lou set out on an adventure to find the Kite.
A lively middle grade adventure story that manages to cover two separate topics (organ transplants and ornithology) with a good mix of information and entertainment. While the two main subjects are unrelated, I thought the birding helped to lighten the otherwise heavy nature of the medical stuff (especially given the story's rather heavy ending). I was a bit annoyed at how passive Graham was and it soured me a bit on his character. And I would have preferred if Nick had gotten some sort of comeuppance for his meanness. However, the birding stuff was great and may encourage a few young people to pick up a pair of binoculars.
Saturday, April 08, 2023
A sweet and actually pretty fresh story that mostly defies its genre. We have the dead mother, but don't dwell on her. There's the pandemic, but that's mostly background. There's a mild supernatural element, but it is largely ignored. And the eco theme, while central to the story, is toned down. The ultimate solution is a compromise (i.e., responsible stewardship of resources) and while overly optimistic, does portray the types of win-win solutions that generally have underlaid real life conservation success stories. I might in fact criticize the story for not really pursuing any of these themes in any major way, but that decision leaves the book more digestible and less didactic. What results is sufficiently educational with a light touch and has little bits of stuff (emotions, interpersonal relationships, magic, and adventure) to excite the reader.
Sunday, April 02, 2023
Family is family and the one thing that has kept Finn's family together is this old mansion. So, when the new artistic director for Beauregard announces that they can no longer afford to maintain the property and need to sell it, the family comes together with a plan to save it. It is a family dream to stage a historical murder mystery about the original inhabitants of the mansion -- the Jorgensens -- in the house itself. But with the dire need for funds, the plan is now extended to host a special dinner for VIPs at $1000 a plate as part of an exclusive televised performance. That's all well and good until things start going wrong.
Mix into all of this a complex web of subplots worthy of Downton Abbey and you get the whirlwind of this novel. There's romance and intrigue, coming to terms with the past, and a main protagonist who sorts his entire life out in 340 action-packed pages. With a huge cast of characters it can be hard to keep up with everything that is going on, but the story is forgiving and coaches you so you don't get completely lost. There are many things to like about this book. I particularly enjoyed the mash-up of manor home posing with modern sensibilities as the cast (largely made up of high school drama kids) are forced to live in character as upstairs and downstairs inhabitants of the play. Great fun!
Saturday, April 01, 2023
And things are about to get a lot more complicated because this is March 2020 and news stories about a virus sweeping the world are just starting to pick up. With Baylee's complicated love life, she doesn't have much time to pay attention to any of that (although having school get cancelled helps give her time to focus on sorting things out). Even as lockdown is declared, Baylee can't really conceptualize the weight of the matter, despite repeated entreaties from her Mom and the authorities.
During the early days of the Pandemic, I had wondered what sort of YA stories would come from it. This sort of dazed-and-confused romance makes a certain amount of sense. Baylee's an interesting protagonist. Aside from cheating on Alex, she's actually very candid. While she's articulate, her mind is truly confused by all of the novel things that are occurring to her: first love, first kiss, and first sexual experience. Putting it all in the context of lockdown raises the stakes a bit and Baylee proves largely (and realistically) incapable of adapting to the restrictions. As an adult, it's hard for me to be sympathetic to her selfishness and to the degree she puts her family (and her vulnerable little sister in particular) at risk by her quarantine violations. However, it felt authentic and even if it made me dislike her, I recognized that as a sign of my degree of investment in the story.