Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Hysteria by Megan Miranda

Hysteria - panic, uncontrollable fear.  For Mallory, who had stabbed a young man to death, possibly to save herself, this means running anytime memories or memories of sounds associated with that fateful night come back.  Readers are just as confused as Mallory by her fleeting memory bits.  I was confused all the way to the very last 25 pages.  I think this was supposed to be a nail biter but I was mostly just confused.  Its easy enough to read and one feels compelled to keep going just to see if everything is explained.  It is, eventually.  Mallory is sent off to the same boarding school her father and grandmother had attended when the mother and brother of the young man who died begin to stalk her.  At the school she meets up with Reid, son of her father's best buddy.  She had met him years earlier and the memories return.  They do hit it off ok.  She also meets Jason, Krista, Taryn, Bree.  Something isn't quite right among the group.  There are secrets being held and lies being told.  Jason and Krista are particularly weirding out Mallory.  Then it happens again, another murder.  Mallory wakes up covered in blood, Jason stabbed to death on her dorm room floor.  This time she is sure she has had no part in the murder.  She was framed.  She is not allowed to go home while the murder investigation is going on so ends up in a motel near enough to campus for Mallory to run over there.  She does this several times, seemingly compelled to get the truth of both killings.  Her best bud from home, Colleen, is always there for her.  So it is that Colleen comes from home to visit at the motel.  Colleen gets involved with the attempt to figure out the truth of things and is nearly killed in the process.  This leads to those final 25 pages or so.  This is only an ok story but teens looking for a mystery that's a quick read may enjoy it. 
JDW 4/9/14

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

You Know What You Have To Do by Bonnie Shimko

This novel, while enjoyable and a quick read, seems to miss its potential. It has a great storyline, but it focuses more on the mundane rather than the intriguing.

Mary-Magdalene (aka Maggie or Mare) has this problem where she hears an evil voice in her head that tells her to kill people. The throbbing headache that accompanies the voice makes it so that the only thing she can do to alleviate the problem is to listen to the voice. When the novel starts, she has already killed one person. However, he was beating up his wife and Maggie's friend, so in a way, she was doing them a favor. While Maggie is dealing with this voice, she deals with typical high school things - like a boy who likes her but to whom she doesn't return the feelings, a best friend who is suddenly beautiful and more popular than Maggie will be, and the opportunity to finally get her driver's license. Throughout the book, Maggie tries to cope with the voice and life in general.

As I write the summary for the book, I struggle to create the appeal that the book jacket created because overall, the voices in her head were not as prevalent as I was led to believe - which is where the story faltered. Most of the book felt like Maggie dealing with being a teenager. She's going to therapy and is more concerned with the hotness of her therapist than doing anything to get better. True, admitting you've killed people because the voices told you to do it is basically asking to get locked up, but she seemed so desperate to get help you want to scream at her to actually do something about it. Maggie is more concerned about getting caught than bothered by the fact that she killed people. So are we supposed to feel sorry for her - which you do a good portion of the book - or is she just as bad as the voice in her head? But then, like I said, that whole dilemma seems at times secondary to life in general. Come the end of the book, when tragedy strikes and Maggie ends up in a psychiatric ward, it has nothing to do with her actual issue and it never even comes up until the end of her stay. Then the book ends and you're left wondering if she's embracing this issue or what. During at least one point in the novel (although I'm sure it was more than once) I completely forgot she had this voice issue. Then it comes back at the end and you're simply left wondering why the book didn't start here. This book could very well have been like a teenage Dexter, but that excitement gets muddled with the mundane life of a teenager. The suspense simply wasn't constant.

This book had a lot of potential. It had a great concept that drew me in, but it wasn't built up enough and you're left feeling "meh" about the book.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Asylum by Madeleine Roux

When the story takes place in an abandoned asylum, you're almost insured a creepy story and this novel doesn't let you down. If the story alone isn't enough to give you chills, the novel also has photos from real asylums that add that little extra creep factor.

Dan Crawford is excited about attending the New Hampshire College Prep summer program. It's a chance to take classes he's interested in and an opportunity to meet new friends, like Abby and Jordan who he instantly bonds with. His first day, though, he finds a creepy picture of a man with his eyes scratched out in his dresser drawer. After being told there are more pictures like that in the "off limits" section of their dorm, Dan decides it's time to investigate their dormitory, which was originally an insane asylum. With the help of Abby and Jordan, they discover the warden's office and a number of disturbing photos. Initially creeped out, the three leave, but things aren't quite right when Dan starts receiving mysterious notes and troubling nightmares as if he is a part of the asylum. Upon further investigation, Dan discovers that the asylum once held a serial killer named The Sculptor. When a student is murdered and posed - just like the Sculptor had done to his victims - Dan begins to wonder if the serial killer is still around or if something more nefarious is going on in the dorm. It also doesn't help that Dan is prone to blackouts, which start to make him look like a suspect as more people are attacked and a connection between him and the original asylum is discovered.

This book did not disappoint in the creepy factor. The photos were a nice touch to the story. Between developing the characters, there is a nice, steady build up of suspense. The things that happen to Dan and the people around him makes you wonder if they're all being affected by the asylum and each going a little crazy.

A sequel to this novel is coming out around August 2014. It will be interesting to see where the story goes because this novel ends with a pull to come back. Asylum is definitely worth the read.

Jumped In - Patrick Flores-Scott

Sam is a slacker, and over the last two years has perfected these seven rules to stay invisible: 1. Don't be late to class, 2. Don't screw around, 3. Don't ever look the teacher in the eye, 4. Don't ever look a classmate in the eye, 5. Develop your blank stare, 6. Don't ever raise your hand, and 7. Listen.  No one sits by Sam in class.  He's fine with it until one fateful day Luis comes and sits next to Sam.  Luis has a four inch scar on his neck, and there are rumors he is in a gang.  Luis ends up in all the same classes as Sam, sitting next to him in all of them.  There is a brief interaction between them on that first day.  Both of them act like the other isn't there.  When their English teacher, Cassidy, starts calling on both of them in class it's hard not to stay invisible.  They start a poetry unit in their English class, and in a few weeks there will be a slam poetry contest.  Cassidy has Luis and Sam work together.  Luis suggests they work on it at his place.  When fellow members of the gang Luis's brother is in come looking for his brother, Sam gets scared and runs off not wanting to go back there.  After a few days Luis convinces Sam to come back so they can nail this poetry assignment.  The day before the presentation in class there is a huge gang fight at lunch with several students suspended.  When Sam hears this he thinks Luis is among the suspended.  On the day of the presentation Luis leaves his part of the poem on a CD with a note saying he'll explain everything when the time is right.  They nail the presentation, even with Luis not there.  Sam gets worried when he doesn't hear from Luis over the weekend and the days following the presentation.  Sam mouths off to a teacher and gets suspended for the rest of the week.  He uses that time to try and find Luis.  When he comes up empty he turns to a few classmates and a few teachers to help him.

I enjoyed this book.  I loved the poetry that was interspersed between some of the chapters.  I also liked the author addressing the fact of being related to a gang member and having scars automatically makes that person a gang member.  The ending is a sad, and I had tears in my eyes.  I wasn't really expecting a sad ending.  Who would think that a story of two teenagers working on slam poetry for English class could turn out to be sad?  This book is on the YALSA 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults list.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

This novel reminded me of Homecoming by Voigt, Pictures of Hollis Woods by Giff and half dozen stories about young people abandoned or stolen by mentally unstable folks.  Carey has been told for some 10 years that she was taken to the trailer with no running water, no heat, no electricity because her father abused her.  She didn't know any other story so she believed it must be true.  But, mom had a string of scarey men visiting her, mom left her and later her little sister too alone for weeks at a time.  So a man she doesn't know and a woman called a social worker show up at the trailer in the deep woods of Tennessee.  They show her a letter from mom to the social worker saying she cannot take care of the girls and please go take care of them.  Carey and little sister Jessica suddenly find themselves experiencing things Carey can't remember and Jessica has never experienced, things like electricity, bubble baths, pajamas and more.  Jessica has selective mutism.  Jessica seems to be nobody's child except Carey's.  On that basis she stays with the family with whom the girls are placed and cared for and adjusts quite well.  Carey is narrating the story.  She has secrets she both needs to tell and needs to keep.  Slowly over time, her and Jessica's story of horrific deprivation, abuse and more come out.  There is a three legged dog that takes to Jessica and Carey and helps to ease their transition that is quite important to the story.  I want folks to know since it also takes some of the horror for the reader who likes pets.  I've always taken to "rescuing kids from bad situations" stories quickly and this one is no exception.  Recommend.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Beka Cooper Trilogy by Tamora Pierce

When I can't seem to get into any book, there are a few authors I turn to.  Tamora Pierce is one of them.  So, though its not new I decided to try this series when nothing else held my interest.  At the start, Beka Cooper is an eight year old girl fiercely trying to take down a gang leader who beat her mother and took all the poor family has.  She is rewarded by being taken in by a lord and given a chance at a career as a dog.  Thats the name for police in this long ago kingdom where most folks seem to have a little magic ability and there is a lot of poverty and crime.  There is a glossary in the book explaining all the terms being used which is very helpful since Dogs and Cesspool residents have their own slang terms. Now a beginner dog she has been apprenticed to one of the greatest dog pairs on the street. All the street talk is that of a baby gone missing.  The baby is the child of a friend from Beka's past.  She has the help of ghosts that ride pigeons tile they leave earth and of dust eddies in the street to pick up conversations no one else has heard.  This leads her to information that ultimately solves the problem of many disappearances but not before she and other dogs are injured, a linked is made to secret mining, thieving and Beka helps a new rogue take power.  Hard for me to explain rogues except they are into illegal activity like gambling and yet help keep law and order.

In the second story Beka Cooper Bloodhound, Beka is finished with apprenticeship but has been unsuccessful as a partner, though several have been tried out.  When she is paired with a scent hound handler and the hound that had helped in a search and rescue in the first story, she loses another partner but becomes a handler. He had been abusing ACHOO.  Beka's has great ability in handling animals as her talk with pigeons and her "pet" cat POUNCE so she is a natural to be the scent dog handler.  This go round there is a suspect counterfeit ring in action which could well bring down the economy of the kingdom and result in widespread starvation and unrest.  Beka and her former partners are back together traveling in disguise to try to sort out the situation.  Beka has her first romance in this story and for a short time it looks as if her friend might be part of the ring.

The final book Beka Cooper Mastiff doesn't work as well as the other two.  I especially enjoyed the bumbling mage who has more power and ability than he appears to.  This time the royal heir to the throne of the kingdom has been kidnapped.  He is just four years old.  Quietly a group of the best trackers and dogs in the kingdom, meaning ACHOO and Beka, Mage Farmer, and Beka's old partners search for the missing heir.  Beka again using voices riding pigeons and dust eddies to get clues as to what is happening.  It becomes clear that one of the trackers must be a traitor as the search is thwarted at every turn.  Of course Bela and those true to the kingdom rescue the young prince who had been hidden in a slave trader's caravan.  The reason the prince was stolen seems weak to me as does the reason for one of the group becoming a traitor.  Just like the other stories there is a lot of exciting action, this time ACHOO is injured along with everyone else in the group.  Pounce shows some of his true power only hinted at before and Beka meets her future husband.

While there isn't all the fireworks of Harry Potter Magic, there is enough to make the story enjoyable.  Folks who like animals will be especially taken by ACHOO who sneezes whenever he picks up a scent and by Pounce with the purple eyes and his hidden powers.  You may not like the scummer pigeons so much though - they are pigeons after all.   JDW3/22

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

Sitting down to blog this book, I don't quite know where to start. I truly enjoyed reading this book. 
While in his home town for a funeral, a middle aged man drives to the site of his parents' former home and  visits the farm at the end of the road, where he remembers some curious events from when he was seven... He remembers being caught up in the aftermath of a houseguest's death, a doorway is opened to another world--a world of nightmares and fairytale monsters, of magical kittens and brave eleven-year old girls who are older and wise r than creation. And it's there his adventure starts and, just as abruptly, ends.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane deals with dreams, the effect of belief on reality, and forgotten things, like things that every kid knows and every adult has forgotten.

There's not a lot I can say without giving away the best bits. A haunting novel about sacrifice, boundaries, and things remembered. So many twisted and tattered new characters to get into our heads and under our skin.
That's about all I can say. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a really quick read but full of interesting ideas and great moments.

RPA 2/26/14

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Extra - Kathryn Lasky

Jewish people along with the Gypsies were persecuted by the Nazi's during World War Two.  On an Autumn night in 1940 Lilo, her father, and her mother are taken from their home and transported to a holding area.  Five nights later the three of them, along with many other Gypsies, are taken to Buchenwald.  Lilo and her mother are separated from Lilo's father at the camp.  After two days of asking where her father is a boy asks her what she's looking for.  Lilo describes her father to him and the boy, Django, says he will try and find him.  Django does find him and he's on a transport leaving the camp.  The next day there is roll call for the girls and women to be medical pioneers.  This is the polite way of saying the doctors are sterilizing the women so they can't have children.  Lilo is spared thanks to the Good Matron hiding her.  Two weeks later they are transported to Maxglan.  Shortly after arriving Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favorite filmmaker, picks twenty-three of the prisoners including Lilo, her mother, and Django to be extras in a movie.  They are transported to Krün, hosed down and given new clothes.  They are reminded that they are still prisoners and the same rules apply as they did at Maxglan.  The next day some of them, including Lilo and Django, are driven to the film set.  They are in awe of how realistic the set looks.  The extras are cast as street urchins in the movie.  If some of them aren't needed for a scene they are kept in a cell until needed.  When they are off set the Gypsies are housed in a barn, which is a little better than Maxglan, but not by much.  Lilo wants her mother with her while she's on set and Django gets her on the bus going to the movie set.  Lilo is assigned to be a stand in for some of the wide shot scenes of the main characters entering and leaving the town on horseback.  Lilo sees this as a chance to be noticed by Leni and possibly keeping her and her mother alive after the film is complete.  Filming heads to Babelsberg in the winter of 1940-1941.  To keep everyone alive the Gypsies are given warmer blankets and a bit more food.  Shooting continues for the next few months at Babelsberg and by the second week of May 1941 filming is completed there.  It is announced that everyone would be returning to Krün, with a few going to Sarentino in Italy for further shooting.  Lilo and Django are among the few who get to go.  While in Sarentino Lilo has a strange waking dream about wanting to free herself from everything.  She dismisses it as just a dream.  The filming finishes up in Sarentino and everyone heads back to Krün.  On June 22nd, 1941 word is spreading that Hitler has invaded Russian and everyone is celebrating.  While all of this celebrating is going on Lilo sees her chance to escape.  She escapes and doesn't look back.

I enjoyed this book.  I'm not one for historical fiction, but this book kept my interest all the way through.  It was a good story about survival during one of the most horrific periods in human history.  I also liked the fact Lilo always had hope.  Even when everything looked really grim, she believed one day things would get better.

T.B. 2/10/14