08. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin, 256 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/20/2015

Addison was the most promising artist of her generation. Her death, a fall from a bridge, is a crushing blow to everyone who knew her. The prologue explains that the author, Griffin, was intrigued by Addison and thus began interviewing a wide variety of friends, family, exes, teachers, family acquaintances, etc. to gain a better understanding of who Addison was and what led to her death. Did she slip and fall? Was it intentional on her behalf? Did someone want her dead? Accounts of Addison vary depending on who is being asked, though everyone seems to agree that she was a phenomenal artist with some serious mental health issues. The narrative of the book is entirely commentary from the people in Addison’s life and begins more or less at the beginning with Addison’s early elementary school years. Also included are examples of Addison’s artwork and photos of Addison throughout her life.
We may never really know what caused Addison’s fatal slip, but we do get a much better idea of who she was and what brought her up on that bridge. Addison comes across as the quintessential “manic-pixie-dream-girl”. Everyone seems to want to know her, but she’s frequently aloof. Her art is clearly the most important part of her life, so much so that people, even those she cares about, come in at a distant second. Those who don’t like her come across as jealous of her magnetism and talent. She was clearly not the easiest person to be friends with; being her friend involved a lot of work.
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I don’t really get into books that have this many different narrators. It’s incredibly difficult for me to warm up to any of the peripheral characters as we only know them through their relation to Addison and not on their own terms. While I felt like I learned a lot about Addison, I never felt like I knew her as a person, which was likely the intent. This is, however, an interesting experiment in form. There were a lot of themes at play here: the cult of celebrity, the connection between mental illness and creative genius, the effects of being precocious in a city like New York… As a thought experiment, the novel works, but I didn’t really love it.

08. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, 336 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/13/2015

It began as a day much like any other. Tariq Johnson was walking home after a trip to the local market, something he had done dozens of times before. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a car pulls up. A white man gets out of the car and shoots Tariq. Tariq is dead by the time the EMTs arrive. The community, which is predominantly black, is thrown into an uproar. Violence is nothing new to the gang-ridden neighborhood, but this shooting is different. Tariq was only 16 years old and he was, by many accounts, unarmed. As the news picks up the story, it becomes apparent that this act of violence was about far more than just the two individuals involved. The incident quickly becomes national news and the lives of everyone connected with Tariq and his shooter are changed forever.
Tariq’s story is told from multiple perspectives, including his best friend, his family members, old friends, local gang members, the store clerk, the shooter’s friend who lives down the street, the girl who tried to give Tariq CPR…the list goes on. There’s even an Al Sharpton-type character in the mix. It becomes abundantly clear from early on that the narrative of the day’s events shifts significantly depending on who is doing the talking. The gang members want to believe that Tariq did have a gun and that he was planning on joining up with them, so his death signals an act of war to them. Tariq’s best friend wasn’t there, but can’t wrap his head around the idea of Tariq carrying a gun. The friend of the shooter swore up and down that he saw a gun in Tariq’s hand. Others are sure they didn’t see a gun; that Tariq had a Snickers bar in his hand instead. How It Went Down certainly feels timely and does much to emphasize patterns of racism, both conscious and subconscious. As with many other incidents like this (that were not captured on film), what actually happened is difficult to discern. Each narrator has a very specific point of view shaped by their perceptions not only of Tariq himself, but of the neighborhood and the stereotypes associated with young black men in living in poor areas like Tariq’s. Ultimately, there are only two people who have any real answers – the shooter and the shot- and neither one is talking. This is a great novel to teach the ways in which our preconceived notions can shape our interpretation of events, but it’s not the most literary of novels out there. It’s an important read, but only if the reader is willing and able to sort through a very large number of narrators only to find that there aren’t any “real” answers. In the end, I felt that it might have been better to develop fewer characters rather than confuse the issue further with so many individual points of view.

08. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho, 366 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/05/2015

Althea and Oliver have been best friends ever since Althea moved in down the street from Oliver at the tender young age of six. Now in their senior year of high school, they are still inseparable, but complications are arising in their usually-easy friendship. Althea is starting to develop a romantic interest in Oliver. Oliver, while not adverse to the prospect of advancing his relationship with Althea, is busy dealing with a strange illness that causes him to fall asleep for weeks, even months, on end. Althea has been helping him through many of his episodes, but finds herself flailing in the meantime. She literally doesn’t know how to live her life without Oliver by her side. Oliver, on the other hand, is profoundly disturbed by the fact that he is missing vast chunks of his life. Even when he wakes up in the midst of a sleeping episode, he has no recollection of what has happened during his semi-conscious state. Right before one of Oliver’s episodes, he and Althea finally become physical. Then, of course, he loses consciousness and they are unable to even discuss what has just happened or what the next step will be. While Oliver is out, Althea does something that she knows she will regret, something that might ruin her relationship with Oliver forever. When Oliver eventually finds out, he is furious and attempts to cut Althea out of his life altogether. He decides to participate in a two-month sleep study in New York for those who have the same disease: Kleine Levin Syndrome, or KLS. When Althea figures out that Oliver has left town, she packs up her old Camry and heads off to New York to apologize and attempt to salvage her friendship.
Althea and Oliver’s story is completely unique. It’s easy to go into this book thinking that you know where it will end up, but this story never seems to go quite where you think it will. It’s not exactly a romance or a love story, but there’s a ton of heart. Althea isn’t always the most likeable of characters, but she’s absolutely relatable and her growth as a person is one of the highlights of this fantastic novel. Oliver’s development comes in fits and spurts, as could be expected for someone who literally loses months of his life at a time. The impact that Oliver’s illness has on Althea is almost as heartbreaking as its effect on Oliver, though I would hesitate to say that the novel is about Oliver’s KLS. In fact, it takes over half of the book to even get Oliver to the sleep study. In the meantime, Althea is learning to live her life on her own terms and not as Oliver’s counterpart. In New York, she makes friends of her own for the first time in her life and begins to realize that it might be possible for her to exist outside of Oliver’s shadow. Oliver begins to learn how to move forward in spite of an exceedingly uncertain future. Moracho takes some major risks with both of these characters, but they come out all the more realistic for it. Nothing is sugar-coated here. Althea and Oliver’s relationship is consuming, messy and complicated, much like real-life. Their story is simultaneously a train-wreck and a heartfelt bildungsroman. It’s not for every reader, but for the right readers, it’s utterly perfect.

06. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Madeline

Schooled by Gordon Korman, 224 pages, read by Madeline, on 12/15/2014

Homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, Capricorn (Cap) Anderson has never watched television, tasted a pizza, or even heard of a wedgie. But when his grandmother lands in the hospital, Cap is forced to move in with a school counselor and attend the local middle school. While Cap knows a lot about tie-dyeing and Zen Buddhism, no education could prepare him for the politics of public school.

Description from Goodreads.com

06. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Sports

Fantasy League by Mike Lupica, 304 pages, read by Angie, on 01/05/2015

Charlie Gaines is a HUGE football fan. He loves everything about the game even if he doesn’t think he plays that well. He is best friends with Anna who is the granddaughter of Joe Warren, the owner of their beloved L.A. Bulldogs. Even though the Bulldogs aren’t doing very well, Charlie and Anna still cheer for them every game day. Charlie is also a fantasy football master. His picks for his fantasy teams always win. Anna convinces him to start a podcast where he can share all his football knowledge. She also convinces him to tell Joe what he thinks about the Bulldogs. This leads to the Bulldogs signing two of the players Charlie suggests. Suddenly Charlie is thrust into the spotlight and made out to be a football boy wonder.

Usually I don’t enjoy sports books very much, but this one really captured my attention. Sure I had no idea what was going on when Lupica was describing football plays, but I really didn’t care. It was the human part of this story that was so enjoyable. Charlie is a truly likeable character with his strengths and his weaknesses. Charlie doesn’t have a father so his growing friendship with Joe was really touching. I also liked Anna a lot. She was a strong female in a male dominated sport. She knew just as much as Charlie about football and wasn’t afraid to let him know it. This is a very strong story about following your heart, sticking with your gut and being a good friend. I think sports fans and non-sports fans alike can find something to like here.

05. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction

Cool Beans: The Further Adventures of Beanboy by Lisa Harkrader, 272 pages, read by Angie, on 12/23/2014

Tucker thought life would be so much better after he created comic hero h2o’s new sidekick in a contest. But things at school are the same as ever. He is still bullied by super-jock Wesley and his minions. The art club is losing members and its one and only bulletin board. Tucker has to somehow make the Art Club popular so it won’t get cancelled. He convinces the principal to let them have a pep rally. The pep rally is awesome until the sports teams highjack it. Next, Tucker starts distributing comic panels of his Beanboy superhero fighting for the arts. To his surprise, the students start really responding to Beanboy, but that doesn’t help the Art Club. Then Tucker gets the bright idea to enter the school dodge ball contest. He just has to convince his fellow art clubbers to do it and get them good enough to win against the jocks. He gets help from surprising places and learns more about himself and his friends.

I have not read the first Beanboy book, but that didn’t stop me from really enjoying this one. I will admit that I didn’t really have high expectations for this one. I thought it would be along the lines of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Middle School books, but it was much better than that. Tucker’s story was inspiring and highly enjoyable. I found myself cheering for the art club kids and hoping that would triumph in the end. This is definitely a story about the little guy coming out on top, triumphing over the popular bully. I enjoyed it and I hope kids will as well.

04. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Katy, Teen Books

Where She Went by Gayle Forman, 260 pages, read by Katy, on 01/03/2015

thIt’s been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future – and each other.

Told from Adam’s point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

From www.goodreads.com. 

31. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Award Winner, Contemporary Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Noelle, Teen Books

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, 471 pages, read by Noelle, on 12/30/2014

An angry, grieving seventeen-year-old musician facing expulsion from her prestigious Brooklyn private school travels to Paris to complete a school assignment and uncovers a diary written during the French revolution by a young actress attempting to help a tortured, imprisoned little boy–Louis Charles, the lost king of France.

31. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Nikki, Romance

Pulse by Gail McHugh, 414 pages, read by Nikki, on 12/27/2014

How do you keep existing when your heart is so splintered, so completely torn to shreds, your pulse is fading?

You’re broken. How do you move forward when every breath is nothing more than a constant ache? Living becomes an insidious reminder that you threw away the single largest part of yourself. Your soul. No amount of distraction can pull you from the torture of losing your life.

Now that Emily Cooper has walked away from her first love, she finds herself running toward her only love. Unraveling fast, but clinging to hope, Emily risks all she has left on the man that has consumed her every thought and dream since the day they met. Will Gavin take her back? And if so, will their reunion be a collision of two hearts destined to complete one another and rekindle a love that knew no boundaries? Or will scars from their past rip open, tearing slowly at what each of them was meant to be? Can fate, the ultimate game changer, mend the shattered road it laid out from the start?

Only time will tell…

Tick-Tock…

(from goodreads.com)

31. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Nikki, Romance

Back-up by A.M. Madden, 392 pages, read by Nikki, on 12/17/2014

THERE’S A NEW ROCK STAR IN TOWN AND HIS NAME IS JACK LAIR…

Leila Marino’s biggest dream is to become a rock star. A lucky opportunity has her auditioning with an up & coming rock band named Devil’s Lair. The band hires Leila as their back-up singer, signing her up for months in the studio and touring on the road with the sexy bunch.

Jack is the quintessential rock star…gorgeous…sexy…a walking orgasm. Jack Lair is the lead singer of Devil’s Lair and his dreams are becoming reality as his band climbs the ladder of success. He’s living the perfect life, and enjoying every minute of it. With a steady stream of sexual conquests that satisfies his raging libido, he thinks he has all he needs in life…until Leila enters it.

Jack is not prepared for the sudden pull he feels towards Leila, and struggles daily to deny his attraction is anything more. Leila finds falling for her new boss is constant torment. Both convince themselves friendship is their only option.

An intimate moment causes their willpower to collapse, and their erotic love affair to begin. Finding love was a bonus that neither Jack nor Leila anticipated. As they begin their tour together professionally and personally, life couldn’t be any better for the couple. Until a mistake from Jack’s past threatens their new relationship, and their perfect future together. (from goodreads.com)

31. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Nikki, Romance

Front and Center by A.M. Madden, 334 pages, read by Nikki, on 12/19/2014

Jack was a rock star on the way to fame. Leila was following her dream and joining his band as a back-up singer. An insane attraction sparked between them that they couldn’t deny. Attraction quickly led to so much more. They ignored all the warnings and fell in love.

When the couple embark on their tour, they couldn’t be more excited to travel the country hand in hand on the way to stardom. The road ahead is filled with miles and miles of possibilities. Along with their band, Devil’s Lair, they feel nothing could stop them.

An angry ex-band-mate, a pregnant ex-girlfriend, and never-ending Internet gossip all attempt to wreak havoc on their developing relationship. New love does not mix well with stress, pressure and guilt. Together they face each and every challenge, stubbornly fighting for what they have. Will their determination be enough? (from goodreads.com)

31. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Nikki, Romance

You Were Mine by Abbi Glines, 256 pages, read by Nikki, on 12/12/2014

From #1 “New York Times” bestselling author Abbi Glines comes a brand-new Rosemary Beach novel about Tripp Newark and his hidden romantic past with Bethy Lowry.

In the eyes of the wealthy playboys who frequent Kerrington Country Club in Rosemary Beach, Tripp Newark is a hero. Under pressure from his parents to become a lawyer and lead a conservative, upper-class life, Tripp disappeared from town five years ago to travel the world, forfeiting the opportunity to inherit millions. Yet few know what he was really running from…

Bethy Lowry was unraveling long before her boyfriend drowned in a riptide trying to save her after she’d had one too many drinks–again. A trailer park kid working as a cart girl among the wealthy patrons of Kerrington Country Club, Bethy has always been impressionable. But five years ago, before she earned her reputation as a hard-drinking, easy girl, she had spent a single summer with Tripp Newark that changed her life forever… (from goodreads.com)

31. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Nikki, Romance

Bright Side by Kim Holden, 423 pages, read by Nikki, on 12/06/2014

Secrets.
Everyone has one.
Some are bigger than others.
And when secrets are revealed,
Some will heal you …
And some will end you.

Kate Sedgwick’s life has been anything but typical. She’s endured hardship and tragedy, but throughout it all she remains happy and optimistic (there’s a reason her best friend Gus calls her Bright Side). Kate is strong-willed, funny, smart, and musically gifted. She’s also never believed in love. So when Kate leaves San Diego to attend college in the small town of Grant, Minnesota, the last thing she expects is to fall in love with Keller Banks.

They both feel it.
But they each have a reason to fight it.
They each have a secret.

And when secrets are revealed,
Some will heal you …
And some will end you.

(from goodreads.com)

 

23. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Poetry

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/22/2014

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while you read a book and it just blows you away. I really enjoy novels in verse even though I don’t enjoy poetry like I probably should. I love how authors who write novels in verse can get across so much information with so few words. Sometimes novels in verse read like short prose paragraphs, but the truly great ones highlight different styles of poetry and draw the reader in completely. Kwame Alexander’s Crossover has been getting a lot of buzz lately and all of it is well deserved. The Crossover is a potent novel that draws readers in and doesn’t let them go.

Josh and JB are twin brother and the stars of their middle school basketball team. Their mom is the assistant principal at their school and their dad is a former basketball star and olympian. The Crossover is told through Josh’s voice as he practices his mad rap skills on and off the basketball court. He is your typical 13-year-old boy with a lot of the same concerns and issues most boys his age deal with. He is cocky about his basketball skills, he is jealous when JB gets a girlfriend and starts spending more time with her, he is concerned about his dad’s health. Things come to a head with JB when Josh takes his frustration and anger out on the basketball court. Concerns about his dad get more real when he realizes just how sick his dad potentially is. When dad has a heart attack and is in the hospital Josh and JB have different reactions regarding basketball. Their team is playing the championship game and they have to decide if they are going to play or spend time with dad. It is heartbreaking to watch Josh win the championship at the same time he loses his dad. A truly heartbreaking story.

Dead, dying or sick parents seems to be a trend in middle grade literature right now. The subject makes for really powerful stories as kids have to deal with situations they shouldn’t have to deal with for years. You really don’t expect to lose a parent until you are an adult yourself. So losing one at a young age is horrible and heartbreaking and makes great literature. While The Crossover isn’t really about the aftermath of losing a parent it is an essential part of this story. The dad was the heart of the family and Josh and JB and the mom have to learn to readjust their life with the heart gone.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the fact that the poem styles were all over the place. There are lots of different styles here that make this book so much more interesting than if everything was written in the same style. I really liked the poems where Josh described the action on the basketball court. Even though I am not a sports fan, this style really brought the game alive in a way that regular prose would not have been able to. Hopefully the fact that this story is told through poems will not turn young readers off. It is a wonderful story about family and brothers and basketball and loss and growing up. I highly recommend it.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Where I Belong by Mary Downing Hahn, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/21/2014

Brandon is a foster kid who is bullied by his teacher, his classmates, his foster mother and the town thugs. He is a dreamer who could care less about school or any of the people around him. He escapes to the woods where he has built a tree house and daydreams about the Green Man. One day he finds an old man asleep at the base of his tree. He believes he has finally found the Green Man and the man goes along with it. Because he has flunked 6th grade, Brandon has to attend summer school where he meets Shae. She is different from all the other kids he knows and he finds himself a little interested in knowing more about her. Together, Brandon, Shae and the Green Man form a family of sorts in the woods where they are safe and loved. But Brandon is beat up terribly by the town thugs who then go after the Green Man. Brandon must find his courage and step up for what is right.

Some people are just lost. They become disconnected from the world and live in their own minds. Brandon is beginning down that path. He can’t seem to find anything worthy in the real world. He wants to live in his idea of a perfect world where nature matters and the Green Man is there to protect the forest and its inhabitants. It is easy to see why he wants to disconnect from the world. He doesn’t know who his parents are; his mom abandoned him as an infant. He has been shuttled around foster homes his whole life. His current foster mom Mrs. Clancy seems to care more about watching tv shows and doing crossword puzzles than paying attention to Brandon. His teacher is a nightmare who bullies him and allows the other students to bully him. The forest is really his only refuge. Shae isn’t quite as broken down as Brandon, but she too has her issues as does Ed Calhoun/Green Man, a Vietnam vet who became a homeless bun, drinking in the park and living in the woods. Together they start to heal each other. The story doesn’t have a happy ending, but it does have a hopeful ending. Hopeful that things will start to get better.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Chasing the Milky Way by Erin E. Moulton, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 12/21/2014

Lucy and Cam want nothing more than to get out of the Sunnyside Trailer Park. Their plan is to compete in the annual BotBlock competition, win $5000 and 15% college tuition. They have a plan to complete their mission that includes raising the admission fee, building and programming their robot and getting to the beachside competition. Lucy wants to escape a mom with manic-depressive disorder who seems to be off her meds and Cam wants to get away from a house filled with children and his mom’s abusive boyfriend. In addition to their problems at home, they are also hassled by a bully at school. Their road to victory is hit with several roadblocks when Lucy’s mama takes them on a runaway roadtrip to escape the authorities.

Mental illness is a hard topic to cover in middle grade fiction. It isn’t often written about and when it is sometimes it is overblown or completely unrealistic. Chasing the Milky Way does not suffer from either of those problems. It is a very realistic look at what it is like to live with a mentally ill parent. Lucy deals with so much more than most kids will ever deal with, but I am sure kids with mentally ill parents will recognize a lot of her story. It is a book that was a bit hard to read because it seemed so realistic. I just knew disaster was around the corner and I kept not wanting it to arrive. I wanted Lucy and Cam to succeed but knew there was very little chance it was going to happen. It was almost like watching a horror movie where you knew the bad guy was going to attack at any moment. You cover your eyes or hide behind the chair and peak out at intervals. That is kind of like how I felt reading this book. Mama is not the bad guy of course, her illness is, but it still felt like it could jump out at you at any moment, which I am sure is how mental illness sometimes feels. This book is going to be a hard sell to a lot of readers, but the ones that tackle it are going to have their eyes open to a world I hope they never experience.

22. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/19/2014

Violet Diamond is growing up different. She is a mixed race child in a predominantly white family and town. Her Black father died before she was born and she has never met his family. Her white mother and sister and grandparents love her and treat her like normal, but Violet often feels anything but normal. She gets frustrated when people look at her funny when she is out with her blond haired mother or sister. She gets frustrated when people think she is adopted instead of her mother’s natural child. Her family tries to tell her that race doesn’t matter, but to her it does since she is the one who is different. One day she overhears her mom and grandma talking about her other grandmother. She convinces her mom to let her meet the grandmother who has rejected her her entire life. At first Bibi is standoffish and distant as she blames Violet’s mother for her father’s death, but she does warm up to Violet and invite her to visit. Violet gets to meet her African American family and get to know her grandmother.

Even though I am white as can be, I did feel like I understood Violet just a bit. I grew up in a small town that had exactly two Black families. There was only one Black kid in my high school when I was there. I always wondered how they felt when they looked around the classroom or the cafeteria and saw no one like them. At least the one Jewish kid could hide in plain sight, but they were not able to blend in. Thankfully my small town as become more diverse in the past twenty years, but I am sure there are other towns out there just like it. Living in a city with a more diverse population you don’t think about race nearly as often. I see people of many colors, religions, and economic circumstances everyday. That isn’t to say there aren’t still problems, but it feels more like there shouldn’t be.

I thought this book did a wonderful job of portraying Violet’s frustration with her situation. There is never any doubt that she loves her family or that they love her. It is the people outside her immediate circle that bother her. Mixed race families can make people curious and sometimes rude; they will wonder if the children are biological, fostered or adopted. There are so many blended families today that I do wonder if this will become less and less of an issue. I thought this book was a good introduction to race for young readers. It doesn’t delve too much into negative aspects of black vs. white, but does show how it can impact a child’s life.

18. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 12/17/2014

Nate loves musicals and dreams of being on Broadway. He concocts a scheme with his friend Libby to escape Jankburg, PA and run away to New York City and audition for E.T. the Musical. Nate is bullied at home and at school for being gay even though he says he is undecided on his sexuality. In New York, Nate realizes just how different the big city is. He is exposed to both the good and bad of city life as he sees how diverse the city is. His audition goes better than expected, but is still wonderfully strange. Nate’s dreams are coming true just as his scheme is coming to light at home. He is helped along the way by Libby and his Aunt Heidi. Then his mom shows up in New York and family secrets come to light.

I actually loved Nate. I thought he was an awesome mix of innocence and curiosity. I admit I laughed out loud when he did his first audition. I also really liked how Federle brought up the issue of sexuality in such a nonissue kind of way. It is a topic I think needs to be dealt with more in middle grade fiction. Thankfully it is slowly making its way into the mainstream, but there are still very few books that deal with it for this age group. Nate is called a fag and lady Nate and homo and all the other terrible words you can think of. Even his family uses derogatory language with him. I like that Nate is undecided, but obviously kind of interested in boys; he at least checks them out occasionally. Even so this is a very gentle introduction that is couched more in bullying then exploring your sexuality. I think it is a good way for kids to think about it and wonder how much bullying they do themselves without realizing it.

17. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction

Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 12/16/2014

Arty is obsessed with space and finding life on Mars. His best friends Tripp and Priya support his obsession as does his dad who works in an observatory. When dad loses his job and decides to move the family to Las Vegas, Arty is devastated. There are too many lights in Vegas for stargazing. Arty is left with a mysterious neighbor when the parents go house hunting. Turns out the neighbor is not a zombie who will eat your face, but a retired astronaut who never made it to space. Arty and Cash bond over the stars and build a machine to make alien contact.

This is a lovely story about friendship not just with people your own age but who share your interests. It is also a story about not giving up on your dreams or letting others destroy them. I really enjoyed Arty’s family and their obsession with space. All the kids are named after stars even though they have shortened their names. I liked Arty’s friends as well. Tripp provided a nice comic relief and Priya was a great girl friend who isn’t a girlfriend. Cash was probably the most interesting character as he went from a gruff, unfriendly possible zombie/serial killer to a dying man trying to encourage his young friend. One editing quibble: at one point Arty says something about realizing Cash was as interested as he was in astrology…pretty sure it should have been astronomy. That threw me off and really stuck with me.

15. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Teen Books

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, 227 pages, read by Angie, on 12/14/2014

So I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this book. I found the story itself intriguing, but there were aspects of it that were kind of annoying. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t truly hate it either. We Were Liars is the story of four cousins who spend their summers on a the family’s private island. So yes they are the rich elite of the East Coast. Grandma and Grandpa Sinclair have built houses on the island for all their pretty daughters and grandchildren. But of course the daughters are not happy with their lots in life basically because they are selfish, self-centered and living off daddy’s money. Their children aren’t as bad yet but you can see the potential. For of the kids are all the same age: Cadence (the oldest), Johnny (the first boy), Mirren and Gat (the sort of Indian step-cousin). Cadence and Gat fall in love the summer they are 15, but something happens that summer. Something no one will talk about to Cadence. All she knows is that she woke up on the beach with some kind of head trauma and now suffers from amnesia and migraines. She heads back to the island two years later and tries to figure out what happened and what no one is telling her.

So that all sounds intriguing and it is. However, you are told from the beginning that there is some kind of twist; the book was marketed that way so of course you know there is some kind of twist. I figured out the twist early on but not the how or the why of it. The truly annoying thing about the book was Cadence herself. She is our narrator and a very unreliable one. She is also prone to being overly dramatic and imaginative. The first time she describes being shot and bleeding out on the lawn you wonder what the heck just happened. When it keeps happening in different ways you realize she is talking about her feelings. Then there is the way the book is written. I listened to the audio which I think helped tremendously as you don’t notice the weird structure of the prose as much. It seems to be written in a very conversational tone with streams of consciousness and lack of punctuation or sentence structure. I can definitely see where that would get old fast. The other problem with the book, and this could have been completely intentional, was that the characters were not likeable. Cadence is a poor little rich girl who did something stupid and got away with it. She is almost as selfish and self-absorbed as her mother and aunts. All the adults in the book are manipulative and greedy. I am not sure who we are supposed to empathize with if anyone but I found I really could have cared less about the beautiful, special Sinclairs.