Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Jennifer Brown. HATE LIST

"A breeze gusted right at that moment and swept down the collar of my shirt, billowing the front of it. I shuddered, my spine suddenly getting really cold." 

Valerie and her boyfriend, Nick, compiled a "hate list" of people who bullied them and they often spoke about how much better off they'd be if those people weren't around. Valerie thought they were just joking. Nick didn't. Nick took it all very seriously. In fact, one morning shortly after entering the school commons, he began shooting at people. A shocked Valerie did what she could to stop him, even getting herself shot, before Nick turned the gun on himself.

This school shooting novel is unique because it focuses on the aftermath of the incident. It's also unique in that has a character in Valerie that makes people conflicted. The other students mostly still hate her, because they think she was in on the plan. But a few realize that she actually stopped him and saved lives. A few even think that she was a hero.

Her parents are also conflicted about Valerie. You assume that good parents will stand behind you no matter what. You assume that when everyone else has deserted you - your parents will still be there. But Valerie's parents are confused, hurt, and mad. They think she caused this tragedy and they refuse to listen to her explanations. However, she doesn't talk much in the aftermath either, so she isn't helping herself at first.

I was glued to the page until I finished the book. I really loved it. The characters were smartly drawn, as frustrating as they were at times. I got impatient with Valerie, and I was disappointed by her mom, but I was infuriated by her dad. But again, it's a credit to the writing that I got so passionate about the characters.
Original Cover

Another great characteristic of the writing is how the story is simultaneously told in two timelines until they weave seamlessly into one. The first is the aftermath and how Valerie is managing. The other is flashbacks of the story that builds up to the shooting. It sounds like it would be confusing, but it makes perfect sense and works brilliantly. I'm not sure it would have worked at all, if it had been told in one straight storyline. It worked so well, because Jennifer Brown is a wonderful writer!

Overall, it's a moving, emotional, excruciatingly truthful book. You won't forget it.

Visit her website here. She has another book out now and another on the horizon. She's definitely a great new author to watch!  Check out the gripping trailer below:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Harlan Coben. SHELTER

You may know Harlen Coben from his adult thriller novels. In fact, Mickey Bolitar, our main character in SHELTER, was introduced in the latest Myron Bolitar novel LIVE WIRE. I didn't realize this until after reading the book. I knew Coben wrote adult novels, but I didn't realize that Mickey was in another of his book. I love it when characters show up in different storylines like that, so now, I'll want to read that book next...

Back to the novel at hand. SHELTER is Coben's first young adult novel and it's great! Mickey Bolitar and his parents had just settled into a new life. Previously, Mickey's parents did charity work around the world, so he lived all over. His parents decided to settle down and give Mickey a "normal" life for the remainder of high school. Ironically, tragedy struck shortly thereafter. After choosing a "safe" life, Mickey's father gets killed in a car accident.

His mother doesn't take it well and ends up in rehab, so Mickey moves in with his uncle Myron. He begins adjusting to high school life somewhat. Meeting pretty Ashley, also new to the school, helps a lot. They become close and he even begins to think of her as his girlfriend. But one day, she vanishes without a trace.

Mickey can't help but investigate and ask questions about what happened to her. But he's also piqued by another mystery. The neighborhood crazy, everyone calls her "Bat Lady," makes a rare appearance outside her house one day. She tells Mickey that his father isn't dead before rushing back in her house. He goes after her, but can't get her to respond to his questions.

Having two mysteries to solve takes a help. Mickey ends up with a few unlikely friends. Spoon is a geeky guy that gets picked on by all, except Mickey. Spoon has a few technical skills that come in handy. Ema is girl who had no friends until Mickey. She's sharp, funny and a great asset to Mickey.

I loved this fast moving mystery. It ends up more complicated than you think it'll be. I loved the varying threads of history woven throughout. Finally, I have to say - thank God there is a sequel! The ending leaves you hanging and you will be dying to read the next book! I highly recommend SHELTER!

Check out the website for the book here and the trailer below:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler. THE FUTURE OF US

It's 1996 and Emma gets her first computer. Her friend, Josh, brings over an AOL CD-Rom, so she can check out the Internet. After setting up her password and logging on, something strange happens. Emma sees something called Facebook. It shows a picture of someone looking eerily like her, but a little older. She begins reading the text underneath her name and is freaked out.

Emma and Josh investigate and deduce that they must be looking into the future - 15 years to be exact. They look at both of their future selves, and while Josh is thrilled to be married to the Sydney Mills, a gorgeous girl he's had a crush on for years, Emma is depressed about her future.

Emma begins to try to change things with her future. She begins looking at the Facebook page every day to see how her little changes affect her future. Josh worries that even looking at the future will change things in a negative way. (Easy for him to say, since he's the one with the sunny future.) Will they be able to forget about their future selves enough to focus on enjoying the here and now?

This is one of those books that had me at the premise. I was highly curious to see how the authors would handle this concept. At first, I was a little annoyed by the constant 90's references. We got Discman, Friends, Alanis Morissette, Seinfeld, the brick wall screensaver, Windows 95 all in practically one chapter. I felt a little hit over the head with "it's 1996! it's 1996!" But, that passed quickly, and there was nary a mention of the late 90's again in the book. Perhaps, I'm the only one bothered by that? I'm not sure how teens will react. As I see my students reading the book, I'll get a feel whether they noticed that aspect or not. They probably won't.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the book. I think the concept was executed smoothly. If you're a techie, you need to suspend your disbelief about how the computer was able to connect to Facebook (think of it as science fiction). Then you'll enjoy it. The idea of the little decisions you make today affecting the rest of your life has always fascinated me. So, I enjoyed seeing how it played out for Emma and Josh.

This is a fun read! You know Jay Asher from THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and Carolyn Mackler from many great books including THE EARTH, MY BUTT AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS.

Check out the trailer below:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Steve Hamilton. THE LOCK ARTIST

We join Michael in prison. He begins explaining his story with a few lingering mysteries. Something tragic happened to him as a child that was so bad, he was called the Miracle Boy for having survived. Also, he doesn’t say why he’s in prison. Although, as he tells his story, we’re able to figure out or at least made some educated guesses about how he ended up in prison. As for the other mystery, you just have to be patient.

After Michael’s tragedy, his uncle takes him in. His uncle isn’t really the fatherly type, but he does take him to various specialist to try to help him, since he stopped speaking after the tragedy. As a teen, Michael begins taking apart and studying how locks work. He becomes really good at picking locks. This talent gets inadvertently observed at school, so some bullies rope him into breaking into a house. Michael ends up being the only one left when the owner of the home, Mr. Marsh, shows up. Mr. Marsh arranges to be the administer of Michael’s punishmennt. He forces Michael to do hard labor at his house. But gradually, he forces him into criminal activities by blackmailing him.

Michael tells his story in two time periods simultaneously. In one, we watch Michael gradually become immersed in the criminal life, while the other we see him leading that life with confidence. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would like going back and forth. But the author executed the plot flawlessly. Plus, you have that mystery of what happened to Michael hovering over the entire plot. You wonder what happened to make him so damaged that he hasn’t spoken in almost a decade.

I loved it! It was suspenseful, and I liked the charcters. I also became really interested in lock-picking and the art of safecracking. (don’t worry, I won’t become a criminal or anything)  I highly recommend it. It's an experience I won't soon forget.

The book is an adult book recommended for older teens. It was awarded the Edgar Allan Poe award for best novel, as well as the ALA's Alex Award.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kim Harrington. CLARITY

Clarity (Clare) Fern has a unique family. Her mother reads minds, her bother talks to ghosts, and Clare is psychic. The three of them together run a business out of their house conducting readings for people. They live in a beach town in Cape Cod, so the summer tourist business is pretty good.

However, this summer their small town has a scare when a tourist winds up dead in a motel room. Right away, Clare's mother is worried that the tourist business will dissolve as the scared tourists leave town. But that fear is nothing compared to what Clare feels after her brother tells her that he was with the victim the night she was killed. Clare worries that if the cops find out, he'll be the prime suspect.

Clare is asked to help the police with the murder to see if she can sense anything helpful. The new detective in town is suspicious of her talents, so she really wants to prove herself. But she's also hoping to keep the knowledge of her brother's contact with the victim a secret. The detective makes her work with his apprentice son on the case. He has the same suspicious attitude about psychics, and he seems to hate her. She's dubious of their partnership.  Unfortunately, he's so cute, it's distracting to her.

Will she be able to keep her brother out of the investigation? Hopefully she'll be able to solve the murder fast enough to keep her brother out of it.

This is a fun, supernatural mystery. The writing is good, and I really enjoyed spending time with Clare and her family. In fact, I kind of felt like there's another story is in there. And, lo and behold...a sequel is on the horizon!

It's called PERCEPTION and it's coming out in March, so yay!

For now, check out the book trailer below for CLARITY:

And the author's website is here.