December 31, 2013

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

Alistair is almost thirteen. He is a bit nerdy, not many friends, growing up in a small town in upstate New York. A rather strange neighbor, Fiona Loomis, knocks on Alistair's door. They haven't played together for years, and he hardly knows her anymore, but still, Fiona has chosen Alistair to write her biography,  trusting him with her secrets. Fiona's story is so unbelievable, so fantastic, that Alistair believes that it must be a fantasy that Fiona has created to reflect some horrible events in her life. As her story unfolds, Alistair is drawn into it, but can't quite believe it. His concern for her creates a conflict too great for him to deal with...does he seek the help he believes she needs, but then betray her trust?

The story unfolds slowly and beautifully, the reader never sure of where it is going. When I reviewed Aaron Starmer's The Only Ones, I said it was "weird, in the most literary way." After reading his second book, I can say that Aaron is one of the most creative children's writers out there. There is nothing formula about either books. There are lots of questions and psychological layers here, most a bit sophisticated for less mature readers. The Riverman will take you to unexpected places, some a bit dark, and when you finish, you will feel like you have been taken for an incredible ride that will leave you wondering, where have I just been? 
Reed Reads Reviews: 4.5

November 29, 2013

Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan

Jack Plumb and David Kowlesky are an odd couple. They are roommates and opposites, but rather than living in an apartment or dorm together, they share a hospital room. Both boys, sixteen and seventeen respectively,  have serious eating disorders and have been checked into an Eating Disorder Unit. Jack is seriously anorexic, weighing only 103 lbs at 5'11". David is a compulsive over-eater with type one diabetes, and returning to the EDU after spending 3 months and losing 100 lbs the previous summer. David has given himself the nickname of Lard, and the first act of male bonding is helping Jack choose his nickname, Bones. Alice, a budding ballerina whose serious anorexia keeps her from dancing, captivates Bones at their first meeting and holds a spell on him as his first love. As other patients and hospital staff are introduced, we learn about the inner workings of an EDU, and the torment caused by eating disorders.  While there are gaps in the storyline, the book read well for me because I was curious and concerned about the characters. You will laugh, you will cringe, you will feel the pain of first love, but more importantly you will have a better understanding of the tormented lives these kids live with every. single. day.
Note: This book will not be released until March of 2014. The book is appropriate for high school with strong language, drug use, and mild sex. Middle school readers need parental permission.
Reed Reads Score: 4

November 17, 2013

UnSouled by Neal Shusterman

The UnWind story continues with Connor and Lev on the run together after the destruction of the Graveyard. Cam, Starkey, Nelson, and Risa are each on their own personal quests to vanquish or destroy. But, what UnWholly did to extend the UnWind Trilogy, creating an exciting extension of the story arc created 5 years earlier, UnSouled disappointed me. Why? Originally this was to be the final book (look carefully at the cover image, it says "Book 3 of the UnWind Trilogy" - an early cover), but has instead become a bridge to book 4, UnDivided in the Unwind Dystology (as it appears on newer versions of the cover). The book certainly moves the story, and there are introductions to new characters; Grace (who you will love) and her brother Argent (who you will despise). Information is revealed about the creator of the technology that allows unwinding, how ProActive Citizenry turned on him, and how his wife Sonia holds secrets, which creates the motivation for Connor and Lev to find her. What makes this disappointing is that it clearly is the first half of what was to have been the third book. There is plenty of character development, but the plot of the book never reaches the heights of the first two and there are a lot of loose ends which leaves you hanging and upset that you have to wait for UnDivided. I suggest you hold off reading this until UnDivided is released, that way you can read straight through and avoid the disappointment!
Reed Reads Score: 4

November 3, 2013

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

Leading off where House of the Scorpion ends, The Lord of Opium finds Matteo (Matt) as the new El Patrón at age fourteen. Matteo is not comfortable with his new position of power, and is left with a skeletal crew to run Opium; most died when they were poisoned at senior el Patrón's funeral. Matt must now position himself as a strong leader to be feared, while at the same time wants to stop growing and distributing opium, and find a way to free the eternal prison of the micro-chipped eejits. He learns that his wealth and power is beyond imagination, and that the secret of Opium is that Opium is a wildlife and plant sanctuary for a dying world. Matteo's internal struggle is dealing with the voice of el Patron, from whom he is cloned, and the conflict that some may have to die to save others.

It has been several years since I read House of the Scorpion, but I had no difficulty falling into the flow of the story. The relationships that Matteo builds with old and new characters, the humanity that Matt brings to a heartless world, and how each character is an integral part of the climactic conclusion is evidence of an author who truly knows how to weave character, plot, and setting into a compelling story. There is much symbolism here and a lot to contemplate and discuss.
Reed Reads Score: 4.5

October 19, 2013

Ship Out of Luck by Neal Shusterman

If you are familiar with Antsy (Anthony)  Bonano read on. If you are not, well, read on anyway. Antsy is a gutsy teenager from Brooklyn, who finds trouble with a heart of gold. In the past he has; used a friend for personal gain, developed a relationship with a crotchety old wealthy recluse, created a benefit for a friend he thought was about to die, and now, in Ship Out of Luck, he finds himself assisting in smuggling immigrants into the United States.

Old Man Crawley invites Antsy and his family on a cruise to the Caribbean to celebrate his eightieth birthday. While on the cruise he meets Tilde, a stowaway on the ship, who blackmails Antsy into assisting her in smuggling immigrants into the US from Mexico. He is even more taken by Tilde's mystique and is quite attracted to her. Through the whole trip he ignores his family and friends to be a partner in crime with Tilde. As is typical for Antsy, the whole scheme blows up in his face, creating havoc for the entire ship. Can't tell you'll have to read it to find out.

If you have read other books by Shusterman, understand that his range is quite wide. The Skinjacker Trilogy, the Unwind Trilogy, as well as Bruiser all are in the realm of fantasy/horror/science-fiction. Ship Out of Luck, number three in the Antsy Bonano Series, is realistic, humorous adventure. You don't have to read the other books in the series to enjoy Ship Out of Luck, but I recommend that you at least read book one, The Schwa was Here first. This is a fun romp that is full of heart, with a few unpredictable twists.
Reed Reads Score: 4

August 7, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney

Will Greg ever learn? Apparently not, as this seventh installment in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series starts with Greg in the womb, and his mother trying to do everything she can to ensure that Greg is born intelligent. Having to listen to his parent's disgusting affection for each other, he decides he needs to get out of the womb early, thus ensuring that all attempts at intelligence have failed. Fast forward to the present, the essence of the story (as you know, these DOAWK plots are really all over the place) is that Greg tries to use his best friend Rowley to get a date with a girl (OMG, Greg is interested in girls!). He helps get Rowley elected to their school's social committee, where Rowley is planning the annual Valentine's dance. Rowley finds out that Abigail Brown's date dumped her, and is now available. Not able to ask himself, Greg gets Rowley to ask her to go to the dance with both boys as a group, figuring she will want to drop Rowley, giving him the in to ask her out on a date. Of course, once at the dance, Greg is his own worst enemy, and chaos ensues.

I often get asked, why I love these books. It's simple. They are honest, funny, and timeless in the way Greg is just one of those oblivious boys who means well, but just doesn't know any better. There are part's of him in all of us, which is why kids (and some of us adults) just eat it up. Go to this for a quick, light, entertaining read. Battle of the Books 2014.

Reed Reads Score: 4

August 3, 2013

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

The "New" is dropped, because now what was once New Orleans is a dead city. After devastation by several hurricanes, flooding and mass destruction, it is a new virus, called Delta Fever, that seals the city's fate. Unable to find a cure, and to avoid its spread, the Federal government separates itself from the devastated south and abandons it. The year is now 2056 and a thick wall separates the Outer States of America from an area presumed to be dead. Two unlikely souls will cross paths in the "dead" city of Orleans. Daniel, a scientist, who in search for a cure for Delta Fever, must enter the dead zone illegally to complete his research. Fen de la Guerre is a fifteen year old girl, who through a tough skin, and perseverance has learned to survive the cruelty and danger of the Delta. When they cross paths, a bond is formed, a bond of survival.

There has been a plethora of dystopian, or speculative fiction, and, as most of you know, I love it. In a genre that has recently seen little in the way of something different and new, Orleans is original, fresh, and well written. I REALLY liked this book. The story builds, is unpredictable, and Fen's voice is raw and real. At first, I was taken aback by her lack of emotion, but as Fen's back story is revealed, it became clear and understandable.

Reed Reads Score: 4.5

July 25, 2013

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Grandpa Portman tells fantastic stories of unusual children, and even has pictures to prove that his stories are real. Sixteen year old Jacob had been hearing them, and believing them for years, but now that he is older he is convinced that they are all fake... convinced until he goes to visit grandpa, discovers him half dead in the woods behind his house, sees an unusual creature, and then is given a cryptic message by grandpa just before he dies. Jacob spirals into a deep depression, haunted by grandpa's message. After therapy, and family pressure, Jacob decides that he must go to a small island off the coast of England to visit the orphanage where his grandfather was placed during World War II. What follows is a haunting, fantastic adventure into a world that no one knows exists....or do they?

The refreshing thing about this book is that it is original...not another fantasy that uses Harry Potter as its template. What is not so refreshing is the writing. The writing is a bit stilted, lacking the lyrical, haunting tone that would have served this story well. The original, vintage photographs do provide some of the atmosphere missing in the writing, but it wasn't enough for me. That said, this will be popular in the library. The fantastical story of peculiar children with unusual powers will draw the reader in, as well as its exciting conclusion, that leaves enough open for a certain sequel.
Reed Reads Score: 3.5

June 8, 2013

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

"To me though, I'm just me. An ordinary kid."
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with an unusual genetic defect, causing an extremely disfigured face. After many surgeries, and protection from the world by home schooling, Auggie's mom decides it is time for him to brave the world and start middle school. Wonder, R.J. Palacio's first novel, is the story of his first year of regular school, with regular kids. What I liked most, is that Auggie's story is not presented in a sappy, tug-at-your-heart, manipulative way. It just does. The people are very real, with his family loving, but not perfect. Teachers and administrators caring but not idealized. School mates and friends that mostly try, faulter, but learn and grow. The story is mostly told in Auggie's voice, but we also hear the voices of his sister and friends, who retell part of the story from their point of view, but then carry the story further. Ultimately it is August who grows the most, learning that whatever challenges are placed before you, it is what's inside, and what you do with it, that matters the most.
Reed Reads Score: 4.5

April 18, 2013

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Book two of Meyer's Lunar Chronicles is just that. Book two. It takes off from where book one leaves off, and leaves you hanging, hankering for book three. Be that as it may, this is a very good book. As book one, Cinder, is very loosely  based on Cinderella, Scarlet is very loosely based on Red Riding Hood. Opening in a small village in France we are introduced to Scarlet, a young red head wearing a red hoodie, delivering vegetables to an inn where she meets Wolf. Scarlet is fiercely independent, and upset about her missing grand mere. Frustrated that the police will do nothing about it, she convinces Wolf to assist in finding her. Scarlet knows nothing about her grand mere's past which is connected to Cinder. Cinder is now imprisoned after her fateful appearance at his majesty Kai's ball. Cinder is gradually becoming aware of her powers and escapes her imprisonment, dragging a narcissistic fellow prisoner, Thorne, along. As Scarlet and Cinder learn about their history, the story brings them closer and closer to each other. The end, will of course, leave you hanging. I'm just wondering, how will the next book, Cress, connect Cinder and Scarlet to another fairy tale character, Rapunzel? I'll have to wait until 2014 to find out.
Reed Reads Score: 4

The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater, and Brenna Yovanoff

From Lancelot to wizards, authors Stiefvater, Yovanoff, and Gratton produce The Curiosities, a book of unedited short stories.  Filled with tragedy, magic, and death this emotion driven book walks the characters off the page and into the minds of readers.  With unexpected life and personality these fast paced stories are personal in the way a reader would not expect.  Because they steer away from plot, the authors create chilling, compelling, and slightly sadistic characters.  The Curiosities was originally a hobby for these three YA novelists to test and toy with different plots, characters, settings, etc.  By doing this, each story is original and strange.  
The most interesting part of this collection is the footnotes and messages throughout the stories from the authors showing everything from writing techniques to pictures of dragons.  This brings a more personal affect, so when you read the next story its like visiting an old friend.  
The product became this amazing little kingdom of mystical creatures and problemed people.  By the end of it you will be going back fifty pages and looking for that story you loved or that stream of poetic lines you just couldn’t get out of your head.  While it isn’t a fast read, it is highly recommended,
and you will enjoy every bit of the way.  
Reed Reads Score:  4.5

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

Remy Starr knows exactly what she wants.  She has her mind set on Stanford in the fall and is ready for her next summer fling with whom ever follows her strict rules of boy material.  But when Dexter, a musician, crash-lands into her life she is finding that not all the rules apply, he just isn’t adding up.  So why can’t she bring herself to break up with him?  She knows better than anyone that this shouldn’t last.  In Dessen’s unconventional romance she once again brings a character driven novel to life.  Her smart, quick, and witty writing will have you turning pages till dawn.
Reed Reads Score:  5

March 2, 2013

Prodigy by Marie Lu

Prodigy, book two in Marie Lu's Legend Series, is unusual in that it is not only a very solid middle book of a series, but it actually soars beyond the first book, Legend. Day and June are wanted criminals in the Republic. Day is a poor street runner that is defiant against the Republic for the death of his family, and their taking of his little brother Eden. June is an aristocratic prodigy, who's allegiance to the Republic is shattered when she discovers that they murdered her brother for which Day was framed. Together they are an unstoppable force that are recruited by the Patriots, an underground militia whose goal is to bring revolution to the Republic. Day is torn between the street girl he grew up with, Tess, and June. June is torn between Anden, the Republic's young new leader and Day. The romantic tension gets tangled in an assassination plot that Day and June must carry out. The romance and action are intense and interwoven in a way that will make lovers of either genre satisfied. Even more interesting to me is the social commentary that Lu subtly draws between the Republic and the Colonies, warring factions created when the United States was divided. This is a very satisfying read, full of action, surprises and plot twists.
Reed Reads Score: 4.5

February 12, 2013

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Tally Youngblood can't wait until she turns sixteen, when she can finally get out of her 'Uglyville' dorm and get over to 'New Pretty Town', where everyone has an operation that makes them a Pretty.  She'll be stunning, she'll reunite with her best-friend Paris, and she'll have tons of fun!  But when she meets Shay, a soon to be Pretty herself, she isn't so sure anymore.  Shay wants nothing to do with becoming a Pretty, she wants to leave their "perfect" society and escape to a far off village called the Smoke where no one becomes Pretty.  When Shay leaves and Tally is left alone questioning the means of the operation, she is pulled away by a group of government scientists, called Specials.  They blackmail Tally into going out into the unknown to find Shay. Another escaped citizen is a sign that a rebellion is closer.  Tally embarks on a long journey where she finds herself and realizes not everything is what it seems.
In this thrilling dystopian trilogy Westerfeld transforms a classic Twilight Zone episode into a full on adventure.  He takes the ideas and concepts of the episode and makes it original and complete.  Everything from the characters to the plots were unique and as the story builds you start to question our own society.  This smart and relatable novel brings so many new elements to the way you see the world and Westerfeld will have you squirming the whole way through. 
Reed Reads Score: 3.5