Saturday, April 30, 2011

Slayed--Amanda Marrone

Title: Slayed
Author: Amanda Marrone
Publisher: Simon Pulse, 2010.
Pages: 240 p
Source: the author
Compensation: None

When I was at the Albany Children's Book Festival, I was lucky enough to meet some amazing YA authors. One of those authors, Amanda Marrone, gave me a free signed book. Just because.

Daphne Van Helsing just wants to be a normal teen girl worrying about school, boys and going to the Prom. But Daphne is far from normal. She's a teen Slayer, charged with dusting vampires and keeping the world safe. She comes from a long line of slayers (Van Helsing!) including her overbearing parents who have kept her on the road since she was born and inducted her into the business at the tender age of 12. Daphne is so childhood-deprived that she keeps a binder full of things she never got to experience. A crude drawing of a house, pictures of "best friends" she invented, magazine cutouts of prom dresses and potential dates. Of the best friends she drew only one was a real person, Maybelle Crusher, former child star of the kids TV show The Disco Unicorns until her parents replaced her with a more attractive, less chubby 5 year old. The last thing Daphne expects when she and her parents arrive at their latest job is to find Maybelle, now known as Kiki, in a local bar. When Kiki's bodyguard is bitten by a vampire and Daphne saves him she is completely unprepared for Kiki's response: she wants to join the business and slay vamps too.

There have been lots of vampire books but this book is refreshingly different in that it focuses on the slayers, not on the vampires. The vampires and demons are peripheral and BAD. Daphne very clearly explains to Kiki that what she's seen on TV and read in books is false. Vampires are not romantic creatures that are just misunderstood and would make great boyfriends. Vampires are bad and need to be slayed. While Marrone doesn't specifically name other books or TV shows, it's clear what Daphne is talking about... there is a subtle reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Kiki asks Daphne if she has any special powers and has been Chosen to slay vamps. She hasn't been chosen, she's been forced by her parents, and she has no special powers besides being aware of their existence.

Vampires and slaying are just the backdrop to the real story about a young girl whose childhood was stolen from her by her oblivious parents and her desperate longing for a normal life. In many ways her story mirrors Kiki's, which is not supernatural at all. Kiki's parents replaced her on a national TV show because she was too chubby without once thinking about how that would make her feel. They don't see HER, much like Daphne's parents are blind to their own daughter.

Slayed is well-written and fun to read. Daphne and Kiki have a good chemistry together. The vampire-slaying story will satisfy paranormal fans. There's a bit of romance between Daphne and the son of her parents' slayer competition that will appeal to girls expecting a brooding misunderstood boy--who is human and not vampire. The ending is wrapped up neatly and nicely, but that's okay because we want Daphne and Kiki to find their happy endings.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Heist Society--Ally Carter

Title: Heist Society
Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Hyperion Teens
Pages: 287 p.
Source: Local library
Compensation: None

I'm a big fan of Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series, so it was just a matter of time before I got around to Heist Society, the first in a new series. Carter has a knack for writing strong, yet vulnerable, girl characters. The Gallagher Girl Cammie is a spy-in-training who can kick ass and still worry about boys. In Heist Society, Katarina is just as daring and talented at deception--but on the other side of the law. Kat is an art thief who comes from a long line of art thieves. She briefly tries to escape the family business by enrolling in boarding school and trying to be "normal." It doesn't take long before she's dragged back into it and planning another heist. It's not really her fault though; her Dad is being fingered for a job he didn't do and in order to save his life, she needs to find the paintings he supposedly stole--and steal them back.

This wouldn't be an Ally Carter book without some romantic tension thrown in as well. Kat's partner in crime is Hale, a dashing rich thief, who can make the calm Kat lose her cool. There's no overt romance, nothing that slows down the action, just the appealing tension a la Moonlighting (I know that show is wicked old, but that's always the first show I think of when I think of romantic tension. Even more so than Who's the Boss? Yes, I do know what decade it is.)

It's hard to write a morally ambiguous character who is both appealing and likable, but Carter pulls it off well. Kat is a thief and she's not proud of it. She tries to escape the life, but it's not just her life, it's her family as well. Kat knows she shouldn't be doing these things, but she does live within a certain set of rules. They don't steal from honest people. They're not muggers or violent criminals. In Kat's latest job she's stealing something that was already stolen (more than once) and is trying to return the art to its rightful owners. Carter doesn't pretend that it's okay to steal, she's not glorifying thievery, she's just written an exciting thrilling suspenseful story with a main character who is not black or white, not good or bad, but a little of both.

The sequel, Uncommon Criminals, will be coming out in June 2011. Teens will be eager to read Kat's further adventures.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Saving Zasha--Randi Barrow

Title: Saving Zasha
Author: Randi Barrow
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2011.
Pages: 229 p
Source: VOYA courtesy of the publisher
Compensation: None

Mikhail is a young Russian boy living in the aftermath of World War II. His soldier father has been missing since the end of the war, food and resources are limited, and there is still a large amount of fear and distrust. The Russians are so angry at Germany that they have outlawed owning a German-breed dog and have executed any they find. When Mikhail discovers a dying man in the woods with a German shepherd he understands the dangerous risk of adopting the dog, but decides to do it anyway. He and his family must keep Zasha a secret from the government, dog thieves, and even their own neighbors but that proves hard to do with a young nosy girl asking too many questions.

There are many books about kids dealing with war and its ramifications, but this book is unique in its focus on dogs. An afterward describes the real development of the Black Russian Terrier dog as a response to the decimated dog population in Russia after the War. Unlike most dog books, Saving Zasha has a happy ending with all loose ends tied up nicely. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking or remarkable about the writing, but it will be popular with dog lovers as well as students who need to satisfy historical fiction requirements but do not like to read traditional historical fiction.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to be a Zombie--Serena Valentino

Title: How to be a Zombie
Author: Serena Valentino
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2010
Pages: 144
Source: VOYA, courtesy of the publisher
Compensation: None

Zombies have always been popular with a certain segment of the teen population. That popularity has increased recently due to the success of movies like “Zombieland” and the TV show “The Walking Dead.” Serena Valentino capitalizes on this attraction for the undead with a unique, funny, interesting guide for zombies. There have been books telling humans how to survive a zombie apocalypse, but this book is geared for the newly risen zombie instead and serves as the “Essential Guide for Anyone Who Craves Brains.” Valentino counsels the novice zombie on his origins, offers suggestions on finding fresh brains to eat, and gives advice on the latest fashions for the undead. She also lists the essential zombie books and movies for further information.

Even non-zombie fans will find Valentino’s book to be a fun and worthwhile read. The book is full of useful hilarious information. In the chapter “How to Pass as a Human,” Valentino warns that “Humans rarely lurch, moan, or bite each other, so you should cut back on these habits.” Colorful photographs of zombies are interspersed throughout the book adding to its visual appeal. Zombie fans will most likely want to buy their own copy, but libraries should have one as well. 

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mercy--Rebecca Lim

Title: Mercy
Author: Rebecca Lim
Publisher: Hyperion, expected date 5/17/2011
Pages: 276, e-galley edition
Source: Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher.
Compensation: None

Written in the first person, Mercy tells the story of a lost angel stuck inhabiting the bodies of humans. Like the TV show Quantum Leap, Mercy solves some sort of problem for her human host before she can move on to another. She retains very little memory from one body to the next. She doesn't know what she is, only that she is different and lost and desperately wanting to go home.

In this particular story, Mercy inhabits a young girl attending a retreat for talented singers. She's staying in a house that used to be home to another young singer--before she was mysteriously abducted nearly a year before. Mercy must use her special divine skills to find the missing girl and catch her abductor, as well as teach herself how to sing and not mess up her host's chance at glory.

Mercy is an interesting story and a quick read, but not without its flaws. The line describing a man with a secret as having it "linger about him like a detectable odour, a familiar on his shoulder gnawing at his flesh" stands out not only for its wonderful description, but also because it is repeated four more times. It is unclear if there is a specific reason the author decided to repeat this phrase. Other than details like that, Mercy is an enjoyable story and will leave readers wanting to know more about its main character and whether or not she ever makes it back home. Hopefully those questions will be answered in the next books in the series.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Bumped--Megan McCafferty

Title: Bumped
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, expected release date April 26, 2011
Pages: 244 p.
Source: Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher
Compensation: None

Megan McCafferty's Bumped is a dystopian tale with a twist. There aren't zombies or natural disasters or government-sanctioned killing of children. But there's a lot of teen sex. A mysterious virus has wiped out the reproductive abilities of everyone over the age of 18. If our species is to survive, teenagers have to pick up the slack in the fertility business. This has caused a major rift in society. Half the population thinks teenagers should marry young and have babies young and fulfill "God's plans." The other half have taken baby-making to the flipside extreme and made it a profitable business. Teen girls are matched up with wealthy couples who want babies and are contracted to produce those babies ("deliveries" since the girls are dissuaded from using the word "baby"). The girls are then matched up with the most genetically attractive boys. Within this group there are the amateurs who have sex, get pregnant, and then look for a needy couple and the professionals who are contracted first and get paid lots of money. Getting pregnant is the coolest thing for teen girls to do but they have very little choice. Sex for pleasure is unheard of, protected sex is taboo if not downright outlawed, and girls who aren't interested in having babies are accused of being unpatriotic. At the heart of this story are two twin girls separated at birth. One belongs to the religious family camp and one is a professional surrogate. They are both secretly unhappy with the roles that were forced on them and looking for a way to break out.

McCafferty has written a funny, unique story of the control of teen sex taken to extremes. It's a quick light read on the surface, but so much more meaningful underneath. This is an excellent book discussion group selection. There are those out there that will totally miss the point and claim that McCafferty is glorifying or advocating teen sex. She's not. She's showing how dangerous it can be if we try to control too much and take choice entirely away from teenagers. They need to be a part of the decision making process too. Bumped is not about teen sex. The book barely even talks about the actual "act." It's all about the business and the outcome.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

I went to the 2011 Empire State Book Festival

I had the chance to go to the Empire State Book Festival yesterday. To sum up my day:

I hugged Laurie Halse Anderson
Talked to Rachel Cohn
Took a picture with Eric Luper
Met Julie Chibbaro
Developed a crush on Ned Vizzini (and added him to my TBR list.)

Pretty good day. If you want the full story with pictures, check out my examiner article.

I'm an Amazon Associate now. If you click on the Amazon links & buy anything I might make a tiny bit of money.

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