Friday, December 25, 2009

Jingle Boy
By Kieran Scott

Paul Nicholas and his family get really into the Christmas season and their holiday traditions – Paul waking his parents at five on Christmas morning blasting John Denver and the Muppets – A Christmas Together and having the most elaborate Christmas light display in town is the family’s claim to fame. But this year Paul is certain Christmas is going to be the best ever. He will be starting his dream job as a mall Santa soon, knows he will be getting the Jeep of his dreams under the tree, and, for the first time in his life, has a girlfriend to celebrate with. That was before. Before loosing his personalized Santa hat (that he never leaves the house, or, more particularly, his room without from Thanksgiving to Christmas) at the mall, loosing his girlfriend to his Santa co-worker, his dad electrocuting himself while setting up this year’s lighting display and setting the house on fire; most of the damage occurring in Paul’s room, and his mother losing her job. Will Paul ever regain his Christmas spirit, or will it be permanently replace with the spirit of Scrooge? A truly “feel-good” Christmas read that puts the reader into the holiday spirit. Readers who love the holiday season, and all of its tidings, will enjoy this humorous book and place it on their shelves next to How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and A Christmas Carol to be enjoyed year after year.

Merry Christmas from Lee’s Reads!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Beating Heart: A Ghost Story
By A. M. Jenkins

When seventeen year old Evan moves into an abandoned for decades, old Victorian house with his mother and younger sister shortly after his parents’ divorce, he is less then thrilled. Shortly after moving in, Evan begins to have dreams, reoccurring dreams of a sexual nature with an unknown pale-haired girl which makes his brunette girlfriend, Carrie, more noticeable of his emotion withdrawal and becomes more demanding about their relationship. When Evan finds a metal box filled with letters and newspaper clippings he learns that a sixteen year old girl with pale-hair died in the house. Could this be the girl he has been dreaming about? The story unfolds using two uniquely different voices; that of the ghost girl told through lyrical poetry, and that of Evan told through a third-person account in present tense, which makes this a decent quick read. The two voices bring past and present together that collide by the end and changes both ghost and boy forever. Sex does play a major role in the story but not in a graphic way that would made this book inappropriate for the teenage reader.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dead Connection
By Charlie Price

Alienated from school and home, Murray finds sanctuary in the cemetery, where he communicates with the dead, particularly his friends Edwin, Dearly, and Blessed. When he hears a new voice he believes it could be Nikki, the missing cheerleader from school, but how can he tell others without them thinking he is crazy. Then comes Pearl, the daughter of the cemetery caretaker, who becomes Murray’s only living friend as she ties to enter his world and helps him explain to others what they have figured out. This suspenseful page-turner is told through multiple points of view of those involved in the investigation of Nikki’s disappearance from Murray discovering the new voice in the cemetery, Pearl helping him anyway she can, the deputy piecing together clues to the case, a possible eye witness, and an officer with a drinking problem among others. The story twists and turns through the different storylines and just when the reader thinks they have figured out the mystery, another twist brings new possibilities. The changes between points of view might be a little confusing at first while the reader is introduced to new characters and how they fit with the overall story though after the first few chapters the change in character perspective adds to the suspense of the story as individual storylines begin to merge with others and reveal hidden secrets.

Monday, November 30, 2009

By Chris Crutcher

About two weeks after his eighteenth birthday, a month and a half before he begins his senior year, Ben Wolf gets some bad news during his cross-country physical – he has one year to live due to a rare, aggressive blood disease. Wanting to live as normal a life as possible during the time he has left, Ben decides to refuse treatment for the disease and to not tell anyone what’s going on, not even his brother, Cody, who he is close to, or his parents since his mother has problems of her own and not wanting to burden the family any further. What he does decide on is to go out as a flash instead of as a “slowly cooling ember.” He goes out for the football team, attempts to give his closed-minded American Government/Current Events teacher a daily migraine, and help the town drunk clean up his act. Then there’s Dallas Suzuki who has been the “single prey in the crosshairs of [Ben’s] Cupid’s bow” for the last three years but is way, way out of his league. With the successes and surprises the year brings to Ben, and his disease beginning to take its toll, he begins to wonder if he was right in his decision to not tell anyone about the disease and what will happen when he does tell the truth. Although this is the kind of story where the ending is known at the beginning it is the journey the reader goes on with Ben that makes the book so enjoyable to read. Crutcher uses the right combination of humor and drama to tell the story that, by the end, are blended smoothly together without one element overpowering the other. There are some mildly mature issues discussed such as child molestation, teenage motherhood, and some racism and brief language and sexual dialogue, though all this is tamed enough for a teenage audience. This thought-provoking, moving story is highly recommended.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Road of the Dead
By Kevin Brooks

Fourteen year old Ruben Ford was sitting in the back of the wrecked Mercedes in his family’s yard listening to the rain when he “feels” his sister, Rachel, being raped and murdered hundreds of miles away. After three days of talking with the police investigators, all Ruben’s mother wants is to get Rachel’s body back so she can bury her but it will not be released from the coroner’s until her murderer is found and the final tests are completed. In order to quicken the investigation, Ruben’s brother, Cole, decides to discover the truth behind her murder with Ruben following along. They go to the isolated and desolate village of Lychcombe, where Rachel was visiting a friend at the time of her murder. However, the majority of the villagers of Lychcombe are tangled in a conspiracy that may be tied to Rachel’s murder. The story starts out slowly and hardly ever gains speed though this pacing seems to fit with the somber plot. Because of this, the story can seem longer than it is at points, though it is hard to tell if this is a positive or negative aspect to the story as a whole. There are a few scenes, particularly about two hundred pages in and the second to last chapter, where, at least to this reader, the book is un-putdownable. All in all, worth the time due to its occasional emotional elements and moments of mild suspense though a rereading may be questionable.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Vampire’s Assistant and Other Tales From the Cirque Du Freak (includes A Living Nightmare, The Vampire’s Assistant, and Tunnels of Blood)
Media Tie-In Edition
By Darren Shan
Series: Books One, Two, and Three of Cirque Du Freak: The Saga of Darren Shan

Warning: Review contains minor spoilers

It all begins when Darren and his friends find a flyer advertising the Cirque Du Freak, a traveling freak show, and decide to go. However, the four friends can only get two tickets to a show. As if by destiny, Darren “wins” one of the tickets and goes to the show with his best friend, Steve. At the show, Steve recognizes one of the performers, Mr. Crepsley, from one of his vampire books and encounters him after the show wishing to become a vampire also. Mr. Crepsley is against turning a child but would make Steve into a half-vampire if he becomes his assistant but Steve has bad blood and Crepsley refuses the turning. The following school day, after discussing the show with the friends that couldn’t go, Darren decides to steal Mr. Crepsley’s performing, though extremely poisonous, spider due to his fascination with spiders. When the spider bites and paralyzes Steve with no known antidote without Crepsley’s help, Darren becomes Mr. Crepsley’s assistant and a half-vampire in order to save Steve. Darren later leaves his family by faking his death and joins Mr. Crepsley to learn the ways of being a vampire, or rather, a half-vampire, particularly the importance of taking human blood, though not too much to kill the human the vampire is feeding from but Darren refuses to drink from a human, drinking from animals instead though animal blood is not enough – Darren will have to drink from a human eventually or die. They rejoin the Cirque Du Freak where Darren befriends Evra, the snake-boy, and meets Sam, a boy from the city in which the Cirque is currently performing, who becomes quick friends with Evra and Darren. When tragedy strikes one night after a performance, Darren finds himself in a position that may cause him to drink from a human for the first time. A few months later an old friend of Crepsley’s drops by and later Darren and Evra leave the Cirque with Crepsley though he won’t tell them where or why. They stay in a big city were Crepsley goes out prowling at night. When Darren and Evra see a news report about bodies being found drained of blood they jump to a conclusion and suspect Crepsley is the murderer, though an unknown enemy of the vampires may be lurking in the tunnels under the city…. Fans of vampire stories would enjoy this collection of the first three books of the twelve book Cirque Du Freak series though the writing style, geared towards a middle school audience, may turn some older readers away. Readers that can get passed the sometimes “wooden” dialogue and actions will find some creepy and, at times, moving scenes throughout the book.

A Living Nightmare, The Vampire’s Assistant, and Tunnels of Blood are also available individually.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Night Road
By A. M. Jenkins

After a century of living solitarily on the road, Cole, a hemovore (a human who feeds exclusively on blood; not to be confused with the fictional vampire) or “heme," still resembles his eighteen year old self but is known in the heme community for being observant, meticulous, and controlled. He is called back to the Building, an apartment/hotel for hemes in Manhattan owned by Johnny, Cole’s maker. He is informally introduced to newly turned heme Gordon, who really is eighteen years old and is also known as the Accident by the occupants of the Building due to the reason he was turned and his un-heme like behavior. The following evening Cole is told he has been called back to the Building to join Gordon and Sandor, Gordon’s maker and an old friend of Cole’s, on the road, teaching Gordon how to sever his old human life from his new heme one including the proper feeding technique on "omnis" (omnivores, or humans), how to avoid the Thirst with frequent restricted feedings, and avoiding the sun. During the trip, teaching Gordon the heme lifestyle helps Cole to confront the darkness of his own past that he has been keeping tucked away. Jenkins steps away from the typical romance and violence that takes center stage in other vampire stories and focuses instead on what life is and should be like for vampires... sorry, hemes, both old and experienced and new and inexperienced, in a thought provoking style that is far from boring. In the words of author Robert Lipsyte from the dust jacket “read this as a tense thriller about vampires on a road trip, or read it as a metaphorical tour de force about a boy becoming a man. But read it!”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another Faust
By Daniel and Dina Nayeri
Series: First in the Another series

When five adopted orphans, Victoria, Christian, BicĂ©, Belle, and Valentin, along with their beautiful but strange governess, Madame Vileroy, make an impressive entrance at the exclusive Christmas party for Marlowe School in Manhattan tension between the orphans and the students begin and carry over to the new semester. Using “gifts” given to them from Vileroy – the ability to read the inner dialogue of others, manipulate time, beautiful looks, and stealing other’s skills and strengths – the orphans pursue their own greedy obsessions, from sports to debate and writing tournaments to class president elections, no matter what it costs them during the process; and in the case of Madame Vileroy, the cost could be permanent. Brother and sister writing team bring a modern day re-imagining of the classic Doctor Faustus bargaining story. Though the plot may seem a bit repetitive at times as the orphans use their “gifts” to pursue their various obsessions during the semester at Marlowe, the last few chapters contain several surprises that are unpredictable (except for the “main” reveal for readers familiar with the original story) but were always under the surface of previous events that may cause the reader to wonder how they did not see the connection before. While the Another series plans to re-imagine classic works of literature, given the conclusion to this first installment, it is not yet seen by this reader if the series will include the same characters (maybe a minor character’s story will be continued) or will be a series of “stand alone” volumes with different characters (think R. L. Stine's Goosebumps); though, if the same characters are used for the series, this reader predicts Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown may get the Another treatment.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Caught in the Act
By Peter Moore

Ethan Lederer is an actor; not just in the school plays (though he is always cast as the best friend or the sidekick, never in the leading role) but in life – everyone he knows has their own image of who Ethan is and Ethan acts according to that image. To his friends he is brainy though he is probably as smart as they are; to his family, particularly his parents, he is a straight A honors student but in reality he is an average sophomore student. Then new student Lydia Krane comes to school where she is mostly ignored by students because she seems “different,” wearing Goth-like clothes with shirts with Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears underneath and always writing in a green velvet journal. If students do talk to her, it is not always in a friendly way. Ethan is the only one who really notices her and begins to get to know her when they are both cast in the school play, a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in Hollywood written by the drama teacher. Likewise, Lydia is the only one to see Ethan for who he truly is inside and encourages him to let that part of him out to others. Not a bad thing, right…? Even readers who are not interested in theater or drama classes can find at least one thing to relate to – struggling with math and science classes, living up to parents’ expectations, relationships with friends, and break-ups just to name a few. However, it is through the play rehearsal scenes that really emphasizes and brings up the themes that are developed throughout the novel – from how theater is connected to real life to how everyone is the lead of their own story with everyone else being supporting actors, even if they enter for a brief time, playing their part before exiting, and leaving behind only the impression, good or bad, they had made in the person’s life.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

By Michael Grant
Series: Second in the Gone series

Warning: Review may contain minor spoilers for Gone.

It has been three months since the coming of the FAYZ. Three months since everyone over the age of fifteen disappeared. Three months without telephones, television, or Internet. After the events of the Thanksgiving Battle, Sam has been elected “mayor” of Perdido Beach and is beginning to collapse under the pressure and things just continue to get worse. Not only are kids asking Sam to make every little decision for them, some as small as which DVD to watch, but food has become extremely scarce forcing the kids to eat random canned goods, garbage, even a neighborhood pet or two. Only a handful of kids are willing to help out and go on harvesting trips to cabbage and melon fields only to find them swarming with a common non-threatening creature that has undergone a deadly mutation. If the food shortage was not enough, some kids continue to develop new supernatural powers causing chaos to rise between the “normals” (kids without powers) and the “freaks” (kids with powers) that escalates to just short of civil war breaking out. Meanwhile, Caine focuses his sights on taking over the nuclear power plant at the center of the FAYZ and turning off the power to Perdido Beach, and that is only the beginning of his plans. The action begins immediately in chapter one and does not let up until the end with a few moments of drama before the next action sequence begins. Several storylines begin to fuse together, combining and building up the suspense until the climatic ending where it is life or death for a number of characters. If Grant set the bar high with Gone he sets the bar even higher with Hunger for the next installment of the series.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

By Michael Grant
Series: First in the Gone series

Daily life in Perdido Beach, California changes completely when everyone fifteen and older suddenly disappear, leaving those fourteen years old and younger. Just as suddenly landline and cellular phones no longer work, there is no Internet access or television signals, no way to get help or find out what has happened. Fear and panic spread. Bullies rule. Students from a local private school come into town and help create order and develop rules, though somewhat giving the bullies an advantage. In addition, some teens develop new talents – supernatural powers, causing tension between those with powers and the powerless. Sides begin to be chosen and a battle between good and evil looms ever closer. And time is running out – when the teens turn fifteen they will also disappear like the adults. Elements of action, suspense, mystery, and a hint of romance come together to create a great supernatural thriller page turner that leaves the reader constantly on the verge of a new discovery, none of which disappoints and always surpasses the one previous, which continue to build and build until the exciting climax of the installment. There are brief descriptions of mild violence but not too terribly gruesome to be outside of a PG-13 range. As the first book of a projected six book series, do not expect all questions to be answered or revealed by the end; however, the storyline does reach a satisfying ending with a decent small cliff hanger that leaves the reader ready for the next installment.