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.