Monday, March 31, 2008

Gothic Sports Vol. 1 by Anike Hage

Main Character: High school student Anya
Location: undefined
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Mange, Sports, Soccer

Anya is excited to be going to a new school, Lucrece High. She's been trying to transfer into this school because it has an excellent reputation for sports. She really wants to get on a team--either basketball or soccer. She makes some friends right away, but unfortunately she also makes an enemy--Marie. Anya is also upset to learn that Leon attends Lucrese High. The two of them had been in elementary school together and Leon did something that Anya thought was unforgiveable.

When Anya tries to join a sports team, she discovers that Marie is captain of the girls' basketball team. So much for basketball. It turns out that soccer is not much better, since the soccer team is being coached by a student who doesn't let girls play. Determined to play something, Anya and her friends form their own soccer team. To attract more attention in the hopes of gathering a full roster of players, Filiz (a girl into goth and cosplay) designs goth inspired team uniforms. They manage to get Delia, a 12th grader, to agree to coach them, despite the fact that Delia is Marie's best friend. Which will be more important to Marie--her friendship with Delia or her dislike of Anya?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dragon Harper by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey

Main Character: Kindan, a harper apprentice
Location: The planet Pern
Time period: sometime in our future, but Pern's past
Genre: Fantasy, Dragons

I have enjoyed the Dragons of Pern series since I first read Dragonflight way back when. I lost track of it after 1998's Masterharper of Pern and somehow missed the new books written with Todd McCaffrey. (On the plus side, I now have a new stack of books to look for and read.)

Since I have obviously missed a few titles, I had some trouble placing this book within the chronology of Pern. Obviously it takes place before the original stories but is it before or after Moreta's Ride and Nerilka's Story? Like those two books, this one deals with a flu-like pandemic which decimates the population.

One of the things that makes this series so enjoyable is how it has created this world that has a vast population and multiple locations as well as a rich history. Pivotal events are seen from many different points of view, and sometimes we get to go back into the past to see the real events behind a future legend or enigmatic song.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fruits Basket Vol. 6 by Natsuki Takaya

Main Character: Sweet, optimistic Tohru Honda, and friends
Location: Japan
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga, Fantasy

Kyo's mentor, Shishou, comes for a visit. As a test, he removes the protective bracelet that Kyo wears. This removes Kyo's control and he transforms into a hideous, mishapen beast. This is one of the aspects of being possessed by the cat spirit. Tohru sees him in this form, but she stays with him, trying to ease his pain. He lashes out at her, cutting her with his claw, but still she will not abandon him. Slowly, her presence calms him and he goes back to his human form. We also learn that Kyo has been told his mother killed herself because she could not bear his being a monster. Poor Kyo.

Tohru accompanies Yuki on a visit to Ayame's store and has fun dressing up in the costumes.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Epic by Conor Kostick

Main Character: Erik
Location: Earth colony planet New Earth
Time period: Undetermined future
Genre: YA Fiction, Science Fiction, Dystopian Society

Wow! I liked this book, and I'm looking forward to the sequel, Saga, which is scheduled to be published May 2008.

Erik lives in a culture where a massive multi-player online game has become the basis of law and economy. Everyone spends so much time in the game that they neglect daily chores in the real world. And since your wealth in the virtual world affects your status in the real world, everyone scrounges for coppers in the virtual world but rarely try anything that might get their characters killed because then they would lose everything and have to start again. Erik, however, begins to think differently. When he needs to create a new character, he makes a female swashbuckler who has few fighting skills but is very pretty. And when he walks down the streets of the virtual world, he begins to notice that NPCs (non-player characters) and begins to interact with them. He learns that when he takes the time to explore the game in ways he never did before, opportunities arise which promise to make him very rich and powerful.

This book had a bit of similarity to Margaret Haddix's Hidden Children series--both of them deal with an unjust or corrupt government and the hidden resistance movement that arises in response.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

Main character: High school student Schuyler and others
Location: New York
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction, Fantasy, Vampires
Series: Blue Bloods #1

Vampires are big in YA literature right now. The most popular series is Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series, though my personal favorite is Scott Westerfeld's Peeps and The Last Days (which postulates that vampirism is really caused by parasites--very gross and very cool!)

Thnk vampires crossed with Gossip Girl with some of the BBC series Hex thrown in for good measure. Blue Bloods is set in a world where vampires--or Blue Bloods, as they call themselves--are fallen angels who have split from Lucifer and are now doing good deeds to try and earn their way back to heaven. In order to avoid that pesky immortality problem where everyone around you ages and begins to notice that you don't, these vampires go into a hibernation cycle and are reincarnated through the generations.

Since this is the first book in a series, a lot of time is spent introducing the characters and setting the scene, but it's done well, keeping the plot moving forward and making me look forward to the next book. The characters begin as stock cliche high school characters--Mimi, the popular mean girl queen bee; Schuyler, the outcast oddball who under her unfashionable clothes in actually the most beautiful girl in school; Jack, the popular and gorgeous jock that Schuyler yearns for; Oliver, the stalwart best friend who is deeply in love with Schuyler though she only sees him as her friend; and Bliss, the new girl who is so grateful for Mimi's attention and support. I get the feeling that they will grow with the series (except maybe Mimi--she seems unredeemable so far.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick

Main Character: Sixteen-year-old Alex Gregory
Location: USA
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction

I had put off reading this book for a while--the cover really didn't appeal--but I'm trying to read all of the books on this year's Lone Star Reading List, so I finally picked it up. Alex Gregory is a 16-year-old boy trying to deal with his divorced parents. On the night his mother goes out on a date for the first time since their divorce, Alex decides to get drunk on the vodka his father left behind and then drive to his father's house and tell him what he thinks of him. It doesn't end well, but at least the only fatality was a lawn gnome decoration.

Alex is sentenced to 100 hours community service working at a nursing home and is basically assigned to talk to grouchy old Solomon Lewis. Mr. Lewis delights in playing practical jokes, and Alex winds up the butt of many of them. As you might expect, these two come to an understanding and then to a relationship in which both learn life lessons.

There are few surprises in this book, but I'm not complaining. In this sort of book, what's really important is not the plot so much as the characters and their relationships. Alex is a good kid--maybe not the smartest but he's got a heart. His relationship with Sol is not the only one that evolves through the story--so does his relationship with his parents, his best friend Laurie, and two jazz musicians from his school. Touching on serious topics but with a lot of humor, this was an enjoyable book.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dragon's Keep by Janet Lee Carey

Main Character: Princess Rosalind
Location: Off the coast of England
Time period: 12th Century
Genre: YA Fiction, Fantasy, Dragons, Fairy Tales

Dragon's Keep is a lovely little dragon fantasy set in an actual historical period--the English civil war between Queen Matilde and King Stephen. The setting is an island apparently off the coast of England and ruled by descendants of the Pendragons--the royal house of Arthur. The book can be divided into three parts. The first part takes place in the castle where Rosalind leads a pampered and privileged life. The second is in the dragon's keep, where Rosie, renamed Briar by the dragon, cares for the four baby dragons in exchange for the dragon's promise that he will not prey upon her people. And in the third, Briar Rose, freed from her pledge to the dragon, returns to claim her throne and fulfill Merlin's prophecy.

The first two parts were so detailed and rich that the ending feels a bit abrupt, but it is satisfying. A nice addition to dragon fantasy, and to the growing collection of original fairy tales being written for teens.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz

Main Character: Reluctant teenage spy Alex Rider
Location: England, Australia
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction, Action/Adventure, Spy Thriller
Series: Alex Rider #7

I enjoy the high adventure of the Alex Rider series. This entry--the seventh in the series--begins right where the last one ended, with Alex returning to Earth after going up in space to destroy the Ark Angel. Splashing down off the coast of Australia, he is soon manipulated into going on yet another highly dangerous mission. Despite Jack's objections, Alex agrees, mainly because he will have a chance to meet his godfather, Ash, and possibly learn more about the parents who were killed when he was just a baby. Naturally, best-laid plans go awry and Alex has to rely on his wits, his physical skills, and (of course) some nifty gadgets in order to survive.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ghost Hunt Vol. 2 by Shiho Inada

Main Character: High School Student Mai Taniyaki
Location: Japan
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga, Fantasy, Ghosts

Ewww! Creepy haunted doll! I'm not kidding--the minute you see this doll, you know it's possessed by an evil spirit. Meanwhile, a film crew trying to film a romantic scene in the park is mysteriously doused with water.

The first volume was all explanation and set-up, introducing the characters and drawing in the broad strokes. Now the series can settle down and start developing the characters and their situation. Mai and Kazuya continue their love/hate relationship--you know something is going develop there before long! Not great, but certainly enjoyable.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ghost Hunt Vol. 1 by Shiho Inada

Main Character: High school student Mai Taniyama
Location: Japan
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga, Fantasy, Ghosts

Mai Taniyama and her friends are in the darkened AV room telling ghost stories. As each one finishes her story, she turns off her flashlight. As the stories come to an end and the last flashlight is turned off, the girls are startled by the appearance of a young man.

The man turns out to be Kazuya Shibuya, the head of Shibuya Psychic Research Center, hired by the principal to investigate the strange occurrences associated with a derelict building on campus. Mai, though attracted by his looks, doesn't completely trust Shibuya, thinking him arrogrant and egotistical.

Besides Shibuya, the principal has also hired Ayako Matsuzaki, a Miko who can exorcise spirits; Takigawa Houshou, a monk; John Brown, a Catholic priest from Australia; and Masako Hara, a famous psychic medium. Another student, Kuroda, who claims to be psychic, joins them uninvited. Of course, each of them has a different theory as to what is causing all the odd happenings around the building. Shibuya, the logical and scientific researcher, believes that it is land subsidence. Hara-San detects no spirits, but Matsuzaki suspects poltergeists.

The answer is more complicated than any one theory, but eventually they figure it out. The ghost hunters leave and the school returns to normal. But then Mai gets a phone call from Shibuya--would she be interested in working for him permanently?