Thursday, July 31, 2008

Prince of Tennis Vol. 23 by Takeshi Konomi

Main Character: 7th-grader Ryoma Echizen
Location: Japan
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga, Sports--Tennis

Ryoma finishes his pick-up game against one of his Rikkai rivals, but he is so worn out he falls asleep in the arms of one of the Rikkai players (hee!)

It's the finals, and all the Seishun players and coach are suffering from red-eye (from studying stats, running instead of sleeping, or just crying over a sad movie.) But now it's time for the Kanto Tournament Finals. On Seishun's side--Kaido and Momoshiro. The Rikkai team has been studying them and knows all their tricks. Our guys are rattled when they can't score a point, but eventually they rally and manage to change their tactics.

This book will make you hot just by reading it--these boys are working so hard and the sweat is just pouring off of them. I don't always follow the game strategies, but the artist does a wonderful job of showing the speed and intensity of the games.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Love*Com Vol. 1 by Aya Nakahara

Main Characters: High-schoolers Risa Koisumi and Atsushi Ôtani
Location: Japan
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga, Romantic comedy

Risa Koisumi is the tallest girl in her class; Atsushi Ôtani is the shortest boy. They can't stand each other, especially since everyone at school compares them to a comedy team--think "Mutt and Jeff." Then they wind up having to go to summer school. There's a new boy --Suzuki--in their class. Risa is instantly attracted--after all, Suzuki is as tall as she is. Ôtani offers to help her get together with Suzuki if she'll help him get together with her friend, Chiharu Tanaka. What follows, as you might guess, is classic farce. Suzuki and Chiharu wind up crushing on each other and everyone thinks that Risa and Ôtani really like each other because of the way they've been talking each other up to the others.

This is a very funny, very silly story. I mean, you know from the beginning that Risa and Ôtani will wind up together, but the fun will be in seeing how long they can fight against it without getting annoying.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Airman by Eoin Colfer

Main Character: Conor Broekhart
Location: The Saltee Islands, off the coast of Ireland
Time period: the 1890s
Genre: YA Fiction, Adventure

This is a old-fashioned adventure story that brings to my mind elements of The Prisoner of Zenda and The Count of Monte Cristo.

Conor Broekhart leads a charmed life, starting with his unorthodox birth in a hot air balloon. His father is a high-ranking military officer and his mother is a scientist, both in the employ of Nicholas, the king of the Saltee Islands. The Saltees are a pair of small, barren rocks off the coast of Ireland that were originally given by England's King Henry II to one of his knights as a punishment for his overreaching ambition. It would have been punishment indeed if not for the discovery of a diamond mine under the smaller island.

Conor is raised in the castle and is playmate to the princess, Isabella. When King Nick arranges for the Frenchman, Victor Vigny, to be the royal tutor, he makes sure that Conor is taught by Victor as well. Victor and Conor bond over the dream of inventing a flying machine. But while the king's policies of making life on the Saltee Islands better for all citizens wins him love and acclaim among the populace, they also make a very dangerous enemy. The king is assassinated and Conor, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is framed. He is condemned to work in the diamond mines while his parents and Isabella are led to believe that he has died.

Conor is a reluctant hero--all he wants to do is escape the mines, go to America, and work on his inventions. He has no ambition to defeat the villain or rescue the princess or his parents--not knowing they've been told that he's dead, he thinks they have abandoned him. But when push comes to shove, he steps up and saves the day. (Was that a spoiler? But you knew he would!)

This is not a non-stop roller-coaster type adventure, such as Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series or the humorous Artemis Fowl books by Colfer, but it is a very enjoyable book.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

Main Character: 12-year-old Addie
Location: Schenectady, New York
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction; Divorce

Addie and her mother have lost their house, due to Mommers' mismanagement of their money. Addie's stepfather, Dwight, arranges for them to live in a mobile home under the railroad overpass and near a convenience store. Mommers grouses about it but Addie is charmed by the trailer and does her best to make things work. She has not had an easy life. Her father died when she was very small. She dearly loves her stepfather, Dwight, and her two little half-sisters, but when Dwight and Mommers got a divorce he got custody of the smaller girls but had no legal claim to her.

Moving to the trailer is like a new start for Addie and Mommers. Addie makes friends with Soula and Elliot, who run the convenience store. She makes new friends in school, too; friends who don't tease her for her dyslexia. She makes it into the school orchestra playing the flute, and even gets a solo in the Christmas concert. But soon Mommers is up to her old ways, making risky business deals and getting involved with a married man. Worse, she is leaving Addie alone to fend for herself for days at a time. Just as I'm beginning to think that Mommers is manic-depressive, Soula asks some questions that clearly show she is thinking along the same lines. Addie loves her mother, but she yearns for a normal life--one she'll never get with Mommers.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Harukaze Bitter Bop Vol. 1 by Court Betten

Main Character: High-school student Chiyoharu Hasumi and friends
Location: undefined
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga with fantasy elements

This is only the first volume, so I'm not quite sure where it is going. It's the start of a new school year. Hasumi is headed towards school where he hopes to start with a clean slate, but as he approaches the train station, he sees a large young man who smiles at him and then jumps in front of the train. Hasumi freaks out. Just then, Kaede Tsubak pops up--she, too, is also a high school student heading for the first day of school, but she's also an undercover detective, who immediately accuses Hasumi of killing the other man. And then Hasumi really freaks out because the man, who by all rights should be dead, gets up. He says his name is Souza of the North Wind, but other than that he can't remember anything about himself. It wasn't the train accident that gave him amnesia--he stepped in front of the train to try to cure it.

From a note at the end of the book, I gather that this is filled with in-jokes that refer back to other very popular series--such as Dragonball. Since I haven't read a lot of those series, most of the jokes have gone straight over my head. However, I liked this enough to want to keep reading it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian

Main Character: 17-year-old Josh Swenson, aka Larry
Location: somewhere in the Northeast United States
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction, Humorous

Josh Swenson is a fairly typical high school boy--he's had a crush on Beth since grade school but he can't tell her how he feels. Since the death of his mother, he has lived alone with his stepfather, an advertising executive. He's very smart, a bit of a nerd, and though he isn't anti-social, he sometimes feels the need to get away by himself in the woods. Oh, and he is also Larry, the creator of an anticonsumerism website.

Trying to keep his identity as Larry a secret is getting hard, especially when Beth wants to start a Larry fan club at school. She raves about Larry's site, "The Gospel According to Larry," and sometimes feels as if Larry is speaking directly to her (which sometimes, you know, he is, but Josh can't let on.) Larry's message is spreading across the country, and Josh begins to think that maybe, just maybe, he is able to change the world. But there is a thorn in Larry's side--an emailer called betagold who is determined to discover who Larry actually is. (Hey, if betagold is so concerned about Larry's anonymity, why is s/he hiding behind his/her own alias?)

This was such a fun book to read. I really liked Josh and sympathized with his need to make this world a better place, as well as his disdain for celebrity, consumer culture, and crowds. He has a real dilemma when his website begins to get noticed and he himself becomes a bit of celebrity.

The blog Guys Lit Wire posted a review of this book recently, which is what spurred me to read it. Guys Lit Wire is a great place to find YA books for boys and I have come across some good suggestions there--you should check it out.

Fruits Basket Vol. 19 by Natsuki Takaya

Main Character: High School student Tohru Honda and all her friends
Location: Japan
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga, Fantasy

The biggest surprise in this volume is how much some of the characters have grown! Momiji, who has been away for a while, comes back and gets a lot of the girls excited--he's so tall and good-looking. But he still has his rabbit back-pack! Kyo, Yuki, Risa and Hiro all have grown up, too. Only Tohru doesn't seem to age at all--still cute and innocent and optimistic. Things have been getting awkward between her and Kyo, espcially after Hatori tells her that secretly all the other Sohmas need Kyo, the cat; they need to know that his curse is worse than theirs, that he will soon need to be confined for the rest of his life.I swear, this series better end with Tohru breaking the curse for the whole family, Kyo included. I need my happy ending for everyone!

Yuki meets Kakeru's girlfriend, Komaki. Komaki's father was driving the car that hit Tohru's mother, and he was killed in the crash also. Komaki is another cute and innocent and optimistic girl with a wide smile, just like Tohru. Shortly after the accident, Kakeru resented Tohru, feeling that her grief and the attention people paid her somehow belittled Komaki's grief. He said some hurtful things to Tohru, but Komaki set him straight.

There are a lot of characters to follow in Fruits Basket, and at times I wish I had a full scorecard--more than just the main characters listed at the beginning of each volume. I've not been over fond of Kakeru up until now, but I did like the backstory of Komaki and their relationship.

Vampire Knight Vol. 1 by Matsuri Hino

Main Character: Yuki Cross, school guardian at Cross Academy
Location: undefined
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga, Fantasy, Vampires

The Cross Academy is a unique boarding school attended by two groups of students: the Day Class, which seems to be made up mostly of giggly girls; and the Night Class, made up of absolutely gorgeous guys. Yuki Cross and Zero Kiryu are the school guardians, there to make sure that the Day Class and the Night Class never mix and that the Day Class never finds out the Night Class secret--that they are all vampires!

This is definitely a melodrama, highly emotional with many exclamation points. Ten years ago, Yuki was saved from a vampire's attack by Kaname, a member of the Night Class. Left with no memory of her previous life, she was adopted by the headmaster of Cross Academy. The headmaster believes that vampires and humans can learn to co-exist peaceably together, and this school is part of an experiment to prove it. The members of the Night Class all take a blood tablet, which is supposed to quench their thirst for blood, though the scent of it is still enough to send them all into a state of excitement.

Of course, this being the first volume of the series, a lot of time is spent on setting up the situation and a bit of the backstory. It's too early to know where it's going to go yet, but there are definite hints of a love triangle between Yuki, Zero, and Kaname.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Crimson Hero Vol. 8 by Mitsubasa Takanashi

Main Character: 15-year-old Nobara Sumiyoshi
Location: Japan
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Manga, Sports, Volleyball

Nobara arrives at Central Sokai University and looks for Ryo, the ace player her coach told her about. But the Volleyball players laugh at her and tell her that a) Ryo is too small to be an attacker on their team and b) she can’t train with them because she’s a girl. When she finally finds Ryo, he is playing beach volleyball with an amateur club.

Ryo turns out to be Coach Shima’s brother, and, Nobara realizes later, the young player who had inspired her when he played in the Spring Tournament when he was in high school. She is leery of him at first because she thinks he’s a ladies’ man, but he turns out to be a perceptive coach and is the first to realize that what’s keeping Nobara from really excelling at volleyball is not physical but emotional.

I really like this series, and I liked the little touches in this volume—Ryo’s understanding of Nobara and his encouragement; the boys back at Crimson dorm missing Nobara; Yushin finding her cookbook with all the notes she’s kept on what the boys like and dislike. I especially love Ryo’s mother—when the members of the Eagles, the amateur beach volleyball team, are trying to encourage Nobara and boost her self-confidence, Ryo’s mother gives her a slap. "No matter how hard you need to push yourself, you have to take care of your body. That includes eating your meals and enjoying them." So there! Gotta love her!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Main Character: Sixteen-year-old Gemma Doyle
Location: England
Time period: 1890s
Genre: YA Fiction, Fantasy, Gothic romance

Brought up in India, Gemma yearns to go to England. Expected to behave as a proper young lady, she is becoming petulant and rebellious. As they walk through a marketplace, Gemma gets into an argument with her mother and runs away in anger. She has a vision that her mother is in danger and turns back only to find her mother and another man dead in the street. Soon after, she is sent to Spence Academy in England--talk about be careful what you wish for.

At Spence Academy, Gemma learns secrets about herself, about strange visions that started when her mother died, about her ability to cross into a magical realm and channel its magic. She also learns that she is not the first to do so--she finds a diary written by Mary Dowd, an earlier student who had the same abilities.

Though set in Victorian times, Gemma and the other girls have some modern characteristics--Gemma herself admits that she can be sulky and contrary, and Felicity is a definite "queen bee" who surrounds herself with mean girls and wannabes. And yet they cope with situations that are certainly Victorian--pretty Pippa is being forced to marry a middle-aged but wealthy man to erase her parents' debts.

A Great and Terrible Beauty reminded me of the gothic romances of authors like Victoria Holt that I adored when I was a teenager, but updated with a modern sensibility. Though the book can stand alone, it is actually the first of a trilogy; the other two books are Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing. Libba Bray's website is and her blog is

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Fire Thief by Terry Deary

Main Characters: Prometheus, the Titan; young Jim, an orphan
Location: Ancient Greece, and a city which resembles Dickensian London
Time period: Ancient Greece, and the 1850s
Genre: J Fiction, Fantasy, Greek mythology

The Fire Thief is an odd book which combines Greek mythology with the London of Charles Dickens. (Only it isn't called London in the book--it's Eden City.)

You probably know the story of the Titan Prometheus who stole fire from the gods to give to humans and was then punished by being chained to a rock and having an eagle eat out his liver every day. One day Prometheus kills the eagle and escapes. (Though in the actual myth he is rescued by Hercules.) His cousin, Zeus, who holds a certain sympathy for him even while believing that he must be punished, gives him a chance to be forever free. Prometheus is allowed to go down and live among me and search for a hero. If he can prove to Zeus that humans have the capacity for heroism, then he will be forgiven. Zeus even gives Prometheus his swan wings so that he can fly to any time period. Of course, until he fulfills his quest, the eagle (who isn't a real eagle but the avenging Fury and who isn't really dead) will continue to hunt for him.

Prometheus travels to the future (well, the past from our perspective) and encounters young Jim, an orphan in the employ of a con man. Jim is actually the narrator of the story, and employs a lot of footnotes to explain himself as he goes along. These can be either clever examples of meta-fiction, or really annoying. (If you're annoyed by all these parenthetical interruptions, you'll probably be annoyed by the footnotes.)

If the footnotes don't bother you and you enjoy this book, look for its sequels Flight of the Fire Thief and The Fire Thief Fights Back.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Way Down Deep by Ruth White

Main Character: Twelve-year-old Ruby June
Location: West Virginia
Time period: 1950s
Genre: J Fiction

This is a very simple but very powerful little story about love and family. In the summer of 1944, a toddler is found in front of the courthouse in Way Down, a small town in the hollers of West Viriginia. She is taken in by Miss Arbutus, the proprietress of the local boardinghouse. She raises the girl, called Ruby June, to be a loving and giving person who is very much a part of the community. Then, when Ruby is twelve, a new family comes to town with clues about Ruby's past.

This is the kind of story that just makes me want to move to a small town and live in a boardinghouse. Every one is so good at heart--even Cedar who cusses up a blue streak, or old Mrs. Rife who throws rocks at people from her front porch. Even the bank robber isn't a really bad person; he's just fallen upon hard times.

Way Down Deep is on the 2008-2009 Texas Bluebonnet Award list.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Land of the Silver Apples by Nancy Farmer

Main Character: Jack, a Bard's apprentice
Location: England
Time period: 8th century
Genre: YA Fiction, Frantasy
Series: sequel to The Sea of Trolls

At the midwinter need-fire ceremony, Lucy disobeys the Bard and wears her silver necklace though metal is forbidden. This sets into motion a series of bad luck events which makes everyone cranky and disgruntled. Things come to a head when Giles reveals that Lucy is not really their child--he lost their child when the hobgoblins took her but found Lucy in the woods and took her home. So Jack now must go on a another quest, this time to the hobgoblin world and Elfland. He is accompanied by Pega, a slave girl he bought and freed, and joined by Torgill.

Jack and Thorgill are such engaging and likeble characters that I would not mind at all seeing more adventures with them.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Middle of Somewhere by J. B. Cheaney

Main Character: Twelve-year-old Ronnie Sparks
Location: Missouri and Kansas
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: J Fiction

12-year-old Veronica "Ronnie" Sparks loves order and organization. Unfortunately, she doesn't get much of it at home since she often has to look after Gee, her 7-year-old brother who has ADHD. When their mother injures her knee (in a rollicking incident involving a squirrel,) their grandfather agrees to take the children on a road trip in his RV--he's traveling across Kansas on a wind prospecting expedition.

There is an old-fashioned feel to this book; set in contemporary times, it feels like it's set in 1950's. In some ways it reminded me of Richard Peck's A Year Down Yonder. You have the disruption of normal life, the trying to build a relationship with an almost unknown, and often cantankerous, grandparent, and the episodic adventures along the way. These adventures, which are potentially dangerous and life-threatening, are treated in a light-hearted manner, so there is never a feeling of dread or menace. In her desire for a normal, organized like, Ronnie is akin to Georgina in Barbara O'Connor's How to Steal a Dog.

The Middle of Somewhere is on the 2008-2009 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee list.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

Main Character: Eleven-year-old Jack, a Bard's apprentice
Location: England, Scandinavia
Time period: 8th century
Genre: YA Fiction, Fantasy, Norse Mythology

Jack is honored to be chosen as the Bard's apprentice, but his training has barely begun when danger comes to their village. The Northmen are coming, sent by Queen Frith--a half-troll who has a grudge against the Bard, who she calls Dragon Tongue. When a Nightmare, sent by Frith, robs the Bard of his mind, it is up to Jack to protect the village. But Jack's magic fails and he is taken captive by the Northmen, along with his little sister Lucy.

Thus begins an heroic quest which will lead Jack not only to the Northman's lands, but to the land of the Trolls and even to the Great Tree of Life, Yggdrassil. On his quest, he is aided by Olaf, a giant berseker; Thorgill, a shield maiden; and Bold Heart, a crow with unusual intelligence.

The Sea of Trolls takes place in a time when the old pagan beliefs still survive but Christianity is taking hold in England. Magic and monks co-exist (not always comfortably) side by side, though great changes are coming.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Main Character: Guy Montag, a fireman who burns books
Location: Undefined
Time period: Not too distant future
Genre: Dystopian Society

Like many people, I first read this book in high school and the main thing I remembered about it was the group of people who each memorized a different literary work so that it would be preserved for the future. My friends and I were so taken with that thought that we decided to memorize Gone with the Wind--I think we managed about 4 chapters before we gave up.

I decided that I needed to re-read it when I learned that it was the book chosen for the upcoming Big Read project. One of the things that surprised me, that I had forgotten or had not picked up on when I read it before, was that in this future not all books are banned. It's easy to think so because the image of the firemen burning books is so strong that some of the finer details can go unremarked. Anyway, it's the great works of literature that are banned and burned--comic books, trade journals, sex magazines are still allowed. Fahrenheit 451 was not so much about governmental censorship as societal intellectual laziness--Ray Bradbury believed that television would supplant books and reading.

There isn't a lot of plot in the book--it's more a series of set pieces that allow Bradbury to expound on his theories through different characters. This is not a bad thing--he's got a lot of things to say. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but he does make some very good points.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Main Character: 15-year-old Clary Fray
Location: New York
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction, Fantasy, Demons, Vampires, Werewolves
Series: The Mortal Instruments #1

When Clary is out clubbing with her best friend, Simon, she witnesses a murder--three tattooed teens stab another kid. But when she tries to tell anyone about it, there is no body, no blood, and no one else can see the killers. Turns out, they are as surprised that she can see them and she is that no one else can. They are Darkhunters--demon killers--and they just dispatched a demon.

When Clary's mom disappears, secrets are slowly revealed about Clary and her past. In order to save her mom, Clary enlists Jace and the others to help her find the Mortal Cup, one of three powerful gifts used by the Angel to create the Darkhunters. But can they find it before the evil renegade Darkhunter Valentine does?