Showing posts with label Young Adult. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Young Adult. Show all posts

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Mystery of the Tempest: A Fisher Key Adventure by Sam Cameron

Twin brothers Denny and Steven Anderson love helping people and fighting crime alongside their sheriff dad on sun-drenched Fisher Key, Florida. Steven likes chasing girls. Denny longs to lose his virginity, but doesn’t dare tell anyone he’s gay. Steven has a secret of his own. He lied to everyone, including his own brother, about being accepted into SEAL training for the U.S. Navy.

On the day they graduate high school, the twins meet the handsome new guy in town, a military veteran with a chiseled body and mysterious past. Meanwhile Brian Vandermark, a gay transfer student from Boston, finds himself falling for closeted Denny but hampered by his shyness. When an antique yacht explodes in Fisher Key harbor, all three boys are caught up in a summer of betrayal, romance, and danger. It’s the Mystery of the Tempest¬—and it just might kill them all.
Set in the Florida Keys, Mystery of the Tempest by Sam Cameron is a fast paced LGBT young adult mystery that turned out to be engrossing and entertaining enough that I read it through in one sitting. The main characters, Anderson twins Denny and Steven, are the main focus of the story as they solve a mystery that revolves around the explosion of the antique yacht The Tempest and reveal important personal secrets in this fast moving story.

Denny and Steven are known throughout the island for helping their father, the island's sheriff, solve crimes. So it doesn't come as a surprise to anyone when the twins are smack in the middle of the events that lead up to explosion of The Tempest, or when they follow up afterwards by attempting to figure out what really happened. Soon things become complicated when the boys realize that they are being followed, "accidents"pile up around them, and as everything unravels, lies by friends and family betrayals come to light.

Events taking place in the boys' personal lives further complicate matters. The boys are identical twins but there are differences between them. Stephen is the athlete who dreams of becoming a Navy Seal and Denny is the straight A student with dreams of becoming part of the Coast Guard. But the biggest difference between the two is that Stephen likes girls and Denny likes boys. Stephen's girlfriend Kelsey is ready to go forward with their relationship and agrees to sex after their high school graduation, but Denny is deep in the closet which makes him a frustrated virgin with no hopes of a change in status in the near future.

Everything changes on the night of their high school graduation. Not only does The Tempest blow up, but Denny and Stephen meet a couple of people that will have substantial influence in their lives. There's the gorgeous ex-Navy Seal hanging around Fisher Key that sets Denny to drooling and daydreaming, and then there's the mutual attraction between Denny and Brian Vandermark, the shy young man recently transferred to school from Boston. Of course all the secrets the boys are keeping from family, friends and each other further complicate matters.

Stephen lied to Denny and everyone about his future plans and doesn't know how to reveal the truth. Denny was accepted by the Coast Guard but is keeping the fact that he's gay a secret from everyone except Stephen. As the summer progresses and events become more complex around the boys, their secrets and lies become heavy burdens to carry. This is frustrating for Denny as he and Brian become more attracted to each other every day, and for Stephen who can't share his worries about future plans and whose girlfriend is not what he expected.

Using the third point of view every other chapter is narrated from Stephen, Denny, and Brian's perspectives, making this a well rounded story where all central characters' views are well represented. I particularly enjoyed the young adults' voices and the fact that they're portrayed as young adults, not grown-ups. The dialogue is contemporary but not overdone and the characters' concerns are quite appropriate to circumstances, age and time.

The mystery in this story is enjoyable although I did figure it out before the end. However, the most enjoyable aspects of the story for me were the personal issues to the boys' stories, as well as their revelations. How Denny comes to terms with his sexuality and deals with his frustrations are well addressed issues by the author, as is Stephen's personal situation. I liked that lying about his future and the newness of a sexual relationship with his girlfriend deeply affected this character. And speaking of time-appropriate portrayals, I specifically enjoyed Kelsey's character. Here's a young girl who sets a high bar for sexual interaction based on what she's read and posts all her likes and dislikes on Facebook. If I have one niggle about this story is that when reading this book there's a sense that there have been previous stories about the Anderson twins, however I could not find any other books in this series.

As opposed to many young adult reads, adults are present in this story. Stephen and Denny's parents are not central but are there to support them and Brian's parents are very much a part of the story, but none of them take the focus away from the young adults as central characters. The secondary characters in the story are a good mix of young adults, adults, males and females, with males making the bulk of the significant cast of secondary characters.

This is a different type of read for me, a young adult gay contemporary mystery. Sam Cameron is an author whose short story, "Day Student," I enjoyed in a recently reviewed anthology. In Mystery of  The Tempest: A Fisher Key Adventure, I again enjoyed the way this author captures young adults' voices, particularly the brotherly relationship between Steven and Denny, as well as youth's insecurities and strengths presented through the portrayal of Brian's character and his relationship with Denny. I do love mysteries and this one turned out to be an enjoyable, fresh read for me. Recommended.

Category: LGBT - Gay Young Adult Mystery
Series: Fisher Key Adventures
Publisher/Release Date: Bold Stroke Books/November 17, 2011
Source: Copy of book received from author
Grade: B

Visit Sam Cameron here. Read an excerpt here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up edited by Steve Berman

This excellent collection of thirteen stories gathered and edited by Steve Berman for and about LGBT and Q young adults not only features stories that address the difficulties of coming out to friends and family, but most importantly Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up highlights experiences, changes and difficulties that affect and are experienced by young adults after that important step is taken.

The stories are as varied in style and content as are the writers themselves. L, G, B, T, and Q stories are all represented in this collection with gay and lesbian themes seemingly taking center stage, however you will find that the characters in all the stories are as varied as the challenges they face. The stories feature young adults and their struggles, triumphs, realizations, and lessons learned and taught.

I really want to mention all the stories. Instead here are a few as examples of the type of stories found in this wonderful collection. In Lucky P by Rigoberto González, a bisexual young man realizes that there's a difference between a crush and reciprocal love, and learning about pride, accepting support, and dealing with bullies after coming out in an all girl's Catholic high school is the subject of Gutter Ball by Danielle PignataroVictories, acceptance and respect are earned the hard way within the realm of high school sports in the multi-layered coming out story Captain of the World by Alex Jeffers where the focus falls on a Turkish young man whose struggles include battling prejudice against the Muslim religion and homophobia.

In Steve Berman's wonderful story Only Lost Boys are Found about closets and what they hide, two childhood friends fall in love but while one is out, the other needs rescuing when he gets lost and trapped in the maze that is his closet. The Proximity of Seniors by L.A. Fields on the other hand is all about finding that one unexpected friend who shares a mutual struggle and provides support throughout the worst and best of times during and after those high school years. I loved this story about a gay boy and a lesbian girl who become best friends for life.

Subtle Poison by Lucas J.W. Johnson is a fantastic story about the value or toxicity of friendship that features the challenges of being accepted as an FtM transgendered teen and a gay young man's battle with substance abuse, and Sparks of Change by Dia Pannes is all about a brave young woman who teaches her father and small town a lesson about ignorance, intolerance and acceptance of her lesbian teacher and hopefully her future self. Then there's The Trouble with Billy by Jeffrey Ricker, a wonderful story about two young men, one who is 'out' and barely dealing with daily bullying episodes, and the other full of rage. And I really enjoyed the lovely Duet: A Story in Haibun by Charles Jensen told in narrative and poetry style from the perspective of two male high school band musicians who are deeply in love: "how a pair of shoes, reflections of each, share the same body." 

Each story is prefaced by one page with a short anecdote from the author sharing a personal life experience with the reader. These short personalized notes effectively become a part of this collection and with few words all convey key, refreshingly candid moments or the need to have books like Speaking Out readily available.
"The last time this happened was in Decatur, Georgia. At the end of the presentation, a teenager comes up to me and asks in a timid voice: "Excuse me, Mr. González. Could you recommend some books about people like us?" People like us need to keep spreading the word." Rigoberto González.
In his introduction writer and editor Steve Berman says, "voices must be heard," well, they are heard here. Speaking Out is a collection of stories written by writers of LGBTQ young adult literature who not only capture their voice, but also understand the daily challenges they face. This collection is affirming, inspiring and informational.  I highly recommend it. Specifically recommended for LGBTQ young adults and those interested in supporting their friends, parents of both LGBTQ teens and those interested in teaching their teens tolerance, as well as to librarians in general. Pass it on.

Category: LGBTQ Young Adult
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Bold Stroke Books/September 12, 2011
Source: Bold Stroke Books
Grade: A-

Stories and authors in order of appearance:
"Lucky P" by Rigoberto González
"Day Student" by Sam Cameron
"Gutter Ball" by Danielle Pignataro
"Captain of the World" by Alex Jeffers
"The Proximity of Seniors by L.A. Fields
"Subtle Poison" by Lucas J.W. Johnson
"Forever is Composed of Nows" by Will Ludwigsen
"Spark of Change" by Dia Pannes
"The Trouble with Billy" by Jeffrey Ricker
"Only Lost Boys Are Found" by Steve Berman
"Waiting to Show Her" by Ann Tonsor Zeddies
"Duet" A Story in Haibun" by Charles Jensen
"All Gender U" by Sandra McDonald

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Minis: Garcia Marquez, Kresley Cole, Rick Riordan

Today, I have three of my ini-mini, short first impressions for you. These are books that I've read, or attempted to read, but didn't share with you at the time.

In a Latin American port city during colonial times, a young girl named Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles the only child of the ineffectual Marquis de Casalduero is bitten by a rabid dog. Her father, who has shown no interest in the child, begins a crusade to save her life, eventually committing her to the Convent of Santa Clara when the bishop persuades him that his daughter is possessed by demons. In fact, Sierva Maria has shown no signs of being infected by rabies or by demons; she is simply being punished for being different. Having been raised by the family's slaves, she knows their languages and wears their Santeria necklaces; she is perceived by the effete European Americans around her as "not of this world." Only the priest who has reluctantly accepted the job as her exorcist believes she is neither sick nor possessed but terrified after being inexplicably "interred alive" among the superstitious nuns.
A couple of months back I picked up Del Amor y Otros Demonios by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Of Love and Other Demons) again, Marquez' last work of fiction written in 1996. I've attempted reading this short work twice before and haven't been able to get past the 30th page. This has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, instead I'm affected negatively by the content because of personal baggage. This time I got as far as half-way through the book before going to bed and had nightmares. I didn't have the heart to pick it up again the next day. Maybe later on I'll see if I can finish it, get rid of that baggage, just give it a push, have one more nightmare and see how it all ends. LOL!


Malkom Slaine: tormented by his sordid past and racked by vampiric hungers, he’s pushed to the brink by the green-eyed beauty under his guard.

Carrow Graie: hiding her own sorrows, she lives only for the next party or prank. Until she meets a tortured warrior worth saving.

In order for Malkom and Carrow to survive, he must unleash both the demon and vampire inside him. When Malkom becomes the nightmare his own people feared, will he lose the woman he craves body and soul?
Demon from the Dark by Kresley Cole was an interesting mix for me. I loved the hero, Malkom, in that book. He was just so darn sweet! I don't even know how to say it, but he's hot and sweet at the same time. There he was, a Vemon and considered an abomination (even in his own mind), and after all that time alone considering himself a monster, Malkom's heart and goodness were pretty much intact. I hurt for him and for a while I couldn't stand the heroine -- Carrow -- because she knowingly used him and was going to hurt him. He didn't deserve it. Malkom's character made this story enjoyable for me. The plot was interesting and it did move the overall storyarc forward slightly, so I'll definitely read Regin and Aidan/Chase's story, Dreams of a Dark Warrior. I can't wait to read how Cole redeems Aidan. :)


Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane.
One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.
Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them —Set— has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe - a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan is another book I read a while back. A buddy review with Nath is on the works for Breezing Through. This is definitely a fast paced adventure and quite exciting. A story about a brother and sister of mixed ethnic background who lose their father and suddenly find themselves in the center of a battle between worlds and gods. There's magic, Egyptian-based mythology, gods, and enough creepy crawlies to make this a really fun read. The premise is similar to the Percy and the Olympians series, but that's about it. The rest is quite original and I didn't feel as if I were reading the same books. The kids are great and different. The situations and villains are dangerous and the action and pace make this 516 page book seem short.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, Book 1) by Rick Riordan

I read the Percy and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan last year and fell in love with Percy and his crew. The Lost Hero is the first book in The Heroes of Olympus series and a continuation of the those adventures. However, in addition to the already established characters and Greek mythology-based world, Riordan introduces new heroes and villains, quests, a new prophecy, a looming battle and adds Roman mythology to the mix.

Mr. Riordan begins this new adventure by introducing his central characters, Jason, Piper and Leo as they're on a field trip away from the Wilderness School for incorrigible teenagers and on their way to the Grand Canyon. Immediately we know there's something wrong when Jason wakes up in the back of the school bus and doesn't remember who he is or where he came from. He doesn't even recognize his girlfriend Piper or Leo, his best friend.

As our three friends work on essays or admire the views, strange weather turns violent and soon Jason, Piper and Leo find themselves under attack from dark forces or venti. Their teacher Coach Hedge comes to their defence saving their lives. After a quick and messy battle where Coach Hedge is lost, the three are rescued by Annabeth and taken to Camp Half-Blood for safety where they learn who and what they are.

While at camp, Piper and Leo are claimed by their respective god (parents) and mysteriously, Jason finds he has already been claimed and by whom. After a series of on-camp adventures, visions and prophecies, the three are sent on a quest to save the (not-so-likable) goddess Herra who has been imprisoned by an unknown evil. A month earlier Zeus closed off Olympus and no one has heard from the gods, so the three friends must succeed without help from the gods or even Annabeth who is off to find a lost Percy! The adventure begins and our heroes will meet cyclops, wind gods, giants, werewolves and more as they prove their loyalty and bravery to themselves and each other along the way.

Since the Lost Heroes is a continuation to a series, there's no worldbuilding to set up and secondary characters have already been developed, so the readers can get right into the story. However, Riordan does add newness to the worldbuilding by incorporating Roman mythology and weaving it with the Greek mythology introduced in the Percy series, giving this book a fresh feel.

Although Riordan stuck with three heroes and the same formula: two boys and a girl, the characters themselves also felt different and unique.

  • Jason is brave, a true hero and his powers are strong. But they are already developed even if he doesn't remember exactly how or where he learned them. He is also confused, depressed and leery for most of the story, something that sets him apart from the other two, even when he's there for them. He's still a bit of a mystery by the end.
  • Piper is distraught for much of the story and suffers from self-esteem issues due to what she perceives as her father's neglect or lack of love. She has to make some tough choices and that sets the tone for her character development. In Piper, Riordan gives us an ethnic heroine -- she's half Native American and her background and some of those myths are used in the story. Piper is not super duper smart, but she's strong and she knows how to use her powers of persuasion. I enjoyed her character growth from beginning to end.
  • Leo is undeniably my favorite character and provided those 'aww moments.'  He lost his mother as a young boy in a horrific 'accident.' But although he also suffers from guilt and loss, as opposed to his two friends, Leo knows what it is to be loved and his way of coping is through his sense of humor, mechanical know-how and loyalty. I loved his ingenuity and bravery. 

The story is divided by chapter with the titles Jason, Piper and Leo, but written from the third person point of view making this an easy read. Internal dialogues abound with most of the revelations happening in dream sequences and then related to others, slowing down the pace and isolating the characters in some sections. At times, the dialogue is somewhat stilted and lacks flow. And although the humor is provided mainly by Leo's character, there's not enough of a give and take from Jason and Piper to really make it pop.  Real action is slow to come, although once on their way our heroes encounter plenty of obstacles throughout their adventures.

I enjoyed The Lost Hero, it had plenty of strengths and some weaknesses. It was a quick and easy read with great action and new adventures. I loved the new twists and turns that Riordan added to the Olympus series by incorporating Roman mythology and look forward to the rest of the series. Plus there's definitely a bit of a cliffhanger there at the end, and I must know!

The protagonists in this book are teens, but these books are appropriate for (and I believe will be fully enjoyed by) middle schoolers. I do recommend that the Percy and the Olympians series be read first for a better understanding of the world and characters.

Category: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: The Heroes of Olympus, Book 1
Released: October 12, 2010
Grade: B

Visit Rick Riordan here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R.W. Day

R.W. Day's beautiful prose, characterization, the post-apocalyptic fantasy world she created and the young adult, coming-of-age story in A Strong and Sudden Thaw caught both my attention and imagination from page one and I couldn't put the book down until it was done.

Approximately one hundred years after the Ice nearly ended civilization, the people of Moline, Virginia are still recovering from the catastrophe. The cold and snow still plague the north, but Virginia is a place where people can live, if not thrive. In some respects there's a regressive quality to life in Moline, as the people lead a life comparable to that lived in early 1800's America, with no electricity or running water, a one-room school house, a healer instead of a doctor, and the communing having adopted hardworking and god-fearing conservative values that at first glance seem quite familiar, but that later are revealed to be reactionary and extreme.

Using a beautiful narrative voice I fell in love with, A Strong and Sudden Thaw is told from David Anderson's point of view. David is the son of a Moline farmer and almost 17 years old. In Day's world, as in olden times, when David turns 18 he'll be considered a man in his community. When we first meet him, he's conflicted about his future and his straitlaced mother's plans to marry him off to the schoolteacher's daughter. David is part of a beautiful family -- all of them key secondary characters that complete this story.

David meets the new healer's assistant, Callan Landers, during a visit to the healer's house and they forge a bond through their love of reading and books. As the friendship grows, David slowly begins to feel a confusing attraction for Callan. During one of his visits to Callan, while accompanied by Elmer, a combination town bully and liar, he's shocked when he surprises the local artist, Taylor, performing oral sex on Callan. Elmer immediately runs to the authorities and Taylor and Callan are arrested for sodomy.

Following a painful trial, Callan is paroled with the condition that he will have no further personal contact with David. This is where David's loyalty and strength of character come to the forefront and we begin to see real character growth. He finds ways to see his friend Callan, and during this time both discover their love for each other. But a relationship between them is dangerous, if not impossible, and as they face dangerous situations and self-doubts, they also discover other sinister events that will have a profound effect on the people of Moline and their surroundings.

David is a well-defined central character. The reader follows David as he struggles to discover his strengths and becomes who he wants to be, an honest, independent-thinking David. Callan is also a well-drawn character, although as seen from David's point of view he doesn't come across as clearly defined. Besides David's family, Day develops other secondary characters within Moline's community to give this story depth.

Although R.W. Day maintains the focus of the story on David and Callan, there's a lot more to this book. The people of Moline are dealing with different threats: a pair of dragons have mysteriously appeared and are killing livestock and small children; the local representative from the Department of Reintroduction and Agriculture denies the existence of the dragons and refuses to help; and a neighboring town is suddenly abandoned without explanation. Day integrates all these threads, including Callan's sodomy arrest and trial, to create a cohesive story.

A Strong and Sudden Thaw was a page-turner full of adventure and one that drew deep, conflicting emotions as the author swept me to the end and a partial resolution to the conflicts. Although those resolutions are satisfactory, it is obvious that there will be a continuation to the overall story arc. The sequel Out of the Ashes will be releasing soon and I personally can't wait to read it.

Genre: LGBT YA Sci-Fi Fantasy/Speculative Fiction
Sequel: Out of the Ashes (coming soon)
Re-released:  January 30, 2009 by Lethe Press
Grade: A-

Visit R.W. Day here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Re-read)

This was actually an unplanned re-read. :) My husband asked me some questions about the end of this series and having read this book in 2007 when it first released, I remembered the overall plot but the details escaped me. I began skimming the book looking for the answers he wanted and when I couldn't find them... well... I got caught up and re-read the whole book! Definitely not planned since this book is 759 pages long! But, I'm glad I re-read it, now I'm ready for the upcoming movies and the details are fresh again. :D

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows is the last book of J.K. Rowling's amazing YA Fantasy series and although it is the one with all the answers and it provides an incredible finish, it is not necessarily my favorite.

The story picks up right as Harry is about to turn seventeen and the protection spell that has been keeping him safe throughout the years is about to expire. A rush by the Order of the Phoenix to keep him out of the hands of the Death Eaters and away from Voldermort is on... and the book begins with a bang! Lots of action, permanent changes and more losses for Harry.

As the powers of the Dark Lord gain strength so does his power over the Ministry of Magic, life deteriorates for the general population and specially for Harry's friends and the Order of the Phoenix. Muggles, muggle born magicians and their friends are particularly in danger and begin to disappear. In the meantime, Harry, Ron and Hermione stick to Dumbledore's plan to continue searching for Horcruxes in an attempt to weaken and destroy you-know-who. Terrible stories and rumors about Dumbledore and his family circulate and Harry begins to doubt Dumbledore's real intentions, his love and true character.

Once the three friends are forced to leave on their journey, the story meanders with Harry, Ron and Hermione going from pillar to post trying to figure out things without much success. Of course, everything they do and the little they do find out has a purpose and eventually it all makes sense and becomes part of the big puzzle, but in the meantime the whole process slows down the pacing in this story to a crawl. At this point, the book becomes a tough read for quite a while and this is a long book... but once you get past that, the fun begins again. I do recommend that during this slow time, even when tempted, you not skim because you'll miss important details as Harry chooses between what is right and what is easy once the Deathly Hallows come to light.

The pace picks up during the second part of the book as the pieces of the puzzle begin falling into place. This is a re-read for me, and it still amazes me how Rowling ties up so many threads and uses seemingly insignificant details from all the books in this series to come up with the final answers. I must admit to being a bit disconcerted about those answers in the end. They were quite "brilliant" actually... brilliant in their simplicity and always there, really. But I know I didn't figure out those answers until I read them, and that I really appreciated.

What else did I love about the book? The characterization. How can I not appreciate character growth and development? I figure when you feel as if you know characters inside out by the end of a series, that's great development and that happens with more than just the central characters in this series -- Dumbledore and Severus Snape are great examples. Secondary characters are so incredibly important to this series' great success. In this book, Neville is also one of those minor characters whose growth I most noticed and appreciated. He is such a key character and one I think is often overlooked.

The second part of the book is action packed, there's a great battle with sad losses and great victories, all of it quite spectacular. In the end I couldn't help but feel for Harry... all those losses and all that sacrifice along the way from childhood to young adulthood. I wanted happiness, peace, love and a family for him, he deserved that and more. Rawling does give the reader a glimpse into Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny's futures that I found sweet and a little nostalgic. A classic young adult series, no question about it. Brilliant!

Genre: YA Fantasy
Series: Harry Potter Series, Book 7
Released: July 2007
Grade: B

Nath's 2010 Re-read Challenge
Orannia's 2010 Big Book Challenge

Favorite Harry Potter books:
  • Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

In Vintage: A Ghost Story, Steve Berman writes a chilling tale of ghosts, mixes it with urban myth while capturing Goth youths' subculture, bittersweet first love, teen angst and the small town setting perfectly. A haunting and touching coming-of-age story full of dark humor that encompasses not only the unique struggles of gay teens, but the awkwardness, fears, anxieties and a sense of wonder that all teens can relate to.

The story is told in the first person point of view from our main character's perspective, an unnamed teen. It all begins at midnight on a chilly autumn night on a lonely New Jersey highway. Our young man encounters a gorgeous boy dressed in 50's clothing and after a short conversation the boy seems to just... disappear. This gorgeous apparition dazzles our main character, a shy and insecure young man. He finds out that Josh is an urban myth, the ghost of a young man who died decades ago and has hunted the same stretch of highway ever since. Curiosity, a wish to see beautiful Josh again, and the beginnings of a crush push our character to return the next evening to the lonely highway with his best friend Trace as he hopes for another encounter. He gets his wish... and more. Josh follows him home and our chilling story really begins.

What did I like about this book? It is fast paced, chilling and a real ghost story, no question about it. Josh is not the only ghost to populate this tale and as you can imagine some are nicer than others. There are Ouija boards, an exorcism and a scene in a cemetery that gave me the creeps! There's an offbeat cast of friends who give this story depth and definitely help with the chilling effect -- Second Mike definitely stands out in that respect. Trace, a gorgeous multi-faceted Goth goddess is also a key character in this tale. Liz and Maggie, a young teen lesbian couple, provide a good balance to our main character's personal struggles.

But there's more to Vintage than the chills and thrills. Real-life issues that affect teens are also addressed, some with a light touch and others with a bit more depth. Our cast of characters, from our unnamed young man to his friends, are either plagued by self-consciousness, low self-esteem, peer pressure and/or family issues, as the gay characters have their own added pressures. The social issues and the ghost story are well integrated, as one doesn't overwhelm the other. The characters' struggles and part-resolution become an integral part of the overall speculative urban myth that Berman creates.

Berman's writing style has a lot to do with my enjoyment of this story. Although there are minimal details when it comes to the background and history of the characters themselves, their essence and the most essential part of their past history are captured without lots of unnecessary detail. The same can be said for plotting, the substance is there but it's all done in a precise, sharp and minimalistic style that I enjoyed thoroughly.

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman is a young adult book originally released in 2007, and re-released through Lethe Press Books. A finalist for the 2008 Andre Norton Award for best young adult speculative fiction by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and in the category of Best Novel for the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, this is a book that had been on my reading radar for a while and after reading it, I can see why it has received so much attention. I definitely recommend it.

Gender: LGBT YA Horror
Series: None
Source: Lethe Press Books
Grade: B+

Visit Steve Berman here

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What am I reading? Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

Yes, at this moment I'm reading Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman. This is a GLTB young adult speculative fiction book from Lethe Press Books. Here's the blurb and some information:
In a small New Jersey town, a lonely teen walking along a highway one autumn evening meets the boy of his dreams, a boy who happens to have died decades ago and haunts the road. Awkward crushes, both bitter and sweet, lead him to face youthful dreams and childish fears. With a cast of offbeat friends, antiques, and Ouija boards, Vintage offers readers a memorable blend of dark humor, chills and love.

Vintage was finalist for the 2008 Andre Norton Award for best young adult speculative fiction by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and in the category of Best Novel for the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards!
I've been looking forward to reading this book. It's set in my home state of New Jersey and I've heard great things about it. Also, it just so happens that in New Jersey there are quite a few legends and myths about ghosts, weird happenings and of course the (in)famous New Jersey devil, so I'm looking forward to experiencing a few speculative thrills and chills along the way.

What are you reading right now, at this moment? Are you reading something new and interesting or something old and comfortable?

ETA: Read review here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mini-Review: Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater

Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater is a young adult (YA) fantasy book. I don't usually read YA, however after reading Christine's review for this book at "The happily ever after..." I thought this would be a book I might recommend to my niece, but one I should read first. Later when Tracy posted her own review at "Tracy's Place," I remembered it was already on my list and that I should get to it. Tracy was also generous enough to send me the book and finally this month, I read it -- thank you Tracy!
Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She's about to find out she's also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. When a mysterious boy enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of nowhere, Deirdre finds herself infatuated. Trouble is, the enigmatic and conflicted Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin—and Deirdre is meant to be his next mark. Deirdre has to decide if Luke's feelings towards her are real, or only a way to lure her deeper into the world of Faerie.
In Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, Maggie Steifvater uses Celtic Faerie mythology to weave her fantasy world while keeping the setting strictly in contemporary times. Through Stiefvater's beautiful and engaging writing, the reader experiences this creative mythical atmosphere while enjoying contemporary characters, dialogue and events. I more than enjoyed the beautiful way she mixed and balanced both. I particularly loved the lyrical/poetic ballads she included as part of the story.

Deidre, a gifted but typical 16 year old teenager full of fears she must conquer, some overtime hormones coupled with romantic idealism and a certain rebellious streak, is the focus of the story with Luke, the dark hero, sharing that focus. Their adventure was a dark one as they battle the Faerie Queen and some rather cold and scary characters that are as fascinating as the atmosphere set by the writer. Being that this book is set in contemporary times, I did wonder how or why Deidre decided to go along with Luke while having reservations about him. I questioned her judgment during those times and had to suspend disbelief to continue reading their adventures. One of my favorite characters was James, Deidre's best friend, and I wish he'd had more page time.

In this fast paced, beautifully written story, Stiefvater keeps the reader turning the pages to see what happens next as the mystery builds. While this book felt different in many wonderful ways and I enjoyed it quite a bit, there were unanswered questions and some confusing answers by the time the abrupt ending came along. There are "cloudy" patches and open-ended threads in this story. An indication there's another book in the offing, and one that always leaves me wondering if the answers to those open threads will be in that second book. Having said that, I'll reiterate that this book was an enjoyable read for me. In my opinion, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception is a book adults will enjoy and young adults will love. I'll personally recommend it to my niece. :) 

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: Faerie Series -- Lament (Book 1), Ballad (Book 2)
Released: October 1, 2008
Grade: B

Visit Maggie Stiefvater here

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

YotH Review: Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

I planned to read and review a historical romance for my first Year of the Historical Challenge review. However, after reading Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger, I decided that since a book set in World War II qualifies by KMont's rules, this was going to be my review for this Challenge. The genre is a bit of a mixed bag, I've seen it tagged as YA, Literary Fiction, Sports Fiction, World War II, Men's Fiction, and well... you decide. I prefer to think of it as Fiction with Historical elements and think it deserves to be widely read. So here it is, my first YotH review.

Last Days of Summer is the story of Joey Margolis, neighborhood punching bag, growing up goofy and mostly fatherless in Brooklyn in the early 1940s. A boy looking for a hero, Joey decides to latch on to Charlie Banks, the all-star third baseman for the New York Giants. But Joey's chosen champion doesn't exactly welcome the extreme attention of a persistent young fan with an overactive imagination. Then again, this strange, needy kid might be exactly what Banks needs.
I loved the first book I read by Steve Kluger, Almost Like Being in Love, and yet Last Days of Summer still managed to surprise me. I don't think I expected to be caught up in the story or the characters in the same way. I was wrong.

Kluger takes us to Brooklyn, New York in 1940 to tell us Joey Margolis' story. He is a 12 year old Jewish boy who having recently moved from Manhattan with his mother and aunt becomes the neighborhood bullies' punching bag. Lacking a father figure in his life, Joey is desperately looking for someone to take that place. He chooses a reluctant Charlie Banks, the new 3rd Baseman for the New York Giants baseball team.

Joey is a smart-mouthed, needy, brilliant little boy who goes to great lengths to get what he wants. His imagination, determination and persistence become legendary throughout the story. Charlie is a baseball player through and through. An uneducated young man who doesn't necessarily make the best first impression, Charlie doesn't seem to be the best choice for hero worship. However, once Joey chooses Charlie he doesn't stand a chance, no matter his reluctance to accept that role. Kluger again uses his favored epistolary style to reveal Joey and Charlie's improbable story of friendship. Through letters, telegrams, report cards, tickets and other means of communication, this beautiful story of friendship and love unfolds as the characters are revealed.

Last Days of Summer accurately details some incredible New York baseball history (Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, New York Giants) and other teams as well, but baseball doesn't overwhelm the book. Also, through Charlie and Joey we glimpse the history of the times between 1940 and 1942 and slowly experience how things change and develop throughout the country. Kluger covers the slow escalation of World War II in Europe, Roosevelt's New Deal, Pearl Harbor, the Japanese-American's Relocation Centers in California, and finally our troops in the South Pacific. Although again, as with baseball, history does not overshadow the main story.

Atmosphere is important when setting a book during these times. Kluger achieves this by the usage of language and attitude, as well as by incorporating wonderful details such as: music, Broadway shows, famous personages, and using the names of businesses that were around in 1940's New York.

I laughed quite a bit while reading Joey and Charlie's sharp and witty exchanges and their improbable adventures, although I admit that the content itself pulled some emotional strings at the most unexpected of times -- Joey's Bar Mitzvah was one of the funniest and most emotional events and one of my favorite. There were wonderful secondary characters in this book that made this story work, even though Joey and Charlie were always the main focus. I personally fell in love with Joey's Aunt Carrie and the Rabbi (Rabby).

The end of this book was very emotional for me and quite beautiful in its own way. If you want to know why I was surprised, well... it's because this book is not really about baseball and being a baseball fan that's what I expected. Instead, Last Days of Summer is a beautiful story about a boy who needs, and a man who by answering that need fulfills his own.

Last Days of Summer is a book I couldn't put down once I read the first few pages. That makes two keepers by Mr. Kluger for me. Grade A

Visit Steve Kluger here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Titan's Curse (Percy and the Olympians, Book 3) by Rick Riordan

When Percy Jackson receives an urgent distress call from his friend Grover, he immediately prepares for battle. He knows he'll need his powerful demigod allies at his side; his trusty bronze sword, Riptide; and... a ride from his mom.

The demigods race to rescue to find that Grover has made an important discovery: two new powerful half-bloods, whose parentage is unknown. But that's not all that awaits them. The Titan lord, Kronos, has set up a devious trap, and the young heroes have just fallen pray.

Hilarious and action-packed, this third adventure in the series finds Percy faced with his most dangerous challenge yet - the chilling prophecy of the Titan's curse.
In this third installment, the battle for Olympus and Western Civilization picks up momentum. Kronos and his army, led by Percy's old friend, Luke--son of Hermes-- has gained ground. Luke has been recruiting half-bloods and monsters who have not existed for centuries and are coming back to life. Now they have a mysterious new leader... more powerful than Luke. The General will prove to be a ruthless and a worthy adversary for both heroes and gods alike.

In The Titan's Curse, Percy, his friends, and the gods have their hands full. Our heroes are successful in rescuing the unknown half-bloods they were charged with retrieving from Westover Hall. Joining the fight and their rescue efforts, the goddess Artemis and her Hunters save the day, but not before Annabeth is lost. 

Following a hunch, the goddess Artemis decides to hunt a mighty monster whose scent she picks up -- one she thinks is capable of destroying Olympus. The Hunters and our heroes must return to Camp Half-Blood and wait. Percy just wants to look for Annabeth. He's convinced she's not dead but no one will listen.

So far, we've met quite a few gods and monsters in our adventures with Percy, Annabeth and Grover. In the Titan's Curse, they are all let loose to both our horror and enjoyment. 

"...The Great Stirring is underway."

"The Great what?" I asked. Anything to keep him talking while I tried to figure out a plan.

"The stirring of monsters." Dr. Thorn smiled evilly. "The worst of them, the most powerful, are now waking. Monsters that have not been seen in thousands of years. They will cause death and destruction the likes of which mortals have never known. And soon we shall have the most important monster of all - the one that shall bring about the downfall of Olympus."

This is where Kronos makes his move and the gods, as a whole, take the situation seriously. In the meantime, our friends must follow a prophecy as told by the Oracle - five of them must go West to rescue the goddess Artemis. On their way, one will be lost and one will die by a parent's hand. It will be a difficult quest, full of danger, feats of heroism, and some terrible mistakes. Our heroes take us for a ride through an adventure full of dangerous, funny and sad situations. 

Thalia will confront doubts and danger, and both she and Annabeth will have to make difficult decisions. Grover's dream will come within his grasp but he'll have to let it go, and Percy will come face to face with his greatest weakness and we'll question his judgment. Other heroes will save the day and our friends will learn some difficult lessons. The gods, as always, will be both a blessing and a curse -- a mixed bag, you just never really know those gods.... 

This book really moves the storyline along. The pace is quick and relentless with danger in every corner and at every turn. The darkest book in the series, so far, Rick Riordan still maintains the same level of wit and fun that he established in previous books. Characterization continues to be excellent in this series. The established characters continue to grow in development. New characters introduced in this installment are both rich and well drawn -- some better than others, depending on their importance to this particular story. 

Favorite chapter titles on this one? "Thalia Torches New England," "I Go Snowboarding with a Pig," and "We Meet the Dragon of Eternal Bad Breath." It was a tough choice, there are quite a few great titles on this one. 

In my opinion, this is the best book in this series, so far. Percy and the Olympians just seems to get better and better as it goes along. I'm truly looking forward to the fourth installment, The Battle of the Labyrinth.

You can find the book here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Review: The Sea of Monsters (Percy and the Olympians, Book 2) by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson's seventh-grade year has been surprisingly quiet. Not a single monster has set foot on his New York prep-school campus. But when an innocent game of dodgeball among Percy and his classmates turns into a death match against an ugly gang of cannibal giants, things get... well, ugly. And the unexpected arrival of his friend Annabeth brings more bad news: the magical borders that protect Camp Half-Blood have been poisoned by a mysterious enemy, and unless a cure is found, the only safe haven for demigods will be destroyed.

In this fresh, funny, and wildly popular follow-up to TheLightning Thief. Percy and his friends must journey into the Sea of Monsters to save their camp. But first, Percy will discover a stunning new secret his family-one that makes him question whether being claimed as Poseidon's son is an honor or simply a cruel joke.
The Sea of Monsters is the second installment in this five book Young Adult adventure series. After reading the first book in the series, The Lightning Thief, I couldn't wait to find out what happened to Percy and his friends.

As you can see from the above description, the book picks up at the end of the school year when Percy and his friends are due to return to Camp Half-Blood for the summer where they need to continue with training. However, by the time Percy, Annabeth and their new friend Tyson make it there, they realize that the place is no longer the same. It's being besieged by evil, as the magic borders are not holding. Thalia, Zeus' dead daughter's pine tree has been poisoned and this poison is seeping into everything.

In the meantime, Percy is dealing with more than a few friend troubles. He is having horrible dreams about his friend Grover who at the end of the last book went on a quest seeking the god Pan. In his dreams, Percy sees him running from a monster, terrified and in danger. He knows he must go save Grover... but even Annabeth doesn't believe him. Percy also discovers a truth about his new friend Tyson that makes him feel angry, uncomfortable and guilty. These conflicted emotions and reactions put him at odds with himself and with his friend Annabeth and they argue constantly over Tyson. The camp is no longer the heaven he had been looking forward to all year.

If you are familiar with the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, you know where we are headed. Percy must go with Annabeth and Tyson through the Sea of Monsters to save his friend Grover and Camp Half-Blood. His quest is full of danger and all kinds of new monsters we would encounter in Greek mythology are introduced -- Cyclops, sirens, beautiful sea horses and more. At times, it's easy to recognize them immediately and other times it takes a little while to figure out who is who. It's a tough journey for Percy and his friends. They're not always sure who is evil and who is redeemable -- but the action is non-stop.

The overall core of the series continues and, of course, it's the reason for all these events. Western civilization must be saved and Olympus with it. The real enemy is well known by now--Kronos, father of the gods and king of the Titans, the most evil of them all is behind these events. In this second installment his evil plans begin to take shape. As a character, at this point, Kronos is a shadowy figure -- we meet him sparingly through dreams -- however, we do meet his evil underlings and through them, Annabeth and Chiron we learn his history of violence and cruelty.

As a hero, Percy is slowly learning the weight and seriousness of his responsibilities. His mentor and teacher Chiron, the centaur, tries to explain it to him:
"Humans don't exist on the same level as the immortals. They can't even be hurt by our weapons. But you, Percy--you are part god, part human. You live in both worlds. You can be harmed by both, and you can affect both. That's what makes heroes so special. You carry the hopes of humanity into the realm of the eternal. Monsters never die. They are reborn from the chaos and barbarism that is always bubbling underneath civilization, the very stuff that makes Kronos stronger. They must be defeated again and again, kept at bay. Heroes embody that struggle. You fight the battles humanity must win, every generation, in order to stay human..."
Percy is beginning to realize he might be the "key" to many of the events happening around him and he is just not sure he'll survive. Our friend Percy and his friends are brave and true but will they continue to make the right decisions? Heroes have free will and the gods cannot interfere. Riordan leaves this installment with a twist at the end that will make it even tougher for Percy and the gods to defend themselves.

As a sequel, The Sea of Monsters did not disappoint me, it is just as exciting as the first book. The wonderful world Riordan created continues to be grow and manages to seem both simple and complex. As with the whole world of Greek mythology, there is always a dual meaning or a lesson to be learned in Percy's world. In his world, the anger of a child feeling ignored by a parent takes a dangerous twist and being ashamed of a relative for his inadequacies turns into a painful lesson.

Choosing my favorite Chapter titles from this book was tough, but I finally settled for "We Hail the Taxi of Eternal Torment" and "I Have the Worst Family Reunion Ever." Through the whole adventure, excitement, the dangers and funny moments, what really wins the day on this one are loyalty, friendship and compassion.

I'm going on to read the 3rd book in the series, The Titan's Curse. I give this second installment another Solid B.

You can visit Rick Riordan and find out more about this series here.

Originally posted at Musings of a Bibliophile June 22, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Lightning Thief (Percy and the Olympians,Book 1) by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school...again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus' master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus' stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.
The Percy Jackson and the Olympians Young Adult series attracted my attention for a few reasons, first it's based on mythology and second it was written by Rick Riordan, writer of the popular Tres Navarre mysteries for adults. This is a five book series and with the last book released last month, it is now complete.

Percy has been tagged as a troubled 12-year-old boy who has been kicked out of every single school he ever attended. He has been diagnosed as suffering from both dyslexia and ADHD and the best he can do in the academic field is a C -- from there his grades go down hill. Percy also has behavioral problems. He seems to get in trouble without even trying and the boy doesn't even know why or how some things happen to him. Yet, even though he seemingly has so much against him, our Percy is a lonely little boy who loves his mother above all things and who will do just about anything for her and for his friends. Percy turns out to be a true hero.

The Lightning Thief begins when young Percy and his classmates from the Yancy Academy go on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The first Chapter is titled "How I Accidentally Vaporized My Pre-Algebra Teacher." That title should give you an idea of the events. He goes from viewing a Greek tomb and answering questions from his Latin teacher to being confronted by his Pre-Algebra teacher, Mrs. Dodds, who turns into something horrifying -- with help from a pen and a friend, Percy survives a dangerous attack and becomes more confused than ever.

This one incident is just the beginning and it sets up a chain of events that leads Percy to find out the truth about himself, his mother, father and a whole other world. Riordan takes us along into an adventure full of gods and monsters, both human and mythological.

In Percy's world Olympus is hidden in Manhattan and the only place where he may be safe is at a summer camp hidden in Long Island. How does Riordan explain the existence of Greek gods or the fact they reside in New York of all places? Here's a great passage I think sets up the whole series:

"Come now, Percy. What you call 'Western civilization.' Do you think it's just an abstract concept? No, it's a living force. A collective consciousness that has burned bright for thousands of years. The gods are part of it. You might even say they are the source of it, or at least, they are tied so tightly to it that they couldn't possibly fade, not unless all of Western civilization were obliterated. The fire started in Greece. Then, as you well know - or as I hope you know, since you passed my course - the heart of the fire moved to Rome, and so did the gods. Oh, different names, perhaps - Jupiter for Zeus, Venus for Aphrodite, and so on - but the same forces the same gods. .... Olympus is where the great power of the West is. And we are here."
The Lightning Thief sets up the fight for Western civilization -- if it's lost, then all is lost. That seems to be the core of the whole series. In this book however, the focus stays on Percy's self-discovery. He finds out that his father is one of the gods, making him a half-blood or a hero. Half-blood Hill, the summer camp where Percy must go for training, is a place where the children of gods and humans are trained to fight for Olympus.

Percy confronts sad, tragic situations and has to make some tough decisions while undertaking a quest that can stop or precipitate a war between the gods. He decides to take his new friends Grover and Annabeth on his quest -- one will provide protection and the other wisdom--in the process he'll find the real meaning of friendship and loyalty.

The characters they meet along the way are varied. Some of them are fun and horrifying depending on where and when they encounter them. The gods are not exactly your nicest or friendliest of beings and Riordan mixes mythology with contemporary language, mores and culture beautifully. While on his adventure, Percy will meet satyrs, centaurs, a Menotaur, gods, the three Fates and more -- he'll also fight monsters and gods while trying to survive and solve a mystery.

A terrific start to this series, I couldn't help but make comparisons to the Harry Potter books. The only thing I could really find were the three friends, the 12-year-old boy and the fact that Percy has powers inherited from his father. The writing, setting and plot are all different and I was glad of it.

Riordan builds a world with Greek mythology as the core but full of adventure, rich characters, monsters and action. This is a wonderful way to expose young adults to Greek mythology while they have a great time following Percy and his friends on their quest to save it all -- with Chapter titles such as "I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom" and "I Battle My Jerk Relative," you know this is a fun read. I must admit that I fell in love with Percy--he has the makings of a great hero full of wit, attitude, insecurities, strength and insight.

This book is recommended for 6th to 9th graders, but I really feel maybe 8th to 12th graders would enjoy it more -- depending on maturity. I'm looking forward to reading The Sea of Monsters, Book 2

You can find the first 3 books for this series here.