Review: Clarity by Kim Harrington

 

Title: Clarity

Author: Kim Harrington

Publisher: Point

ISBN: 978-0545230506

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

This paranormal murder mystery will have teens reading on the edge of their seats.

Clarity "Clare" Fern sees things. Things no one else can see. Things like stolen kisses and long-buried secrets. All she has to do is touch a certain object, and the visions come to her. It’s a gift.

And a curse.

When a teenage girl is found murdered, Clare’s ex-boyfriend wants her to help solve the case–but Clare is still furious at the cheating jerk. Then Clare’s brother–who has supernatural gifts of his own–becomes the prime suspect, and Clare can no longer look away. Teaming up with Gabriel, the smoldering son of the new detective, Clare must venture into the depths of fear, revenge, and lust in order to track the killer. But will her sight fail her just when she needs it most?

Review:

Clarity is a fun mystery romp with a down to earth protagonist who just happens to be a psychic.  She’s not alone in her paranormal talents; her mother is a telepath, and her brother is a medium.  Clarity lives in a tourist town, and during the summer, she works at the family business entertaining out-of-towners with readings.  She’s resigned to another summer of being stuck inside instead at the beach when a tourist is murdered.  Her brother, Perry, is the prime suspect, and if Clare doesn’t want to spend all of her weekends in the foreseeable future visiting him in jail, she has to find the real killer.

I loved the family dynamics at play here.  Clare’s mom can read minds.  Think about it.  What if your mom could read your mind?? Do you think you would get away with very much?  Forget about keeping a secret.  Even if you have yourself convinced that you are keeping your thoughts all nice and safe, you are only fooling yourself.  And what if your brother could communicate with ghosts?  That could get kind of weird. 

Clare’s gift can be unsettling, too.  With just a touch, she can pick up thoughts and emotions from objects.  Her gift can be unpredictable, and there are times she wishes she didn’t have it.  Like when she touches something and discovers that her boyfriend has been lying to her.  Now that sucks big time.  But when her brother is suspected of murder, she is going to use her powers to the fullest to clear his name.

The setting is very vivid, and the relationships between Clare’s family and the townspeople is carefully fleshed out.  Few in town believe in their abilities and everyone  thinks that they are cheating the tourists out of their money.   Clare is quite surprised when the mayor asks her for help apprehending the killer.  Then she discovers that the town’s new police detective thinks she’s a fraud, and worse, his drop-dead gorgeous son, Gabriel, has an intense dislike for psychics.  How can they possibly work together to solve the case?

The character interactions were the highlight of the book for me.  Sparks fly between Clare and Gabriel, and you can almost hear them sizzle as you read along.  Clare also has a lot of unresolved issues to work through with her ex, and he is only complicating matters between her and Gabriel.   He hasn’t gotten over her, and it’s questionable whether she’s over him.  The tension between Clarity and her classmates also felt real and was convincing, adding yet another obstacle for her to overcome. 

I don’t usually like mysteries, but Clarity made me reconsider my stance on the genre.  It’s a solid read, with fun characters, a great setting, and a paranormal twist. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, because there are a couple loose ends that have me wondering what is going on.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Trapped by Michael Northrop

 

Title: Trapped

Author: Michael Northrop

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 978-0545210126

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

Trapped is a timely book that I decided to read during a period of cold and snow, while huddled under three comforters.  The premise is fascinating; it’s like one of my worst nightmares.  What would happen if it started to snow – and didn’t stop?  For days and days? And you were trapped in a cold school, without power, a comfortable place to sleep, and the growing fear that you were going to be stuck there for a long, long time?  Scotty and some of his less fortunate classmates get to experience that very hardship first hand, with mixed results for me.

Scotty is talked into staying late at school with his buddies, even though it’s snowing like crazy and classes are dismissed early so everyone can get home safely.  They have a ride home arranged for later in the day, and don’t think much of the snow storm.  It’s winter, right? It’s supposed to snow.

What they don’t know is that they are about to be trapped in the school during a record setting storm that stalls on the East Coast and continues to dump, not inches, but feet, day after day, to the ground below.  The power goes out.  The pipes freeze.  The temperatures drop.  It gets very, very cold.  Suddenly, staying after school to work on a go-cart doesn’t seem like it was such a great idea.  Surviving until after the storm takes precedence over everything else.  They are trapped in the old, rickety school for the foreseeable future.  How are they going to keep from freezing to death?

The progression from mild inconvenience to life-threatening is well done. The small group of high-schoolers are irritated that they are stuck at the school, with no cell phone service and no way to get home.  When the power goes out, the tension kicks up a few notches.  I hate when the power goes out!  Ugh! This book really played on several of my more irrational phobias, and I did get caught up in Scotty’s struggle to stay warm and not panic in the face of all of the diversity he must face.

I never felt like I connected with Scotty, though, and I was disappointed that the dynamics of the group weren’t further explored.  The typical stereo-types are in attendance, but that’s really all  they are. The characters were flat, and the conflict between them didn’t ring true to me.  I couldn’t relate to Scotty, either, and I kept thinking that I would have enjoyed the book better if I was a guy.  I very rarely ever feel that way about a book, but I feel that Trapped will hold more appeal for a male reader.   Any guy bloggers out there want to test that?  Email me and I’ll send you the book for review.

Ultimately, Trapped left me disappointed, though it did keep me turning the pages.  I never wanted to set it aside, but I did want to feel more connected with the characters.  Maybe it’s Scotty’s lack of emotional response that failed to engage me. I know that I would be panic-stricken and climbing the walls in frustration.  It’s hard for me to put my finger on what exactly didn’t work for me.  All I know is I am so happy I wasn’t caught in the middle of an enormous, life-altering blizzard.

Grade: B- with C+ characters

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

 

Title: The Great Wall  of Lucy Wu

Author: Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 978-0545162159

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In this humorous and heartfelt debut about a split cultural identity, nothing goes according to plan for sixth-grader Lucy Wu.

Lucy Wu, aspiring basketball star and interior designer, is on the verge of having the best year of her life. She’s ready to rule the school as a sixth grader and take over the bedroom she has always shared with her sister. In an instant, though, her plans are shattered when she finds out that Yi Po, her beloved grandmother’s sister, is coming to visit for several months — and is staying in Lucy’s room. Lucy’s vision of a perfect year begins to crumble, and in its place come an unwelcome roommate, foiled birthday plans, and Chinese school with the awful Talent Chang.

Her plans are ruined — or are they? Like the Chinese saying goes: Events that appear to be good or bad luck often turn out to be quite the opposite, and Lucy finds that while she may not get the "perfect" year she had in mind, she can create something even better.

Wendy Wan-Long Shang has crafted an original and engaging story about learning who you are in the most unexpected ways.

Review:

I love stories about families.  If you mix in the potential for cultural misunderstandings, I’m even more interested.  The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is a heart-warming (and tear-inducing) read about a young girl who is trying to find herself.  This isn’t easy for Lucy; she feels inadequate next to her pretty, over-achieving sister, and her intellectually gifted brother.  Lucy is also the youngest, and her family treats her like a child.  I could definitely see why she is so frustrated with her family and with herself.

Though of Chinese descent, Lucy doesn’t think of herself as anything but American.  She loves pizza and Italian food, and, despite being one of the shortest girls in her class, she has big dreams of playing professional basketball.  She loves basketball, so it comes as an unpleasant shock when her parents insist she attend Chinese school on Saturdays instead of allowing her to play on the basketball team.  To make matters worse, her joy at finally having a room of her own after her sister goes off to college is short-lived.  Her great-aunt from China is coming for a visit, and she will be sharing Lucy’s room for months!  So much for the perfect year she had envisioned for herself!

Though I became frustrated with some of Lucy’s behavior, I did understand where she was coming from.  She lacked the maturity to express her feelings, and instead pouted or walled herself off from her family and friends.  When she first meets her great-aunt from China, a misunderstanding gets them off on the wrong foot, and that lack of communication haunts Lucy for almost the entire book.  She isn’t willing to put out the effort to try and understand Yi Po, and instead instantly resents her.  Lucy is the one who puts up a huge wall between them, and there are many times during the book that I feared she would never allow herself to scale it.

I found the book very touching, as Yi Po shares her life in China with her newly found family in America.  It wasn’t an easy life.  It was heartbreaking, as Yi Po was separated from her family by politics and distance.   When Lucy stops and puts herself into Yi Po’s shoes, then slowly, ever so slowly, does she begin to accept and understand her great-aunt.  With this new ability to empathize with others, Lucy also learns to open herself to others, and to not be so judgmental.  That is what I enjoyed the most about The Great Wall of Lucy Wu – Lucy learns how to become a caring and supportive young woman.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Empty by Suzanne Weyn

 

Title: Empty

Author: Suzanne Weyn

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 978-0545172783

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

It’s the near future – the very near future – and the fossil fuels are running out. No gas. No oil. Which means no driving. No heat. Supermarkets are empty. Malls have shut down. Life has just become more local than we ever knew it could be.

Nobody expected the end to come this fast. And in the small town of Spring Valley, decisions that once seemed easy are quickly becoming matters of life and death. There is hope – there has to be hope – just there are also sacrifices that need to be made, and a whole society that needs to be rethought.

Teens like Nicki, Tom, and Leila may find what they need to survive. But their lives are never going to be the same again.

While I wasn’t enamored with Suzanne Weyn’s writing style, I was fascinated by this book.  Examining a very credible threat to the world, and our fuel-consuming nation in particular, Empty tells the story of world without oil.  Told through the eyes of a group of high school students, they endure many hardships even before gas stations run dry.  There are rolling blackouts, inflation, skyrocketing energy costs.  Throw in some family issues, and you have a couple of kids who are going through some very difficult times.

Gwen’s mother ran off, leaving her in the care of her free-wheeling older brother. He resents the burden forced on him, and he and Gwen have an uneasy relationship.  Keeping them fed and keeping a roof over their heads has got him undertaking many risks, and he is constantly looking over his shoulder as he buys and sells illegal oil.  Gwen’s life is a mess already.  Hiding the fact that their mother has disappeared, and that her brother deals in an illegal trade are her biggest concerns. 

Niki is a privileged young woman from a wealthy family, and at first, the oil shortages don’t mean much to her.  Her father has money and their small waterfront resort town has made arrangements for an oil tanker to keep the gas station’s pumps flowing.  I thought Niki was the most compelling character, because she had the most to lose, and it wasn’t easy for her to adjust to the new reality that was thrust on her.

Tom is the young man with an impossible crush on Niki.  She is far out of his league, but he continues to try to woo her after she breaks up with football star Brock.  I found Tom the least interesting character, because nothing got him too worked up.  War in South America?  Just an event on the news.  No gas?  He’ll buy it from Gwen’s brother.  He’s a likable character; he’s dependable and honest, and has all of the good qualities you’d want in a boyfriend.  He’s just a boring character, and nothing seemed to rattle him.

Empty has so many trials for the protagonists to deal with, and I couldn’t put it down.  It’s a short book, less than two hundred pages, but it presents such a thought provoking situation.  If we don’t invest in alternate energy sources, this book will be our future.  War over dwindling oil reserves, global warming, inflation, shortages of everything.  Despite some overly convenient plot devices, Empty is an intriguing and timely read.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Alexander the Great: Master of the Ancient World by Doug Wilhelm

 

Title: Alexander the Great: Master of the Ancient World

Author: Dough Wilhelm

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 978-0531228210

 

May Contain Spoilers

I have been reading more non-fiction than normal, and I seem to be on an ancient history kick.  Anything set in ancient Greece, Rome, or Egypt is fair game right now.  When I saw the Scholastic A Wicked History series, I decided to request one of the titles from the library.  I chose Alexander the Great because, well, he was pretty darn awesome.  Drunk on his own power, maybe,  but gosh!  He was relentless in his determination to conquer the world, and he pretty much got it done.  What would the world  look like today if he hadn’t died when he was 32?

This book doesn’t get bogged down with lots of boring details, and instead follows Alexander as he marches his army across Europe and Asia, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.  No one was safe when Alexander’s army was on the move; not villages, not walled cities. Nothing.  A master strategist, Alexander quickly saw weaknesses in the enemies’ ranks and mercilessly exploited them.  Starting at home in Macedonia, he brutally subdued all opposition to his rule.  Even in a time of ruthlessness, Alexander gave the word a new meaning. 

While I would have preferred that the text be more fleshed out, the book does deliver a compelling read.  Because of the straightforward presentation of the material, this would be an excellent book for reluctant readers.  The battles never end, and illustrations are used to effectively add to the drama of Alexander’s campaign.  Alexander the Great: Master of the Ancient World, is a good, solid read if you have any kind of interest in subject matter.  The book would be a good springboard for further studies into the life of this driven and ruthless leader.

Grade: B+

Review copy obtained from the library

Review: Dark Life by Kat Falls

 

Title: Dark Life

Author: Kat Falls

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 978-0545178143

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

The oceans rose up, swallowing up the lowlands. Earthquakes shattered the continents, toppling entire regions into the rising water. Now, humans live packed into stack cities. The only ones with any space of their own are those who live on the ocean floor: the Dark Life.

Ty has spent his whole life living deep undersea, helping his family farm the ocean floor. But when outlaws attack his homestead, Ty finds himself in a fight to save the only home he has ever known. Joined by Gemma, a girl from the Topside who has come subsea to look for her brother, Ty ventures into the frontier’s rough underworld and discovers some dark secrets to Dark Life . . . secrets that threaten to destroy everything.

In her debut novel, Kat Falls has created a breathtaking world where the deep can be dangerous, the darkness can be deadly, and sometimes it takes extraordinary power to survive.

This book gets a WOW! rating.  From the first page, I was hooked.  I am fascinated by the premise, and I love the way Kat Falls presented her underwater world.  While I would be too freaked out to live beneath the waves, the descriptions of the homesteads made the prospect very appealing.  The underwater landscape of Dark Life is richly imagined, and made me wonder what it would be like to live in this almost magical environment.

Protagonist Ty is awesome! I liked him from the very beginning of the book.  He is daring, confident, and totally dedicated to his family and his way of life.  He loves his home, he longs to work his own homestead, and he has big, big plans for the future.  When a chance encounter with Gemma, a Topsider, turns his life upside down, he gets the adventure of a lifetime.

Dark Life is a fun read.  Ty has to take on a group of vicious pirates who are threatening his way of life.  With the thugs brazenly attacking government vessels, the small colony of homesteaders have been given an ultimatum.  Capture the leader of the raiders, Shade, or face a raft of unpleasant consequences, the most dire being an embargo on any supply shipments to the colony.

I was so caught up in Ty’s world that I could not put this book down.  I stayed up so late finishing it, and I didn’t even mind being exhausted the next day.  The politics are convincing and got me as riled up as they did Ty.  There is so much action and suspense, as Ty and Shade match wits and try to get the better of each other.  Even Ty’s blossoming feelings for Gemma held me enthralled.  Though the book ends with a satisfying conclusion, I want more!  I would even love a book about Ty’s plucky younger sister, Zoe.

Grade: A-

Review copy obtained from the library

Review: Wolven by Di Toft

 

Title: Wolven

Author: Di Toft

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

ISBN: 9780545171090

 

May Contain Spoilers

Let me first admit that I chose this book solely based on the cover.  I mean, look at it! The silliest excuse for a wolf is boldly embossed on the jacket for all to see.  What a goofy looking creature!  What a goofy expression!  Yup, the book beckoned and I answered the call.

When Nat goes to look at a puppy with his mom and granddad, he wasn’t quite expecting Woody, the scraggly, ratty looking dog the neighbor is trying to get rid of.  When Nat sees a vision of the farmer drowning the dog, he instantly decides to take him home.  Nat soon learns that he has unleashed a storm of danger and mystery; the dog, Woody, is actually a wolven, a shape-shifter!  Some very bad men are after Woody, and they will do anything to get him back into their evil clutches.  Will Nat be able to save his new friend?

The cover of the book is a bit deceptive.  The story may start out a little on the humorous side, but it quickly shifts gears, delivering a surprisingly dark tale of mad scientists and cruel animal experiments.  Don’t worry though.  Things don’t get too intense, and the ensuing adventure is suspenseful and exciting.  Both Nat and Woody display some needed character growth, and they form a lifelong friendship, too.

With a ruthless werewolf on Woody’s trail, Nat has to face his worst nightmare to protect his friend.  I thought Nat was a great character.  He has moved to a new town and he hates it.  He has no friends, and the village bully has targeted him for some extra special attention.  Though his Mom and his grandparents are trying their best to make him happy, all he really wants is to have his dad back home again.  His father has gotten into some trouble with the law, and he’s fled the country to avoid a trial.  If that doesn’t ruin a boy’s day, I don’t know what would.  Poor Nat is dealing with a lot of upheaval, but his granddad thinks that a puppy will be of comfort to him.

Which leads to Woody, the ratty, tattered dog that is so not a puppy.  When Nat decides to rescue the cur anyway, he is in for the shock of his life.  Woody can change into a boy, and when he does, he nearly gives Nat a heart attack.  Woody is a fun character, too, because he can’t be considered the brightest chap on the block.  Sure, he’s young and he’s still learning about the human world, but there are times at the beginning of the book when he is so hopelessly clueless.  He may be a shape-shifter, but he’s not a good one, and he has a temper that gets him in the doghouse.  Big time!

With lots of action and scary villains, Wolven packs an exciting adventure between the covers of that goofily endearing cover.  I enjoyed my time with Nat and Woody, and I was happy to learn that there’s a going to be sequel.

Grade: B

Review copy obtained from the library

Review: How I Survived Middle School: Can You Get an F in Lunch? by Nancy Krulik

 

Title: How I Survived Middle School: Can You Get an F in Lunch?

Author: Nancy Krulik

Publisher: Scholastic

ISBN: 978-0439025553

 

May Contain Spoilers

The first volume of the How I survived Middle School series is a superfast read.  Though it doesn’t cover any new ground when it comes to school melodramas, Jenny, the protagonist, is immensely likable, and I could instantly relate to her.  Though she is a little slow to accept that her former BFF has abandoned her so she can hang with the most popular kids at school,  Jenny is feisty and doesn’t put up with the crappy way that Addie is treating her and her other friends from elementary school.

Change is never an easy thing, and when Addie gives her the cold shoulder and starts making fun of her, Jenny is perplexed.  They have been friends for years and years!  How could a summer apart change that?  If there was one thing that Jenny thought she could believe in, it was that she and Addie would always be friends.  Jenny has a painful lesson to learn.  Time doesn’t stand still, and it doesn’t matter how badly you want things to remain the same. 

Nancy Krulik’s narrative sucked me right into the story, and I finished this in one short sitting.  Jenny’s struggle to understand what went wrong with her friendship, the one constant she thought she had in life, was very relatable, and her confusion rang true.  I especially enjoyed how she refused to just sit back and listen as Addie made fun of her old friends. This is a perfect read when you need to de-stress,

Grade: B

Review copy obtained from library