Review: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

 

Title: Catching Jordan

Author:  Miranda Kenneally

Publisher: Sourcebooks

ISBN: 978-1402262272

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

ONE OF THE BOYS

What girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn’t just surrounded by hot guys, though- she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that’s just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.

But everything she’s ever worked for is threatened when Ty Greeen moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he’s also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan’s feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart’s on the line?

Review:

I love college football, so I was interested in Catching Jordan when I discovered that it’s about a high school senior who dreams of playing college ball.  Since Jordan is a girl, I was even more intrigued about the story.  With no encouragement from her father, a professional quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, Jordan doggedly pursues her dream.  She is the team captain, her mom and brother both support her, and she has the best stats of any quarterback in the state.  There was that little problem during last year’s State finals, but she has worked hard to get a handle on her nerves and she longs for a second chance to prove herself.  With her hopes pinned on attending Alabama and being a part of their program, she is aiming for the stars. 

For the most part, I liked Jordan and her determination to prove to everyone that she is a great quarterback, regardless of her gender.  She has an uphill battle,  because even though she is tall and strong, she still isn’t as powerful as the top high school players.  She has wrapped herself in the protective bubble of her teammates, and she has only one friend who is a girl.  Instead, she prefers to hang out with the guys.  She thinks that in order to keep their respect, she has act like one of the guys, too.  That is the aspect of Jordan’s character I wasn’t so fond of.  She is so hung up on football and so hung up on herself that she almost ruins every friendship she has. 

When new student Ty shows up at practice, Jordan has an unpleasant discovery – Ty is an even better quarterback than she is.  At first she is completely freaked out about Ty.  Will he be the starting quarterback, bumping her to be the lowly backup?  Jordan has some serious self-doubts once he’s on the scene, but she possesses a confidence in her skills that keeps her from allowing Ty’s presence on the team from destroying her concentration and drive to stay on top of her game.  It’s only after her personal relationships go down the toilet that Jordan’s ability to shake off her worries goes down the toilet as well.  Suddenly, she is messing up everything in her life – she’s fighting with her best friend, she is botching important games, and worse, she has slipped into a depressed funk and she is skipping practices. 

I did get frustrated with Jordan and many of her decisions. She started letting her frayed relationship with her father dictate some of her choices, and she let new guy Ty take control, too.  For possessing such a strong character and for being so driven to succeed, Jordan displayed an appalling lack of common sense.  Once she hooked up with Ty, she lost sight of herself, and that upset me.  Instead of staying committed to her dreams and steadfast in her resolve to be the best she could be, she started to give up, and that made me so disappointed.  Her determination dissolved into a spiral of angst.  She started getting hung up over the past, instead of staying focused on her future.

Despite my disappointment with Jordan’s emotional development, I did find Catching Jordan to be a compelling read.  I admit that I had a hard time believing that she would be so successful on a varsity football team, or that she would be recruited to play college ball.  Still,  I breezed through this book and became invested in Jordan’s success.   Jordan is an engaging and unique character; she is someone I feel I haven’t met in previous forays into YA contemporary fiction, and she left me wishing that there was a greater variety of characters, of both genders, in all of the books that I read.  

Grade:  wavering between a B and a B-

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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An Early Look at Sports Illustrated Kids 1st and 10

 

 

Title: Sports Illustrated Kids 1st and 10: Top 10 Lists of Everything in Football

Publisher: Sports Illustrated

ISBN: 978-1603202107

 

 

From Amazon:

Get everything you ever wanted to know about America’s most popular sport in 1st and 10. Presented in the format of Top 10 lists, this book is a comprehensive yet fun look at the greatest aspects of the game. From the top Super Bowl moments to the best-looking uniforms, SI Kids ranks 50 different topics from the gridiron. Readers are guaranteed to love the big, exciting action photos from the Sports Illustrated collection and the insider knowledge of SI Kids. Filled with trivia and information, this dynamic book will be the definitive kids book on football.

My thoughts:

This isn’t a review, as much as it’s a brief tour through this handsomely produced photo book about football.  While I am not a die-hard football fan, I do possess more than a passing interest in the game.  I was dismayed to see my hometown team, the Lions, at the #1 rank for the biggest losers list, but I certainly can’t dispute that they have delivered more than their share of disappointment to Detroit.  So, being a fair weather fan, I usually root for the Buffalo Bills or Denver Broncos.  Why? They have the coolest uniforms, in my humble opinion.

If you have a young football fan at home, this book should tickle their funny bone.  It is packed full of bright, colorful photographs, with intense action shots on almost every page.  The page layouts are visually appealing, with eye-catching bursts of color from the pictures contrasting with cleverly placed text and white spaces to lend more drama to the action taking place on the pages.

Interested in knowing who are the smallest of the NFL players?  How about the biggest?  Who makes up the best Passer-Receiver Duo?  All of that information, and more, is jammed into this book.  Some of my favorite lists, though, have nothing to do with the game, but instead have everything to do with the vivid personalities that make up the game.  Most memorable hairstyle?  Best accessories?  Most colorful personalities?  You will also find all of those and more in this book.

1st and 10 will appeal to football fans, and even if you aren’t totally enamored with the game, you won’t be able to stop yourself from flipping through this book.  The included trivia is interesting, and covers so many topics that even the most casual of fans will find something to catch their attention.

Review copy provided by publisher

In stores October 25, 2011

Review: Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams

 

Title: Now is the Time for Running

Author: Michael Williams

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

ISBN: 978-0316077903

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Just down the road from their families, Deo and his friends play soccer in the dusty fields of Zimbabwe, cheered on by Deo’s older brother, Innocent. It is a day like any other . . . until the soldiers arrive and Deo and Innocent are forced to run for their lives, fleeing the wreckage of their village for the distant promise of safe haven. Along the way, they face the prejudice and poverty that await refugees everywhere, and must rely on the kindness of people they meet to make it through. But when tragedy strikes, Deo’s love of soccer is all he has left. Can he use that gift to find hope once more?

Relevant, timely, and accessibly written, Now Is the Time For Running is a staggering story of survival that follows Deo and his mentally handicapped older brother on a transformative journey that will stick with readers long after the last page.

Review:

Now Is The Time For Running is a heartbreaking book.  Thinking of the horrible way that people treat each other is sobering and distressing.  I don’t know how Deo, a 14 year-old boy, was able to keep struggling to survive.  His life in Zimbabwe with his mother, grandfather, and brother is hardly an easy one.  They don’t have much other than each other.  Deo has a homemade soccer ball, and he lives to play the game in his dusty village.  His life is shattered when soldiers come to visit, destroying everything that he has in just few awful moments of blood and senseless violence.  Some of the villagers voted against the ruling Zed party, and those treasonous votes, in a sham of an election, have brought death to everyone.

Deo and his older, mentally challenged brother, Innocent, flee from the only home that they have ever known.  They have nowhere safe to go.  They have no relatives to care for them.  In an effort to save them both, Deo decides that they will make the dangerous border crossing to South Africa, a terrifying and perilous journey that almost gets them killed.  There are crocodiles, lions, hyenas, and the scariest predator of them all – men with guns – to evade.  Once in South Africa, they face a different kind of hell – xenophobia from native South Africans and people who won’t hesitate to take advantage of them.

Based on current events, including the 2008 riots in Alexandra, the life of a refugee is not kind to Deo or Innocent.  The book is so gripping because it is set against a backdrop of recent events.  It’s hard for me to think of a child being put through these terrible challenges.  I don’t think I could have survived the crushing poverty or the devastating heartache chronicled in this book.  Deo is forced to age beyond his years, and he must also live with the consequences of his decisions.  Guilt almost destroys him, but ultimately, soccer saves him when he has hit rock bottom.  The game gives him the strength, and most importantly, the hope, to continue living.

Grade: B+ leaning towards an A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Crimson Hero Vol 14 by Mitsuba Takanashi


Title: Crimson Hero Vol 14

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421532301

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In an attempt to stop the vicious rumors spreading at Crimson Field High School, Nobara ended her relationship with the boys’ team captain Yushin. But when she runs into Haibuki, a talented boys’ team player who mysteriously left school when he found out about Nobara and Yushin’s romance, Yushin is the first person she calls. Can Nobara and Yushin convince their heartbroken teammate to return to Crimson Field?

Review:

Lots of conflict resolution in this volume of Crimson Hero, and I enjoyed every melodramatic moment of it.  The focus this time around is on Haibuki and his efforts to repair all of his damaged relationships.  Instead of dealing with the difficulties between himself and Nobara and between him and Yushin, he’s ready to throw away his spot on the Crimson Field team and run away from his problems.  He’s been scouted by a stronger team, and the coach has promised to built a strategy with Haibuki as the key player.  Though they are almost guaranteed a shot at winning the National Championship, there’s something missing.  All of these great players lack heart, and victory seems to come a little too easily for them.

When Yushin shows up to convince Haibuki to return to Crimson Field, he has to show his estranged friend just how badly he wants him back on the team.  One of the aspects of sports manga that I enjoy the most is the determination the characters show in the face of defeat.  They refuse to give up, even when the odds are stacked so high against them.  They have this incredible persistence and belief in themselves that doesn’t allow them to quit.  I wish I had half of their drive and optimism, because then there would be little that I couldn’t accomplish.

Haibuki and Nobara come to an understanding as well, which leaves me hopeful that there is room in the next volume for Nobara and Yushin to repair their troubled relationship.  It bothers me that Yushin just let her walk away, and I thought he would at least try to talk some sense into her.  They have been through so much together, and it is a shame that they are willing to just give up on each other.  Hopefully, there will be some advancement in their relationship in the next volume of Crimson Hero.

Grade: A-

Review copy purchased from Rightstuf.com

Review: Crimson Hero Vol 13 by Mitsuba Takanashi

 

Title: Crimson Hero Vol 13

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421527970

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Girl power on the volleyball court!

Fending off a secret admirer with less-than-admirable intentions only intensifies Nobara’s feelings for boys’ team captain Yushin. As the two ace players grow closer every day, the boys’ and girls’ volleyball teams of Crimson Field High also grow closer to their goal of competing in the Spring Tournament. But when scandalous gossip about the volleyball club rocks the campus, Nobara is forced to reexamine her priorities.

Review:

Life is so complicated for Nobara!  Why can’t the poor girl just play volleyball and struggle with her studies, like a normal high school student? Nope, she is the heir to the super fancy restaurant that’s owned by her family, and her path was already set down in front of her.  Only Nobara decided to rebel and to follow her own way, much to her strong-willed mother’s dismay.  Kicked out of the house, she has been working in the Crimson Field Boys’ dorm, cleaning and cooking, while chasing her dreams of playing volleyball.  If nothing else, this girl has guts.  Too bad she never gets a break.

Ugly rumors surface that Yushin and Nobara as living together, which throws the campus into an uproar.  The principal and faculty are not happy to have the morals of their volleyball star, Yushin, questioned.  Nobara is the one who is forced to take the fall for this, and it’s not fair.  Neither she nor Yushin have done anything wrong, but nobody will listen to them.  I felt bad for Nobara, but she did find support in a surprising corner.  I was happy to see that plot development, because, in the past, the only understanding Nobara seemed to be able to find was from her teammates. It was nice to see her family finally step up to the plate and offer her some much needed emotional support.

Haibuki has disappeared, and Nobara feels responsible for his absence.  Again, she accepts all of the guilt and responsibility for something that isn’t her fault.  It’s a good thing she has such broad shoulders, because she is carrying around so much guilt that anyone else would have been crushed under its weight.  Everything she does is for her sport.  She knows how important volleyball is to Yushin, so she sacrifices everything for him.  I think it is so unfair that the adults at her school think so little of her ambitions, just because she is a girl.  That just infuriates me.

Even though I dislike volleyball, Crimson Hero has become a manga series that I look forward to reading.  The characters are so intense that it’s hard to not get caught up in their dramas, and Nobara’s determination to follow her dreams, no matter the cost, will suck you in and not let you go.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Ninja Baseball Kyuma! Vol 1 by Shunshin Maeda Manga Review

 

Title: Ninja Baseball Kyuma! Vol 1

Author: Shunshin Maeda

Publisher: Udon Kids

ISBN: 9781897376867

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Kyuma and his dog Inui live in the mountains, where Kyuma trains every day to become a great ninja. But when Kyuma mistakes a baseball coach for his training master, the local baseball team ends up with its first ninja player! Can a ninja step up to the plate and learn how to play ball? Find out in Ninja Baseball Kyuma!

I waited for such a long time to get my hands on this book!  There is only one copy in the library network, and I requested a hold on it all the way back in January!  My patience was finally rewarded!  Was it worth the wait?  Well, yes and no.  Here’s why:

The illustrations are so cute!  I love Kyuma and his faithful ninja mutt in training, Inui.  All of the characters are energetic and there is no mistaking the full range of emotions that the team experiences as they train for the nationals.  These little guys are intense!  They love baseball as passionately as I love manga! They want to win!  But there are limits to that drive to be victorious.  When Kyuma is injured, the team captain stops him from hurting himself more, even though it costs them a game.  This was a great message, and so was the reaction from a rival, after his team wins because Kyuma is hurt.

The book emphasizes teamwork and putting aside personal differences to achieve a greater goal.  I liked that, too.  Despite some friction, everyone is willing to work together and encourage each other to do their best to win.  But here’s my dissatisfaction with the first volume; there are too many characters to really get a handle on any of them, other than Kyuma and Kaoru, the team captain.  The end of the book felt especially cluttered with kids who didn’t really do much except take up space in Kyuma’s house and add to the balloon pollution invading the panels.

Overall, Ninja Baseball Kyuma! is a fun, breezy read.  Kyuma is completely clueless when it comes to baseball, and all he really understands is training to become a ninja.  When he applies the same dedication to the playing field, hilarity ensues.  There’s lots of action and even more speed lines as Kyuma struggles to protect his Lord Kaoru while learning to belt a home run.

Grade: B

This book was checked out of my local library. Support your local library!

Crimson Hero Vol 11 by Mitsuba Takanashi Manga Review

 

Title: Crimson Hero Vol 11

Author: Mitsuba Takanashi

Publisher:  Viz

ISBN: 9781421523644

May Contain Spoilers

The Crimson Field’s girls volleyball battle against Aigaku continues, and Nobara and her teammates aren’t backing down by even an inch.  They want to win so badly that they are pushing themselves to play above their previous level, challenging themselves to hit the ball harder, jump higher, and block better than they have even done in the past.  When they win the first set, it’s a surprise to everyone, including Crimson Field.  Riding high on jubilation and adrenaline, it’s starting to look like they just might advance to the Spring Tournament.  When the Aigaku team suddenly focuses all of their attention on Tomoyo, their victory starts taking a nosedive.  Can they manage to win without relying on Tomoyo’s plays to give them a winning edge?

Grrr….I couldn’t stand the coach of the Aigaku team and that made me realize how caught up in the plot I have become.  The action sequences actually held my attention, where earlier in the series I was just struggled through them.  Here, Mitsuba Takanashi pulls out all the stops to deliver exciting action scenes intermixed with tense drama as Nobara and her friends try to defy the odds and beat one of the teams that is favored to advance to the Spring Tournament.  All of the girls put their disagreements aside and concentrate on one thing; playing the best game of volleyball that they possibly can. 

With their victory in doubt, the coach of the Aigaku teams coerces his team into targeting Tomoyo and taking her out of the game.  Since they don’t have any  backup players, loosing anyone means that Crimson Field will have to forfeit the match.  Because Tomoyo was such a formidable player, everyone knows about her injury and that it almost knocked her out of the game – permanently.  The Aigaku team is willing to do anything to win, and doing anything means injuring an opposing player.  The turn of events brokered just the reaction that was intended, and I instantly hated those Aigaku players.  Cheating isn’t winning, it’s just allowing yourself to sink to a new low, and there really isn’t any satisfaction in that. 

This was one of the best volumes of Crimson Hero so far.  The volleyball match was tense and exciting, with lots of emotional turmoil tossed in to keep everyone on their toes.  Nobara and her teammates refuse to give up, even when things are looking really, really bleak.  Encouraging words and a never say die attitude carry the action, and all of the girls pulled together to play an unyielding game despite pain, fatigue, and self-doubts.  This is the reason that I read manga.  To feel a connection to the plot and the characters, to forget myself for the span of a book, to feel uplifted when the underdog refuses to give up.  Sure, it gets corny at times, but gosh darn it, it’s just so much fun, and that is what this is really all about.

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by Viz

Bamboo Blade Vol 1 by Totsuka & Igarashi Manga Review

Title:  Bamboo Blade Vol 1

Authors: Masahiro Totsuka &

Aguri Igarashi

Publisher: Yen Press

ISBN: 9780759530058

May Contain Spoilers

Kojiro is a down on his luck kendo advisor who lives on cup noodles and is trying to ride out a tsunami of debt.  Just when things look their worst, his old friend offers up a challenge.  If Kojiro’s kendo team can beat his, Kojiro will win a year’s worth of free sushi.  Kojiro readily accepts the bet, even though he doesn’t even have enough members in the kendo club to have a match.  Will he be able to find more students and whip them into a winning kendo team?

Even though this is a silly comedy filled with stereo-typical characters, I couldn’t help but enjoy it.  Kojiro is far from Teacher of the Year material, and the only reason he’s developed an interest in his kendo team is because of the possibility of free sushi if he can hobble together a winning team.  The members of the kendo club include the usual character types; there’s Kirino, the team captain who despairs at getting Kojiro to help with the club, Nakata, an easy-going first year who really likes kendo, and Eiga, a dumpy complainer who would rather be in the ping-pong club.  To add to Kojiro’s miseries, he needs to put together a female kendo team, and two of the three members are male.  Looks like he’s going to have his work cut for him.

Kojiro is not a very good role model for his students, and they all pick up on this soon after meeting him.  His life is in financial shambles, he has no motivation for anything but a good time, and he is the poster child for being a slacker.  Still, I can’t find any fault with his sudden desire to propel his club to victory.  Free sushi would push all the right buttons for me, too.  When he learns about Tamaki, a petite student with a gift for the sport, he’s desperate to get her to join the team.  He concocts an elaborate ruse to try to get her to join even though she doesn’t want any part of it. But by playing on her weaknesses, he thinks he can trick her into becoming a team member.

Most of the first volume introduced the characters and their various personalities.  I love Tamaki – she’s serious and quiet, and though she’s been training since she was a young child, she isn’t all that gung-ho about kendo.  What she does get all worked up over is witnessing bullies picking on the weak.  She can’t help but jump to their defense every time she sees someone getting beat up.  She is badass with a shinai, but she believes very firmly in playing by the rules, and I like that about her.  She won’t cheat to win, but she will do whatever she has to to make sure defeats her opponent.

Bamboo Blade is a fast read. Tamaki’s kendo bouts are accompanied by a frenzy of speed lines and high intensity illustrations.  Though Tamaki is fairly emotionless, her opponents suffer a deluge of feelings during the fight scenes.  The action is easy to follow and the battles are exciting as blows are stuck and defended against. Most of the character designs are on the plain side, but a couple of the characters, such as Tamaki, have greater detail.  I wish that Eiga didn’t look like a circle with a bowl on his head, but maybe the illustrator suffered from anxiety at the thought of having more than five different characters to draw?

I enjoyed Bamboo Blade for its brainless fun, and I’m wondering where the story will go next.  Kojiro doesn’t seem smart enough to manipulate an entire team of kendo players into a bunch of winners, but maybe with all of the yummy sushi to motivate him, he’ll get the job done.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by Yen Press