Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Purple Heart (2009)

I believe that most wars are started by men and that all children should be removed far from any war zones. In Patricia McCormick's book, Matt wakes up in a military hospital in Iraq with no memory of how he became injured but he knows there was a boy named Ali involved. While recovering from his TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) he slowly regains events but they don't add up.

He got out his notebook and turned to the page where he'd written a new version of what had happened, a version that included what he now knew.
1. taxi runs the checkpoint
2. Justin and I pursue the vehicle
3. we turn down a side road, past the bootleg store
4. we get out of the Humvee to give chase down an alley
5. we get separated
6. I start taking fire in the alley
7. I return fire
8. Justin picks off the shooter from an upstairs window
9. RPG hits wall, Justin drags me to safety.
He didn't write about what happened when he returned fire. He couldn't.

It is a slow and painful process recovering his memory. On one hand he needs to know and on the other hand he is afraid to know the truth.

It is interesting to note what the soldiers turn to for entertainment. They play Halo, watch Rambo movies, and joke about Chuck Norris, but it is a way to bolster their flagging bravery?

I highly recommend this book. It is a very fast read and the reader is riveted to find out the truth with Matt.

My rating for this book: +++++

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Carbon Diaries 2015 (2009)

It's the year 2015 and British teenager, Laura, is keeping a journal about a year of rationing, insane weather, and how all of these changes affect her family and friends. Saci Lloyd has created a world that we may be facing ourselves if fossil fuel use isn't drastically cut.

Everybody gets a carbon card with an allotment of how much CO2 they can be responsible for before being hit with major fines. Driving cars, band practice, even cell phone use is monitored. Laura's father loses his job and becomes a crazy farmer person. Her mom joins a coop and a group of women who find they must wear the pants in their families now. Her sister, Kim, is sucked into black market affairs.

Wed., April 1
Woke up this morning and someone had polluted the world so much that the climate was messed up and the UK went on rations and nobody ever, ever had any fun again. Ha, ha, ha.

A typical teenager response to the world falling apart -- Why does everything have to happen to me? Much like a leaf in a flood (yeah, there's one of those) Laura is swept along as her family adjusts poorly to changes. Will things get fixed? Will her family pull back together or completely crumble?

This book isn't going to make readers panic into selling their SUVs but there is a list of websites they can visit to get more information on how they can change their behavior to maybe headoff this kind of diaster.

My rating for this book: ++

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nineteen Minutes (2007)

Jodi Picoult doesn't tell the story of a high school shooting massacre from just one point of view -- we get it from the shooter's, the victims', the parents', law enforcement's, lawyer's and DA's. We don't just see the events of one day, we go back to the shooter's first day of kindergarten and follow him and his classmates to the fateful day and through the trial which followed. We get the whole story, dissected and laid out for us so we can feel everyone's emotions.

Chaos was a constellation of students, running out of the school and trampling the injured. A boy holding a handmade sign in an upstairs window that read HELP US. Two girls hugging each other and sobbing. Chaos was blood melting pink on the snow; it was the drip of parents that turned into a stream and then a raging river, screaming out the names of their missing children. Chaos was a TV camera in your face, not enought ambulances, not enough officers, and no plan for how to react when the world as you knew it went to pieces.

Gripping is a word that is frequently used to describe an exciting book. I wish I could think of a word even more dramatic to describe how this book captured my attention, sucked me in, and had me suffer along with all (yes, I mean all) of the characters. I can't help but look around my school and wonder about all the hidden, horrible things that are probably occurring now and how there may be someone who feels as desperate and hopeless as this shooter felt.

High school students and parents of high school students will find this book scarier than anything written by Stephen King.

My rating for this book: +++++

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1993)

Maya Angelou's autobiography is very moving. The language she uses is so musical I can hear her voice speaking the words in a rhythm that is like poetry. Each chapter details one event in her life and introduces us to the people who influenced her one way or another.

Most of all, it's a story which shows how it is possible to become a successful and influential person even with the toughest of beginnings. It made me think of the adults I knew and how I was influenced by them. I admire and am jealous of her ability to remember so many scenes from her childhood.

I don't know why I hadn't read the book before now. It's one of those books that everyone must read once in their lives.

My rating for this book: +++++

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Dexter" series

I have been a fan of the "Dexter" series on Showtime for a while now and came across one of Jeff Lindsay's books at a used book store and couldn't resist. For fans of the series, I highly recommend reading the books. There is enough difference between the events that reading the books gives you more Dexter deliciousness.

Dexter is a monster -- no one will deny that, not even himself. At the age of three he was found inside a cargo container sitting in a pool of his mother's blood. She had been hacked up by drug dealers and left with her sons three days before. The police officer adopted Dexter and helped him deal with his pathology by focusing his need to kill on targets that deserve it. By keeping to "the code" Dexter is able to hide his actions and feed the beast. Ironically, he works as a blood spatter specialist in the same Miami police department as the daughter of his adopted parents. Indeed it is here that he finds his victims and the skill to ensure that they deserve a death sentence.

These books are not for the squeamish and faint hearted. They are brutal and full of language but one cannot help but want to continue reading the series and watching the episodes on TV.

My rating for this series: ++++

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Catalyst (2002)

Kate is having a rough time. She grew up without a mother. Her father is a minister who pays more attention to his parishoners than his family. Her brother is... a brother. And to make things even worse, she doesn't get into MIT, her dream since fourth grade. Now her neighbors, the Litch's have a fire and Teri, a classmate, is moving in with her until their house can be rebuilt.

It wasn't part of my plan to be the schmuck that wound up on the cot, but there you go. Teri and Mikey took my bed. As if worrying about MIT weren't enough to keep me awake I have a lawn mower roaring in the middle of the room.
The law mower is Mikey Litch breathing through his mouth, producing a decibel-per-pound output that is off the charts. I should sample the noise and sell it to struggling musicians. I'd make a fortune.
How can Teri stand it? This could explain her anger management problem. I've got to do something or I'll never go to sleep.

Teri's dad is long gone, a blessing for the family, and her mother seems to be rather shell shocked and not very helpful in times of disaster. Teri has a two-year old brother who clings to Teri like a leech and Teri, amazingly, has a chip on her shoulder and isn't the most friendly and appreciative person.

Kate is torn between suffering with her own problems and trying to make a difference for Teri and maybe put a chink in her defensive armor that puts everyone off. I have to admire Kate because Teri is mean, rude, a thief, and as obnoxious as can be. I don't know if I could have been as persistent and patient as Kate.

I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy teen age stories with true-to-life problems.

My rating for this book: ++++

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bog Child (2008)

"Some things never change," seems to be the theme in this books by Siobhan Dowd set in Ireland. Living close to the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, Fergus represents all of the children who are brought into the world in the middle of a war they didn't start and may die in instead of resolving the conflict. He discovers a partially buried body of a child when he and his uncle are (illegally) collecting peat from a bog near his home. The police quickly determine that the body is centuries old. An anthropologist and her daughter, Felicity, are brought in to try and learn how she died and include Fergus in their investigation.

"You'd never think there was anything wrong here in the North," Felicity said. "Would you?"

Fergus looked out at the green tunnel of trees ahead and the idyllic roadside flowers. "No."

"With the hunger strike and all, the news would have you believe the whole place was at its own throat."

Fergus swallowed. Maybe it is.

"They teach history like that," Felicity said. "Battle after battle - as if there was no ordinary living in between."

Fergus' brother is in prison and is participating in the hunger strike which adds tremendous stress to his family. Taking exams to be placed in medical school offers Fergus a way out of the madness but it is not a sure thing until he gets his grades back. Fergus gets flashes of what we see is the events leading up to the death of the bog child. She sacrificed herself for her village and that raises the question of how much good the fasters do for their efforts.

I highly recommend this book to readers as a way to try and understand what it is like living under such conditions.

My rating for this book: ++++

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Orange Houses (2009)

Two books in a row about damaged people in a harsh world can be hard on one's spirit but this book by Paul Griffin was much better than the last book I read.

Mik (rhymes with Nick), Fatima, and Jimmie could not be more different in background and experiences but they come together in friendship at a crucial time for all three. Mik is a bright girl who is hearing impaired and has to use old-fashioned hearing aids which are full of static and scratchy noises. The good thing about them is that they completely block her ear canals and shutting them off gives her blissful quiet.

Meningitis struck her ten years before, when she was five. Technically her hearing loss was "moderately severe," what lawyers looking to sue hospitals pegged 50 percent deficient. Being halfway to sound was like never being able to catch your breath.

Fatima was a stowaway on a tanker from an unnamed country of North or East Africa. She speaks English very well and is trying to make enough money to bring her sister to the U.S. Jimmie is a veteran who suffered a psychotic break, given an honorable discharge and is a rapping, skateboarding friend of Mik.

Now he saw the other girl, the child suicide bomber, legless, bleeding out in front of him on the sandy subway platform. He closed his eyes but still saw her, would always see her. Why didn't he grab her as she skipped past him? Could he have stopped her from detonating that IED?

The introduction to each chapter tell you something bad is going to happen and keep you turning the pages to the dreaded outcome.

Bronx West, a high school classroom, a late October Thursday morning twenty-seven days before the hanging...

I just have three words for you, "Read this book!"

My rating for this book: +++++

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Punkzilla (2009)

Stories about runaways are usually not very happy ones as this book by Adam Rapp illustrates. Jamie runs away (goes AWOL) from the military school his Army father put him in. He gets on a bus in Portland, Oregon to join his brother (gay, 8 years older, dying of AIDS), P. Along the way he writes letters to his brother and we read letters he has received from others.

You never know what's out there P like all the murderers and the rapists and the kidnappers and the freaks who have sex with animals or children or both or the weirdos who ride around naked on farm equipment. There's just so much you have to be careful of.

Along the way Jaimie meets all sorts of different people and learns a lot about himself as is true about most journey stories. It is tragic, however, that the one person he could connect with is ultimately unable to help him. There is so much a 14-year old needs to learn from a reliable steady adult and it is unfortunate that Jaimie doesn't have one.

This was a very sad story which would appeal to readers who also prefer emo type music.

My rating for this book: +++

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang (1994)

What events provoke the formation of a gang? What kind of people commit to a gang? These are two of the questions answered in Joyce Carol Oates book about a group of girls who form a gang called Foxfire and vow to take care of each other and avenge misdeeds by males. Not all gangs are located in large urban slums or are populated by non-white men. These girls live in a town called Hammond in New York state. The one thing in common they have with other gangs is that they mostly come from broken families and have been victims of abuse of one kind or another.

What was it, what would be the instrument of their revenge, or was it to be something more significant more lasting more deeply binding? - Maddy'd heard from murmured words exchanged between Goldie and Lana that a "gang" was possible to be formed, the very sound of the word sent her blood racing, "gang," there were gangs in Hammond in Lowertown in the Fairfax neighborhood but they were all boys or young men in their late teens, early twenties, there were no girl gangs nor were there stories of or memories of "girl gangs" Oh Jesus the very sound "girl gang" had the power to send the blood racing!

One of the major themes that comes out from this book is how females discover (and is it so very different still?) that males hold all the power in the world and females are just expected to respect and accept that. These girls don't and they fight back.

Says Lana, "You get the feeling They're afraid of us?" licking her lips 'cause it's such a nice feeling, and Goldie smiles saying, "Huh! They better be," and Legs says, smiling but serious too, "'First comes fear, then respect' as Father Theriault says. 'The oppressed of the Earth, rising, make their own law.'"

This is a terrific book. I wish that young women who are directly or indirectly associated with gangs today would read this book. They would be able to see how gangs fit into their lives and maybe see how they might be able to live and succeed without them.

My rating for this book: +++++