Fantasy really isn't my favorite thing, so when I got a new order of books in, I was so excited that I HAD to read a few of the titles that I bought without reading, which is something I try not to do. Then, of course, a few fantasy books snuck in anyway!
Sheldon, Dyan. My Worst Best Friend.
Gracie has been best friends with Savanna for a long time, but doesn't understand it. Savanna is popular and pretty, while Gracie is quiet and unassuming. Gracie is also a much better friend, and when Savanna gets involved with a college boy and starts using Gracie to hide this fact, Gracie starts to realize that living with Savanna's lies and manipulations isn't something that she wants to do anymore, especially when Savanna tries to sabotage her budding romance.
Strengths: LOVE Sheldon. Her Planet Janet has a line about middle schoolers having amnesia that I quote all the time. She understands the trauma that friend problems can bring, and captures the whole experience of not liking your best friend brilliantly. This will be hugely popular.
Weaknesses: The cover will date quickly with the skinny jeans and the whole belt-over-shirt thing. And I wouldn't have made Gracie quite so wimpy.
Franklin, Emily and Halpin, Brendan. The Half-Life of Planets.
Any book that starts with the sentence "I am not a slut" is probably not going to be a middle school book (especially when the f-word is flung around later in the book), but I was enthralled nonetheless. Because Liana has kissed a wide variety of boys (and has impressive cleavage, which we hear about a lot), the girls in her school think she has loose morals. Because of this, Liana decides to spend her summer not kissing anyone. Then she meets Hank, a music-obsessed guy who is great fun to be around, if a little hard to understand at times. Hank has Asperger's Syndrome (now sometimes called a disorder, and sometimes just put under the category of Autistic Spectrum Disorders; labels change so quickly.) and isn't very smooth when it comes to reading other's body language or social expectations. Emily brings him out of his shell a bit, and the two become involved even though Liana is still overly concerned about her reputation.
Strengths: This was great; a book with a character who has a disorder, but the whole book is not about that. Hank's attempts at understanding his world and himself are part of the larger story.
Weaknesses: Just a few tweaks would have made this middle school appropriate. Argh.
Weyn, Suzanne. Empty.
Don't read any further, or read this book, if you are still working through peanut butter and tuna reserves that you stockpiled after reading Pfeffer's The Dead and the Gone. The US has run out of oil, and is involved in a war in Venezuela because they are withholding oil-- but it turns out that they are short, too. Add a horrible hurricane on top of it, and things get bad in Sage Valley. Gas goes up to $80 a gallon, and Gwen's brother is working the black market. Niki's father loses his job and his sanity. Tom tries to get by as well. Will normalcy ever be restored? Can the world learn to get by without oil?
Strengths: Very, very depressing but powerful. Makes you wonder why we don't have disaster plans. Or more peanut butter in the basement. A nice, short science fiction addition to any collection.
Weaknesses: A little didactic, and the appearance of an experimental "green" house with hydroponic garden comes out of the blue a bit.
Berry, Julie. The Amaranth Enchantment.
It says a HUGE amount about the quality of this book that I was enthralled even though it was a sort of medievalish fantasy. I've read so many of them, but this was intriguing in the was that Two Princesses of Bamarre and Ella Enchanted were intriguing. The orphaned Lucinda is slaving away at her uncle's jewelery store, suffering under his wife's abuse, when Peter, a young thief, breaks in and demands to spend the night while he is fleeing someone. He also steals a jewel from Lucinda that belongs to Beryl, the Amaranth Witch. He then sells the jewel to Prince Gregor, whom Lucinda finds very appealing even though he is betrothed. She tries to steal the jewel back, setting in motion a series of events that manage to improve her lot in life because they uncover secrets.
Strengths: I immediately liked Lucinda and wanted to know more about Beryl. The magic was light enough that it didn't overshadow the characters. Nice twist at the end. Good cover.
Weaknesses: Never really understood what world Beryl came from, but it didn't matter all that much with the other things going on.