Lupica, Mike. Hero.
Zach's dad is an assistant to the president of the United States, so he doesn't get to see a lot of him, although the two have a good relationship. When his father is killed in a plane crash, Zach is sure that his mother, and the government, are not telling him the whole story. When he investigates the crash site, he meets Mr. Herbert, who claims to have known his father very well, and also claims that Zach has magical powers. Zach has seen a few of these, but isn't sure what's going on. With the help of his friend Kate, he tries to search for clues, but isn't even sure who is on the side of good and who is evil, since his Uncle John seems to think that Mr. Herbert was the one who had Zach's father killed and is in league with "the Bads". Since Mr. Herbert is arranging to have Zach beaten up on a fairly regular basis (to toughen him up for the real fights), it seems likely that Uncle John is good-- until Mr. Herbert is killed in an act of valor. Now Zach not only is confused about who is good and who is evil... he's not even sure who he is himself.
Strengths: This starts out with a great action scene with Zach's father, so we know that he has some powers. All of the characters are rather likable, and the premise is a good one. A sequel is surely in store.
Weaknesses: After an exciting beginning, Zach mopes for a long time about his father. Understandable, but a bit boring to read. While the premise was good, the execution was lacking. Perhaps Lupica will make the change from sports books to action and and adventure a little better with his next book.
Garcia, Kami and Stohl, Margaret. Beautiful Creatures.
Ethan lives in Gatlin, a small Southern town where rivalries and social maneuvering make it difficult for the new girl, Lena, to fit in, especially since she doesn't embrace the local stereotype and her uncle is the local creepy haunted house guy. Ethan is oddly drawn to Lena, especially since she seems to be the girl who has been in his dreams. Ethan needs someone, since his mother was killed in a car crash and his father has retreated to write. It turns out, though, that Lena has a lot of problems-- on her forthcoming 16th birthday, she will be called as a Caster, and could have to join either the Dark or the Light side. Ethan and Lena seek the help of Amma, Ethan's housekeeper/nanny as well as a librarian friend of Ethan's mother, to try to uncover the mystery of Lena's family before her birthday. A cast of evil characters, both magical and mortal, get in their way, but the romance that develops between the two makes them fight strongly for the best to happen.
Strengths: A surprisingly engaging paranormal romance. I don't usually like Southern settings, but in this, it is used to good effect, with the fight against the Dark being played out in the midst of a Civil War reenactment! This is told from Ethan's point of view, so I should be able to get guys to read it, too. Beautiful Darkness is the sequel that is out, and there seems to be another one coming.
Weaknesses: The evil characters tend toward the stereotypical a tad, and there's really no good reason for Lena to go to the Dark when she has a choice. The binding on the copy that I have is already falling apart and I haven't even added the book to the collection yet. (A student gave me one without a dust jacket, which is why it took me so long to pick this one up.)
Back to school, on a two hour delay. Don't know how we will get all of the students into the library to get books, but we will try!