Davies, Stephen. Outlaw.
Jake is not unhappy at his posh British boarding school, but life is BORING there. He and his friends have a game of Geothimble going, where they steal an object from someone else, hide it, and that person has to use GPS technology to get it. While playing this game, Jake ends up walking over a wall into a prison, and then gets kicked out of school. He ends up with his ambassador father in Burkina Faso, which is better than being at school. At a fancy dinner one night, he and his sister, Kas, get kidnapped. Excitement is a good thing, kidnapping is not. Jake and his sister must use their wiles to survive.
At first they think they have been kidnapped by Yakuuba Sor, a wanted outlaw who operates on the Robin Hood principal of taking the righting of wrongs into his own hands, but when they escape their kidnappers and find themselves in Sor's camp, they know that something else is going on. Jake's father, the police, and the British secret service are all after Sor, so he must get them back to their father and prove his innocence. This means uncovering the problems in the police force, which makes Sor even more of a target.
Strengths: This was a wonderful adventure book, and a twist on the usual spy tale. Jake and Kas do not take their situation likely, and realize that they are in real danger and need to cooperate with their captors. The exotic setting is a huge plus. I gave this to Surly Teen Boy, who really liked the story, and hopefully learned something about being kidnapped. They've had a problem with some of that in the Philippines lately, so he should be prepared. Will look for more by this author.
Weaknesses: This is rather violent, with at least three people being killed. It's not done gratuitously, and points out some important information about the characters involved, but I mention it in case students are sensitive to it.
Books like Outlaw make it hard to feel really enthusiastic about something like the Night Fall series from Darby Creek. These short (106 pages), high interest, low level books are great for struggling readers, but they aren't great literature. I've read a couple that were particulartly creepy; Skin involved the murder of a cat. Ick. Luckily, at $13 for a Follett Bound or $6.00 for a paperback, they aren't terribly expensive. I'm debating. I have a lot of 8th grade boys who don't want to read anything at all.
Watson, Stephanie. The Club.
From the Publisher: " Josh and his friends find an old game that promises the players good fortune at the expense of those who have wronged them, but when their luck skyrockets and horrible things happen to their enemies, they try to end the power they unleashed."
This was the strongest of this batch, with a nicely creepy board game gone wrong. New kid Josh tries hard to fit in to his new school, and the local history aspect of a girl from the 1920s committing suicide is an interesting touch.
Karlsson, Val. The Protectors.
From the Publisher: "After the accident that killed Luke's mother, he begins to get messages from the bodies in the funeral home where he lives with his stepfather, who is acting even stranger than usual, and in trying to solve his mother's death, he uncovers a horrifying secret."
This one starts out with rather graphic descriptions of the jobs necessary in a funeral home for preparing a body for viewing. I found it rather hard to read, but students will probably be intrigued. Also includes abusive stepfather, which is always a popular theme. Can't think of many books set in funeral homes except for Coleen Paratore's The Funeral Director's Son!
Watson, Stephanie. Messages from Beyond.
From the Publisher: "Cassandra starts receiving text messages from Ethan, a boy her age who seems to know a lot about her. He says that he goes to her high school, but they always seem to miss each other. The school office has norecord of him. She learns that he died in an accident 20 years ago. Suddenly, strange things begin to happen to Cassandra."
This one had so many references to popular culture that it will not last long at all. It got to be a bit annoying after a while, especially since I was already uncomfortable about the girl being stalked.