Fat Cat by Robin Brande

Catherine Locke is determined to crush the competition in Mr. Fizer’s torturous A.P. Special Topics in Research Sciences class, especially smug Matt McKinney, her ex-best friend and science fair rival since 6th grade. Each student must randomly choose a picture from Fizer’s dreaded Stack of science photos and devise a secret year long research project around it, culminating in a science fair presentation that could make or break their college apps. When Cat pulls a picture of naked Neanderthals from the Stack, at first her mind draws a blank. Cave people couldn’t be further from her previous studies of insect evolution. Then it dawns on her: Cat, overweight since she gave up swimming for Snickers, will study the eating habits of ancient hominids, with herself as the test subject! By dropping all “processed, manufactured, chemically altered, or preserved” foods from her menu, she hopes to prove that conforming to a “Cave Girl Café” diet will help return the body to it’s original, pre-junk-food-and-artificial-sweetner state. Cat’s prepared for how physically difficult it’s going to be giving up her six-pack-a-day Diet Coke habit and beloved candy bars. But what she never saw coming was how boys would react to her newly svelte bod, now shed of it’s protective layers.  Suddenly Cat’s drawing appreciative stares and longing glances from all sorts of male hominids—except smug Matt McKinney, of course. Good thing she isn’t secretly in love with him or she just might care! This funny take on love, food, biology and gender differences is one of the freshest chick lit. titles I’ve read in awhile. Like another recent favorite of mine, Brande weaves lots of interesting scientific facts into a story that is both about our societal battle with food and the battle between the sexes. Cat and Matt’s stormy relationship humorously illustrates how girls and boys are wired differently when it comes to dealing with emotions and handling competition. Clearly influenced by food origin books like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Fat Cat is a happy meld of romaine and romance, tofu and tenacity, that will appeal to even the most picky of eaters and readers. Oh, and one last thing: If Brande sounds familiar, it’s because she is the author of RR 2007 Top Ten Title,  Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature.

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams

reality check
Seventeen-year-old football quarterback Cody Laredo never considered himself a good student. He maintained grades just high enough to keep his butt off the bench, hoping that a college football scholarship would be his ticket to the NFL. But now that he’s blown out his knee, lost his gorgeous upper-crust girlfriend Clea to boarding school and missed so many classes that he has no idea what is going on, he’s decided to drop out. Which is why he’s free to skip town and head east when he hears on the local news that Clea’s gone missing. When her beloved horse Bud comes back rider-less, the local authorities assume Clea was thrown in the woods and a search party is quickly assembled. Cody quietly joins their ranks, initially concealing his identity from the townies. But when Clea isn’t found in a few days, the search is called off and Cody begins to conduct his own investigation, based on little more than commonsense and intuition. As he begins to collect clues about Clea’s disappearance, Cody struggles with who to suspect and who to trust. Among the possible perpetrators are: Ike, the crabby old stable hand at Clea’s fancy school who seems to know more than he’s letting on; Sergeant Orton, the local fuzz who appears to be playing Cody just as much as Cody is playing him; and finally Townes, the rich boy who stole Clea’s heart—and maybe more. One of these men know what happened to his best girl. And it’s up to Cody to find out who before it’s too late. Reality Check is a solid, satisfying mystery with an earnest, blue-collar teen sleuth at it’s center. I love how Cody, who readily admits he’s not the biggest intellectual in the world, operates from the heart and realistically struggles with putting the pieces of the puzzle together, instead of snapping his fingers and solving it all in one fell swoop. This is the first book I’ve read by mystery author Peter Abrahams, but you can bet it won’t be the last!

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Micah is a liar. That is a fact. And the only thing you can be absolutely sure of in this dark, sexy thriller from Aussie author Larbalestier. For Micah, lying has become second nature, a way to distract herself from her outsider status, her parents’ indifference, the tiny NYC apartment that feels too small for her restless spirit. For Micah, there is only one truth. But it’s buried so deeply beneath all her lies she isn’t sure anyone would believe her if she ever found the courage to tell. “I am often in trouble. Mostly for things I have not done. I can’t expect to be believed. I am the girl who cried wolf.” Only two things calm her—running and spending time with her secret love Zach. Secret because he’s popular and she’s not. Secret because he has a real girlfriend who proudly calls him her own. But when Zach goes missing and later turns up dead, he and Micah’s relationship comes to unwelcome light. Suddenly Micah finds herself at the center of a storm of malicious gossip, unsubstantiated rumors and chilly silences. No one wants to find out what happened to Zach more than Micah, but to do so she’ll have to face some hard truths about herself, some of which are quite nasty indeed. Micah is a liar. That is a fact. But everything else in this suspenseful page-turner could be the truth or could be a lie, and it’s up to you, dear reader, to figure out which is which. With a surprise twist smack in the middle and a delightfully unreliable narrator, Liar is a delectably disturbing story from start to finish. My only complaint is the cover–the girl shown here looks nothing like the way Micah is described: half black and half white with short, curly hair. However, that’s small potatoes compared to how much I enjoyed this roller-coaster of a chill ride. (Editor’s Note: Shortly after this review and others were written, Justine’s publisher Bloomsbury decided to change the cover to more accurately reflect the narrator’s race.)

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

Meet Bernie and Chet, the two hard-bitten P.I.’s  of the Little Detective Agency. Though one has two legs and the other four, both are tough, not easily fooled dudes with hearts of gold. Bernie Little is a down-on-his-luck detective with a big debt and small checking account. Chet “the Jet” is his loyal-to-the-bone mongrel sidekick whose wandering nose and lack of impulse control often gets him into trouble. Chet is the star of this mystery-series opener, as he narrates Bernie’s life in an uber-realistic, easily distracted canine voice that often comes across as barkingly funny. In their first adventure together, Bernie and Chet are hired to find wealthy teen Madison Chambliss, whose divorced mother reports her missing. But there’s more to this apparent runaway case that meets the eye (or nose, in Chet’s case), and the dedicated partners soon dig up connections between Madison’s disappearance, a real estate development that’s gone bottoms up, and the Russian mafia. To make matters more complicated, both have recently become smitten: Bernie with local investigative reporter Suzie Sanchez and Chet with a mysterious furry female he only knows by her come-hither bark. Unlike some other best-selling doggerel, this book nails the dog’s-eye point of view perfectly and also serves as an excellent introduction to the detective genre if you haven’t had the pleasure of dipping into it before. A doggone good book that even a cat person can love. I can’t wait to go on a stake-out with Chet and Bernie again!

Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia

Three very different girls + three contrasting points of view = one compelling day-in-the-life novel. Leticia is the kind of girl who doesn’t mind doing just enough work to get by and wants nothing more than to keep her “silk-wrapped, hand-painted, custom-designed, three-quarter-inch, square-cut nails with the sparkling faux diamonds” intact. Dominique is a serious, hard-driving basketball player who maintains her grades only to avoid being benched. Trina is a gifted painter and a fashionista who may shake her booty at the boys passing by but has big plans when it comes to pursuing her artistic dreams. One morning at school, Trina accidentally brushes too close to Dominique, who’s just found out she’s been benched due to a low grade in Mr. Hershheiser’s class. Wild with misdirected rage, Dominique swears to her girls that she will beat the unsuspecting Trina to a bloody pulp after school, even as Trina, who barely knows Dominique and has no idea what she’s done, sashays innocently on down the hall. Gossip girl Leticia views the whole thing from a safe corner and can’t wait to spread the word to everyone (except Trina) about the girl fight that’s gonna go down at 2:45 today. Tensions build as the school day progresses. Will Leticia tell Trina and risk being branded a snitch? Will Dominique cool down before the after school showdown? Will Trina catch wind of the fight and high tail it her Juicy pink booty out of there? Only time will tell and the minutes are ticking away…this slim novella packs more lyrical language and edge-of-your-seat suspense in its 170 pages than most books do in twice that page count. RW-G is a poet of the real, and she manages to be both wonderfully expressive and deeply street smart using an economy of words. I particularly dug Leticia’s sarcastic analysis of A Separate Peace: “I see how it all relates to my life because every other day I’m up a tree pushing some loser to his eventual death, then breaking out into a soliloquy about it. Don’t you just love the classics?” A tiny, terrifically written tome whose outcome is both disturbing and disturbingly real.

Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Sixteen-year-old Maybelline Chestnut has a big problem (bigger than the fact that she’s been named after a brand of mascara) and that problem is spelled M-O-M. “You’ve heard of serial murderers? My mother’s a serial marryer. It’s a disease. The husbands get blinded by the big blonde hair and the big boobs and big personality. There’s so much big stuff that they never notice the little cracks in the marriage until it’s too late.” Maybe’s former pageant-winning mother has been married six times, and when lucky #7 tries to give Maybe a grope, she knows it’s time to strike out on her own. She takes off to Los Angeles to find her biological father, her only clue a blurry photograph scammed from one of her mother’s dusty hatboxes. Accompanied by her best friends Ted (a short statured baby-mogul-in-training) and Hollywood (a tall, gangly aspiring filmmaker), Maybe at first finds California as intoxicating as she imagined it being back in boring old Florida. But as her money runs out and her friends establish lives of their own, L.A. seems meaner and colder, and Maybe despairs of ever completing her DNA mission. She is granted a reprieve from sleeping in the back of Hollywood’s car when she scores a job on taco truck and is supplied with a bed and three squares a day by an unlikely guardian angel. However, her bio-dad is still at large, and an inevitable confrontation with her confused and angry mom looms large. Will Maybe solve the mystery of where she comes from? Or will she be forced to return to Kissimmee broke and unsatisfied? This fast, fun read reminded me of Sonya Sones’ One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies,another Hollywood-themed family drama that is also shot through with laughter and tears. Pair them together for an inexpensive trip to La La Land, courtesy of your imagination!