First up...Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock...
In the third book in Catherine Gilbert Murdock's series based on D.J. Schwenk, D.J. is back at school after dealing with her brother Win's terrible accident and ready to just play basketball. She's broken up with her boyfriend Brian; all she really wants is to have life return to normal for her junior year of high school. But life's funny like that sometimes: what you want most seems just out of reach, and is it really what you want after you think about it?
D.J.'s always been a stand-out athlete, and this basketball season quickly proves that she hasn't lost anything by not playing the previous year. It doesn't take long before colleges begin to show interest in her skills and the idea of being good enough to play in a Big Ten school freaks D.J. to the core. Life would be fine with her if she played for a local Division III team where the pressure wouldn't be so great and she wouldn't be the star of the show. And why on earth is she having to deal with this her junior year? Rather than being able to put her basketball worries behind her, things ramp up when Win becomes involved, pushing D.J. to think beyond herself and go for the big scholarships. But D.J. is petrified at the thought of playing before thousands of fans; so scared, in fact, that she almost becomes physically ill while watching a friend blow a big shot at U of M. D.J. has got to come to grips with what she wants and what she is actually ready for, and this applies to her love life as well, with both Brian and Beaner fighting for her attention.
This book was a fast read, and well-written. The nervous D.J. is very realistic and her fear is palpable. Typical of a teen sensation, she's unsure about her future and unclear about what she wants. In general, this is a book whose voice comes through easily; we get inside D.J.'s head and worry right along with her. I did find myself more than a little irritated with D.J. as she thinks she wants to throw away some great opportunities, but I could see where her fear was coming from. What I didn't really care for was the side story of Amber and Dale's relationship, which seemed a bit cliched in my opinion, and a bit unnecessary with everything else going on. Other than that, I can recommend this installment in the series wholeheartedly; D.J. is a funny, smart, determined young lady who has won a place in my heart with her self-effacing comments. Recommended.
Next up is Ruined by Paula Morris...
Rebecca Brown is puzzled when her father, who has raised her by himself since she was two, suddenly has to go to China on business for the better part of a year and his solution as to where Rebecca will stay is to leave her in New Orleans with a friend of the family, "Aunt" Claudia, a woman Rebecca doesn't remember meeting. New Orleans is a long, long way from New York City in more ways than one, and Rebecca's new school, Temple Mead, is filled with snobby girls whose families date back for generations. Not to mention the fact that the shotgun style house Aunt Claudia and her daughter Aurelia live in is just across the street from a very old cemetery and very close to the old family homes of the rich girls in school. To say Rebecca feels like she is an outsider is an understatement, but she's determined to make the best of things, even hoping to make friends with the mysterious homeless girl who apparently lives in the cemetery.
Ruined is indeed a ghost story, but it's more than that as well; it's the story of how generations of families can hold sway over even a modern city, and how the spectre of murder can still wreak havoc many years after the deed. Once Rebecca determines that Lisette, the odd girl from the cemetery, is actually a ghost, the story picks up as she begins to unravel the tale of what happened many years before and has been kept secret since. Even the appearance of handsome Anton Grey cannot hold Rebecca's attention for long as she faces the two girls in school who would like nothing better than to see Rebecca gone...in one way or another.
I liked this story and found the pacing to be quick, with Rebecca's disbelief turning into horrified truth very well done. Rebecca is a strong girl who doesn't suffer fools gladly, and her loyalty to her aunt and cousin is tremendous. I did find the whole climax a bit unbelievable (though we are dealing with ghosts here) since I couldn't imagine so many people so willingly going to such lengths to protect someone from an evil curse. The insertion of Hurricane Katrina and its ravages gives the story a timely feel but makes me worried that the book will age quickly in just a few years. Finally, the idea of Rebecca's father doing what he did is really too much for me, but it did bring a satisfactory conclusion. But this is a good ghost story, filled with atmosphere and the spirit (pun intended) of New Orleans. Romance and ruins; what more could a teenager want?