Gantos, Jack. Dead End in Norvelt.
Jack is always in trouble in his small and dying town of Norvelt in 1962. After his last incident (involving Japanese weapons his father brought home from WWII), Jack is grounded except for helping Miss Volker write obituaries for the town paper because her arthritic hands give her problems. Jack also suffers from frequent gory nosebleeds and in general runs into an enourmous cast of quirky characters. The major plot involves the constant death of townspeople and Miss Norvelt's possible involvement.
Strengths: Very good start with some really funny lines, which continue to be sprinkled throughout. I liked the descriptions of Jack's obsession with the Japanese items and cars.
Weaknesses: This got to be a bit long and hard to follow, and I do NOT do quirky well. Jack's nosebleeds got wearisome, as did the descriptions of the old people. Like Gary Schmidt's books set in the 1960s, this struck me as something that would be difficult to get students to read but something that would win every award in the book.
People who liked this much more than I did, and gave more details in their reviews include: Book Smugglers, Fuse 8 Production, Ms. Martin Teaches Media, Nashville Book Worm and Pink Me.
Did you know that if you don't get adequate rest, information you learn during the day doesn't stay in your brain? That's the only excuse I can give for the rest of my reading last night.
Chris Priestly's books should be added to your mental list of Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories series, San Souci's Short and Shivery and Dare to Be Scared series, and Scholastic's Midnight Library. They are nice collections of scary stories that the students will pick up eagerly because of the creepy covers, but don't ask me to describe them. I have a lot of trouble reviewing short stories collections under the best of circumstances. Take a look if you need more scary stories. And who doesn't?
Shan, Darren. Ocean of Blood: The Saga of Larten Crepsley.
Just yesterday, a boy came in and asked if I had read all of the Darren Shan Cirque Du Freak books, then proceeded to ask in which of the books somebody did something. No clue. I don't remember characters' names, or how the book ends, and usually end up with a sentence fragment to describe the book as I fling it at a student. "Evil pixies!" "Brain sucking aliens!": that sort of thing. Not that I would need to describe this one to Shan fans, but I would have to go with "Crepsley as a teenager". It was great; even though he's gory and gross, Shan is also clever and an agile writer. My brain, however, lost it's agility about 9:00 p.m. Wednesday after the high school Curriculum Night.
If you want to know more, hop over to the great book review site Book Zone for Boys and read what the lovely gentleman over there says, apparently after he has gotten a wee bit more sleep than I have!