Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Michael Simmons

My PermaBound rep gave me a copy of Simmon's Vandal. I liked Pool Boy (13 Mar 2006) a lot, and Vandal was not a disappointment. Boy who sings in a KISS tribute band (and is appropriately arch about it) is terrorized by his older brother, who can't make a good decision to save his soul. Interesting depiction of how the family deals with this, and the ensuing tragedy. The end let me down a little because it didn't wrap anything up, but then, that's realism! Do recommend. Will look for other titles by this author.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Kathryn Reiss, etc.

Pale Phoenix (1994) was a good time travel/mystery/suspense book. It hasn't gone out a whole lot, but I think I can recommend it. It is also a nice, small size which makes it fun. I think I have a copy at home of Time Windows, also by this author, but not at school.

Also read Robert Kimmel Smith's Squeaky Wheel, and liked that. Fairly light story of boy struggling with the aftermath of his parents' divorce. Really liked this author's Jelly Belly.

Ann Rinaldi's Girl in Blue was a bit of a twist on the girl-disguising-herself-as-boy-to-go-to-war story; she gets found out three months in but then becomes a spy for Allan Pinkerton. That was great fun. Hard to go wrong with Ann Rinaldi. I've liked everything of hers that I've read, with the possible exception of The Coffin Quilt.

Rostkowski's The Best of Friends I will keep, since it is an interesting depiction of life during the Vietnam Conflict, but Peyton's Prove Yourself a Hero and Rodowsky's Sydney, Herself have to go. Not only were they boring, but they have stupid cover art. I'll try to get them out today, but I have my doubts. Nah. I would feel bad foisting them on students. That's a sure sign that it's time for something to be retired!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sic transit Beany Malone

It snowed on Sunday, and I felt like hibernating. Instead, I hauled a stack of Lenora Mattingly Weber's Beany Malone books out and started reading. I don't know why these books still appeal to me so much. Written starting in 1943, they capture everyday family life in that era. The last one was published in the late 60s, and reading them all in quick succession can give one the bends (wait-- weren't we just in WWII?), but they are wonderful. Life isn't easy for Beany, but I always loved the way she perservered. I like the Katie Rose books as well; depending on how long the cold that settled in my head lasts, I may read those too.

The great philosophical debate is whether or not to let my 13 year old daughter read them. Lura Green has a great essay on this type of books, and includes the line "the nostalgia I felt for Jane's movie-and-a-coke dates was so intense it was as if they were something not that I had read about once, but that I had actually experienced and lost. " That pretty much describes what reading these books does to me.

What would they do to my daughter? Hmmm.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bridge to Terebithia

So the question is: How did a book (1987) that has been used for years to help children come to terms with unexpected death suddenly become a fantasy where the children " battle the Dark Master for the salvation of the magical land they call Terabithia"?

I had to reread this book after seeing a trailor for this version, because it seemed to bear no relationship to the book I remembered. Luckily, I have plenty of copies here in the library. I think some fantasy fans who grab it will be confused and disappointed; the book is concerned more with the running abilities and impoverished background of the main character, and with the death of his friend at the end. Hmmm.

Makes me wonder what they will do with Annette Curtis Klause's Blood and Chocolate (1997), which has been much advertised, although there was enough blood, gore, and nudity in the book to make a Hollywood film without much problem.

Ann Rinaldi

If you have to pick up a historical fiction book, you can't go too far wrong with this author. I read Sarah's Ground last night, which was a very fascinating story about the real girl who was in charge of George Washington's house at Mount Vernon during the Civil War. And interesting mix of historical eras, with a little romance thrown in as well.

Other titles that I particularly liked-- Wolf by the Ears, about the purported children of Thomas Jefferson with one of his slaves, and Or Give Me Death, about the wife of Patrick Henry, who was mentally disturbed. The Quilt Trilogy is also worth picking up. Second Bend in the River, about a very young girl in early 1800s Ohio who has a crush on the much older Indian chief Tecumseh, was odd but good as well.

Usually these books cover the period from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War.

Maureen Johnson

Loved 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Bought my own copy. Have three here at the library; they are never on the shelf.

However, I haven't liked Johnson's other books. Very disappointed. The Key to the Golden Firebird, although I liked the cover art, started in with ... don't even remember, so it didn't pull me right in, and then articles of clothing started being removed and undergarments were mentioned by name, so I stopped reading. I'm sure this will increase the circulation of this book at the public library, but I'm not buying a copy.

The Bermudez Triangle started out pretty well-- teens with summer jobs and at camp-- but when the main character got back from camp and found out that her two BFF's were, um, dating, I decided that I would pass on this title as well. I don't ever have students who come in and ask for books with those circumstances.

Devilish I will buy, even though it wasn't as good as Envelopes. Girl as private school finds out that her somewhat geeky best friend has sold her soul to a demon in exchange for a somewhat better life. Girl offers her soul instead; complications ensue. I am thinking that a sequel is in the offing. Demons always sell well, and it is certainly much less gory than Darren Shan's Lord Loss.

If you want to find out more about this author, whose good book is so wonderful that you must read it, check out her website at

I will read Girl at Sea when I can find it!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Why new books are better than old books

First, I don't really believe this on a personal level. I collect teen fiction from the 1950s, but it's hard to get students to check out old books. I have a shelf that I set books on for students to grab quickly, and All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Rae Perkins has been sitting there for two weeks. It's not that old (1999), but there's something about it that the students don't like.

Then there's the book I read last night, David and Max by Provost. Cheesy cartoony cover art. (There is a whole day that could be spent on why Richard Cuffari's illustrations doom a book, although I personally like them.) Previous slight water damage that made the book crinkle alarmingly when I opened it. Nearly twenty years, 9 times out of the library. Could spend the whole day recommending this book, and it would still sit here. The story is perfectly good. I enjoyed it. But nothing really happened. Boy's grandfather, who lived through the Holocaust, thinks he finds a friend with whom he grew up but who was thought to have perished.

It makes me sad. Are my students just spoiled? How many books from the 1950s did I read when I was in middle school? None. Well, other than Beany Malone. And I was a huge L.M. Montgomery and Alcott fan. But I read Paula Danziger and Richard Peck and authors that were fairly new at the time. That is the way the world works, I guess. I am not an archive. I fear that if these two books aren't going to circulate here, they are going to have to be on their way to different homes where they might be more appreciated. **Sigh**

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cathy Cassidy, my new favorite author!

Adored Dizzy. Had to buy a second copy, the first one is out so much. Read Indigo Blue (10/20/2006) from the public library, and liked it so much that I ordered Scarlett sight unseen, which I try not to do. I was not disappointed. Not only did it have a pretty, shiny cover, but it was a great story about blended families, teenagers who are creating their own rough times and not quite able to stop doing it, AND an "exotic local" (Irish countryside). I don't think any of these books ever get shelved-- they go out when I am still waiting to check them back in.

I wrote to Ms. Cassidy, sending her a filled-up circulation card, and she was wonderfully kind and sent me a copy of Driftwood, which isn't available in the US! I will be sending it to the rebindery for a nice hard cover, because it was an excellent story about, well, about a lot of things. The foster child's difficulties in adjustment and being bullied at school are quite timely, the romances are intriguing, and the whole book just made me sigh. I have a line of 8th grade girls who are demanding they be lent the book before they move on to high school.

The only problem I have with these books is that, like Julie Edwards' Mandy, they seem to have an indefinable quality that makes them appealing. I love them, but find it hard to express just why. Luckily, most of my students will accept this, and check the book out. There's just no brief "hook" I can use to describe them, which, considering I get children to check out Paul Zindel's Reef of Death by telling them I stopped reading it after the man's legs were bitten off and I couldn't stand it anymore, might not be a bad thing!

The natives are restless. Must go check out books. This is the other reason I have not been able to muster coherent thought to post. ROCKS!!!

I use rather extensively for reading reviews, and one early morning I entered a contest (had to pick five books you would give as gifts or somesuch), and I WON one of the five gift baskets (randomly picked, not because of my exquisiste prose!). It has hot cocoa mix, socks, candy, a gingerbread house kit (why do people even try to eat those? Bleargh.), a candle, etc. and ten BOOKS! I got to read Pretty Little Liars, which was intriguing but not appropriate for middle school, Hattie Big Sky, which was a great historical/survival novel, and Lenhard's second Chicks with Sticks, which I liked even better than the first one. I figure that since actual teenagers will be reading the books and benefitting from them, it's not really cheating that I won. It just said you had to be over 13, and I'm certainly way over 13!


A student (who also loaned me Leven Thumps, which I could NOT get through) loaned me Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. I was a little apprehensive, but it sucked me right in. Didn't help that it bore some resemblance to my aborted fantasy novel that no one would want to read (the world really does not need any more YA fantasy novels, unless they involve football playing werewolves, but I've said that before), but I did enjoy it. I wanted to smack the main character who insisted on going into the woods when his grandfather TOLD him bad things would happen, but the plot wouldn't have gone forward quite as nicely.

If I'm finding small things to nit pick about, I must have liked it. The web site ( is cool, but not complete yet.

Melody Carlson

The 7th grade girls Looooooove problem novels. They especially want drugs! Abuse! Makes for much cheery reading. However, most books of this sort are more than disturbing, which is why I went ahead and ordered several of the "Color Me" series by Melody Carlson without reading them. She is a Christian author, which can get really annoying. Color Me Silver was not too bad, but Faded Denim sent the quasi-anorexic main character to a church camp and it got preachy and boring. Haven't worked my way through the other ones, though. On the plus side, she lists resources for help at the back, and there are no objectionable scenes-- well, no gratuitous nudity or swearing.

Speaking of just plain gratuitous, I finished Peyton's Darkling last night, which was a prefectly serviceable story about a girl from an impoverished family who gets a horse and manages to race it, and buried deep in the middle she has a semigraphic fling with the neighbor boy! Not bad enough to remove, but rather a shock.