Friday, July 25, 2008

Let's Travel Abroad!

Oddly, both of these titles are the second in a series, so I will have to hunt down the first, but I did enjoy Sabine Durrant's Bon Voyage, Connie Pickles and Piper Banks' Geek Abroad. In the first, an English girl goes to France on a home stay visit and tries to track down her estranged grandparents. Pleasant and amusing. In Banks' offering, an American math whiz goes to London to visit her author mother, meets hot English boy, and then returns to the states. Best travel book EVER remains Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and Rachel Hawthorne's trilogy-in-one-volume A Year Abroad has lots of travel details. These, along with the Students Across the Seven Seas books, have been very popular with my girls, so I will definitely purchase these.

R. L. Stine and other titles

Note: New R.L. Stine books are much nicer to read than yellowed, falling apart books. Not that this makes a real difference in circulation, but if you have very popular titles in your library, some might need to be replaced.

That said, the newest series, Fear Street Nights, is really quite horrible. Premise: High school seniors sneak out of their homes and run about Fear Street at night, takes artifacts from the ramshackle Fear mansion before it is torn down. Of course, these items are directly connected to Angelica Fear, about whom I last read in the Cheerleaders series. And here she is, back again, possessing teenagers so that she can kill those who stole from her in horrible ways, many involving cockroaches coming out of their mouths or blood spurting from their ears.

The teens manage to swill some beer, bully classmates, and engage in other unattractive and undesirable behaviours. After a while, I started to hope that the green gaseous cloud of Angelica Fear will just descend on the barkeep at the bar built on top of the mansion site. And really, with that sort of mortality rate, wouldn't people start to move away from the area? The titles are Moonlight Secrets, Midnight Game, and Darkest Dawn.

That said, I didn't mind The Rich Girl, which had a somewhat moral tone-- if you steal money that doesn't belong to you, the guilt might drive you mad before your friends gaslight you into believing you have killed one of them. Had its moments. There is a new copy available. The Perfect Date also was pretty good, and students who don't immediately understand that Rosha Nelson is really Sharon Noles will learn a little about anagrams at the end.

Denise Vega's Fact of Life #31 had way too much about midwifery and child birth for it to be all that interesting to middle schoolers, so I'll pass on that. L'Engle's posthumous publication of her 1940s novel, The Joys of Love also lacks appeal for this age. I would get that only for hard core L'Engle fans. Dobkin's Neptune's Children started out okay (freak plague kills all the adults, stranding a bunch of children in an amusement park), but I couldn't get into it. I'll recommend O.T.Nelson's The Girl Who Owned the City for students seeking postapocalyptic tales. Gloria Whelan's Parade of Shadows was a historical novel that addressed an odd time and place, and those move slowly in my library.

Monday, July 21, 2008

New titles from Rachel Vail and Caroline Meyer

I'll blame the heat and humidity on my opinion of these, since I will go ahead and buy them.

Vail's Lucky was a little too much like the Lisi Harrison Clique books for my taste. Girl lives in upscale community with all the amenities, and her friends are throwing a huge 8th grade graduation party. (For one, NEVER heard of such a thing, especially on the scale described. But this is Ohio.) Girl's mother loses job, and family has to cut back, including the party.

I usually can count on Vail to take a pink book and give it resonance, but I could not get into this one. Her big problem is a dress for the party? Hmmm. Did very much enjoy the fact that the mother was the high powered earner and the father was a school teacher. Still, didn't much like the main character.

Meyer's In Mozart's Shadow (Probably got that wrong-- high schooler has it in her room and I refuse to enter!) was interesting-- it follows the path of Mozart's sister, and covers her travails at not being given as many opportunities because she is a girl, and not quite as talented. The period costumes, mores, and prejudices are all well-portrayed, but the adventures of the Family Mozart all got to be a bit samey after a while. I'm sure this is an accurate portrayal, but some of the other Meyer titles are a little more exciting.

Have a Connie Pickles book to read now, and it looks quite fun. It's the sequel, but it's a British book. Don't know how I missed the first one.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sic Transit Rosemary Sutcliff (again?)

7/21/2008--Thanks to Charlotte, who commented on which of the Sutcliffe are better. When I get back to the library, I will have to check. I'm glad I wasn't alone in disliking Frontier Wolf!

Even though I was stranded in an orthopedist's office for an hour and a half with ONLY Sutcliff's Frontier Wolf between me and being so bored that would start making sculptures out of the cotton balls and tongue depressors, it was still excruciatingly hard to slog through. I read the whole thing with close concentration, and I still can't really tell you what it's about. Oh, sorta Roman Alexios does something bad and gets sent to a fort at the edges of the Empire dealing with various British natives while running the Frontier Wolves who are keeping the peace in the area. Peace is hard to keep. Various people keep stealing horses and shooting arrows at them, and then the Frontier Wolves have to slog through the mud. There are battles, and a lot of people get killed, and then they deal with some more tribes.

Is it any wonder that even though two copies of this book has been in the library since 1980, this one has only been checked out once? To a really heavy-duty reader on my recommendation? And he wasn't wild about it? In theory, these books should go out well, because they are about a time period the students enjoy, and about wars, but the details are so ponderous that the stories are tough going.

I'm going to start weeding them. I'll plow through them first, but unless something really strikes me as marvelous, they are moving on to better homes.

Mary Stewart's A Walk in Wolf Wood was somewhat similar, but with more magic thrown in, and somehow much better. From the same time (1980), this read more like a much older book because of the suspension of disbelief the reader is asked to take. John and Margaret are on a picnic with their parents when they see a man in medeival dress going through the forest. They follow him, only to end up back in time, and being the only people who can save the man from an evil sorcerer who has turned him into a werwolf and impersonated him back at the castle so he can kill the king.

This was charming instead of onerous. Fans of Dealing with Dragons and maybe Tamora Pierce would like this one. I will have to look up this author's Arthurian Saga, which I am surprised to say is not in my library!

Eleanora Tate's The Secret of Gumbo Grove was a fine mystery, but the very, very Southern quality of it irked me. Mystyer fans who don't mind that will enjoy the story of Raisin, who helps an elderly neighbor clean up an old cemetary and in doing so, finds out many scandals and stories of the past. When one of these stories might help save the cemetary from destruction, Raisin and her friends do some research and find out that sometimes people don't want the past to be known.

Obviously taking a breather from the Stine.

Paula Yoo's Good Enough.

Good Enough was quite good! Patti is finishing up her senior year in high school, and her parents have put a lot of pressure on her. Get the concert master position in the All-State orchestra, do really well on the SAT, get into Harvardyaleprinceton, be charming at church, help around the house. Patti has done all of these things for years, and comes to realize that while this makes her parents happy, it isn't doing a whole lot for her.

She meets Ben, otherwise known as Hot Trumpet Guy. She is so enthralled that she muffs her orchestra audition and ends up as assistant concert master. Parents are not pleased. She becomes friends with Ben, and sneaks off to play music with him. Again, parents are not pleased. She eventually does better at the SAT and looks to have the college application thing in hand, but will following her parents' choices of Ivy League schools make her happy? She applies to Juilliard without their knowledge and starts to think about what it is that SHE wants to do with her life.

The descriptions of Patti's interactions with Ben are wonderful and painful at the same time. She can hardly breathe in his presence, and yet knows that while he is being nice to her, he's going to keep dating the cute cheerleader types. The whole relationship is realistically played; they become friends again after Patti tells Ben she likes him, but not for a long time, and not forever. He moves on through her life, and that is the way relationships often evolve.

A big part of this book is the fact that Patti and her parents are Korean. This is evidenced throughout the book (who knew that Koreans were so fond of Spam?), and yet wasn't the driving force behind the book. I wanted to be friends with Patti-- I think we would have gotten along. I was never as smart or as musically talented, but I had many of the same frustrations and delusions. I was glad that things worked out in the end, especially when I read the back flap and suspected that this is a somewhat autobiographical tale.

I can buy this and pass it off as Pink, even though I will be buying it because it's a dead on description of how high school can be, and because I was glad to live through it with Patti.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Slow Internet, More Stine

Feel I should explain the poor quality of summer blogging. When I use the computer at home, I have incredibly slow internet (so High Schooler can't use MySpace-- it works quite well. She gets frustrated and gives up!), PLUS children who like to look over my shoulder. Stick with me, and things WILL improve in the fall.

Finished McNab's Meltdown (as well as the back of a cable knit sweater). I am looking forward to seeing if Danny gets books on his own, now that his grandfather, Fergus is out of the picture due to injuries. A great four book series.

Stine round up:
First Date: The stalker you suspect is never the stalker you should fear. Chelsea is shy and dateless until two boys appear in her life-- Sparks, who seems dangerous and impulsive, and Will, who is a nice boy from her school. When her life takes a frightening turn, Chelsea's instincts don't serve her well.

The Girlfriend: If your girlfriend goes out of town, don't date other girls, especially ones you find on the side of the road. Scotty makes this mistake and ends up with psychopathic girl who offs TWO pets. I find this a particularly disturbing facet of Stine's work, and of all the warped and bloody things in Stine's books, puts me off more than any of them. After all of the stalking and beating, things work out for Scotty when he comes clean to first girlfriend. There are local interests in this book-- Westerville is mentioned, and the school Scotty attends is in a neighboring town. (Stine is from Ohio and went to OSU.)

Killer's Kiss: Nice twist at the end, but in order to get to it, you had to read about Delia putting on her purple lipstick too many times. Delia and Karina compete for everything, especially Vincent. Bad things happen to everyone-- I really thought it was Delia's sister, so fooled me.

Next to read: Alfred Kropp, if I can find the copy in my son's messy room.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Reviewer X

Hey, I'm all for shameless self-promotion. The unusually astute Review X has posted a blogger profile of me on her site. She does great reviews, too, usually of slightly older stuff than I cover. Check it out! She has contests, too!

Scheduling Reading Time

Having trouble getting your children to read over the summer? Finding that you aren't getting any reading done over break either? It has come to light in our household that a lack of schedule, although a wonderful thing, is making it difficult to get books read even though there is more time to do so. During the year, we are all pretty much quiet, curled up and reading by 7 or 8 p.m. Now, I have books scattered all over the house and get distracted by the nine baby quilts I want to get finished today, or the back of my cable knit sweater. Or I need to walk the dog or dust the baseboards. High Schooler has not started reading Winterdance or Spite Fences for honors English, so I am not going to blame R.L. Stine for my lack of reading. We will blame lack of scheduling, and put procedures in place to remedy this!

That said, McNab's Payback, Avenger and Meltdown are still going slowly. They are very, with lots of action and more importantly, lots of intricate detail about international espionage, but since the covers are all very similar and I have them all over the house, I keep picking up the same one I've just finished.

If you have a fan of spy novels, these are great. There are a few bad words, but the books are so good that I have been turning a blind eye to them. This is one of the few times I've done this.

At 8:00 p.m., I have an appointment with.... The Girlfriend, First Date and Killer's Kiss. What fun!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Beneath My Mother's Feet

Amjed Qamar's first novel, set in Pakistan, is something that every malcontented 14-year-old U.S. girl needs to read. Not only is it an interesting depiction of daily life that is much different from the one we know, it is a wonderful example of the things that adolescents in the U.S. take for granted. Don't have a cell phone? Be grateful that you are allowed to go to school.

Nazia is not so lucky. Her father, a construction worker, is injured in an accident and becomes ill-inclined to work, even after he recovers. Her older brother, Bilal, does not contribute to the family income and breaks into the home to steal Nazia's dowry. Without the dowry, her arranged marriage to a cousin is called off. Her mother pulls her out of school so that she can help watch her brother and sister while the mother cleans houses. The family situation worsens, and soon the family is living in an unused outbuilding at one of the homes that they clean.

This is a great book to give to students who like problem novel. Like Iqbal, this story brings another part of the world to life. I hope to see more from this author, who works in a nearby school system. Since it is so hard to get young adult books from other parts of the world, this is the next best thing.

In the same vein, I had great hopes for Zenati's A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, about an Israeli girl who gets to know a Palestinian boy via e mail. It didn't hit me quite right-- Nye's Habibi gave a much clearer picture of that part of the world.

Also working through the rest of the Andy McNab books still. Started to knit and do quilts, which is cutting into my reading time a lot!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Suddenly Supernatural by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

Well, reluctant ten year old refused to read this, but I thought it was great fun. The best part was the characters-- Kat, Jac and Kat's mother were all people I would like to meet. The evil school mates were over the top in the way that most 8th graders really are, but even they had a human side. Especially appreciated-- Kat's mother is a medium, and a bit of a "hippie", but instead of just assuming that all parents are hippies, Kimmel describes the mother most delightfully.

Since Kat has to deal with "dead people" showing up at her house, she hasn't made a lot of friends until cello-toting Jac shows up. Right about this time, though, Kat starts seeing dead people, too, including a flute player who shows up in her school library. There is a mystery that must be solved, and some personal problems to be worked out, but it was a great book. I am still hoping to get Ms. Reluctant to read it. The words are nicely spaced on the page, and the book is blissfully easy to read.

Unlike R.L. Stine's...
Beware: R.L. Stine Picks His Favorite Scary Stories. Stine is a much better writer than I am, but he is not a better writer than Ray Bradbury, and Stine's work suffers being placed next to Bradbury's. The stories by other authors are very good.

The Dare. Was three chapters in before I realized I'd read this already.

The Dead Girlfriend. A decent whodunit with lots of false clues, as well as lots of violence. Who really is responsible for the death of Jonathan's old girlfriend? And will his new girlfriend suffer the same fate?

The Face. Repressed memories of trauma are a big theme in Stine's work, and this time a girl keeps drawing a boy's face and doesn't know why. How did this boy die, and what part did she play in it? There are some twists. Remember, check ski slopes for razor wire before heading down.

Goodnight Kiss. Summer time, seaside Vampire romance. Lots of people meet bad ends. Why is it easier when people meet bad ends? They usually do something to contribute to it. I'm still disturbed every time a pet wanders onto the pages of a Stine book. They usually meet gruesome and worrisome ends. In this one, though, it's vampires romping about, flying as bats and biting people's velvety necks.

Halloween Party. If you are invited to a party at a haunted house, don't go wandering around on your own. Again, people fake their own deaths for laughs and then end up dead, a character is exacting revenge for 30-year-old wrongs, and in the end, the evil person gets it. This is like a slasher film put on paper. On the upside, no pets are harmed.

Hit and Run. Okay, really, do people running morgues really let their friends borrow corpses for practical jokes? I don't think so. If I have learned nothing else from Stine, it's that I shouldn't take a dead body and stage an accident to get back at my friends, then stalk them and try to murder them all. Seemed silly to me, but I can see why students might find it intriguing.

Dangerous Girls and A Taste of Night. I had great hopes for these, since they were published in hard back, but they were more bat flying, wooden stake to the heart vampire books. Somewhat intriguing that one twin wanted to be a vampire and the other didn't, that the mother was bitten and then killed herself after turning her best friend into one of the undead, and that the father was now a vampire hunter, but I have little patience for vampire books that don't have some element of originality to the vampire myth, and these didn't. Plus, I felt really bad for the little brother, who was exhibiting a lot of signs of deep disturbance due to all of the deaths around him, but it wasn't a big part of the plot to get him help.

It has actually been very helpful to read these, if only so that when a student checks one out, I have some idea of what is being ingested. I did have to take a break and am working on the Andy McNab series, since the 4th one, Meltdown, has just come out.