Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Scary Books

Alender, Katie. From Bad to Cursed
Alexis' life isn't easy. Her sister, Kasey, had a bad run in with ghosts in Bad Girls Don't Die, which resulted in the family home being burnt down and Kasey spending her 8th grade year in a mental institution. Now that Kasey is back (in the family's new suburban, ghost-free pre-fab home), Alexis is bound and determined to try to have a normal life with her boyfriend, Carter. She still loves photography and is accepted into a competition. Carter is running for student body president. Kasey is trying to fit in at school, and succeeding due to her involvement in the Sunshine Club. Alexis is concerned, goes to the club, and finds herself having sworn allegiance to a spirit named Aralt who lives in a book and is channeled by the Club. For a while, all of the girls are benefitting from the involvement, but things quickly worsen. What does the spirit want? And why is Alexis' family caught up in yet another web of nasty, nasty spirits? I think there will be another book after this!
Strengths: Like Bad Girls Don't Die, this one had a lot of vivid paranormal occurences set against a school setting that made them seem believable. It was scary, but not so that it would keep me up at night. Sort of Mary Downing Hahn or less predictable Betty Ren Wright. The first book in this series is UNBELIEVABLY popular, so I was glad to see the second. Good stuff.
Weaknesses: Kasey's involvement with the evil spirit seems less in this book, which distracted me, and the relationship between the girls and the evil spirit was a bit more complicated than I would like. Not a bad thing; I just had trouble following some of it.

Strasser, Todd. Blood on My Hands.
Callie is at a kegger when she finds the dead body of her arch nemesis, Katherine. In a panic, she kneels by it and touches the knife that killed the girl. Unfortunately, Dakota is there with her cell phone and snaps a picture.

After Callie's brother beat their father almost to death, Callie's family has fallen apart. The only thing keeping her going was her boyfriend, Slade, who is in the army but not being shipped out because of a knee problem. But because of Katherine's evil machinations, the two have broken up. Callie doesn't know what else to do but run, and get in contact with Slade.

Callie spends most of the book hiding from the law, trying to disguise herself but also trying to figure out who really did kill Katherine, in order to clear her own name. Her investigations unveil some surprising connections. Who really did kill Katherine? And why do they want Callie to take the blame?

Strengths: My students constantly want murder mysteries, and this one is perfect. A gruesome killing, a girl on the run, evil plots put in place by popular but disturbed children. Strasser's writing seems so effortless, as well. This is in the style of Wish You Were Dead, which the students really like.
Weaknesses: If a similar theme hadn't shown up in Wish You Were Dead, I wouldn't think much of it, but the girl who was killed was a lesbian, and one of the reasons (not to spoil things too much) that her killer killed her was that if she killed Katherine, maybe she would stop feeling attracted to girls. Or a variation on that. It's not discussed in depth, and I didn't come away thinking that lesbians were all pyscho killers, but it was a jarring moment. Still, the mention is brief, and the book is appropriate for middle school.

Griffin, Adele. Tighter.
Jamie gets a dream summer job watching one quiet young girl on a fancy resort island. Her problems? She pops pills pilfered from her parents constantly, and the girl who was au pair the previous year was killed with her boyfriend in a plane accident, and Jamie looks oddly like her. Still, she is able to make some friends, hang out, and still get her job done. Still, she keeps seeing the ghost of the boyfriend, and believes that the house is haunted and the boy's ghost is somehow after her. Is the idyllic life on the island going to result in horrible consequences?

Strengths: A compelling read which I enjoyed. The summer community of rich people always is a good setting for a book.
Weaknesses: The pill popping was disturbing. Jamie doesn't care how many or what kind she takes, she doesn't care if she mixes them with alcohol and almost passes out, and her mother, once she realizes pills are missing, doesn't seem overly concerned. And here's a spoiler: Jamie's problems are not really with anything supernatural. She's having severe mental problems, no doubt exacerbated by the drug abuse. I liked the ghost story, so was sort of disappointed that it was all hallucination. In short, this is more of a high school book. Very good, but the drugs and mental illness take away from what I was looking for-- a good ghost story.

1. 22 miles 2. 18 books 3. 18 quilt tops

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Bachorz, Pam. Drought.
Ruby and the people in her community are forced to collect sacred water with pewter cups and spoons from the leaves in the forest, a task that is complicated by the recent drought. They have been doing this for 200 years for the evil Darwin, who sells the water to the Visitor and keeps Ruby's "congregation" in abject poverty, severely limiting their food and having them constantly watched by overseers. The water has healing properties, but it is the inclusion of Ruby's blood that makes it more effective, because she is the daughter of the man who started the congregation, Otto, and whose return the congregation pray for. To Otto. When Ruby falls in love with a kind overseer and gets a look at the outside world, she wants to change her community. Will she succeed, or will she need to leave in order to improve her life?
Strengths: Very well written and compelling. I always appreciate a book with a clear cut plot that I can still recall a day after reading it. Bachorz's other title, Candor, has been very popular. Not a lot happens in the novel, but I wonder if Picky Reader might be lured into reading dystopia because of the wretched living conditions. (She loves problem novels.)
Weaknesses: As with Lemony Snicket, there were a TON of questions that never got answered. We get glimpses of how everything happened, but I was just as much in the dark at the end. Some explanation, perhaps in flashback, of the creation of the community would have been very helpful.

Brouwer, Sigmund.Rebel Glory.(2006)
Craig plays for a select high school hockey team in Canada, where apparently players come from all over and are put up with local families. The team is doing well until a series of unfortunate incidents affect their performance on the ice. Roaches and fiberglass insulation are put into uniforms, skates are sabotaged, and when wallets are stolen and end up in Craig's duffel bag, he is suspended. Instead of returning home, he enlists the help of a cute girl who reports for the school paper, and they uncover a plot to keep the team from winning.
Strengths: If you ever have students interested in hockey who are also reluctant readers, this is a MUST purchase, if only for the first chapter, which includes the roaches in the uniform scene. In fact, this book was so humorous and fast paced, but with a dangerous mystery, that I may recommend it to a football playing picky reader in the fall. I have a lot of Orca books by this author.
Weaknesses: The pages of these are tiny, and the prebinding makes the white space at the edges minute. I know that Orca tries to provide inexpensive books for reluctant readers, but these are the readers who are particularly sensitive to how a book is formatted and how words appear on the page. I wish they were more the size and formatting of Rich Wallace's Southside Sports books.

1. 17 miles 2. 15 books 3. 12 quilt tops

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Secret of Rover

Wildavsky, Rachel. The Secret of Rover.
Katie and David's scientist parents struggled to support the family until they came up with a secret invention, Rover, that they sold to the government. The family moves into a nicer house in a better neighborhood and decide to adopt a baby from Katkajan. While there parents are in that country getting Theo, their new baby sister, Katie and David are left with Trixie, a nanny. Things quickly turn bad-- their parents disappear, and Trixie fills the house with eveil Katkajanians before she takes the children to their old house and locks them in. Knowing their old house is overrun with rats, the children decide to escape and travel north to find their reclusive uncle Alex.

Without money or food, the children decide to stow away in trucks. At one point, they are caught by some of the Katkajanians. Instead of letting the police take them, they play along, pretending that they have run away and apologizing to their "parents". They then excape, make it to their uncle's, and try to help the government find their parents, using the invention that caused the Katkajanians to kidnap them-- Rover, which can find people through a variety of means. Will they manage to get their parents and their new baby sister home safely?

Strengths: This had very good descriptions of what it would be like to have to escape and travel across the country. I liked the scene where the children have to pretend that the Katkajanians are their parents, because it shows how hard it is to do what you know has to be done even though it isn't the safest or easiest thing to so. The plot was easy to remember and moves quickly.
Weaknesses: The tone at the beginning was slightly distanced, and I had some trouble getting into the story. Some of the story felt a little far fetched to me, but at the end of the school year I had a conversation with some students who said they liked books that COULD happen even if the events described were veyr unlikely. This would fall into that category, and since I always need mysteries, I will put this on my list to purchase.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Jewish Grandfathers

I love theme reading, and it's even better when I pick things up randomly that have a theme!

Dominy, Amy Fellner. OyMG.
Ellie hopes to make a name for herself by using her argumentative skills in some arena of public speaking, so she is thrilled when she gets to go to a speech summer camp, even if it's a Christian program at and she's Jewish. Well, half Jewish. And if Mrs. Yeats, who is in charge of awarding a scholarship to attend the school full time at Benedict High doesn't like Jews, well, Ellie is also half Lutheran. Complicating things is the fact that Ellie has a huge crush on the benefactor's grandson, Devon, who is also in the speech program and a fierce competitor. Ellie isn't quite sure who she wants to be, but knows that she can't disappoint her fiercely loving and proudly Jewish grandfather.

Strengths: Strong, supportive family, nice romantic interest, information about speech and debate. When I was in middle school, I loved reading books about Jewish families, since there were very few in my community.
Weaknesses: Mrs. Yates was really particularly evil, and never really learns any lessons. I'm bothered by this, more on the level of thinking that there are real people like this in the world than on any fictional level. Ellie ends up triumphing despite her, but she was appallingly evil in the way that only someone with a facade of being nice can be.

Perl, Erica S. When Life Gives You OJ.
After her family moves from Brooklyn to Vermont, Zelly really wants to get a dog. Her grandfather, Yiddish spouting former judge Ace Diamond, instructs her to create a "dog" out of an orange juice jug and "take care of it" for the summer so that she can prove to her parents that she is responsible enough to take care of a real dog. It's annoying, to have to drag the jug out on walks, "feed" it water and dog food, and clean up it's messes, especially when her friends find out what she is doing. She has an ally in Jeremy, but is annoyed at her friends for thinking she and Jeremy should be romantically connected just because they are both Jewish. After a while, Zelly becomes irritated with her grandfather, too. Will the plan to get a dog really work?

Strengths: I had a lot of 6th graders who wanted books about dogs last year, so even though Zelly is ten, I may have to buy this one. It is innovative in its approach to a child wanting a dog, and has good characters and a humorous tone.
Weaknesses: For some weird reason, I could buy everything about the "dog" except for filling it with dog food and water and then dumping that out to clean up as a "mess". Other than that, it was fine!

Moral of both stories: If you fight with your elderly, Jewish grandfather, chances are good that he will have an attack of some sort, end up in the hospital; you'll be besieged by guilt, even though it's not your fault.

1. 11 miles 2. 12 books 3. 9 quilt tops

Friday, June 24, 2011

Guy Friday-- Striking a Balance.

Patterson, James. Angel.
Even though she's safe with her flock, Max isn't happy. Abandoned by Fang, whom she still loves, she is supposed to mate with Dylan in order to provide a dynasty for the world to follow after the apocalypse. Fang is off collecting his own group of super human children who have suddenly arisen, and trying to defeat the Doomsday Group. Max is, too; she's found a school for super children that is being infiltrated by the Doomsday Group, which is trying to brainwash into thinking that all the problems of the world can be solved by killing all the humans. When Max and Fang show up at the Doomsday Group rally at Comic Con, how will
things turn out? Well, for this book, anyway-- the last book in the series is due out in February, 2012.
Strengths: Again, the super short chapters, page-turning action, and children against the world theme all work together to form a series that my students really like. The Angel Experiment has been very popular. Unlike some Patterson titles, however, this is better written, and the snarky, conversational tone made it more fun for me to read.
Weaknesses: Is Patterson writing this series but not his others? If so, why would he want his name attached to the others? This isn't super, but it isn't awful. Now I'm just confused about Patterson.

Hubbard, Jenny. Paper Covers Rock.
From the Publisher: "In 1982 Buncombe County, North Carolina, sixteen-year-old Alex Stromm writes of the aftermath of the accidental drowning of a friend, as his English teacher reaches out to him while he and a fellow boarding school student try to cover things up."

This is the opposite of Angel; philosophical, lyrically written, introspective, and literary. However, it was more of a high school book because of all of these things, especially since the book Moby Dick is referenced frequently. I picked it up on the basis of the description, but there was too much guilt and not enough mystery for my boys. It was quite good, and I can see this being put to good use in a high school. To be picky, I will mention that in the first paragraph, the motto of the school probably should have been Ad Lucem, not Ad Lux. I'm almost 20 years out from teaching Latin, but I can't think of any instances of "ad" taking the nominative.

Bedford, Martyn. Flip.
Alex wakes up to his mother scolding him for being late, but as he comes to consciousness, he realizes it's not his mother, his bedroom... or his body! He is completely disoriented as he embarks on the school day of Phillip, and while it becomes easier to be Phillip, he wants desperately to find out what has happened that he is no longer in his own body. In an understandable fut ill-conceived move, he goes to meet his mother, under the guise of setting up a chess tournament in Alex's memory, only to find out that Alex is in a persistent vegatative state after a car accident. Phillip/Alex seeks help from Rob, whom he contacts through a website on "pyschic evacuation" and finds out that his spirit had such a will to live that it left Alex's damaged body and found its way to Phillips, since the two share birthday. To say more would ruin the suspense of the book.

Strengths: THIS is what I mean by striking a balance. Deftly written and meticulously realistic in its protrayal of someone who wakes up in another body, this had enough mystery and adventure (not to mention kissing girls and punching people) that my students will like it, but it also had lovely prose and philosophical interludes about the nature of the soul. Brilliant! The only thing stopping me from buying two copies is...
Weaknesses: A bit heavy on Britishisms, which I quite liked, but which might confuse readers unfamiliar with British books. This will not stop me from forcing Surly Teenager here at home to read it, since he will only read if I hand him books that he likes.

1. 9 miles 2. 10 books 3. 9 quilt tops
(You would think I would have more miles in, since it takes far less time even for me, to run a mile than it does to make a quilt top OR read a book!)

And just for giggles, Tanita Davis's blog linked to this, which I found hysterical, since my youngest is living Fourteen.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Crepe Makers' Bond

Crabtree, Julie. The Crepe Makers' Bond.
Sequel to Discovering Pig Magic. Ariel is apprehensive about going into 8th grade. She's uncomfortable with her appearance, concerned about her father's health, and worried about her friends, Nicki and M. When M's mother has to move away from Alameda, California, M stays with Ariel's family. In the way that so many friendships in middle school hit the rocks, M and Ariel start to go their separate ways, which creates even more profound problems. In order to make sense of her world, Ariel likes to cook, and there are many of her recipes included in this book.

Strengths: Problems with friends and issues of personal identity are always hugely popular. These three friends are all likable and different.
Weaknesses: This seems very different from the first book in the series, which was younger and had more of a fantasy element about it, even though it was primarily a problem novel. I'm going to take a look at the first book again to see if I'm remembering it incorrectly, but I may order The Crepe Maker's Bond without the first book.

Had an odd moment with this book-- I read almost exclusively middle grade and young adult books, but I found myself thinking "Oh, get over yourself. It doesn't matter what you wear. And stop worrying about what you look like. No one is looking at you. They are all too worried about what THEY look like." So you bet I will give this book immediately to my own personal rising 8th grader, who has voiced similar concerns.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Gift

Patterson, James with Ned Rust. The Gift (Witch and Wizard book 2)
Whit and Wisty Allgood are still on the run from the New Order, which has banned all art, music and writing from the world, and is attempting to reeducate all of the children in various awful ways. Whit sees Wisty killed, only to find out it was really fellow Resister Margo, and the two siblings take off to find their parents.Whit is also looking for Celia, his lost love, who appears to him from propaganda bill boards and gets him in trouble from time to time.The two seek temporary refuge in the Garfunkel's department store, the Resistance headquarters, Wisty performs at the illegal Stockwood music festival but is betrayed by a drummer on whom she has a crush, and makes it clear to the leader of the New Order that she really does have "the gift" that he wants, but of course she refuses to surrender it. Whit and Wisty end up in a children's detention center but manage to escape when a former nemesis helps them. They see their parents for a brief time before their parents are vaporized. There is certainly a sequel in the offing, and Whit and Wisty will no doubt have more frenetic adventures as they try to get their parents back.

Strengths: There are 100 chapters, but they are very short and fast paced. There is a ton of action and adventure, as well as some blood, gore, and gross out moments. The theme of children against The Powers That Be is always popular in a dystopian tome.
Weaknesses: Personally, this was painful to read. The prose was pedestrian, the character development weak, and the action hard to follow. I would feel bad about saying this if the Kirkus review hadn't said "There are no characters that even rise to the level of stereotypes and no genuine emotions in this embarrassing attempt at a "fantasy" series that insults both genre and audience at every turn. At worst, this reads like the ramblings of a just-waking-up toddler; at best, it reads like a Carol Burnett Sci-Fi sketch with all of the mugging and none of the laughs. A new low in children's publishing. "

Ouch. I bought this because students asked for it.

1. 5 miles 2. 6 books 3. 8 quilt tops

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Al Capone Shines My Shoes

Choldenko, Gennifer. Al Capone Shines My Shoes.
Sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts. Moose is on Alcatraz island in August of 1935 because his father is a guard at the prison. His sister, Natalie, has gotten into the prestigious Esther P. Marinoff school on the mainland, and Moose thinks that Al Capone was instrumental in getting her. So what does Capone want from him? Through the prison laundry deliveries, Moose gets several notes that confirm this, and at one point must deliver roses to Al Capone's wife! He and his friends from the island are enthralled by the criminals, but also a bit scared of them. Moose has a crush on Piper, enjoys playing baseball with his friend Scout as well as Annie, helps out with some of the younger children, and gets involved in some intrigue involving a prison break attempt that manages to include a new born baby!

Strengths: This seems to have a lot more action than the last book, and episodes like Theresa's baby brother swallowing a penny and having to be rushed to the prison hospital will be interesting to the students. The big selling point is the inclusion of real famous criminals.
Weaknesses: This book came out in 2009, and has only been off the library shelf once. It's going to take some selling to get students to read it. I'm not sure if it is the history or the character with autism that is turning students away. The first book is more popular with the teachers.

1. 4 miles 2. 5 books 3. 4 quilt tops

Monday, June 20, 2011

Purple Books on a Tuesday

Riordan, Rick. The Throne of Fire.
Whew! There may be spoilers here-- there was so much to keep track of that I had to take notes! I'll try to outline the story without giving too much away!

The giant snake Apophis is set to escape on the spring equinox, so Carter and Sadie Kane, along with the trainee magicians, intelligent baboon and Uncle Amos have decided to free the god Ra to get his help. Thwarting them is the chief lector of the House of Life, Desjardin, and his evil henchman Menshikov. Sadie tries to go to her birthday party in London, but no sooner does she get there than she realizes that her grandparents have been possessed by evil gods. She is saved by Bes, the god of dwarves, who is watching over her as a favor to Bast. The two take off to Russia to get a scroll of the Book of Ra from Menshikov, and manages to free Set in the process. He directs her to the next scroll, but also tells her the location of Zia, Carter's lost love. In order to retrieve both, the siblings split up, Carter taking off with Bes, and Sadie enlisting the help of Walt.

Carter finds Zia, who has a bigger role in freeing Ra than was previously thought. Of course, Desjardins and Menshikov show up, wanting to execute the Kanes, and so imprison Carter and Bes. Meanwhile, Sadie travels into the tomb of the golden mummies and runs into the spirit of a Roman priest who is very unhappy that his people have never been able to have their souls freed because they were caught between traditions. After Sadie retrieves the scroll, she and Walt are able to put the mummies to rest in a spectacular, and somewhat messy, fashion. In doing so, the two are saved by the god Ptah, who sends her to help free Carter. The portal he uses frees Bes to temporarily blast Desjardins and Menshikov back home, allowing the group to follow Ra's traditional path along the River of Night and through the twelve houses, in hopes of finding the god there.

In each house, they must complete a task, from naming one of Ra's personalities to crossing a river of fire. They find Ra in the House of Rest, where he is attended by Tawaret, a hippo goddess who has a past history with Bes. With the senile god in tow, they meet their parents in the seventh house, and enlist in the help of Khonsu, the Moon God, to let them into the closed eighth house. This favor comes with a huge price.

From here on out, the book was so filled with marvelous action that I stopped taking notes, not wanting to spoil the conclusion. We'll just end by saying that there is an epic battle, and things are sort of okay; the Kane's have Ra, but still need to fight Apophis. Will this happen in the next book? We'll just have to see.
Strengths: Riordan's use of language is as brilliant as ever. I want to go out to dinner with him and Jordan Sonnenblick and just listen to the two of them string words together. Wow. Every couple of pages I would have to stop and quote sentences that just struck me as hilarious. If that weren't enough, Riordan does a hugely impressive amount of research in order to incorporate mythology into his stories, and writes fabulous action scenes. How does he know so much about blowing things up and things crashing into each other? I find action impossible to write, so this always impresses me.
Weaknesses: Well, I had to take notes to keep things straight, but I read books too quickly. I'm also not a fan of alternate view points, and even though Riordan does a good job at switching from Carter to Sadie, it sometimes slows down the story. I understand why he chose to do this, though, and its more of a personal preference.

Myracle, Lauren. Ten.

Winnie is back, but this time younger than she was in the last book. We meet Winnie on her tenth birthday, when she is trying to decide who she wants to be, and how she feels about her two best friends. Dinah is still the friend you're not quite sure about, and Amanda is changing before Winnie's eyes from someone fun to someone concerned about her appearance and BOYS, whom Winnie still continues to think are icky. (Although we get a glance of a young Lars at her summer camp!) The most important part of the book is a long battle with Mindy and her "mean secret club". Winnie just doesn't get why Mindy has such power over her friends, and is crushed when they side with Mindy over her. This is such a huge part of elementary school that middle school girls will still identify with the angst. Luckily, Winnie manages to be true to herself, and find a way to thwart Mindy's plans.

Strengths: Myracle certainly understands all of the embarrasing details of being this age, and portrays them in a straight forward but humorous way.
Weaknesses: While this will be a huge hit with girls who are this age, it may not work quite as well for my 8th graders. But there will be a couple of die-hard fans who pick it up anyway, but they will be happier when Fourteen finally comes out!

Accomplished so far this summer:
1. 3 miles 2. 4 books 3. 2 quilt tops
(and only the tops; I used to quilt them, but that involved going into the fabric store to obtain batting, putting me in dangerous proximity to the pretty fabric which I am NOT allowed to buy! You can see the tops I'm making at )

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Non-Fiction Monday

Here are two book from that don't come out for a while, but they were both FABULOUS. Lerner Books usually have great stuff, and it's nice to be able to see E-ARCs, since I don't always get a chance to read the nonfiction before I buy it, and it does tend to be on the expensive side.

Havelin, Kate. Dressing a Nation: Hoopskirts, Union Blues and Confederate Grays: Civil War Fashions from 1861-1865.
Nicely broken up into chapters on women's clothing, men's, slaves, soldiers and the emerging fashion industry in general this was a very complete account of what people wore during this time period. No details are missed; underwear, accessories, and even hair styles are covered. Illustrations are copious and well-captioned and sidebars add interest. This is exactly what I have needed in the past (and could not find) when students do projects on clothing during this time period, so I'm thrilled to see it. This series is entitled Dressing a Nation and includes four other titles, all of which come out on October 1. I want them all, especially Zoot Suits and the Little Black Dress, but this is the only title that aligns with our curriculum. Sigh.

McPherson, Stephanie Sammartino. Iceberg Right Ahead: The Tragedy of the Titanic.
There are bound to be a lot of books coming out this year because of the Titanic centennary, including a Gordon Korman trilogy and a Barry Denenberg title, but this was a particularly well done nonfiction title. While all of the facts of the Titanic were presented in a straightforward manner (history, production, staffing, survival statistics broken down by gender and class of passengers), the inclusion of individual stories of passengers gave a poignancy to the book that made me understand why my students are still enthralled with this event even after 100 years. Heck, I even wanted to check out the movie just in order to see a depiction of the ship and the period costumes! This will be a definite purchase and will circulate frequently.

The only problem with the above titles was the fact that they were E-ARCs. They could not be read on my Nook; in order to get the excellent pictures AND have font big enough to read, I had to read them from the computer. This gave me pause about the future of digital textbooks.

Myers, Walter Dean. Bad Boy. (2001)

This memoir is one I've been meaning to read for some time, since my hard core fans of Myers will hunt this one down in the biographies, and I finally listened to it on a recent car trip. This marks the first time I have listened to an entire audio book, but also points out that I am not an auditory learner and had trouble remembering everything in the book. I was particularly struck by the fact that readers who are expecting Myers to be as bad as some of the characters in his book will be very disappointed that he wasn't very bad at all, and by the fact that he ruminates quite a bit about why he liked to read and why he became a writer.

Paulsen, Gary. Masters of Disaster. (2010)
The second book I've finished listening to was this recent Gary Paulsen. Again, I am a visual learner, and while I got a great sense that the boys in my school will love this story, replete with people caroming around on bikes into garbage pails full of dirty diapers, I can't give you a coherent plot descriptions and will have to read a print version. But I am really, really pleased with this new trend in Paulsen's writing toward the humorous. He has quite the knack; we just weren't seeing it with his slightly ponderous survival stories or introspective books about odd people. I've been wary of blindly buying Paulsen because of his older work, but I now look forward to his new titles avidly. Quite an improvement! (And I know a lot of people who think everything he is written is utterly brilliant anway!)


Yes, I was phoning it in for the past two weeks. Sorry. Between the end of the school year and taking off for a week to D.C. to torture the children, blogging did not get done. Well, it did, but I was posting from the 1"x3" touch screen on my Nook. Fun.

So to celebrate summer, since I didn't get a chance to post my yearly pictures of the overheads worshipping their Overhead God, I'm going to indulge in some Personality Leakage.

My goals this summer are to:
1. Run 100 miles.
2. Read 70 books.
3. Sew 50 crib quilt tops.
Also will need to feed and clothe people, and tend to the garden. Since I just finished cleaning the house on a subatomic level that unearthed petrified sippy cup lids and hair clips my 17-year-old wore to kindergarten, I'm good on cleaning for a while.

The only goal about which I have doubts is the quilt tops. May not happen, although I made a good start today. I challenged my students to read a book a week, which many of them thought possible, but when I challenged the cross country team to run 100 miles, they balked. "But the break is 80 days long. That's just a little over a mile a day." THAT seemed doable. We all need goals, and it is important to understand that when goals seem impossible, many people give up altogether. The first cross country fun run in on July 5; I hope we get a lot of runners to come out!

Of course, the day after I cleaned out years worth of games, papers, unidentifiable kitchen paraphernalia and t shirts in toddler sizes (Youngest is now 4'10"!! Woo hoo!) I was at the thrift store to find Oldest Hawaiian shirts to wear to work and came home with the object at left. Yes! It is a mallard television lamp! Hugely popular in the 1950s. Everyone had one, and if the VCR didn't live on top of my maple 1961 Zenith television console, you bet this puppy would be there. And it was only $1.50. Do you know what these go for on eBay? $55. Uh-huh.

For some reason, the children have decreed that I must now be accompanied by one of them when going to the thrift store. No clue.

Well, that's all the leakage for now. Fresh, new book reviews-- and ONLY book reviews-- on way (I was horrible about visiting blogs as well) with just a tiny goal update. So far, starting today, I'm at
1. 0 miles 2. 2 books 3. 0 quilts
Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Webb, Sarah. Ask Amy Green: Summer Secrets.
Like the first book in this series, Boy Trouble, this is about Amy’s complicated relationship with her extended family as well as her obsession with boys. Seth, her new boyfriend, is off to Italy, her best friend is in Miami, and Amy’s entire family is renting a house on an island near Cork. Amy has to put up with her younger siblings as well as her dysfunctional aunt and cousins, but her vacation is ameliorated by her 17-year-old advice column writing aunt as well as a cute boy.
Strengths: Lovely summer novel, with just enough romance, and a fab Irish setting. So glad this one wa picked up on this side of the pond!
Weaknesses: I can never quite buy that the aunt, Clover, is this big a deal at the magazine, so when the two are sent to Miami to interview a movie star, it stretched my credulity.


Milkulski, Keri. Head Games.
This is the third in a series, and I haven’t read the other two because I thought they were more high school oriented. While this one was, it would still be appropriate for middle school.

Taylor is a very tall, very motivated basketball player who cares deeply about her teammates. When the attractive Zach dumps her teammate Kylie and starts to show an interest in Taylor, she is conflicted. He’s cute and she’s flattered, but she should honor her friend’s feelings. Taylor’s social stock starts going up when the students find out that Zach is interested in her, and Taylor uncovers a disturbing bit of information-- the boys’ basketball team is trying to score with as many of the girls in school as possible, and that’s why Zach has moved to to her. There are other things going on as well-- Taylor’s fashionista friend wants her to model fr an upcoming fashion show, things are rocky in Taylor’s family, and Matt seems interested in her, but he also has some secrets.

Strengths: Loved the tight knit teammates on the girls’ basketball team. I will have to buy thi series because I know a lot of girls who will like it. The socal interactions also ring true.
Weaknesses: Too much Facebook mention. I know that this is prevalent now, but you never know-- any book that mentions MySpace is automatically dated.

Guy Friday-- Surviving Southside

Weyn, Suzanne. Recruited.
Kadeem is a good football player but a so-so student, so when a recruiter from Teller college makes a hard play for him to go to that school, Kadeem is flattered. He enjoys hanging out with the cheerleaders, is relieved tht his grades “won’t matter” that much at Teller, and likes the dinners and college visits. When he tells another recruiter about these thins, however, h finds out that they are not according to the recruiting rules. He wants to go to Teller, but if he cooperates with the authorities, will he blow his chances?

The Surviving Southside Series is similar to Carter High, but more appealing. The storylines are more mature but don’t get too graphic, and the text is a little harder without being too challenging. The short length is great for struggling readers.
Weaknesses: Slightly didactic in tone.

Fontes, Justine. Benito Runs.
Benito’s close knit family is thrown into chaos when his father comes home from Iraq with post traumatic stress syndrome. Instead of playing soccer with Benny and making waffles on Sunday, he barks orders, makes the children clean the house according to military standards,and is on his guard even in church. Benito decides that the best thing to do is t run away from home to Dallas and start life over, but things do not go well when he attempts a bus trip there.

Strengths: Another Surviving Southside title, this will be good for my students who have had relatives come back from serving in the military. The fans of the Bluford High books will like these as well.
Weaknesses: The book never convinces me that it is a good idea for Benny to run away from home-- it reads like an excuse for bad things to happen to him, but I don’t know that the students will read it this way.

Simon, Charnan. Shattered Star.
Cassie wants to be a famous singer, and is working her way through her high school’s ranks to be the best there, but when an American Idol type competition comes to town, she heads over. Once there, she discovers she is one of hundreds of singers trying out, and she’s late for work. A gentleman who claims to be a talent agent gves her his card, and starts to “recruit” her for his agency, which involves increasingly questionable activities which culminate in an attempted rape.

Strengths: Girls who dream of singing professionally will love this one, and the slightly gritty (no swear words, no graphic descriptions of the attempted rape) story of the unscrupulous agent will appeal to girls who like problem novels.
Weaknesses: This is such a short book, when there could be so much more told about the story!

Barnes, Derek. We Could Be Brothers.
Robeson ends up in after school suspension because someone has tried to cheat off of his test; Pacino is there because he instigated a food fight. The boy behind both of their problems? Tariq. Even though the boys come from very different backgrounds, they strike up a friendship. Robeson’s father is a professor and very invested in the African-American community, even living in a nicer section of a troubled neighborhood. He holds Robeson to high standards. Pacino’s mother also holds her son to high standards, but their life is much more difficult because his father is not in the picture an his mother works two jobs and counts on Pacino to help out with his sisters. When things with Tariq explode, the boys both realize how good both of them have it, and Robeson’s father tries to find Tariq some help.

Strengths: I liked the depiction of community, the strong network of help that the boys have, and the trouble that all of the boys have managing anger and interpersonal relationships.
Weaknesses: Slightly didactic in tone, and I feel like I read this before. Will be buying a copy because I think it is something the readers of Myers’ works will like.


Bennett, Olivia. Who What Wear.
ARC recieved from Sourcebooks.
Emma has a complicated life. On the one hand, she is an ordinary middle school student who likes to hang out with her best friend Holly, and on the other, she is the famous fashion designer Allegra Biscotti, whose work has been featured on fashion blogs, who is going to have her collection showcased in the Madison Pop-Up Shop, and who has been asked to design a fabulous Sweet 16 dress for Rylan Sinclaire’s big party. In order to make the charade work, she pretends to be an intern for Allegra, and works with Rylan and the difficult Mrs. Sinclaire to put together a dress for the party at the same time she is working feverishly on the Pop-Up Shop collection. When Holly finds out that Emma never told her she was working as an intern, the two have a falling out, and things are not going well with the other projects, either. Is keeping the secret of Allegra worth all the trouble?
Strengths: Lots of fashion detail, complete with small sketches accompanying the text. The friend drama is real, and the Sweet 16 birthday party is something that will interest some of my students.
Weaknesses: Full disclosure: I’m sitting here wearing frayed Mom jeans I got at the thrift store for a dollar and a t shirt my parents brought me back from Alaska in 1996. I do not care about fashion, so it’s hard for me to imagine that a 14-year-old would spend so much time and money on obsessing about clothing. Oddly, though, I’ve had students ask for books just like this. I just had a hard time believing the whole scenario, in the same way I don’t believe that the girls in The Clique series really dress that well.

Jennewein, James and Parker, Tom S. Ship of the Dead. (Rune Warriors #3)
Dane wants Astrid, the love of his life, back from Valhalla, but even when he steals a Valkyrie’s horse and travels there, she refuses to leave because she has sworn an oath to Odin. Dane manages to steal the Book of Fate from the Norns and hopes to use it to secure her release, but the goddess Skuld demands that Dane also kill Thidrek the Terrifying... again. Thidrek is now an undead draugr, and in order to kill him, Dane must hunt down a dwarf to forge the Blade of Oblivion for him. Thidrek is busy on his own quest, trying to obtain the Ship of the Dead for Hel, the queen of the underworld. Of course, Dane and Thidrek meet up when the ship travels into Niflheim and Hel’s army of the dead is released into the world. After alof this, will Dane be able to reclaim Astrid?

Strengths:A lot of Monty Python-esque humor; I could just envision John Cleese as Thidrek. I have picked up all three of these volumes at book looks. Fans of John Flangan’s The Ranger’s Apprentice series who want something a little funnier will enjoy these, as there is a lot of action and adventure.
Weaknesses: I had to take notes in order to follow the plot, and obviously left out a lot of the twists and turns. All I could think was “Really? Astrid is going to leave Valhalla (where her job is apparently welcoming the newly dead warriors) and live in a Viking hut somewhere folding Dane’s socks and cooking things in a pot over an open campfire? Huh.” Average middle school boy will not have these thoughts!


Boles, Philiana Marie. Glitz.
Ann Michelle’s parents were killed in a car accident, but she was born prematurely and survived. She lives with her upright, music teacher grandmother, goes to a nice school, has nice friends and a nice life. She loves music, and want some excitement in her life for once. It arrives in the form of Raq, awild child who has been brought to Toledo from Cincinnati by her foster parents. Raq also loves music and takes Ann Michelle to a concert, where they catch the eye of Piper, a hip hop artist, and his friends. Thus begins their wild ride-- they are off to Detroit to hear a recording session and make their way to New York City. Dubbed “Glitter” by Piper, in whom she is interested romantically, Ann Michelle doesn’t exactly approve of Raq’s scheming and stealing ways, but is loving being in the hip hop crowd. Glitter knows her grandmother is worried, but is more concerned about staying in the glamorous and exciting world... no matter what the cost.

Strengths: All my nice suburban students will adore this insight into the hip hop world, and while this could have had a lot of drugs and sex, it didn’t. There is a brief mention of Glitter turning down the advances of one of the singers, and Raq does steal, but that’s what they will find interesting.
Weaknesses: I had a hard time following the slang, and I preferred Boles’ Little Divas, but as I said, my students will love this.

Keaton, Kelly. Darkness Becomes Her.
Ari has never fit in at school, with her white-blonde hair and her foster parents who are bounty hunters and let her work with them, so she goes in search of her mother. She finds out information at the mental hospital where her mother committed suicide when Ari was four, and she is given a letter and box of her mother’s possessions. The note apologizes, and tells Ari to run. She does... down to New 2, which is the name for New Orleans after it has been destroyed by several hurricanes and been declared off-limits by the US government. Once in New 2, Ari realizes that she is more like the people here, and that her mother is right-- someone is after her. How can she escape the fate of generations of women in herfamily, all of whom had daughters and died before they were 21?

Strengths: Like the post-apocalyptic New Orleans setting, and the book is fast paced with interesting characters.
Weaknesses: Multiple uses of the f-bomb caused me to lose interest quickly. This book (received at a book look) will head off to the high school.


Kath, Natalie. The Summer I Lost It.
E-ARC from Net Galley, Publication Date 8/1/2011
Kat has always been overweight, but she is inspired by her Aunt Wendy’s weight loss to give dieting a try herself. Her parents can’t afford a “fat camp”, so she tries on her own to construct a plan of diet and exercise to lose weight. She wants to feel better about herself in summe clothes and hopes to attract the attention of the cute Josh. She has support from a variety of people, and makes good decisions about what to eat. She starts running and going to the gym, and finds that her energy level improves greatly. Eventually, she loses the 15 pounds she wanted to (a start), and her parents reward her with a trip to a resort where Josh’s family is also vacationing.
Strengths: The tips on diet and exercise are reasonable and would be very useful to a girl who was trying to lose weight but didn’t know where to start.
Weaknesses: The tone is rather didactic. This is a Stone Arch book, and they tend to be high interest, low lever books, so the writing is more text-book like.

Stewart, Kiera. Fetching.
E-ARC from Net Galley. Publication date November 8, 2011
Olivia’s living with her grandmother because her mentally ill mother has left home, and things are rocky at school as well. She has an odd assortment of friends that she has met through a board game club at school, but the local queen bee ,Brynne, picks on her mercilessly. After working with her grandmother to train dogs, Olivia comes up with the idea to use the dog training techniques are the whole school in order to allow her goth friend Maddie to run for class president. Most of the techniques have to do with presenting oneself as alert and competent, and the entire group benefits from them. Brynne and Olivia even reach an uneasy truce, and when Olivia is behind Brynne getting embarrassed, and she fights with her best friend Delia, the two start to hang out together. There are lots of changes in loyalties, romances, and both girls have some parent issues to work through. How will the election turn out? And is using dog training on an entire school a good idea?
Strengths: The individual characters, as well as their interactions, are extremely realistically portrayed. Lots of embarrassing incidents are described. The changes that the characters go through work as well. In fact, as implausible as this book seemed at the beginning, it was really good. Talk about “drama”. This will be hugely popular.
Weaknesses: I don’t see a school election having two entire months leading up to it, and there were some other details about school that made me think that the author hadn’t been in a school for a while. But then there are snarky descriptions of self-esteem assemblies that were right on the nose, so I’ll have to forgive the evil secretary!


Trigiani, Adriana. Viola in the Spotlight.
Having spent the year at a boarding school in the Midwest, Viola is back home in her New York City neighborhood for the
summer. She’s hanging out with best friends Andrew and Caitlyn, as well as Maurice, the son of the English actor who is renting her family’s basement apartment while he is starring in a stage production opposite Viola’s grandmother. Viola has an internship with the lighting director of the play, and still works on her movie making. When her friends from Prefect Academy come to spend time in New York, sh has to decide which is more important to her-- her friends at school, or her life in the city.
Strengths: As in her adult fiction, Trigiani is a master of making one feel IN a place. The people and places are all so vividly portrayed that they seem real. I liked this one much better than the first, which threw me when the ed of the stoy took a paranormal twist. Last weekend I read Brava, Valentina, which I liked very much. Don’t get to read much adult fiction.
Weaknesses: Again, not much action here, but that’s young adult. I’m just not used to reading a lot of it.

Colasanti, Susane. So Much Closer.
Brooke has been in love with Scott for two years... they’ve just never spoken. When she decides to tell him about this at the end-of-year picnic, she finds out that he is moving away from New Jersey to New York City and is too flabbergasted to say anything. Her father also lives in NYC after her parents’ acrimonious divorce, and she decides to move in with him, ostensibly in order to g to a better school but really so that she has a chance of seeing Scott. Amazingly, she does! He goes to her school and lives close by, so they start hanging out. Brooke is sad that her father doesn’t spend more time with her, but makes a good group of friends, gets involved in peer tutoring, is recognized as being brilliant but unmotivated by her teaches, and eventually becomes a less bitter person. She and Scott date for while, but she eventually wants to become more serious, which Scott doesn’t understand, so they break up. Can Brooke decide what to do with her life now that she is no longer obsessed with Scott? What other possibilities... and boys... will present themselves.

Strengths: A good, solid romance novel. I’ve been needing more for my library, since girls will go through one a day, and I’ll definitely have to read other titles by this author.
Weaknesses: Wanted to slap Brooke a little bit for being rather a doormat, but since she improved, it was okay. Obsession with a boy-- it’s a real thing that so many girls go through!


Smith, Emily Wing. Back When You Were Easier To Love
Joy isn’t overly fond of Haven High School’s plastic perfection and stereotypical gangs of teenagers, but it was made tolerable by the existence of Zan, her boyfriend who shared her interested in books and alternative lifestyle. So why did he leave? How is she supposed to go on? Why is his best friend, Noah, hanging around her so much? He’s a stereotypical jock and one of the reasons that Zan has left Haven and gone to college in California early. Why didn’t he say goodbye? When she gets a chance to go for a college visit to the school where Zan studies (which is also in the town from which she moved), she takes off with Noah to try to figure out her past... and her future.

Strengths: *Sigh* I love girly romance books. LURVE the cover of this, from the pink Keds to the library step stool. Nothing much really happens in this book. It’s all about the all-consuming, overwhelming feeling of liking someone and having that person not like you back. You wouldn’t think this would make for a riveting read; if this is the case, why are 98% of teen journal entries about this very thing?
Weaknesses:The Mormon angle on this was odd, but not over powering. Led to a few plot twists; just unusual. Oh, and the school librarian was not flatteringly portrayed!


Homzie, Hillary. The Hot List.
The number one cause of death in people aged 25-40 is apparently fictional parenthood. In the vast majority of the books I read for the 48 Hour Reading Challenge, at least one parent was dead; in several cases both were. Parents who managed to live through the process of having children inevitably divorced.

Sophie’s mother is dead, and her father is dating a teacher at the school she attends and where he is principal. This teacher has a daughter, Nia, whom Sophie dislikes but who is spending more and more time with Sophie’s best friend, Maddie. After Maddie and Sophie post a “hot list” on the bathroom stall in the girls’ room, the school is all atwitter about the relative hotness of the boys, and soon a similar list is made for the girls. Maddie and Nia make the list; Sophie does not. Sophie starts to spend less time with Maddie and more with Squid, a boy who desperately wants to make the hot list but whose flamboyant geekiness makes this impossible. Sophie tries to help him be “cool” so that she doesn’t have to think about her father dating and her best friend being mad at her. Does the hot list make that much difference? Will Sophie ever make it on the list, or, at the very least, get to talk to Hayden, her nominee for the list?

Strengths: The Mix series is very popular with the girls at my school, and the whole complex issue of changing friendships is something they always like to read.
Weaknesses: Parts of this dragged. Some editing would have tightened up the story and made it a little better.