Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Palace of the Damned

Palace of the Damned (The Saga of Larten Crepsley, #3)Shan, Darren. Palace of the Damned. (The Saga of Larten Crepsely #3)
3 October 2011, Little Brown

Larten, following the unfortunate slaughter of a family aboard a boat, is wandering the icy wilderness with the lone survivor, an infant boy, seeking his own death. He stumbles upon the legendary death palace of Perta Vin-Grahl, which he thinks is a good place to leave the boy and jump to his own death, but he is stopped by Desmond, aka Mr. Tiny. Determined to live, Larten goes to Paris in 1906, where he goes by the name of Vur, falls in love with Alicia, and wants her to take care of the boy, whom they name Gavner. All goes fairly well until, while working for Tanish, Larten finds out that the vampaneze are killing young girls and tries to stop them, since he still feels bad about the death of Gavner's family. Once Alicia finds out his true nature, he is forced to go to vampire mountain and live there, where he meets up with even more people from his past/future, including Arra Sails and Evanna. Larten returns to Paris after a decade and meets up with Alicia again, who tells him to kill Tanish if he ever meets up with him again. Perhaps this will happen in the final installment, Brothers to the Death,which came out in May. 
Strengths: Shan's work is very popular among my reluctant readers, probably due to the gore and violence. I am still finding the whole back story idea of Larten's genesis intriguing. Also, while I normally don't like made up names, Shan does an exquisite job of keeping them internally consistent.
Weaknesses: This volume focuses more on Larten's relationships and feelings. While I liked this, the boys might think this drags a bit. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Nonfiction Monday-- Can You Survive?

It's Nonfiction Monday! Head over to the host for this week, Check it Out, to see a great list of reviews. 

Also, tons and tons of people chime in about what they are reading over at Teach. Mentor Texts, which is a great place to find some good new book reviews.

Butts, Ed. Bodyguards: From Gladiators to the Secret Service.
24 July 2012, Annick Press, E ARC from Netgalley.com

This short (128 pages) and graphically appealing nonfiction book is packed with information about various points in history that I had never heard-- because they are bits of information about bodyguards. Reading this reinforced my feeling about digital textbooks-- it is very hard to go back and sort through the long list of anecdotes because instead of flipping through the paper pages, I have to scroll through pages of 6 point font. Just as well that this doesn't seem to be available in digital format. This is a fabulous book, and will be great to hand to students when they need nonfiction. The graphic novel quality will draw in the most reluctant readers, and anything about gladiators or the secret service is always popular. The range of information is impressive-- I learned about Egyptian bodyguards who fought alongside the pharaoh to make sure he wasn't killed, about Spartans, the wild west, Hitler, presidential assassinations, and how bodyguards are trained and worked. It's just miserable to try to read the 6 point font in order to get the pictures.

Doeden, Matt. Can You Survive in the Special Forces: An Interactive Adventure

1 August 2012, Capstone. ARC from Netgalley.com

This Choose Your Own Adventure type of nonfiction book was interesting but very difficult to navigate with an E ARC. In order to get the pictures, again, the print had to be very small, and the page numbers to which one needs to turn to explore different story possibilities do not coincide with the E ARC page numbers. I ended up reading the book straight through and trying to figure out which ending went with which operations. There were three missions with a variety of endings, some of which did indeed end with “you” dying or other bad outcomes. Additional information about the special forces and real missions made this a book that my boys who like to read about military activity will absolutely adore. These are very short and rather expensive, but will circulate like crazy. Other titles in this Capstone Press series include surviving in the jungle, Antarctic, Wilderness and Titanic. I will have to look into these as well and if they are Accelerated Reader titles will definitely purchase.

Middle Grade Monday-- Problems

Happy Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! Head over to Shannon Whitney Messenger's Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe for a list of bloggers who participate! Here are two books that I can see being nominated for the Cybils in Middle Grade Fiction. Both would be good to read with classes, although the sad and serious tone of both make them less likely that students will pick them up for fun.

MacLachlan, Patricia. Kindred Souls.
7 February 2012, Katherine Tegen Books

Jake's grandfather Billy is 88 years old, but Jake, who is ten, doesn't worry that his grandfather will die. They have a lot of fun together, hanging out on the family farm, talking about the way that things were when Billy was young, and watching the prarie. When Billy becomes ill and is hospitalized, Jake decides that he will build a sod house like the one his grandfather lived in when he was a boy. With the help of some books and his family, he manages to recreate the sod house. Billy's health improves enough to come home, and he is very pleased with the effort that Jake has put into making him happy. Spoilers below if you still think you will be surprised at the ending.
Strengths: MacLachlan is much beloved by teachers, and she does some very moving books. For younger or reluctant readers, this one is slim but packed full of emotion.
Weaknesses: ***SPOILER*** Billy passes away at the end. I almost hoped for a minute that he wouldn't-- it's obvious that he will die eventually and I would rather have seen the book end with him being happy in the sod house.

Gennari, Jennifer. My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer. 
8 May 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

June loves spending the summer in her small Vermont town and helping out with her mom's shop, where June occasionally sells her pies. She loves baking and wants to enter the local pie competition with an amazing new combination of fruit, but her mother doesn't want her to enter the competition. Why? Her mother is getting married to Eva, and the small community is not entirely accepting of this. June is not all that crazy about Eva, either. June's mother wants to keep her out of the spotlight. A "Take Back Vermont" group is instigating a boycott of gay-owned businesses, which hurts the shop's business, but it's also hard for June and her mother to accept help when people come to their store to support them. June enters the pie competition in the adult division, which doesn't require a parental signature. All of the problems swirling around her affect her friendship with Tina and Luke as well, especially since she is starting to think of Luke in a more romantic fashion. In the end, several events occur that help June see that she can't let other people's criticism affect her too deeply.
Strengths: Very well-paced, realistic account of the prejudices that gay couples face, and the effect that it has on their children. So many middle grade books have completely absent parents that it is a nice change to show how parents' problems can have an impact of children.
Weaknesses: This is a very short, small book (119) pages, but since the print is also rather tiny, I would have increased that size and made the book bigger. It looks more like an elementary book, but June is 12, and her worries about her place in the community would be better understood by middle school students. Jennifer at Jean Little Library brought this book to my attention, and has good comments on how to gauge community response to this. The political nature of this might have some parents up in arms even though there is nothing objectionable about the book... unless the reader hates homosexuals on principle. Then there's a problem. I will probably buy the book because of June-- this is a book about her and how her circumstances affect her life and friendships.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller
Lambert, Joseph. Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller.
Lambert, Joseph. Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller.
27 March 2012, Hyperion

This graphic novel tells the story of Annie Sullivan coming to help Helen Keller learn to communicate, but also picks up more of Annie's story of her own difficulties as a child. The graphics are particularly effective in portraying Helen's inability to sense the world around her-- a black background has a shadowy gray child on it until Helen is able to process words. A few things new to me are covered-- Helen's story, The Frost King, a story that Helen wrote as a gift for her teacher's mentor and was later accused of plagiarizing from another source was not a story I had heard. Also interesting was how Helen developed her sense of color when she could not see, and how she was able to replicate speech. My one objection to the book is that the panels are very small-- 1.5" by 2", set 16 on a page-- so the font was also very small. The book is only 96 pages long-- I would have increased the size and made the book longer. The Center for Cartoon Studies does great stuff, like the Satchel Paige biography, and I'm looking forward to reading the Harry Houdini treatment even though I prefer nongaphic biographies, like Miller's Miss Spitfire.

On a different note, there are a couple of really good interviews with Helen Keller on You Tube. It was interesting to get to watch her actually speak. Annie Sullivan also appears in one, a newsreel from 1930. Cool stuff.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Giveaways on a Saturday

Finally got my act together to do a Giveaway hop-- here's my addition to the Lazy Days of Summer Hop headlined by I am a Reader, Not a Writer that runs from July 27 to 31  and is hosted by  Colorimetry

While I love getting books from publishers, some of them don't quite understand that I review primarily middle grade books and books for boys. When I get ARCs of young adult books, I can't give them to my students, so here are TWO fabulous packages. You can enter to win either or both regardless of your own personal gender!

For the Young Ladies!!!

My Book of Life by AngelBurning BlueThe Boy RecessionLucid

For the Young Gentlemen:

Momentum The Other Normals Before You GoPersonal Effects

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Entries are taken until 4 August 2012, and I hope to mail the books on that Monday, before school starts! I have them in envelopes RIGHT NOW!!!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Guy Friday-- Baseball

King of the Mound: My Summer with Satchel PaigeTooke, Wes. King of the Mound: My Summer with Satchel Paige
21 February 2012, Simon and Schuster

In 1935, Nick is just getting out of the hospital after a year long bout with polio that has left him with a pronounced limp. He knows he's lucky, but having to give up his beloved baseball is devastating. His father is a catcher for Mr. Churchill's small team in Bismarck. Mr. Churchill has been very supportive of Nick during his illness, so Nick works at the ballpark doing anything that needs done. The excitement this year is that Satchel Paige has returned to pitch. He is a fabulous pitcher, but the big leagues won't hire him because he is black. He tells Nick that he shouldn't despair of pitching because of his weak leg, but that he should put his mind to it and try his best. Nick must also deal with his father, who is still reeling from the death of Nick's mother, and struggling with his own failing ability to play ball. The team travels and experiences a lot of racial prejudice as well as a lot of great baseball. Will things ever look up for for Nick, his father, and the team?
Strengths: Overwhelmingly wonderful sense of place and time. I know students don't like historical fiction as much as adults do, but this also had a great main character who was overcoming obstacles with excellent stoicism. The inclusion of Paige is wonderful. This is also a great length for boys who would rather be out playing baseball than reading. (150 pages)
Weaknesses: Nick doesn't get back to pitching until the very end. I would have liked to see his attempts earlier. Other than that, I really liked this!

Forced OutFehler, Gene. Forced Out.
1 January 2012, Darby Creek Publishing

Zack is on a travel baseball team, the Roadrunners, and really enjoys it, which is good, because his single mother has to make a lot of sacrifices in order for him to play. Zack is really good, as is his friend Nick. When Duncan joins the team, the boys don't think much of it until Duncan's poor playing leads to the team's loss. Then, they start to question whether Duncan got on the team because of his skills or the fact that his father is really wealthy and able to help fund the team's trips to a big tournament. Dustin is a good guy and realizes he isn't the greatest player, but he is trying. When Nick doesn't get playing time because of Dustin, and their losing streak continues, the boys have to figure out how to make everyone happy with the line up.
Strengths: This is part of the Travel Team series, but the books don't seem to be in any particular order. They are aimed at reluctant readers; this book is 114 pages. There was a good mix of baseball action and other problems, and I liked the depiction of team spirit.
Weaknesses: Writing a tiny bit choppy, but that is not unusual in high interest, low level books. The hardcovers are expensive ($21.00) and the paperback inexpensive ($6.20), but there doesn't seem to be a prebind. Drat.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Serious Summer Doldrums

During the year, the wonderful Westerville Public Library brings books to my school, and I have a laser like focus on books for middle grades. In the summer, I go to the library myself, and get very distracted by adult nonfiction! Look at this pile of lovely NEW books, most even middle grade.

The problem? Summer doldrums. I didn't completely  like ANY of these books, and I will give just a brief idea as to why. If you DID like any of these, please opine.

I feel a need to read some Lenora Mattingly Weber and get back on track.

Mason, Simon. Moon Pie.
Very British, Jacqueline Wilson-esque book about the overwhelmingly sad case of an eleven year old girl trying to survive with a widowed, alcoholic father.

Harper, Suzanne. The Unseen World of Poppy Malone: A Gust of Ghosts.
Second in a series about a family that hunts ghosts. The cartoon cover and the fact that my readers usually want ghosts to eviscerate people in gory ways means I probably won't buy. Good for elementary, I imagine.

Leicht, Martin. Mothership.
Front runner in my list of "What were they thinking?" books. " In 2074, while attending the Hanover School for Expecting Teen Mothers aboard an earth-orbiting spaceship, sixteen-year-old Elvie finds herself in the middle of an alien race war and makes a startling discovery about her pregnancy."

McEntire, Myra. Timepiece.
Looked intriguing; I love time travel. However, this was book two, and the print was tiny, so I knew it would never fly in my library.

Unell, Amy. Starting at the Finish Line: Coach Al Buehler's Timeless Wisdom
Buehler's life is impressive. The book is less so. 

Hopkins, Kate. Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy.
I've read more interesting books on candy (Chocolate Wars, for one), but this was alright. The self-indulgent quality of the author's quest was somehow irritating.

Ada, Alma Flor. Love, Amalia
Good for younger students dealing with the death of a beloved grandparent, but not much going on.

Calhoun, Dia. Eva of the Farm.
I was one of those young girls who wanted to write, and even I didn't want to read about Eva, especially since the book was in verse.

Spinelli, Jerry. Jake and Lily.
This is one that everyone seems to like, including actual kid, Erik, at This Kid Reviews Books. I did NOT like it. Too much whining and moaning about how the brother and sister are growing apart, and then the stuff about their "goombla" twin abilities and their hippie grandfather (at least it wasn't hippie parents!). I know I'm not in the majority on this view.

Castan, Mike. Fighting for Dontae.
There were a lot of things I liked about this book. Main character of color who loved to read and is fighting difficult circumstances, who learns to champion the underdog. Great stuff. However, there was also foul language, a lot of casual drug use, and a small problem with unstable focus. Drat.

Radford, Ceri. A Surrey State of Affairs.
I should have loved this British book, but there can be a high slappage factor for characters in adult fiction as well! (Adult)

Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. Alice on Board.
Oh, Alice, I do love you. It's just that right now, you're having more fun than I am.

I will buy Meehl's Suck It Up and Die (I have three copies of the first book, and they are always out!) and read it in print instead of on the Nook, and also Dashner's The Kill Order, which is a PREQUEL. NO wonder I was so confused. Also have to hunt down a print copy of Preus' Shadow on the Mountain-- it's so graphic heavy that it will not load on the Nook, nor will Scholastic's Infestation, but that will probably be in the book fair.

It will help once I am back at work so I can talk to actual middle grade students about books. Not long now!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

One for the Murphys

Hunt, Lynda Mullaly. One for the Murphys.
10 May 2012 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Carley's mother married an abusive man, and after a horrific attack that landed her mother in the hospital, Carley is put into foster care. Her very first family is the Murphys, with fire fighter dad, three young boys, and a really nice mom. Carley manages to do okay in school, although she has a difficult relationship with Toni, a particularly prickly girl who has problems of her own. Carley is concerned about her mom, having difficulty dealing with the abuse, fights a bit with the brother her own age but warms up to the little ones, and is worried that she will be moved away from the Murphys because she doesn't deserve them. The social worker, Mrs. McAvoy, makes brief appearances, and there is some talk about the Murphys adopting Carley, but once her mother recuperates and is able to provide for Carley again, she'll have to leave.

Strengths: Like Dowell's Where I'd Live to Be or Wolfson's What I Call Life, this book does a good job at describing Carley's emotions and gives one picture of a child in foster care that is slightly more positive than many I have read. 
Weaknesses: Something was just not quite right with Carley's circumstances, and social worker Shelley Chandler's review on Goodreads gave voice to what were just vague objections in my mind. However, my students love problem novels, so I will probably buy it. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Extreme Personality Leakage

Those who know me well know that, unless stressed, I read 2-3 books per day, devouring up to six if inspired. When stressed, I fret incessantly about the inappropriateness of my  thrift store, cardigan-and-pleated-skirt wardrobe.

I've read two books in a week and am contemplating low rise jeans and a shirt other than a polo.

This impacts my blog. Even though I have posted almost every day since January, I have probably been less informative and interactive of late, and certainly much less amusing. I apologize.

There's nothing major. My children are at an age where they are trying, mostly in annoying ways, to prove they don't need me, while my parents, without trying, need me more each day.

My union made the news, and I will say only that while I don't agree with them at all, I will follow their dictates to preserve my peaceful working relationship with fellow teachers. After I escaped threatened cuts for this year, the school board could offer to pay me in coal and turnips and have my health care delivered telepathically by a holistic shaman (which I believe is our governor's plan), and I'd make it work. But there is nothing I can do.

Sustained Silent Reading time, during which I have instructed classes for the past five years, was cut at my school, just at the time when need to deliver state curriculum and common core standards to all students. I have no idea how I will do that.

Nevertheless, I have decided that my slogan for the year is "Be Your Own Hero". I will do what I can to make my library program a success, help out others in the building, and most of all, focus on what I do best and is ultimately the most important thing-- getting the right book to the right child at the right time, for all 750 of my students.

I had a dream last night (not the one where Legolas, as played by Orlando Bloom, asks me to take over the Elven library) that a nearby well-to-do district had its middle school librarian of 40 years retire, and they head hunted me. They were attracted to my encyclopedic knowledge of middle grade literature, my ability to match books with children, my singing on the morning announcements, and the general quirkiness of my personality that begins with my insistence on wearing vintage prom dresses to work just because I can and culminates in my desire to die at my library desk instead of retire.

If I worked for them, they said, the children would come every week to the library for books and a library lesson (technology being covered in another class), I would never be asked to cover a study hall or close the library for school pictures or meetings, my budget would be $6,000, I would have a full time assistant, and they would renovate the library to my specifications, just as they did for the retiring librarian when she was hired in 1972. They wanted, they said, for me to be happy, because then I would do my best work.

I wonder how Superman trained to be able to leap over buildings in a single bound. It couldn't have been easy. I suspect he started hopping over chairs and tables, and built his way up, like the 4H participants who pick up a calf every day of its life until one day they find themselves lifting a 400 pound animal. 

Superhero training begins today. It can only help things improve. 

My Sister's Stalker

Springer, Nancy. My Sister's Stalker.
2012, Holiday House.

In this very slim volume (93 pages), Rig misses his older sister Karma (or Kari), who is away at college. He tries to contact her, but she won't pick up her phone, and when Rig does an internet search for her, he finds a very creepy web site that has many intimate pictures of his sister posted. His mother (who had custody of him; his father had Kari) finds it charming and romantic, but Rig is freaked out enough that he contacts his father. When they still can't get her, the well-to-do father arranges a private plane for them to fly to her college. They do locate her, but the postings on the web site escalate, and after Rig is attacked by the stalker while trying to figure out who he is, things get worse. Kari is kidnapped, and the race is on to identify her stalker and to locate the two before tragedy occurs.
Strengths: Students like scary books, and this is just creepy enough that reluctant readers will be drawn to it. This author's Blood Trail is popular for students who HAVE to read a mystery, and I can see this one fitting the same needs.
Weaknesses: Circumstances line up a bit too easily, but it makes for an easy read. There was a weird section at the end where Rig tells his dad he finds his sister sexually attractive that was just creepy and kind of inappropriate. The sister is almost raped but isn't, and this is discussed. I don't know that either of these things will prevent me from buying the book, but it would have been better if they weren't in there.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Nonfiction Monday-- Cooking

Hartland, Jessie. Bon Apetit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child.
22 May 2012, Random House Children's Books.

This picture book contains a lot of information about this famous chef, author, and television personality. Following her from her childhood, to her time in the OSS during World War II, to her marriage to and travels with Paul Child, this also goes into detail about how hard it was for her and her cowriters to complete and publish The Art of French Cooking. The illustrations are attractive, and I love that the color scheme is similar to that of Child's kitchen, which has been moved to the Smithsonian. My only problem with the book was that the hand lettered font often blended into the illustrations and was hard to read. 

Murdoch Books. I want to be a Chef: Baking
1 May 2012

Why are there so many Australian and British imports of children's cook books? This is another one that is colorful and complete, but includes ingredients like "caster sugar" (powered sugar?), red capsicum (pepper), and way more puff pastry than I think the average child in the US eats. Even if we read the notes carefully and understand the ingredients, there's still the hurdle of the products; anzac biscuits (which I had to look up even though I have read, several times, A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down), monte creams, and a whole lot of things with passion fruit. Will pass on this one.

Duane, Daniel. How to Cook Like A Man: A Memoir of Cookbook Obsession.
8 May 2012, Bloomsbury USA

This was a perfectly fine book for adults; Duane is a facile writer who can describe food with the best of them (the best being, of course, M.F.K. Fisher!). I love reading food writing, but I hate cooking, and I had an absolutely visceral loathing of this book. Mr. Duane gives the statistic that in a survey of 185 human cultures, women are primarily responsible for cooking in 97.8% of them. This could be because I, unlike Mr. Duane, never considered cooking for my family as some kind of challenge or way of escaping more onerous duties under the guise of doing a job that needed to be done. The selfishness of this endeavor is smugly explained down to the smallest detail (making wife and new baby travel inordinate distances and pay exorbitant costs for beets, a well as other weird ingredients that no one really eats willingly) all while liberally dropping the f-bomb. I'm glad that Mr. Duane learned to cook, I'm glad that he has written seven books, and he should be glad that his long-suffering wife hasn't thrown him out! 

Ugh. Must go read Peg Bracken's inspiring and humorous I Hate to Cook Book (1960) now! In fact, I think I may need a hardcover fiftieth anniversary edition of it! In the meantime, reading Jessica Harper's The Crabby Cook Cookbook (2010) was almost as good, although there weren't as many useful recipes in it. What is marscapone cheese? Does my local Krogers even carry it?

It's Nonfiction Monday! The host this week is Perogies and Gyoza, so head over there to join the party.

Middle Grade Monday-- The Cupcake Diaries

Simon, Coco. Katie, Batter Up (Cupcake Diaries #5)
27 December 2012, Simon Spotlight

Katie is enjoying the Cupcake Club, and looking forward to having her grandmother come and visit, but she's feeling rather out of sorts-- everyone else seems to have other interests and activities, and Katie doesn't. Making cupcakes is really her very favorite thing to do, but she knows she should try to broaden her interests. She tries a variety of sports but doesn't do very well until she tries her hand at softball. She has some talent, makes the team... and then decides that being on the team stresses her out and she doesn't really enjoy it! Her supportive mother is very understanding, although Katie has to break the news to the coach herself.
Strengths: This was quite a twist-- other than Callie Be Gold, I can't think of another book where a student wants to do fewer activities. As always, this series is perfect for middle school girls, and I enjoy how the series continues but different characters are emphasized.
Weaknesses: Katie's mother and grandmother figure very largely in this, which is a bit unusual for middle grade, where students are trying to distance themselves from parents.

Simon, Coco. Alexis: Cool as a Cupcake (Cupcake Diaries #8)
26 June 2012, Simon Spotlight

I need to order Mia's Baker's Dozen and Emma all Stirred Up, ( as well as #9, Katie and the Cupcake War) but this was on the shelf at my local library! Alexis is preparing for the big back-to-school parade that the local high school has, but she has managed to run afoul of the popular girls and isn't feel very confident. It doesn't help that the cupcake club is trying to spread the work around, but no one else is as detail oriented as Alexis, and they are constantly short of ingredients, and others don't know how much the cupcakes should be sold for in order to make a profit! Alexis' sister, Dylan, is trying to help Alexis be "cool", but Alexis just wants to join the business club, be herself,  and maybe ask Matt, her friend's brother, to march in the parade with her. The girls are feeling a little fragmented-- will the Cupcake Club survive?
Strengths: Great covers, fun series with books about the different distinct characters, CUPCAKES. A good purchase in prebind for middle school.
Weaknesses: I'm done with series after five books, but my voracious readers will just be glad to see new installments!

And yes, I'm looking forward also to the next installments, but don't know why Follett has the eleventh book listed as a K-3 level.

Emma, Smile and Say "Cupcake!" / (Cupcake Diaries, book #11) [Not yet published] 

Int Lvl: 3-6
FollettBound Glued
Not yet published: This item is scheduled to be available on December 4, 2012.

Mia's Boiling Point / (Cupcake Diaries, book #10) [Not yet published] 

Int Lvl: K-3
FollettBound Glued
Not yet published: This item is scheduled to be available on October 16, 2012.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lights, Camera, Cassidy: Celebrity

Gerber, Linda. Lights, Camera, Cassidy: Celebrity
15 March 2012, Puffin.

Cassidy is in Spain with her parents, who are the hosts of the cooking show When in Rome. She's used to living abroad, having a tutor, and moving from place to place, but she's a little fed up with her parents' restrictions. She sneaks out early one morning, hoping for some alone time, but before she can make it back, her parents find out. They are livid and concerned for her safety, and threaten to send her to live with her grandmother in Ohio. The show's ratings aren't so hot, though, and Cassidy's blog is very popular, so the producers want her to stick around and film segments with Mateo, the son of an old friend of her father's. Mateo is pretty cute, and they have a good time on the set, and then Logan, the son of the producer shows up as well! Definitely NOT the time to be sent back to the States! However, it turns out that a video Cassidy took on the morning she was wandering around on her own shows a group of men robbing a church, and is detailed enough that the police are able to haul in a fairly famous criminal. Cassidy's parents become even more worried about her safety, and when Logan, Mateo and Cassidy take off for a day at the beach, she gets into even bigger trouble. I'm happy to report that in book #2, Paparazzi, Cassidy gets to go to Greece (where I lived for a year!), and in Hacked, she goes to Costa Rica. There is even a book four, Drama, in the works! Now if they were just in hardcover!
Strengths: This is a great combination of travel, cooking shows, romance, and regular teen issues. The covers are bright and appealing, and there is even a little bit of a mystery involved. I love that she has Logan for a romantic interest, and he will travel with her, and then she can meet a new local hottie in every port! All the fun that we have come to expect from the awesome Ms. Gerber.
Weaknesses: I wanted to slap Cassidy just a teeny bit. You sneak out once, you get in trouble, you don't do it again, NOT you sneak out even though a notorious criminal has you in his sights! As a parent, this made me very nervous, but the teen readers will be more sympathetic to Cassidy!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Beach Reads!

Henderson, Laura. Flirting in Italian.
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 12 June 2012

Violet is an art student in London who sees a picture hanging in a small museum, and the girl in the picture looks just like her! She manages to arrange to travel to Italy and study in a small Italian language course with Catia, who runs a sort of finishing school. This gets her near the castle from which this painting came, and also away from her very overprotective mother who looks nothing like Violet. Joined by fellow Brit Kelly and Americans Paige and Kendra, Violet settles into a routine of learning Italian and nicieties like flower arranging, going out with Catia's children, and falling for the handsome but wicked Luca. The housekeeper at the castle has an odd reaction to Violet, and she does bear a strong resemblance to the current owner's sister when she was young. When someone tries to lock Violet in a secret passage and she is late poisoned, it's clear that there are secrets that someone would like kept that way.
Strengths: The biggest need for books for girls that I have in my library is for romances, but it can be hard to find one that is intriguing and middle school appropriate. This was both. 13 Little Blue Envelopes is a huge favorite, so anything where girls travel does well. The relationship between the classmates is a nice touch.
Weaknesses: The whole mystery aspect of this seems weak to me. Why not just ask is she is adopted instead of planning a whole scheme to get to Italy? There is a bit of drinking, but never ends well. I don't see another book to this one, but the last paragraph hints at one.

Zeitlin, Meredith. Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters.
(1 March 2012)
Kelsey Finklestein vows that THIS year will be different. She will rock at soccer, and since her arch nemesis has moved away, she has a shot at Jordan Rothman. While she does okay at soccer, an older girl, Julie, has something against her, and she gets stuck playing goalie. Her nemesis' cousin has moved to town and threatens to take over, but turns out to be a nice person. Jordan is dating someone... one of her good friends! The school year continues with these ups and downs (a boy is interested in her, but is a horrible sloppy kisser), but Kelsey manages to get through them with the help of her friends.
Strengths: This reminded me of Ellen Conford books, and I was all set to give it to one of my students who likes both sports books and romance books.
Weaknesses: *Sigh* Too much talk of sex. Not a lot of doing, but just a lot more discussion than I was comfortable with. This was a real shame, because I was enjoying it.

Coriell, Shelley. Welcome Caller, this is Chloe.
1 May 2012
Chloe has a great life-- she's just been elected dance queen and has two great friends. Things start to go south when her friends are upset at how she treated them after being elected queen and stop talking to her. Her grandmother's Parkinson's is getting worse, and she may have to go into an assisted living facility. Worst of all, she has an annoying new guidance counselor who has denied her junior project (that had to do with soap opera vixens) and signs her up instead to help with the failing school radio station. Since her friends aren't talking to her, and have convinced most of the school that they shouldn't talk to her, either, Chloe figures that she might as well work with the radio station. She gets a call in program that ends up doing well. Can Chloe manage to pass her junior project, save the radio station, make peace with her friend situation, and maybe even find romance? You bet your vintage shoes.
Strengths: Light, fluffy, improbably-- this is a great beach read. I've not been buying as much girly lit since the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies went belly up, so I will probably have to buy this one.
Weaknesses: Not a lot of internal consistency (her friends won't talk to her, but everyone turns in to the radio program?), and a fairly high slappage factor. Yes, Chloe is enthusiastic, but she also is highly insensitive to those around her. I didn't care for the acerbic Clementine any more. And what WAS with the vintage shoes? What teen is going to spend $200 on a pair of shoes?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Guy Friday-- Lemony Snicket Methadone

Holmes, Jeremy. The Templeton Twins Have an Idea.
1 April 2012, Chronicle Books (although Amazon say 8/15/12, and my ARC says 9/12)

Before Abigail and John Templeton are even born, their professor father was pestered by a student who is unhappy with his grade, but when news comes that the birth is imminent, the professor rushes out without giving the student any satisfaction. Years later, the family is reeling from the death of the mother. Professor Templeton is working on his Personal One-Man Helicopter, and Tickeridge-Baltock (Tick-Tock Tech) will give him more funding than his current employer. The twins are not happy to be uprooted (along with their active terrier), although the nanny they get (Nanny Nan Noonan) is pleasant enough. These things are immaterial when Dean Dean shows up and claims that the Personal One-Man Helicopter was his idea, and he was the student brushed off by the professor on the way to the twins' birth. He hates the twins and literally wishes they had never been born, so kidnaps them in hopes that he can get the professor to sign away his rights to the POMH. Complications ensue, the narrator intersperses the story with quizzes and monologues, and eventually the twins save the day.
Strengths: Even in the ARC, the brilliance of the book design is evident. The hardcover will be very visually appealing.
Weaknesses: I have little patience for the overly precious, intrusive Narrator, and this book certainly has a lot of the Snicketesque goofiness that I personally do not enjoy. However, it must be noted that The Bad Beginning was published in 1999, and I still have about five copies of each book in the series, many in tatters, that circulate frequently. While this sort of book is not something I can stomach, the students all seem to like them.

It is with extreme sadness that I report the death of Mr. Donald J. Sobol, the author of the Encyclopedia Brown books. I learned of this through the Cybils web site, which lists obituaries at the Publishers Weekly web site, and well as several others.  I had not realized that Mr. Sobol went to Oberlin.

Three years ago, I sent Mr. Sobol a circulation card, and he replied with the most gracious letter. When I was in early elementary school, my mother and I used to sit together in the rocking chair, read the stories, and try to figure out the mysteries together. Since I never got to write to my other great literary love, Carolyn Heywood (who died in 1990), I am glad that I got to tell Mr. Sobol how much his books meant to me.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Madhattan Mystery, Seize the Storm

Bonk, John J. Madhattan Mystery.
22 May 2012, Walker and Co.

Lexie and her brother Kevin go to New York City to stay with their Aunt Roz, a budding older actress, while their father remarries. When standing in the whispering gallery of Grand Central Station, Lexi thinks she hears a crime discussed, and then the next morning reads the news that Cleopatra's jewels have been stolen. They meet Kim, their aunt's rather strange neighbor girl who is enrolled in the same summer camp they are. When camp ends six hours earlier than they thought, the three go on adventures in the city. They meet Melrose, a homeless girl whom they hope will help them investigate an abandoned station under the city that was mentioned by the criminals. They also overhead the name Benjamin Deet's and start investigating him. When their camp counselor takes them to Grand Central Station, Lexi sees one of the men she had heard discussing the crime, and is devastated to find out, after tracking him down, that he is the director of a television show about crime which is just duplicating the real life plot. Can Lexi still manage to solve the real crime?
Strengths: This has a very strong sense of place, and much of the action of the book is about discovering the city. It was a quick read, and most of the characters were likable.
Weaknesses: The mystery didn't make a lot of sense to me. Hard to explain without giving away the ending, but Lexie didn't do that much investigating, and so much else was going on that the mystery often seemed inconsequential. My students don't ask for books about NYC, so I am not sure if I will buy this one.

Cadnum, Michael. Seize the Storm.
5 June 2012, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
I love Cadnum's work, especially his historical titles like Ship of Fire, Blood Gold, and Starfall. I also thought Flash was particularly good, but it's been a tough sell to middle school students. This might be the case for Seize the Storm as well; mature topics like marital infidelity and a lot of detail about characters slow this down, while the murderous drug runners also give me pause. This would be a great title for high school-- the cover is excellent. I'll just hope that Cadnum's next title is aimed more at middle school!

From the Publisher: "Sailing from California to Hawaii, Susannah, her family, and a crewman are driven by a vicious storm into the path of a drifting powerboat. The ghostly boat carries the bodies of two drug runners and a huge stash of money. For the sailors, stealing the sordid treasure changes everything, causing dissent and division, compromising each of them, and putting their futures at risk. Because now they are being pursued by the worst enemies imaginable, including a drug lord’s son eager to prove himself and a cold-blooded teenage hit man with murder on his mind."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Princess of Glass

Princess of Glass (Princess #2)
George, Jessica Day. Princess of Glass.
25 May 2012, Bloomsbury USA

This is the sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball (2009). Poppy and her sisters were all cursed by the King Under Stone to dance every night, and the princes who attempted to thwart the king died in tragic ways, so once she is truly free of the king, she is not wild to dance... ever again. This is difficult when she is visiting the land of Breton as a royal ambassador, and is invited to many parties. She gives in, a bit, mainly because she finds visiting Prince Christian attractive, but her past experiences make her wary. When wealthy heiress turned serving girl Eleanora insists on going to a ball with the other young ladies, Poppy starts to suspect more evil magic in the works. In fact, Eleanora has made a pact with a witch named The Corley, and is soon enticing all the young men. Poppy uses her knowledge to try to overcome Eleanora's charms and keep everyone safe.
Strengths: I'm impressed. I really didn't want to read another book with a girl in a ball gown on the cover, but didn't have anything else, AND I soon felt that this was a sequel to which I hadn't read the first. Nonetheless, Poppy intrigued me, Eleanora made me want to slap her a tiny bit, but I always felt there was something going on under the surface, and I also wanted to find out the Corley's motivation. I'm going to have to get the first book out now! Diane Zahler's retellings of fairy tales have been popular, so I think I will buy this set.
Weaknesses: Well, girl in ball gown on cover. Title similar to the not nearly as good Throne of Glass. This read a little like Alcott when the girls were preparing for the various balls, and while this was good for me, it might not be as appealing to my readers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Grinti, Mike and Rachel. Claws.
24 May 2012, Chicken House

Emma's sister Helena has been missing for several months. Her father can't handle this and has had to close down his Vietnamese restaurant and move the family to a decrepit trailer out near the woods, which is where the crags live. Crags refer to any magical creatures like trolls, dwarves, hags, etc., and Emma's father thinks that by living nearer the creatures he stands a better chance at getting information about his daughter. Emma would like to help, and when a magical cat named Jack shows up in her room and offers to make her into the Pride Heart of his group, she accepts. She will have magical abilities and be able to find her sister. The other members of the pride are not happy that she was human, and the humans in her world are not happy that she now is magical. She gets thrown out of school and sent on an adventure that takes her into all manner of danger and magic. When she finally locates Helena, it's harder to rescue her than she imagined, because Helena doesn't want to be rescued. She is in love with a faery, Corbin, and hopes to be turned into a faery herself. Can Emma learn enough magic in order to save her sister and her family?
Strengths: Good use of an innovative magical world-- the existence of crags is presented as fact and this sucked me right into the world. Readers who like the Warriors books will find enough clan details to make them happy, and I found it easier to get through than those books because the characters do not change names nor eat a lot of voles. This reminded me a bit of Gregor the Overlander.  
Weaknesses: Talking animals are always hard for me to read, and other than Warriors readers, I'm not quite sure who the audience would be.

Random Thoughts: Read Michelle Bergstein's Women From the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us, which was quite interesting, even if it lacked pictures. It made me feel very old to realize that the modern "tennis shoes" (running shoe) had basically been invented in my lifetime, and that no one seems to understand what a "school shoe" is anymore. Certainly wasn't a sneaker, when I was growing up long, long ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth. We won't even talk about the fact that when I was in 6th grade we were allowed to wear any color of jeans but blue to school, since jeans were strictly work clothes.

Then the plumber asked me if I was over 55. Nice guy, just wanted to save me some money, I'm sure. But this was a milestone. And he didn't ask it like "You're NOT 55, are you?"

Perhaps I should have said yes and gotten the discount!

Monday, July 16, 2012

His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg

Borden, Louise. His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, rescue and Mystery During World War II
16 January 2012, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I knew that Wallenberg had rescued many people from the Nazis, but I didn't really know who he was or how he accomplished this. This larger format, well-illustrated biography gives Wallenberg's background, from his childhood in Sweden to his college studies in the US, talks about all of the globe trotting opportunities that were afforded to him by his grandfather, and then continues on to discuss how all of these things brought him to want to provide as many Jewish people as possible with "safe passes" in order to keep them out of concentration camps. Interviews and family information from sources close to Wallenberg make this a must for schools that study the Holocaust at any length.
Strengths: This is one of the few biographies I have ever read that had enough pictures to satisfy me, and they weren't all shoved onto glossy pages in the middle. Borden does an excellent job at providing visual examples of just about everything I wanted to see. People mentioned? Pictures. Town or building described? Pictures. Maps when needed, copies of documents-- this was brilliant.
Weaknesses: This is written in choppy prose that almost looks like free verse, which is helpful for students who need a lot of white space, but sometimes it becomes overly poetic. Just a bit odd.

It's Nonfiction Monday, a meme started by Ana Suen. It's hosted this week by Practically Paradise.

It's also What Are You Reading at Text Mentor Texts.

Middle Grade Monday--Victory

Jablonski, Carla, illustrated by Leland Purvis. Victory, (Resistance #3)
17 July 2012, First Second

French sibling Paul, Marie and Sophie are still working against the Nazis that are occupying their town, each in their own ways. Paul is a messenger who risks being out after curfew, Marie is "dating" a soldier in order to get information, and Sophie is unhappy to be so young that people don't think she can help-- until she finds a downed pilot carrying a critical message and is instrumental in saving him and helping get the message delivered. While they are struggling with missing their father as well as their neighbor, Henri, the Resistance is struggling with hos they should continue; whenever they sabotage the Nazis, the Nazis retaliate by killing randomly chosen civilians. Is the sabotage worth the cost of these lives, and will it bring the war to an end any sooner? The war does end eventually, and we are able to see what happens to the village and family afterwards. An author's note at the end gives more historical details.
Strengths: This series of graphic novels is an excellent choice for reluctant readers who are assigned to read about the Holocaust. They are rich in historical detail as well as the emotional and psychological conundrums that the characters suffer.
Weaknesses: I wish I had a traditional novel about the French resistance with this much detail for my students who do not like to read graphic novels!

You can find the links to Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts at Shannon Whitney Messenger's Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe, and check out the What Are You Reading list at Teach Mentor Texts.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Wicked Jealous

Palmer, Robin. Wicked Jealous.
19 July 2012, Speak

Simone is "the weird fat girl" in the wake of her mother's death (at her birth), her father's workaholicism and shiny new girlfriend, and her general inability to deal with the intricacies of high school life. She has retreated behind her hair, her extra large vintage concert t shirts and copious amounts of snack foods. When her father's girlfriend (who has an odd obsession with mirrors and red lipstick, as well as feeding Simone apples even though she's deathly allergic) takes all of her snack stash and Simone tries to get into a pottery class but ends up in Zumba classes instead, Simone starts losing weight and feeling a little better about herself. When she has to spend the summer with her college aged brother and his six roommates, she starts to become more interested in dressing well and in dating a boy from her school, Jason, whose father is a famous film maker and whose mother is in her Zumba class. Is he really the boy for her? And will Simone's trandformation stick?
Strengths: I liked the depth of the characters-- Simone's fascination with vintage French fashion, the shop run by Brad, even the somewhat flimsy character of the "evil stepmother". This was a great "beach read" and made me really happy. I love Palmer's Lucy Parker series, as well as her fairy tale retellings.
Weaknesses: About halfway through the book, when Simone moved into her brother's house, the fairy tale aspect took an intrusive turn. I think this was sue to the difficulty of incorporating the seven dwarves. Once I met all of them, things speeded up a bit.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Forever Four

Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. Forever Four.
19 January 2012, Grosset and Dunlap

Paulina wants to create a school magazine for a contest that will award one student group money for a club or project, but three other girls have the same idea, so she will be forced to work with them. The new girl, Ivy, seems sort of cool and knows about magazines because her mother was the editor of one. Tally is rather talkative and a drama queen, but also okay to work with. Miko, on the other hand, is a PQuit (Prom Queen In Training) and condescends to work with Paulina only because she hates Ivy so much. Paulina is missing her best friend, Evelyn, who has moved away, so she makes her best effort at putting together a magazine 4 Girls, and trying to get along with the girls. Their biggest competition is a group trying to get funding for girls' sports. When someone posts on the magazine blog that 4 Girls is getting help from parents and is therefore cheating, Paulina has to come up with a way to defend the group and also sway the student body to vote for them.
Strengths: I love Cody Kimmel's work, and was a bit leery of a book with a multicultural cast of disparate characters, but it really works. Realistic in the portrayal of the relationships, fun, light. Picky Reader had friends over for a sleepover recently, and one of them picked up this book and read the whole thing before falling asleep! Good addition for girls who like realistic fiction.
Weaknesses: I know the economy is bad, but the grant/contest idea seem a bit far-fetched. Probably been done somewhere, though, and students would not care.

Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. Leading Ladies (Forever Four #2).
19 January 2012, Grosset and Dunlap

Even though the ink is barely dry on their magazine and 4 Girls won the competition for club funding, there are already problems. Paulina is still committed to the magazine, but the others aren't. Miko has become friends with the group but is under pressure from her mother to do other activities, and from her friends to NOT hang with the magazine crowd. She takes a break from the group, which means that they have to do all of her design work. Ivy is becoming withdrawn because she thinks that her parents are going to move back to the city for her mother's new job. Tally is caught up in the school play, which is Annie and is obsessed with getting the starring role. Paulina is covering the play for the magazine, but finding it hard to do the work all on her own, especially since she has to take care of her younger brother while her divorced mother works long hours. Throw a school bout with the flu into the mix, as well as drama over a Homecoming decades-themed dance, and it's uncertain whether or not the magazine will ever get finished.
Strengths: I need a lot more series of realistic fiction books for girls-- I'm still circulating a lot of The Agony of Alice and Anastasia Krupnick, even though the first books in these great series are over 20 years old! This is a fun series with attractive covers, so I hope that there are quite a few more books coming out.
Weaknesses: I didn't like the girls as much in this book, and the reliance on technology might work to age the books prematurely.