Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke


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Friday, December 27, 2013

A Green Thumb

Earthquake Terror by Peg Kehret

Adolescent Thriller

Kehret has a green thumb with books--everything she writes is just a really cool read.  Not Pulitzer or Newberry worthy, just really, really good.  I'm such a fan of hers, a new fan.  All of her books are perfect for my classroom and the kids love her stuff.  Her books are always checked out.

This one has danger and disaster from the get-go and it doesn't let up until the last chapter.

Jonathan and his family are used to roughing it.  That's why they are vacationing on very remote Magpie Island with no running water, no electricity, and only one road.  But their camping trip takes a turn for the worse when Jonathan's mom trips and breaks her ankle.  Dad is forced to leave Jonathan to watch Abby, his handicapped little sister.  Then, roughing it becomes way too rough when an earthquake flattens their camper and cuts off the road.  Now, Jonathan is left to take care of things on his own with just his dog to help them.  When the island starts to flood, Jonathan realizes that he can't stay put and wait for help.  He's going to rescue them all.  But, how can he when his sister can't walk, can't swim? 

What follows is a non-stop life or death struggle for the siblings.  I honestly didn't know at several parts in the book if all three of them were going to make it.  It is easy to see why Kehret's books are so popular with kids.  You just can't stop reading at the end of the chapter!  You have to keep reading to see if they'll make it.  It's perfect for low level readers and any young reader who likes a fast, thrilling read.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Enough Already

Dork Diaries #3:  Tales from a Not-So-Popular Talented Pop Star by Rachel Renee Russell

Adolescent Graphic Novel

This series is getting a bit repetitive.  The books do not get funnier or better in any way.  As a matter of fact, they are so exactly like the first one that if you didn't just love that one, you won't like this one much at all.  Only die-hard fans will continue to read these.  I did not love the first one and very much disliked this one.

So, Nikki is still mortified her father is an exterminator and that she is at school on a free scholarship.  To prevent that from happening, Nikki tells the principal of her school that her father can no longer fulfill the school's exterminating contract.  In the book, there was NEVER a mention about how this would affect the family's financial situation.  Nikki is the ultimate in selfsish and self-centeredness, even worse than the diva she's always complaining about.  And, because Nikki is not a braniac, she now has to figure out a way to stay at her ritzy private school because her scholarship was based on her father's bug contract.  Enter a talent competition.  How timely!  How trite and overdone!

I think I disliked this one so much because this book showcased what a shallow, selfish person the main character is.  The plot in this book sends such a poor message to young readers.  What started as a cute idea has now just gone on too long.  The main character is static and so annoying.  The plot is thin and unbelievable.  The drawings and diary format are the only parts I still like.  My students love it, though, especially my lower-level girls. and there just aren't a whole lot of other books out there for them.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pop Blech

Socs & Greasers:  Behind the Scenes from The Outsiders from Rob Lowe's Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

Autobiography

This is a small slice from a larger book, Lowe's memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends.  It would be unfair to judge the memoir based on this chapter; yet, it was so bad it completely erased any desire I had to read Lowe's memoir.

I read this because The Outsiders has been so important in my life.  It has remained a favorite book of mine since I was a teen; it was the first novel I ever taught in a classroom; and, it was the first time a movie affected me so deeply.  The movie remained a favorite as well.  I was very excited when Lowe started talking about his own personal experiences while reading the book.  I agree with him that much of the beautiful story was left out of the film.  Alas, this part of his tale was brief.  I didn't really care about the rest.  Apparently the most disappointing part of Lowe's whole experience of The Outsiders was that his big moment, his artistic pinnacle as an actor, was completely removed from the final film version. I'm sure the movie would have been so much better with this scene in it. (Use heavily sarcastic voice here.) Lowe's jealousy of the other actors, especially Matt Damon, is so obvious and really left a bad taste in my mouth.

I am not really a celebrity fan so the rest of the "book" was annoying.  It read like one long name-dropping roster.  YAWN! 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Golden!

Mercy Thompson #5:  Silver Borne by Patricia Riggs

Paranormal Romance

This is a series that just gets better and better with each book!

Mercy and Adam are finally mated together, but their relationship is in danger of cooling off.  Mercy is not fitting all that well into Adam's pack.  Most of the pack is uneasy with a lowly coyote being their new female leader.  Someone is apparently upset enough to try and kill Mercy over it.  My favorite (and most romantic) part was when Adam fights (in a to-the-death) match for Mercy's honor.  Adam=Wow!  ?And, now that Mercy has officially rejected Sam in favor of Adam, Sam is suicidal and quickly losing himself to his wolf side.

Mercy has been asked by the friend of a friend to guard a book.  Not just any old library book, either.  A book powerful enough, literally, to kill for.  When the owner of the book turns up dead, what is Mercy supposed to do with the book?

One question...where is the vampire Stefan?  It's like Riggs just pushed him to the side because he didn't work out.  I loved Stefan!  I want a Stefan series.  It just feels like a loose end that needs tied up.  Perhaps in the next book?

This one is full of all the action, adventure, and romance of the other books.  What I really love about the character of Mercy is that she isn't a static character.  She learns from her previous mistakes and changes, and yet she still makes new mistakes.  She never reaches that ho-hum perfection phase that some other lead characters get.  I can't wait for the next one!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Award Winner in Every Way

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Adult Fiction

This book was a national bestseller, an award winner, on the New York Times Bestseller list--but don't we expect that from Morrison?  Yes, and she always delivers.  Morrison is the Nobel Laureate and this book clearly shows why she is deserving of that honor.  Morrison crafts words much as a potter at a wheel, spinning and churning to create a masterpiece of fragile beauty.

The book takes place in the 1600s in America.  This setting gives it quite a unique perspective as most books are written about slavery during Civil War times.  Jacob is not really a slave owner but gets talked into taking a young black girl to settle a debt.  Florens, abandoned by her mother (she thinks), goes to live on Jacob's farm and spend the rest of her young life desperately trying to find love and be loved.  The whole story is one of unrequited love.  Everyone in the story seems to be suffering from lack of love and some even die of it.  Florens lives with two other slaves, whose stories are even sadder and more tragic than hers. 

The whole novel was worth the last paragraph.  There are parts of the story that won't make sense until you come to the end.  Hold on because it is worth the wait.  I wish there would have been more of Mercy's mother in the book.  Her words were so tragic, so powerful, so beautiful.  It took just a few pages to show the depth s of a mother's love.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Surprise

The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

Adolescent Fiction/Adventure/Fantasy

I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did, but I loved it!  This is the first book (I think) in the Ash Mistry chronicles and definitely a series I will keep reading.

Ash and his sister have been on vacation, visiting their aunt and uncle in their native India.  Ash has been bored to tears.  He is more of a Western boy and misses his TV, music videos, and junk food.  Looking at temples has bored him out of his skull.  When Ash discovers an ancient artifact at one of his uncle's dig sites, his boring vacation turns into a life and death adventure.  Ash gets in touch with his roots really quickly when a legion of Indian gods and goddesses come after him, determined to retrieve the artifact.  One of my new favorite characters is Parvati, a snake goddess.  I hope she returns in the second one.

What I loved most about this book was the Indian mythology.  Rick Riordan has cornered the market on Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology, but that was something different.  So unique!  Indian mythology is full of amazing gods and goddesses like I've never seen before and monsters that will make your head spin.  It has created in me a strong desire to learn more about this culture.  The book is full of excitement and adventure--a great read for adolescents.

Friday, December 6, 2013

It Has Been a Fine Ride, Alex Ryder

Alex Rider #9:  Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz

Spy Thriller

I have loved this series from the very beginning and have followed it faithfully.  It has been a fine ride, Alex Ryder, and worth every minute I have spent with you (which is quite a compliment when you consider how many pages are in each book!).

In this last installment, Alex is absolutely fed up with MI6.  He's been an unwilling spy at the expense of his childhood, but he is determined to enjoy being a teenager.  Once again, though, he's roped into an espionage game that is way above his head.  He is sent to the far East to pose as a schoolboy.  He seems to hate everything about this new mission and, yet, he pursues it with the most passion I've seen yet.  As Alex is getting more mature, more dangerous and more grown up, so are the villains.  This one seemed impossible to beat.  The reader also gets to see much more of Jack in this book than every before.  It made their situation more dire to see the devotion between the two of them. 

The pages just flip themselves, so eager was I find out what happened next.  This book did my time, and the series, justice.  My biggest wish is that Horowitz would take Alex into adulthood and launch a new generation of 'James Bond' era books.  I would love for Alex to continue!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

An Author to Check Out

The Lonely Mile by Allan Leverone

Mystery/Thriller

Based on the Kindle purchase price, I wasn't expecting much of a story.  Usually, when I pay so little--I get so little.  What a surprise this was!  I was glad to be wrong.

Bill Ferguson is no one's idea of a hero, least of all his own. He's a quiet, unassuming man still reeling from his divorce years earlier.  He just wants to be a good father and lick his wounds.  While at a rest stop, Bill thwarts a kidnapping attempt by a serial killer.  The killer escapes, vowing to get revenge on the man who broke his pattern and robbed him of his latest victim.  Fortunately for the killer, Bill's daughter fits his pattern of victim.  What happens when you get in the way of a serial killer and he targets your own daughter as his next victim?

I loved that the main character was a regular guy, a plain Joe, just trying to do his best.  He has no special detective skills, no years of training in police procedures, so super-human abilities.  He's just a regular guy in an irregular situation.  It was so relatable!  I really liked the multiple perspectives of the story.  It gave it depth and really heightened the suspense to know what the killer was thinking and planning.  I found myself yelling at Bill, to warn him, many times.  The book grabbed me at the beginning and didn't let go until the last page.  It was so realistic and timely and it just begs the reader to answer the question, "What would you do?"  The story will definitely keep you guessing all the way through. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Noir Vampire/Zombie

Joe Pitt #1:  Already Dead by Charlie Huston

Paranormal

This was one of my least favorite zombie/vampire books.

Joe is a vampire whose job is to find and destroy shamblers (zombies) and it's one that he's good at because he really hates those things.  Joe is kind of like a private detective working for vampyre clans (a seedy, dark-world, underbelly mob of paranormals) to stop the zombie vyrus from spreading.  Joe has been hired by uptown socialite Marilee Horde to look for her runaway daughter.  The Horde family is a scourge of corruption and despair and Joe has a little more than he can handle with this case.  Joe appears to be kind of in love with a barmaid but refuses to let the romance become physical.  That might have brought some humanity to the character.  The fact that Joe was a bit of a rogue was his only redeeming quality.

The whole mood of the book just seemed so hopeless and dark.  The book left me feeling tired and tired of reading about vampires. I just couldn't wait for it to be over.  It's hard to like a main character who doesn't like himself.  It was extremely gruesome, even for a vampire novel. This was definitely not an author I would read again. I could see this as a movie, one with a R+ rating. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Worst One Yet

Infinity Ring #3:  The Trap Door by Lisa McMann

Time Travel/Fantasy

This one is the worst yet in the series.  The jokes and dialogue are goofy and ridiculous and the 'secret clues' are just so bad.  I am officially giving up on this series.

The topic of slavery is so somber and important, yet is so trite here.  There is hardly anything realistic about it. The writing in this one felt boring and formulaic; the characters like cardboard--like a journaling assignment gone on for too long.  This is a mixed media book.  I wonder how successful they are.  Kids in my class don't seem to be rushing for the books, even though they have the element of a video game tied to it.  I've never played the online game.  Please, to those of you who have, has this made the reading experience better?  I wouldn't play the game but I would like to know if this is the reason why the books seem to be lacking in something.  Does it enhance the story?

Dak, Serah and Riq land right in the middle of slavery in the south in this installment.  That's a problem since Riq is black, and (according to a past cover) Serah appears to be biracial.  I am guessing at some of the problems since the author didn't really spell anything out.  Riq takes off on his own.  For this first time he becomes something like a real character, but very stereotypical.  Paradoxically, Dak and Serah seemed like stock characters, losing their personalities and becoming more artificial as the pages went on. 

My one favorite character (and the one who I thought might just save the whole series), the Viking giant dog, didn't make much of an appearance. The story desperately needed him!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Haddix never disappoints

The Missing #3:  Sabotaged by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Time Travel

I love the new covers for this series.  It is so much more appealing, especially to the younger crowd.

This book starts just where the first two left off.  Jonah and Katherine are helping another lost 'baby'.  This one is Andrea and she is a teen with a chip on her shoulder who doesn't want to be saved.  Their job is to restore Andrea to history.  Andrea is apparently the historical lost child Virginia dare, one of the most fascinating stories/mysteries of history.  Andrea is resistant until she meets her grandfather, Captain John White.  Will an accident rip her grandfather from her life just when she found him?  Jonah is distrustful of everyone around him. He doesn't know or or what to believe.  He often can't even trust what he sees.  The problem is that Jonah and Katherine don't exactly know what to do or how to do it.  And, one mistake could be disastrous for history--so disastrous, it might cause them to cease to exist.

Roanoke Island and the mystery surrounding the disappearance, is one of my favorite stories.  So much so that I have even traveled there to see it.  Naturally, I was excited to read what might have happened.  And, Haddix never disappoints.  You cannot read these books out of order and it is helpful if you know something about the history depicted in each one.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Loved It!

Cinder:  The Lunar Chronicles #1 by Marissa Meyer

Fairy-Retelling/Dystopian

I didn't expect to love this book as much as I did.  When I finished it, I rushed to get the next one in the series but it wasn't out yet!  I yelled loudly!  How in the world could I wait to see what happens next?!?!

This book is so unique.  It has a dystopian setting combined with steampunk elements and a fairy tale retelling.  A lot going on but it works so well.  This is a futuristic world where there are Earthlings and Lunar people and if you leg doesn't work, you can just replace it with a robotic one.  But, of course, future Earth isn't a paradise.  Humans are still humans after all, with prejudices and failures.

The main character, Cinder, is a cyborg mechanic living as a slave to her stepmother and stepsisters, considered less than human because of her robotic parts.  She is working in her shop when Prince Kai comes along and the two strike up a friendship--with sparks!

Naturally, there is danger, intrigue, and romance, more than rival Disney's retelling of the classic tale.  The character of Cinder is captivating and, even though you know the fairy tale twists, you will find yourself crying out at the unfairness of it all.

This was definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.  There were surprises at every turn.  I loved that Cinder was a cyborg, and yet she was so approachable and real.  I could see myself totally hanging out with her.  This plot line is a cliff-hanger and this is NOT a story that comes close to ending on the last page.  Once you start this series, you'll have to finish it.  This is a great way to introduce those dated fairy tales to our modern techno-readers.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Not-So-Great

Dork Diaries:  Tales From a Not-So-Popular Party Girl by Rachel Renee Russell

Adolescent Chic Lit

This book is for adolescent girls only, grades 4-6.  I can't see it having any appeal beyond this very limited range.  Except I certainly couldn't recommended it for girls of any age.

Nikki is going along in her middle-school life--with her two best friends, Chloe and Zoe; crushing on Brandon; and trying to avoid the wrath of her arch-nemesis Mackenzie.  In this installment, Nikki has to juggle going to two separate parties with three different groups of people without them learning about it.  Somehow, Nikki has to entertain her sister's party guests while on a date with Brandon and simultaneously hanging out with friends and defeating Mackenzie.  Why this is so secretive is not clearly explained.

There are so many things I really dislike about the character of Nikki.  She doesn't learn from her mistakes.  She is repeating the same stupid antics that she did in the first book as if she is clueless what might happen.  She is turning into a really bad friend, one that lies, deliberately misleads her friends, and chooses her own ambitions over their feelings.  She also gives up on her dreams way too often.  I hope young girls wouldn't see this as a coping strategy--it's very destructive.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be friends with Nikki and, if she doesn't change her selfish, self-absorbed ways, no one else will either.

I do have to give it some props, though.  The illustrations are cute and the style of the book is perfect for reluctant readers.  There's lots of white space on the page and the narrator talks directly to the reader.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A New Look at Blindness

Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings

Adolescent Fiction

This was an extremely unique story.  I've never read a book about the main character gradually going blind.  The story was very accessible to young people, its targeted audience.  It includes realistic thoughts and concerns of a young girl without being overly dramatic or too depressing.  It's a very realistic story.

Natalie is 14-years old and has just learned that her bad eyesight is actually her going blind due to a disease.  Her doctor has recommended that she go to a blind school to learn how to cope.  She resists at first, insisting she doesn't need to, but an accident forces her to confront the truth.  Natalie goes away to the school and learns how to use Braille and a cane, convinced she'll never need it.  Natalie continues to hold out for a miracle--that her eyesight will be restored against all odds. 

Going blind is very tough for Natalie, both emotionally and physically, and the author cuts her no breaks.  The reader struggles right along with Natalie's fear and frustration as she learns to read Braille, use a cane and take a self-defense class--all of which are important to the plot.  Natalie is a very 'real' character.  She's not just the 'blind' girl, but comes across very clearly as a young woman with friend problems, family drama, goat issues and who just happens to be going blind.

I really liked the story overall, but there were a few places where it lagged a little.  Reading about how a blind school functions and how it teaches the students to adapt to a sightless world was fascinating.  It is for young adults and I think my female students will really like this book.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Childhood Classic

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Classic

Most people probably think of the cute animated Mowgli from Disney when they think of The Jungle Book, but the story of Mowgli is just one-half of the book. These stories are nothing like the Disney version. This is actually a collection of many stories and songs--14 in all including: "Mowgli's Brothers", "Hunting--Song of the Seeonee Pack", "Kaa's Hunting", "Road Sonf of the Bandar Log", "The White Seal", "Lukannon", "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi", "Darsee's Chaunt", "Toomai of the Elephants", "Shiv and the Grasshopper", "Her Majesty's Servants", and "Parade Song of the Camp Animals".

It's important to note that Kipling wrote these stories for an audience, his six-year old daughter who died quite young.  They were probably meant to be read aloud, and perhaps as a bedtime story.  I imagine they would be better read out loud and much more fun.  The story of Mowgli almost gets lost in a silent read.  For today's young people, it might be considered an adventure story, but adults will see the racism and imperialism present during the time of Britain's rule of India.

My favorite story, by far, was "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi".  This was one of my favorite childhood television animated specials, a no-frills cartoon that came on once per year and captured the playful personality of the mongoose and the suffocating evil of the cobra perfectly.  Rikki is equally delightful in print and it almost makes me want to have a mongoose of my own.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Tears of a Clown

Last Words by George Carlin and Tony Hedra

Biography

In the words of Carlin, this is a 'sortabiography'.  There aren't many funny moments in this book. It is more a cross between a biography and autobiography, or a memoir with some flashes of humor.  There's also a lot of name-dropping in this book, if that is your thing.  It was surprising to see how little of this Carlin writes.  It seems to be mostly told to and written by Hedra.

I've often heard that comedy gets its roots from the deepest pain and that seems to be true in the case of Carlin.  Such tragedy and heartbreak, and most of it brought about through his own making.  Carlin is very honest about the mistakes he made in his life, which caused my respect for him as a person to really grow.  I especially appreciated that he took the total blame for causing a mess in his daughter's life and his wife's life and then stood steadfastly by them as they battled these demons.  Much of the book is him battling his own demons as well, and his story is told with no apologies or excuses and with total honesty.  He fessed up to his mistakes--how many stars do that today?

I love George Carlin's humor.  He is biting, brutal, funny and always current even when his jokes are decades old.  His humor is timeless, which is a great quality for a comic to have.  It was interesting to see how one individual turned such pain into happiness and laughter for others.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

An Adult Carnival

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Romance

This book reminded me of the movie, "Benjamin Button".  The format of an old man looking back at his life was reminiscent of the regretful and poignant tone in the movie.

The story is told by Jacob, half about his life now as a 90-year old man, forgotten by his family in a nursing home.  The other half is about Jacob's life as a young man in the circus.  Jacob runs off to join the circus, literally, when he is just about to graduate from college.  Devastated by the loss of his family and fortune, he turns to the only thing he knows and loves--the one connection he has to his veterinarian father--the animals.  Jacob gets a job 'watering the elephants', and one grouchy elephant in particular, as he works as the circus animal veterinarian.  Jacob also has the really dumb luck of falling for Marlena, a trick horse rider.  Marlena just happens to be married to the circus boss, a sadistic man who beats her and the elephants.  The whole situation is a powder keg waiting to explode.

Interspersed with this is the story of present-day Jacob and his longing, so tender and sad, that pulls on the heartstrings.  It is a sweet, tragic romance. 

I loved the parts that explained how the traveling carnivals worked.  It was so fascinating knowing that many incidents were based on real, actual events.  A heavy book with lots of good ingredients that will leave you satisfied.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Strange Book About Some Strange Characters

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Adolescent Fiction

It was a very strange book about some very strange characters that got stranger the farther I read.

The main character is Georges who has just been downgraded in his lifestyle and moved to a new apartment.  Georges soon meets his neighbor, Safer.  Safer, the result of hippy parents and a lax home schooled life who has named himself, is a boy his same age but miles ahead in weirdness.  Safer has a spy club of one and pressures Georges to join him.  While Georges really wants to have Safer as a friend, he has some serious reservations about him--Safer's secrecy and mysteriousness border on the obsessive; he has no problem committing crimes and encouraging Georges to commit them in spite of (and, apparently, without considering) the consequences and risk of personal harm;  he is rather cruel to his family members; he's a pathological liar and he only hangs out with Georges when he wants something.  Why Georges wants to be friends with him at all is a bit murky.

It was an okay book but it never really got any better than that for me.  I have never read any of Stead's other books so I'm not sure what to expect from this author.  I did really like the two mysteries in the book.  I didn't even know something subversive was going on and then--BOOM!  Two surprises that made me want to reread the book and look for clues.  It has won several awards.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Book and Movie Are Two Totally Different Beings

World War Z:  An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Horror

I read this book prior to seeing the movie World War Z because I always like to read the book first.  With this book and movie, I needn't have bothered with my rules.  The two are not remotely alike--not even enough for a "based on" label.

The book is a little different in that it doesn't have a main character or really even a plot. The book is written by Max Brooks as if he were simply a reporter recording this for history's sake.  It is a series of interviews he conducts.   Many different characters are simply telling their history around a centralized theme:  the zombie apocalypse.  It's a different kind of book to read, but once I got used to it, I liked it.  The flow is abrupt and sudden, just like watching a news documentary.  It is about the "Zombie War", but really just the aftereffects, after the zombies have almost totally eradicated life on earth and how some humans survived this plague.  Much of the book is told through "official channels", so it has that dry fact feeling, except that it's about the zombie plague.  It starts out with an epidemiologist who wants to trace the plague back to the original source, to patient zero. 

Taken independently, the book and movie are quite good. If you try and mesh the two together, it's a mess for the brain to figure out. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Great Halloween Gift for the Gardener in Your Life

Wicked Plants:  The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart

Nonfiction

This is a fascinating nonfiction book about mostly common plants--and how they can kill you!

All of the plants mentioned in the book are noxious and to be avoided.  Some are downright deadly.  It contains fascinating historical lore and criminal legend (which were my favorite parts), but also a healthy dose of medicine and science dished up in a way that was really interesting.  Those topics are not usually interesting to me but the author presented it in a way that really kept me hooked.  The illustrations were a nice touch, but I am going to be greedy and say I wished there were also full-color photographs to make identification of the plants easier.  It was amazing to think that so little dosage of some tiny plants could be so fatal.  This is definitely a book a mystery writer, or potential murderer, would want to read.  It should be required reading for anyone planting a garden.  It is more a gift or trivia book rather than for a serious researcher.  Even if you're not a gardener, or potential murderer, this book is interesting and written in a way that could provide just pure fun and enjoyment.  It is a book you will want to sip slowly, to savor. 

At one time, much of this would have been common knowledge as people were more in tune and in contact with the natural world around them.  Books like this are so important so that vital knowledge, and folklore, isn't lost.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Wild Heart

Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff

Adolescent Fiction

This is a beautiful, tender, coming-of-age story.

Lidie has grown up with her aunt and uncle, waiting for the opportunity of being reunited with her father and brother one day.  When Lidie's mother died, the rest of the family moved to the US from Brazil to create a better life.  Lidie has been preparing for going to the US her entire life and she is shocked by her feelings when this dream comes true.  She didn't expect to miss her aunt, uncle, her home and everything that was familiar to her, so much.  Lidie thought being reunited with her father and brother would feel like coming back to her family, but it has been so many years since she's seen them that they are more like strangers.  And, they treat her like the little girl they left behind, not the young woman she has become.  Lidie is being treated like a baby and more than anything, she wants to show her father and brother how much she has in common with them, like training and riding racehorses.

Lidie's story is interspersed with the story of a young filly, a newborn horse taken from its farm home and mother in order to be trained as a race horse at the farm where Lidies' father works as a trainer and her brother as a jockey. 

This is a really short, really fast read.  It's a great book to read aloud during race time (the Kentucky Derby, for example).  It gives a glimpse into trainers' and jockeys' lives and experiences.  It's also a great lesson on immigration and separation from family.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Good in All Respects

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Drama

This is a really good read and a great book for young people.  It's hard to find something about the book that I didn't like.  It has won several awards and rightly so!  It's an easy read for middle school-aged students.  It is very approachable, and not heavy-handed or preachy with the subject matter. 

The main character is August, a boy who has always been home-schooled but who enters school in the fifth grade.  While that would be enough of a meaty plot, August has severe facial deformities due to a genetic condition.  Some description of this is given but, August, like the rest of us, seems to be his own worst critic. 

The book is told from alternating points of view and this makes the story so much richer.  (Dear teachers, this would be a great point-of-view lesson having certain groups read only one character.)  I though Auggie's sister's (Vi's) chapters were the most powerful, but I really loved how all the different character's point of views painted a whole picture of August and his situation.  I love that Palacio didn't pity her character or cut him any breaks.  The brutality of the story made it seem more fair.

It is a book for either a boy or girl of any age.  It has a universal appeal even though it's a situation not many can connect with, at least not initially The story shows the very best of childhood innocence and forgiveness.  This story is also about the important topics of bullying and being a true friend, but also about acceptance, kindness and humanity.  It's about looking beyond our own concept of outward beauty to see the true beauty within.

Monday, October 14, 2013

So-So

The Kill Order:  Maze Runner #0.5 by James Daschner

Dystopian

I have no idea why you should read this as related to the Maze Runner series, or at all.  I thought perhaps it would explain why the 'maze' was created, but it didn't.  I couldn't see that it explained anything.  In what way is this a prequel?  (This is not a rhetorical question...I would really like to know.) Perhaps this should be read after reading more of the series?

The book opens on a small group of survivors who have made it through the sun flares that have killed off most of the population. I was really interested in the pre-story to this part of the book as it sounded fascinating, but don't get your hopes up.  Hardly any of this is explained. 

Now, the few survivors have a new enemy--a virus that turns people into zombie-type creatures.  Sellout!  It felt like the author was buying into the present day zombie hype rather than coming up with a creative idea.

Mark and Trina survived the flares and made a home in the wilderness with a bunch of other misfits.  When the zombie plague invades their small group, they find themselves on the run once again.  Mark discovers evidence of other groups in the wilderness, one decimated by the virus and the other with confusing, cutting-edge technology.  When Mark and his group see (and are almost killed by) some type of flying ship; they know its makers hold the key to survival on this new earth.

I found this story to be very bland.  It was just a straight narrative of a very confusing and diluted chain of events with characters I could care less about.  Just so-so.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Made Me So Angry!

Prodigy: A Legend Novel #2 by Marie Lu

Dystopian

I hated the ending of this book so badly that I literally threw it across the room.  It was awful!  I am not one of those readers who demand a happy, sappy ending full of 'happily-ever-afters', but this ending just seemed so pointless and out of character.  I felt cheated that I waded through almost 1,000 pages to get to it.  I didn't like the surprise Lu had in store for me and swore that I would never pick up another book with her name on it.

Then, I learned it wasn't the end of the series.  So, now I can come down on my ledge! 

June and Day escaped to the colonies with their lives, but is it any better than back home in the Republic?  The leader of the Republic dies and his son Elector Primo takes over.  Primo has a huge crush on June and the rebels decide to use this relationship to further their own political agenda.  The more time June spends with Primo, though, the more she starts to believe in his cause. 

I was expecting a more passionate growth in June and Day's relationship, but instead got a kind of boring political not-so-thriller.  I did like the romantic tension between Tess and Day, but it was undeveloped and led nowhere, like some other plots and subplots in the book.  Hopefully, book three in this series can salvage the ending.  I still did love here what I loved in the first book:  a story told in alternating viewpoints, with differing chapters by June and Day; and, the secondary characters are becoming as captivating as the main characters.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Best Book of the Year

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Fantasy

This is, easily, the best book I've read this year, or perhaps any other.  It was beautiful, haunting, lyrical.  It was one of those books that make you sad that you've read it because it isn't still waiting to be read. I was in severe book hang-over for awhile--nothing else measured up.  I know it won the Printz Honor but I'm surprised it doesn't have a slew of gold and silver badges on the cover. 

The plot is so clever, so unique.  I guarantee you've read nothing like this.  Sean Kendrick is the island champion, for the past four years, of the local island horse race.  Sean has ridden and trained everyone of the champions, fairy horses that eat flesh and yearn to return to the ocean.  Puck is not a typical racer, mostly because she's a girl in this brutal, male-dominated sport.  But she's also desperate and willing to die for her family and her horse.

The story seems to exist on its own, without the words or the book.  It goes beyond merely, "I was transported" to this location.  I felt as if the salt spray of that ocean crusted my arms and my ears ached from the keening of the horses.  The setting is so integral to the story that it's as if Stiefvater was raised in those harsh isles.  It's as if the story existed regardless of the author or readers, a story so real and true it MUST have happened in some alternate universe and Stiefvater was just lucky enough to be there to record it. 

I have read Shiver by Stiefvater, but it didn't approach this level of genius.  Regardless, I did just go and buy every other book by her in hopeful anticipation I will find another gem!

Monday, September 30, 2013

For History Buffs

Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

History

The cover and back story on this book reminded me so much of Bloody Times and Finding Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson that I actually thought it this was a sequel in the series when I bought it.  However, it wasn't nearly the calibre and quality of Swanson's books, which is a shame because, in many ways, I found this story to be more fascinating.  It is certainly not as well-known.  I've never heard of it and I'm quite a history buff, so that's really saying something.

The book involves the very interesting dilemma of Abe Lincoln's body and the fact that it was difficult to keep in one place.  Then, there's counterfeiting--a huge counterfeiting enterprise that has worldwide implications.  What do these two seemingly unconnected topics have in common?  Old-fashioned greed and some really inept thieves.  Apparently, these criminals decided to kidnap the body of our beloved President Lincoln and hold it for ransom.

I'm not sure if I thought the book was just okay because I was comparing it to the other two.  It came off as mediocre story, almost as if the author was doing a book project, rather than relating his own fascination with the story.  I think the story would have been more captivating if it were told in a narrative strain.  It just felt like a retelling.  Some humor, or sadness--some emotion--would have gone a long way towards making this a better story.  This book is probably best for history buffs and not the adolescents it was marketed to.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Short, And Not So Sweet

Dream Dark:  Caster Chronicles #2.5 by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Paranormal

The information said it was 80 pages long, but that was seriously misleading.  More than half this book was the beginning of the next book in the series.  This should be more like #2.1! 

I bought this because it was about Link and I am really starting to be intrigued with him as a character and with his on-again/off-again relationship with Ridley; but, this didn't have much in it to satisfy my reader's curiosity.  It was disappointing and not worth the little money I spend on it.

The story didn't advance the plot of the series and didn't advance the character of Link.  It seemed kind of pointless.  The plot:  Link is trying to come to grips with turning into a Linkubus and goes on a mission through some underground tunnels.  He is joined by a friendly dog and confronts an evil creature.  Some of this Link does kind of connect in Beautiful Redemption, the final book, but I still just doesn't see how it really matters for the overall plot.

I'm a little made that I paid for this when it was included in the next book for free!  I feel ripped off and cheated and it causes me to respect the authors less.  I am a reader first, not a wallet!  There should be a note on the 'Book Description'.  I hate to be used just for my money.  I'm ready for this series to be over.  The series never achieved lift-off after the first one.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Definitely Loved It

Sookie Stackhouse #6:  Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

Paranormal Romance

These books just get better ad better and this was the best one yet!

Sookie's cousin Hadley dies and, while they haven't been close in years, Hadley was still family.  So, Sookie takes off work for a few days and drives to New Orleans to see what Hadley left in her will.  Course, nothing is ever easy with Sookie!  It turns out that Hadley was the favorite lover and love of the vampire queen of New Orleans.  What should be an easy trip just got way more complicated.   Someone doesn't want Sookie investigating Hadley's death or life too closely, so that  is just what Sookie does.    When Sookie finds out Hadley was murdered, she knows she is on the right track.  Sookie's new love interest is a were-tiger.  I really like him but I hope she is using him just for his body.  I have my hopes set on Eric.  Bill is still on the outs and Eric is getting the cold shoulder. New lover Quinn is in.

It is a fascinating read on the social/hierarchical structure of vampire marriages.  Although Sookie's 'Miss Innocent' act is starting to stretch my patience, her love life is hotter than a $2...well, you get the point.  These book are addicting!  Sookie is addicting!  Each time I get the new one, I feel like I've given myself a little gift.  I've read reviews that say Sookie is a static character, that she doesn't change, but I've found that to be untrue and I can't wait to see what she does in #7.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Zombies: The New Vampire

Deck Z:  The Titanic. Unsinkable.  Undead. by Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon

Paranormal History

Just when I think I've read every book there is about the Titanic and that nothing else interesting can happen, along comes this book.

 A scientist, afraid the Germans will use his plague research in war, steals it and escapes.  Of course, the Germany military pursues him. When the zombie virus gets loose on the Titanic, Capt. Edward Smith only has a limited time to contain it--or doom everyone on board.  It must be contained before it can be allowed to reach New York City, so the clock is ticking.  There is so much going on in this story! 

With a zombie book, I was expecting something similar to other zombie books or movies and dreading that it would be cheesy--but it wasn't.  It was very cleverly done and really captured my imagination.  Better still, the authors made it seem plausible!  I loved the scientific aspect of it.  I loved how the authors connected it to a secret WWII experiment.  It felt very Dr. Frankenstein-ish.  My only real complaint--and what kept this book from being really great--is the lack of a character I could sink my teeth into (I mean that in a totally non-zombie way, of course!).  The main character was never really more than 'the scientist' to me.  This was definitely a book of complete action. It's also really hard to pin down an audience for this.  It was marketed in an adolescent book fair but the lack of a young main character makes me doubtful.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Way Better Than I Anticipated

Stranded by Jeff Probst and Chris Tebbetts

Adolescent Survival

I was fully set to dislike this, but.......I found myself really liking it!  I would definitely recommend it for its target audience-adolescents.  While the book is probably mostly written by Tebbetts, I felt as if the voice of Jeff Probst came though loud and clear-a very direct, no-nonsense style.

Four young people (and brand new step-siblings) are off on a sailing adventure with their uncle.  But, of course, nothing goes as planned.  A huge storm cripples the boat; the uncle is swept overboard; and, the kids get shipwrecked on a deserted island.  It's not surprising that the book is set on an island (Probst is the host of the mega-TV show Survivor), and the characters have to survive on their own with just their wits and natural elements.  That's what Probst is good at.  However, unlike the Survivor TV show, there is no backstabbing, lying or power-hungry, morally bankrupt contestants intent only on greed and selfishness.  (Can you tell I can't stand the show?)  While I don't like my kids to watch the TV show, I would recommend this to readers in middle school.

While the adventure/survival aspect was cool, I was most impressed by the family dynamics here.  The reactions of the teens were realistic and thoughtful and gripping.  They weren't just cardboard cutouts of characters, which is what I thought I would get. 

It's a little book that packs  a lot of punch.  Fast and easy to read at 192 pages.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Like Twilight, But With Wolves

Shiver:  The Wolves of Mercy Falls #1 by Maggie Stiefvater

Paranormal Romance


I did not like this as much as I wanted to.  I wanted to fall in love with it, to have it be my new addiction and it just wasn't.  But, I must say I did like it just fine.

When Grace was a small girl, she was attacked by wild wolves and taken into the woods to be eaten.  She was saved by one wolf, one with yellow eyes.  She watches for him every night, unafraid of the consequences.  Now in their teens, Grace meets a handsome boy with yellow eyes.  he feels so familiar to her.  Grace soon finds out why.  Sam, the yellow-eyed boy, is also the yellow-eyed wolf.  He's a werewolf who can only stay human as long as the weather is warm. When it turns cold outside, Sam's body, against his will, turns into a wolf.  He only has a short time to be with Grace before he turns into a wolf forever.

There is also another threat to their burgeoning romance--Sam is afraid this might be his last summer as a human.  It is harder and harder to change back and he feels the wolf taking him over completely.  Is it safe to be around Grace?  Is it smart?

The one thing I really didn't like about the book was the absolute clue-lessness of Grace's parents.  Sam practically lives in Grace's bedroom, sleeping with her every night and her parents were  none the wiser.  It felt so unbelievable to me and brought me out of the story.

I liked the plot and the writing was beautiful.  I felt the book gathered speed and momentum as it went along.  I will definitely be reading the next one--I just don't feel the need to rush and buy it right this moment.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Great Surprise

Seventh Son:  Tales of Alvin Maker #1 by Orson Scott Card

Classic Alternative History

This book is alternative history, which I usually have trouble with (it hurts my brain) and generally dont' like.  That was not the case with this book--because I loved it!  What a surprise!  I grew to love it and loved it slowly, not all at once.  And, this is why I read every book all the way through instead of giving up in the first few chapters.  Once I knew the genre, I would have skipped this book.

The setting is in frontier America and there is magic and fantasy and fantastic creatures, but it never comes off as weird.  It seemed absolutely right and fitting that frontier America would include this--which is a testament to Card's genius writing skills.

The story is called Alvin #1, but most of it is a prehistory of Alvin's family and how they came to the land where they are.  Since Alvin is the seventh son of a seventh son, he is gifted and magical--and targeted by an unseen, unknown force who tries to kill him even before he is born.  A young girl with second sight saves his life when he is born.  She knows that Alvin and his powers are going to be important and significant.  A creature, or spirit, called the 'Unmaker' wants to unmake Alvin and tries repeatedly to cause his accidental death.  (I especially loved non-believers' reactions!)

Since most of this focuses on the first five to seven years of Alvin's life, you will definitely have to read more in the series to finish this tale. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Wishy-Washy Main Character Keeps This from Being Great

The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean

Adult Chic-Lit

What a perfectly delightful book!  It has some of my very favorite things in it:  vintage clothing, dress shops, chic grandmothers and journaling.

Dora is a bit of a mess--as unlike her cool grandmother as two people can be; yet, when her grandmother becomes ill, Dora drops everything and rushes home to be by her side.  Of course, leaving her old life behind isn't that tragic.  Dora is finishing up some vague, meaningless degree and still doesn't know what to do with her life.  She works in a coffee shop, has a crush on a guy named Gary who only seems to see her as a friend-with-benefits.  The benefits being that she does all his work.  Dora is in way over her head and relies on old friends and family to be her crutches.  She is also delighted, and confused, to meet her grandmother's close friend, Conrad, who is a very handsome, very attentive, very helpful contractor. 

She's also surprised by some things she's finding out about her grandmother.  Namely, the handwritten fictional histories that come with each dress in the shop, a vintage clothing store her grandmother owns.  What a lovely idea! 

My only complaint is with the character of Dora.  She was a little annoying.  She is so unsure of herself that she seems paralyzed from making decisions and that drags the book in places.  This is not an exciting book, more like a lazy Sunday read.  It would also have been nice if the romance between Dora and Conrad had been developed more.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Old-Fashioned, But Fun

Who Ran My Underwear Up the Flagpole? by Jerry Spinelli

Elementary Humor

If you are above the age of 8 or 9, you probably won't like this book.  It is part of the School Daze series.  I'm not sure which one in the series and I don't think it matters.  The plot wasn't complicated enough to worry about.

There are four main characters who are best friends:  Sunny, Salem, Eddie, and Pickles.  Everyone is reacting to the new school year differently.  Sunny has become a cheerleader and promptly gets in a fight with a fan who isn't peppy enough.  Salem has become the football team's manager and institutes snack time and counseling sessions.  Eddie is trying to overcome the embarrassment of having his Superman underwear run up the flagpole by getting a reputation as a mean, tough football player.  Pickles is, well, just Pickles.  There also seems to be strange love square going on.  Eddie likes Sunny.  Salem likes Eddie.  Sunny might like Pickles.  Pickles, well, he's just Pickles.

This book was such a throwback to a simpler time, before text messaging and technology--a time when kids played outside, played with one another, actually conversed!  It had a nice old-fashioned feel to it.  But, it wasn't too old-fashioned.  The topics and characters are still relevant to today's youth-crushes, troubles with friends, unrequited crushes, bullying at school, not being the best at sports and that age-old dilemma:  When is one too old to trick-or-treat?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Still Waters Run Deep

The Watchman:  Joe Pike #1 by Robert Crais

Adult Thriller

I really, really liked the character of Joe Pike from the Elvis Cole series by Crais but wondered if Pike would be a strong enough character to carry his own book.  I mean, he probably didn't say twenty words total in any one book.  Silly me!  Pike is just as addictive and fascinating as Elvis Cole was.

Joe Pike solves impossible cases where muscle and breaking the law is needed.  We've all been there, right? In this first book, Pike is hired to watch poor, little, spoiled-brat Larkin.  Larkin reminded me of the celebrity personas Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan.  Pike doesn't particularly like Larkin, but a job's a job.  Larkin was the witness to an accident that is starting look more and more like murder.  And, now the bad guys are coming for her.

Larkin really, really doesn't want to be protected.  She thinks it's silly and fights it every step of the way.  Pike is totally out of his element with this girl.  He's used to ruthless killers, not pampered teens and he realizes that he would rather battle cold-blooded, battle-hardened thugs.  As the mother of two teen girls, I understood Pike's emotional woes.

Joe Pike is a lot like an armadillo, or a porcupine or snapping turtle.  Hard and tough on the outside, gooey and soft on the inside.  He's more emotional and sympathetic than Cole.  Pike and Larkin are such extremes and complement each other so well.  Pike:  cold and hard on the outside, a melting heart inside.  Larkin:  easily broken exterior, tough as nails on the inside.

A great new series for me to devour.  And, best of all--Elvis Cole is here, too!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fab Five

Stephanie Plum #5:  High Five by Janet Evanovitch

Mystery/Humor

I accidentally read this one before #4 so I was out of the loop on a lot of stuff.  #4 must have been a really busy book!  I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as the others and wonder if it is because I missed a book or if the series is starting to pale.  I hate when that happens!

In this installment of Stephanie's crazy life, Uncle Fred is missing and Stephanie is put on the case.  It's not her favorite uncle and her aunt doesn't seem too upset.  Still, family is family.  Instead of finding Uncle Fred, Stephanie finds a garbage full of body parts and is, once again, up to her eyeballs in trouble (literally) and over her head. 

Stephanie is such a BAD bounty hunter.  She bumbles that job like everything else she bumbles up in her life.  She is like a blind fish in the ocean, bumping into things--some good (like food) and some bad (like sharks).  It's refreshing to see a murder mystery series where is the main character is actually a worse detective than me.  It gives me hope.

I disliked that there was less of Morelli since they seem to have broken up in book #4.  Pity-he is so conducive to those nice sparks between the two of them.  The plus side of less Morelli is more Ranger and I did enjoy that math equation.  Ranger seems to be taking more than a professional interest in his protegee.  I can't wait to see where that plot line goes.

The books are getting funnier.  I don't read these expecting deep symbolism or a character with great depth.  It's just good, fab fun.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Real-Life Scary

Rage by Stephen King (written as Richard Bachman)


This book was pulled from publication after the school shootings, with King's approval.  It is a very short book, for King, at a little over 200 pages.  I don't know if one can say they 'enjoy' a book like this.  King's works can be thrilling or breath-taking, even satisfying, but enjoying just doesn't cut it.  This one was very uncomfortable and frightening, especially if light of the recent school shootings that have happened.  Yet, a glimpse into the mind of this character was enlightening to me as a teacher. 

It is told from the point of view of Charlie Decker, a junior in high school who is tired of being a doormat for his peers and reacts by bringing a gun to school to 'get even'.  Charlie is quite convinced he is the victim.  I can't agree, certainly not to the degree he takes it.  His thinking makes him a very unreliable narrator, which always make the reader uneasy.  The unease is heightened by the setting in a school.  This is not a book for everyone and I had moments of just wanting to walk away from it. 

I also found the actions of Charlie's classmates to be disturbing and unbelievable.  Only two students of an entire class disagrees with Charlies?!?  Everyone else seems to think his actions are completely sane and reasonable--except for one boy who fights back and one terrified girl.  I was also very disturbed by the students' reaction of the shooting of their teacher. There was almost no reaction, which I found to be unbelievable.

I do not think this glorifies teen violence.  I think it might help to explain the mindset of those being bullied.  As a King story, it is outside what I am used to.  It certainly had horror, but not the paranormal escape I was looking for.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Condie is a Master with Words

Matched #3:  Reached by Ally Condie

Dystopian Fiction

I loved, loved, loved this entire series!  It was so addictive and this last one, the ending, was so satisfying.  I have found that many writers, after their books have become wildly popular, commercialize the last book.  They try to make ALL the readers happy with a ridiculously sappy ending or leave the ending open in an equally ridiculous way to capitalize off another, new series.  This one felt well and truly ended and it was worth reading all those pages just to get to this.

Reached started just where the other one left off, but it really picked up the pace.  I was afraid it was going to drag like book #2 did, but it got right to business and stayed that way.  Cassia, Ky, and Xander tell their own story in each of their chapters.  I don't know which of these three I like the most.  I do know that ALL of them cannot get what they most hold dear and that created the most delicious tension.  Cassia and Ky and Xander continue their quest to overtake their Society and are working hard in the Rising to make that happen.  If you need more of a summary than that, go back to the first book in the series and start reading from there. 

What I loved best about these book was Condie's writing style.  Her prose sounds so like the loveliest poetry.  I found myself rereading parts out loud, just to hear what the words would sound like.  Overall, I'm sad that the series is over.  Hopefully, the author will come out with some new book.  I'm pretty sure I would read anything she writes.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Classics Never Go Out of Style

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

Classic Fiction

I would love to see this tattooed man!  The descriptions sounds so amazing.  With the popularity of tattoos today, I can say, once again, that Bradbury was a literary visionary.

What a genius idea for a collection of short stories.  A man wanders out of the woods one day.  He is completely covered in beautiful, brilliant tattoos.  As the narrator looks at him, each tattoo starts moving, coming to life and telling a story.

Bradbury is a master of science fiction and the stories in this collection range from terror-filled to tragic to just plain weird.  The 18 short stories do not have interconnecting scenes or characters but are only connected through the skin of the tattooed man.  My favorite story was the first one called "The Veldt".  It's about a family who has two kids who watch too much of their 3D TV.  When the parents try to discipline the kids and take their TV away, the children retaliate by turning the channel to an African veldt with hungry lions ad locking their parents in the room.  Some stories were so tragically awful.  "Kaleidoscope" was about a group of astronauts hurtling through space with no change of rescue.  "The Last Night of the World" is where a couple discover this one night is their last on Earth.  How would you spend your last moments? Not like them, that's for sure!  I also really like "The Exiles.  Any story with Edgar Allen Poe and other famous classic authors as main characters is the story for me!

Bradbury, always in fashion--no matter the decade!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Archaic History

Divide and Conquer:  Infinity Ring #2 by Carrie Ryan

Adolescent Fantasy

So,  I like to think I know a lot about history.  I'm a bit of a fanatic, really.  I read all I can.  I go to museums.  I watch documentaries.  You might even say I'm a history buff.  I could probably run the category dry on Jeopardy.  But I didn't really see what was wrong with the history in this book!  And, isn't that kind of the point of this series?  If I can't figure it out, an adolescent surely isn't going to-unless he or she is a serious history lover of archaic French battles.

Dak, Sera and Riqu are still racing around in time.  Dak is trying to fin his parents, who are lost in time.  Sera and Riq are still trying to fix some time 'mistakes' that have been hi-jacked and possibly have something to do with their own messed up memories.  This time, the three are in medieval Paris and are supposed to stop a Viking invasion. 

My favorite part of this story was the addition of a giant dog (wolf hound or Pyrenees?) to the crew.  A Viking dog who becomes attached to Dak--that should make things more fun.  I hope it's a permanent addition.

The farther this series goes, the more lost it gets.  That's a shame because I really love this author.  For all that, I did like the plot better in this one than the first.  The book is marked as 'transmedia'.  I believe there is some type of website and game that goes with the book.  While that isn't my cup of tea, I am wondering if that might improve the story.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Best One Yet

F is for Fugitive:  Kinsey Milhone #6 by Sue Grafton

Mystery

This book is the best one to date!  I hope that trend continues with the series.  If I use alphabetic math (the only kind of math I know), the series should get 20x better by  the last one.  Z is for ?  What in the world will Grafton think of?

Kinsey Milhone usually sticks close to home for her cases, but since her apartment is still under renovation (someone blew it up trying to kill her) and her office is closed (someone tried to frame her for fraud and murder), Kinsey decides to take a working vacation at the beach.  Kinsey is hired to solve a 20-year old murder case of a local teenager.  The hotel's owner is a dying man and wants to see his son's name cleared of the crime.

The 'F' for fugitive is for Bailey, the rumored teen-turned-murderer, now escaped and on the loose and communicating only with Kinsey, who is desperately working to figure out  a decades old crime.

Grafton's description of the setting in this book, the hotel, was spot on.  I can picture it, so similar to a cheesy and damp Daytona Beach hotel we stayed in last summer.  A cold wetness just kept seeping between my toes and I couldn't wipe it off; the sand irritating in my shoes.  Everything was damp and decaying-a slow death and Grafton captured it perfectly.

This one is  a little different from some of Kinsey's other books.  This one was filled with a lot of sadness.  Is it because the murdered girl was so young?  The reader really gets to see how the murder affects the families of everyone involved, including the murderer himself.  You don't have to read the books in order but it helps with the subplots of the minor characters.  And, since it's ABC, it isn't really too hard to keep track of which ones you've read.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

WWII from a Dog Lover's Perspective

Finding Zasha by Randi Barrow

Adolescent Historical Fiction

It's hard to tell if you should read this one first or not.  It's a prequel to Saving Zasha, although Zasha also gets saved in this one.  Troublesome dog, but worth it.

The story takes place during WWII in Russia.  It is a unique perspective of the war as the cities were essentially frozen by the war and the weather--cities left to fend for themselves for the creature comforts of warmth and food as nothing can get past the front lines and nobody is allowed to leave.  Ivan,the main character, and his friend are forced to leave Leningrad when his mother is sent to work in a factory.  The trip is arduous and dangerous and they arrive to find their new village home is being taken over by Nazis.

The German officer in charge inspects the town with his two German shepherd puppies, killers-in-training to hunt down the enemy.  Ivan decides how he can fight the Nazis in his own small way.  I loved this aspect of the story-one person making a difference in the world!  Ivan wants to train the puppies to NOT kill, but to be just regular dogs.

Personally, I think the hero of the book was the little old lady neighbor.  She hides money and food in hollowed out places in her apartment and furniture, shares her last bit of food with her neighbors, and risks her life to take Ivan across the country on an ice road to her sister-in-law's house.  That's chutzpah!

Mostly, I found the story to be kind of slow and boring and parts of it a bit cliche.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Great Start to the Series

Killing Floor:  Jack Reacher #1 by Lee Child

Action/Adventure

I read this book because I always like to read the book before I watch the movie (starring Tom Cruise, which was great, by the way).  Because I did absolutely no research, I just assumed the film would be on this book, the first in the series.  It was not.  Instead, it was apparently adapted from the 9th book in the series.  I have no idea why.  I don't think the plot was worse or better in either book so I am curious why film-makers started there. 

Personally, I feel that Killing Floor would have made the better movie.  It had just as much violence, a better mystery, more of an explanation on whom Reacher is and what his motivations are plus a healthy dose of romance (well, man-romance--none of that sappy stuff).

Jack Reacher is an drifter, literally floating from town to town on a whim.  His current whim has him investigating/tracking down a legend surrounding a favorite blues singer of his.  Reacher has been in town for just a few hours before trouble finds him (in a cafe, eating breakfast).  He is arrested for a crime he didn't commit and knows nothing about.  Reacher is a patient man...to a degree and then he is impatient to the extreme.  Pretty soon, he just takes the entire town and hands them their butts back in a little bag.  Reacher is one mean son of a gun...and really good at it.

I really liked this book. Just pure adventure fun.  It started to drag a little in the beginning and when Jack was making his 'plan'.  Other than that, it was a great read.  Action, adventure and an intricate and original plot.  I love the character of Jack Reacher and am really looking forward to #2 (or #9--I doubt it matters if you read them in order).  He didn't give anything away.  There is a whole lot more to discover about him.  Those still waters run very deep.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Beautiful and Powerful

Kindred Souls by Patricia MacLachlan

Adolescent Drama/Realistic Fiction

MacLachlan has quickly risen to the top of my favorite author list.  Her prose is like the finest poetry, no less powerful for its brevity.  Indeed, I marvel that she is able to pack such emotion and meaning into such few words, like a little packet of word dynamite.

Jake and Billy are kindred souls, more than just grandson and grandfather.  They're always together and always know just what to say to each other.  But, on a walk around their farm one day, Billy starts reminiscing about the old sod house where he grew up.  He tells Jake he would love to see the old sod house again, rebuilt on the same spot.  Jake is resistant to the idea and doesn't quite know why.  Jake, and his brother and sister, resist Billy's request until Billy is taken to the hospital and they realize they don't have much time left with him, that the sod house might be his last request of them ever.

I'm not sure why this has not yet been nominated for 1000 awards yet; it surely deserves to!  I did have some students confused by the way the story is narrated.  They couldn't figure out that 'Billy' was the grandfather.  "Why not just call him 'grandfather', then?" they wanted to know.  Other than that, they all said they loved the story, too.  The ending was so sad and so beautiful.  It is a story that can sensitively teach about the loss of a grandparent, the importance of family connections and how multi-generational families work.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Deserving of the Newberry Award

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
Adolescent Mystery

This book was awarded the 2013 Newberry Honor. I feel it is fully deserving of the top place honor. I read the Award winner and just felt like this one was better. It is my very favorite kind of book--one that drips Southern sweetness like sweet tea, thick and honeyed with just a hint of danger. (Doesn't everyone drink their tea this way?)

Moses LaBeau is quite a character, which is a shame because I'd love to meet her in person. She is funny, sassy and take-charge. Her backstory? She was found in the waves of a hurricane by her adoptive father, the Colonel, and now they're quietly running a cafe in small-town, North Carolina, where nothing much ever happens. Except on the day a policeman shows up asking about a murder, a situation Mo LeBeau needs to be in on.

Mo enlists the help of her very best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, a boy just about afraid of his own shadow and almost willing to die for Mo. (That almost part is really important in the story.) But suddenly, Colonel is missing and her adoptive mother Miss Lana is frantic with worry. Mo now has two cases to worry about and is worried that the two might be connected.

Tupelo Landing, North Carolina is a town I want to visit and these are people I want to meet because this is a story you can just plunk down and marinate in. It is a book that will make you howl with tears and chortles. My only warning would be that it is borderline appropriate for elementary students. Besides the murder, there is some domestic abuse.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Charmer

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Adolescent Fiction for Girls

I  knew I was in trouble when I started tearing up on page 86.  By page 138, I was in full waterworks and I was just a weepy mess the last five chapter.

Carley is a heart breaker of a character.  Try to resist falling for this charmer; I dare you! 

Carley's life with her mother has always been a burden, but when it turns dark and dangerous, Carley is removed from her mother's guardianship and placed in foster care.  Carley has no intention of letting her guard down ever again, but the Murphys have a way of getting under her skin.  Soon, Carley is certain that a home with the Murphys is exactly what she needs.  She's a perfect fit for them and vice-versa. Naturally, her mother would pick this exact moment to want her back. What if Carley doesn't want to go back?  Shouldn't she get a choice?  And, would she really choose this new family over her old one?

There is so much to love with this book.  It's easily one that could be read again and again.  Carley's angst is one that will break your heart.  There are no easy decision and I like that the author didn't provide an easy escape.  Life is often like that, especially for kids in these types of situations. 

I found that some of my students, girls with difficult and tragic home situations really gravitated towards this book.  It would be a good bibliotherapy for young people dealing with abuse, foster care and adoption situations. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

One of the Best Reads of the Year

Legend by Marie Lu

'Dystopian'/Futuristic Thriller

This novel is set in a dystopian future where the United States is divided into two warring nations--the Republic of the west, and the Colonies of the east.  Fifteen year-old Day has grown up in the Republic.  Born into the slums and desperately poor, Day is a futuristic Robin Hood, stealing from the 'haves' and giving to the 'have-nots'.  He's always circling his family and very protective of them, even though he is constantly on the run and living on the streets.  With him is a protegee, a young girl he saved and who now idolizes him.

June is a true modern-day princess of the Republic.  Trained as a warrior, she has been working towards the Republic Army her entire life.  She finally achieved her goal and is rated #1 in the entire Republic for her fierce skills and intellect.  June's world comes crashing down when her beloved brother and sole remaining family member is murdered.....by Day.

June decides to go undercover to capture Day.  But, the boy she finds is not the cold-hearted killer she expected.  Soon, she's questioning her motives, her history, even her very way of life.

I was addicted to this book as soon as I started it.  Amazing from start to finish!  It is a book that will make you forget everything else around you--food, sleep, family!  It is a more militaristic 'Hunger Games' type book.  I loved the duality of the story.  The color and fonts of the alternating chapters by June and Day kept pulling me in and I just couldn't put it down until I read one more chapter...then one more...just one more!  The characters are so real they practically leap off the page and the reader gets taken along for the ride, unable or unwilling to stop.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Great New Series for Adolescent Boys

Killer Species:  Menace From the Deep by Michael Spradlin

Adolescent Thriller

This first book in the series was amazing and I can't wait to get started on the second one!

Emmett's father is an avian specialist and travels a lot.  Their last assignment was in Montana and Emmett is not happy his father has just been transferred to the Florida Everglades.  As soon as they arrive, Emmett meets Calvin, the son of an Everglades park ranger, and they discover they both have something in common--they've lost a parent.  And, that's about the only thing they have in common.  While Emmett's father gets to know his new boss (Calvin's mother), Calvin and Emmett take an air boat ride.  Calvin laughs at Emmett's obvious fear of swamps and alligators.  But, he stops laughing when the two are attacked by an alligator-like creature. 

It's the same kind of creature a park ranger found dead and brought back for Emmett's dad to study.  Emmett's father announces the creature is a DNA splice of an alligator and gray owl and is similar to a dinosaur from millions of years ago.  Dr. Catalyst knows just what the creature is.  He created it in his lab, after all.  He's an eco-terrorist and his plan is to save the Everglade's indigenous creatures by killing off the python snakes that have taken over.  His apex predators will kill all the pythons--and anything else he wants them too!

I absolutely loved this book.  It was full of excitement and adventure from page one.  It is a smart thriller that boys will surely love--especially ones who might not normally read.  Personally, I can't wait to see what's in store for me in book two!