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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Monday, January 28, 2013

As Good As I Expected

The Infernal Devices #1:  Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Fantasy/Steampunk

This is a prequel series to Clare's Mortal Instruments series although it doesn't really matter which seies you read first.  It has many of the same immortal characters at different points in their endless lives.

When sixteen-year old Tessa receives a letter from her brother to come join him in England, she doesn't hesitate.  After all, what is there left for her in America?  Their guradian, Tessa's aunt, is dead and Tessa is left practically destitute.  As soon as she arrives for her fresh start, though, she is captured and imprisoned by the Dark Sisters, who keep her captive and train her to become a shifter, a person who can physically change into someone else. 

She is rescued by the Shadowhunters, a small group dedicated to ridding the world of the Magister and his evil minions.  The Magister is quite intent on claiming Tessa for his own.  Tessa isn't quite sure which side she wants to join.  The Magister and the Dark Sisters are evil, but they have her brother.  The Shadowhunters aren't much better.  They just want to use her for her powers.  Or, do they?  Whom should Tessa trust?  Tessa is also torm between James and Will and is in quite the delightful predicament.

I did really live this book and will continue the series.  However, it is not nearly as addictive as The Mortal Instruments.  I think if it were more fantasy and less steampunk, I would have enjoyed it more but that is just a quirk of mine.  Steampunk always confuses me just a little and leaves me feeling gritty.  This book was no different.  The characters are all delightful to get to know and Clare leaves much unfinished business and many threads left dangling.  And, the best part are always these covers-beautiful!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Change Isn't Always a Good Thing

Gallagher Girls #3:  Don't Judge a Girl By Her Cover by Ally Carter

Adolescent Spy Thriller/Adventure

This book is a departure from the first two books in the series, in both plot and mood, and the change wasn't a welcome one.  The other two books have been more 'offensive' in nature, where Cammie and her friends get to tackle bad guys and cute boys using skills they are learning at the top secret Gallagher Girl spy school.  This book is more 'defensive' as Cammie, and more so, Macey have to defend their lives against unknown foes that are trying to kidnap the vice-president's daughter.    And, it turns out the girls aren't nearly so good at defense, especially when it's personal.  The mood in this book is different, too, and just the opposite of the first two.  This book was a downer.  The girls are very depressed and unsure of themselves in an almost stifling way.  They very quickly surrender to their victimization.

That is probably my main complaint with this book.  I thought the first two were such good books for the girls in  my classroom, so full of power and independence.  But this one is more a lesson in letting your fear overcome you.

Another sore point-this book is more about Cammie's BFF Macey than about Cammie herself. Cammie almost seems like an interested bystander.  If Macey told more of the story, it might have worked better.  Also, there was no real romance here but it may lead the way for a strange new romance in the next installment.

Still, I liked the book and really like this series.  These books must be read in order to really make sense. I hope the next one gets back on track.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Much The Same

Diary of a Wimpy Kid #6:  Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney

Adolescent Graphic Novel



This book is much the same as the others.  So, if books #1-5 appealed to you, you will like this one too.

The 'cabin fever' of the title refers to Greg's situation of being snowed in at home--with his mother and brothers and no electricity.  However, Greg is not necessarily anxious to return to school because he just might have, accidentally, caused some vandalism there. 

Greg is in mortal agony:  desperate to get away from his family and go back to school but also dreading going back lest he be arrested and sent to prison!

This is a topic that so many kids can relate to--the awful feeling of having done something wrong and just waiting for someone to discover it.  Young readers will also be able to relate to a snow day gone haywire.  Many days off with only your wacky family for entertainment and no electricity and the food choices less than yum-worthy.  This read should make every kid appreciate school.

I've seen lots of complaints on Amazon from parents that Greg is not not a proper or acceptable role model.  He isn't supposed to be!  This is pure over-the-top escapist fun.  Everything that Greg says or does is a lesson in doing the exact opposite.  That's what makes these books so funny.  Grey says and does things we wish we could say or do, but human decency prevents us.  Greg is not humanly decent, for the most part.  But, he sure is fun.  This book, all the books, are for adolescent reluctant readers, for a reason, and those readers will love this new installment.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Angelic Indeed

Maximum Ride #7:  Angel by James Patterson

Fantasy/Thriller/Adventure

This is a book series I have been following for years, but it is definitely worth the wait. 

This basic synopsis for the series is this:  Evil scientist experimented on creating a human/animal hybrid.  They kept a group of children in cages to experiment on until these kids escaped, determined not to be used as a weapon.  Maximum Ride, or Max, is the leader of this gang that includes Fang, Gasman, Izzie and other lovable characters including Angel, the youngest, creepiest, and most unknown entity.  In previous installments, Max and the gang have saved the world together but their happy family starts to fracture when Max and Fang can't keep their romantic tension under control.  Their relationship is just too explosive.  What makes the romance even tougher is the introduction of a character named Dylan, a hybrid who was created to be the perfect match for Max.  It's hard to compete with someone else's soul mate, even a manufactured one.  Fang and Max have to bring their two tribes together to conquer an unknown enemy.

This series is the perfect example of the enigma that is James Patterson.  When he wants to (alone!!), he can write a book that can blow your mind.  Then, he turns into a complete sell-out and just slaps his name on some crap someone else writes.  This one is the first kind of Patterson, the true Patterson genius.  I absolutely love this series, from its short chapters to its scathing comebacks to an impossible love triangle and so much more.

The ending, of course, means I'll come back for more.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

As Boring As the Ticking of the Clock

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

Adolescent Steampunk/Fantasy

The first word that comes to my mind after reading this book?  Boring.

My second thought?  It's really, really well-written.

The 'three' in the title is for the three main characters-Giuseppe, a kidnapped orphan/street musician desperate to return to Italy and be reunited with his family; Hannah, a young girl forced into menial labor to her support her family; and Frederick, a young clockmaker who has a manic obsession to build a clockwork automaton.  They apparently have nothing in common and through chance encounters become friends and allies against their individual enemies.

The setting in the book was the Industrial Revolution with a bit of steampunk thrown in.  I didn't really quite get the genre.  The book genre-jumped all the way through.  Was it steampunk?  Fantasy?  Realism?  It made me question the plot and what I was reading.  Annoying.

The book starts off really slow and only get to the top speed of a sluggish steam engine.  It isn't a bad book, but just lacked that special something.  I didn't particularly like any of the characters.  Hannah was probably my favorite and I found her easy to relate to but her background and motivations weren't explained well enough for me to really sink my teeth into.  I most certainly did not like Frederick and I dreaded when it was his turn to tell the narrative.  He was cold, selfish and tight-lipped and willing to do anything to realize his dreams, which I also didn't quite get.  Building an automaton, I suppose.  Charles Dickens would probably have loved this, but for me it was just okay.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Not "Dead" Enough

Dead Is a Battlefield by Marlene Perez

Teen Paranormal

I got this book because I thought it was part of Perez's "Dead Is...." series, which I really like a lot.  The first one was "Dead Is the New Black" and surrounded the Giordano sisters, each one named for a flower and each one with a paranormal skill they use to fight local crimes.  The Giordano sisters are only mentioned as peripheral characters, which is a shame because this main character isn't nearly so interesting.

Jessica isn't having a great freshman year.  Somehow, a moving tattoo mysteriously appears on her arm-and she sees the same tattoo on some other shady girls around town.  Jessica discovers that the tattoo is the mark of the Virrago, a mythical female warrior dedicated to fighting evil.  Except the tattoo must have be wrong because Jessica is no warrior.  She puts in half-hearted attempts to fight evil while flirting and generally doing inane selfish thinking.  This is not a female character you can sink your teeth into.

I think that was my biggest problem with this book.  Jessica just seems to trip through the pages , kind of like the whole thing is one big accident.  An irritating girl and not very likable.  The plot was also forgettable but does lay the steps for another in the series--an invitation that I will not be joining.

This seemed to be the second or third in this series and there were lots of thing I felt like I should know but didn't.  I searched around for some others that preceded this one but couldn't clearly find any.  The whole thing just confused me.  Authors, please, when you start a new series, change the name.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Fun Continues

Diary of a Wimpy Kid #5:  The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney

Adolescent Graphic Novel

The story of Greg Heffley never gets old and never ends since each book is only a couple of months long.

So, what is the ugly truth in this book?  Adolescence is no fun.  Face it; you're not a cute kid anymore.  Not like your little brother who gets everything he wants.  Being a middle-schooler is tough.  If pimples aren't enough to deal with, try adding in voice changes and body hair.  GROSS!  Greg longs for his younger years when his cuteness alone allowed him to rake in loads of Christmas presents.  Now, he gets socks.  Or, books.  

What makes it even worse is that Greg's bromance with his best friend Rowley is over.  No big deal.  Rowley was just slowing Greg down, anyway.  Right?

This book is one chuckle after another at the wonderful ironies of growing up.  The funniest part, for me, was the school sleepover which was so exactly what middle school boys do when left to their own devices!  And, what do the teachers do to get them to calm down and actually go to sleep?  Turn off the heat on the coldest night of the year!  My heroes--brilliant!  The best graphic was seeing Greg in his headgear after his first trip to a 'grown up' dentist.  Torture device!

As always, it was a fast and hilarious read.  You could easily finish the whole book in little over an hour.  This series is so good for reluctant readers in middle school.  My books are always checked out with requests to buy more than one of each title.  Music to my reading teacher ears. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Creepy

Dust by Arthur Slade

Adolescent Fiction

I'm not sure what I expected when I started reading this book but it was one creepy story.  And, it stayed creepy all the way through.

One summer day, seven-year Matthew disappears while walking to town.  His brother Robert feels a terrible sense of guilt.  After all, Robert was too busy reading to go with Matthew when his brother asked.  At first, it seems as if it might be an accident but when authorities discover other children from town missing, there is clearly something sinister at work.  At first, Robert's parents and the entire town are paralyzed with grief by the loss, but they slowly seem to recover and then forget all about their missing children.  But, Robert doesn't forget.

Newcomer Abram H. has something to do with Robert's parents' forgetting and something to do with the missing children.  Robert just knows it.  But, how is all this connected to Abram's promise of a rain-making machine?

It had a very Stephen King/Neil Gaiman feel to it for me, although the horror was toned down a bit for the adolescent target.  The story was creepy most of the way through but descended into out-right horror at the end.  It's kind of like a psychological thriller, but....weird.  It was a very interesting setting--takes place during a 'dust bowl' depression in Saskatchewan, Canada.  I always pictured the dust bowl as an American phenomenon so that part was enlightening.  I liked the book but I don't know how well adolescents would like it.  It seems a long wait for the eventual pay-off.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Paulsen at His Finest

Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen

Adolescent Fiction

I had just about given up on Gary Paulsen when this book came along.  Before this book, I would have said that all Paulsen's books fell into these three categories:  survival/adventure, historical fiction and humor.  Now I can add a new Paulsen category-Just Darn Good.

This book is so tender, so touching, so very thoughtfully written about a very tough topic, breast cancer.  But, it is written in a way that is very accessible to young adults and very empowering with a topic that makes most people feel powerless.  That is a lot to accomplish in just under 150 pages, yet is is masterfully done.

Fifteen-year old Finn is looking to have a pretty boring summer with his dog, his dad, his only friend and his books-just the way he likes it.  Then, Johanna moves in next door and both Finn and his best buddy and even the dog fall in love with her.  Johanna's struggle with breast cancer causes both boys to do things they normally wouldn't and to try thing they never would have dreamed possible.

I like that the main characters grieve for their friend but that they also become pro-active and make a difference.  This book has many great message but this is probably the best one:  every person can do something to make a positive change.

This is one of the best Paulsen books I've read and a great read or read-aloud for breast cancer awareness.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Loved It!

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Dystopian/Apocalyptic/Futuristic Fiction

I didn't really expect to love this book, but I did. 

I love that the main character, Beatrice (Trice) has more promise than she can see; I love that others see her differently than she sees herself; I love that she flings herself into things with abandon and damn the consequences; I love that her inner core is built of solid strength and she constantly amazes others with this trait.

In this futuristic world (which takes place in Chicago-very cool!), society is divided into five different factions.  1. Candor (Honesty) 2. Abnegation (Selflessness) 3. Dauntless (Bravery) Amity (Peace) 5. Erudite (Knowledge).  At sixteen years of age, all citizens must take a test to see which faction they are ideally suited for.  If Trice does not choose Abnegation, her family's faction, she runs the risk of never seeing them again.  But can she spend her lifetime living a lie?

Trice's choice shocks everyone, even herself-especially when she realizes that failing her new factions' initiation could mean her death.  She finds herself harboring secrets that can harm her family and herself and finds a soul mate in Four, if only he weren't training others to kill her!

I just loved this main character.  She is feisty and plucky and so very determined to find her own path.  And, Four is a new fictional heartthrob! 

This is one of the top 5 dystopian series, I've read and I can't wait to start the next one.  I love a book I can't predict!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Easy to Love

Easy by Tammara Weber

Romance

I am always hesitant to read and review books offered to me for free.  I have been burned by so many bad, free books (Thanks, Netgalley!).  But, this book wasn't offered by a publisher or the author so I thought I would give it a read. I am so glad I took the chance!

Jacqueline is having a tough year at college.  First, her long-time high school boyfriend dumps her.  She is having a hard time figuring out who she is without him.  This resonated so strongly with me and it will with anyone who has ever had a long-term relationship and then been dumped.  Her pain and responses were so real, so true. 

Then, when she finally starts to rebound from that romance, she is almost brutally raped.  Again, the situation and Jacqueline's pain and terror are dealt with in ways that are true to the subject, true to her characters, and true to the reader.

Jacqueline is saved from her attack by a gorgeous stranger and then her life starts to turn around.  Soon, she has a crush on two amazing guys--one of them she's never even met!

I absolutely loved this book and couldn't put it down until I read the whole thing!  It reminded me of so many of my own experiences and college days.  I loved that both the main characters were so broken, each in their own way.  This book is like '50 Shades of Gray' for an older teenage audience.  That 'brokenness' in both books is so appealing to me.  Broken people are worthy of the love and attention you give--it is worth picking through the brier patch of their hearts.  The message is, once again, love always wins.

If you are a hopeless romantic, read this book.  It is very racy, though, so I would have to recommend for older teens and adults.

Friday, January 4, 2013

More Than a Ghost Story

The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki

Adolescent Ghost Story

I really like this author.  Both books of his I've read have been creative, unique and very creepy!  I liked this one better than the first one, though, so I hope that's a trend that will continue.

When their parents separate, Neil and Bree are sent to stay with two strangers, their distant old aunts in a small town in upstate New York.  When Neil hears of the local haunted hospital, he has to see it for himself.  It's just as bad as the rumors and Neil is sure it's haunted after what happens to him there.  When he leaves, he has no idea a ghost would follow him home, a ghost who seems intent on harming Neil and his sister.  Can this ghost be responsible for the weird murders that happened at the hospital or is the ghost someone who was murdered there?  Neil and Bree won't be left in peace until they find out.

This was such a perfect setting for a ghost story--an abandoned mental asylum for teens.  It was described as a huge Gothic structure with gates, fences, clinging vines, a black pond and set within a forest.  It reminded me of a 'real' haunted hospital I have gone to which made the read even eerier.

This book got so creepy that I decided I could only read it during the day.  Reading it at night gave me the willies and the chills.  This was such a classic ghost story that only relied on the writing to make it full-on horror--those are so rare and so delightful to read.  I can say I never saw the ending coming.  Honestly, I was probably too frightened to even try and figure out there was another mystery!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Grim Future

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

Dystopian

This is an apocalyptic/futuristic/dystopian novel where much of the Earth's population has been decimated by a form of the flu called 'the eleventh plague'.  I suppose there were ten others but that's hard to confirm as the plague is rarely mentioned in the book after the first chapter.  A better book title would have been The Remains of the the Plague.

Stephen and his family are scavengers, roaming the land and searching for things that could be used for bartering.  His grandfather is a cruel taskmaster but when he dies, Stephen is left with his weak-willed father, which isn't much of an improvement.  Father and son's first independent act is to free a woman and young boy who have with enslaved-with disastrous results.  Now, Stephen is on the run and his father is in a coma.

Stephen stumbles into a utopia-a community that has sealed itself off from the world.  They take Stephen and his father into their homes.  They care for Stephen's father and send Stephen to school, but Stephen's distrust of humanity runs too deep.  Can he trust them?  Does he want to?

I liked this book.....but didn't love it.  It was good...but not great.  I liked the character of Stephen but I never got the feeling he could be real.  He was so distant and remote that it was hard to relate to him.  The cover and blurb sounded and looked much more exciting than what actually lurked inside the covers, which is always disappointing.  The ideas were more exciting that the actual plot itself.  And, while the love interest made a nice diversion, it was also ultimately unsatisfying and pushes the book into PG13 status.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Inspirational and Heartbreaking

The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster by Tim Crothers

Nonfiction

This is such a perfect title for this book:  queen, both a chess piece and the girl who defies all odds with grace and beauty.  Sometimes one reads not to learn or know something, but simply to meet a person so extraordinary one thinks of her time and again. That is how I feel about this girl.  I think of her time and again.

This is a book that will change your perspective on many things, perhaps; but most importantly, it will show you the importance of never giving up, even when the something desired looks like a lost cause.  This book spoke to the teacher in me but I suspect everyone reading it will walk away with a different lesson learned.  There are so many meaningful moments in the book.

Phiona Mutesi has grown up in Uganda, in what must be the worst slum in the entire world-Katwe.  Katwe, where human life has no value and girls are considered to be a little less than human.  It is only through Phiona's grim determination to trudge through one more day, and then one more and one after that, that she survives at all.  Phiona shouldn't have survived.  Born to a teen mother with older children and other responsibilities; born of a father who would soon die of AIDS with another family to support; to a nation that sees thousands of its children dying from starvation and disease.  Phiona shouldn't have become a queen and her story is no fairy-tale.  It is indeed one more magical for it is marked by simple human perseverance.  A story of a regular girl, under terribly adverse circumstances, who triumphs by finding the beauty within herself.  I don't know if there are happily-ever-after's for her.  I am too fearful to follow up with research.

This is a story that anyone could love-sports enthusiasts, chess enthusiasts and those, like me, who just love a beautiful story about a remarkable life.