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, May 30, 2011

A True Story Too Unbelievable Not To Read

Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale, Jr.
(Adult Autobiography)

This book, and story, is too amazing, too unbelievable, to be true.  And, yet, it is.

This is the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a high school dropout who became 1.) a pilot for Pan-Am; 2.) a pediatric specialist in Atlanta and resident supervisor of a pediatric unit; 3.) a lawyer with the state's attorney's office; and, 4.) a sociology professor at a Utah college--all before the age of 20!

Frank was the smoothest of con men.  It is unbelievable how he faked an FAA license; a law degree from Harvard and enough bad checks to keep him in permanent retirement.

If Frank's jetsetting life-style is too much to believe, then you will have a great time reading of his jail escapes by 1.) fishing himself down an airplane toilet and 2.) just simply walking out of prison after convincing guards he was undercover.

This story is just to unbelievable not to read!  A fascinating look at how easy a life of crime could be.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Forget Team Edward. Join Team Fang!

Maximum Ride:  The Protectors:  Fang by James Patterson
(Young Adult/Teen and Up)
This is by far the best book that James Patterson is writing currently; has written in the past decade; has ever written.  Take your pick!

This installment is the 6th one in the Maximum Ride series, a series that must be read in order. (The Fugitives:  #1.  The Angel Experiment; #2. School's Out-Forever; #3.  Saving the world and Other Extreme Sports; The Protectors: #4.  The Final Warning; #5. Max; #6. Fang.)  It is about a group of 7 young people who were created in a laboratory, the results of a scientific experiment to merge avian DNA with human DNA.  Max, of Maximum Ride, is the main charcter and is a bit hard to get used to.  She is extremely abrasive, violent, sarcastic and blunt--a girl after my own heart.  After escaping the lab, Max just wants to keep her flock safe but the evil scientists won't have it.  They come after the flock and want to use them as weapons.

In this book in the series, Max and the other 6 kids have almost formed some type of home; Max and Fang are now a couple; life seems to be finally getting some balance.  Enter Dylan. Dylan was created as the perfect mate for Max.  Enter another evil scientist. Enter genetic engineering and mutation.  Enter chaos.

Another great read by the master of thrillers!  Without giving too much away of the surprise ending, this was the best installment yet in the series.  Team Edward has nothing on Team Fang.  The developing romance between Fang and Max is fraught with misunderstanding, miscommunication and all those other mis-es that make difficult relationships so fun to read about.

And so addictive.  This series is one of those I wait anxiously for and I devour each one as soon as I get it. 

My favorite story about this book actually comes from one of my students, who was behind me a few chapters.  When she discovered that Fang might not be around anymore, she took a vow of silence!  For one entire day at school she refused to utter a word until she read the ending of the book.  That is the most powerful recommendation I can give.

Read it!

Today if you can!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Best Adventure Story of the Year

The Mystery at Blackbeard's Cove by Audrey Penn
(Upper Elementary to Middle School Readers)

This book is the best upper elementary/middle grade reads I’ve picked up so far this year!  I apologize up front by the vast number of !!!’s that you’re going to find in this review.  It was just that great.
This book centers around 4 friends who band together to bury their mentor (can you have a pirate mentor,?? Because, if so, I WANT ONE!) at sea.  After kidnapping the body and doing the deed, the read adventure begins as the foursome work together to solve of case of Blackbeard’s missing treasure.
There are so many things to love about this book, I don’t know where to start so here is a list (in no certain order) of the top 5 things I loved (although I easily could have come up with a list of top ten!)
1.        I loved the setting.  Having visited the Outer Banks before, I felt like I was right back there.  The author made those islands come alive for me again from the dialect to the places names to all the little things that make that part of the US so unique.
2.       I loved the main characters!  Everyone in the book ceased being just a character for me right out of the gate.  Each one was painted with such a wealth of emotion and detail, I just know they had to all be based on a real person.
3.       I loved the adventure!  This book reminded me so much of those adventures from my youth.  Images of Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson played in my mind the whole time.  Finally, a book for young people that will inspire them to put down the remote, the phone, the controllers and yes, even the book!, and go outside for an adventure.  I remembered those books from my youth for the sheer adventure and our publishing world is sadly lacking these kinds of books.  This book is one I would recommend for those summer days when kids don’t want to leave the house.  This will inspire future treasure hunters and maybe even some pirates.  This is one I would recommend to teachers everywhere—read-alouds or read- alongs—the whole class will love it.
4.       I loved the mystery!  There are so many small details that came along like dropping bread crumbs along a trail.  I loved following along just to see where the trail would take me.  And, it took me place I’ve never been before!  Hard to do when you’ve read as much as me.  Secret tunnels under the ocean, pirate ships, false bottoms of trunks and a tree with a basement—amazing.  Could just one person make all that up?
5.       I loved the history!  Call me a sucker, but anything with a beheaded pirate and missing diamonds is enough to keep me glued to the seat.  To know that so much of this is true make it just that much better.  For those kids who love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, this is sure to be a winner.  I want to revisit the area just to walk around and soak up all that amazing history. 
This is definitely a book I will recommend to all those couch potato kids out there; to all the Pirate lovers;  to all of us who years for an old-fashioned adventure story complete with ghosts, skeletons, thunderstorms and surprise endings.  Hhm, maybe that doesn’t just apply to kids, after all!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Classically Boring

Beyond the City by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(Adult Victorian Slice of Life Vignette)
One thing I love about my Kindle and rise of the e-books is that so many classics are free.  Otherwise, I never would have bought this book.  Actually, I never even heard of it.  The freeness made it very appealing.
It is about a suburb of London where three families converge.  The three have a variety of problems that only seem to happen in Victorian England--bad brother who scams family members for money and then does a physical attack for revenge, the 'new' game of tennis, the launch of women's rights, and other issues that is so "England". 

It was a cute and short story but not one I would ever want to pay for!  If you're reading the classics, stick with other English authors and if you want Doyle, then stick with his Holmes stories.  Cute, but that's about it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Can't Wait to Read Others in the Series

Adam Canfield:  Watch Your Back by Michael Winerip
(Middle-School Readers and Up)

This is the second book in the Adam Canfield series, but the first I've read.  It was a Young Hoosier nominee for 2010 so I was intrigued enough to pick it up and give it a try.

My only regret is that I waited so late to start this series.  I absolutely loved it from beginning to end.
The novel centers around a middle school student named Adam Canfield who is co-editor of his school newspaper, The Slash.  At the very beginning of the book, Adam is a victim of a mugging by fellow classmates.  In addition to this incident, Adam his fellow co-editor tackle corporate take-overs, school bullying, special education prejudice, school science fair fraud, school board bureaucracy, manic depression and saving a tree!  While that seems quite a bit to pack into a novel, it really just keeps the pace going.  And, how realistic!  I love that fact that Adam's life is so crazy.  Too often, in novels, it seems as if the main character has just one problem that is all-consuming.  Adam made me feel glad that his life was just as crazy, and busy, as mine!

In addition to the very timely topics of school violence, Adam struggles with the often harsh task of news writing.  Having written for a newspaper myself, I so identified with the difficult job of telling the truth, even when the truth is painful to those around you.  It is a great discussion on journalistic integrity.
I also loved how the author attacked certain difficult topics in the book.  While as adults, we categorize issues into more gray areas, the author makes it very clear that some topics are just right OR wrong, no matter how difficult the distinction.

And a side note, my favorite quote from the book, "You know what my mom says about middle-school boys?  'UPS never delivers the complete package.  It can take years before the entire shipment turns up.'"  Hilarious book as well!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Next Great Installment in 39 Clues Series

The 39 Clues: Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park
(Middle Grade Reader and Up)

This series is just wonderful and gets better with each new installment.  39 Clues was written and directed towards middle grade readers but I have to admit I love them and eagerly await each one that comes out (I always give my game cards away to a student which makes me quite popular!)

39 Clues is about two siblings, Amy and Dan Cahill, who were left a challenge in their grandmother's will: accept $1 million and walk away now or take no money but embark on a quest for the 39 clues.  Only one family member can win but whoever does will have more money, fame, power and knowledge that can be dreamt of.  What would you choose?

Naturally, Amy and Dan chose the challenge.  This book, the 9th in the series, takes them to Jamaica on the trails of famous pirates and leads them to the next clue in the race.  Telling anymore would give away too much but the author, Linda Sue Park, does a great job carrying on the adventure.

There are a lot of reasons to love this series.  I find it fascinating that a different author writes each book and can only imagine what those meetings are like!  I also love how each author weaves in such interesting historical details.  Each book has me racing to Wikipedia to verify the fact.  Overall, a fun, light read that just keeps getting better.  A word of warning:  you must read them in order and you have to read the whole series before you come to the conclusion.

I know good books and this is definitely one of them!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Another Holmes Story Under My Belt

The Adventures of Wisteria Lodge by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(Mystery lovers)
This is a longer short story of Sherlock Holmes.  It was actually written in a two-part series but can be read in one long sitting.  I very much liked this story primarily because of the introduction of Inspector Baynes.  Baynes is one of the only characters from the police force that matches Sherlock Holmes on investigative skills.  It is different from other Holmes stories because the famous detective doesn't actually solve anything; rather, he just watches the falling out of the crime and follows Baynes's working of the case.  Probably one for Holmes's fans and not a great introduction to the famous detective.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Not As Good as the Reviews Would Have You Believe

All Different Kinds of Free by Jessica McCann
(Adult Narrative Fiction)
All Different Kinds of Free
Warning:  This review contains spoilers for plot twists and the ending.  Read at risk!)

I really wanted to love this book.  It had everything in it that destined it to be a favorite of mine--historical significance, a gripping storyline and a strong female character.  And, I tried loving.  Really, I did.  I read the other reviews and kept hoping to fall in love with it the way that others apparently had.

But it just never happened.  The historical significance was intriguing-a little known court case of Prigg v. Pennsylvania, whereby an evil slavetrader goes into a free state and captures a free black woman and her children, then returns with them further south.  The potential was so ripe--I could only imagine how a young mother with three children would feel to go through with such an ordeal.

In the end, though, that's exactly what I had to do--imagine it.  The author never made clear to me the obvious horror and hatred and fear this woman must have felt to see her children sold at a slave auction, to know she would never see her sons again.  Most of her time in jail isn't even discussed.  "Months later" just doesn't do the job for me here.  There were much more that was left unsaid that really needed to be said.  I never really understood the whole 'trick' she played with her new slave husband so she wouldn't get pregnant.  I never really understood why her lawyers gave up so easily.  I didn't understand why Jim, an acquaintance would rish his life to save her.  I didn't understand much of what occurred on the slave planation. 

The real problem for me was the character identification.  The story jumps from one point of view to another and I never really felt invested enough in any of them to identify with their story.  The ending, also, was a big let down.  An alligator?  Too unbelievable, unrealistic and a real let down after all the time I spent with Margaret.  Prigg deserved less and Margaret deserved more.  That's all I can to salvage the surprise ending.

Again, though, the other reviews are glowing so......it's worth a risk.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Upcoming Events

Exciting News!

I will be hosting two blog tours in the upcoming weeks:  Skipping Stones at the Center of the Earth by Andy Hueller and Cinder and Ella by Melissa Lemon.  Read about the books here first!  Also, an upcoming interview with author Melissa Lemon.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Too Short To Count

The Adventure of the Red Circle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(Mystery Lovers)

While I love anything Sherlock Holmes, this one is just too short to really sink your teeth into.  A 10 mintue quick read with little detective work thrown in. Only for those who, like me, are determined to read every Holmes story.

Too Close to the Truth, I Fear

Ender's Game by orson Scott Card
(Teen and above; Sci-fi at its very best!)

This book has been rated of the Top 100 Best Books for Teens by the ALA.  I don't agree.  It should be moved up on the list.  It should be required reading for every politician and educator out there.

It absolutely scared me to death.  In these days of war and technology and educational upheavel and video games, the scenes and characters seemed much to real.  I plunged into it expecting to hate it and hate it I did but for all the wrong reasons.  It is eerie how close the author gets to the very truth of human existence, of humanity.  Ender pulled at my heart the whole way through even while I felt this huge gulf developing between us.  In the end, I was afraid to look away, afraid of what would happen IF I didn't keep reading.

One of the most amazing books I have read in a long time.  I can't wait to recommend it to my classes!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Short witty Holmes at his best

The Adventure of the Dying Detective by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

If this is your first read of Sherlock Holmes, you will be disappointed.  This tale occurs quite late in the series and only serves as a very short story showcasing Holmes's taste for the dramatic.  A surprise at the end makes for a hearty chuckle at Holmes's wit.

A Shipwreck of a Tale

68 Knots by Michael Robert Evans
(Young Adult)

(Hum to the tune of 'Gilligan's Isle')
Just sit right back and I'll tell a tale, a tale of a pitiful ship, that started from a East Coast port aboard a sailing ship.
The mates were eight scurvy teens,
the captain, a sadistic fool,
8 teens set sail that day for a three month tour, a three month tour.

The captain started getting sloshed,
the sailing crew jumped ship. 
If not for the ignorance of the inept teens,
the story would be lost, the story would be lost.

With Jess,
Crystal and a bunch of others to fake to name,
all stuck on the DreadNought.

Now this is the tale of the inept teens
and a book that lasts too long,
they'll have to make the best of things
but it's an uphill climb.

The boring plot and
poor character development did their very best
to make sure I will never read
this author again
or recommend it to my friends, recommend it to my friends.

No plot,
no action,
no interesting dialogue
not a single luxury
Not nearly as good as Robinson Crusoe,
it's a primitive a tale as can be.

So don't read this book,
it's real waste of time,
save yourself the trouble.
It's not worth a grin
or even a smirk,
this tale of 68 Knots,
this tale of 68 Knots.

Seriously, writing this review was more enjoyable than one single moment of reading this book, this shipwreck of a story.

Alien Conspiracy!

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
(Young Adults only)

If you like alien take-overs, violent fight scenes and conspiracy theories, this is the series for you!
I saw the movie first and loved it!  Again, my favorite type of genre is sci-fi, so if that isn't you, stop reading here.  Plus, if you love engaging dialogue and a heavy plot, don't bother!  If you just want some alien kick-butt fun, this is the right place to keep reading.

The main character, John Smith, is one of only 9 left from his home planet and is hiding on Earth from an invading alien species.  He is the fourth one alive and is next on the alien's hit list.  Throw is some graphic fight scenes and young love and that pretty much sums it up.

This book is tight with action, emotion and promises to be a great, easy summer series. I will certainly follow the series and have already read the first few chapters of the next which is told in another character's point of view.

Rocking the Boat

Crossing Stones by Helen Frost
(Narrative Poetry)
This book is beautiful and powerful and gentle and heartbreaking and all this just on the first page!
One of my very favorite kinds of books is this--narrativ poetry storytelling at its best.  While I could waste time on the plot and story, I won't because it isn't the best part of this story.  Don't get me wrong, the story is frightening and heartbreaking but there's too much here to talk about and too little space.

On the first page, I was enchanted by the designs of the words.  The poems meander with their words like a creek bed in the forests of my youth, pulling the reader gently along.  Other poems are round, stone shaped thoughts that stop the reader. 
Told in a variety of character voices, it is the story of World War and courage and bravery and women's right with love and sickness and loss thrown in for good measure, like a favorite recipe of what the perfect book should be.

To end, one of my new favorite quotes about women's right during a time when women were just discovering the, "Maybe you won't rock a cradle.  Some women prefer to rock the boat."
Don't be fooled by the Newberry Honor, it is as much for adults as for young people and probably more so.

A Chilling Narrative Poem

All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg
(Targeted for Young Adults but Really Fits an Adult Reader Better)

I love these kinds of books.  When you think 'narrative poetry', long boring classes of high school English probably pop into your mind.  Not so with "All the Broken Pieces".  This book is all the best of narrative poetry.
I must admit I was surprised by the description and cover of the book.  How in the world could the author fit baseball, Vietnam and adoption into a story that I would be interested in?  Quite beautifully is how.
Matt Pin is a young man who was thrust by his Vietnamese mother onto a rescue helicopter bound for the US.  Once here, Matt is adopted by a loving couple but struggles with his feelings of alienation, loss, horror and guilt.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg of this child's pain.  To pack so much hurt and pain inside a twelve-year body is almost too much to bear and your heart aches to pick Matt up and crush him to your chest.
The words of his story are powerful and chilling and the white spaces on the page speak as powerfully as the written; what is unsaid is as painful as those words the narrator speaks.  As Matt's piano teacher says, "Music is not simply playing notes, you have to play the silence too."
A beautiful, haunting read. 
However, it is being targeted as a Newberry winner and suggested as a read for young adults.  I doubt many will like this book and will not value it for the powerful message it contains.  Young adults, particulary boys, will not understand the horrors of war and certainly won't understand the historic implications.  While it should be an award winner, I think adults will enjoy the read and value the language more.

A Fascinating Forensic Case History

Ain't Nothing But a Man:  My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson
(Hisotry Lovers)
When I first got this book, I wasn't too excited by the front cover or the description.  But the old adage proved true in this case--don't judge this book by the cover! 

William and Mary professor Scott Reynolds Nelson has written a fascinating study of what happens when we follow the threads of history to a fascinating conclusion.
I'm sure we've all heard the old song or story of John Henry, "the steel driving man". Back in the days of railroad building, Henry was the man who battled a steam drill and won.  Then, he laid down his drill and died.
"Well John Henry went up on the mountain
On the mountain lord so high
Well he drove so hard he broke his poor heart
And he layed down his hammer and died
Laid down his hammer and he died"

Nelson took this story and traced the threads through history, reading and researching hundreds of songs and stories.

His conclusion is chilling and fascinating at the same time.  What started as a idea in his head turns up with an unmarked grave holding 300 men.  It is a forensic case history that was fascinating from the first chapter.  It is a quick read disguised as a picture book but well worth the read.  I guarantee you won't look at legends and myths the same way you did before!