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, May 31, 2013

Only 1/2 Patterson=Half as Good As It Could Be

Middle School:  The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts

Graphic Novel

Why do I torture myself?  Why do I read books by James Patterson AND?  I need to stop at just James Patterson!

This book is not nearly so good as Patterson's Maximum Ride Series, which I loved, but is is pretty good work.  That surprises me a little because you just never know what you're going to get with Patterson.  This one isn't great......but 1/2 of Patterson is better than no Patterson, I suppose.

The book format is very similar to the format of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, hence its popularity with middle schoolers.  However, this book has some real meat mixed in and, in that way, I liked it a bit better than the Wimpy series.  Another difference is that Rafe actually seems to learn from his mistakes.

Rafe has heard rumors about the terrible bullying in middle school so he comes up with a plan.  Make a reputation so bad that no one will mess with him.  How does he do that?  By trying to break EVERY single rule in the school handbook.  No easy task.  I'm a teacher and those things have hundreds of rules in them.

To make it a little more interesting, Rafe turns the whole process into a video game and assigns each rule a set number of points.  Rafe is able to survive school and home drama for two reasons:  his drawing and his best friend, super-silent Leo.  Rafe is such a likable character that you kind of want him to win the game, even though you know it will be a disaster.  And, when you finally look behind his bluff, you can see how tragic he really is.  There is a huge surprise that I didn't see coming which made me want to go back and re-read the story again and look for clues.

I cannot keep this book on my shelf at school!  The boys love it! Perhaps it is a book only for adolescents? This is the first one in the continuing series and you should read them in order.  They are not nearly as funny as the Wimpy series but the graphics are much more intricate.  What could be in a sequel?  Well, Rafe didn't break all the school rules but the question is.....did he learn enough lessons to stop his crazy plan?  Probably not!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

One That Got Away

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings by Helene Boudreau

Adolescent Fantasy

This is the first book in the series and the last one I'll read.

Jade has all the same problems that other adolescents do with a couple of big differences--her mother disappeared without a trace a couple of years ago and Jade turns into a mermaid when her feet touches water.  Ooops, her father forgot to tell her that her mom was a mermaid and drowned only she isn't actually actually dead but has been kidnapped by evil mer-people, or 'pesco-sapiens' if you are politically correct, who want to be able to change into a human. What?

It was just so implausible and unrealistic, even for a fantasy novel.  For example, Jade finds her mermaid mother after several years of the woman missing.  She calls her father for help and then....falls asleep waiting for him.  When the dad finally arrives, he says it's too late at night and they'll look for the mom tomorrow.  Perhaps ridiculous is a better word than implausible.  Young girls might like the book, very immature young girls.  There is a lot of slang and MTV-type talk which got really irritating.  It was most certainly not the best mermaid book I've ever read but the covers are just gorgeous.

I really wish the author had spent a little more time on character development.  Jade had such promise--she's a little chubby and neurotic and overly dramatic.  Usually, this is just the kind of character I like.  And, there were some good moments.  I especially liked how Jade reacted to her first period, both realistic and funny.  But, overall, a stinky fish of a tale.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Haddix Off Track

The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Dystopian Fiction

Haddix is one of my favorite authors and I was disappointed that I didn't like one iota of this book. 

Tessa and her generation have only known war, never peace.  Tessa has been a little awed by her neighbor, Gideon, a returning war hero.  Her awe soon turns into serious hero worship.  Gideon doesn't want her worship, or anyone else's.  He retreats to his room a depressed mess and Tessa is desperate to find out why.  One day, Gideon can no longer stand the adoration and runs away.  Tessa follows him, determined to find out why he considers himself a coward.

Gideon steals an airplane and is going to fly into enemy territory and either confess to his sins or surrender himself.  Tessa sneaks aboard.  What Gideon and Tessa discover is earth-shattering, both to themselves and the reader.  I never would have guessed this plot development in a million years (okay, I liked that iota a little bit).  I love that Haddix is an author who always challenges me to think outside the box.

The book was just okay.  Usually, Haddix's books keep me gripping the seat but this one just didn't.  It did have that fascinating techno-vibe to it that Haddix is known for, a modern sci-fi, hi-fi.  But, the characters just didn't grab me.  They never really felt like actual people, only stiff.  The book left me with many questions that were never answered--most notably, what led to the war? Why is their current society in such a mess?  I feel there is a story behind that story that was more interesting than the snippet I saw.

It was a short and easy read but I just can't recommend it. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Not What I Expected--But, That's a Good Thing!

Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown

Adolescent Fiction
This was a strange book, and by strange, I mean unusual.....and strange the way you would normally use that word.  Weird.  I suppose I thought it was going to be more a horror story based on the title, description and cover, but, it wasn't.  It was more historical fiction than anything else.  With a book like this, it's a little hard to put just one label on it.  Definitely a thriller with so much going on!

Jennie's twin brother Toby and her beloved fiance Will have been killed in the Civil War.  Will's brother, and Jennie's childhood friend, Quinn, returns a broken and wounded man.  Jennie becomes his nurse and begins to wonder if perhaps she can find love again after such tragedy.  Desperate to see and communicate with the dead, Jennie accompanies her aunt and uncle to a ghost photographer and discovers evidence in the photos that Will or Toby is trying to communicate with her from beyond the grave.  Are they trying to scare her or warn her from something?  And, if so, what could be jeopardizing her life?

The book is equal parts story and a scrapbook with photos, journal entries and even some 'news' clippings.  When the story was written more like a journal or diary ,I loved that aspect of it although the paperback version was difficult to read and some pages were almost impossible to decipher because the print was so small and smudged.  Overall,  I found it to be sad and haunting. I have to say that I loved it and I didn't expect that.  It was just so absolutely different from anything I've ever read.  The format was amazing and Jennie came so alive on the pages.  I found myself screaming at her dumb decisions several times!  I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and there is a twist in the plot I never saw coming.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Thank Goodness It Wasn't a Trilogy!

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

Steampunk/Dystopian Fiction

This is the second and final book to Incarceron.  Thank goodness this wasn't a trilogy!

This one starts just where the other leaves off.  Really, it was more like chapter two of one terribly long book.

In this book, Finn finally gets his wish to escape Incarceron and takes his place as the rightful heir to the kingdom, except he doesn't know for certain that he's the rightful heir.  Things feel off for Finn and when someone else steps up claiming to be the lost heir, Finn's doubts grows.  Finn also feels crippling guilt at leaving his two best friends behind.  He literally can't do anything productive because his mind is always churning with how to save them.  And, the outside isn't all that much better than inside Incarceron.

Claudia isn't fairing much better.  She is relentlessly pushing Finn into his role was future heir, only to save her own skin.  She is a thoroughly unlikeable character.  Both of them are.  Claudia is desperate to save her own life, desperate to save the life of her ailing tutor Jared , and desperate to find Incarceron and perhaps her father, the Warden.

And, everyone is hunting for Sapphique, the legend who holds the key to all their problems.

I was glad this series was over.  The book seemed to drag on and on and the characters seemed very whiny to me.  There was no love interest in the book and maybe that's what it was missing for me.  The motivation and passions of the characters were greed, loyalty and fear.  I just found them distasteful and hard to connect to.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Not What I Expected

100 Cupboards: Book One by ND Wilson

Adolescent Fantasy

I don't know why I thought this book was going to be scary--the cover, perhaps?  But, the book isn't scary at all; I would label is as light horror, if that.  It had a strange and uncomfortable feel to it.  I didn't like it at first but I think that is because my expectations were so different from what I got.  After that initial shock, I got used to where the book was going, I started to like it.

Henry's parents have disappeared and he has to go live with distant relatives he doesn't really know in Kansas.  Henry is a bit of an odd bird.  He doesn't really miss or even remember his parents.  While there, Henry finally starts to feel like he might belong to this family.  While staying in the upstairs attic bedroom, he awakens to find plaster in his hair......and a tiny door.  It is one of 100 doors, which were called 'cupboards'.  Each door opens to another world, another dimension and space entirely.  Some of these doors feel like a grand adventure; others feel very malevolent.  Henry knows he shouldn't explore, but, really, who could resist such a temptation?

This book is the first one is a series and they must be read in order.  This first book doesn't actually have a true ending and had a 'to be continued' feel to it.  In addition to the adventure, there's also an unresolved mystery with Henry that continues.  I liked it but I don't know if I'm going to continue with it. Maybe if I come across it, but I wont' seek it out. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

I Liked It, Despite the Shortcomings

House of Night #1:  Marked by PC Cast and Kristin Cast

Paranormal Adolescent Romance

First of all, if you're bothered by the overuse of slang and the usage of such 'words' as ginormous and disturbed in any way by the modern lapse of grammatical methods, skip this book altogether because these things will drive you nutty.  These errors are so frequent that it often pulls you out of the story and has you reaching for a red correcting pen.

But, that's my only complaint.  I really liked everything else.

Zoey Redbird's life changes forever once she becomes 'marked', going through a change to turn into a vampire.  First, her face is now framed with the telling tattoo mark of the Chosen, then her mother and stepfather practically disown her and she now has to move to the House of the Night, a boarding school for vampire pups.  Added to that is that knowledge hat she might not make the full transition, might die before she finds out who she is and what she was really meant to be.  Some things do make her life better- new friends, for one.  Plus, she actually hated her parents and she's glad to be away; there is a potential new boyfriend on the horizon; and, she seems to be the headmistress's teacher's pet.

I really did like the book, most especially the character of Zoey.  She is spicy and intelligent and strong-willed.  Just my kind of girl.  While I have read dozens of vampire books and series, this one is really different with some unique details.  I do plan on continuing the series, which must be read in order.  I'm actually looking forward to #2, bad grammar and all!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Darker and Darker

The 39 Clues:  Cahills Vs. Vespers Book Two:  A King's Ransom by Jude Watson

Adolescent Thriller

This second installment starts exactly where the last book left off.  The family and friends of Amy and Dan Cahill are still kidnapped and the ransom demand for their lives is for Amy and Dan to steal a map.  The map in question is one that disappeared centuries ago--and one that might not even be real.

Amy and Dan are both continuing their downward spiral into loneliness and paranoia.  These are not the carefree adolescents of the first series.  The brother/sister duo is maturing and having a hard time coping will all the challenges in their lives.  The hardest part for Amy and Dan isn't one of the nearly impossible ransom demands but the necessity to trust someone else to help them out of a jam.  They have been betrayed so many times before.  Dan has a secret agenda going on, as well.  He is also continuing his search that will bring the 39 clues to fruition and make him invincible.

Jude Watson is such an amazing writer.  I know the ones she writes in this continuing series are going to be amazing!  One thing I love about every book is the historical references.  Many of them are things I've never heard of and I love looking up and researching these topics more.   Another thing I love is the non-stop action. The book races right along.  It is a book for people who can think on their feet and make snap decisions.  Or, people like me who can't but enjoy watching other people who can!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Never Goes Out of Style

2001:  A Space Odyssey (Space Odyssey #1) by Arthur C. Clarke


A classic book is like a little black dress--it never goes out of style.  This book is that little black dress, modern and edgy even after all these years.  Except for a few dated references, this book is still weirdly futuristic almost 40 years after it was played and written. True sci-fi fans might find it a bit tame by today's comparisons, but it was perfect for a newbie like me.

The book opens on man's far genealogical past, with a galactic monolith and an ape who instantly gets much smarter.  Flash forward millions of year.  Another monolith has been found on the moon and some type of alarm deep within it has been triggered.  Spacecraft Discover is dispatched to the moon to see what's up.  HAL9000, uber-computer, is in total control so this mission should be no problem.  HAL has been modeled after humans, so there is a problem.  A big problem.  Unfortunately, HAL is a neurotic, paranoid mess before the ship can even make it to the moon.  David, a scientist sent to figure out the mystery on the moon, first has to figure out the mystery of HAL, if he wants to survive.

I am not a huge science fiction fan but I do love a good alien conspiracy story. The book is based on a screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, which is the complete opposite of what I usually do--book first, then the movie.  Apparently, it was only a short story by Clarke until Kubrick got hold of it.  I'm glad he did.  I have seen the movie so long ago I'm not even sure how it's relevant to the story so feel free to do one, or the other, or both.  This is the first in a series but stands completely alone as a complete story, which is nice.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Not As Good As I Wanted

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Dystopian Fiction/Steampunk

I wanted to like this book way more than I actually did. 

There are two protagonists in the story:  Finn, a prisoner who has grown up in Incarceron, and Claudia, the Warden's daughter.  One wants out of the prison and the other wants in.  The prison itself, Incarceron, is a living metal fortress that takes care of everything and everyone within its walls.  It almost seems as if the book is taking place in another dimension sometimes and the description of the prison is so depressing it seems as if Charles Dickens is writing it.

Finn has always known he didn't belong in Incarceron.  Truthfully, he don't know much more than that.  He only has memories of the last two years of life.  Finn only knows one man to ever escape Incarceron, Sapphique.  But, he plans to find out the legend's secrets and be the second to escape.  Claudia is her father's daughter, competitive and stubborn and determined to win at any cost.  What is her father hiding and can it save her faithful tutor?

The book felt like it was missing something,  Was it love?  I don't think every story should have romance it it (and I hate true romance novels), but I just didn't understand the motivations of the characters.  Why would they go to such lengths if not for love?  And, did they love ANYTHING at all?  I think I would have like the book more if I had like either of the main characters.  Finn was a bit too whiny and Claudia was just abrasive.

There are only two in the series and this one must be read first.  It is a book that would fit either boys or girls, as the characters take turns narrating the action.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Great Adventure Story for Girls

Runaway Twin by Peg Kehert

Adolescent Adventure

My students absolutely love this book.  I cannot keep it on the shelf.  It's so hard to find a good thriller/adventure book that appeals to adolescent girls so this was a great find!

Thirteen year-old Sunny knows that something is missing from her life-her twin sister.  She can't remember much from her earliest childhood, only fuzzy images of her deceased mother but the images of her twin sister are crystal clear.  Sunny decides to leave her newest foster home and the foster mother who just might be the real thing in order to find her sister. 

If only the trip was that easy.  Along the way she has to face down a stray dog who desperately needs love and care and a tornado.  Sunny finally finds her sister Starr, but it's not the sister she remembers.

This book has a little bit of everything in it-excitement, adventure, drama and angst.  The story was so very sad.  Sunny is  a real heart-breaker and you want things to turn out for her so badly but she just encounters defeat after defeat.  Ultimately, it was a story about learning to love yourself and your situation, which is a great message in this MTV world.  I would not hesitate to ready any other book by this author--this one hooked me that much.  Kehert is a grandmotherly type but so clearly captures what it is like to be young and scared. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Classic, in the Best Sense

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia McLachlan

Classic Fiction

This book is like a Hershey's kiss--it's hard to believe something so small could be so sweet and wonderful.  It is a really fast, really short read but backs the punch of a huge tome.

First in a series, Sarah, Plain and Tall is about a brother and sister duo named Anna and Caleb.  They are very lonely living on the plains with only their father.  They mother died on the day after Caleb was born and they spend much of their time wondering how their life would be different if their mother had lived.  Papa is lonely too and puts an ad in the paper for a new wife.  He gets a reply from Sarah, who describes herself as plain and tall.  After a brief pen pal relationship, Sarah decides to come for a visit to see if she and they might fit together.  Caleb and Anna can hardly wait for her arrival and even Papa seems skittish.  The description of their angst over Sarah is so sweet and really points to the importance of a wife and mother as the fulcrum of a family.

Sarah is a bit of a mystery.  She holds things close to the chest and so obviously longs for the ocean and her home.  The children fall in love with Sarah, but will she love them back and will Sarah and Papa make a love connection?  While this is first in a series, it does have a certifiable ending and can stand on its own as a single story.

McLachlan's writing is more like poetry than prose, so beautifully is the story written.  It won the Newberry and rightly so!  I am not ashamed to say I cried like a baby at the end.  I loved everything about it and am only sad I waited so many years to read it.