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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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Great Start to the Series

Killing Floor:  Jack Reacher #1 by Lee Child


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!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Dry Victorian Read

Broadmoor Revealed:  Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum by Mark Stevens


I bought this book because it sounded so fascinating.  A Victorian lunatic asylum?  It must be full of amazing stories of crazy people, right?  Yes, I bought it solely for the 'circus freak' aspect, which I know is wrong but so tempting.  History is full of these fascinating stories and I hoped this was one more example. 

Alas, this book is not that kind of history book.  This one would be at home in a dusty museum or dry lecture hall.  It just didn't come alive for me.  I found it a labor to finish.  It was just that boring.  And, I'm a history freak so that's saying a lot.

There were some parts of the book that did capture my interest.  I did like the parts about the 'lunatics' who escaped.  Most simply just walked away or jumped over the fence the stories of how they were recaptured were really interesting.  I was also quite intrigued by the five stories of the women who were incarcerated and then gave birth in the asylum, turning many of their children into wards and orphans.  So sad.  The criminal justice system in Victorian England was very interesting, too.  Such a corrupt, backward system!  The most famous patient, and interesting case, was that of Edward Oxford who took a shot at Queen Victoria and was incarcerated there for the rest of his life.  Also fascinating was the story of Christiana Edmunds, the 'Chocolate Cream Poisoner'.

What I loved about the book was that it depicted the history and lives of individuals that might otherwise be lost to time.  I just wished the writing style were a bit more exciting.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bone Up on This Series

Bone-Crossed:  Mercy Thompson #4 by Patricia Briggs


This one is the best yet in the series.  It is quickly turning into one of my favorite series and I can hardly wait to buy and read the next one.

Marsilia, the evil vampire queen, returns with a vengeance.  She's learned that Mercy is the one who murdered two of her favorites and not even Stefan can keep Mercy safe.  Out of the blue, an old college friend shows up asking for help.  She thinks a ghost is haunting her son and since Mercy can see ghosts, she is well-suited to the task.  Plus, it will get Mercy out of town for a few days so that Adam and Marsilia can work out some type of truce.  Maybe she can also sort out her feelings for Adam.  Mercy's romance with Adam is heating up and Mercy can no longer deny those feelings.

What Mercy finds is not simply a haunting--the home reeks of fear, death...and vampires.  How is she supposed to leave a helpless little boy to sort this out?  When Mercy steps in trouble, she's in up to her eyeballs!  That's why these books are so fun--the danger, the intrigue, the hot romance.  And, honestly, the plot developments come out of nowhere and sock you in the jaw.  What an incredible imagination Briggs has!

One ting I like about Mercy is that she doesn't take shortcuts and she doesn't rely on her powers or associations to get her out of trouble.  She relies entirely on herself and her own wits.  A true heroine's heroine.  I also love how Mercy has real (kind of) problems and there are no neat endings.