16 December 2011

Trapped by Michael Northrop

Michael Northrop
Scholastic Press
It’s winter, it’s cold, and it snows.  Luckily where I live, it doesn’t snow too much (yes, I live in Colorado, but newsflash, the western side of Colorado is the desert), so we rarely get snow days (darn).  When I lived in Chicago I always hoped for snow days, but in the four years I lived there, it just never happened. As a teacher, I love snow days.  It’s the greatest feeling in the world – wake up, start getting ready for school and ring ring YES no school!  I’ve never thought about the fact that a snow day could be bad.
Then I read Trapped by Michael Northrup and I realized a snow day could be bad. Especially if it meant I’d be stuck at school on a snow day.
Trapped takes place in New England – a place where monster snow storms are more common.  And the storm that takes place in this book is the big one – the perfect snowstorm. The book starts out and it’s a regular day with snow expected.  When the snow starts to fall harder and sooner than expected, school is released a little early so the students can get home.  Of course, a few students and a teacher stay late – grading papers, working on projects, etc.  By the time they decide to leave a few hours later, the snow is so bad, cars are no longer driving on the road and it looks like they’ll be stuck overnight. The next morning they wake up and it’s still snowing and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop.  They realize that no one is going to be coming for them anytime soon, so they make themselves comfortable – they raid the cafeteria for food and try to make the best of it.  But when day three and four pass and the snow hasn’t stopped, no power and no sign of help coming, things get interesting.
I enjoyed the premise of the book, and I really enjoyed that it was told from a student’s point of view – for the first day or so, they aren’t worried because they’re at the age where they still rely on adults to take care of them.  Once there are no adults to make the decisions, things get a little tricky.  The characters are relatively true to “typical teenagers” – though I must say, they were pretty tame for teenagers.  I liked this book, but it wasn’t really a page turner, and my reliable student reader Anna called it “a little kid-ish”.  It has action, it has suspense, but it’s just a little…vanilla.  Having said that, I liked that it wasn’t over-sensationalized – it’s definitely realistic fiction.
Though it didn’t make my top ten list of greatest books ever written in the history of the world, I would recommend it to some of the readers I have who don’t like fiction because it’s “fake”.  I think those readers who enjoy reading books that are realistic and not dramatized at all would enjoy a book like this.

Scarlet Moon and the Once Upon a Time Series

Scarlet Moon
Simon Pulse
Part of the Once Upon a Time series

Fairytales will always have a special place in my heart.  When I was a girl, I loved fairytales because of the knight in shining armor.  When I was a teenager, I loved fairytales because they made me feel nostalgic (I know, nostalgia as a teenager?  But think about it, childhood stories would be something we had shed by that age and could look back on with fond memories).  In college, I was able to see and appreciate the strength the female characters possessed in fairytales.  Now as an adult, I have loved reading fairytales to my nieces because I get to re-experience the stories through their eyes.
Last year I discovered the Once Upon a Time series, and I was hooked.  The series takes all of our favorite fairytales and retells them with historical twists.  Scarlet Moon is the retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.  Only in this story, the grandmother lives in the woods because she has been banished from the village for being a “witch”, and Ruth (Little Red Riding Hood) is first attacked by the wolf when she is young because her red cloak attracts his attention.  She survives the attack as a child because her brother stabs the wolf.  Then her brother must go off to fight in the Crusades, and Ruth spends the next nine years helping her father in his blacksmith shop.  As a young woman, she meets the mysterious nobleman William enters her life, she can’t help but fall for him – he’s the only man who not only accepts that she is a woman doing a man’s work, he is attracted to her because of it.  One problem:  William has a very dark secret.  His family was cursed generations before, and, well, he’s a werewolf.
Yep, you guessed it.  He’s the wolf that attacked Ruth so many years before.  And now she has the hots for him and he has the hots for her.  It’s twisted and awesome and I couldn’t put it down.
What I love about Scarlet Moon and all the books in the Once Upon a Time series is that the twist they put on each of the fairytales has to do with different historical periods, making them almost historical fiction.  Scarlet Moon is just as much about the Crusades and how difficult they were on families as it is about werewolves and witches.  Crimson Thread, the retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, tells the story of American immigrants at the turn of the century.  What a great way for girls to learn history!
So obviously I’m completely in love with this series.  Scarlet Moon is one of my favorites, and I’ve read about 8 of the series.  Yes the series is a bit older, but it is TOTALLY worth reading, regardless of age.  The books are written at about a 6th grade level, so if you have young daughters, they are great books to read with them before bedtime.  If you have sons, yeah…you’re going to want to find a different series.  These books are all girl.  I would highly recommend these books to any female who has fond memories of fairytales.

05 December 2011

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness
(inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd)
Candlewick Press
First off, let me say that usually, I don’t do scary.  I’m the girl that has night terrors and is truly afraid of things that go bump in the night.  When I do read scary books, I usually only read them during daylight hours, and they usually have a pretty profound effect on me – especially on my ability to sleep.  When A Monster Calls came across my desk, I knew the book would have an effect on me, I just didn’t realize how much of an effect.  And…spoiler alert…it’s actually NOT scary.
A Monster Calls is about Connor, whose father has moved to America and has a whole new family, whose grandmother is hard-working and pretty cold toward him, and whose mother is battling cancer.  Connor has suffered from a terrible nightmare for months – his mother falling off a cliff being consumed by a monster.  When another monster appears at his window one night, he isn’t scared.  This monster has not come for his mother, it’s come for him.  The monster will tell Connor three tales, and then Connor must tell him a tale – the only truth Connor knows.  But Connor isn’t sure he can tell the only truth he knows.
Throughout the book Connor tries to convince himself that the monster is just a dream – I mean really, it’s a talking tree!  But as his mother gets worse, and things at school get worse, the monster continues to visit him, tell him stories and have a profound effect on him.
I don’t want to tell you much about the book, because I think part of the reason it affected me as much as it did is because I didn’t know much about the storyline.  I will say that the book really isn’t about monsters.  It’s about coping with grief and loss.  Patrick Ness has done a superb job of creating a new way of viewing the human condition and what is “unfair” in life.
What I will tell you about the book is that while it was written by Ness, the idea came from another great writer – Siobhan Dowd. She has written several excellent novels which I can’t keep on my shelf, and in 2007 she lost her battle with breast cancer.  Last night as I finished the book, I couldn’t help but think about her and her battle.  Did this idea come from her difficulty in dealing with her mortality?  I also kept thinking about a conversation I recently had with my dear friend Katy– is it easier to deal with loss when it’s sudden or when it is a slow process?  In the end, we realized that loss is difficult regardless of when and how it happens, but the most important part of loss is dealing with it.  I hope I never have to deal with loss similar to Connor’s (I’m hoping beyond all hope that my parents are actually immortal…), I’ve learned a lesson from Connor’s story – speaking the truth is the only way to truly deal with loss.
I would recommend this book to just about anyone – unless they’re looking for a traditional “horror” book.  The illustrations (by Jim Kay) are haunting, but the book really isn’t about monsters in the traditional sense.  This book really is about as close to realistic fiction without actually being realistic fiction as humanly possible.  This book is heart-wrenching, deep and thoughtful.  So if you’re looking for funny, don’t pick this one up.  But if you want a book that will make you think about truth, the human condition and the tough stuff in life, I highly, highly recommend this book.  And yes, I cried (shocker).

Here's an article/review written by Jessica Bruder, a woman who knew Dowd well: It Takes a Monster to Learn How to Grieve

Another great review from Stackedbooks.org

Here's an article written by a 17-old-student here in GJ. Genrefluent's Bistro Book Club - Teens Talk About Books

Here's a link to Siobhan Dowd's website The Siobhan Dowd Trust

Habits are Learned Video

Thank you to Nancy Dowd of The "M" Word - Marketing Libraries for sharing this awesome video!

30 November 2011

True (...Sort of) by Katherine Hannigan

True (...Sort of)
Katherine Hannigan
Greenwillow Books
When I started reading Katherine Hannigan’s novel True (Sort of…) my first impression was that it was an elementary level book.  I liked the character Delly Pattison and her made up words – you know, being a word-maker-upper myself – but it was just a little too…cutsie for me.  I couldn’t imagine a super-cool 8th grader being willing to read about “surpresents” (surprise presents) and “mysturiosities” (very curious mysteries).  In fact, I envisioned the book being read aloud to a class of sixth graders.  Theoretically, a teacher could read this book aloud to a class – it’s a bit long, but it’s a very quick read.  However, in the end, I’m not sure I’d read it aloud to a class.  For a book that starts off being “cutsie” it definitely hits some heavy topics and in the end, is a very deep, meaningful and profoundly touching book.
Clearly, I loved it.
Like I said, it’s the story of Delly (Delaware) Pattison – second youngest in a family with five children.  Delly has been labeled a troublemaker, even though her escapades are always done with the best intentions.  The book starts out explaining how when Delly was younger, she was happier and even though she got in trouble, she always had a smile on her face and would wake up and face the day with excitement.  Somewhere along the line though, Delly lost that smile and that excitement, and now she’s usually just angry.
Then she meets Ferris Boyd, the new girl who doesn’t speak and doesn’t allow anyone to touch her.  She’s sort of a “mysturiosity” to Delly, so Delly starts following her home, telling her stories.  Delly is supposed to go home after school, so their friendship is sort of a secret.  Soon, they are best friends. Throughout the rest of the book, that friendship is tested, and Delly learns about the world around her and slowly starts to understand that she has been rather selfish in life.  As she learns to be self-less, the relationships in her life – with her family, teachers, and even with the local police officers – improve, and her life is profoundly changed.
What I love about this book is Delly’s worldview.  She sees the world in a completely different light than most people.  It’s the perfect blend of innocence, ignorance, wonder and thought.  It’s her worldview that creates, almost ruins, and saves her friendship with Ferris.  I would like to think that there are 6th graders out there who are like Delly – who are still able to see the wonder in the world, but who realize the importance of being there for those you love.
For a book that started out as a fun, read-aloud book, I cried hard in the end, and my worldview has changed in regards to my students.  I no longer think this would be a good book to read aloud to a class, but I will recommend it to just about any one of my students who enjoys realistic fiction, and I think I might recommend that the Literacy teachers at my school read it.  In fact, I would say this would be an excellent book for any middle school student, or anyone who works with middle school children.  It is a beautifully written book with heart and a sense of humor.

29 November 2011

Dead Rules by Randy Russell

Dead Rules
Randy Russell
Creeperific cover eh?  For the first few days I had this book, I really wanted to spin old school and make a brown paper bag cover for this bad boy, the cover freaked me out so much.  However, about three days into reading, I realized that the back is the same, only different (wha?), so instead, I just remembered to keep the book face down on my bedside table.  That and the description made me think it would be somewhat scary and it’s not at all.  In fact, it’s just plain fantastic.  Super fantastic.  One of my favorite reads of the school year so far.
Jana Webster is one half of Webster and Haynes – champion debate duo and soul mates – and when she dies in a freak bowling accident, she is sure that her boyfriend, Michael Haynes, is absolutely devastated without her.  She’ll do anything to have him join her at Dead School – the purgatory high school all teens go to between life and death.
The first thing I love about this book is Dead School itself.  What a great idea!  Real high school is kind of like purgatory for most of us, but it’s also a time where we figure out who we are (er…try to) and what we want to do with our lives.  Dead School is similar in that kids are divided into different groups – risers, sliders, grays and virgins.  Grays are students who took their own lives and are servants in the afterlife.  Virgins are…well were…yeah, you get it…and they are the messengers for the powers that be.   Risers are students who lived decent lives and died, usually by accident, and will most likely “rise” when they’re done with Dead School (a time frame that no one knows or understands for the record).  Sliders are the opposite.  These are the kids who lived life on the sketchy side and many died while in the middle of some illegal or dastardly deed (what a great word – dastardly!).
Jana dies and is a Riser, however, in order to help her boyfriend die, she must become a Slider – something that rarely happens in Dead School.  In order to become a Slider, she’ll need the help of Mars Dreamcote – the handsome Slider with a secret or two.  Mars is the second thing I love about this book.  He is not what he seems and he is one of the most real, honest, fantastic kid…er dead kid…you can imagine.  I kept thinking of some of my classmates when I was reading about him – were the people we thought of as misfits and “bad boys” really just kids trying to make heads or tails of their lives?  If you can read this book and not fall in love with Mars, you’re heartless (ok, maybe not, but still, you might want to have yourself checked out by a professional).
Jana is also an excellent character.  Her death makes her reexamine her life, and though this isn’t a new concept, Russell definitely puts a new spin on it.  Her drive to become a Slider and thus help her devoted boyfriend join her in the afterlife is so focused, she completely misses out on some big details just like she did while she was alive.  When it all becomes clear to her, her change/revelation/epiphany – whatever you want to call it – is fantastic (if not just a wee bit predictable).
Yeah, so basically Dead Rules is an awesome book that I would recommend to anyone who likes realistic fiction that is set in a science fiction world.  Oh, and anyone who likes a laugh.  It’s darn funny – the stories of how all the characters die are hilarious as are the dialogue and the rules of Dead School.

28 November 2011

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Justine Larbalestier
Audiobook read by Channie Waites

I got this book because I liked the premise: Micah has been hiding her true identity for years but when her boyfriend is killed, she decides to come clean (to the reader at least) about the fact that she is a werewolf.
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as I’d planned.  But I’ll get to that later.
As I said, the book is about Micah – a girl who doesn’t fit in anywhere.  The truth is she’s a werewolf.  Her family on her father’s side are all werewolves, and she inherited the “family illness”.  The book starts off with Micah telling us about all the ways she’s lied in the past – pretending she’s a boy, not telling her parents where she’s going or with whom.  Then her boyfriend (secret boyfriend) turns up missing and since everyone knows she lies all the time, they assume she did or knows something.  When it turns out her boyfriend was mauled by wild dogs, Micah has to figure out who really killed Zach and convince her parents it wasn’t her so they won’t ship her off to live with her crazy, red-neck were-relatives.
As I said, the book ended up being very different from what I imagined.  For one, Larbalestier does an amazing job of weaving lies and truth together.  She does such an amazing job, in the end, you have no idea what is lie and what is the truth.  Truth be told, I think I need to go back and re-read the end of the book because I really don’t know what was true and what was fiction, and I can’t decide whether that is a plus or a minus for the book.
I’m also not sure how I feel about this book because I listened to it on audiobook and, well, I pretty much hated it.  It was read very slowly and the different accents the narrator attempted were forgotten relatively quickly or just plain bad*.  Usually when I don’t like an audio book I quit listening and finish reading the book in print and that often helps.  However in this case, by the time I got the print book, I’d listened to so much of the book, I only had about a chapter and a half left – not enough to be redemptive.
I would recommend this book to high school aged students who are fans of science fiction and romance – anyone who likes secrets, werewolves and “forbidden love”.  It’s definitely a girl book, and the language and violence are a bit much for the average middle school student.  I will not give up on Justine Larbalestier because of this one book though!  Mostly because she’s married to Scott Westerfield (one of my favs), and because the title of her other book – How to Ditch Your Fairy – is just entirely too tempting!

*I say this with all due respect to Ms. Waites.  I couldn’t do her job no matter how hard I tried.  Just ask my friends.  Last year I tried reading a passage from a book aloud to them and it was crapski.

17 November 2011

Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan

Gemini Bites
Patrick Ryan
Scholastic Press

When my guy saw this book sitting on the kitchen table and read the book jacket, his first reaction was “What in the world are you reading?”  Then, as I explained the premise of Gemini Bites to him, his look of confusion and concern just deepened.  I’ll admit, the storyline is one of the things that drew me to the book: fraternal twins Kyle and Judy fall for the same guy.  And said guy is super gorgeous, rather mysterious, and allegedly a vampire.
But the storyline isn’t all there is to this book.  In fact, the love triangle turns out to be rather secondary (at least it was the way I read the book).  It’s more about sibling rivalry and about why teenagers do things that make no sense to them or those around them but they just can’t help themselves.
Case in point: Judy.  If she were my sister, I’d probably hold a pillow over her head to put the family out of their misery.  Über-competitive, fake and cranky is how she comes across in the book – even in the chapters written from her point of view.  She’s attending a church group and claiming to be “born again” all because she wants to date a guy.  She’s rude, selfish, conniving and goes after Garret (aforementioned vampire) just because she can tell Kyle is a little interested in him.  Throughout the book both Kyle and Judy make references to the fact that they were closer before their parents initial divorce (backstory; Kyle and Judy are the middle children in a family of nine.  Their parents separated for just over a year when they were younger and they haven’t been close since.  Kyle doesn’t understand why, and Judy never bothers to tell him. Judy, for some reason, is in constant competition with Kyle, often mouthing “I win” when she gets her way.  The only person to somewhat derail her is Garret – his penetrating stare, great abs and vampiric ways seem to throw her off her normally snarky, aggressive ways.
On the other hand, we have Kyle.  He has recently come out of the closet and is handling life pretty well, other than the fact that he doubts he’ll ever actually date a real live boy.  His family (minus Judy) is very supportive, he has good friends, and he’s finding his way, though he still struggles with self-confidence.  Then along comes Garret Johnson.  He tries to be friendly, but 1) he’s pretty sure Garret is straight (wait…is he sure?  He’s not sure he’s sure) and 2) Garret is, well, a little creepy with the weird lighting in his room and the mysterious calls with his “vampire trainer” (I can’t remember the term Garret uses and I already returned the book…sorry!).  So while Kyle is completely attracted to Garret and thinks maybe Garret is attracted to him, he’s not sure and when Judy starts to show interest in Garret, things get interesting.
Then there’s Garret.  He’s weird and somewhat secondary to the plot until the end.  His dad is transferred mid-school year, so instead of moving with his parents, he lives in the Renneker attic until the end of the school year.  He admits that he’s a vampire when asked, but it’s not something he advertises necessarily.  Too bad for him the school crazy is after him, constantly trying to stake him in the heart or shoot him with a silver bullet.  And I can’t tell you too much about Garret without spoiling the end of the book, but I will say that I really didn’t like him much for the majority of the book (I was Team Kyle all the way!!!) but in the end, regardless of his vampire-ness, he is just a kid trying to figure out who he is, and he is definitely instrumental in helping Judy and Kyle both figure out who they are.
Who would I recommend this book to?  That’s a great question.  I did enjoy the book, but it definitely wouldn’t make any of my favorites list.  The book is definitely not middle grade appropriate because of sexual content, but I think high school students who struggle with their identity (and not just their sexuality, who they are in general) would benefit from reading this book because each of the characters tries to be someone they aren’t and then has to deal with the consequences.

**This is the first book review I've done where I can't find the author's website.  Help please if you can!***

Matched by Allie Condie

Allie Condie
(Allyson Braithwaite Condie)
Dutton Books

Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – the women who wrote Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness – claim that this book is “a brave new world that readers from Twilight to The Hunger Games will claim as their own” (from Matched book jacket).  Now, I’m not sure if the words “a brave new world” are bolded to make reference to Aldus Huxley’s book, but if so, I have to whole heartedly disagree.  This book is pretty darn good, but it is not, in any way, the “new” form of A Brave New World.  However, it is a book that will appeal to both crowds that loved Twilight and The Hunger Games (the movie is on its way people!  Get excited!!).  In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Cassia really is Katniss stuck in Bella’s world…or...maybe the other way around.
Cassia lives in a world where all decisions are determined by “Officials” – where you will live, what job you will have, how much food you get, etc.  The book starts out with Cassia attending her Match banquet – the celebration where she, and many other teens her age, will find out who they are to be “matched” with.  Shockingly, Cassia is not only matched with someone she knows, she’s matched to her best and lifelong friend Xander.  It’s very rare to be matched with someone you know.  The next day when Cassia tries to view all the information about her match (even though she already knows him so well), something strange happens.  She sees someone else.  Someone else she knows.  Ky lives in her neighborhood and she, Ky and Xander have grown up together and spend much of their recreation time together.  Now she must figure out which of the two boys is her “true” match, and as she deals with her feelings for both boys, she learns that her perfect society is far from it.
Cassia is much like Bella in that she must choose between two “matches” that are both good for her – one is safer, one fits her better.  She doesn’t want to hurt either of them, in fact she tries very hard to protect both of them.  She’s also like Bella in that she doesn’t know her own strength (I know there are many people out there who would completely disagree with me that Bella is a very strong female character, but whatever, she is).  The difference is that Cassia is taught and encouraged to be strong – by her society and her grandfather.  Bella just doesn’t think or know how strong she is.  However, the difference between Bella and Cassia is that Bella is drawn to Edward for reasons she doesn’t understand.  The idea of Ky is put into her mind by the mixed up match.
Initially, the correlation between Cassia and Katniss was difficult for me to see.  From the get-go Katniss knows that Panem is massively defective, and Panem is designed to keep people down.  The Society in which Cassia lives tries to convince the citizens of its perfection and goodness.  Katniss is a rebel from day one, whereas in Matched, Cassia fights against her initial feelings of rebellion and consistently tries to be a “good citizen”.  However, as the book goes on, I can totally see the correlation between the two young women.  Both understand that they are, more or less, pawns in their respective societies.  Both are forced to put on “shows”, both are forced to do things in order to keep their loved ones safe, and both make choices that classify them as “rebels” simply because they want to protect others.
And now that I’ve compared the crap out of these three heroines, let’s just talk about Matched for a second.  It really is an excellent YA novel.  It has the action, internal struggle, rebellion and cute boys that are required of any good YA novel.  It’s definitely a girl book – the romance plays too much a part in the story for most male readers to get into it.
I don’t know that it will have the same adult-reader appeal that Hunger Games and Twilight did (though I still scratch my head at the adult appeal of Twilight.  Yes, I’m an adult who loved it, but...hello…I’m a YA Librarian.  It’s kinda my job).  This might stem from my current state of the blahs about YA lit.  However, I also think the romance-strand of the book is a little too teenage girl for adults to be able to identify with.  Or, I might be a complete romantic cynic (probably).  In any case, I look forward to purchasing the book for my school library, but won’t necessarily be passing it on to my adult friends.

16 November 2011

Hunger Games Movie Trailer

Oh holy lord.  It's nearly here.  Ok, so March is four months away, but whatEVER.  I can't wait for this movie.  And the cast?  Wowza.


Can you tell I'm excited?

11 November 2011

Dear Bully edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

Edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

Dear Bully is a collection of stories about bullying written by some of the most prominent YA authors of our time.  I read this book because several copies were donated to our school, and an interesting thing happened while I was reading.  I realized that I was kind of a bully in high school.  And if I’m going to be completely honest, I’m kind of a bully now sometimes.
People associate the term bully with big hairy teenagers that push down the little runt in the hallway and steal everyone’s lunch money.  That may have been the modus operandi of bullies years ago, but now bullies look very different.  And bullying isn’t just physically overpowering another person and laughing, it’s any action intended to intimidate or humiliate another person (my definition based on definitions from Merriam Webster, The Free Dictionary and OLWEUS.com).  So based on this definition, ask yourself this question:  were you a bully?
Yeah, you’re probably lying and don’t even know it.
What I realized through reading Dear Bully is that bullying comes in all different forms, has many different intentions, and most importantly, we – or at least I – have the wrong ideas about bullying in general.  Usually we look at bullying from the point of view of how mean the bullying “act” is.  We should, however, look (or try to) look at things from the point of view of the victim.  Calling another kid “fat” or “fag” or “ugly” isn’t that bad, and doesn’t make you a bully, but put yourself in that kid’s shoes.  He/She probably hears those words/taunts hundreds of times.  You may not be a bully for teasing someone once, but you are a part of a collective bully that might be making someone’s life pretty miserable.
I also realized that as adults, we haven’t learned to deal with people who are different from us any better than we did when we were kids.  I hate to admit it, but I'm pretty sure I'm still a bit of a bully. I used to work with a woman that I could NOT stand.  Everything about her annoyed me– she was difficult to work with, had horrible personal habits, and generally drove everyone nuts.  Honestly, I never really gave her much of a chance because she was so weird.  Instead of being an adult, I acted just like I would have in middle school: I ignored her as much as possible, I conveniently “forgot” to do some of the things she asked, at lunch I would talk with others about how annoying she was and immediately go silent when she walked through the door, and – I hate to admit it – I was flat out rude to her about 90% of the time. And though I wasn’t the only one, I realize now that I could have handled working with a difficult person in a much more adult, professional manner, and that most of the time, I just wanted her to understand that I didn’t like her and wanted her to leave me alone.  Only problem was, we worked together.  There was nowhere for her, or me, to go.  So I just kept being rude, accomplishing nothing.
Yep, I admit it, I bullied her.
Well done, Suzanne.  Well done.
And now that I’ve read the wonderful stories contributed by such amazing authors as Jon Scieszka, Lauren Oliver and Mo Willems, I know that bullying looks different through every pair of eyes and that the most empathetic, friendliest, non-bullyesque thing you can do for another person is try to see the world through their eyes and understand their world.  Life is hard for everyone, and the best that you can do for your classmates/coworkers/fellow humans is try not to make their journey any harder.

22 October 2011

Hereafter by Tara Hudson


Truthfully, I’m about done with teen-angsty books.  And teenage romance?  Ugh.  So when someone recommended Hereafter, I wasn’t terribly excited.  But since the reviews were mixed (book reviews often recommend appropriate ages for books, but they rarely agree) I put the copy at our local library on hold.  And I’ll admit that I didn’t really pay a ton of attention to the description.

I’m glad I didn’t, because I think not knowing what I was getting into when I started the book helped a ton.  The book is told in first person by Amelia, who is a ghost.  She doesn’t remember her life at all, she just remembers her death.  Other than reliving her death as a nightmare, Amelia doesn’t have much of an existence.  Until she sees someone dying in almost the exact same way she did.  As she tries to save him, a connection is made between them, and all of a sudden, someone – the very hunky Joshua she tried to save – can see and hear her.  And the fact that he happens to be attracted to her as well is icing on the cake.  As Amelia and Joshua try to unravel the events of her life and battle Eli – the powerful ghost who seems to have all the answers to Ameila’s past – they find out all kinds of interesting secrets about the town where they live, Joshua’s family, and the bridge where they both almost perished.

I’ll admit that the book is pretty typical in its storyline – boy and girl meet, they can’t be together, they fight of the bad people, blah blah.  What takes Hereafter up a notch is that Hudson keeps the twists coming.  Though I could tell where the book would eventually end up, I truthfully didn’t have the slightest as to how it would get there.  For example (WARNING: slight spoiler alert) I knew from pretty early on that Eli was responsible for Amelia’s death, but when it came down to the how…dang dude, I did NOT see that twist coming (see, slight spoiler alert).

Back to the main reason I read the book, and that is the mixed reviews.  No, the reviews were not mixed about whether or not the book is good, they were mixed as to the age-appropriateness of the book.  In my career as a librarian, I’ve tended to err more on the safe side of things unless a book is extremely well written, or I can name at least 5 low readers who would eat it up.  And though I loved the book, I’m not sure that too many of my low readers would be able to get through it, so I’m not going to buy it for my middle school library.  I think the majority of middle school students could handle it though, despite the alcohol and mild language (which totaled much less than a typical episode of the new 90210).  And yes, anyone who loves a good romance story (ugh) that has some action and intrigue in it would love this book.

Guest Post: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

My friend Lisa's son Michael is an absolutely avid reader (I'd put money on the fact that he reads more than I do), and since he has read the Warriors series by Erin Hunter and I haven't, I thought it would be AWESOME to have him do a guest review for me!  I was so right!  What a smart kid!

Warriors: Into the Wild
Erin Hunter
In this book, a young cat, named Rusty, is introduced to the life of a wild cat. One day, he was hunting a mouse in the woods behind his house, and runs into some of the wild cats of the forest. They offer him a place in their Clan, ThunderClan. He accepts the offer, and starts training to be a warrior. Rusty has to be an apprentice before he is a warrior. Rusty’s apprentice name was Firepaw. He doesn’t settle in quickly; a lot of the cats teased him because of his kittypet (house cat) roots. He trained hard to become a warrior with his best friend, Graypaw.  In the end, after saving kits from a rival Clan (ShadowClan; there are five Clans total: ThunderClan, WindClan, RiverClan, ShadowClan, and StarClan), Firepaw and Graypaw become warriors, and their names change to Fireheart and Graystripe. Fireheart’s first moons (months) with the Clan are full of adventure, and there is more to come in Warriors: Fire and Ice

The only book I’ve read that is similar to Warriors: Into the Wild is A Dog’s Life by Ann M. Martin. That book is about one stray dog’s journey to try to find a nice home.  I like this book (this series) because it (they) all have a sense of adventure in them. Also, the cats have problems similar to humans* (such as joining a new school, falling in love with the wrong person or being bullied by someone that should just take care of you).  However, in this book (series), I noticed a lot of mistakes. Sometimes, the wrong names were stated or paragraphs were repeated a few pages later. On the Warriors website, the author says this: Since starting the series in 2003, there have been more than forty Warriors and Seekers books, including separate story arcs, mangas, special editions, and field guides. With all of this, you can imagine how many characters and story lines there are to keep track of! While each book is carefully checked and double-checked by the author, the editors, and others, we are only human and sometimes mistakes can slip through. We love your sharp eyes and always listen when you’ve found a mistake so we can be sure to fix it for next time!*

     I would recommend this book to anyone with a taste for cats and/or adventure in 2nd grade and up.  I think any person who likes cats or adventure will really like this book. Before I read the book, I didn’t really have a taste for cats. But now, I would love to have one as a pet.

      If you are wanting to learn more about the “ Warriors “ or the author ( Erin Hunter ), go to the Warrior Website. You can also go to the  HarperCollins Website to learn more about “ Warriors: Into the Wild.

*As cited on the Warriors website.


19 October 2011

My Fair Lazy by Jen Lancaster

My Fair Lazy : One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover if Not Being a Dumb Ass is the New Black, or a Culture-Up Manifesto
Jen Lancaster
New American Library

Jen, if you happen to be reading this review, I heart you, and can we please be best friends?

For the rest of you who lovingly laugh at my stupid jokes and my inability to keep my mouth shut and not say the sarcastic thing I’m thinking about the moron across the room, please go read any of Jen Lancaster’s books.  Why?  For one, she writes like I talk (only much funnier).  But there are many reasons.

First, she is the master of the footnote.  After finishing my masters, I said something along the lines of “I never want to read another footnote or annotation again!  But Lancaster taught me that footnotes can be fun!
Her sense of humor is sarcastic, pointed and, well, right.  She, like me, says the things the rest of you don’t want to say out loud but think.  She just gets paid for it.  I work for peanuts to “change the future”.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but sarcasm and middle school students make a fire-y cocktail that usually ends in tears.  But more importantly, she’s real, and her humor is real.  Her books are not fantasy, they are not science fiction, and when you read her books, there is no suspense of reality.  She writes about things that happen to all of us: getting laid off, getting fat and learning that we know nothing.

My Fair Lazy is, as the title explains, a memoir about the quest to move from reality TV to real life.  In the book she realizes that while she is a wealth of TV and movie facts, but when it comes to literature, the theater or anything non-Jersey Shore related, she’s lost.  So she sets out to better herself and its hilarious every step of the way.  While Lancaster is able to find humor in just about every situation, she is also extremely real, and that’s what makes me love her even more.  When I read about her dog getting sick, I teared up and then laughed because she then described the dog’s stench in great detail.
What makes me love her even more is the fact that she realizes how little she knows about the world and chooses to do something about it, without losing who she is.  So many people think that reality TV is real, and…I hate to burst bubbles, but…it’s not.  Reality TV stopped being real before the turn of the century.  It’s still fun to watch, and might be mildly educational (the Amazing Race teaches us about geography and various cultures, and anything on MTV teaches us about drugs and contracting STDs), but to experience life you have to live it, not watch it.  In the end, Lancaster doesn’t become a know-it-all, nor does abandon her television habits.  She just becomes a more well-rounded person.  Which, in this case, is a good thing.  If you want to read about her quest to fight the “roundness” in her life, pick up Such a Pretty Fat.  It’s amazing.

Who would I recommend this book to?  It's difficult to recommend one of Jen's books.  But her books in general?  I'd recommend to anyone who has ever wanted to make a sarcastic remark and hasn't, anyone who has ever realized that they aren't actually perfect but are willing to come to terms with it, or anyone who wants a good belly laugh when they read, I'd highly recommend this book.  And truthfully, if you can get through one of her books without laughing, I will give you $100.

If you need short little doses of hilarity, check out her blog:
It too is quite awesome (though she's working on her newest book, so lately it's been a bit slow).

07 October 2011

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

Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life
Little Brown and Company

Being a middle school librarian, I read quite a bit of middle school literature (duh).  For the most part, I enjoy it – not necessarily because the literature “speaks” to me (instert snooty book snob voice), but because when I read it I think of the students I serve who would enjoy, learn from or benefit from reading any given book*.  But I have to admit that I really don’t like reading middle-school-survival books.  As in, I kinda hate it.  Partly because the angst that most middle school students experience didn’t hit me until high school (late bloomer, what can I say), and partly because, to be honest, I’m still getting used to the wee people.  Middle school is a crazy crazy parallel universe where up is down, cool is not and nothing makes sense. Ever.

However I have loved a few middle school books – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of my favorites (Mr. Alexie, feel free to send me the free, autographed copy of your book for that plug).  Since James Patterson is one of the most prolific crossover** authors out there, I figured I should give his book Middle School: the Worst Years of my Life a shot.
And it took me a month and a half to read it.  But I am so glad I did.  I wanted to give up on it multiple times, but as many of you know, once I start a book, it’s nearly impossible for me to not finish it.  I think I expected it to be more like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Absolutely True Diary, and it’s not.  Regardless, I had to start this book three times before I finally got far enough into it for it to be worthwhile.
And it was.
Rafe Khatchadorian is a 6th grader going through a pretty rough time.  He’s not popular – in fact he only has one friend, Leo the Silent***.  In the beginning, Rafe’s story seems silly and pointless and, well, meh.  He comes across as a kid who just wants to go from a zero to popular for all the wrong reasons and in all the wrong ways.  The book starts out and Rafe hates school so he and Leo create a game – Operation R.A. F.E – that requires Rafe to break every school rule within the school year.  See?  Meh and a little silly. As the book goes along, it’s difficult to see any rhyme or reason to why Rafe keeps doing the things he’s doing – it seems so pointless and juvenile.  And it takes Patterson almost half of the book to show the reader that there is a lot more to the story that Rafe lets on.
In the end, it’s Patterson’s style that made me love the book.  As someone who works with middle school students, I can honestly say that the stuff they do makes no sense whatsoever most of the time.  Having spent the better part of my professional life surrounded by confused, horndog teenagers, I know that ninety percent of the time, their behavior is just as mysterious to them as it is to us. Patterson takes that and shows that though the kids don’t even understand why they do the things they do there’s always a reason, and that reason might not be simple, fixable or pretty.

I would recommend this book to anyone who works (or lives) with middle school students, and any middle school student.  If you’ve ever come across a kid who just doesn’t make sense, Rafe and his adventures (however misguided) and his life story make the confusing world of middle school a bit more clear.  And I beg you, even if you don’t like the beginning of the book, try to stick with it.  Rafe annoyed me to no end for the first, third/half of the book, but in the end, he makes more sense.

*if you haven’t ever tried read a book from someone else’s perspective, I highly recommend it – it gives reading a whole new twist
**Crossover meaning he/she switches between writing books for adults and YA (young adults)
***Without giving anything away, I’ll say that there are many plot twists that include Leo – the first annoyed me and the second about made me cry.

28 September 2011

Flip by Martyn Bedford

Wendy Lamb Books

This book was awesome!  It’s the story of Alex who, one morning, wakes up inside Phillip “Flip” Garamond’s body.  He doesn’t know how he got there, but his body is in a coma and he’s not sure if the switch is permanent or if there is a way for him to return to his body.  Living someone else’s life is extremely complicated and as Alex tries to figure out if he should stay Flip or return to Alex he continually gets himself in trouble and can’t seem to keep his emotions or actions in check.  Eventually he meets someone who has had the same experience, which helps, but when he learns that his family (Alex’s) is thinking about removing life support, he is faced with a very difficult choice – figure out a way to return to his own body or spend the rest of his life as Flip.
I really enjoyed this book – it made me think about what makes my life good and what annoys me about life, and that's something I don't think teenagers think about very often.  Alex is asthmatic and clumsy, but Flip is an athlete.  Flip is quite the ladies man, Alex isn't.  So for a few months, Alex has the opportunity to life a life he wouldn't otherwise have.  But is it worth it?  The book attempts examines whether or not the grass is greener on the other side from a teenager's point of view.  Pre-switch, Alex had an OK life - it wasn't perfect and he was kind of a dork.  Once he switches and gets the life that all teenagers think they want, he realizes how much he loves his family and is able to see all the great things his life had to offer. When I think about the students I serve here in comparison to Alex, I wonder if they would have the same reaction.  If life weren't great, would you miss it when it was gone?  As a teacher, we see all kinds of life situations, and I wonder - if psychic evacuation (the term Bradford coins for what happens to Alex) were possible, would everyone really miss their previous lives, or would it be a massive improvement for some people?
I guess I'm just going to be thankful that I love my life enough to not want it to end.

I would definitely recommend this book to just about any middle school student.  The only caveat I have about this book is that it might be difficult for reluctant readers because Bradford English so some of the terminology would be difficult for them.  While this book hasn't made it on to my favorite books of all time list, it was definitely worth the read and I will admit that I stayed up late the other night just to finish it!