23 March 2011



If you’re a history buff or a music buff, this is absolutely the book for you.  Andi Alpers is a senior in high school who is holding her life together by a very thin thread.  Her younger brother was tragically killed two years earlier and her family has since fallen apart.  The only things that keep her going are caring for her mom, popping antidepressants and her music.  Andi is a guitar aficionado.  When her father finds out that she might not graduate from high school, he takes her to Paris for the three week Christmas vacation in an effort to get her to focus on her school work.  In Paris, a family friend gives her a very old guitar and she finds a diary inside a secret compartment within the guitar case.  The diary belonged to a girl named Alexandrine who was intimately involved with the French Revolution and the royal family.  Andi becomes as obsessed with the diary and the story surrounding it.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t like history.  It was never my favorite class, and analyzing why these people were mean to those people has never been my thing.  So when someone recommended that I read Revolution – a book basically about the French Revolution – I was skeptical.  That and the music from Les Misérables kept running through my head.  But the premise intrigued me, so I decided to give it a try.  And I, like Andi, was completely swept up in the story and could not put the book down.  The struggles Andi experiences in the book – her bitterness towards her father, her self-hatred for what happened to her brother, her desire to save her mother but lose herself – paired with the struggles Alexandrine faced are so real and poinient, the reader can’t help but get caught up in their lives.  And Donnelly has some awesome lines:  “What is it that mends broken people?  Jesus?  Chocolate?  New shoes? (p 137), “Because after all the shattered hopes, after all the blood and death, we woke as if from a nightmare only to find that the ugly still are not beautiful and the dull still do not sparkle.  That this one sings better than that one.  And he got the position I wanted…And no writ, no bill, no law, nor declaration will ever change it” (p 286-287).  Lines like these cause the reader to really think about the situations that Andi and Alexandrine found themselves in.  I also loved that Donnelly provided a bibliography at the end, so if I were so inclined, I could continue my research on the French Revolution.  And Donnelly did such an amazing job with this book, I just might have to.

05 March 2011

Heist Society

Heist Society
Disney/Hyperion 2010

Note:  This is a book review I did for my Adolescent Literature class on Adventure novels.  I thought it was good, so I decided to post it.  That, and the book is darn good!
Heist Society by Ally Carter is the teenage girl version of The Thomas Crowne Affair.  Kat Bishop has had enough of the world of thieves, so she leaves the family business and enrolls in a posh private school.  However, the world of thieves isn’t quite done with her yet.  When her father is framed for stealing some paintings from a very dangerous criminal, Kat and her band of teenage crook friends must recover the paintings and clear her father’s name.  Heist Society is an excellent book about family ties, trust and one of the oldest trades:  stealing.  The plot is ironically over the top and completely believeable, with unexpected twists and turns that keeps the reader enthralled and guessing and leaves them shocked and begging for more.

Heist Society is, in every way, an excellent adventure story.  The protagonist, Kat Bishop, is not only likeable, she and the other characters are excellently developed (Nilsen & Donelson, 184) – their back stories add to both the intrigue and depth of the story – and readers will be able to identify with Kat (Nilsen & Donelson, 184) and her desire to become who she wants, regardless of her family and her history.  Though the setting and the plot are fantastic, the reader is drawn into them like movie goers were drawn into Ocean’s Eleven and National Treasure – even though the main characters are committing crimes and breaking dozens of laws, the reader wants them to succeed, if not just for the fun of the action, but for the deeper reason behind their action.  All in all, this is an excellent book that will appeal to the adventurer in all of us.

Nilsen, A. P., & Donelson, K. L. (2009). Literature for today's young adults: Eighth Edition. Boston: Pearson Education.

04 March 2011

Taylor Mali and the truth about teaching

Taylor Mali - "What Teachers Make"

This is not only a great poem about teaching, it's true and Mali shows how intelligent teachers are - that's some awesome poetry!

02 March 2011

The Chosen One

The Chosen One

When I think back to the decisions I had to make when I was not quite 14, I realize that I had it pretty good.  All I had to worry about was making sure my shirt matched my pants and socks, whether or not I’d finished my homework, and how to get the cute boy (yep, that’s you Andy W.*) in my Language Arts class to notice me.  Reading the story of Kyra – a girl growing up in a polygamist compound, completely shut off from the outside world, and betrothed by the “Prophet” to her 60+ year old uncle before she even reaches her 14th I am lucky that I was raised to think for myself – though I definitely could not have done so at the age of 13. birthday – made me realize how lucky I am.

In The Chosen One, we follow as Kyra struggles with her upbringing.  On the one hand, she has her family – really three families blended together and headed by her very loving father who commits his time and his love to all of his children and his three wives.  Kyra cannot imagine a life without them and knows that the quickest way to Heaven is to do what is best for them.  On the other hand, she has the Ironton County Mobile Library that brings her forbidden books and a glimpse of the world on the outside, and Joshua Johnson, the boy who makes her feel alive and gives her meaning.  When she finds out she is to be bound to her uncle, her world turns upside down and she begins to struggle with her two lives: honoring her family or loving Joshua, her faith and the words of her prophet or her books and her freedom.

In this absolutely gripping novel, Williams has created the perfect coming-of-age character.  Kyra teeter-totters between a little girl who believes God knows everything she has done and will punish her for her sins, and a young woman who questions her faith – a faith that she has been raised never to question.  And Williams also does a tremendous job of developing the other characters, especially the men in Kyra’s life:  Prophet Childs, Patrick the book mobile driver, her father and her Uncle Hyrum – all the men who teach her what strength, courage and faith are.

All in all this book is stunning in it’s presentation of the subject matter and the journey Kyra takes as she – at the ripe old age of not-quite-fourteen – weighs and makes decisions that will affect her and those who love her forever.

This book was voted one of YALSA's 2010 Best Books for Young Adults

*for the record, Andy W. is still pretty darn cute, even with gray hair...

01 March 2011

They Called Themselves the KKK

They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group

Having grown up in a time where race relations are markedly different than they were when my parents were my age, and having grown up in a place where the majority of the kids look like me (read: suburban white kids) I can’t say that I’ve had much contact or experience with the KKK – something I’m quite thankful for.  In her book, They Call Themselves the KKK, Bartoletti presents a comprehensive history – well, as comprehensive as is possible.  Because of the extremely secretive nature of the group, it is difficult to find information about the inner-workings of the club.  The information is based on Bartoletti’s research of thousands of slave narratives, newspapers, reports and diaries of people affected by the Klan.  While there is an obvious bias to the book, Bartoletti does an excellent job of showing the “white” side of the coin as well – after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, most wealthy plantation owners had nothing – their land had been ransacked by the Union Army, and their “property” had been taken away from them by people who lived far away and did not understand how things worked in the south.  All of a sudden, they no longer had workers to sow and harvest their crops, and they had competition in the market from their former slaves.  Bartoletti shows how the fear of losing their livelihood drove many whites to use propaganda and terror to try to maintain their power – and their way of life. She also shows how the former slaves refused to give up their newfound freedom and were willing to do everything they could to keep it.  And lastly, she showcases the unfailing courage of many men and women – regardless of the color of their skin – in the face of the rising terror created by the KKK.

This book was a wonderful read, even though many of the images and descriptions gave me nightmares.  Bartoletti not only gives a clear picture of the historical events surrounding the early years of the KKK, she also gives keen insight into the mindset of the various groups and their struggles during that time.

**This book was a finalist for the 2011 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction