Monday, December 27, 2010

Break Reading

Why is this break so short?!

So far . . .

Ghost Town (Morganville Vampires, Book 9)
Ghost Town by Rachel Caine.

Latest in the Morganville Vampire series, fabulous! Once again a page turner that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Claire is tasked with helping Myrnin repair the broken machine that keeps outsiders from knowing about the town and insiders from remembering anything once they've left - if they can . . . But the old machine was destroyed when Myrnin's old assistant was finally destroyed, as her brain was the magic behind the machine. So how can they possibly build a replacement without another brain? Claire refuses this option, and still manages to make it work. Kind of. Why are people suddenly forgetting who they are? Faced with the need to destroy the machine (again), will it ever be rebuilt properly? And whose brain will be involved? The answer is truly creepy and disturbing!

Confessions Of The Sullivan Sisters
Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford.

When the matriarch of a wealthy society family in Baltimore announces on Christmas day that she has been deeply offended by one of the Sullivan children and will disinherit the entire family unless she receives a sufficient confession and apology the sisters immediately know that it must be one of them. The boys get away with everything! They each embark upon a detailed explanation of the deep, dark deeds they have committed. Although the prose is somewhat stilted, the story takes off and kept me hooked. Imagine, a story about the very rich without constant reference to designer goods! The ending was a complete shock, and a relief.

by Scott Westerfeld Leviathan Simon Pulse 2009
Leviathan by Scott Westerfield.

On my 'to read' list for ages, I finally got to it. And could not put it down. Taking place in an alternate history of World War I, it is told from the perspective of Deryn, a 15 year old girl from Scotland who joins the air service with the help of her brother (girls aren't allowed in, and boys must be 16) and from that of Alek, the supposed only son of the Archduke Ferdinand - whose assassination kicked off WWI. The war pits the Clankers - Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies against the Darwinists - Britain, France, and their allies. The Clankers are a machine loving culture who have developed a bizarre assortment of war machines, including tanks with legs. The Darwinists have used Darwin's ideas to fabricate beasts to do much of the work machines used to do. A page turning adventure, this book reminded me very much of Kenneth Oppel's Airborn, as much of it takes place aboard a fantastic airship. Cannot wait to read the sequel - Behemoth - where we learn what becomes of our protagonists in the Ottoman empire.

Out of My Mind
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.

This reads like a female version of Terry Trueman's Stuck in Neutral, which still haunts me. Except this has a slightly younger tone and feel. Oh, and hopeful. Melody is an eleven year old girl with cerebral palsy who has never been able to speak, feed herself, walk, or even hold a pencil. Stuck in a classroom for special kids where the teachers change yearly but almost none treat she and her classmates as thinking people, Melody's frustration is palpable, and enhanced by the fact that she is, like Trueman's character, a very intelligent person trapped in an uncooperative body. A new inclusion program at her school show her what she has been missing and increase her desire to be included with her peers. After seeing a special on Steven Hawking sheand her aide investigate computers that would enable her to speak and her life changes dramatically as those around her begin to appreciate her mind.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ohmigod! Mrs. Lutwak, you have to read this!

The Recruit (Cherub) 
The Recruit. Muchamore, Robert. 2004.

Book one of the Cherub series, The Recruit opens with the story of James Choke. A tough kid living in a tough neighborhood in London, James' mother is a professional thief whose job entails leading a large theft ring from her flat. When his mother dies unexpectedly, he is shunted into a public home for boys. His half sister goes to live with her dad, who despises James. The feeling is mutual, as Ron has stolen from his mother repeatedly, never contributed anything, and picks on James whenever he visits. James quickly falls in with a bad crowd at his new school and experiences his first brush with police. On a collision course with a second, a visit to a counselor's ends with James waking in a posh campus where he is invited to join an elite, and secret, children's branch of the English secret service. With nothing to lose, James accepts.

First published in the U.K. in 2004, the series has slowly (too slowly for my students!) been released here in the U.S. A fast paced thriller, it contains many of the features that made Percy Jackson so lovable - James' faults are what makes him attractive to those who offer him a new, exciting, and appreciably better life than he had in front of him. James is not a prodigy and has a knack for getting into trouble. This book has turned so many reluctant readers into the kind of student who quivers with anticipation at finding the next installment on the shelf, so I just had to try it. Loved it. It was hard getting hold of the first book in my library - they are always out.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth. Kinney, Jeff. 2010.

The latest installment in this cartoon telling of the life of the average boy as he navigates parents, big and little brothers, friendships, girls, and school, Greg Heffley returns to narrate the school year that includes health classes on all of that stuff they've been dancing around. His anticipation at getting answers to some thorny questions about the birds and bees is increased by his growing suspicion that what he hears from peers is likely inaccurate, e.g., girls don't fart. He has seen his aunt fart! Will health class answer his questions or confuse him further with irrelevant information on the complexities of DNA?

I continue to be amazed by books like this which appeal equally to elementary and middle school students alike. Some of my brightest and most advanced 8th grade readers were thrilled to see it and immediately checked it out, along with some of my most reluctant readers who seemed surprised and happy to see it in the library.

Pretty Little Liars #3: Perfect

Perfect: A Pretty Little Liars Novel. Shepard, Sara. 2007.

"Have you ever had a friend turn on you? Just totally transform from someone you thought you knew into someone ... else? .... I'm talking about your soul mate. The girl you know everything about. Who knows everything about you. One day she turns around and is a completely different person." So opens a story about a clique of middle school girls bound together by the need to be popular, on the verge of breaking apart when the leader of the pack shows signs that she is getting ready to leave the rest behind and move up the social ladder. Told in the aftermath of that girl's disappearance and murder, it is a painful glimpse into the shallow side of high school girl fights. A junior version of Gossip Girl, it nevertheless holds one's attention as an anonymous person threatens all of the original clique with the secrets they entrusted to the murdered girl.

This book reminded me of a YA version of Desperate Housewives with its sinister, unknown narrator making comments suggesting an all knowing perspective on how every move of every girl will play out, and the reference to the show in the book makes clear that the author was aware of it being such. So many of my students have gushed over it, and watch the T.V. show based on the series, that I had to take a look. Not what I'd call literature, but definitely a page turner and a book that captures the cruelty of mean girls. Since this is a phenomena that affects so many girls at this age, a few novels that explore it are inevitable and, in my opinion, a good thing.

Frostbite (Vampire Academy, Book 2)
Frostbite: A Vampire Academy Novel. Mead, Richelle. 2008.

In this second book in the Vampire Academy series, Rose Hathaway, a Dhampir raised to protect the good vampires (Moroi) from the bad vampires (Strigoi), returns to her school with her best friend Lissa, the last in a Moroi royal family. Rose is determined to protect Lissa. The prologue gives a brief synopsis of the wild events in book one, where Lissa reveals a rare magic ability to heal and saves Rose's life, creating a psychic bond in the process and also putting herself at great risk due to the number of people (vampires?) who would go to great lengths to control the one with such a gift. Part romance, part politics, part thriller, and part pure vampire fantasy, the novel promises a great ride.

I struggled to find a copy of book one but all of the copies on the North Shore are out - and the copy in my library was lost. What I managed to read of this second novel suggests that this is the kind of vampire novel that I like - one that is heavy on political alliances and intrigue with lots of action and the romance as a side dish. My students are on much later books and have admonished me repeatedly for not having read it. I can see why.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nutritious Books ...

A Little Piece of Ground

My choices this week were heavily influenced by the books I am reviewing in preparation to book talk them to 8th grade students. An english class project, they will read about the middle east conflict in literature as they begin to study it in social studies. These are some of the better titles I've come across.

A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird.

Twelve year old Karim lives in Ramallah with his big brother, little sisters, and parents. Like many boys, he dreams of becoming a sports star - a soccer star, to be precise. But the unpredictable curfews imposed by Israel make getting outside to play difficult. For weeks at a time his family is confined to their apartment. During a brief outing to visit family to help with the olive harvest, he is confronted with the ever encroaching jewish settlements. While walking to the outermost olive grove he and his family are shot at by settlers who perceive the land as theirs and Karim's family as terrorists.

A gritty look at the every day life of Palestinians living under occupation, Karim and his brother's arguments and lives - video games, girls, friends - show us how like any american boy they are while at the same time reveal the terror, fear, anger, and frustration of living in a war zone.

Where The Streets Had A Name

Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah.

Hayaat is a teenaged girl living in Bethlehem with her soon to be married teenaged sister, two young brothers, her grandmother, and her parents. Her family once owned a farm but were forced off the land when the Israelis built an access road for use by settlers. Unable to find work, they live off of her parents' savings. Her grandmother tells her of her beautiful home in Jerusalem and how, during the 1948 war, jewish soldiers forced them out at gun point and later confiscated the home for jewish refugees from the holocaust. When her grandmother falls ill and appears to be dying, Hayaat decides to get her the one thing she desires - some soil from her home in Jerusalem. But travel to Jerusalem is illegal. She and her friend Sami, orphaned by his father's imprisonment and mother's death - decide to make the dangerous trip.

Told with the same humor as Does My Head Look Big in This?, Abdel-Fattah nevertheless manages to convey all of the angst, anger, and daily tribulations of living under occupation.

The Enemy Has a Face

The Enemy Has A Face by Gloria Miklowitz.

Three months after leaving Israel to live in California, Adam Hoffman disappears. The family is baffled and afraid. Assuming that Adam's disappearance has to do with the israeli palestinian conflict, they chase down clues. Dr. Hoffman is a scientist working on a satellite system that will better detect palestinian weapons caches. Adam was active in a group of students discussing the conflict, where his impassioned defense of Israel was seen as arrogant. An internet group of palestinians opines that they hope and trust that Adam is dead. His sister Netta undertakes her own investigation. She is befriended by a palestinian at school whom she assumes is complicit, but comes to realize is more like her in the experience of being new to America than other kids.

Adam's actual fate comes as a shock, and reveals the depth of prejudice involved in the conflict. A nice author's note and references throughout show that groups of teenagers are working to understand each other outside of the war zone as well as the difficulties of doing so given their personal experiences.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Scary Books

Monstrumologist, The
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey.

The book begins in 2007, when an author visits the director of some sort of facility to drop off a copy of a book that the director helped the author to research having to do with the town's history. The director gives the author a set of notebooks found under the bed of the town's resident oddball, recently deceased. The director calmly tells the author that the man claimed to have been born in 1876, making him 131 years old, and that the notebooks appear to be some sort of journal or diary that may be of interest to the author. Because the director is unable to locate any family for the man, he offers to lend the notebooks to the author. After putting off reading them for some long time, the author finally begins and is entranced. The book, proper, is the purported transcription of the notebooks, word for word. Told from the perspective of Will Henry, a boy of 12 when his parents die in a fire and he is taken in by the odd, wealthy Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, for whom his father both worked, and who inadvertently caused his death. A monstrumologist. Taking place in the late 1880's, the civil war is a relatively recent event. Will is treated harshly by the doctor,  but is nonetheless devoted to him - a result of his grief over his father, who worshipped the doctor. The doctor, in turn, treats Will the way his own father treated him, in spite of his obvious pain over that fact. The obvious monsters in the book, Anthropophagi, are made more real by reference to their mention by ancient greeks and Shakespeare, among others, but are less real than the human monsters Yancey carefully creates, layer upon layer. The obsessed father of Warthrop who kept a man imprisoned in an insane asylum to ensure word of his monster experiment would not get out, the director of the asylum who provided patients to feed the monsters, and the microscopic worms that drove his father to light himself on fire to drive them out, dragging his wife with him. The worms, according to the notebooks, have infected poor Will. But, opines the ever rational Warthrop, they either kill you or live in harmony and extend your life. At the end, the author returns to the grave of Will after having satisfied himself that the work is pure fiction. Poking a hole in the dirt near the grave, a small worm, as described in the notebook, clings to the end of the stick.

The Curse of the Wendigo (Monstrumologist)The cover is ghoulish, and parts, particularly a vicious murder scene and the state of the inmates of the asylum, are quite grotesque and gory. The chase to find and eradicate the monsters in the dark (where they are prone to hunt) gives plenty of fright. I chose this book for its reviews and its cover. I enjoyed the setting (nearby Swampscott and Dedham, Massachusetts play a role) and the, "could this have happened?" tone, as well as the poignant story of an orphan boy doing his best to survive. I look forward to part two, The Curse of the Wendigo.

Rikers High
Rikers High by Paul Volponi.

In the category of scary because true, Rickers High tells the story of Martin Stokes, imprisoned on Rikers Island, a jail in New York, two weeks before his seventeenth birthday. Martin spends some five months awaiting trial on a petty charge - steering (telling an undercover cop where to buy drugs) - and narrates the daily struggle to stay alive behind bars. After being sliced across the face with a razor blade when he is chained to an inmate in a fight with another, Martin is moved to a part of the jail where the teens go to school.

An author's note at the start makes clear that the details are based upon the author's six years spent teaching at Rikers. So far, this promises to be true as the details and voice of Martin convey both the fears and attitude necessary to survive behind bars. Having worked as a criminal defense attorney for fifteen years, I am fascinated, appalled, and saddened by the book. But I had to read it.


Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers.

The story of Maurice Anderson, Reese, locked up in a juvenile detention facility for stealing prescription pads for a neighborhood drug dealer. Reese's mom is a drug addict, his father has abandoned the family for drugs and the street and Reese stole the pads to get money to help feed his sister and he. Alone in juve, where the other inmates goad each other to fight and dread the possibility of being sent to adult prison, Reese gets a chance when he is sent to work at a nursing home. He struggles with his anger and his despair about what awaits him on the streets when he returns. He forges an unlikely relationship with an elderly racist who has also been through hard times during his childhood in Java. In addition to the violence behind bars, and the slim chances Reese has to survive his surroundings, what chilled me the most was the ease with which the police manage to manipulate him in an attempt to pin a new charge on him.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fantasy Finds

Fever Crumb
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

Set in 31st century London centuries if not millennia after a "downsizing" that seems suspiciously like a nuclear holocaust, this story is told by Fever Crumb, a fourteen year old girl. Dr. Crumb, a member of the Order of Engineers, found her abandoned as an infant and brought her to live within the confines of the Order's quarters. Because it was the only rational thing to do at the time because of the political unrest and imminent upheaval. Fever is raised to be strictly rational. The only girl living amongst this exclusively male order (females are not rational) she shaves her head every other day (hair is bothersome, not rational). When an ex-engineer requests her assistance, Fever leaves the safety of the Order's sanctuary (the enormous head of the ex-king's statue) and ventures out into the irrational world for the first time. Dr. Crumb's story was not exactly truthful, and Fever struggles with situations that perhaps demand a bit of irrationality while confronting the threat of municipal darwinism in the form of nomadic, mobile cities which threaten to pillage stagnant cities in the fight for survival.

Brilliant, complex, hilarious, packed with dry, english humor. The pokes at the irrationality of present day culture, seen through the eyes of 31st century society, is pitch perfect. I chose it because of the many starred and breathless reviews I read about it which turned out to be true. An unfortunate cover.

Ship Breaker
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Set on the Gulf Coast far enough into the future that oil burning engines have become relics and the violent storms and rising sea levels scientists now predict will result from global warming are taking place regularly. The story is told from the perspective of a teen boy ship breaker - one whose livelihood consists of crawling over the wrecked remains of beached oil tankers for scrap metal. His dream of sailing getting close to the modern clipper ships which run on wind powered sails aided by hydrofoils may be realized when the latest and most violent storm leaves a clipper wrecked on a nearby beach. His recent brush with death, and the failure of one of his crew to try and save him, move him to take the higher road and save the rich girl aboard the wreck rather than kill her for the gold she wears, which would free him from his miserable life.

The debut young adult novel of an award winning author, I chose this for its rave reviews (National Book Award 2010) and because my students love it. The cover art is stunning when you examine it closely and realize the significance of the copper and scratches. Not yet done, but it is fabulous so far.

Shiver (Wolves of Mercy Falls)
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.

A young girl of ten is dragged by a pack of wolves from her Minnesota back yard to the woods, where one wolf saves her from being devoured by the starving pack. Their eyes meet, and for the following six years they commune, at a distance, in her yard each winter. Her wolf disappears in the summer and we learn, through chapters that alternate between his and her perspectives, that he returns to human in the summer months. When she saves him from hunters, he reverts to human form and a love affair is predictable.

I was seeing this book everywhere and had to try it. I loved the cover art. The start was very strong, but evaporated into something less compelling. For a great fantasy featuring wolves I much preferred David Clement-Davies The Sight.

In the Must Read! category ...

Wondrous Strange (Wondrous Strange (Quality))

Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston.

A seventeen year old who discovers a faerie realm. Laced with references to Shakespeare and with a sequel already out. My students who have read it love it.

Sisters Red: v. 1
Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.

A red riding hood tale with feisty sisters battling werewolves! Fabulous cover art!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nook Update

LOVE the Nook. Fully charged when I woke up this morning, I immediately went to noblenet to see what I needed to borrow (that was available in ebook).

Got Twilight (cannot wait any longer for it to be returned to my library!), Fire (don't have to wait until I'm in my library tomorrow to get it!), and Dead and Gone (so I'm not lost when the new one comes out ...). Put a hold on The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Fabulous! No trips outside, my own custom font and size (boy, am I getting old) and three library books instantly in my hands.

If only my husband (a.k.a., this is a stupid fad) would stop playing sudoku and surfing the web so I could get on with Fire.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Frankly, my dear, I couldn't put these down

The drama, the tears, the longing. A week of romance. Sigh.

Friend Is Not a Verb

Friend is Not a Verb by Daniel Ehrenhaft.

Henry suffers the usual teenaged fantasy of wanting to be in a rock band. He auditions for the beautiful girl and ends up a bass player and her boyfriend. When she dumps him, he's not sure what upsets him more, losing the girl or the gig. Probably the gig. Henry also suffers the unusual reality of a sister who mysteriously disappeared a year before the story opens. He finds support and companionship with long time best friend and neighbor Emma. As the story moves along, and the mystery of his sister unravels, he discovers that Emma, and not his gorgeous ex, is the girl he truly loves.

A classic, "you were right here in front of me all along," story with some cute twists. I was attracted by the title. Light and sweet, with the fun twists you'd expect of a romance in New York City.

Perfect Chemistry

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles.

A love story between a wealthy white girl and a poor latino gang member. The boy's determination to rise above his situation, or at least save his brothers from going down the same road, and the girl's relationship with her sister who suffers from cerebral palsy attempt to bring this story to a higher level.

I had to read this after hearing it was all the buzz at the summer's ALA meeting. Reading How to Ruin Your Boyfriend's Reputation over the summer only increased my desire to read it. But, alas, it was consistently rated at High School so I put it at the bottom of my list. But here was my chance! And it was dreadful, in my opinion. Full of stereotypes and stilted language, with heavy doses of spanish to approximate authenticity. And a fairytale ending. Ugh.

Kissing Kate

Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle.

Lissa and Kate have been best friends forever, in spite of the fact that Kate is tiny and blond and popular and Lissa is, well, not. When Kate gets drunk and kisses Lissa it drives a wedge between them. Lissa realizes she has romantic feelings for Kate. Kate seems to share those feelings, but refuses to entertain them.

A lovely coming of age story. Lissa's character feels real. Her attempts to understand her own feelings and examine relationships around her with objective eyes is both admirable and believable. She leaves us happier and more confident, but the question of whether she is gay or not is left at, well, maybe. I came across this in my library.

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

Dash has confused his divorced parents into thinking he is spending Christmas with the other one and ends up alone, on purpose, in New York. While browsing in the Strand around his favorite author's books he comes across a notebook containing clues. Intrigued (and bored) he follows them. What ensues is a back and forth between he and Lily. The initial impression one gets of Dash is a cynical, holiday hating misanthrope. Lily, a corny fan of any holiday that involves singing and family gatherings. And yet, they bond through the back and forth dares they leave each other anonymously. Will they ever meet in person?

I'm only half way through this but can't put it down. Odd, different, funny, sad. And very smart. It keeps popping out at me at every bookstore I enter so I broke down and read the first ten pages and was hooked. Bought it plus two more - Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist (heard of that before, HS rated again?) and Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List (any book in which a stick of gum plays an epic role must be worth the read).

Getting the Girl

Getting the Girl by Susan Juby.

Sherman tries to solve the mystery of who is D listing girls (turning them into instant pariahs) while saving his crush from this fate.

I only read a few pages of this but was instantly snorting with laughter. Sherm's single mom, a bartender who dances burlesque as a hobby (his friends refer to her as a "peeler") and his official male role model, a divorced guy next door named Fred whose passion is plants (Shem suspects he only agreed out of pity for their brown lawn) promise great side characters.

And on that, 'read that, loved that' list:

Bog Child

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd.

One of the sweetest romances I've read in some time. Set in Ireland, on the border between north and south, during 'the troubles.' Told from the perspective of a teenaged boy hoping to get through his last year of high school and then get as far away as possible. He befriends a welsh boy who stands guard at the border and wonders why things are so bad, falls in love, and discovers his family's role in the IRA.