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.

T Minus three and a half hours and counting

I impulsively asked for a Kindle for my birthday, as amazon has been a second home for a decade now, and (almost) immediately regretted it. Ah - the research should come BEFORE the purchase - right! I love the Kindle, but since it doesn't support ePub I feel the obligation, as a librarian, to boycott it.

So, it will stay sealed in its box until it is shipped back to wherever amazon actually is. And, at my feet, charging up, is my new Nook. A week's worth of research (okay, random blog reading) and lots of enthusiastic demos from a great student, and I am ready to roll. As soon as it is done feeding.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Okay, okay, I have resisted long enough. One more article in SLJ about e-books and e-readers and I would have to shoot myself for incompetence. I asked for an e-reader for my birthday and am exploring the possibilities pre- arrival.

I have to agree, this is going to change everything. I don't love curling up with a computer, but the ability to download titles for free from your local library and not have to hoof it there to take out and return them? Wow.

Some of my big readers are already using them. And for kids who need help, the read to me function of some of them may be huge. We make them buy graphing calculators, why not e-readers?

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Carter Finally Gets It

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford.

Freshman year as told through the eyes of a fourteen year old boy with ADD and a best friend with ADHD. Trying to navigate the pitfalls of being a freshman, the football team, friendship and the all important goal of dating a girl without losing focus.

I chose this book because it made me laugh out loud and went a long way toward helping me to understand the difficulties of being ADD as well as the glorious and gross parts of being fourteen and male.

Carter's Big Break
Carter's Big Break by Brent Crawford.

A sequel to Carter Finally Gets It, this story picks up exactly where the last one left off, on the last day of school freshman year. Carter's newfound love of acting gets a slightly implausible boost when a major movie shoots at his school over the summer.

While not quite as good as the first, this book still had me laughing out loud. The daily life of an average fourteen year old boy faced with the lifestyle of Hollywood provides plenty of fodder.

The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan.

This is the first in (yet another) brand new series by the author of the Lightning Thief. Featuring some characters from the first series, it begins the story of those demigods sired by the gods when in roman rather than greek form.

Although more adventure than comedy, this book contains plenty of laughs. The observations of young, newly minted demigods as they react to their unusual circumstances and perils are accompanied by the same frank, earnest humor contained in his first series.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I: The Mysterious Howling

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood.

A young governess newly graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females travels to her first assignment at a grand estate. Upon arrival she discovers that her charges have been kept in a barn since their discovery on the estate grounds where they were presumably raised by wolves. Making them presentable for the lord and lady of the manor is a herculean task which she takes on with Mary Poppins like grace.

This book has the look and feel of a book for younger children and yet the vocabulary and literary references assume a more sophisticated reader. The humor is dry and not overdone but plentiful.

And, in the category of "not new":

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.

A new gospel, as told by Biff, resurrected from the dead to enlighten people as to where Christ was between the wedding at Cana and his famous ministry. A rollicking and bawdy tale that endeavors to explain why Christ's teachings have much in common with eastern religion's wisdom.

This book is not for the devout or thin skinned, but for those who know about different religions and have a good sense of humor about religion in general, and their own in particular (whatever it may be). This book provides the full realm of humor, from intellectual to downright crude.

And, in the realm of "hey, I wanted to read that! why is it missing from my library?!":


Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

A twelve year old boy who looks twenty five because of his size and early facial hair suffers the usual problems with adults who think that someone who looks older should act older. When an opportunity for a group of kids and one parent to pilot a rocket into space comes along, he knows he's not bright enough to qualify as one of the kids but manages to hoodwink those in charge into sending him as the parent. Of course, being an adult is not necessarily all that great.

I've been dying to read this book. It looks light and funny, but also promises to address the situation of many of my students whose bodies have grown faster than the rest of them.