Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff.

For some reason I thought that this was a WWII era novel, but it is not. Amazing. Perfect british voice, though some trouble capturing the american one. A chilling look at what could easily be the future through the eyes of a 15 year old.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

October Read

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Apologies. Technical difficulties have kept me away from the slog, er, blog. What happened to Amazon Associates' easy peasy image factory? Anyway.

Night Circus came out early September, and thanks to a great english teacher I was reading it within the week, aware of the buzz, and to another great english teacher, left my couch to go see the author speak.

Very hard to describe. Fantasy, yes. Vampires and witches, not so much. Magic, illusion - think The Prestige, in tone and subject, if you've ever seen that film. Dark, mysterious. But more than anything, the descriptions are so fine that you will be craving caramel apples and smelling woodsmoke. The first of our book club discussion books for the year, every student gave it a 10. Not a fast read - you really have to slow down and savor it in small bites.

Reading, Reading, Read

 Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan.

The title explains it all, I think. Levithan never disappoints. Me, anyway. Although the town in which this takes place seems somewhat (okay totally) unrealistically enlightened, the characters ring true. Love the cover art, too.

Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams.

An Aussie romance featuring a 16 year old stroke survivor, twins born in different years, and some great twin experiences in periodic doses. A different kind of read. Beatle is that hapless teenage boy. But I had to find out whether Destiny McCartney would, in fact, end up with John Lennon (Beatle).

Deadly by Julie Chibarro.

This was a gentle, slow moving story set at the turn of the last century in New York city where the infamous Typhoid Mary is doing her thing. A bracing look into the life of immigrants, the poor, and women at this time, I had hoped it would be more thriller. But it's not. I was surprised how few of my students had ever heard of Typhoid Mary.

Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan.

Ah, Percy returns at last. Fans of the last (first) in this series can guess at the location and subject of this one. A page turner, as usual, but is it me or is it losing it's spark? I miss Grover.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Brown is Back

Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

With another book about another violent subject that makes us all uncomfortable. After taking on school shootings and high school status in Hate List, she tackles an abusive relationship in Bitter End. The thrill of being asked out by such a good looking and confident boy manages to eclipse Alex's common sense, her friendships, and eventually her self respect. I'm guessing it will have parents upset and be a draw for readers, but the age cut off is tricky.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer Reads, cont'd

The Eternal Smile: Three Stories

The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang.

Another three story graphic novel from Yang, another home run. American Born Chinese was great, but this one draws you in even faster - a combination of storyline that takes off like a rocket and artwork that is essential and perfectly executed. Attacking more general themes of identity, angst, and the need to escape reality - what is real? - than in ABC. Fantastic.

Okay for Now

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt.

I was afraid this book was just too depressing when I began, but it progressed nicely to a great story about overcoming awful family circumstances and the move to a new town while finding your strengths outside the mainstream. A skinny, punk-looking kid from the wrong side of the tracks that can't read very well but finds he has a natural talent for art. Unfortunately, the character development took a suspect turn at the end but still managed to leave you hanging.

Close to Famous

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer.

Like the above, Bauer deals with a kid who has been passed along in school until she reaches middle school unable to read. Also like the above, she is dealing with some hard family circumstances and finds a unique way to make her way in the world. For fans of cooking shows and cupcake wars, a great read. Also a few slightly unbelievable character developments, but easily forgiven for the hopeful boost provided.

Before I Fall

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.

Ugh - if you need reasons to have nightmares about starting high school, this is the book for you! Mean girls on steroids, only the entire atmosphere at this Connecticut high school seems toxic. I could only drag myself far enough to feel it was too much for my library then gratefully put it down. The premise is time worn but still fun - Groundhog Day. After the protagonist and her nasty friends complete another day of pointless nastiness at school they have an accident that must have killed them - but she wakes again and begins to ponder their affect on other people and her own choices. My curiosity at what her eventual epiphanies will be was piqued, but the tone left me cold. Is this the stage where hope leaves YA? If I Stay struck me as much more grounded.

Along for the Ride

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen.

I reached for this after starting the above and feeling myself getting sick and depressed. I'm getting a strong feel for why Dessen is so popular. She doesn't avoid hard subjects, but softens the sharp edges with decent people well drawn. I love that her characters come from such oddball situations and always seem to require schooling in basic social interaction - like how to make a friend. Given the complex world that make up female relationships these books almost read like how-to books, with a nice story to mask that aspect.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Summer Reading Marathon

Hex Hall Book One

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins.

Poorly edited, full of typos and inconsistencies but somehow I couldn't put it down. Huh. Another take on witches, weres, etc. at a most un-Hogwart's like school.

After Ever After

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick.

Wonderful. Told from the perspective of a middle school aged cancer survivor. Funny and interesting with the right amount of cancer info and pitch perfect teen voice. Watch out for the ending, though foreshadowed it still comes like a punch in the stomach.

Half Brother

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel.

I couldn't resist the premise of this one. A middle schooler whose dad is a professor of behavioral psychology gets hired by a university and encouraged to conduct a radical experiment - teaching a chimp  language. The family brings home a baby chimp and raises it as the protagonist's little brother, Zan, teaching him American Sign Language. When bad press and uneven test data doom the grant that is expected to fund the whole thing, dad decides to jettison the experiment and the chimp. By this time our protagonist is completely attached to his little brother, and the end is well done and realistic.

Keeping the Moon

Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen.

In the category of books I should have read ages ago, this was worth taking the time to read. A great coming of age, full of quirky characters, mean girls, and everything else you'd expect in chick lit. A nice read.

The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

Finally read what everyone else read this past year. A must read. The life of black maids in the south in the 1960's.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

HBO strikes again

A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One

Game of Thrones by George Martin.

Not sure about HBO's taste in literature, but once again I find myself battling to get books due to a surge in reading caused by HBO's choice. My kids have both read this entire series, waiting the latest installment, so I finally tried it. Eh. Reminds me of Philippa Gregory's The Other Bolyen Girl. Absorbing after a time.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green.

Fabulous. Corpulent, uber football player and gay in high school writes musical. Best friend/boy love, finding yourself, figuring it all out, the parents, etc. Intelligent and witty.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ach, crivens!

The Wee Free Men (Discworld)I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld)                                A Hat Full of Sky: The Continuing Adventures of Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men                   

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchet.

Witchcraft old school - forget the wands and flashy schools with wizards. Thinks herbs and Boffo.

The coming of age of the witch Tiffany Aching in a remote village in the british countryside known as the chalk with healthy help from an unholy band of Feegles. Tiffany embraces witchcraft knowing her countrymen often toss those suspected of being witches into ponds or leave them to die in the snow.

I ran through all three of the Aching adventures - a small neighborhood of Pratchett's Discworld series. Witty, intelligent, and rollicking.

Friday, July 1, 2011

On the Serious Side, Kind of ...

The Last Summer Of The Death Warriors

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork.

I read Marcelo in the Real World last year and was floored at how he nailed the Aspergers character. Spot on, empathetic, pitch perfect. And the writing was fabulous. So, when I saw this one, I had to have it. It took me a year to get to it, and it was a little more work to get into, but it paid off. Wow. I was up until 2 a.m. because I had to see the end. Poor mexican kid who had lost his whole family is on a vendetta meets anglo dying of cancer. An unlikely friendship, a strange path. Hints of Going Bovine. Unique and beautiful. What a writer!

Ostrich Boys

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray.

Again, took me a year to get to this and I regret it. Think Thirteen Reasons Why from a male perspective, with the squashing of feelings and twisted turns that might take. The british terms and geography may make this challenging for some, but it is worth the ride. Powerful truths about the complicated lives boys lead in those teen years.

The Legend of Bass Reeves

The Legend of Bass Reeves by Gary Paulsen.

I was intrigued by the picture book Bad News for Outlaws and found a reference to this book in the back. Paulsen's writing is lovely, and he does a great job of revealing cherished western legends like Billy the Kid for what they are - frauds - with the exception of this unsung african american hero. Bass's life was long and every minute seemed filled with enough to make any life memorable. Paulsen does an amazing job of honoring this african american hero. Born to slavery, family to native americans in the indian territory, and the best deputy federal marshall the west ever saw. An amazing life.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Etc., etc., etc.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson.

Complex and challenging, once you get hooked he switches voices! And you almost put it down, but you can't, and you're glad you don't. A completely different take on historical fiction circa the run up to the Revolutionary War. The author's note encourages further investigation but leaves no doubt about his painstaking research in support of this stellar story. The ending begs to be continued. On to Volume Two!

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbaleister.

Okay, who could resist such a title? And the cover art and end papers? The entire tone of this collection of short stories by some of the heaviest hitters in YA fiction is smart and wry. Loved the first story, got mostly through the second and did not think I could get away with it in 7-8. High school, I think. Too bad. My son loved it. The censors, likely not.

Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life

Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson.

Heavy hitter Patterson of Maximum Ride fame takes on the Wimpy Kid and, well, falls short. Part of the pleasure of Kinney's character is the comforting normality, even banality, of his life, against which the tortures of school are bearable. Here we have a protagonist so marginalized that, at grade seven, he still talks to his imaginary friend. And home? Single struggling mom, unemployed abusive boyfriend, hardscrabble existence - stop!

It's challenging to pull off humor under these conditions. See The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbra Robinson for an excellent example of how to accomplish this. If you've grown up in a traditional Catholic household you will laugh until you cry.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever