Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jane

Jane by April Lindner

I saw the cover of this book and just couldn't resist picking it up.  When I saw that it was a "modern" Jane Eyre - I had to have it.  Gladly I can say that this book lived up to my expectations.  I love the original story and was interested to see what this one was about.  The author talks about "translating" some of the issues into modern contexts in the Author's Note in the back.  I thought she did a great job.

This book tells the story of a young woman named Jane Moore whose parents die in an accident while she is in her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence college.  She is a smart girl, though plain, and while she does have two siblings, they are horrible to her, and being away from them is not real loss.  In fact, Jane is glad not to have to see them.  Unable to pay for college once her parents die (the stocks they left her were worthless...though her sister seemed to be doing ok and got some money out of the deaths), Jane gets trained to be a nanny and seeks her first job.  She hopes to work and save money to eventually one day go back to school.

While applying and interviewing, she knows she is different from the other girls.  They are all perky and cutely dressed while Jane is plain and dressed in a mature looking suit from Goodwill.  This might have worked against her except that the agency needed a special person to fill a special nanny position.  Jane cares nothing for tabloids and celebrities so the agency sends her to be a nanny for the rock star Nico Rathburn.  Known for being a crazy party-hard star w/ many marriages under his belt and a history of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, Nico is sort of on a come-back tour right now.  He's gruff and strange, but eventually Jane sees other sides of his personality.  Add in the adorable Maddy, Nico's daughter, and a houseful of band mates, photographers, and housekeepers, and you have a wonderful backdrop for this modern retelling of a classic.

I loved Jane, and I loved Nico.  I felt that they were real characters, and I enjoyed every moment they were together.  Of course, knowing Jane Eyre made me anticipate their meetings even more.  I was wondering all the time when they would have a nice afternoon together and when Nico would go back to his abrasive self and be mean.  The love story was fun, and I really think that Lindner did a fabulous job.  Readers can like this book even if they haven't read the original, but hopefully this story will lead them to read the real book to see what it's all about. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Empty

I loved Susan Beth Pfeffer's Moon books and was on the lookout for more of that type - survival in the "new" world when things have gone wrong.  I came across Empty by Suzanne Weyn.  Empty tells the story of three kids in a small town and how they deal with life once the United States basically runs out of gasoline.  It alternates chapters that focus on the three characters:  Tom, Nikki, and Gwen.  Each kid is very different but they all end up in the same boat when the problems start getting bad.

Here's what I did like about the book:  it makes you think.  We are so very dependent on all kinds of products that involve oil.  The book does a good job of showing readers just how much would be affected by running out of oil and by continuing to make the choices that we are making in regards to oil use.

But I just didn't really care about these characters.  I felt like they were just there to say stuff about what kinds of choices we should have made to not be in this no-gas situation.  They were flat for me.  Plus, the book was just overly didactic, which I just didn't love.  I felt that w/ the moon books (Life As We Knew It, the dead and the gone, and This World We Live In), you learned about the consequences but you cared about the characters, too.  This book just seemed a little to overt in its message to make me care about it as a good work of fiction.  Also, some things were just "oh so perfect" for the people in this little town.  For example:

"Guess who we met on the way over here--Mr. Curtin!" Tom said.  "And listen to this:  His wife is an environmental engineer, and as soon as we have power again, she's going to start giving workshops to people in Sage Valley on alternative fuels and all sorts of stuff like solar and wind power.  She's written up a grant to try to make the town a model of energy self-sufficiency.  Is that cool, or what?" (p. 155)

See - it's just too perfect.  While the book will definitely make you think about what might happen if we really were to run out of oil - maybe the pessimist in me (and I'm usually not like this) thinks that the "happy-ish" ending just is too perfect.  I preferred the way the moon books ended or The Road's ending - if it's the end of the world - let's face it - it's probably not going to be that pretty.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My 2010 Top Ten

All the book lists for 2010 are coming out at the moment, so I thought I'd put mine out there.  The book jackets will take you to IndieBound.com and the links will take you to my reviews that of each.  These were my favs of the year and I can't wait to start yet another wonderful year of reading in 2011!  I'm already excited about it!  Here's what I loved most during my reading this year (and these are in no particular order):

Anna and the French Kiss
by Stephanie Perkins







Ship Breaker
by Paolo Bacigalupi







Will Grayson, Will Grayson
by John Green and David Levithan







Before I Fall
by Lauren Oliver







Hate List
by Jennifer Brown
(came out in 2009 - but on my 2010 reading list)






Into the Wild Nerd Yonder
by Julie Halpern
(published fall 2009 - but on my 2010 reading list)






The Sky Is Everywhere
by Jandy Nelson







The Monstrumologist
by Rick Yancey
(published 2009 - but I read it at the very beginning of 2010 - and haven't gotten the sequel yet but can't wait to get to it!)





Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever
by Maureen Johnson
(Suite Scarlett came out in 2008 and Scarlett Fever in 2010 - I read both of them together in 2010 - can't wait for more Scarlett books!)





The Body Finder
by Kimberly Derting







If you want a good YA read - check one of these out!  It's always so hard to pick, but these are the best in my humble opinion.  A few more weeks to add to my 2010 reading list and then I'll begin again!  I didn't get to my goal of reading 100 books, but I did read more than last year (right now at 52 and hope to add a few more before the New Year!).  As long as I am keeping up and doing my best - I think that's what matters.  And....I'll be adding more children's/picture book reviews next year and in the years to come as we are almost ready to welcome a little bookworm into our family soon!  Happy Holidays and New Year to all - and most importantly - HAPPY READING!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Anna and the French Kiss

So  this book is really special to me because the author, Stephanie Perkins, is from my town!!  She's a local writer and we are so proud of this book.  Gayle Forman recommended this book on NPR as one of the best young adult reads of the year - check her list out here.  I couldn't agree more - this was a fun, french, flirty, fabulous read.

Anna is a senior in high school, but her senior year isn't going to be like she thought because her father really famous writer who...

"writes novels set in Small Town Georgia about folks with Good American Values who Fall in Love and then contract Life Threatening Diseases Die." (p. 5)

decides to send Anna to American boarding school in Paris for her senior year.  Don't get it wrong - Paris for a year is an amazing opportunity - but Anna is a bit bummed about leaving her best friend, her job, and the cute boy at her job for a country she knows nothing about - I mean, she took Spanish in high school; she doesn't even know a word of French.

But once she's at school, she makes friends, settles in, and meets the gorgeous Etienne St. Clair.  He's, simply put, just perfect - except that he has a girlfriend.  Anna and St. Clair become friends, have these special moments where she thinks it could be more, and then...it seems to slip away.  But they seem to have this wonderful connection.  One of my favorite passages is about when the gang is all out at the movies.  Anna is sitting next to St. Clair.  She loves movies, but her proximity to this beautiful boy is making it hard to concentrate on the film:

"The characters on the screen are squabbling, but for the life of me, I don't know what about.   How long have I not been paying attention?

St. Clair coughs and shifts again.  His leg brushes against mine.  It stays there.  I'm paralyzed.  I should movie it; it feels too unnatural.  How can he not notice his leg is touching my leg?  From the corner of my eye, I see the profile of his chin and nose, and--oh, dear God--the curve of his lips.

There.  He glanced at me.  I know he did.

I bore my eyes into the screen, trying my best to prove that I am Really Interested in this movie.  St. Clair stiffens but doesn't move his leg.  Is he holding his breath?  I think he is.  I'm holding mine.  I exhale and cringe--it's so loud and unnatural.

Again.  Another glance.  This time I turn, automatically, just as he's  turning away. It's a dance, and now there's a feeling in the air like one of us should say something.  Focus, Anna.  Focus.  "Do you like it?" I whisper.

He pauses.  "The film?"

I'm thankful the shadows hide my blush.

"I like it very much," he says.

I risk a glance, and St. Clair stares back.  Deeply.  He has not looked at me like this before.  I turn away first, then feel him turn a few beats later.

I know he is smiling, and my heart races."

How awesome is that? I mean, I don't really know what to say except I really loved the book.  I loved all the characters.  Yes, it takes place in France, but it's just good kids and a good story.  And the romantic city is a fun get away setting for the reader.  I enjoyed my time in Paris as a read this book.  I usually enjoy boarding school books, too.  It's just fun to read a book and have the fun freedom that the boarding school kids experience.  Anna was just a great girl.  She knows what she wants.  She's got goals and ambitions, but she's just a regular girl, too, hoping for her wishes to come true.  She's in the right city for that!   I recommend it and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Things a Brother Knows

This new book by Dana Reinhardt was really good.  I got into really quickly and I really wanted to know what was going to happen as I kept reading.  There was a sense of mystery in the book that kept me reading.

This book tells the story of Levi, who's a high school student, and his family.  Levi's brother announces to the family that instead of college he'll be enlisting to fight in the war and be a marine.  The family was shocked and none of them wanted him to go.  But he did.  The book is about what happens when after over three years, Boaz, the brother, finally comes home.

Boaz is clearly not ok and not the same.  Levi struggles to understand what's going on, and the family doesn't really know how to deal with having Bo back home.  Each family member "handles" it differently.  But when Bo tries to leave home again - Levi is determined to follow him and see what is up with his brother.

My students have really been interested in war books this semester.  The guys in my freshmen class have liked Sunrise Over Fallujah and Purple Heart this semester.  The war in Iraq is something that the students know a lot about and many of them know people, family, or friends who are serving.  I haven't read either of those two books, but the students have told me all about them.  What I like is that we have some good books like those that deal with what it's like over there and now we have some books like this one, that deal with what happens when these soldiers come home.  It's important for the kids to read about.  Another good thing about this book is that it doesn't pick a side.  It's not a pro or con book - it's just about the two brothers.

I liked the supporting characters in this book, too.  Zim and Pearl, Levi's two friends from school are great, and fun characters.  The family members all made sense to me as well.  I liked going on this journey with Levi and Boaz.  Good book.  I am going to see if my guys who have read the other two will like this one too.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Monsters of Men

It took me a while to remember where this series left off, but once I got into the third book of Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking series, I was hooked.

Book 3 of the series, Monsters of Men, picks up right where the second one left off and is, in my opinion, the most action-packed book of the three.  This book focuses on all the characters readers have gotten to know and involves the native species (the Spackle), the current settlers, and the new settlers arriving soon from space.  Tensions run high in this book.  Of course Todd and Viola are important characters, and I enjoyed reading about what happened to each of them.

I don't want to say too much about the story, just because this is the final book in a series.  What I will say is that I thought the series was good.  I really liked all three books, and I felt each book was different.  All three together, though, really have an important message for us.  Even though these fights and adventures take place on a planet far away, they have lots to say to all of us about life with each other, about war, and about the power others have over us.

Here's a passage that I felt spoke to the stories and also the world we live in:

     I can feel how red my face is getting and I begin to shake from both fever and pure hot anger.  "That's only one way it could have worked out.  There are a whole bunch of other things that could have happened, all of which end up with me and Lee blown to bits."
     "Then you would have been a martyr for the cause," Mistress Coyle says, "and we would have fought in your name."  She looks at me hard.  "You'd been surprised at how powerful a martyr can be."
     "Those are words a terrorist would use--" (210)

One of the big ideas that hit me with this book was just the idea that people will do whatever it takes to win.  Also, that in times of war, you might make decisions that are difficult.  People get harmed in war.  This book has lots to say.

I liked the ending.  It wasn't exactly what I expected, but it worked.  Overall, this is a great sci-fi series full of action.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams

I had just finished a bunch of girl books, so I knew I needed to read something different.  I had been wanting to read this book forever - and finally got it in paperback.  It was awesome.  I really think my students will like it.

Reality check is a suspenseful mystery about a missing girl.  Cody Laredo is a high school kid who is awesome at football but not as awesome in school, though he does pass his classes.  As summer approaches, he is excited to spend time with his super-smart, super-beautiful, and super-rich girlfriend, Clea Weston.  Clea lives in the biggest house in town.  She's taking calculus as a sophomore and her dad has big plans for her future. Needless to say, her dad isn't thrilled that she's dating Cody - an underachiever in his eyes.

Clea loves Cody though, but their summer plans are shot when Clea's dad sends her to spend the summer with her uncle in Hong Kong.   They keep in touch and all seems well when Clea returns until she drops even more news on Cody - her dad is sending her away to a boarding school in Vermont.  Cody decides to break up with her - not really because he wants to, but because he knows there's just no way a guy like him can keep her from that far away.

He is torn up one day, though, when he sees in the local paper that Clea has gone missing from her Vermont school.  After receiving a letter from Clea - his only clue and hope to try to find her - he sets off to try to do something about it.  From this point, Cody finds out more than he ever thought he would about the small town in which Clea has been living.  Cody might not be in school, but he's smart and he uses his wits to try to figure out where his girlfriend is.  The only question is - will he be too late?

This book was really fun to read.  Once I started it, I really wanted to keep on going.  Each chapter brought new information to light in the investigation, and I really liked reading the book from Cody's point of view.  He has no reason to trust anyone, just like the reader, so I felt like we were right there together trying to piece together the mystery.  Abrahams did a good job of planting seeds of suspicion.  Just like Clea said in her letter, it's hard to know who to trust.  The mystery keeps building until the final chapter, so that will keep readers interested and guessing.  There is some cursing in the book which I don't think will bother most readers - but just have to let you know.  Overall a good, fast-paced read. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Forgive My Fins

I am a total fan of Tera Lynn Childs.  I didn't get into Forgive My Fins quite as fast as the Goddess books, but once I had some time to sit and read - this book was just too much fun.

That is what I love about Childs - her books are just plain fun.  Fun characters and fun mythical situations - it doesn't get better.  In this book (and series) Lily Sanderson is a high school student but also a mermaid.  No one else knows her secret.  She's patiently counting the days until she can ask out her long time love and crush, Brody.  Once she and Brody go out, they can of course fall in love and he can become her mermate and all will be well in her world.

But of course things don't go as planned - they never do, do they?  Her annoying (though good-looking) neighbor, Quince Fletcher, gets in the way.  He's always bothering Lily and getting the way.  He ends up taking a bit of an interest in her situation with Brody, though...which is weird.  His plan to get Lily and Brody some time together doesn't really work out as planned and from this point on in the book - the adventures begin - at high school and in the ocean kingdom of Thalassinia.

I enjoyed this book a lot.  I was just as annoyed with Lily sometimes as she was with Quince.  She is a stubborn character who, like Quince says, doesn't always "see" things the way she should.  A great read.  If you like Childs' other books, you'll definitely like this one. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Catalyst

I love Laurie Halse Anderson - who doesn't!!  I haven't read all of her books, but I hope to get through the few I haven't read soon.  Catalyst, like her other books, was real and gripping.  It wasn't at all what I expected, but it was great.

It's about a senior in high school, Kate Malone.  Kate is one of the top students in her class, takes AP courses, and hopes to get into MIT (she really hopes she does because it's the only school to which she's applied...but no one knows that but her....).  Her dad's a preacher and she does not share his views, but takes care of him and her brother and their home.  She runs, runs, runs, too.  Especially when she can't sleep.

Kate's life consists of doing her duties everywhere:  home, school, work...but that pattern and organized life is completely turned upside down when one of her enemies at school, Teri Litch, ends up moving in with Kate and her family after Teri's family's house burns.  Needless to say, Kate doesn't want Teri and little Mikey living with them, but there's nothing she can do.  Teri made life awful for Kate when they were younger, and she doesn't seem interested in being any different this time around.  What happens because of the move in, though, is unexpected and crazy.

Kate was a great narrator.  I found her completely honest.  She is a great student, but there are many weaknesses in her that she admits to as well.  The book moved quickly for me, and though it didn't go the direction I expected it to, I was still pleased.  I wanted a little more resolution than I got.  I was satisfied with the ending, but wanted just a little more.  Like many of Anderson's other books, this one shows real inner struggle.  You feel for the characters and see life from a new point of view because of this book.  A good read.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Extraordinary

I loved Impossible by Nancy Werlin.  Extraordinary has many of the same qualities but wasn't quite as good overall.  Extraordinary is about a girl named Phoebe Rothschild who comes from a pretty well-to-do family.  In seventh grade, Phoebe, who is already a part of a powerful group of friends, sees a new girl, Mallory Tolliver.  Mallory is dressed strangely and doesn't seem to understand how to act in school, and Phoebe is drawn to her.  Phoebe decides then and there to ditch her pretty much mean friends to become friends with Mallory.  Phoebe wants to help Mallory.  That decision leads to a life long friendship between the two girls which takes them all the way through high school.

What Phoebe doesn't know about Mallory, though, is that Mallory is not of this world.  Breaking in between the regular chapters are conversations with the Faerie Queen.  Mallory is from this realm and has a task to complete in the human world.  She struggles between completing her task (which involves her best friend, Phoebe) and living a life full of love and friendship outside of the Faerie world.  Complicating this, Mallory's "brother," Ryland arrives to help speed the task up.

Phoebe gets caught in the normal life complications that all teenagers do:  parents, friends, love....But her situation is different because Mallory and Ryland need something great from Phoebe and she has no idea what it is.  Is she strong enough to do what they need her to do?  Can she overcome the great power that a magical being like Ryland holds over her?  Follow this story to see how these relationships develop in the human world and the consequences they have for the magical beings as well.

As I said, I liked this book ok.  It didn't have me as riveted as Impossible.  I felt like Impossible kept me wanting to turn pages until the very end, but in this book, I felt like the beginning dragged on a bit.  I was more interested toward the end of the book when the two worlds really came together.  The books has a great message about friendship and the power of good friends.  I definitely will recommend this book to students, but was a little disappointed it wasn't as good as Impossible.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mockingjay

I finally finished Mockingjay.  It's about time.  I honestly don't want to (and shouldn't) say a whole lot - because I certainly don't want to spoil anything for people who haven't read the series or finished the last book yet.  What I will say is that I like it.  It was very different from the first two; in fact, I think each book in this series has it's own personality, style, and messages.  I liked that it was different.  I liked the ending.  I, of course, got choked up here and there because as with any good series, you get attached to people and you feel for them and with them as you read.  I think that I liked this series so much because of Katniss and Peeta.  They are great and memorable characters.  Also, Panem is so our world but so not our world all at the same time.  Collins isn't making a grand point of shoving ideas down your throat - the reader can make whatever connections he/she wants between Panem and our world today.  At the heart of this series is Katniss, a girl standing up for family and for what she believes in.  A girl trying to figure out her place and her role in a society in which everyone else is out for his/her own goals.  I really enjoyed the series and am sad it's over.  Next up, though, the conclusion to the Chaos Walking Trilolgy - Monsters of Men.  Pretty pumped to see how this other series following Todd and Viola wraps up.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Shiver

 I finally finished Shiver.  I've had it for a while and just got around to reading it this week. 

Shiver is about a girl named Grace who is in high school.  What makes Grace special, though, is that she had a "run in" with some wolves when she was eleven years old.  The scars are still there, and she never forgot it.  Neither did one particular wolf.  Grace has seen "her wolf" each winter and she is sad each summer when he is gone.

What Grace discovers now is that her wolf is actually a boy - a cute, loving, caring, artistic boy named Sam.  He's watched and been in love with her since the day he first saw her all those years ago and once they meet - theirs is definitely love at first sight.  But how do you go out with a werewolf?  What will happen?  Is Grace safe with him around.  How long do they have together until Sam changes? 

While the love story is amazing - the drama in the background is growing.  Jack Culpepper was a student at Grace's school and was murdered by the wolves.  Many mysteries surround Jack's death and the other wolves complicate things for Grace and Sam. 

The book was good.  It didn't knock my socks off, but I enjoyed it and I think I will like to read the next installment to see what happens with the characters.  I liked the ending - it wrapped up wonderfully but still left you with questions at the same time.  The love between Grace and Sam is so sweet, and Sam is a guy that I can see girls wanting to fall for badly.  I liked the two points of view given by the author.  A good read.  I think girls who liked the Twilight saga will like this series, too.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Their Eyes Were Watching God

I read this book in college and now just finished it for the second time.  I'll be teaching this book in AP Literature this year.

It was beautiful.  That's my first impression.  I remembered bits of the story as I read, but what I felt most when reading this time was how beautiful the language is in this book, especially Hurston's descriptions of nature and our inner selves, our souls, our world that no one can see.  For example:

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her.  

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.  Janie had had no chance to know things, so she had to ask.  did marriage end the cosmic loneliness of the unmated?  Did marriage compel love like the sun the day?

These bits are beautiful.  Hurston very poetically describes the bad times, too:

So gradually, she pressed her teeth together and learned to hush.  The spirit of the marriage left the bedroom and took to living in the parlor.  It was there to shake hands whenever company came to visit, but it never went back inside the bedroom again.  

Janie stood where he left her...She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her.  Then she went inside there to see what it was.  It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered....she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further...

What makes this novel so unique, also, is the juxtaposition of the beautiful narration with the honest, true, voices of the people.  Every bit of dialogue is written as it sounds.  I felt I was right there on the porch, listening to the conversations, yet I also felt a guest inside Janie's heart because I knew all she experienced inside as well.

The main story here is that the book begins with Janie coming home.  She walks by all the towns people who once knew her as Janie Starks.   She's got her hair braid hanging down and she's wearing her overalls.  They whisper and gossip about what happened to her - but none of them really know.  Her showing back up like she just did is mysterious.  So Janie sits down with her old friend Phoeby and tells Phoeby what happened.

From there we go all the way back to Janie's childhood.  She grew up with her grandmother, got married, but not for love, and then ran off with another man, Joe Starks.  From there we watch Janie become a woman.  Sometimes she submits and keeps her thoughts to herself, other times she stands up.  The settings in Florida are vividly described by Hurston and really count as characters to me.

Overall I really enjoyed the book.  I've always been a huge fan of Richard Wright, so it will be interesting to read Native Son with my students and compare the styles and content of these two books by two prominent African-American writers.  It wasn't my favorite novel ever; I didn't hold it to my heart or anything when it was finished, but I was satisfied. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

You

I read about this one on Reading Rants and couldn't wait to get a hold of it, so when my husband saw the ARC at his work, I was really pumped.

You is about a young teenager named Kyle Chase.  He's a sophomore at Midlands High School, though if he had worked harder and gotten better grades (which he was certainly capable of) he could have been at Odyssey High (the "better, smarter" high school) with his old friends.  But he isn't there, the choices he's made have gotten him to Midlands with his friends.  Well, they are the guys he hangs out with.  Kyle doesn't even really like them all that much, but it's who's there.  Their group is called the "hoodies" because they all wear black hoodies.  They are just kind of loners and losers in a way, drinking warm beers at the park after hours, hanging out in front of the seven-eleven at night.  Kyle's lost touch with his old friends and his parents.  His parents are always bugging him to look better, get a job, do his homework and on and on and on....

So the catch is that the book starts with blood.  It's written in second person (you) and so Benoit takes you - the reader - on Kyle's journey.  The first lines get you hooked and you just have to know how Kyle ended up at this place:

You're surprised at all the blood.
He looks over at you, eyes wide, mouth dropping open, his face almost as white as his shirt.
He's surprised, too.

After this, the write takes you back to the beginning of the year and you get to walk with Kyle through his experiences.  A lot of what Kyle experiences is normal stuff, but sad.  His friends aren't that great.   He knows he isn't doing well in school but has stopped caring.  The lessons the teachers teach are stupid and really smart kids like Kyle are bored  to death.  He gets in trouble for things he doesn't do.  He can't find the courage to tell the girl he likes how he feels about her....high school.  Then a new kid shows up, Zack, and things get shaken up a bit.

This book was great.  I really wanted to just read through and through to see what happened and to get back to the beginning with all the blood.  I think all students will like this book, especially guys.  I think it's honest and scary and real.  A great read.  It comes out at the end of August/beginning of Sept.  and is a must read.  I am excited to add this one to my classroom library.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Heart of Darkness

So I finally finished Heart of Darkness.  It's not that it was bad, it's just that I have stacks and stacks of fun, new YA books that always call my name.  But I did it, and I am now on more of a roll with my AP summer reading.

Wow.  That's the first thing that really comes to my mind.  This book was intriguing.  This book was difficult.  I know that this is one that I will learn more and more about every time I read it.  I had seen Apocalypse Now in college, so I sort of knew a little bit about the main idea of traveling down the river in search of Kurtz.

The original story here, though, of course, is set in Africa.  I was interested to find out that this is a frame story.  I love the frame of Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights.  This story had that feel to it.  Marlow, who "narrates" the story is really speaking to a group of men on a boat with him as they wait to leave on their journey.  The main connection I really made when I read this book was with Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  I usually teach Rime with Frankenstein, since Shelley mentions the poem directly.  I also feel that this story connects with Rime.  In Rime, the mariner has to tell his story.  I feel that Marlow is the same.  This experience was so surreal, so disturbing, so incredible, that he has to keep telling it - no matter what.

The writing took a while to get used to.  I really took copious notes and looked at the end notes often.  But I think all that work pays off with this book.  I felt intrigued by the idea of Kurtz.  I felt more and more interest in him just as Marlow did.  I am very interested in the issue of race as described in this book.  I have printed and will read Chinua Achebe's essay soon.  I also felt pain as I read about and saw through Marlow's eyes what these men had done to the natives and the land.  They used it up.  They ruined it.  They destroyed whatever they needed to.

I have a lot of processing to do now that I have finished.  I am excited to give a shot at teaching this book with my AP students this upcoming semester.  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters

I loved Natalie Standiford's How to Say Goodbye in Robot, so I was very excited to get a chance to read her new book (due out in September) Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters.  First, this book is very different from the other one - but I liked it a lot. It was a really fun read.

The Sullivans are an extremely rich Baltimore family - but they have all their wealth because of their filthy rich grandmother whom they call - Almighty - and boy does she live up to that name.  She announces to the family on Christmas that she has cut them all out of the will because someone has offended her.  She expects a confession from this person by New Year's Day or else it's over - they'll get no money.  The Sullivan's have to have the money - it's how they survive.  Everyone knows exactly who's the problem - the girls.  Each Sullivan sister, Norrie, Jane, and Sassy, has offended Almighty lately, and so their family members make them write up their confessions for Almighty in hopes that the family fortune can be saved.

The book is divided into three parts:  one for each sister.  As I read, I basically just had to get through one sister's story at a time.  So really, the book took me three good reading sessions - but not too long.  I liked that it was divided up this way.  Standiford created three very different girls.  In a family of six, you'd have to create your own personality, and each of these girls is different from the others, but they are sisters, and you feel that bond.  I liked each girl for her own story (Norrie and Jane the most....Sassy was just ok for me - not like her name, though). The confessions are full of love, hate, life, death, feelings, and just everything.  Even though these kids are filthy rich - they still are dealing with the normal teenage issues like loving someone who isn't what your family would pick, losing friends, and feeling different.  But will their grandmother care?

So are these the confessions that Almighty wants?  Will the girls be able to put their sins out there and save their family from destruction?  Read the confessions and see for yourself.  This was a fast, fun read.  Not as "deep" as Robot I don't think, but very enjoyable.  I will continue to look forward to what Natalie Standiford has for the wonderful world of YA fiction!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Savvy

Mibs Beaumont is about to turn thirteen years old when her world changes.  Mibs knows her 13th birthday will be crazy anyway - when the kids in the Beaumont family turn thirteen, their "savvy" shows up.  Their savvies are like special powers, sort of, that appear on this birthday.  Mibs one brother can cause hurricanes, make it rain, and blow the wind in your face.  Her other brother is electric and powers everything in the Beaumont home.  Mibs has no idea what he savvy will be.

She's nervous anyway, but then she gets some bad news:  her father has been badly hurt in a terrible car accident.  The day before her birthday, her mother and brother Rocket go to be with Poppa and Mibs and the rest of the children are left on their own.  The preacher's wife in town feels sorry for Mibs and throws her a party at church, but Mibs just isn't feeling it.  She likes hanging out will Will, the preacher's son, but no one else really.  That's when she decides to run away and get to her father.  That's the only place she wants to be anyway--with Poppa.  She isn't alone, though.  Five kids (Mibs, her two brothers, Will, and Bobbie, the preacher's sixteen-year-old daughter) end up on a pink bus belonging to a bible salesman.  They think they are headed toward Salina, the city where Poppa is...but they end up driving off in the opposite direction.  Mibs now has to figure out what to do, what her savvy is, and how she can get to her dad.

This story was just sweet.  I liked the characters.  They were all colorful and unique.  The adventure on the bus was fun.  I definitely think this book is a little young for my taste, but it's a really sweet story.  I enjoyed watching Mibs figure herself out and how the kids, who didn't really know each other all that well, became close on the bus because they had to.  It's a story about family and friends and finding out who you really are.  I enjoyed the read, but would recommend it to middle schoolers and maybe ninth graders.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Excited about some ARCs

So I get these some times, but I actually have three right now that I have been wanting to read and can't wait to get to!

From Amazon: 
This wasn't the way it was supposed to go.
You're just a typical fifteen-year-old sophomore, an average guy named Kyle Chase. This can't be happening to you. But then, how do you explain all the blood? How do you explain how you got here in the first place?
There had to have been signs, had to have been some clues it was coming. Did you miss them, or ignore them? Maybe if you can figure out where it all went wrong, you can still make it right. Or is it already too late? Think fast, Kyle. Time's running out. How did this happen?

You is the riveting story of fifteen-year-old Kyle and the small choices he does and doesn't make that lead to his own destruction.

In his stunning young-adult debut, Charles Benoit mixes riveting tension with an insightful—and unsettling—portrait of an ordinary teen in a tale that is taut, powerful, and shattering.

From Amazon:
The Sullivan sisters have a big problem. On Christmas Day their rich and imperious grandmother gathers the family and announces that she will soon die . . .and has cut the entire family out of her will. Since she is the source of almost all their income, this means they will soon be penniless.

Someone in the family has offended her deeply. If that person comes forward with a confession of her (or his) crime, submitted in writing to her lawyer by New Year's Day, she will reinstate the family in her will. Or at least consider it.

And so the confessions begin....

From Amazon:
Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new kid in school, and the two girls become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, shows up during their junior year. Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on PhoebeƑbut a dangerous hold, for she begins to question her feelings about her best friend and, worse, about herself.

Soon she'll discover the shocking truth about Ryland and Mallory: that these two are visitors from the faerie realm who have come to collect on an age-old debt. Generations ago, the faerie queen promised Pheobe's ancestor five extraordinary sons in exchange for the sacrifice of one ordinary female heir. But in hundreds of years there hasn't been a single ordinary girl in the family, and now the faeries are dying. Could Phoebe be the first ordinary one? Could she save the faeries, or is she special enough to save herself?

I'm excited to read all three and I will be blogging about them soon!  Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ship Breaker

Ship Breaker was great.  Along the lines of Hunger Games and other dystopian fiction we've seen out lately, it paints a picture of our country in the future after many years of destruction and shows what life is like.  In this case there are two kinds of people the very rich and the very poor.  The view of the poor is what you get to see at the beginning of Ship Breaker.

The story follows a young boy named Nailer.  Nailer works with a crew of "ship breakers."  Basically, everyone ran out of oil, the city of New Orleans was flooded time and time again, hurricanes come all the time now (the poles have melted), and all the boats and tankers of the previous age are laid to waste along the gulf shore.  Nailer's and other crews break the old oil ships down for their parts.  It's a rough life.  There's not much to eat and Nailer is beginning to worry about what he'll do once he becomes to big to be on "light" crew.  On top of all this, his father is a druggie and drunk who abuses Nailer and causes problems all the time.  It's business as usual until after a storm (a city killer) Nailer and his friend and coworker Pima discover a majestic clipper ship washed up on their shore.  Nailer's seen the beautiful, sleek ships in magazines and from a distance...he's dreamt about what life must be like for the rich people on those boats.  As he and Pima check out the damage they discover one survivor, a girl.  They have to decide between helping this girl or just stripping the ship of everything - including her life.  They could be rich...they could have a better life....but can they just leave her there?

The rest of the book follows their decisions and the consequence of those decisions.  The book was fast paced and didn't drag at all.  Once they discover the girl, it all races by.  It also paints a picture of what our world might look like if we don't take care of it.  As they travel inland at one point in the book to New Orleans and Orleans II, Nita asks about what happened.  Nailer responds,
"Stupid," Nailer muttered..."They were damn stupid." Tool shrugged.  "No one expected Category Six hurricanes.  They didn't have city killers then.  The climate changed.  The weather shifted.  They did not anticipate well." 
Nailer wondered at that idea.  That no one could have understood that they would be the target of monthly hurricanes pinballing up the Mississippi Alley, gunning for anything that didn't have sense to batten down, float, or go underground.
It's a creepy view of the gulf in the future.  In addition, though, this is a story about family and how you make it.  Nailer's dad is a bad man, but that doesn't mean that Nailer will become that way or has to.  Family and home are where you make them.  Nailer learns a lot about this as he fights for a friend's life.  A good read. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mercury

I haven't read too many graphic novels, and I am hoping to keep up with the genre more.  The kids like them.  I was excited to read Hope Larson's Mercury.  It was a great graphic novel for me to start with!

Mercury alternates between two stories.  Both stories are set in Nova Scotia and both main characters are teen-aged girls dealing with life stuff.  In the present is Tara.  She and her mom lost their old house to a fire.  Tara is living with her aunt, uncle, and cousin while her mom looks for work out of town to try to help them get back on their feet after losing everything.  Tara feels nervous going back to high school (10th grade) because she'd been home schooled for a while and she doesn't know if she'll get the hang of it.  She does pretty good though and even gets a love interest very soon after school starts.  What connects her to the past is a necklace that her aunt let her have out of her mom's old jewelry box.  The necklace is beautiful but seems to have a mind of its own.

The other story is set in the same place but in 1859.  Josey is living with her family when a mysterious stranger shows up and wants to go into business mining for gold with Josey's father.  They strike up a deal and begin.  He's a handsome stranger, and Josey has to decide how she feels about him even though her mother gets a very bad vibe from the man.  He has a mysterious necklace that he is very protective of.

The elusive pot o gold binds these two stories together.  Read to see how the two stories intertwine and what happens with the necklace that has survived the generations and now lives on Tara's neck.

The book was great.  It was a quick read.  I stayed interested the whole time because Larson takes you back and forth quickly.  It was neat to be reminded that even though  times are different, family, love, and loss are the same no matter what.  I highly recommend this one to all.

Goddess Boot Camp

Beach Read #3 -  I loved Oh. My. Gods. so much when I read it recently, so I was pumped to see that the sequel had come out in paper back.  It was great.  Both of these books are quick, fast, and enjoyable reads.  I raced through them and had so much fun.

Phoebe just found out in the last book that she is a descendant of Nike and has actual powers.  The problem - she can't control them.  Most kids at her special school for descendants of the gods learn about their powers and how to control them at a very young age...and Phoebe is way behind.  She's making it snow inside her house, calling up massive amounts of pastries when she's hungry and causing problems for everyone because she can't get her powers under control.

The answer to this problem is Goddess Boot Camp which Phoebe's stepfather signs her up for.  While she's got other stuff on her mind (like spending time with boyfriend Griffin Blake and training with him for the marathon in the Pythian games) she knows she's got to get help or else.  Unfortunately...she knows she won't enjoy this camp so much when she shows up and sees that she's with all ten year olds. To make matters worse, the camp is run by her stepsister, Stella, and her boyfriends ex - Adara.  Great!  Phoebe trains, hangs out with friends, deals with love and issues from her past, solves a little mystery and tries to get ready for the test that the gods have set for her.

I loved the first book in this series, and the second one was just as good.  The characters were developed even more.  It's just such a fun concept...a fun super hero tale from a different point of view.  I hope that we get to see more adventures of Phoebe and her crew.  I definitely plan to check out Childs' new series about a mermaid girl princess called Forgive My Fins.  So fun...a lighter, girlier Percy Jackson. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Carrie Diaries

Beach Read #2 for me was The Carrie Diaries.  I had been looking forward to reading this for a long time.  While most young girls reading this book won't really know the series Sex and the City - but I did watch the show and was just excited to read about high school Carrie.

Carrie is starting her senior year of high school and her fashion is unique even then (I believe she begins the first day of school wearing white go-go boots).  The plan for all the girls in Carrie's crew (Lali, Maggie, and the Mouse) is to get boyfriends.  It's the same guys as always except for one - Sebastian Kydd.  He's back after supposedly being kicked out of private school.  He's mysterious, cute, and every one wants a piece of him.

I loved this book so much.  The four girls are each very different much like on the show, and it's cool.  Carrie is just a cool girl, but a normal girl, too.  She's not the hottest person in school or the most popular - she's not the lowest on the social ladder either.  She swims on the swim team and goes to parties.  She loves to dress in cool clothes, and she dreams big of becoming a writer.  Her writing doesn't come easily though.  She has to work on it and find her subjects and her voice....but once she does - it's on world.

This was a happy book about high school stuff:  love, friends, sex, parties, family, loss...the whole lot.  It was a great read. 

After Tupac and D Foster

This quick read started off my summer beach reading.  This book is about two girls (the narrator and her best friend Neeka) who live in Queens.  They've been friends forever and have their routine in their neighborhood.  Then one day a girl shows up and starts talking to them.  She's beautiful and cool.  She's different...almost like she's from another planet.  The girls get to know each other and it's like they've always been just them three.  This is a story about their friendship.

In the background of all this, too, is family drama - good and bad and of course, Tupac.  I liked the storyline involving Neeka's brother (who is really a sista).  He's in jail and dealing with that.  It was powerful to see the love of the family.  They were always there for him.

This book was pretty good.  It was a great story about friendship and family.  I liked it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen

I borrowed this book from my Mom forever ago and finally got a chance to pick it up.  I've been wanting to read it forever and it totally lived up to my expectations.  I'm really interested to see the movie when it comes out probably next year.

Right now Jacob Jankowski is ninety, or ninety-three...something around there.  He's in a nursing home and trying to make it through each day of sitting around and eating the terrible mushy food.  But in the past Jacob is a young man about to finish veterinary school at Cornell.  Just before he sits for his final examinations - his world changes forever.  He won't be taking over his father's veterinary practice like he thought.  He finds himself alone and on the road.

Jacob hooks up with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth and his life becomes an adventure he'd never imagined.  He finds work, actually gets to tend to the animals after a while, and meets a very beautiful woman.  He learns the ways of the circus, interacts with all of the crazy characters and workers, and he makes it.

But life in the circus isn't always easy.  Money isn't always there.  And it's really hard to work anywhere if you fall in love with your boss' wife....

In the book ninety or ninety-three year old Jacob thinks back about his time with the circus and the reader gets to experience a time and place like none other.  I felt like I was right there.  The descriptions of the circus and the people came to life.  You like Jacob from the beginning and you are on his side throughout as he navigates a life he never dreamed he would be living.

I would definitely recommend this book to everyone.  It's so fun and unique.  I used to watch Carnivale on HBO before they ended it and it brought wonderful memories of that show back to me.  A great read for all.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

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

I loved Marcelo and the Real World by Stork, and Death Warriors is a close second.  His male characters are just wonderful dudes.  In this new book, a boy named Pancho is almost a senior in high school.  His father is killed in a freak work accident and then his sister (who is older but mentally slow) mysteriously dies in a hotel room. 

Pancho believes his sister was murdered.  He gets sent to a home for boys - basically an orphanage.  It's not bad, maybe nice actually.  Regardless of what "the system" is going to do with him, he knows what he will do with himself.  He is g oing to find the man who murdered his sister and kill him. 

He can't just sit alone and plan this all out, though, because from the moment he arrives at the home, he is matched up with a boy named D. Q.  D. Q.  is a young many who just found out that he has a really rare cancer disease.  The two boys hang out.  Pancho wouldn't say they're friends, but after time passes, the two become close.  Pancho helps D. Q. and takes him to treatments.

D. Q. is working on his Death Warrior Manifesto - his writings about "sucking the marrow" out of life and living his days to the fullest.  These ideas are completely the opposite of Pancho's - who doesn't even see life any more or care what happens to him if he carries out his plan.

The book follows the relationship of the two.  It's funny and honest.  D. Q. is a character that gets in your heart.  He just knows what people needs.  We all know people who seem to "see" more than others...people who are just tuned in.  D. Q. is one of those people. 

The story wasn't as suspenseful for me as Marcelo, but I liked it a lot.  A good read.  I will continue to look forward to more by Stork.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I can't believe it's been a month since I posted last!!  I'm quite disappointed in myself.  I'll pick back up soon, though.  But in my defense, I've been really tired and busy lately.  School's starting to wind down soon, so I'll get to my reading.  This summer, though, I have a lot of reading to do to get ready to teach AP literature.  So you'll hear about some classics as well as all the YA I'm reading.

So, it took me a month to finish The Magicians.  Honestly, I didn't like it much at all.  There were some good parts,  but in the end, I didn't really like any of the characters (except the one who dies...) and I just didn't buy the story.

I'd picked this up because I heard "Harry Potter for grownups" and because it was on the Alex list of adult books good for teens.  This book certainly isn't Harry Potter.  While there is a magical school and spells and classes and games, what really held me back was the main character, Quentin.  I didn't like him at all.  He was cool when he decided to attend Brakebills but really he sucked after he got there and kept on being a very whiny guy throughout the entire book.

I don't really have much else to say about this book.  If you like weird characters and don't feel like you have to be pulling for a character to like a book, then try it...but honestly - I'm glad it's over and sad it took up a month of my reading life. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

Dude!   This book was crazy!  I'd read a few others blogs about it and checked it out.

So Violet Ambrose is a teenager like any other.  She's been best friends with Jay forever.  He's always been there, but it's different this year.  He's "grown up" and basically gotten hotter over this last summer.  While it was usually just the two of them, but now all the girls who never noticed Jay before are following him around like little puppies.  Violet is a bit bothered by this but unsure of why.

Violet is different, though, in that she can find dead bodies.  She feels or senses tastes, smells, sounds that lead her to dead bodies.  It's only really happened with a body once, but she does find animals that have been killed.  As a kid she had a little graveyard where she put the animals to rest.

As the year progresses, she's dealing with normal stuff like school, friends, classes, and her feelings about Jay.  But then a string of murders in the area stirs up and scares everyone.  A serial killer is killing young girls.  Violet discovers one of them and becomes more involved than she knows in the serial killers plans.

This book is mainly about Violet, but every few chapters you get a glimpse into a short chapter from the point of view of the killer.  These chapters are freakin creepy, my friends.

I just had to keep reading this book.  Each chapter I wanted to know if the killer had gotten someone else, if Violet had found a body or discovered the killer, and then of course, were Violet and Jay ever going to hook up and get together??  It was obvious she liked him...so I just had to see how they would end up.  So all in all, this book is crazy suspenseful but also has a really great and sweet love story, too.  I just loved Jay - he was like the sweetest guy ever.  You should definitely check this one out for a strangely sweet and suspenseful read.  Cool book.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cherub Mission 1: The Recruit by Robert Muchamore

The Cherub series was published in England and is now being released with new covers in the U.S.  We have some of these books (the paperbacks released before these new ones) in our school library.

I picked up the new hardcover of Mission 1:  The Recruit the other day because I had heard lots of kids (especially boys) had really liked the series.

James Choke is living in London with his Mom, half-sister, and step dad.  His step dad is a complete idiot, and while he loves his mom, she's not up to the most good herself.  Enormously fat, she stays in their apartment organizing her "people" who work for her stealing electronic goods and such.  She changes her cell phone every few days so as not to get caught.  She resells the stuff to others.  She drinks too much, and James and Lauren often have to take care of themselves.

One day, though, she doesn't wake up from drinking too much, and James' life changes forever.  He's separated from Lauren and thrown into a group home.  He hangs out with the bad kids and doesn't want to be there forever.   Then mysteriously he wakes up in a clean room one morning and has no idea how he got there.

He finds out he is at the Cherub campus.  Cherub agents for all practical purposes don't even really exist.  They are kids that work with British MI5 agents to help bring down terrorists and criminals.  The kids are used in cases where the adult agents would be obvious.  No one suspects kids of being spies, so that's when the Cherub agents take over and help out.  Before you can become a Cherub agent, however, you must go through a insanely-hard-makes-you-want-to-die-and-cry-for-you-mommy kind of basic training.  So, can James make it through training?  How hard will  these hundred days be?  Will he ever see his sister Lauren again?  Will he get his first Cherub mission?  Read on to find out what the training is like and to follow James on his first Cherub adventure.

I think lots of kids will like this book.  I have never read any of the Alex Rider books, but I assume it's a similar feel.  Although in these, the agents don't rely on crazy gadgets like in Alex Rider...but it's still adventurous all the same.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

I've been waiting for this book for so long, so I was totally thrilled when I picked up my signed copy at Malaprop's Tuesday.  I love the cover; I love John Green; and I love David Levithan.  I'd read great reviews and been terribly jealous of all the book bloggers and tweeple who got to read this one in advance.

I just finished and IT WAS FABULOUS!!  I absolutely loved it!

So it's two narrators...the Will Graysons alternate chapters throughout the entire book.  Will Grayson one is a sort of normal high school kid who had a sort of Group of Friends but doesn't really anymore since he stood up to everyone and wrote a letter to the school paper about how it was ok that his friend Tiny Cooper (who is anything but tiny, by the way) was gay and the best thing that happened to their school's crappy football team.  Oh yeah, and he signed his name to that letter.  So the Group of Friends kind of stopped being the Group of Friends after that.  Will has been friends with Tiny forever, which is hard sometimes because Tiny is a bit loud and dramatic...ok, well, extremely loud and dramatic and fabulous and he falls in love really easily....you get the picture. 

While Tiny is always in love with someone, Will isn't.  He just avoids relationships and really tries not to even say that much at all....that way he'll be good and won't have to deal with any drama.

Tiny's trying to get his original musical Tiny Dancer staged at school.  Tiny is huge and fabulous and on a mission when it comes to this play.

A few towns over, Will Grayson two wants to murder himself and everyone around him...well not really, but that's how he feels.  He's not so happy, this Will Grayson #2, that is unless he's online talking to Isaac, his new friend.  He makes it through school, allowing himself a little happiness toward the end of each day when he looks forward to the final bell. 

These two Will Graysons continue on their ways until one night (at a porn shop of all places) they run into each other...from that point - their worlds are connected.

As you read this book you'll see how the world's intertwine and you'll have just craploads of fun along the way.

Tiny Cooper is, as many other bloggers and reviewers have pointed out, the absolute most fabulous thing about this book.  I have no idea how Green and Levithan did the writing on this book...but Tiny is the beautiful, giant thread that holds it all together...and he's perfect in all the chapters.  As his BFF Will Grayson #1 says:

Tiny Cooper is not the world's gayest person, and he is not the world's largest person, but I believe he may be the world's largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world's gayest person who is really, really large.  Tiny has been my best friend since fifth grade...

and...

Tiny waltzes in wearing his jersey tucked into his chinos, even though football season is long over.  Every day, Tiny miraculously manages to wedge himself into the chair-desk beside mine in precalc, and every day, I am amazed he can do it...So Tiny squeezes into his chair, I am duly amazed, and then he turns to me and he whispers really loudly because he secretly wants other people to hear, "I'm in love." 

I've loved all of John Green's books (Alaska's my favorite).  I also really liked Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan, and I plan to read Boy Meets Boy soon.  These guys have really done something special here, and you absolutely must check out this book.  One, it's good, and Two, it's all about the love, and who doesn't love that!?!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rosie and Skate by Beth Ann Bauman

Love, love, loved this book!!  I saw a review of it on Reading Rants which made me want to read it.  It totally lived up to my expectations.

Rosie and Skate are two sisters who live on the Jersey Shore.  They're locals and work at the shore during the summer while it's full of tourists.  Their dad is an alcoholic - a nice drunk - but still a drunk.  He can't stop drinking.  He doesn't hurt the girls or cause many problems, but he gets out of control one night driving and crashes and lands himself three months in jail.  Rosie and Skate are on their own because their mom is dead.

Their cousin, Angie, comes to live with them and help out, but once their father goes to jail, things are harder between the sisters.  Rosie is hopeful and visits her father and still somehow believes he will get better, while Skate refuses  to go at all.  Skate doesn't attend the support group meetings.  Instead, she spends time at work with her boss Nick, and also pining away after her boyfriend Perry who is gone to college at Rutgers.  She wants to see Perry so badly.  The two of them are great together, but the distance is a problem.

The book alternates between the narration of each sister.  It's cool to hear the story from two points of view.  The writing was real and easy to read.  I liked the characters and the story of each sister.  This was a fun read with some serious stuff mixed in.  I totally loved it!

Here's a link to the New York Times review of Rosie and Skate.

Slam by Nick Hornby

Sam Jones is a normal kid who loves to skate (board that is...not on ice).  He does ok in school and hangs with his friends.  One thing that's a little different about him is that his mom is really young...in fact she had him when she was sixteen...so she's way younger than most of his friends' moms, but it's cool - she's a good mom, and they do alright.

Sam "talks" to Tony Hawk a lot and has read Hawk's biography maybe a thousand times.  Tony always gives good advice.

Sam's normal life of school and skating change a bit, though, when he meets a gorgeous girl named Alicia.  They end up going out, hanging out, and having a great time.  In about two seconds, though, their lives change...they make a baby.

This book takes you on the journey with Sam as he works through his relationships with friends, with Alicia, with his own parents, with Alicia's snobby parents, and with his baby on the way.  It's a very honest look at teen pregnancy.  I enjoyed the read.  I liked Sam as a narrator.  He was honest and always told it like it was.  The other characters were great, too.  Overall, a good book.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

I was really pumped to read this book, and while I enjoyed much of the story, I was a little bit underwhelmed.  However, this was a good fantasy read and I do recommend it if you like fantasy.

So there are two stories in this book:  the story of Finn and the story of Claudia.  And both stories involve the prison - Incarceron.

Finn woke up in the prison and had no idea about how he got there or even who he was.  He saw the name on his clothes; he ran into some people; and he began a strange, violent life in the prison.  There's fighting, lying, and violence in the prison.  Finn always had the weird feeling, though, that he was from Outside and that he hadn't always been in Incarceron.  He has a tattoo on his arm, and when he finds a woman who knows something about it, he works to find out who he is and how he can get out of the prison.

Finn's path eventually crosses with the path of Claudia's.  Claudia is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron.  She's grown up privileged, yet she's unhappy now because a marriage is being arranged for her that she does not want a part of.  She's from the Outside, supposedly, but ends up wondering much when she encounters Finn somehow.

In this book you are reading about each character and wondering how Finn can ever get out or if that's even possible.  It was a good read and did have some surprises, but it didn't leave me feeling like I felt after reading The Hunger Games  or The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I get so wrapped up in keeping up with the newest, latest, greatest YA books, that I often neglect the classics.  I read lots of them in my college English classes, and I know the ones I teach often (Hamlet, Frankenstein, etc...) very well, but I only get through one or two "classics" a year.  I want to do more of this reading, so while my student teacher organized literature circles for my students, I decided to read Wuthering Heights along with one of the groups.

I loved this book.  It made me happy; it made me sad; it annoyed me; it made me want to holler at people; it made me smile.  I read Jane Eyre last summer and liked it a lot, but Wuthering Heights moves far beyond Jane Eyre as my favorite right now.

There's so much story in the book, but it all starts when Mr. Lockwood moves in to Thrushcross and visits his landlord, Mr. Heathcliff.  Heathcliff is a weird dude, and Lockwood, who isn't the most sociable guy in the world, feels like he's outgoing and nice compared to Heathcliff.  Lockwood visits once and then again and gets stuck at Wuthering Heights before he can make it home.  He spends the night in a room that he really isn't supposed to be in and encounters the ghost of a young girl at the window.  He's completely freaked out and what's more is that Heathcliff rushes in at the disturbance screaming:

"Come in, come in!...Cathy, do come.  Oh, do--once more!  Oh! my heart's darling, hear me this time, Catherine, at last!"

Amazed by this outburst, Lockwood gets the whole story out of his housekeeper, Nelly Dean.  You just love Nelly to death by the end of this book, as she is your eyes and ears into this story, this world.  Nelly has been working for the family for years and she tells Lockwood every exciting, terrifying, lovely bit of the story.

It all began when Old Earnshaw who had two children, Hindley and Catherine went away to Liverpool and came back with a new little rough-looking, black-haired, wild child with him.  You may expect a give when your father goes out of town and returns, but certainly not a new little brother, and a wild, gypsy seeming child at that.  Hindley doesn't like the new little one, Heathcliff, and Catherine doesn't care for him at first either.  But time goes on, and life steps in.  Hindley leaves, and Catherine and Heathcliff become best of friends.  Old Earnshaw dies, Hindley comes back and treats Heathcliff badly.  Catherine likes Heathcliff, but can't marry him because he's "lower" than her...but she really does want him.  Heathcliff hearts Catherine say something about this and leaves and disappears....and it all gets going from here.

This book has so much love and so much hate that it seems impossible sometimes.  The story spans generations and turns and twists all the time.  I was always wondering what was going to happen, who would be together, why the characters just couldn't be honest with each other.

I was completely happy and satisfied with this book, and it is one that I will read again and again definitely.  This is one classic you should pick up if you haven't already.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

I've had this book on my shelf forever and finally picked it up.  I loved it!  It took me a little while to get used to the narrator, senior in high school, Sutter Keely, but once I did I was along for the ride with him on his adventures (and a wild ride-it definitely is!)

So, Sutter has a curvy, beautiful girlfriend, Cassidy.  He's a senior.  He is a party-man.  As long as he's got a whiskey and 7 up - he's golden.  Cassidy gets sick of his antics, though, and dumps him.  He's sort of stranded in a weird place.  He's single again, and his best friend Ricky finally got a girlfriend (Sutter made it happen, of course).  Sutter's kind of in a weird place.  He turns to his whiskey and drinks and drinks and ends up asleep in a strange yard.  He wakes to see a girl, Aimee, who says she knows him because she goes to his school.  Aimee is different from any one Sutter has ever hung out with, and he kinda likes her.  They hang out and Sutter sort of takes her under his wing.  But when there's Sutter Keely and whiskey...there's always going to be fun (and trouble, perhaps) ahead...

Like I said, this book was different.  Sutter is such a strong narrator.  I appreciate the voice that Tim Tharp created here.  I loved Sutter's vocabulary words such as, "spanktaculicious" and "fandangulous."  Sutter's a mess but you just can't help but love him.

I was a little weirded out by the amount of alcohol that Sutter drank.  The thing is, he's really the only who who drinks that much in the story.  His friends don't.  Ricky has cut back on partying.  Sutter's got his own little world....So while this book does center around and involve alcohol, I don't think it shows drinking in a positive light at all.  It's honest.  It was interesting because while I read, I was pulling for Sutter, but I also felt like I could understand the other people who told him maybe he shouldn't drink so much anymore.

I really liked this book.  Sutter is a unique character I've never met before, and it was nice to meet him.  He's a fun guy - no one can deny that.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Weetzie Bat by Fancesca Lia Block

I've never read any of Francesca Lia Block's books, so I thought I'd start right at the beginning with Weetzie Bat.  It's been on my list forever.

Weetzie Bat is a hip young lady who finds her soul mate/best friend in Dirk, the cutest guy in school.  They do movies and hang out and are bffs forever.  Dirk and Weetzie both want to find someone to love them so they go "duck hunting" together - each hoping to find that one special man who will make them happy.

One day Weetzie actually gets the chance to make sure this happens for both her and Dirk.  She makes three wishes and sets their life on an adventure-filled path that they love.  They live, love, and go through life's down times, too, but they always stay together and do their best.

I liked this quick, fun little read because it took me away to LA and let me hang out with some fabulous new friends.  It's got movies, beauty, palm trees, dancing, music, babies, loving, everything.  I liked the style and enjoyed how short and simple it was.  Yet, there were still things under the surface to think about.  A simple story about love with a colorful cast of characters.  I loved this description of what you are to me...this was about Weetzie,

You are my lake full of fishes, you are my sky set, my 'Hollywood in Minature,' my pink Cadillac, my highway, my martini, the stage for my heart to rock and roll on, the screen where my movies light up.  

Who doesn't love that?  Weetzie Bat was fun and full of love. 

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Jenna Fox wakes up after being gone/out/something for a year.  She knows there was an accident and that she was in a coma for a year.  She doesn't know much of anything except that they tell her she is Jenna Fox.  She's got discs to watch of her past, but none of it seems to click at first.  She feels awkward in her body and tries to get used to being awake and back with the real world.

Jenna doesn't feel like the girl that she sees on the videos, but bit by bit, she starts to remember things and piece together voices, memories, and parts of her past.  However, with some memories and feelings, Jenna becomes even more confused about what exactly happened during the year she was "in a coma."  Her family isn't the same as she sees/remembers, and her grandmother doesn't seem to want to deal with her at all.  She tries to make life somewhat normal by going to school and making friends, but she is haunted by what she begins to know and what she still has to figure out about herself.

This book is a nice sci-fi/teen mix.  It's got some creepy futuristic mysteries yet focuses on Jenna's relationships with those around her.  Sometimes figuring out who you are is hard enough when everything in your life is "normal."  Well, for Jenna, whose situation is way far from normal, it's even worse.  Her parents have made decisions that will affect her for the rest of her life.

I liked this book a lot.  It was fast paced and interesting.  The reader gets to piece together bits of Jenna's life right along with her, so you're always guessing how it all fits.  I was interested in the science-y stuff, but also pulled in by the relationships.  As I read this book I thought of Frankenstein.  This book has some things in common with Frankenstein...especially when Jenna confronts her parents about what happened during her mysterious "year off."

A great read and a unique concept. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

What happens when you die?  Well, for Sam Kingston, you wake up and get a chance to do it all over again - six more times.

Sam and her girls, Lindsey, Ally, and Elody, are on top of the world and the social landscape of their high school.  They rule the roost and are, well, a little bitchy.  Sometimes a lot...

In Before I Fall you get to follow Sam and her friends during their day - Cupid Day at school - the day when roses get delivered with notes to people.  The girls get tons of roses, of course.  They eat at their usual lunch table.  They giggle and discuss Sam's "big plans" that she has for the night with her boyfriend Rob.  They plan to attend a party that night at Kent McFuller's house.  They go, they have fun, they get into a little drama, and then they're on their way home.  It rains, they swerve, Sam hears something, and then....

Beep, Beep...she wakes up.  And it's still Feb. 12.  Sam is caught in some kind of strange time and relives this last day of her life over and over.  Each day she notices things, changes things, and realizes things.  She sees people differently.  She notices things she never even paid attention to before.  She appreciates the little things that she will miss when she's really gone.

This book was amazing.  While the chapters are long, it's so good because you get to notice the details right along with Sam.  This book reminds us of what really matters, and it reminds us to notice what's going on around us and not take things for granted.  I loved being on this journey with Sam.  I felt like everything unraveled and made sense to her and me one precious second at a time.

You will love this book - that's all there is to it.  It's got love, drama, kisses, bullies, high school, friends, questions, answers, excitement, terror, sadness, EVERYTHING.  Read and see what happens during these seven days....you won't regret it!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash is a wonderful and beloved daughter.  Sadly, she loses her mother when she is young.  When her father comes home from the city with plans to remarry, Ash's life will change forever.  People in Ash's world believe in the real world and no longer feel that the fairy tales of the past are real.  Ash loves the stories though and knows that the land is still enchanted by the fairies because she feels it and catches glimpses of them indirectly every now and then.

When Ash's father dies, her stepmother and stepsisters make her move her childhood home.  When her stepmother runs out of money, Ash is forced to be a servant.  Her only friend is a fairy, Sidhean, to whom she is mysteriously drawn to.  She wanders into the woods to see if she can encounter him or any other magical folk and meets the king's huntress, Kaisa.  She immediately feels herself attracted to the huntress, and they spend lots of time together.

All of this is complicated when Ash realizes that she can't be in two worlds at once.  Will she be able to be a part of the world she wants to be a part of?  Can she even have love at all when her stepmother monitors her every move?

Ash is a unique Cinderella retelling with a twist.  The setting is magical and the love is very real.  Read this for a new twist on a classic fairy tale.