Saturday, July 29, 2006

On a Roll

As you read my reviews today, you'll notice I seem to have a beef against swearing. And I do, when it feels like the swearing is added to artificially inflate the maturity level of a book. I have defended books with swearing before. Oh well! Let me know if you feel differently!

Wiess, Laura Such a Pretty Girl, 224 p. Simon Schuster – Meredith has been safe for three years, but now her rapist – her own father – is getting out of jail early for good behavior and her mother insists that Meredith welcome him back with open arms. In the few dramatic days following his release, Meredith discovers some unexpected supporters and the strength within her self to survive. Very engrossing and a speedy read that will generate lots of word of mouth among students. The book does mention, of course, the rape, without describing it. Meredith also is pretty cozy with her older boyfriend, but again the descriptions are fairly limited. The “F’ word is used once, and other swear words less than half a dozen times. MS, HS-ESSENTIAL

Page, Katherine Hall Club Meds, 166 p. Simon Schuster – Jack, Mary and Sam call themselves and other kids who troop to the nurse’s office each day “Club Med”, as they get the medication they need to survive another day of school. Now they are in high school and Jack’s old tormentor has decided to use Jack as his personal supplier for his drug deals around campus – forcing Jack to turn over half of his medication for each day. Since Jack needs that medication to make it through each school day, he and his friends hit upon a plan to thwart Chuck and assert themselves against the school bullies. I have to wonder if someone told the author that the book would never sell unless she included some swearing, so she went back and add a swear word about every other page. I kid you not – that’s just about how often they are. They add absolutely nothing to the narrative and instead feel like great big clunker sin the middle of the story flow. It’s too bad – the story is very goos, but the sheer amount and variety of swear words, with no purpose, make this off limits for public schools. NO

Dowswell, Paul Prison Ship, 300 p. Bloomsbury – Sam Witchall survived the epic battle in Powder Monkey and has a new berth on a new ship. Unfortunately, He raises the ire and suspicion of the ship’s purser and the purser’s son, who frame him and his best friend Richard for cowardice in the midst of battle. The two are sent to Australia for punishment and continue to get themselves into trouble time after time, even though they have good people trying to help them. I really enjoyed the descriptions of ship life and colony life, but I got tired of watching the boys continually make horrible mistakes and be saved from their own follies in a deux ex machina fashion. I haven’t read the first title, but if it is the same then I have a hard time being enthusiastic. MS-ADVISABLE


Lopez, Jack In The Break
, 192 p. Little, Brown – Juan and his best friend Jamie spend the best part of their days catching waves at their favorite breaks up and down the shore. When Jamie’s stepfather forces a confrontation, Jamie beats him until he is close to death. With Amber, Jamie’s sister, the pair head to Mexico to find a place for Jamie to hide out. With the help of an old Mexican man, the friends head out to a sheltered island with gorgeous waves and pods of dolphins playing in the surf. Danger lurks right around the corner. Part of the blurb on the back of the book calls the author’s writing “lyrical”, and it might be, but its hard to tell through all of the swearing. Clunky and jarring, the large amount of swear words – totally without purpose – interrupt the reading and spoil the novel. NO

Umansky, Kaye The Silver Spoon of Solomon Snow, 304 p. Candlewick - One fateful day, Solomon Snow discovers that he truly is a foundling, left in the snow with only a napkin and a silver spoon as the keys to his origins. Along with Prudence, a girl too smart for the village, he ventures to Town in search of spoon, which his stepfather pawned more than a year earlier. Along the way they acquire a little girl, a rabbit and chimney sweep – all of whom are key to solving the mystery. Written after the author was inspired by Dickens, the parody of old Victorian novels. I know adults would appreciate the book, but I am not so sure about children. EL-OPTIONAL

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Plethora of titles

DuPrau, Jeanne Prophet of Yonwood, 304 p. Random House – 11 year old Nickie has come to Yonwood with her Aunt Christine to sell her great-grandfather’s house. The pair find the town under the grip of a woman in a coma, Althea Tower, who is being called The Prophet. Old Ms. Beeson has taken the role of interpreting the Prophet’s mumblings into directives for the townfolk. Christine is torn between her desire to help forward the Prophet’s vision and her feelings of loyalty to people who don’t really believe in Ms. Beeson’s orders. This book has almost nothing to do with the previous Ember books, except for a contrived relationship that means nothing. If you feel that your readers will be disappointed by that, then don’t by this book. If you think your students will be interested in a tale of town in the grip of a cult-like experience, then you might buy this, but there are better books out there addressing the topic. Email me if you want some titles. EL, MS-OPTIONAL

Baker, E.D. No Place for Magic, 250 p. Bloombury – Emma and Eadric are ready to marry, but Emma insists that they receive his parents’ blessing. In Eadric’s country, however, witches and magic are not respected. When the pair arrive, they are immediately set with the task of rescuing Eadric’s little brother from evil trolls – and Emma is going to try to accomplish this without depending on her magic. A nicely done addition to the Frog Princess series. EL, MS-ADVISABLE

Moore, Lilian Beware, Take Care PICTURE BOOK Henry Holt – A rambunctious ghost, a smiling monster, a misunderstood dragon are part of the poems and adorable illustrations in this short picture book. My favorite poem is The Teeny, Tiny Ghost. If you have a large Halloween collection, this would be a good addition. EL – OPTIONAL

Murphy, Jim Desperate Journey, 272 p. Scholastic – Maggie and her family live and work on the Erie Canal. If they don’t get their current load to the city on time, they will probably loose their boat and their livelihood. Along their way, however, their father and uncle are arrested on trumped up charges. Maggie, her mother and her brother must somehow get the boat there on time. While the writing and pacing are excellent, the subject matter will probably not draw students to the novel. If you have a teacher who requires an American Historical fiction read, then add this to your collection. Otherwise, you will need to sell this title. EL, MS-OPTIONAL


Truss, Lynne Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Why commas really do make a difference
, PICTURE BOOK Penguin – A panda walks into a diner, eats a bit, shoots a couple of arrows and then leaves. So begins several pages of misplaced and replaced commas and great illustrations for each convention. The importance of the lowly comma becomes very evident. This title was originally published as a non-fiction title that expounds at great length (yes, I have read it). This much shorter, and to the point adaptation, would be an excellent tool at every level of education. You will need a opaque projector or its modern equivalent in order to make the most of this title. EL, MS, HS – ESSENTIAL

Cooper, Susan Victory, 208 p. Simon Schuster – Sam has been pressganged onto Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson’s flag ship before the battle of Trafalgar. Molly has moved with her mother and step family from her beloved London to Connecticut, bringing along a severe case of homesickness. The two young people’s stories come together when Molly finds a piece of Admiral Nelson’s history preserved by Sam between the pages of a book. Books about sailing ships and sea battles seem to be doing well in many libraries. If this is the case in your library, then this will be a good addition. EL, MS-ADVISABLE

Reeve, Philip Infernal Devices , 368 p. HarperCollins – 20 years after Hester and Tom took refuge on the tiny city of Anchorage, they must set out among the Hungry Cities again. This time they must rescue their daughter, Wren, who has been kidnapped and is in a situation more dangerous than she knows. Pennyroyal, Anita Fang, and Stalker Grike are back, each with an important part in this small family’s destiny. Definitely exciting, but for a more mature audience. This title will work best in school’s which already own the first two. I would not buy the series based on the strength of this title. MS, HS - ADVISABLE

Mackall, Dandi Eva Underground, 256 p. Harcourt – Eva’s mother has died and her father has dragged her from her comfortable American life and into the extremely poor and anti-democracy environs of Communist Poland of the 1970’s. While father tries to nurture a revolution, Eva tries to just survive the harsh, unfamiliar life that she has been thrust into. The events of this title are far removed from the students of today. This title might find a home in a large high school library, especially one where a faculty member actually discusses the events. It will need help finding its audience. MS, HS – OPTIONAL

Smith, Lane John, Paul, George and Ben PICTURE BOOK Hyperion – A fun, humorous look at the early lives of five (Tom, too) important men in American history. A great true/false section at the end of the narrative elevates this from mere entertainment, to a way to introduce these men to middle or high school students. EL, MS, HS – ADVISABLE

Sis, Peter Tree of Life
PICTURE BOOK Farrar, Straus, Giroux – Peter Sis applies his unique illustration style to short, but in-depth look at the life of Charles Darwin. Tiny, detailed drawing, along with (tiny, detailed) writing make this book only appropriate for middle school or high school. If a teacher used an opaque projector, their class could be enjoy this look at Darwin. MS, HS – OPTIONAL

Walton, Rick Suddenly Alligator: an adverbial tale
PICTURE BOOK Gibbs Smith – A young boy walks through the swamp in quest of a new pair of socks. Along with other discoveries, he encounters an alligator intent on making the boy his next meal. The author places each adverb at the end of the sentence add emphasis, helping younger readers enjoy the lesson. Middle or high school grammar and writing teachers could use this book to show how using a wide variety of adverbs enhances writing MIGHTILY. EL, MS, HS – ADVISABLE

Kerr, P.B. Cobra King of Kathmandu 384 p. Scholastic – John, Philippa and their best friend Dybbuk travel to India on the hunt for a murderer – not knowing that they must also save their Uncle Nimrod and breakup the resurrection of an old snake cult, whose leader is bent on capturing djinn for his own nefarious purpose. A likable, well-written addition to the series. EL, MS – ADVISABLE

LeGuin, Ursula Voices, 352 p. Harcourt – Memer has lived in her city, under the rule of print-phobic usurpers, the Alds, for most of her life. Only she and the Waylord have access to, or even know about, the secret library that was saved from destruction. Now Gry and Orrec, who is a Maker, have arrives in search of this repository. Orrec is destined to stir things up. This title is much more accessible than its predecessor, but will be better enjoyed if read second. If you already carry LeGuin, your upper level students will enjoy her new series. MS, HS – ADVSIABLE

Abbott, Tony Firegirl 145 p. Little, Brown – Tom is normal sixth grader, with a best friend, a bit car crazy and a secret crush on the prettiest girl in his grade. Then Jennifer, the victim of a horrible fire, comes to his class while she is receiving burn treatments and skin grafts, changing everything Tom thought he knew about himself and his best friend. This is a short and powerful novel that should be read aloud to every elementary and middle school student across the nation, followed up by an intense discussion about how to treat people with differences. The unembellished writing drives home the author’s intentions and shows how it is as easy to befriend someone as it is to ridicule them. EL, MS-ESSENTIAL

Wooderson, Philip The Plague: My side of the story, 192 p. Houghton – Rachel and Robert’s lives intersect in her father’s shop, where Robert is the apprentice, just as the plague takes hold in 1665 London. Even as the plague devastates London and moves into the villages, someone is trying to ruins Rachel’s father’s cloth business. This book is written back to back, with the reader having to flip the book in order to finish. The hype on the inside would have you believe that both sides give different, and possibly conflicting, views of the same action. Instead, one is really only a continuation of the other – and I started reading the wrong one first and knew the end before I had even begun! It really is necessary to read Rachel’s story first. Other than that quirk, the novel is a middle quality read that adds little to the drama around the Black Death. EL, MS-OPTIONAL

Feinstein, John Vanishing Act: Mystery at the U.S. Open
, 256 p. Knopf – Stevie and Susan Carol are covering another major sports event as they pursue their dreams of becoming major sports reporters. This time they are at the U.S. Open of tennis, where a major star disappears as she is approaching the court for her first game. Never kids to turn down a great mystery, the two do their best to expose the truth behind the kidnapping. This novel is as engaging as the author’s first, with loads of information about sports reporting, tennis professionals and the seedy world of athlete agents. The action is engaging enough that even if people recognize that there are major flaws in the background logic, they will be willing to forgive because the read was so much fun. MS-ADVISABLE

Coombs, Kate The Secret-keeper, PICTURE BOOK Simon Schuster – Kalli has been hearing and keeping the villagers’ secrets for years, but is made sick by the burden during one long winter. The villagers find a way to ease her heart and help her recover her spirit. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing this picture book as a rip off of Sharon Shinn’s Safe-keeper’s Secret, though at the beginning the similarities are a bit irksome. Instead, enjoy this sweet little book that is so full of hope. Can anyone think of a way this would be useful in a secondary classroom? EL – ADVSIABLE

Steele, J.M. The Taker, 350 p. Hyperion – Carly must get into Princeton, but she tanks the SAT and only has eight weeks to study for the final retake. Then she receives a text message from “The Taker”, who promises to raise her score at least three hundred points, but she must study and act as if she is working hard on her own. For her tutor she enlists Ronald Gross – the nerdy guy who has lived across the street, and whom she has ignored, forever. Along the way Carly learns about lies and love, test-taking skills and life-skills. This is the second SAT fiction book I have read in the last six months and I enjoyed this one the best. A fun, quirky look at the too serious world of the SAT’s that many high school seniors will relate to. MS, HS – ADVSIABLE

Bulion, Leslie Uncharted Waters, 185 p. Peachtree – Jonah and his little sister Jaye are spending the summer with their beloved uncle in a cabin on a lake. Jonah, however, is hiding two secrets – that he will have to repeat seventh grade English if he doesn’t finish his final writing project and that his encounter with a jellyfish has left him afraid to go in the water. Jaye has taken his place in the local summer swim program and Jonah has found a job working for a local dock owner, but his fear of the water will come back to haunt him when he takes a job helping a young marine biologist. EL-OPTIONAL

Strasser, Todd Sidewayz Glory, 197 p. Simon Schuster – Kennin wakes from his horrific crash and finds himself with a badly broken leg and in the hospital, having lost five days in unconsciousness. Even with his cast on, he finds himself pressured on all sides – from Tito, who wants to make up for causing the crash; from Derek, who wants him to race at Mr. Mercado’s new drift track; from Jack, who wants sole control of Kennin’s sister; from Mariel, who still trying to make her boyfriend jealous. On the track and in his life, Kennin is never sure if he will ever regain control of anything. Excellent end to the Drift X trilogy. Buy at least two copies of each title, because at least one will be stolen! MS, HS-ESSENTIAL

Friday, July 14, 2006

15 Reviews for you

So here are the books that I read while I was on vacation. Since I have been home, I have been reading through my trashy romance novel pile, so I don't add those books to the list. Now that I am caught up, I am back to reading YA fiction. I've got a good stack to go through. Is there anyone out there in downtown Salt Lake who wants to read for reviews too?

Muchamore, Robert Maximum Security, 287 p. Simon and Schuster – 13 year old James Adams is tapped for a highly dangerous mission – entering a maximum security prison for juvenile offenders as an inmate and cuddling up to the only son of a major weapons dealer. CHERUB can not protect James once he is inside – not from the factions within the inmate groups, and not from guards who might be out for revenge. A much grittier CHERUB novel than the previous two. References to make body parts, a very graphic body cavity search scene, and violent fights elevate the maturity of this novel. Think hard before you put it in the middle school. MS-OPTIONAL, HS-ADVISABLE

Sorrells, Walter The Silent Room, 233 p. Oz’ new stepfather pushes him and goads him into fighting until Oz’ mother finally agrees to send him to a detention facility. Life on the facility’s tiny island is harsh and unbearable and the other boys whisper about ‘The Silent Room”. Oz’ and the other boys in his dorm have discovered an old boat abandoned in the swamp and work desperately to get it in working order so that they can escape. Oz, befriending the daughter of the camp director, learns that the director’s wife and one of the benefactors are actually dangerous con artists, who have plans for the boys under their care. When I started reading this novel, I first thought I was experiencing dejavu, but then realized that I was mixing it up with Willo Davis Robert’s “Blood on his Hands,” because both novels use the evil stepfather setting up the stepson in order to get rid of him as the major step up for the action. This sin one of those books that will make you queasy with tension as you read, a feeling that middle school students love. MS-ESSENTIAL

Davidson, Ellen Dee Stolen Voices 188 p. Lobster Press – At 15, Miri is supposed to be looking forward to being Masked and Bonded to her age mates. Unfortunately, she has no Talent and feels like a failure. Unable to join her friends, she sneaks in and witnesses the ritual – and is caught by the Masker – who has other plans for Miri. With the help of a rebel servant, Miri escapes to the Secret Valley and finds her destiny. An excellent piece of science fiction from a small press out of Quebec. I hope you can get your hands on a copy. MS, HS-ESSENTIAL

L’Homme, Erik Mystery of Lord Sha and Face of the Shadow, Scholastic – Second and final in the Quadehar trilogy. Robin and his friends have returned safely from the Uncertain Lands and are working on their chosen career paths. One evening Robin’s mentor Quadehar returns to the Unknown Lands on a secret quests, leaving Robin once again in the monastery of Gifdu for protection,. Instead, a mysterious figure cloaked in black breaches the security and hunts Robin down. Since these books are already in paperback, they would be worth adding to a large fantasy collection. EL, MS-OPTIONAL

Freymann-Wyer, Garret Stay With Me, 238 p. Houghton – 16 year old Leila is trying to cope with the suicide death of her much older half sister and her guilty feelings for not knowing her other family better. While trying to track down a mystery man she saw with her sister at a coffee house, Leila takes a waitressing job and ends up involved with 31 year old man. As I sit writing this review, I feel like the whole premise of the book is pretty weak. I actually enjoyed watching Leila and her extended family deal with their grief, but I could never get over my revulsion to the May-December romance which was so acceptable to Leila’s entire family – including the sex. NO

Lasky, Kathryn Born to Rule, 160 p HarperCollins – Alicia, a princess of B----- is away for her first summer at princess camp. She has formed a bond of friendship with her roommates, but she is struggling with the challenge every princess must face – finding and training a songbird. To further complicate things, rumors of a ghost haunting Alicia’s tower seem to have some truth, distracting Alicia with an enticing mystery. Fluffy and cute, prefect for middle elementary. EL-ADVSIABLE

Price, Charlie Dead Connection, 240 p. Roaring Book Press – Murray has been communing with the youngest residents of the local cemetery for some time now – to escape his home situation, to escape his school situation. After a very rough beginning, Murray forms a friendship with Pearl, the daughter of the cemetery’s caretaker. She supports him when he hears a new voice – one that he thinks belongs to a girl who disappeared months earlier. While I enjoyed the unfolding of the mystery, a wide variety of swear words and a plot point involving a violent alcoholic left me cold. A book for the older crowd. HS-OPTIONAL

Winterson, Jeanette Tanglewreck 416 p. Bloomsbury – When Silver was 7, her parents and sister died in a car accident. Now, four years later, she is still living in her home, but under the care of an evil guardian who makes her life miserable. Events have been set in motion that will send Silver across the world, across time, across space, introducing her to friends to help her and villains who want to possess her – with everyone in pursuit of the Timekeeper. Books written about time and space have to be carefully plotted and/or written brilliantly so that even if you are confused occasionally, you love it so much you are willing to go back and figure out how you got lost. Michael Lawrence’s Small Eternities is a good example of these two qualities. This particular title, however falls a bit below the mark in either of these traits. With an 11-year old protagonist, I don’t see how it will appeal to someone who can actually follow the action. MS-OPTIONAL

Durrant, Lynda My Last Skirt: The Story of Jennie Hodgers, Union Soldier, 208 p. Clarion – As a girl in the hills of Scotland, Jennie masqueraded as a boy in order to help her family earn much needed coins. When she and her brother immigrate to America, she keeps up the charade, going as far as to join a Union regiment during the Civil War. Even after the war she maintains the fiction, until one day her lifelong secret is discovered. Full of fascinating details of battles as life as a soldier, but the human parts are rather stiff and sketchy. If you need a new Civil War novel to round out a collection, then buy in hardcover, otherwise wait for the paperback. EL, MS-OPTIONAL

Sage, Angie My Haunted House and The Sword in the Grotto 144 p. each HarperCollins – Araminta Spookie lives contentedly with her Aunt Tabitha and Uncle Drac in a fantastically creepy house where she can’t find a single ghost. One day Aunt Tabby announces that she is sick and tired of the broken down house and is determined to find a buyer. Mint knows that she must do something drastic in order to keep her home. In the second title, as Minty searches for the perfect birthday present for a 500-year old, she and her new best friend Wanda are in desperate danger in an undersea grotto which is quickly filling with water. Cute. creepy fiction for the younger crowd. EL-ADVISABLE

Dines, Carol The Queen’s Soprano, 336 p. Harcourt – Angelica lives in Rome during the time of Pope Inocente IX, who is determined to bring the entire city under papal rule, while keeping a firm grip on the lives of the women, too. Angelica’s beautiful voice attracts negative attention and in order to escape the pope’s influence and her domineering mother, she takes a position as soprano to the only remaining queen of one of Rome’s last free quarters. Angelica is not ready for court life and intrigue and danger to her reputation is always close at hand. A beautifully written book that will probably have a hard time finding an audience without some help. A good addition to a larger library wi island th an active historical fiction collection. MS, HS – OPTIONAL

Fisher, Catherine Day of the Scarab, 400 p. HarperCollins – Final in the Oracle Prophecies. Mirany, Seth, Oblek, the Jackal and Alexos must fight not only against Argelin, but also against Argelin’s mercenaries, Mantos the sorceress, the Emperor and factions within the Nine in this fast moving end to the Oracle trilogy. This is a much better book that the slow moving middle book, with all of the disparate plots and characters coming together for a nail-biting finish. MS, HS – ADVISABLE

Stanley, Diane Bella at Midnight 278 p. HarperCollins – At birth Bella’s knight father gives her to a foster family to raise, far from his sight. In the small village, Bella also meets and becomes fast friends with one of the sons of her country’s king. At 16, Bella is summarily called “home”, where she meets a new stepmother and sisters, who find Bella well beneath them. Then she hears news that forces her to take bold steps that will change her future. This book is unfortunately terribly derivative (a step mother and two stepsisters!?), drawing together familiar elements of several familiar fairy tales, without creating something so new and fresh that you feel you are reading something brand new. Younger students, who are maybe not as familiar with their fairytales won’t mind, but older students and adults will. EL-ADVISABLE, MS-OPTIONAL

Monday, July 10, 2006

ALA 2006 Author sightings, signings and schwag

As I spend my days typing up all of the reviews I am overdue from another trip (!), I thought I would at least say a little more on the subject of ALA. I go for the books and the authors. So, here is a list of the authors I talked to, saw, had pictures taken with and interacted with. This may not be a complete list, as I didn't take pictures of everyone I wanted to!

Tamora Pierce
O.R. Melling
Ted Lewin and the very lovely Betsy Lewin
Ian Falconer
Robert Sabuda
Matthew Reinhart
Margaret Haddix
D.J. MacHale
Laurence Yep
Jon Scieszka
Lane Smith
Neal Shusterman
Susan Fletcher
Sonya Sones

Slap me - because I totally forgot to go back to a booth and see Scott Westerfeld!! I didn't give greetings to our hometown girl Shannon Hale, either.

My kids went to the neighbor's and picked up our mail and my three boxes that I shipped from New Orleans, so I spent some happy time going through my goodies. Roughly here is how it breaks down:

21 shelvable, autographed novels that I paid for
12 free, shelvable novels
65 ARCs (!)
a schlode (?) of catalog pages (only tear out what you want)
8 tote bags (Greenwood's is the coolest - silver mesh)
1 t-shirt (Rainbow fish)
a couple of pens (pens are not a popular freebie at ALA)
27 business cards (get busy with that email!)
a pink boa
a teddy bear
a nail kit
and a whole lot of fun!

The kids have already divided up most of it, so very little is left for me. They'd better at least let me have access to the books!

Monday, July 3, 2006

Summer's third trip with pyromaniacs

Bad me. Midway through summer and I am off on my third, but not last trip of the season. The family was only planning on going to Portland OR to visit my brother and his family, but when my cousin found out we were heading to the Pacific coast, he talked us into driving three more hours to swing by his house on Bainbridge Island WA, too. So I am reading like crazy, but don't really want to sit down and write the reviews. I am taking notes, though, so give me a week! It's almost time for fireworks. We are across the water from tribal lands and they have SUPER fireworks! I have never personally lit a firework that goes over 100 feet in the air until now - and it is a whole LOT of fun! I have also snuck in a visit to Churchmouse - an awesome yarn store on the island.