Monday, November 8, 2010

The Steps by Rachel Cohn

The Steps
Annabel is going to visit her dad over Christmas vacation in Australia and finally meet her steps. Feeling left out and missing her dad over the two years he's been gone, Annabel begins her trip with the idea that she will convince her dad to return to NYC with her. During her stay, Annabel's jealousy slowly turns to friendship and more with her new extended family.

Ideally suited for middle grades readers, I'd recommend it for grades 5 and 6 especially. The Steps portrays the difficulty kids experience when their parents remarry and suddenly people with nothing in common are thrown together as siblings. I found this a solid story, filled with funny episodes in order to make for an entertaining read. Some of the pop references are dated, which may cause some readers to dislike the book. (References to the movie Titanic and the Friends TV show.) My grade? A 'B.'

Friday, November 5, 2010

Written in Bone : Buried Lives in Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland
I must be morbid, because I found the book totally fascinating. The author joined an archaeological expedition in Virginia and Maryland of Colonial-era digs. She explains the entire process to the reader, going through each step of a dig and each expert's job responsibilities. I couldn't believe what details about the lives of the person could be discovered today, based on his skeletal remains, the soil near his remains and so forth. The colorful pictures and illustrations add to the story, and are what make this book exceptional. Those curious about archaeology and anthropology will find this a highly educational insight of what those jobs entail. Written in Bone is highly recommended for all reader, and gets an 'A' from me.

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

The Grimm Legacy
Elizabeth gets an after-school job at the "New-York Circulating Materials Repository," where patrons may borrow items, as one would borrow books from a library. Included at the Repository are several special collections, including the Grimm Collection, which contains magical items from the Brothers Grimm's stories. From some of the other pages, Elizabeth learns that items have been stolen or replaced by fakes in recent months, with no suspects as to the culprit. With the help of her fellow pages, Elizabeth sets out to find the missing items and the thief, each encountering dangerous attacks which threaten his/her life.

I loved the concept of this story -- a repository of magical items from Grimm's Fairy Tales, where the items are being stolen or the magic from them is being stolen. I didn't immediately connect with the characters or the style, but I will say both grew on me. By about 2/3 of the way through, I didn't want to take breaks from reading and I needed to know how it concluded. Readers of fantasy with a strong good vs. evil vibe will want to check out The Grimm Legacy. Since I found myself hooked on the last third of the book, I'll give it a 'B.'

Playing Catch Up, Part 1 - Fantasy

I've been trying to play catch-up with posting thoughts about all the books I've read. It's to the point where I don't think I'll be able to get to them all individually, so I decided to just talk about a group of them at a time in one post. Maybe to make it easier, I should break them down into genres. Today,  it's all about Fantasy books.

I read four of the books in Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci series, after reading about how influential her stories were for other fantasy writers. Of the four I read, Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Magicians of Caprona, and Witch Week, I found Charmed Life to be the best of the group. It's the first one of the series, and really the best-told story of the bunch. I found Cat easy to like and wanted his adjustment into life at Chrestomanci Castle to go smoothly. I won't give away the big secret about Cat, but I will say that I was somewhat surprised with it. I hadn't expected things to end as they did.  After Charmed Life's richly told adventures, I was disappointed with the others. They just didn't seem to reach the same level of excitement and anticipation, especially The Magicians of Caprona.  This could have something to do with reading them, while not back-to-back, still close together. My grades on these are Charmed Life = A, The Lives of Christopher Chant = B, Witch Week = B, and The Magicians of Caprona = C. 

Another book I read classified as a fantasy is Poison by Chris Wooding. My only other experience with Chris Wooding was reading his book about kids that get trapped in a comic book, Malice. This was quite a bit different. Poison has a fairy tale feel to it, but isn't exactly a fairy tale. Poison is a girl from the swamps who sets out to find her sister who has been kidnapped by the phaeries. She must travel into the world of the phaeries where everything isn't what it seems, and discovers a plot to kill the Heirophant and put another in his place. Surrounded by danger and not knowing who to trust, Poison must carefully find a way to prevent this and save her family at the same time. A little slow in the start might put some off, but those readers that keep at it will be pleasantly surprised. The story really picks up once Poison gets to the land of the phaeries, with one adventure after another. It plays out to a satisfying, if a bit predictable ending. I give it a 'B.'

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pop by Gordon Korman

Marcus has just moved to a new town in the middle of summer, where he knows no one. He spends the summer working out and honing his quarterback skills alone in Three Alarm Park, in hopes that he can make the varsity football team at his new school. His summer takes an unexpected twist when Marcus is joined at his workouts by a man with mad football skills. He soon discovers that his workout buddy is famed NFL linebacker, Charlie Popovich - the "King of Pop," and that Charlie's family is desperately trying to hide a secret about him from the rest of the world.

While at first glance one may think this is just another football book, in actuality it's much more. While plenty of action takes place on the football field, plenty more takes place away from it. The reader gets hints of the difficult relationship between Marcus and his dad, and can infer some of the turmoil of the recent past. There's a fabulous undercurrent of rivalry and jealousy between Marcus and Troy, the star QB for the team and Charlie's son, over football, a girl, and Charlie, that creates a great deal of tension and conflict during the story. Not to mention the central conflict surrounding Charlie's secret and what it adds to the drama.

The reader will laugh, cheer, and cry right along with the characters in Pop and enjoy every minute of this roller coaster ride. I give it a 'B.'

High School Debut, Volumes 1-5 by Kazune Kawahara

High School Debut, Volume 1
Haruna was all about softball while in middle school. Now that she's in high school, she's decided to make getting a boyfriend her top priority. The problem? She doesn't know the first thing about how to attract a guy. Relying on fashion magazines for advice on how to dress and act, Haruna makes a complete fool of herself. That's when she decides she needs a coach to teach her the best way to get a boy, and that coach should be Yoh, one of the cutest and most popular boys in school.

High School Debut is one of my favorite shojo series, because I just adore Haruna. She's full of good intentions, but can't seem to help acting (and looking) foolish. She's so earnest in her quest that I couldn't help but want to see her succeed. Just by the way things are set up, readers know that Haruna is going to fall for Yoh and hopefully he will fall for her in return.

 Girls will especially find this series appealing, not only because of the romantic plot but also because of identifying with Haruna's wish to fit in but not knowing exactly how to do that. I rate it a 'B.'

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima (The Seven Realms #2)

The Exiled Queen (Seven Realms, #2)
I couldn't wait to read this book, having just finished The Demon King last month. TDK was a strong contender to be my favorite read of the year so far, but that was only until I read The Exiled Queen. I think I have a NEW favorite book of the year!

I tend to expect the middle book of a trilogy as the weakest of the three. it's purpose is tying up loose ends from book one and setting up events for book three, so the plot may be weaker than the other books. Not so, here. I jumped right back into Raisa's flight from a forced marriage and Han's journey to the wizard academy at Oden's Ford. Since they were both at Oden's Ford, I knew that Raisa and Han were destined to meet again, and they do, although not as I had expected. The entire time I was reading TEQ, I sensed the inevitability of evil winning this battle. I just wanted to know how Han and Raisa are duped, since you know both are expecting an attack. (And I'm not giving anything away here -- once you start reading, you too will sense impending doom!) So while it does tie up some things from book one and leave you hanging for book three, I don't think it's a week plot at all. Many twists in the story kept surprising me, so that I basically gave up trying to predict what would happen next. I love it when that happens!

Filled with intrigue and the sense of an upcoming betrayal, I found The Exiled Queen a fabulous story, one difficult to put down. Ms. Chima's efforts here has me setting extremely high expectations for the next book of the Seven Realms. It's an 'A' book for me!

Note: The Exiled Queen is the second book in a continuing story. I highly recommend that you read the first book, The Demon King, before attempting this one. Otherwise, you may be completely lost!

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (The Heroes of Olympus #1)

The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, #1)
Rick Riordan's The Lost Hero is the first book in a new series (The Heroes of Olympus) about Camp Half-Blood and demigods, but not really about Percy Jackson. As the story begins, Jason, Piper and Leo are three students at a Wilderness Camp/Detention School on a field trip to the Grand Canyon. Jason has no memories, but everyone else around seems to know him. When they are attacked by a fellow student-turned-monster, the three discover a protector has been watching over them and they are sent to Camp Half-Blood. Once there, the mystery of Jason's past gets even weirder with the reactions of others to him. He learns that Hera is imprisoned and he's been selected to free her. So, with Leo's and Piper's help, Jason battles across the United States and Canada on his quest to find Hera before it's too late.

For all of you that loved the Percy Jackson books, The Lost Hero will not disappoint. Built along the same formula -- three demigods, a quest with the fate of the world in question, and plenty of enemies to battle along the way -- the reader will find comfort in familiar territory. But, that's not to say the story is in any way unoriginal or boring. Even though this series will be closely tied to the Percy Jackson series, I don't think you have to read Percy before reading this one, but I'd probably recommend reading them first. Yes, he's mentioned a lot. Yes, some of the events from Percy's books are talked about. But, I still don't think you will be completely lost in The Lost Hero. You might just appreciate the story more if you know Percy's story. Although the book is quite long (553 pages!), I didn't find it difficult or even slow to read. There's plenty of action-filled excitement to hold your attention and make you want to keep reading.

I think Riordan has another hit with The Lost Hero. It was everything I could wish it to be -- fast-paced, suspenseful, exciting and fun. I give it an 'A.'

The Roar by Emma Clayton

The Roar
Mika lives with his mom and dad in the refugee area "behind the wall" in England. When the Animal Plague threatened human existence on Earth all humans moved to a protected area behind a massive wall around the northern third of the planet. Now, people must deal with massive overcrowding, food shortages, and basically a dismal existence. Mika life is doubly dismal for his twin sister, Ellie, disappeared about a year ago and everyone believes she died. Everyone, that is, except Mika. He *knows* that Ellie is still alive, but can't convince anyone else of the truth. When he government begins a program to improve the fitness of all twelve-year-olds and holds a contest to find the best players of a virtual reality video game, Mika begins to suspect it's somehow connected to his missing sister. He is determined to be among the winners, in hopes of finding his sister, but along the way discovers the truth is more terrifying that imagined.

Okay, there's a lot I liked about The Roar. I'd become so involved in certain sections that I'd read for 100 pages without realizing it. There's a twist at the end that wasn't what I had expected or suspected at all. BUT ... I didn't like feeling so confused or lost through most of the reading. Big sections of the story are devoted to Mika, and we'd get all involved with his story, and then, bam, we're suddenly switched to Ellie and her story. These changes in point of view seemed abrupt and unnatural to me. It took me out of the story, which probably is the reason it too me so long to read.

Overall, I loved the idea behind the story and yes, can see some exciting possibilities in the sequel. My hope is that it's better organized and flows a bit more smoothly. I give this one a 'B.'

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Star Wars, Episode IV : A New Hope. Volume 1-4. by Bruce Jones

Star Wars: Episode IV:: A New Hope: Vol. 1 (Star Wars Set II)
The four-part graphic novel series tells the story of the original Star Wars movie, which became Episode IV : A New Hope. Told via a comic format, the story hits the main events of the story, leaving out most of the subplot. The dialog is word for word of the script from what I could tell. I found the artwork to be appropriate, colorful, but not detailed.

I'd recommend this for reluctant readers or extreme Star Wars fanatics. Most won't appreciate the brevity of the story or the glossing over of the details. I'm generous in giving it a grade of 'C' to 'C-.'

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past by James M. Deem

Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past
I was totally fascinated with Bodies from the Ice, where we learn about some of the human remains that have been discovered with the melting of glaciers around the world. This book covers Otzi, the mummy from the Copper Age discovered in the Alps, the Incan mummy children found in the Andes, the remains of George Mallery found on Mt. Everest, and the body of a Native American discovered in a glacier in British Columbia. The underlying story of the melting glaciers around the world was brought to my attention many times throughout the book, but I wasn't bombarded with the issue. I didn't feel I was being preached at but instead informed. The illustrations/photographs enhance the information and I think many readers will be lured to this book because of them. Love it when I can find a book that intrigues me, informs me, and then entertains me! I give it an 'A.'

One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi

One Grain Of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale
A folk tale set in India, One Grain of Rice tells the story of a raja who decrees that all under his rule must give him neary all of their rice to store for safekeeping. When a famine hits the region under his control, the people have no rice to give the raja, and ask him for some of the rice he has stored. When he refuses, his people grow hungrier. One day, the raja decides to throw a feast for himself and his court. When an basket on an elephant bringing rice from the storehouse to the palace spills out some rice, a village girl gathers the spilled rice and returns it to the raja. He's so impressed that she returned the rice, rather than taking it for herself, that the raja decides to reward her with anything she wants. She asks for one grain of rice for today, and then each day for thirty days double the amount of rice given the day before. What follows is an illustration of how quickly this tiny amount of rice multiplies.

This is a beautifully illustrated picture book with a mathematical theme. I love how multiplication is visually illustrated with the fold-out pages to show the various animals delivering her rice, where it almost overwhelms you, the reader. It's easy to finally understand that the numbers grow so fast that one's mind can't quite keep up. I give it a 'B.'

Friday, October 1, 2010

Slob by Ellen Potter

Owen is the fattest boy in his school. He's teased some, and especially picked on by his P.E. coach who seems to want to make his life extra-miserable. Owen tries hard not to let school bring him down, for at home his specialty is inventing things. Right now, he's working on building a TV that will show events from the past. Specifically, the past that was two years ago. That's when his parents were killed in a robbery of their deli and the murderer was never caught. He's hoping that his invention will give him a clue.

For me, Slob didn't start off particularly interesting. In fact, it was rather painful to read about the despicable behavior of the coach towards Owen, knowing his life was hard enough without that extra jab from an adult. I was over 50 pages into the story, before I even had a hint of what this story was about (and why I should keep on reading). I don't know too many teens that would give a story that much time or pages to hook them. Once I finally found out what's the deal with the book, it wasn't that much of a hardship to pick it up and finish. The last quarter of the book redeems the slow start, but I doubt most will make it that far. My grade? A 'C.'

Friday, September 24, 2010

Capt. Hook : The Adventures of a Notorious Youth by J.V. Hart

Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth
A spin-off of Peter Pan, this book tells us the background of the boy who became Capt. Hook. James Matthew, the bastard son of a nobleman, is sent to Eton for schooling. Having been ignored by his father for almost his entire life, he's resentful of the absent father. Rather than him giving him money and things, he'd rather his father spend time with him or acknowledge him in public. Shunned by many and tormented by an older boy (one Arthur Darling) at Eton, James is determined to do as he pleases and resist bending to the will of others. With his ever-present sidekick, Roger Davies, Jas causes all sorts of uproar, including upsetting Queen Victoria over his behavior with a young, visiting Sultana.

Capt. Hook was delightful fun, a fast-paced adventure that will appeal to many. I especially enjoyed the humor that was wickedly sly, and may be overlooked by some not especially familiar with Barrie's story. (And you can't just rely on the Disney film.) I was cheering for Jas/Hook in this tale, which seemed odd since I'd known him as the villain for years. Quite satisfying story -- I give it a 'B.'

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility
Jane Austen is a favorite of mine and one of the few authors whose books I actively reread. I've read Sense and Sensibility before, but it had been several years. Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters are forced to live in reduced circumstances, after the death of Mr. Dashwood. (Most of Mr. Dashwood's estate was left to his son, the stepson of Mrs. Dashwood.) Elinor and Marianne, the oldest two of the daughters, have opposing views of what type of man would make the best husband. Elinor is more practical, and wants a sensible, steadfast man, while Marianne dreams of a deeply romantic and demonstrative man. When each sisters meets her ideal man, she finds that her ideals can lead to complications.

Jane Austen is an author that I appreciate more and more every time I read one of her novels. Her style takes some getting used to, for it's not easy to read. The language is that from the early 1800's and not the common speak of today. Those willing to take the time and commitment to delve into Sense and Sensibility will find a fantastic story, but it's definitely not for everyone. I give it an 'A.'

Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

Prophecy of the Sisters (Prophecy of the Sisters, #1)
Lia's father has unexpectedly passed away. She and her twin sister, Alice, and their younger, disabled brother are left orphans. When Lia discovers that she and Alice are key parts of an ancient prophecy, tied to good versus evil with the fate of the world in the balance, everything she knows is thrown into chaos. Suddenly Lia and Alice are pitted against each other, danger is everywhere and Lia doesn't know whom to trust.

Spooky. That's the best description I can give Prophecy of the Sisters. It has a dark, Gothic feel, where I could just sense the evil presence threatening the heroine, Lia, on every page. I read each chapter, just waiting for Lia to realize how close she was to those waiting to destroy her. This story should please many teens, especially if they enjoy those stories that scare you, but aren't necessarily filled with blood and gore. The ending leaves the reader with a feeling that the story isn't over, and one will eagerly await the next chapter in the lives of Lia and Alice. A fabulous, chilling read -- I give it a 'B.'

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Does My Head Look Big In This?
Amal, an Australian teen of Palestinian descent, decides to wear the hijab (the Muslim head scarf) at the end of her winter break. She's just a normal teenager, embarrassed by her father's behavior and disagreeing with her mother over the state of her bedroom. After donning the hijab, Amal learns to deal with the odd stares and questions from classmates and friends with lots of humor.

I could tell just by the title, Does My Head Look Big in This?, this story is told with lots of humor. Amal's first person narrative gives a spotlight to her humor, where I could imagine her as a typical teen adjusting to the changes in her life. Although I don't know much about the Muslim culture, I didn't feel lost, because the author used Amal to explain the differences. By using a humorous tone in this novel, the author was able to explore some of the conflicts a young Muslim must face in today's world without changing the feel of the novel.

I think this will appeal to many teen girls, whether they are Muslim or not. Anyone who has to deal with making an important decision and standing up for it will feel camaraderie with Amal, for this story is more about growing up than growing up Muslim. Most enjoyable story -- a 'B' grade from me.

The Shadow Project by Herbie Brennan

The Shadow Project
When Danny discovers the old house he breaks into is actually the base of a secret spy organization called the Shadow Project, he's given a choice of either joining the group or going to jail. Of course, he chooses to join. This group is using experimental techniques to have teens use a form of astral projection to spy on a terrorist group. Opal, the daughter of the leader of the Shadow Project, doesn't return after her latest spying mission, and Danny is sent to find her and bring her back. What happens next is a game of cat and mouse set among the spirit world, where Danny must hunt down one of the leaders of the terrorist group.

The Shadow Project has one of the best openings of any book I've read in a long while. The first chapter has Danny discovering the secret entrance to the Shadow Project's underground base. The author tightens the tension so that you're hooked by the time Danny is captured by the project's members. Unfortunately, it begins to ramble after that, and doesn't fulfill its promise. I actually found parts in the middle boring and I really wanted to skip a few pages or chapters to find out the conclusion. I held out and forced myself to keep reading, and yes a few times, I caught a glimpse of that earlier promise. Not enough to completely redeem the book, though. I've read better spy stories (Alex Rider) and better stories featuring astral projection (Stranger with My Face). My grade? A 'C'.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

After Ever After
Ever since hearing that there would be a sequel to Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I loved, loved, loved DGADP - one of my favorite books of all time. I wanted to know what happened with Jeffrey and Steven later on and After Ever After gives us that story.

Jeffrey is now in eighth grade, and still struggling with the effects of being a cancer survivor. Yes, he's cancer-free, but he has a limp and some slight brain damage that leads him to sort out things slower. With Steven away in Africa, Jeffrey doesn't have his big brother close by to go to for advice, and he must muddle through some typical eighth-grade problems, from school to girls, alone.

I didn't immediately feel the connection to this story that I did for DDADP, probably because Steven wasn't in the story as much as I'd like. But, it really didn't take too many chapters until I was attached to Jeffrey. Mr. Sonnenblick grasps the nature and attitude of middle school students and these characters feel real. I could easily see these kids walking down the halls of the school where I work. Like Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, After Ever After is an emotional story. I focused on one aspect of the story, thinking "please no," so that I was blindsided by the ending.

After Ever After will appeal to many teens with its heart-tugging events and true-to-life characters. It's not necessary to read Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie before reading this one, but Jeffrey's story now will mean more having followed his cancer treatments with him in the previous book. My one biggest critique is that Steven was almost an afterthought here, and I would have loved to have seen more of him. All-in-all, a fabulous book and highly recommended to all. I give it an 'A'!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Season by Sarah MacLean

The Season
In The Season, Alex and her two best friends, Ella and Vivi, are preparing for their first Season. They will attend various balls, parties and events with the goal of finding a husband. Well, at least that's the goal of their parents. The girls don't want to get married yet, for seventeen is way too young. Each wants to experience more in life before settling down, and Alex isn't even sure she wants to get married at all. Alex becomes involved in unraveling the mystery surrounding the death of the father of close family friend, Gavin.

I loved reading a YA set during the Regency, for there's not much being written for teens set in that time period. It's accessible for readers that want something like a Jane Austen novel, but find the language in JA too difficult. Alex, Ella, and Vivi delight the reader with such normal teen behavior. They gossip, long for the time when they are independent, complain about their lives and how no one understands them. The mysterious death of Gavin's father, linked to rumors of French spies in England, leads to a thrilling adventure and romance for Alex . I admit, I was thoroughly entertained. Definitely a 'B+' book for me!

Monday, September 20, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me
So many people have raved about this book, telling me, "You must read it!" I really wasn't excited about reading it, because the blurb didn't sound all that exciting and the cover is kind of blah. Yes, I know, I'm not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we all do to a point. Well, I finally read it, and now I'm kicking myself for not reading it sooner. (And the cover makes much more sense after reading the book.)

Miranda receives a strange note shortly after noticing that her apartment's key is not in the hiding place she and her mom had selected. "I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter." After this Miranda receives more strange notes that give clues to events occurring in the future. The solution of this puzzle is amazing as Miranda attempts to put all the pieces together.

I could so relate to Miranda's obsession with her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, and how she carried it with her and reread it again and again. My favorite book wasn't A Wrinkle in Time, but I still remember my favorite book and how I would return to it again and again. I'm sure it was the comfort of something familiar for me and probably to a point with Miranda as well. I really liked how the story of the mysterious notes were woven into the story about Miranda's life with her mom and her friends at school. I'm not sure how much a person who hasn't read A Wrinkle in Time would get all the references to Meg and the story itself. It's probably best to at least have a working knowledge of A Wrinkle in Time, but not an absolute must.

When You Reach Me uniquely ties together a realistic story with a fantasy story in a way that allows the reader to question events and maybe investigate the long term results of his decisions. I loved how the story kept you puzzling over the clues in the mysterious letters along with Miranda. This is one of those books that you don't realize how good it is until you finish it. Wonderful story! I give it a 'B+.'

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima (Seven Realms #1)

The Demon King (Seven Realms, #1)
I became a fan of Ms. Chima's books after reading The Warrior Heir several years ago. I know any time I pick up one of her books, it'll be a dramatic story highlighted by complex and dynamic characters. I will be on the edge of my seat, anxious to discover what happens to each and every character, and knowing that just about anything could happen.

Although The Demon King is over 500 pages long, I became so caught up in what was happening with Han and Raisa that I scarcely even noticed the length. In fact, I really didn't want it to end. Obviously, the first in a series, The Demon King doesn't conclude the story at the end of the book, rather it's a pause, and I, for one, can't wait to find out what happens next.

I highly recommend The Demon King to fans of fantasy and adventure stories. You won't be disappointed. I enthusiastically give this book an 'A.'

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, #1)
I held out for a very long time, before reading any of the Wimpy Kid books. I wasn't sure I was going to like them, no matter how much kids raved about them. I finally broke down and decided to read the first one, just to "see." I sure was curious as to why these books appeal to all kids, boys or girls, high or low ability. Well, it didn't take me long to understand.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a super fast read, and I finished it in one sitting. Not only is it easy to read, but the story keeps your interest and you hate to put it down. The illustrations on each page enhance the story, so that each are integral to the action. I felt like you couldn't have one without the other.  Honestly, I was feeling Greg's pain, even though I'm not a boy and not in sixth grade. I think everyone can understand the feelings of uncertainty Greg faces starting middle school and looking for a way to make himself stand out from the others and at the same time fit in.

Excellent story, written in the ideal format (a combination of journal and comic), Diary of a Wimpy Kid deserves all the raves and attention. Now, I must read more about Greg, but finding these books on the shelf may be the hardest part. I give it a B+.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Old Country by Mordicai Gerstein

The Old Country
I read The Old Country on the recommendation of one of my students. I have to admit it's an original story and I quite liked the ending. I won't spoil it here, but suffice it to say I liked how the ending wasn't nice and sweet.

The story begins with the Great-Grandmother Gisella arriving for a visit and gifting the narrator with her violin. She then proceeds to tell a story of her life in the old country, how she escaped from the war there and how she used to be a fox. The rest of the book is Gisella's tale. It's a mixture of fairy tale and family lore.

I really started out liking The Old Country much better than when I finished it. The prologue has a fabulous hook to engage the reader, but then the story slows way down and at times is boring and tedious. Fans of traditional tales or re-tellings of those may find The Old Country entertaining, but I think most will be bored and leave it for something else. Saved by the hook in the beginning and the "difficult" ending, I give it a 'C.'

Pandora of Athens, 399 B.C. by Barry Denenberg

Pandora of Athens, 399 B.C.  (The Life and Times Series)
I wasn't sure if I wanted to read Pandora of Athens or not, simply because of my dislike of another book in the Life and Times series. I thought it was best that I give the series another try and picked Pandora up, hoping to view this one without any influence from the other book.

Pandora is a young girl growing up in ancient Greece. She's sheltered like most girls in Athens at that time, and the most she has to look forward to is getting married when she turns fourteen. Pandora's been taught that girls should be silent and obedient and they should be protected from the outside world. They aren't even allowed to go to plays. Her only freedom is her daily trips to the Fountain House. While she's collecting water, she's able to meet and talk with other girls and experience just a tiny taste of freedom. Her life changes completely when she meets Socrates one day at the well. In discussions with him, Pandora begins questioning her fate more strongly and looks for ways to change it.

While not exactly life-changing, Pandora of Athens, is surprisingly much better than I had expected. Readers can easily put themselves into Pandora's shoes and empathize with her feelings about not having control of her future, and lack of understanding from her parents. Not a bad read, but nothing out of the ordinary. A 'C' from me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Killer Pizza by Greg Taylor

Killer Pizza
Killer Pizza, a horror story with an eye-catching cover, tells the story of Toby, a fourteen-year-old wannabe chef. He'd just about given up in finding a summer job, when he's offered a job at a new pizza restaurant in town, Killer Pizza. Toby's super excited about the opportunity, because how else is he going to get experience in the kitchen in order to one-day fulfill his dream of becoming a famous chef. After starting work there, Toby and his two co-workers, Strobe and Annabel, learn that Killer Pizza is actually a front for a monster-hunting organization and are recruited to become its latest trainees.

Teens will be drawn to Killer Pizza by the striking cover and will be hooked immediately after reading the prologue, which describes a monster attack on a teen. The story is fast-paced and action-packed which will keep even the most reluctant reader turning the page. Personally, I found it a bit campy, almost like a B-movie of the past come to life. This allowed me to look fondly on a story which probably would be forgettable otherwise.

I know many teens that will love this story much more than I did. From me, it gets a 'C.'

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Twilight : The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Stephenie Meyer, Art & Adaptation by Young Kim

Twilight: The Graphic Novel # 1 (Twilight the Graphic Novel, #1)
I am so sick and tired of the Twilight mania, not that I didn't like reading the books. By now, most everyone knows the basic plot, whether they've read the book, watched the movie, heard someone talk about it, or maybe see or read a parody. I did enjoy them, but I don't get the total obsession with them. That said, I did attempt to read this graphic novel version of Twilight, part one with fresh eyes.

Obviously, this is only the first book in a series, for it only partially tells the story told in Twilight. From what I could tell, it pretty much stays faithful to the original storyline. I could detect a few homages to the film version, but I didn't get the impression of being overdone or solely relying on it.

The book's definitely uses the artwork to give the reader more insight into Bella's feelings and moods. I especially liked the use of colors to emphasize a dreamlike feeling. The frames where some images are sharp, while others are blurry help to highlight some of Bella's confusion and to make the reader key right in on certain plot points or characters.

I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. I could tell that thought went into how and why of the images, and it wasn't a slapdash attempt to cash in on the popularity of Twilight. I give it a B.

Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

Inside Out (Inside Out, #1)
Trella's a scrub. Her life is filled with endless hours of cleaning the pipes and trying to attract the least attention. That way, you don't get hurt and you don't die. The Pop Cops control everything in the life of a scrub, from when to work to what you eat. Trella's heard all her life about the mysterious outside and the rumors of a secret exit. Frankly, she thinks it's all made-up stories to give the scrubs false hope. When her friend Cog introduces her to a new prophet, called Broken Man, Trella's life is changed forever. Suddenly, her days of being invisible and only worried about finding time and a place to be alone are no more. She's thrust into the center of an uprising that leaves her as the #1 target of the Pop Cops.

I love SF stories, which is why I picked up Inside Out. The story is very easy to read, flowing smoothly from one chapter to the next. There's plenty of action and an intriguing mystery to keep even the most reluctant reader's attention. While I found Inside Out entertaining, I kept thinking in the back of my mind that I'd read this story before. Yes, I could predict almost exactly what would happen next. Maybe it's because I have read a lot of SF -- it's a familiar theme and setting for this genre. I don't think it takes a great deal away from the enjoyment of the story, and would be just a minor negative for me.

Inside Out, while maybe not completely original in plot, gets a 'B' from me for it's fast-paced style and ease in reading.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Runaway by Meg Cabot (Airhead #3)

Runaway (Airhead, #3)
Having read the first 2 Airhead books, I knew that Runaway was going to be a must-read for me, just so I could know what happens to Em. Even though I'm a huge Meg Cabot fan, I was a bit skeptic about the premise of Airhead. Yes, it's silly to think about a full body transplant, but crazy as it seems, I'm able to ignore that and just delve into Em's life.

The second book in the series, Being Nikki, left the reader at the climax, uncertain about Em's future. Runaway begins almost exactly where the previous novel left off. Em is at Brandon's beach house, blackmailed into staying there with him, the real Nikki, her brother and mom. Forced to lie about her feelings for Christopher, Em's feeling depressed and uncertain about what her future holds, when she has several surprising visitors at the beach house. Still trying to figure out what Brandon's dad, Robert Stark's ultimate plan is, Em recruits her cohorts in helping her get one step closer to the truth.

I adore Lulu, Em's roommate and partner in crime. She's an adorable and fun-loving sidekick that finds some well-deserved happiness in Runaway. I was also thrilled to find Em's sister, Frida, plays a much larger role. The ultimate climax is over-the-top, but works well in this fantastical story.

Fans of Cabot's other stories will find another hit here, but I do feel one needs to read this series in order. I'm not sure the latter two books will make much sense if you don't already know Em/Nikki's story. Runaway is another fast-paced, suspenseful adventure with just enough romance to make you smile. Loved it! A 'B' book for me.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games #3)

Mockingjay (Hunger Games, #3)
Having read (and loved) The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I could not wait for Mockingjay to finally be released. I bought it for my Kindle, so I could start reading it on the Tuesday it was released. I didn't want to have to wait for the UPS or FedEx worker to deliver or drive to town to pick up a copy at the book store.

I eagerly began it the day it was released, only to find myself willing to put it down after reading one or maybe two chapters at a time. At first, I claimed I was just savoring the final Katniss story and taking my time. After a while, I realized I was slowing down in reading it, because I could just sense that the story was doomed. I wanted to know what happened to Katniss and Peetah, but at the same time I DIDN'T want to know. I dreaded turning the page for fear of what I would find out. Did I really want to know or would it be better to just imagine things the way I'd like them to be? That's something I'm still thinking about, almost a week after finishing the book.

I waited a bit to write my reaction, because I wanted to let time give me a bit of a perspective. I'm not sure if it helped or not, because I still feel emotionally empty. I was emotionally pushed, pulled, wadded, and thrown out, but I'm still glad I read Mockingjay. I didn't like it as much as the first two in the series, because I wanted more descriptions during some of the action scenes. Many times, as the reader, we'd just hear about an event afterwards, rather than experiencing it at the same time as the characters in Mockingjay. That's not to say I didn't find it a compelling, but disturbing read. In fact, I'd say it's a must-read for those that read the first two Hunger Games books, but be prepared to be taken for quite a ride.  My grade? I give it a B.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

War Games by Audrey & Akila Couloumbis

War Games
War Games tells of a the German invasion of Greece during World War II from a boy's perspective. Based on one of the author's own experiences, one gets a feeling of the emotions -- fear, excitement, impatience, resentment, resignation -- that many go through during times of war. Focusing on one boy and his family, with glimpses of others in his village, the reader can imagine what life was like during this time period.

Books about World War II are very popular with the middle grades. Most start off as curious about what happened, after being exposed to Anne Frank or possibly a novel like Number the Stars. War Games gives readers a chance to learn about events in Greece during the war of which they may be unaware. There's a bit of suspenseful moments, especially after the German officer lives in the family's home, but the tension can take a long time to truly develop and is over quickly.

I think those wanting to read "more" about WWII, might enjoy this story, but honestly I'm not sure that if they don't already have interest, this book would stimulate interest. I'd view it as an addition, but not a must-read, a grade of 'C' for me.

Ninth Grade Slays by Heather Brewer (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod #2)

Ninth Grade Slays (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, #2)
Knowing this series has been extremely popular among my students, I read the first one in the series, Eighth Grade Bites. Honestly, it was just an okay read for me, but I somehow decided to try the second book as well.

Ninth Grade Slays is where the story finally gets moving. It's almost like book 1 was just introducing you to all the characters before the true plot started. Needless to say, Ninth Grade ended up being a much more satisfying read. I'm now curious about the slayer, and wanting more info about Vlad's growing skills as a vampire.

For once, I actually found the 2nd book in a series better than the first. If you liked Eighth Grade Bites, you'll love Ninth Grade Slays. And, even if you're a novice to the series, I think you'll like this story. All those wanting more books about vampires will find Vlad a must-read series.

Vlad improves to a 'B' rating with Ninth Grade Slays. Looking forward to reading about Vlad's tenth grade experiences.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let's All Go to the Movies

Here's a heads-up of some movies, based on teen or children's novels, scheduled for release this fall:

    ** Trailers can be seen at the film's web site.

    Based on the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen
    Release date: August 27
    Web site
            *My thoughts: This novel has been very popular here at middle school, and has withstood the test of time.  (Published in 2001.) The novel is appropriate for 5th - 8th grade, but will still entertain adults. I've read some rumors that it might not be widely released, since the limited release numbers were disappointing, but I hope that's not true.

    Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
    Based on the novels by Kathryn Lasky
    Release date: September 24
    Web site
        *My thoughts: I haven't read these series of books, but I do remember some students being excited about them about 3-4 years ago, especially boys. I'm guessing with the release of this movie, they will regain some of their popularity. The movie will be released in 2D and 3D.

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
    Based on the novel by JK Rowling
    Release date: November 19
    Web site
            *My thoughts: The Harry Potter series continue to be extremely popular, and the films add to that popularity. The films in this series have all been fine works, with excellent casting choices and (mostly) superb special effects. I hope that the final two films will continue this trend. Part 2 is set to release in July 2011. Following the latest trend, HP7 will also be released in 2D, 3D, and 3D IMAX.

    The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
    Based on the novel by CS Lewis
    Release date: December 10
    Web site
        *My thoughts: Looks like another visually stunning film in the Narnia series. And yes, ANOTHER film being released in 2D & 3D. Why am I not surprised?
I probably have missed a few, but I hope to have hit the highlights. I'll be sure to let you know about upcoming spring releases as well.  The movie based on one of my favorite novels, BEASTLY, is set for release in March. Can't wait!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sarah and the Naked Truth by Elisa Carbone

Sarah and the Naked Truth
Sarah and her two best friends -- Olivia and Christina -- each find herself in a situation where she must decide how much of the truth to tell. Is it worth rocking the boat to tell all or is it better to leave things as is?

From that description, Sarah and the Naked Truth sounds like a story that preaches to you, and that's far from the truth. Sarah and friends act like normal kids -- they play together, have fun, but aren't perfect. I loved how situations that could have been disastrous are turned into a funny, sometimes silly, happening.

The intended audience is a bit younger than middle schoolers, but I can see it being popular with 4th-5th graders. I give it a solid 'B.'

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Do Animals Have Rights? by Yolanda Brooks (Global Questions)

Do Animals Have Rights? (Global Questions)
Do Animals Have Rights? is one book in the Global Questions series from Black Rabbit Books. In this volume, the issue of animal rights is broken down into seven basic areas -- the meaning of animal rights (including the history of the animal rights movement), animal rights issues in farming, animals used in research, the sport of hunting, pets or companion animals, conservation organizations (including zoos and game preserves), and the use of animals in entertainment (circuses, rodeos, bull fights).

 The author attempts to present both sides of each example in the issue, but more attention is given to the pro-animal rights reasonings. Also, most of the photos and illustrations throughout the book support give a nod to this side as well. It's not something that surprises me in a book on this topic, but I generally like to see a fair representation of both sides of a controversial issue.

I did like the visual presentation of this book, with just enough color photographs and graphics on the page to keep it interesting. Students writing a report on this topic, will find this attractive and be able to obtain useful information (at least from the pro side) on this issue. I give it a C.

The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney by Lauren Barnholdt

The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney
Recently, I was discussing YA fiction with an acquaintance and we ended up talking about the "big lie." You know, how the teen tells what he/she thinks is a tiny white lie to make life easier in the short run, but ends up causing a whole lot of trouble in the long run? Well, The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney is one of *those* stories.

Devon is staying with her grandmother for the summer, and while there, meets a fabulous new friend, Lexi. In order to get Lexi to like her better, Devon makes up stories about her life back home. (She's super popular, dating the cutest guy in school, and always dresses in the latest fashions.)Things go downhill fast when Devon discovers that Lexi has moved to her hometown. How will she ever get Lexi to believe all the lies she told over the summer?

The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney will appeal to teens wanting a flirty friendship story, with just a dash of romance. It's a predictable tale, where girl tells lies to make friend, friend shows up in hometown, girl devises all kinds of crazy antics to get friend to believe lies. We all know that telling lies on top of lies will only make it worse when it's all revealed, and it WILL be eventually. This story is no exception. I do like the mom's common sense way of handling the issue when her daughter confesses all her wrongdoing.

Overall, it's a cute, fluffy story that'll catch the eye of many a teen, but nothing special. I give it a C.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling (The Seven Kingdoms Trilogy, #1)
In my quest to read all the books on the Texas Lone Star list this summer, I decided to start with Kristin Cashore's Graceling. It's a fantasy, which is one of my favorite genres, AND I've heard lots and lots of good things about this book.

Katsa's a graceling, which means she's extraordinary skillful in one area. For some gracelings, it means being a fantastic cook or a talented athlete, but Katsa's happens to be killing. She's an enforcer for her uncle, the King of the Middlins, and carries out his orders of punishment for those that get on his bad side. Most people have been afraid of Katsa, since she accidentally killed one of her cousins who threatened her when she was eight years old. Her only friends are her cousin, Prince Raffin, Oll, the captain of the guard, and Giddon, a Lord of the court. With these friends, Katsa forms The Council, and they secretly work to right the injustices they see in the Middluns and elsewhere.

One night, while carrying out a mission for The Council, Katsa comes across another Graceling, and the first person that could match her in battle. Katsa is fated to encounter this other Graceling again, when he arrives at King Ratsa's court. He is Prince Po, son of the Lienid king. After Katsa defies her uncle and leaves the court, she and Po journey together, rescue a young princess, and become friends which soon leads to something more.

Graceling entices the reader with intriguing characters, non-stop action, and a compelling story. It only took a few pages for the story to engage my interest, and I didn't want the story to end. I was slightly disappointed with Katsa's unwavering decision to never marry, and how the other characters seemed to accept it with hardly a protest. I understood her decision logically, but my emotional side wasn't quite so willing to accept it. That's so minor though, for an otherwise exciting and satisfying read.

I give it a B+.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Winding Down

With only 2 1/2 weeks of school left, I've started winding down things in the library.  Started pushing for library books to be returned, working on repairs, thinking about inventory -- all those end of the year things.  I looked over at my pile of books read, but not blogged about and cringed.  Did I really let myself get that far behind?!?  Yep, I have about 20 books waiting in that pile.  I guess I need to add blog posts to my "to do" list as well.

With the year ending, I start thinking towards summer and the time I'll have for summer reading.  I'm building a list of TBR for the summer and, once again, I'm getting overloaded by all the possibilities.  I see and hear about loads of new books that I want to read, not to mention all the books I already have in my TBR.  Where to start?  I will be reading the 2010 - 2011 Lone Star Books over the summer, since I haven't read most of them yet.  Other than that, it'll be whichever book my hand grabs off the shelf, I guess.  Any recommendations?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Tokyo Mew Mew, Volume 1 by Mia Ikumi & Reiko Yoshida

Tokyo Mew Mew, Volume 1
In my neverending quest for more manga titles to acquire in my library, I'm reading just about any that are recommended to me. One such title was Tokyo Mew Mew, especially recommended for younger readers.

Ichigo is on a date with Masaya, one of the cutest boys in school. Too bad her took her to a museum to see an exhibit on endangered species. So boring, but Ichigo is willing to overlook this, because Masaya is so cute and sweet. While at the museum, Ichigo and four other girls accidentally become part of an experiment when the DNA of some of those endangered species is inserted into them. It causes the girls to have some of the characteristics of the animals. Ichigo is the first of these girl to be recruited to help fight the Kirema animas (creatures infected by aliens), but first she must find the other girls like her.

I'm curious about Tokyo Mew Mew's premise, and will read more in the series to see how the story develops. I can foresee lots of exciting possibilities with battles and the relationship dynamics. I'm already annoyed by the sweetness/cuteness overload, but I'm not surprised to find it in this series. I doubt it'll bother other readers like it does me. In fact, many may find it endearing.

I have lots of hopes of the story getting stronger as it continues, and I'm glad to find something else to add to my manga collection. I give this a C+ with hopes that the next volume may even be worth a B.