Friday, February 19, 2010

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer

Eighth Grade Bites (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, #1)
My first reaction to Eighth Grade Bites was "oh no, not another vampire series." Frankly, I'm tired of the glut of all vampire stories. I read the first Vladimir Tod story at the request of one of my students, a huge fan of the series.

Vlad is an eighth grader with a gigantic secret. He's a vampire. And to top that -- he was born a vampire, not made one. He lives with his adopted aunt (She's human), since his parents died in a strange fire several years before. Besides all the vampire related issues he deals with, he has to contend with regular eighth grade stuff too. He has problems with bullies at school. The girl he likes sees Vlad as a "friend." When one of his teachers at school goes missing and the substitute seems a little too interested in Vlad, Vlad begins to fear that his secret, and maybe even his life, is not safe.

The story is a strange combination of suspenseful horror and humor. The fear of the vampire hunter finding Vlad strangely turns into the silly visual of Vlad drinking/eating a blood slushie. I liked how "normal" Vlad seemed, if you totally dismissed the whole vampire thing. Students reading this will be able to identify with the human aspects of Vlad's life, while escaping reality with the more fantastical parts. This installment really just seems to provide a set-up for the ongoing plot. Characters are introduced, histories are told, relationships blossom.

For the most part, I liked Eighth Grade Bites. I wasn't at all surprised with any of the twists in the story, so that's probably why I became a little bored. But, I think it's a story that is highly appealing for middle school students. I give it a C.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Bridesmaid by Hailey Abbott

The Bridesmaid
I read The Bridesmaid about five years ago and remembered it as a sweet romance with some funny moments. The library's copy was lost, so when I replaced it, I decided to do a reread.

Abby and her sister, Carol, promised each other as children to never get married. Falling in love was okay, but no wedding. You see, they grew up watching many a bride turn into a Bridezilla through their parents' wedding planning and reception hall business. When Carol comes home from college and announces she's engaged to get married, Abby feels betrayed and wants nothing to do with the wedding planning. Abby watches with disgust as her sister turns into one of those screaming, crazy Bridezillas and her parents argue over planning every aspect of the wedding. No one seems to understand Abby's feelings, including her two best friends and Noah, the son of the cake decorator and her crush.

The Bridesmaid was every bit as good as I remembered. Funny scenes give way to moments of angst as the reader gets caught up in Abby's emotions. The romance that develops between Abby and Noah is sweet and I like how they don't let their tiff blow up to a huge misunderstanding. Less drama is better. (Especially since it's not needed with all the wedding drama in the background.) The story is capped off with an expected, but still humorous, ending to the farce.

Romance fans will be delighted with The Bridesmaid, an entertaining romp. Rated a 'B', super cute!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner

The Tomorrow Code
The Tomorrow Code was an impulse buy for me. I saw it at the bookstore and it looked intriguing, so I bought it. Only after I got home with it did I look up some of the reviews and was even more intrigued.

Tane and Rebecca begin receiving messages from their future selves that contain warnings about an upcoming disaster of epic proportions. The duo, with the help of Tane's brother, Fatboy, attempt to thwart the disaster, by unscrambling the coded messages and warn the others about impending danger for all of New Zealand and the world.

The story starts off slowly, but before you know it, gathers speed and turns into a fast-paced thriller. It took me a couple of days to get through the first third of the story, but only a day or so to finish the last two thirds. I was caught up in the horror of the events and was desperate to see it through. I was left pondering much on ecology and the Earth and the human race's place in it. Fabulous and thought-provoking!  I give it a B+!

Travel Team by Mike Lupica

Travel Team
If anyone knows me, they know that sports are so NOT me. I enjoy watching football and some baseball, but that's it. I know nothing about basketball, which is probably why I never really wanted to read Travel Team. Several of my students keep recommending Travel Team to read, so I decided to bite the bullet and read it.

Danny is the son of a former NBA player and loves basketball. He spends hours practicing in front of his driveway hoop in hopes of making the seventh grade travel team. The same seventh grade travel team that made his father a star. His only problem is that he's short -- the shortest player in his grade. When he fails to make the travel team, Danny and his father organize their own travel team, made up of players that weren't selected for the original team. Through this endeavor, Danny rebuilds a relationship with his father, who has been absent for much of his childhood.

As I said, I don't know about basketball, so I was worried about understanding the descriptions of the basketball play. Thankfully, it was descriptive so that even a novice like me could visualize the action. I especially liked how the story about Danny's relationship with his father was built around or through the basketball team story. I think those wanting to reading sports books will devour this one (and probably all of Lupica's other books), but this story will also interest many others who, like me, aren't that big into sports.  It's a solid B book for me, enjoyable!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander

The Sweetheart of Prosper County
I first heard about The Sweetheart of Prosper County from the 2010-2011 Texas Lone Star Reading List. After reading the description, I couldn't help but put it towards the top of my TBR. A couple of things caught my eye: (1.) It's set in small town Texas. (2.) It features a girl involved with FFA.

Austin Gray's goal for the next year is to be the FFA (Future Farmers of America) Sweetheart and ride of the hood of a pickup in next year's Christmas parade. Austin sets out gung-ho to reach her goal by joining FFA and getting a rooster to raise, but is hampered by the town bully and her overprotective mother. You see, Austin's mother still grieves for Austin's father who died in a car accident six years ago. Through the events of the story, Austin gains a better understanding for her mother and together the two begin to work through the pain of losing her father.

At first glance, one may think Austin's goal is a bit shallow, but come on, this IS a teen. It's EXACTLY the sort of goal a girl of 14/15 would have. She really wants to be accepted by her classmates and is looking for a niche. There is a ton of work involved in caring for an animal, so she shows more dedication towards reaching her goal than just a superficial one. I adored the characters -- some quirky, some determined, some shallow. They all felt real! The description of small town Texas life was dead-on, including the glimpse of the politics of the town.

I've already begun to recommend this book to many students and can't wait to recommend to many others. It's a story that those living in a rural town will recognize and those that don't will get a glimpse of the real rural life -- more than the stereotypes. Jill Alexander has made my "watch" list. I will definitely be looking for more from her in the future.  This is a strong 'B+' for me, Super!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chance Fortune in the Shadow Zone by Shane Berryhill

Chance Fortune in the Shadow Zone (The Adventures of Chance Fortune)
After reading (and really liking) the first Chance Fortune book last year, I decided to read book #2 in the series.

Chance and the rest of the Outlaws become stuck in the Shadow Zone during a transport mishap. It seems they all have lost their superpowers and must fight off an attack from the Shadowmen. When several members of the Outlaws are captured by the Shadowmen, Chance and the rest of the Outlaws team up with some of the children of the supervillains sentenced to exile in the Shadow Zone to rescue them.

The entire book takes place in the Shadow Zone, so those wanting to see more from Burlington Academy won't see it here. I did enjoy seeing more of the dynamics of the Outlaws team and how characters continued to develop. This is a fast-paced read, with the story moving from action scene to action scene. While I think someone who hasn't read the first book could pick it up and understand what's going on, I don't think they would fully appreciate the story. I'd strongly recommend reading this series in order.

Overall, I found Chance Fortune in the Shadow Zone a fun story and a must-read for fans of the first book. Hopefully, we'll see more books about Chance in the future.  It's a 'B' book for me, entertaining!

Peeled by Joan Bauer

Peeled is advertised as a mystery-adventure, but it's really so much more. There's a bit of a mystery with a ghost and a haunting. But, what really stood out was Hildy's coming-of-age story. She matures from a teen to a young adult right before your eyes.

In Hildy's town, the biggest story to hit her town in years concerns events at a local "haunted house." As a reporter for her high school newspaper, Hildy investigates the events, determined to write the truth. As she becomes more involved in the story, Hildy soon learns that the truth is not always clearly seen. She's given a taste of small town politics and the first experience with censorship. When she and her journalism pals are not allowed to continue writing about the haunted house story (and the secrets they uncover) in their school newspaper, the group begins publishing an underground newspaper.

I enjoyed the many layers of Peeled. Readers will probably pick it up looking for a good mystery (with a ghost!), but will find a multi-faceted story about so much more. There's plenty of room for discussion here as well and I can't wait to discuss it with some of my students.  I give it a solid 'B'.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Orphan of Ellis Island by Elvira Woodruff

Orphan of Ellis Island: A Time-Travel Adventure
I came across this book when looking up info on Ellis Island. It looked to be an interesting time-travel idea -- Would the orphan from modern times find out about his parents when he travels back in time?

Dominic's life is in turmoil. His foster family will be moving out of state and he will soon be placed with ANOTHER family. He's tired of not fitting in, tired of having no friends, tired of not having a family. When on a field trip to Ellis Island with his classmates, Dominic tells a lie about his family name being on the Immigrant Wall of Honor. So he doesn't have to admit lying to his class, Dominic runs off and hides in a closet. There, he falls asleep and is locked in the building after closing. After a strange conversation with an immigrant via the telephone receiver in an exhibit, Dominic is transported back in time to 1911 Italy. There he meets three brothers, who are orphans, and are planning to travel to America soon. Dominic's life is forever changed by the discoveries he makes about these boys and how it relates to his own life.

The Orphan of Ellis Island is an entertaining time travel story, full of adventure and mystery. I found it fast-paced and easy-to-read. It will be perfect for those that love adventure stories. I'd rate it a 'B.

Mercury by Hope Larson

My goal this year is to find and read more graphic novels. Mercury is one I picked up, because I thought it might appeal to girls as well as guys, and we're always needing more GN for girls.

Mercury connects the story of Josey Fraser, living in the 1850's, to Tara Fraser, a descendant living today in the same town in Nova Scotia. Josey's story is told via flashbacks and is set off with dark backgrounds on the pages to separate it from Tara's part of the story. When Tara finds a necklace, a family heirloom, she learns of its magical qualities and its connection to Josey and her tragic story.

Many different readers will find the story intriguing, as it should appeal to those who enjoy mysteries, romances, and magical adventures. Hopefully, the switching narrators won't confuse them too much. I give it a 'C'.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan

The Battle for Skandia (Ranger's Apprentice, #4)
I adored the first three Ranger's Apprentice books for the fabulous storyline, the thrilling action-adventure, and the intriguing characters.  After being left hanging at the end of The Icebound Land, I couldn't wait to see how the story continued in The Battle for Skandia.

To open the story, Will and Evanlyn are still in Skandia waiting for the snow to thaw and the opportunity to return home.  Before this happens, Evanlyn is captured by the Temujai and Will, with the help of Halt and Horace, seek to gain her freedom.  The group form new alliances and develop some new friendships while protecting Araluen from another threatening force.

I always make sure that I will have plenty of reading time when I start one of Flanagan's books, because these are the stories that I want to read in one sitting.  I know when I pick up one of these books, I'm going to be entertained.  The Battle for Skandia did not disappoint.  A fast-paced read that kept me turning page after page long into the night.  I didn't want the story to end.  It's a must-read for Ranger's Apprentice fans and fantasy fans everywhere.  Loved, loved, loved it!  -- An 'A' rating!

Party Games by Whitney Lyles

Party Games (Simon Romantic Comedies)
The Simon Romantic Comedies have been either a hit or miss for me. Some, I've adored and recommended over and over and others I want to just hide away. I've been wanting to read Whitney Lyles' Party Games ever since hearing that she wrote it. You see, I absolutely adored her Always the Bridesmaid, written for adults.

I'm a bit picky when reading teen romances. I want the characters to be three dimensional -- please no cardboard people. I want the story to be sweet and romantic and it MUST have a happy ending. Party Games almost fulfilled all of these requirements. Sara is refreshingly smart, funny, and level-headed. She works for her mom's party planning business, and seems more than capable in carrying out many of the job duties. Although surrounded by the trappings of the rich, she really doesn't seem obsessed with having everything and being materialistic. She is realistic in that she knows she'll have to save up for things she wants, such as a car. The love interest is a member of an up-and-coming band that seems more focused on the music than on the attentions of female fans. The real reason I'm not completely over the top for Party Games? You see, it does have one of those annoyingly spoiled secondary characters who always get what they want. She does have some redeeming moments, but I was way over her by then.

Overall a fun, light-hearted story that will be a hit for romance readers.  I give this one a B.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Fablehaven (Fablehaven, #1)
Kendra and Seth are going to have to stay with their grandfather for the three weeks their parents are on a cruise. They rarely get to see their dad's parents and never at their house, so this is something new and a little frightening. Kendra knows that their grandfather really didn't want she and her brother to come and has reluctantly agreed. When they arrive at the large estate where their grandfather is the caretaker, they are given strict rules to follow. They mustn't go into the forest for any reason.

Well, Kendra and Seth are more than a little curious about some of the strange things occurring and soon discover that this estate is really a protected sanctuary for magical creatures, like fairies, witches, trolls, satyrs, and naiads. The children are fascinated with all the strange creatures, but soon realize that not all have good intentions. There is a delicate balance that must be kept for the sanctuary to stay protected.

Fantasy readers will love to discover a series filled with suspenseful action and adventure, where secrets abound and the answers are yet to be completely realized. It's a tale that lured me in and wouldn't let me go until the last page. I give it a B+, well done.

Girls in Pants by Ann Brashares

Girls in Pants
After reading the first two "Sisterhood" books, I had to read the third one. I wanted to find out what happens to Bridget, Tibby, Carmen & Lena as they get older.

Girls in Pants starts with the four girls graduating from high school. Each has a different plan for college next year and this is their last summer together. The pants, once again, serve as a way for the girls to connect while all experiencing pivotal moments in their lives.

At first, I wasn't very interested in the story. It seemed slow-moving and all I noticed was each girl complaining, whining about something. I was not in the mood for such a story and was tempted to put it back. Thankfully, as the story progressed, I noticed less and less complaining and immersed myself in each of their lives -- their hopes and dreams, their fears about the changes taking place in their lives. It's probably because I can remember the summer before leaving for college and identify with exactly what they are feeling, that I became enamored. This is exactly how I felt and hoped at that point in my life. The more I read, the more I fell in love with the story. Things don't end up sunshine and rainbows for each of the girls, but it's definitely hopeful. Each much struggle through some sort of trial or hardship and grows as a result. I do like that. An 'A' story for me, memorable.