Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reading Last Week (Nov 26 - Dec 2)

Well, last week, I read three books that have been on my TBR list for quite some time. It's nice to be able to cross them off, even if I wasn't that impressed with most of them.

The Land of the Silver Apples
by Nancy Farmer

Jack is amazed to have caused an earthquake. He is thirteen, after all, and only a bard-in-training. But his sister, Lucy, has been stolen by the Lady of the Lake; stolen a second time in her young life, as he learns to his terror. Caught between belief in the old gods and Christianity (790 AD, Britain), Jack calls upon his ash wood staff to subdue a passel of unruly monks, and, for his daring, ends up in a knucker hole. It is unforgettable -- for the boy and for readers -- as are the magical reappearance of the berserker Thorgil from a burial by moss; new characters Pega, a slave girl from Jack's village, and the eager-to-marry-her Bugaboo (a hobgoblin king); kelpies; yarthkins; and elves (not the enchanted sprites one would expect but the fallen angels of legend). Rarely does a sequel enlarge so brilliantly the world of the first story. Look for the conclusion in The Islands of the Blessed in 2009.

Having loved The Sea of Trolls, I was expecting a lot from this one. I guess I expected too much, for it didn't live up to my wishes. All the ingredients were there -- an epic quest with magical creatures like hobgoblins and elves -- but I don't think the story was well-developed. Too many times, I couldn't get a clear description of characters and settings in my mind, and I'm not sure if it was just overload or what. I found myself going back to reread a section to clear things up. This is a long book ( almost 500 pages), so one would have to be committed to keep with it. I'd only recommend to those wanting fantasies with an epic quest, and then only to those willing to muddle through such a long book. Rating = C.

The Ghost Road
 by Tony Abbott

Could the road to the afterlife be a two-way street? Derek can't claim to be a normal fourteen-year-old anymore. Not after what he discovered at the Red House. His role in the war against the dead is more pivotal --- and more terrifying --- than he could have imagined. And so it all comes down to this. The Rift between the worlds of the living and the dead has to be closed . . . forever. It seems like an impossible task. And it rests squarely on the shoulders of a slightly overweight, not especially brave kid named Derek Stone. If Derek is ever going to become a hero, now's the time.

I had to finish this series, just to see how things ended with Derek.What started as a promising horror series ended up predictable fare.I will say it's a quick read, but I honestly was to the point of not caring how it ended. I believe the intended audience (middle grades) will be more impressed with the story and probably find it scarier. This is one to show those that can't get enough horror in their reading diets, I suppose. I give it a C.

The Doll in the Garden
by Mary Downing Hahn

When Ashley discovers a turn-of-the-century doll it is just the first of several puzzling events that lead her through the hedge and into a twilight past where she meets Louise, an ailing child whose beloved doll has mysteriously disappeared.

This is my favorite book of the week. Several student have been after me for years to read some of Hahn's "ghost stories", so here's to them. A time-travel/ghost story about a lost doll and guilt over loss. It's one that's truly not scary, but is suspenseful. The conclusion is a happy one where all is resolved, but not in a let's-tie-up-all-loose-ends-in-one-paragraph way. I can definitely see why so many middle grades readers love Hahn. The Doll in the Garden was spooky and mysterious, but not frightening. A B book for me.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reading This Week (10/8 - 10/14)

I'm so excited to get my hands on Rick Riordan's latest to read this week:

The Mark of Athena
by Rick Riordan

In The Son of Neptune, Percy, Hazel, and Frank met in Camp Jupiter, the Roman equivalent of Camp Halfblood, and traveled to the land beyond the gods to complete a dangerous quest. The third book in the Heroes of Olympus series will unite them with Jason, Piper, and Leo. But they number only six--who will complete the Prophecy of Seven?

The Greek and Roman demigods will have to cooperate in order to defeat the giants released by the Earth Mother, Gaea. Then they will have to sail together to the ancient land to find the Doors of Death. What exactly are the Doors of Death? Much of the prophecy remains a mystery. . . .
With old friends and new friends joining forces, a marvelous ship, fearsome foes, and an exotic setting, The Mark of Athena promises to be another unforgettable adventure by master storyteller Rick Riordan.

After I finish it, I also have the following in my stack for this week.

The Reality Bug
by D. J. MacHale

The territory of Veelox has achieved perfect harmony. Fifteen-year-old Bobby Pendragon arrives on this territory in pursuit of the evil Saint Dane, but all is peaceful on Veelox -- because it's deserted. The inhabitants have discovered a way to enter their own personal dream worlds, where they can be whoever they want, wherever they want. Their bodies lie in stasis while their minds escape to this dream realm.
Fresh from his battle with Saint Dane in 1937 Earth, Bobby is confident that they can defeat whatever Saint Dane has planned for this world. But once Bobby enters the virtual world will he be able to resist the lure of the ultimate in escapism?

Mystery at the Olympics: Rush for the Gold
by John Feinstein

Bestselling sportswriter and Edgar Award winner John Feinstein is back with another sports mystery featuring Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson—this one set at the summer Olympics in London.  In this book, Susan Carol isn't a reporter—she's an Olympian, competing as a swimmer at her first Olympic games. Stevie is both proud and envious of her athletic prowess. And he's worried by the agents and sponsors and media all wanting to get up close and personal with Susan Carol.  But the more disturbing question becomes—how far might they go to ensure that America's newest Olympic darling wins gold?   

Sports novels abound, but Feinstein's books are all stars. They combine sports action, high-stakes mysteries, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of big-time sporting events.

Middle of Nowhere
by Caroline Adderson

At first Curtis isn't that worried when his mother doesn't come home from her all-night job at the local gas bar. She'll be back, he's ten out of ten positive. After all, she promised she would never leave him again.

Besides, Curtis is used to looking after himself and his five-year-old brother, Artie, and for a time he manages things on his own, keeping their mother's absence a secret. He knows exactly what will happen if any of the teachers find out the truth. He still remembers his last horrible foster home all too clearly.

Curtis gets pretty good at forging his mother's signature, but when the credit card maxes out and the landlord starts pressuring for the rent, it's more than a twelve-year-old can handle. Just in time, Curtis and Artie make friends with Mrs. Burt, the cranky, lonely old lady who lives across the street. And when the authorities start to investigate, the boys agree to go with Mrs. Burt to her remote cabin by the lake, and the three of them abscond in her 1957 Chevy Bel Air.
At the lake, the boys' days are filled with wood-chopping, outhouse-building, fishing, swimming and Mrs. Burt's wonderful cooking. But as the summer sails by, Curtis can't stop thinking about his mother's promise.

Then the weather grows colder, and Mrs. Burt seems to be preparing to spend the winter at the cabin, and Curtis starts to worry.

Have they really all just absconded to the lake for a summer holiday? Or have the two boys been kidnapped?

What are you reading this week?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reading This Week (9/10-9/16)

On my stack this week, I have the following books to read:

Okay, so the first two are leftovers from last week's reading...

Pagan's Crusade by Catherine Jinks

Down on his luck and kicked in the pants one too many times, sixteen-year-old Pagan Kidrouk arrives on the doorstep of the Templar Knights in medieval Jerusalem, looking for work as a squire. He’s expecting only some protection from the seedier aspects of life on the street and a few square meals. Instead, Pagan finds himself hard at work for Lord Roland de Bram - an exciting life of polishing Lord Roland’s armor, laundering his garments, and even training to fight by his side. 

But as the Infidel Saladin leads his army to Jerusalem, it becomes more and more difficult for Pagan and Lord Roland to discern what action to take or whom to trust. Neither Saladin’s army nor the Christian Crusaders offer easy answers. Is a bloody battle for control of the Holy City inevitable?

Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper

Twins, Connor and Grace, never dreamed that there was any truth to the Vampirate shanty their father sang to them before he died, but that was before the two were shipwrecked and separated from each other. For Connor, who is taken aboard a pirate ship, there's the chance to learn to swordfight, but for Grace, aboard a mysterious ship of vampire pirates, the danger is great. What will it take for them to find each other? 

The Never War by D. J. MacHale

The third installment in an epic series of adventuresFirst Earth
Fourteen-year-old Bobby Pendragon is a loyal friend, sports star, devoted pet owner -- and Traveler. Along with his uncle Press, Bobby has visited the alternate dimension of Denduron and participated in a civil war. He's also waded through the endangered underwater territory of Cloral. Now Bobby once again finds himself thrust beyond the boundaries of time and space into a place that seems somewhat familiar: First Earth.
Bobby and the Traveler from Cloral -- Spader -- have flumed to New York City, 1937. Against a backdrop of gangsters, swing music, and the distant sound of a brewing war, the two must uncover the evil Saint Dane's newest plot. But is Bobby ready for the difficult choices ahead?

Out in Left Field by Dom Lemna

The sequel to When the Sergeant Came Marching Home offers more feel-good, laugh-aloud adventures of eleven-year-old Donald growin up in post-World War II Montana. This timeout, Donald is sure that his life is ruined when a pop fly beanball knocks him senseless out in left field. The error costs his team the game, and Donald is desperate to redeem himself. But all of his efforts end in disaster. Readers will welcome the return of this appealing young hero in a hilarious new story.

Lost and Found by Anne Schraff

Welcome to Bluford High. This widely acclaimed teen series set in an urban high school features engaging, accessible writing and appealing, contemporary storylines.

Darcy Wills is in big trouble. And she does not know where to turn for help. First there was the mysterious stranger who started following her. Then there was the threatening note left on her desk at Bluford High School. And now her sister has disappeared. Forced into a desperate race against time, Darcy must take action to save her sister--and her fragile family--before it is too late.

It looks like I'll be reading a bunch of series books this week, some new to me and some continuing a series. What do you think? Any good ones here? AND, what are YOU reading this week?

Last Week's Reading (9/3-9/9)

Last week, I didn't have much time for reading and only completed three of the five I had pulled. Two were great and the other one was just so-so.

Wish by Joseph Monninger

Bee’s brother, Tommy, knows everything there is to know about sharks. He also knows that his life will be cut short by cystic fibrosis. And so does Bee.
That’s why she wants to make his wish-foundation-sponsored trip to swim with a great white shark an unforgettable memory.
But wishes don’t always come true. At least, not as expected. Only when Bee takes Tommy to meet a famous shark attack survivor and hard-core surfer does Tommy have the chance to live one day to the fullest.
And in the sun-kissed ocean off a California beach, Bee discovers that she has a few secret wishes of her own. . . .

I was disappointed with Wish, for it took way too long for the story to develop. The story started off well, with Bee traveling with her mom and her brother to California for his "wish" trip to dive to see sharks. I was still with the story until they get to California -- that's when I got bored. See, I thought the story was actually about the shark dive. Nope. It's really not. It's what happens AFTER that's important. I wish there was a way to speed up the first part with the dive, for it's really just backstory. Maybe it would have kept me interested and I wouldn't have to force myself to pick it up to get to the good parts. I think there were a lot of good story ideas that were thrown together and didn't mesh well. I liked Bee and Tommy. I really wanted to care about them, but in the end, I really didn't. C rating.

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

Do you need something? Mac can get it for you. It's what he does—he and his best friend and business manager, Vince. Their methods might sometimes run afoul of the law, or at least the school code of conduct, but if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can pay him, Mac is on your side. His office is located in the East Wing boys' bathroom, fourth stall from the high window. And business is booming.

Or at least it was, until one particular Monday. It starts with a third grader in need of protection. And before this ordeal is over, it's going to involve a legendary high school crime boss named Staples, an intramural gambling ring, a graffiti ninja, the nine most dangerous bullies in school, and the first Chicago Cubs World Series game in almost seventy years. And that's just the beginning. Mac and Vince soon realize that the trouble with solving everyone else's problems is that there's no one left to solve yours.

Just the premise of this book will get you wanting to read it. What's not to like with a story about a guy that runs his business from the fourth stall in the boy's bathroom at school? Awesome. I can't say I was surprised about anything that happened, for I had my suspicions about the snitch as well as what was going on with Mac's best friend, Vince. But, even though I knew who did it, I still wanted to know how it all worked out. I noticed that there are two sequels. Must purchase them. Great fun! B+ rating.

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs

Twelve-year-old Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt Fitzroy has murder on his hands and trouble on his tail. He believes that Henry, the hippopotamus at the brand-new FunJungle, has been murdered. The zoo’s top brass claim the hippo went belly up the natural way, but Teddy and his feisty friend Summer McCraken have other ideas. Could the culprit be FunJungle’s animal-hating head of operations? Or is it FunJungle’s owner—Summer’s dad—a man who is much more concerned about money than animal welfare? The deeper Teddy and Summer dig, the more danger they’re in—because when it comes to hippo homicide, the truth can’t be caged!

Gibbs is a genius -- a mystery set in a zoo where the star attraction, a nasty hippo, is murdered. Who would have thought that would make for such a funny and entertaining story? I loved this story and found it difficult to put down. If I'd have had the time, I would have finished in one sitting. You can tell this story is meant to be funny, just look at the cover. What I really liked was how the humor is over the top, but at the same time not hit me over the head obvious. It's more where you take a step back from the story and you realize that all the characters are really caricatures, each with his own silly foible. Being from Texas, I generally hate it when the stereotypical Texan is used as a character. I could forgive it here, because I could tell it was all in jest. The mystery is good, and I think it'll keep the reader guessing until the end. Loved it! B+ rating.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reading This Week

Here's what is on my stack to read this week:

Wish by Joseph Monninger

Bee’s brother, Tommy, knows everything there is to know about sharks. He also knows that his life will be cut short by cystic fibrosis. And so does Bee.
That’s why she wants to make his wish-foundation-sponsored trip to swim with a great white shark an unforgettable memory.
But wishes don’t always come true. At least, not as expected. Only when Bee takes Tommy to meet a famous shark attack survivor and hard-core surfer does Tommy have the chance to live one day to the fullest.
And in the sun-kissed ocean off a California beach, Bee discovers that she has a few secret wishes of her own. . . .

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

Middle school just got a lot more criminal.

Do you need something? Mac can get it for you. It’s what he does. He and his best friend and business manager, Vince. Their methods might sometimes run afoul of the law, or at least the school code of conduct, but if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can pay him, Mac is on your side. His office is located in the East Wing boy’s bathroom, fourth stall from the high window. And business is booming.

Or at least it was, until this particular Monday. Because this Monday is when Mac and Vince find out that the trouble with solving everyone else’s problems is there’s no one left to solve yours.

Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper

Well, if pirates are bad, And vampires are worse, Then I pray that as long as I be That though I sing of Vampirates I never one shall see. Twins, Connor and Grace, never dreamed that there was any truth to the Vampirate shanty their father sang to them before he died, but that was before the two were shipwrecked and separated from each other. For Connor, who is taken aboard a pirate ship, there's the chance to learn to swordfight, but for Grace, aboard a mysterious ship of vampire pirates, the danger is great. The twins want more than anything to find each other, but their time is limited and they're an ocean apart.

Pagan's Crusade by Catherine Jinks

Down on his luck and kicked in the pants one too many times, sixteen-year-old Pagan Kidrouk arrives on the doorstep of the Templar Knights in medieval Jerusalem, looking for work as a squire. He’s expecting only some protection from the seedier aspects of life on the street and a few square meals. Instead, Pagan finds himself hard at work for Lord Roland de Bram - an exciting life of polishing Lord Roland’s armor, laundering his garments, and even training to fight by his side. 

But as the Infidel Saladin leads his army to Jerusalem, it becomes more and more difficult for Pagan and Lord Roland to discern what action to take or whom to trust. Neither Saladin’s army nor the Christian Crusaders offer easy answers. Is a bloody battle for control of the Holy City inevitable?

Fenway Fever by John H. Ritter

Happy 100th Birthday, Fenway Park!

"Stats" Pagano may have been born with a heart defect, but he lives for three things: his family's hot dog stand right outside fabled Fenway Park, his beloved Red Sox, and any baseball statistic imaginable. When the family can no longer make ends meet with the hot dog stand, life becomes worrisome for Stats. Then the Sox go on a long losing streak and the team's ace pitcher--and Stats's idol--becomes convinced the famed Curse of the Bambino has returned. Stats just has to help . . . but how? As the Sox faithful sour on their team, Stats forms a plan that ultimately unifies an entire city and proves that true loyalty has a magic all its own.

Here's to a happy reading week! I hope you find something wonderful to read, too.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Last Week's Reading

Last week was the first week of the new school year, so my reading time has definitely been cut down. Even though I don't get to spend the whole day reading, I did manage to finish seven books. (Granted, that included my reading time over this holiday weekend.) I'm trying to read some of the newer books for the library, some advanced copies of books to be published later this year or early next year, and get to some older books that I've always wanted to read.

I'll start with one of my favorites of the week --
The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Meghan Chase has a secret destiny; one she could never have imagined.

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school or at home.

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth - that she is the daughter of a mythical faerie king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faerie creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

I've been hearing about this series for a while, but I hadn't read any of them until this past week. Wow! I was impressed with this one. This is one for those readers who love faeries. I totally got into the story of Meghan and her introduction to the faerie world of her father. It does contain a love triangle, but I wouldn't categorize this book as a romance. For me, it seemed more like a fantasy-adventure. I do like Kagawa's take on the faerie world and the "Iron King," but I can't believe it's another series that I'll have to finish to find out what happens. ::Sigh::  I gave it a 'B' -- not perfect, but lots of fun for the reader. 

One of the graphic novels I read this week was a cute one for younger readers -
Batula by Steven Seagle and illustrated by Marco Cinello

Livingston is a peaceful fruit bat whose life changes when he is bitten by a vampire and transformed into a vampire bat! As Batula - an avenging creature of the night - Livingston develops a taste for adventure and a need to prove that no matter what he looks like on the outside, he's still the same bat on the inside.

Told with beautiful, colored illustrations and a small amount of text, this graphic novel will be popular for younger readers. Those that love superheroes will especially love it. I gave it a 'C+' -- I just wanted a bit more to the story and not as simplistic. It'll be popular anyway.

The Vampire Diaries : The Awakening and The Struggle by L.J. Smith

Elena: the golden girl, the leader, the one who can have any boy she wants. 

Stefan: brooding and mysterious, he seems to be the only one who can resist Elena, even as he struggles to protect her from the horrors that haunt his past. 

Damon: sexy, dangerous, and driven by an urge for revenge against Stefan, the brother who betrayed him. Determined to have Elena, he'd kill to possess her. 

Collected here in one volume for the first time, volumes one and two of The Vampire Diaries, the tale of two vampire brothers and the beautiful girl torn between them.

I honestly didn't expect much when I started this, and that's about what I got. It's predictable, and frankly, boring at points. I'm *over* the vampire books and was just curious to find out if this series had anything to make it special. Not really. I thought it very average and bland, a 'C.'

Dark Matter, Volume 1 by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie

A derelict ship floats in space, its troubled crew awakened from stasis with no memories of who they are or how they got on board. Their search for answers triggers the vessel's deadly security system: a relentless android bent on their destruction. Facing threats at every turn, they have to work together to survive a voyage charged with vengeance, redemption, betrayals, and hidden secrets best left unknown.

Science-fiction veterans Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, best known for their work on television's Stargate franchise and the new Transporter: The Series, create a new and exciting universe!

* By Stargate series writers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie!

* Classic science fiction for fans of AliensStargate, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I received this egalley from Dark Horse Comics via Netgalley and I'm glad I gave it a chance. It's a great story, and I love the mystery. I know it's a bit violent but for the world of comics, I'd say it's rather tame. C+ Rating.

This book has a fabulous cover, which is probably why it's popular. I doubt I'll need to sell it to patrons, the cover will do it.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Weird as it is working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, Evie’s always thought of herself as normal. Sure, her best friend is a mermaid, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she's falling for a shape-shifter, and she's the only person who can see through paranormals' glamours, but still. Normal.

Only now paranormals are dying, and Evie's dreams are filled with haunting voices and mysterious prophecies. She soon realizes that there may be a link between her abilities and the sudden rash of deaths. Not only that, but she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.

Another book that had faeries in it this week! I had to consciously forget the faerie world of The Iron King once I realized it too featured faeries and a faerie prophecy. I probably shouldn't have read them so close together. Other than that... Super book. I really liked Evie and a world filled with paranormals. Silly humans -- we just blindly go about our business daily without realizing that we live and work with paranormals all around us. Ha! What a fun concept! For Evie to be a teen with the normal wants and desires while being this agent collecting vampires or werewolves was such a cool idea. I'm not sure how much boys will like this book, after all Evie spends a great deal of time obsessing over fashion, especially if it's the color pink, and a television teen drama. I really liked this one too, a 'B' read.

Notes from an Accidental Band Geek by Erin Dionne

Elsie Wyatt is a born French horn player, just like her father and her grandfather before her. In order to qualify for the prestigious summer music camp of her dreams, she must expand her musical horizons and join - gasp! - the marching band. There are no French horns in marching band (what the heck is a mellophone??), but there are some cute boys. And marching band is very different from orchestra: they march, they chant, they . . . cluck? Elsie is not so sure she'll survive, but the new friends she's making and the actual fun she's having will force her to question her dad's expectations and her own musical priorities.

I was sure hoping "Band Geek" was going to be as much fun as Dionne's The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, and I wasn't disappointed. I'll be honest here. I'm NOT musical, I wasn't in band in high school, I took piano lessons until third grade when my piano teacher told me I'd never really play, because my hands are small. (Yes they are. My 8-year-old nephew has larger hands than I.) It didn't really matter, because I could still relate to Elsie. The outsider with few friends who wants desperately to fit in. "Band Geek" is funny, it's inspiring, and yes, it's romantic. I sure hope that others have as much fun reading it as I did. A 'B+' rating.

And the last book I finished earlier today was another graphic novel -- 
Curses! Foiled Again by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro

Aliera Carstairs is back. This time she's got her cousin—and best friend—Caroline in tow, and the stakes are higher than ever. The realm of Seelie, the fairy kingdom of which Aliera is the hereditary defender, is under attack, and only Aliera and Caroline can set things right. Caroline, fragile and wheelchair-bound, may seem like more of a liability than an asset, but Aliera knows there's more to her quiet cousin than meets the eye. Curses! Foiled Again is Jane Yolen at her best, reunited with her partner in crime, the fabulously talented illustrator Mike Cavallaro.

This is the sequel to Foiled which won't be out until later this year. I received an egalley of it via Netgalley. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I can't wait for the book to be published to put it in the hands of my students. I think they will *love* it! The story is another exciting adventure, and the illustrations fit the story perfectly! Well done! A B+ rating.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Small Town, A Rich Fantasy, and Traveling Through Time (or What I Read Last Week)

I've resisted doing "What I'm Reading" or "What I've Read" posts in the past, because I simply thought I should just do post on my responses after finishing a book. And those responses should be one post/one book. I've come to the realization that I simply don't have the time make the time to do a worthy response for EVERY book I read. Sometimes, I just don't know what to say. Other times, I just don't feel like writing a post. Suddenly, I realize I've read something like TEN books with no posts. Yikes! Even though it's not what I originally had in mind, I've decided it's better to post some general, multi-book posts than not at all. I still hope to write some thoughts on individual books as I'm able.

That said, since it's the start of a new week and a new month, here's some of what I read last week.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.
Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel--a cafe owner with a forgotten past of his own--and Miss Lana, the fabulous cafe hostess. She will protect those she loves with ever bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Reminded me of Because of Winn-Dixie with the small-town, quirky characters and a strong sense of community family, but add in the mystery of Mo's background and a local murder. It's one of my favorites of the summer so far. I can't wait to see what my students think when school starts again. A rating.

Sabriel by Garth Nix.
Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death--and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.

Okay, this one has been on my To Be Read list for a super long time. I adore YA fantasy, and this one has been recommended to me numerous times. I could just kick myself for not reading it sooner, because it's absolutely a-mazing. Simply unforgettable. Nix creates a complex world in the Old Kingdom, but one that's so richly described I had no trouble visualizing and immersing myself there. I have already added Lirael to my lists and hope to get to it before school starts. A+ rating. This one is going on my "Keeper" shelf.

Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone.
Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet: she lives in 1995 Chicago and he lives in 2012 San Francisco. But Bennett's unique ability to travel through time and space brings him into Anna's life, and with him, a new world of adventure and possibility. As their relationship deepens, they face the reality that time might knock Bennett back where he belongs, even as a devastating crisis throws everything they believe into question. Against a ticking clock, Anna and Bennett are forced to ask themselves how far they can push the bounds of fate--and what consequences they can bear in order to stay together.

I received this ARC from NetGalley, as the book isn't scheduled for release until October. I think this time travel romance has something special to make it stand out, and I personally can't wait to get it into some of my teens' hands this fall. Although I am generally a fan of romances, I don't always care for the time travel ones. (Usually, it's travel to a completely different era where the traveler stands out as Not From There. Here, with the travel being only 17 years in the past, most of my concerns were erased.) I think what really resonates with the story is how Anna gets the strength, or maybe gains enough confidence, just by knowing Bennett to change her life. She's a better person for knowing Bennett. It's not a perfect story, by any means. I still had some questions at the end. Will we ever know Bennett's story completely? What happened back home with his sister? Argh! I don't like being left hanging.  That said, it won't keep me from recommending it to my students. B rating.

Now, back to some reading.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan

Down a Dark Hall
I have loved Lois Duncan's teen novels ever since I first read them as a beginning teacher in the early 90s. I love how she creates a feeling of suspense and terror with references to the paranormal. For some reason, I never read Down a Dark Hall, so when I saw this edition where the author has updated the story to give it modern references, I thought I'd give it a try.

The story starts with Kit being driven by her mom and new stepdad to Blackwood Hall, the boarding school she will soon be attending. She's not at all excited about being left at the new school while her mom goes off to Europe on an extended honeymoon with her new husband. When they arrive at Blackwood Hall, the description of the school is straight out of a gothic novel. Creepy with a capital C. The reader feels Kit's foreboding when exploring the house and the hallway to her new room. You just get a sense that something is off. All the clues are there -- how there are only four students at the school, how no one from the closest village wants to work there, how strange it is that there are locks only on the outside of the girls' bedrooms. This is one sinister place.

Kit and the other three girls each have some weird experiences in the house and are seemingly more and more isolated from the rest of the world. Lynda suddenly exhibits a talent for drawing and painting, even when she couldn't do anything artistic before. Sandy feels as though some presence is in her room at night. Kit is haunted by a melody in her dreams, but has no idea where it comes from. It seems that of the four girls only Kit and Sandy really question the oddness of it all and want to know more. Is the house haunted by ghosts? What's the real reason each of these girls were accepted to Blackwood Hall.

This is a quick read. The reader is quickly immersed into the sinister events at the school and Kit's quest to uncover all the secrets. Ms. Duncan does a nice job of building suspense without making it overdramatic. I really didn't get some of the secondary characters (like Ruth or Jules) -- they seemed a bit too one dimensional. I'm sure it would have helped to see just a bit more into their thoughts. Some things at the end of the book seemed incomplete, as I have way too many questions. I realize some things should be left to the reader's imagination, but I'm a bit confused about exactly how things worked. (I know that's a bit fuzzy, but without giving away spoilers, that's the best I can do.) Even with my questions, this is a terrific horror story to give you some spine-tingling chills. B rating.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel (American Fairy #1)

Dust Girl (The American Fairy Trilogy, #1)
Plenty of suspense and drama surrounded Callie, a teen from the Dust Bowl era in Kansas. When her mother disappears, Callie discovers that her father is a fairy prince and she is the heir to the fairy throne. Suddenly, she's thrust into the middle of a feud between the Midnight People and the Seelies, not knowing what is real and what is illusion. She teams up with Jack, a boy traveling the rails to California, in order to find both her parents and discover what is exactly the truth.

I really, really liked the first 3/4 of the book. I could most clearly visualize the Kansas of the Dust Bowl era, with the dried up fields, the dust storms, the despair of the people and even the subtle commentary on the racism common in this time. I was certainly intrigued with the mystery of Callie's heritage and where on Earth her parents had disappeared. That said, once Callie and Jack get to Kansas City, I was less than enamored, and I certainly found the ending less than satisfactory. I realize that this is the first of a trilogy, but I like to have a few things wrapped up. I don't like it when I have more questions than answers at the end of a book. Here, I just finished the last page with a huge question mark? Huh? That was it? We still don't know the least bit about Callie's parents -- we know what Callie suspects -- but we don't KNOW anything. And the last part with the train (No specifics here, so I don't give spoilers.) ... I know the purpose of that in giving Callie a choice with her future and let Jack have some closure, but it was just plain strange for me. Possibly this is a book that could be salvaged when the trilogy is complete. If the reader could immediately continue Callie's story, maybe the end of book one wouldn't be as weak as I now see it. That's something only time will tell. C+ rating.

P.S. I'd highly recommend putting the suggested playlist (located after the author's note at the end of the book) on while reading the story. It does wonders for putting you into the mood of the era!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Zombie Winter by Jason Strange

Zombie Winter
Kane and his friends at Ravens Pass Middle School just want winter to end. They are tired of the snow, the cold and the boredom. When the new lunch lady, Ms. Garrity, offers everyone free hot chocolate at lunch, the whole school can't wait for lunchtime. Everyone that is, except Kane. He's allergic to chocolate. When Kane and his friends arrive at the cafeteria, they discover the place is crazy. Everyone is in a frenzy for the treat! People have blank looks in their eyes and chocolate stains around their mouths and down their chins. Kane decides he'll skip the craziness and head for the library instead. When he gets to the library, he discovers three students attacking Mr. Theodore, the librarian. The students have turned into zombies! He must escape the school and the hordes of zombie students and then figure out a way to defeat them!

This high interest story is perfect for reluctant readers, for who doesn't want to read a book with a creepy zombie in a red hoodie on the cover? It'll easy snag the reader's attention and he'll zoom through the action. It's not a perfect story, though. I had way too many questions about some plot holes and the ending was conveniently simple. Maybe a bit rushed, in my opinion. C rating.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Audacious: Ivy's Story by Jude Watson (Brides of Wildcat County #3)

Audacious: Ivy's Story (Brides of Wildcat County, #3)A friend recommended this series a LONG time ago and I finally found one of the books. Ivy and her sister Mattie leave their coastal town in Maine and travel to California after seeing an advertisement for women to come west to be brides. Both girls were eager for a chance to start over in life after their family financial troubles, their father's death, and Ivy's boyfriend leaves her for a life at sea. From what I could gather, the advertisement wasn't exactly for a mail-order bride exactly. The women would arrive in the town, stay in a local boardinghouse and have the opportunity for marriage after getting to know some of the local men. Their travel expenses and room and board was paid for six months. I'm not sure exactly how much time has passed since their arrival in Last Chance, but Ivy has settled in there and has a job as the school teacher. She has fought for improvements upon the school building and more supplies and books for the students. She's made some friends, most especially Justus Calhoun, a local lawyer. Everyone in town thinks he's courting her, but Ivy knows they are "just friends." Her only contact back "home" is through letters with her friend Grace, whom she writes with stories of all the exciting and wild people and events of Last Chance. Grace's brother now wants to publish some of these stories in a newspaper in Boston. Ivy jumps at the chance to earn some extra money, but only if people don't know she wrote them. Thus a pseudonym is created --- Audacia El Dorado. Ivy's a naturally shy and reserved person, but she has a wild streak that she keeps hidden. Audacia is her way to be audacious without others knowing. Her life is turned upside-down when her ex-boyfriend from Maine shows up in Last Chance, spills her secret to everyone, and wants to marry her and take her away.

I know it's not the first one in the series, so I kept reading about events that happened in an earlier book. A bit frustrating for me -- not that I couldn't catch up as to what happened, just that I had to catch up. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It's a sweet romance -- nothing more than kissing happens in the book -- that has Ivy torn between a second chance with her first love and a new love. I like how Ivy struggles with her decision, seeing the good in each man. That's how life is. It's not an easy black or white decision most of the time. You have to weigh the good and bad and then hope you make the best choice. That said, I think when Ivy makes her decision (sort of), it seems a snap one. I was questioning it as the reader, and we realize Ivy was questioning it as well. Not a perfect solution there. The characters are lively and entertaining which leads to a lively and entertaining story. B rating.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Iceberg, Right Ahead! The Tragedy of the Titanic by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson

Iceberg, Right Ahead! The Tragedy of the TitanicWith the 100 year anniversary mark of the Titanic's sinking this spring, this book will fill a need for any collection. In reading Iceberg, Right Ahead! The Tragedy of the Titanic, the reader learns about how the Titanic was built, the details of its launch, the events of the night she sank, and the ultimate discovery of her wreckage on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The author also discusses the controversy over the salvage of items from the ship as well as new theories on why she sank. I really like how the author included what happened to some of the survivors after they were rescued, since many times this is overlooked.

Although this is an informative book, I found the text to flow smoothly, almost like fiction. The illustrations and photographs add to the words while finding a way to not overpower the page -- a nice selection that includes historical as well as current illustrations. Readers will find this book fascinating. B+ rating.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Read: Zeus: King of the Gods by George O'Connor (Olympians #1)

Zeus: King of the Gods (Olympians)
I read O'Connor's Hera: The Goddess and her Glory earlier this school year and was impressed with both the storytelling and the illustrations. I knew I had to go back and read the others in this Olympians series.

Greek mythology can be confusing and strange to those that aren't familiar with it or only know what they've gleaned from Rick Riordan and his Percy Jackson books. O'Connor gives a great introduction to the creation of Earth and the birth of the Olympian gods. It was simplistic, but not overly simple. With the illustrations, the reader visualizes the immense size of the titans and the epic battle between Kronos and Zeus.

The illustrations are the star of this retelling--just perfect! Lots of color, even in the "dark" settings. I give it a B+.

Book Read: Tenth Grade Bleeds by Heather Brewer (Chronicles of Vladimire Tod #3)

Tenth Grade Bleeds (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, #3)In the third installment of the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, Vlad is now a sophomore and recovering from being staked by Joss (and his betrayal). When Vlad can't reach his Uncle Otis via telepathy, he's disappointed and feeling even more alone. The threat from D'Ablo is still very real, although Vlad doesn't seem to notice for a while.

I liked how Vlad dealt with many of the same issues other teens have to face -- insecurity in his friendships, girl trouble, school work. Even though he's a vampire, he's still very much a "normal" teen in the way he thinks and acts. I will admit that I thought the first book was just an average read, but the second book was excellent. I love the story of Vlad being the Pravus and how Joss was a slayer, but I don't think this third book held up to the promise of the second. I wasn't surprised at all with what happened. In fact, I probably could have told you most everything even before reading the book. I hope the final two books in the series will have some more surprises or I will definitely be disappointed. Only a C rating from me.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Read: The Shadowing: Hunted by Adam Slater

The Shadowing: HuntedHorror is probably my least favorite genre. I just don't enjoy reading the gruesome tales -- psychological thrillers, yes please, but not the blood and gore. So, I knew before I even started it that The Shadowing: Hunted would probably not be my favorite.

I think that fans of the horror genre will probably love this one. There's a creature that's attacking teens and gouging out their eyes and eating them. That one fact alone will probably have many wanting to read it. I think the explanation of the creature/demon isn't fully explained and maybe that's on purpose. I can tell there will be more books in the series and maybe the reader will learn more in later volumes. Oh well. I can probably chalk up my indifference in the fact that I'm not a fan. C rating.

Book Read: Iron Man : Iron Armory by Fred Van Lente

Marvel Adventures Iron Man: Many Armors of Iron Man Digest v. 2 (Marvel Adventures)Four adventures of Iron Man are included in this collection. Each are basically stand-alone, no story arc here. Fans of this super hero comic will enjoy, but nothing to make it stand out. C rating.

Book Read : Jungle Force (Jungle Kill) by Jim Eldridge

Jungle KillMitch joins a Black Ops unit and goes on a super-secret mission to free a kidnapped political leader in West Africa. Being the newbie to the unit, Mitch hopes to gain the trust of his fellow soldiers while using his language expertise on the mission. When Mitch defies his superior's orders, will he be allowed to stay in the unit?

This high energy, action-packed adventure will appeal to reluctant readers. Featuring short, episodic chapters, the reader will be fully-immersed in the story before realizing it. Even though the story is violent, the author didn't capitalize on the gore factor. The characters do use their weapons to battle the enemy which does result in some deaths, but none are described in too much detail. Yes, there are some plot holes and huge questions regarding Mitch's past, but I knew before starting this story wasn't intended to be top literature. I can see many a reader enjoying Jungle Kill. I give it a C.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Book Read: Calamity Jack by Shannon Hale, Nathan Hale, and Dean Hale

Calamity Jack (Rapunzel's Revenge, #2)A sequel to Rapunzel's Revenge, Calamity Jack has Jack returning to his home time with Rapunzel by his side. Arriving in Shyport, Jack is dismayed to learn that the giant has broadened his control over the town and taken Jack's mother captive. Jack and Punzie, with the help of some new and old friends, determine to free the town, especially Jack's mother.

I loved this graphic novel almost as much as the first one. The lively, fun illustrations match an equally lively, fun story. To have Rapunzel be an equal partner with Jack is something I especially like. She's strong, smart, and brave, and not afraid to have others know it. Jack's insecurities about his past foibles and his feelings for Rapunzel make him a vulnerable, likable hero.

I'd recommend to those that enjoyed the first book, plus others that enjoy retold fairy tales. B+ rating.