Saturday, December 6, 2014

Can't Look Away by Donna Cooner

Can't Look Away by Donna Cooner is our high school book club selection. Torrey Grey is a teenage fashion vlogger when her younger sister is killed by a drunk driver. Torrey and her parents move and try to bring some normalcy back to their lives. Torrey's vlog followers are very critical of her - and it gets even tougher when her former best friend releases a video of Torrey yelling at her sister just minutes before the accident.

The whole issue of social networking and digital etiquette is a huge part of the storyline. Torrey has lived her life in front of the camera, but when her followers learn of the tragic accident rather than support her, many of them attack her. There are many lessons for young adults as they consider their own online behavior.

Torrey also struggles with wanting to be popular. However, as the book progresses she begins to recognize what a true friend is, and how important it is to be honest and respectful.

Can't Look Away is an enjoyable book to read, but also one that has some great lessons for young people. I look forward to our book club conversations!

Hereafter (Shadowlands Book #2) by Kate Brian

Hereafter is the second book in the Shadowlands trilogy by Kate Brian. I had to stop in to the library on a Saturday afternoon to return book 1 and pick up Hereafter - because the last line of the first book was such a cliffhanger!  

I thoroughly enjoyed this book as well, and am anxious to purchase the final book. The story continues to intrigue me, and I enjoy reading Kate Brian's works.

I find the concept of the island and the people visiting it to be very thought-provoking. It certainly is a different take on death, and provides some great discussion about what happens after a person dies.

I cruised through the book and can't wait to get my hands on the 3rd and final book in the trilogy!                                                                                                                                                          
In Hereafter we begin to learn more about the mysterious island and the strange behavior of the teens who live in Juniper Landing.  Rory is learning more about the fog that rolls in. She's also becoming closer to Tristan, but questioning her feelings for him. And now that I've finished Hereafter, it's time to wait in line for the final book in Kate Brian's series: Endless. 

Shadowlands by Kate Brian

With Shadowlands I did what I try so hard not to do: I began a trilogy before all of the books had been released. Shadowlands is a fast-paced book that has plenty of action, emotion, and mystery.

Rory Miller, her older sister Darcy and their father, are moved to Juniper Landing to build a new life in a witness protection program while teacher Steven Nell, the man who had attacked and stalked Rory (and many other young girls), was caught. Juniper Landing seems like the most idyllic island, filled with sunny days, warm ocean breezes, and friendly inhabitants, but the strange thick fog that moves in every once in a while can be quite unsettling.

It takes most of the novel for us to realize that some things just aren't right around Juniper Landing...and Rory would like to get to the bottom of it. There are many hints throughout the book, but the real truth comes out in the very last sentence! And who could help but run right to the library to check out Hereafter!

Friday, October 17, 2014

She is not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

I've always loved a good puzzle, and She is not Invisible is a great puzzle! At the very first sentence we are captivated by Laurenth,  a 15 year old girl "abducting" her brother and taking him to the United States. Laurenth is in search of her author father, a man who has suddenly disappeared. His "black book" (his author's notebook) has been found in America and Laurenth is certain that something bad has happened and he needs help.

With very little to go on Laurenth and Benjamin (and Benjamin's stuffed Raven, Stan), hop a flight to New York. Now, all this is made much more difficult because Laurenth is blind. It is amazing how she (with the help of her little brother, Benjamin) navigate the big city, uncover the clues, and follow the many "co-inky-dinks" along the way to finding their father.

Coincidences are the main theme of this story, and I've enjoyed many of those coincidences throughout my life. My favorite? When we moved to Sartell our new address was 711 Falcon Court. Our bank was Falcon National Bank. We made the offer on July 11 (7-11). Later there were additional times when the sequence 711 appeared and when Falcon was included. It was so much fun to see these recurring numbers, and I couldn't help but think of this while I was reading this book.

It's fun to see a book that isn't the start of a series, doesn't include a dystopian society, and has no appearances of vampires or zombies! If you're looking for a fun read, check out She is Not Invisible today!

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

To read The Selection is to read the entire series, because once you finish the first book you will want to begin the second, and then the third. The series is a fun read, especially if you enjoy the crises of teenage girls and their relationships with each other (and the boy they all think they love).

I thought the series could've been shortened into two, or even one novel. The battle to become the next queen by marrying Prince Maxon just had too many similarities to the tv show The Bachelor. Watching America Singer waver between wanting Prince Maxon and wanting to run away with Aspen, her boyfriend from her former life, became a little tiresome. However, the story held my attention long enough to keep reading, and, like The Bachelor, I was hooked. I'm sure many teenage girls will feel the same way!

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I read the novel Speak back in 1999 when it first was published, but decided to read it again since it is our book club selection for the beginning of the school year.

Speak brings back all the rotten memories of junior high and high school. Although I didn't have any terribly scarring events, I know that friendships were hard and that there were many tears I cried over things that happened at school. I remember the day I was told not to sit with my best friend because she'd been asked to sit with the "cool kids" and I wasn't invited.

But Speak goes well beyond the typical events of a teenager, and ventures into dealing with rape and bullying. I know this tough book will be a wonderful discussion point for the students in book club.

We happen to be reading a recent reprinting of the novel. This is wonderful, because Anderson has added some great additions to the book. First, the story is proceeded by a poem including many lines students have written to her over the years. At the end of the book there is a nice section where the author explains more about why she wrote Speak. There is also a study guide and an author interview. 
Here is a nice author interview with Anderson:

This video is the Laurie Halse Anderson reading the poem from the front of the book:

We Were Liars by e lockhart

The haunting storyline of We Were Liars grabbed ahold of me from the first line and kept me intrigued until the very end of this awesome book. The story of Cadence, her cousins, and their friend Gat, and their summer visits to Cape Cod, is one that I will long remember and recommend to others.

First of all, the character of Cadence is mesmerizing. As we learn more and more about her relationship with her cousins and her family, the events of the summers of their childhood, and her confusion over the accident that occurred the summer she was 15, she only becomes more interesting. Intertwined with her memory loss is the separation of classes and races that exists.

Like a great scary story told around a campfire, We Were Liars gave me goosebumps! I loved the ending, although I have to say it came far too soon for me! 
I've included a video of E. Lockhart reading from the beginning of We Were Liars

And a book trailer. Check out this book today!

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

As I big fan of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books by Ann Brashares I was looking forward to reading The Here and Now. 

I have to say I enjoyed reading this book. I loved the story line, and the idea of time travelers has always been of interest to me. The first chapter sucked me in and the book held my attention until the very end.

Although I found the book enjoyable I did feel that it was a pretty simplistic storyline and that everything came together in the end awfully easily. Where I would've thought there would be questions and loose ends, Brashares pulled them all together and ended the novel with what seemed to me to be a very unrealistic ending.

That being said, I still think it's a fun read and one that many of you will enjoy. I'd encourage you to give it a try. I don't foresee incredible reviews, but it certainly is a nice way to spend a few hours.

Enjoy this interview with Ann Brashares:

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Red Tent follows the life of Dinah from the Old Testament. Through her story we are given a totally new look at the ancient people of the bible. I think this book made them become "real" for me.

Most of the stories in the bible are told from the male perspective. Few of them are told with this much detail and length. I was fascinated by the traditions already built up in the families, both sacred and nonreligious. This gave new light to many of the stories I'd heard in the bible throughout my life. As there were mentions to Abraham, to Isaac, I listened with new ears and found a fresh view of my favorite bible stories, told from a young woman surrounded by family.

I don't know where fact and fiction separate, but The Red Tent certainly has made me want to know more. I'd like to know what parts are substantiated by history and which ones were created by the author. However, either way I will always be grateful for this view into the early years into the bible and new perspective it has afforded me.

I found this interview with Anita Diamant and wanted to share it. However, this one is quite scholarly and not as much about the book as it is about the author.

So I will also share a book trailer that gives a few more hints at this remarkable story:

Friday, August 1, 2014

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Ask me what my favorite book is, and although I say that often about many books, the one I will probably mention first is The Kite Runner. That is why I was looking forward to reading Khaled Hosseini's newest novel And the Mountains Echoed.

Hosseini's first two books were all about family relationships, and the same is true of this book. It focuses on the special love Abdullah has for his younger sister, Pari, and the changes that take place in their lives when they are separated. It is the loss of those we love that really stays with us throughout our entire lives.

Hosseini begins this story with a father telling a bedtime story to his children. This story has a lot of parallels in the book. It begins with the heartbreaking story of the father making a decision to give his daughter away to a wealthy man in Kabul. His decision alters the lives of many people in the family, and especially lays a heavy burden on his son Abdullah.

Through much of the story I felt that sadness, and I teared up many times. I thought the book was beautifully written and the story wonderfully told. I look forward to reading anything that Khaled Hosseini writes in the future!

This is a wonderful interview with author Khaled Hosseini:

Frozen by Mary Casanova

Frozen, by Mary Casanova, contains everything I love in a novel. It was written by one of my favorite authors and set in one of the most beautiful places in the country, northern Minnesota. It carries all the truth of history, but tells a haunting tale that pulls the reader in from the very first page.

Several summers ago my husband and I joined two other couples and rented a houseboat on Rainy Lake. Everything about our trip was incredible! The weather that week was perfect: hot and still. We watched eagles steal our fish carcasses, heard loons calling late into the night, enjoyed sunsets that didn't seem real, ate fantastic fresh fish dinners, and swam in the clear lake water. While we were there we visited the historic Kettle Falls Hotel.

As I read Frozen I felt as if I were back on Rainy Lake once again. I could visualize it all so clearly, and this added a lot to my enjoyment of the book. Mary has a wonderful writing style. Her descriptions are beautiful and moving, and they are perfect for this type of tale.

I heard Mary Casanova telling the story of Frozen a few years ago at a conference. At the time I was struck by the story and wanted to read it immediately. It wasn't until just this past few weeks that I finally was reunited with the book and had the chance to read it. I'm so glad I did!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Fallen by Lauren Kate

This is the story of Luce Price and her admittance to Sword & Cross boarding school. Sword & Cross is the school she has been sent following a terrible event in which a building burned, a friend was killed, and Luce was implicated. Throughout her first few weeks at Sword & Cross she feels as though she is at fault, and even when she meets Daniel (a young man she feels a strong attachment to) she thinks that she is to blame for the past events.

Throughout the book the reader is given the impression that there is a history between Luce and Daniel, but she also feels drawn to Cam, another student. It is only toward the end of the book when Cam seems more suspicious and it seems that Luce's destiny is with Daniel.

Readers who enjoy fantasy and sci fi - paranormal romance stories - will love the Fallen series. Just the titles of the books will tempt them:
#1 Fallen
#2 Torment
#3 Passion
#4 Rapture

If this is the genre you love, you will definitely LOVE these books!

Enjoy this book trailer video (and possible movie trailer). 

The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty

Laura Moriarty's The Center of Everything is a very lovely read. Evelyn Bucknow is the protagonist, and a child living in the midst of a pretty tough outlook. Evelyn shares all of the drama of a small town and a small town school. She shares with us her dreams, her loves, her joy and her sorrow. As the narrator of the story, Evelyn gives her viewpoint, starting as a young girl in middle school, and growing all the way through high school.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Center of Everything - and especially enjoyed "growing up" with Evelyn. We experience all that she does as she goes through the normal, as well as the exciting, heart-pounding moments of middle school, and then high school. All the experiences she shares - the friendships, the joys, the loves - are similar to the ones we all experienced as we traveled from junior high to high school.

I love the fact that Evelyn is going off to college at the end of the novel, and is going to continue to work to make her dreams come true.  She will not be caught in the drama of this small town life.

As much as I enjoyed reading The Center of Everything there were times when I questioned who the best readers of this book would be. While I believe the book was written for high school students, I think that many adults would love the story. That being said, I also believe that many middle school students would love the story - and that there would be a lot of high school students who would feel the story was too  juvenile for them, especially when compared to other high school-age novels.

So - who do I recommend this book to? If you are an avid reader, and have plenty of time to enjoy "coming of age" novels, you will certainly enjoy this book.

Now this may be a little self-serving, but here is author Laura Moriarty sharing her love of libraries. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez

The Pregnancy Project was an extremely interesting book to read, particularly considering the fact that Gaby is telling her own story. 

Gaby is an amazing young woman who is determined not to follow in the footsteps of her mother, siblings, and many other relatives who became pregnant at an early age, dropped out of school and gave up any dreams they had for their future. Gaby provides a new perspective on the pregnant teen, however, as with this project she is able to gain insight on how young pregnant teens are treated. As Gaby follows through on her senior project - faking a pregnancy - she sees how her teachers, friends, and family treat her differently. She recognizes the fact that she has a strong support system in her mother, numerous siblings, encouraging friends and boyfriend, and how so many pregnant girls have to deal with these same pressures without that support and guidance. There are voices all around the teen saying "I told you so" and "I knew this would happen" and "Now you've ruined your life".  So many people who act supportive, but in reality just tell the teen that she won't be able to graduate, go on to college, live a happy life. And often, then, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The entire book does a wonderful job of illustrating all of the research Gaby did. Her senior project really becomes a life lesson for students everywhere, and a book that should be read by all and I think would make a great text health classes. 

I found myself cheering as Gaby presented her project to the entire student body. Although I haven't seen the movie based on the book, I imagine it would be a very hopeful, uplifting movie. It gave me the strong sense that one can truly overcome any obstacles in one's life and reach their full potential, regardless of the circumstances in which they live.

I think of the word resilient, and how important it is for people to learn to be resilient: to be able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. This comes from believing in one's self and in not giving up even when all the odds are against you. But as Gaby points out, for many people it is easier to give in to the pressures and become what others are telling you to be. 

Below is one of the news stories from Gaby's project:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Serena by Ron Rash

Move over Paul Bunyan and make way for Serena!

I grew up with tall tales and, living in Minnesota, especially the tales featuring characters who could fight a rattlesnake, tame a wild ox, chop down a forest singlehandedly, and eat flapjacks by the dozens. (Paul Bunyan's statues are all over the north country, along with Babe, Lucinda, and more.)

Set in the late 1920s in the forests of North Carolina, Serena arrives in camp after marrying her new husband, George Pemberton. Although Pemberton is a ruthless man himself, she quickly emerges as the most powerful character and enters into her own climb to the top, leaving no one unscarred. When Serena sets her mind on something it is bound to happen, no matter what violent and heinous acts must occur. Pemberton was good at bribery and "accidental deaths" in his climb to the top, but Serena is openly willing to crush anything in their path.

I truly enjoyed the images of Serena, eagle on her arm, riding her white horse into the forest. Throughout the book I continually was reminded of the tales I'd heard so many times about Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett and Pecos Bill. Actually this helped me enjoy the book more, since I don't usually enjoy reading the types of books where animals are tortured, innocent people are killed, and anything considered to be a threat is "taken care of", but it was pretty easy to chuckle over these, since I didn't take them that seriously.

I've been hearing rumors of a movie based on the books, with a release date of anywhere from 2012-2014. Although I understand the movie will star Jennifer Lawrence and Bradly Cooper, and much of it has been filmed, I still can't find anything solid regarding a release date in the United States. Perhaps it was released and I missed it? Not sure. Stay tuned on that one, I guess. But in the meantime, enjoy the book!

Here's a video with Ron Rash speaking about Serena.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rules of Summer by Joanna Philbin

A lovely Minnesota beach day calls for a fun summer novel, and Joanna Philbin's Rules of Summer doesn't disappoint. Although there are a few surprises you definitely don't have to think too deeply when reading this book.

The plot is simple: poor teenager (Rory) heads off to spend the summer at the beach with her aunt, running errands for a wealthy family. Of course, they have a handsome son, Connor, whom she immediately falls in love with. There is also a daughter her age, Isabel, and although they immediately dislike each other, the two become close friends. It comes as no surprise that Isabel's new boyfriend is a lowly surfer/musician: one who would not be accepted by Isabel's rich parents.

Oh - and their last name is "Rule" - which makes the title Rules of Summer very clever indeed.

Typical summer events occur - near drownings, the 4th of July, parties with friends, surfing, horseback riding, and time at the posh Georgica private club - all the things you expect to find in a fun summer romance. The story flows well, and the characters, although shallow, are likable enough.

If you're looking for a fun beach read, Rules of Summer is a great place to start. Pull up your lawn chair, smooth on a little sunscreen, and settle back for a pleasant journey.

Here's a great interview with Joanna Philbin. If you're not aware of this fun fact, Joanna is the daughter of Regis Philbin - which gives her a good understanding of growing up with a famous, wealthy parent. It's a rather long video, but well worth the time.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I got sucked into The Maze Runner from the very first page. Thomas "awakens" in an elevator-type box, and when the doors open he finds a large group of boys his age all starting at him. He quickly learns that he has joined the gladers, trapped in an area surrounded by an ever-changing maze.

The gladers have lived in the glade for two years, with one new boy arriving monthly, just in the way that Thomas arrived. Just as he begins to learn about the community and lifestyle, a new person appears. This new arrival is a girl, the first girl ever. Thomas is immediately drawn to her - and soon learns that their connection is not only strong, it contains the ability to communicate telepathically.

The boys have organized their community well, and have learned to provide for themselves using the tools given them by the creators. They believe their main goal to find a way to escape through the maze, but this is a most dangerous place, because creatures called "grievers" (mechanical monsters) come out mostly at night. A sting from a griever causes the victim to go through a "changing", which appears to affect them greatly. Those victims are lucky, however, because death comes to anyone receiving more than a minor injury.

There is a great amount of mystery surrounding the glade and the maze, and as readers we learn bits and pieces. I enjoyed the book immensely, but have a lot of questions as to how it can be made into a single movie. The books ends as part 1 of a four-part series, and simply delivers the remaining boys (and one girl) to the next phase in their trial.

I know you can find the movie trailer for The Maze Runner, so I'll share an author interview with James Dashner. Enjoy!

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay is on my list of books to read partly because it's being made into a movie. I don't watch very many movies, so it's probably not even one that I'll watch. However, when my students see books being made into movies that means they will want to read the books, so I want to be able to say that I've read the book already. Hence, the list.

There's no secret to this story line. Mia and her family are in a tragic car accident. Both of Mia's parents die at the scene. Her younger brother survives for a day or so and then also dies. Mia is in a coma, in critical condition, telling the story - as she watches it in one of those "out of body" experiences.

Throughout the story we learn all about Mia's life, family and friends. She is a girl with a musical gift for playing the cello, although she was raised around rock music.

The story is told beautifully, and I admit that there were several times where I wiped away the tears in my eyes. Overall, though, the book is a quick read that, although not overly dramatic, pulls the reader and keeps your attention until the very last page.

I especially enjoyed reading the author's notes at the end of the book, where Gayle Forman explains where she got the idea for the book, her references for the music, and provides an author Q and A.

There are a lot of great book trailers on If I Stay, and of course there's the official movie trailer, but instead I thought I'd share this interview with Gayle Forman. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Tyrant's Daughter by JC Carleson

The Tyrant's Daughter is the beautifully written story of Laila, the daughter of an Eastern leader who ruled his country through fear, violence and evil. When her father is killed in a violent attack on their home, Laila's mother moves her family to the United States, where they are protected and supported. Laila and her brother, however, are in the dark as to their country's politics and their father's role in the tragedies that have affected many in their country.

As a high school student, Laila is confronted by the differences in cultures. What was normal for her has been turned upside down.

As Laila comes to terms with who she is, where she came from, and how she can fit into her new school, she learns more and more about her past.

This book is fiction, but there is much that feels "real" about it, and it is an excellent novel to increase understanding and awareness for young people.

There are many stories to be told about war, terrorism, and politics, but so often these stories are told from the US point of view. It is so good for us to read one told by an innocent victim of the history and events of her country.

Author J.C. Carleson has her career in the CIA to back up the story, and so it reads entirely truthfully. I appreciate the complexity and emotions of this book, and I encourage adults as well as high school students to read it.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

The difficult part about coming late to the Young Adult books of the high school crowd is that there is so much to read! It's always a difficult decision. Do I read the newest books out? Or do I go back to the standouts of the past 10 years to catch up? If only there were more reading hours in the day! My reading list is long and varied, and my bedside table (and my iPad) are filled with books that beg to be read...if only there were more time!

I grabbed John Green's An Abundance of Katherines on the way out the library door on Friday. I've booktalked this book many times without actually having read more than a few reviews, but there it was on the return cart, and I knew I needed something light for a quiet weekend.

And so it was that on Sunday morning, while Colin and Hassan were being chased by hornets after trying to scare off the feral pig, I was laughing out loud. And moments later, when Colin and Hassan were discussing what mattered in life, I was wiping the tears from my eyes, and realizing that I truly love reading whatever John Green writes. When you're old, this happens (the crying!) You read about teenagers finding out what's important - and how, as Hassan put it, "how you matter is defined by the things that matter to you." You see, a teenager, realizing that the future is unpredictable, is one of those things that makes me cry. Partly because I wish I had learned it when I was teenager. Mostly though, because I want all teenagers to come to that realization: that they can matter. That they can make a difference.

An Abundance of Katherines turned out to be one of my favorite books. I love John Green's writing style. I enjoy his sense of humor. And if you're working on young adult novels too, and are trying to catch up on some of the best of the past 10 years, grab it as you're walking out the door. You'll be glad you did.

“You matter as much as the things that matter to you. And I got so backwards trying to matter to him. All this time, there were real things to care about: real, good people who care about me, and this place. It's so easy to get stuck. You just get caught in being something, being special or cool or whatever, to the point where you don't even know why you need it; you just think you do.” 
― John GreenAn Abundance of Katherines

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Torn by David Massey

I had the opportunity to read Torn by David Massey with my high school book club this year. Torn is an awesome story of war, focusing on the way that children are affected by war, but the hope for peace that continues to exist in them.

David Massey lives in Great Britain, so it makes sense that his protagonist is also Britain. Private Elinor Nielson tells us the terrifying story of war in Afghanistan. Having this story told by Elinor gives us a different view of the Americans in Afghanistan. This provided some very interesting commentary for my students, who were aware of conflict there but unaware of the larger world's involvement. This gave us a great additional topic of conversation.

Probably the very best part about reading Torn was that David Massey was willing to meet with us via skype when we were ready to discuss the book. He joined us for lunch and we had a fascinating dialog with him!

The students were especially interested to learn how he came up with his ideas for this story, and they were amazed as David shared that the idea for the story came from the haunting picture of the young girl on a National Geographic magazine years ago.  Of course, they also wanted to know what he is writing now (and we can't wait to get our hands on it!) They were also extremely interested in David's "real life".  David and his wife run an emergency supply business, providing equipment and supplies for people faced with a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

We are looking forward to the US release of David's book, Taken, which was just released in the UK. David told us the book was about a group of friends on a perfect humanitarian trip to Africa when they are attacked by pirates and must fight for their release. Doesn't it sound exciting? We can't wait!

The Best Night of your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tara Altebrando's book, The Best Night of your (Pathetic) Life! I grabbed it off the book return cart as I was walking out of school on Thursday, knowing I needed a quick fun read for the weekend. This book fit the bill perfectly!

A bittersweet story, Mary and her friends are participating in a senior year tradition - the scavenger hunt. Throughout the hunt we learn all of the highlights (and lowlights) of her school career, uncovering secret crushes, broken hearts, best friends, and even sisterly love.

This fun story goes much deeper than just the evening of fun, and we learn not only some of the regrets of Mary's past, but also her fears of growing up, leaving town, going off to college, and facing a future she has been dreaming of.

As an adult I read this book with many tugs on my heart and a few tears in my eyes. Mary uncovers some of the secrets that only adults know: that true high school loves usually fade. That parent/child relationships are complicated and not always what they appear to be. That there are many years ahead, with huge joys, and the disappointments of high school will mean much less when 5, 10, 20 years have passed.

Perhaps The Best Night of your (Pathetic) Life is best read by adults - people who know that the best night probably won't happen in high school and that your life is not nearly as pathetic as you think. So whether you're in high school or "all grown up" this is a book that will make you wish you were off stealing statues, skinny-dipping, sneaking around, and enjoying fun times with good friends.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

It was definitely the black and white photos that drew me to this book. A fun addition to the book was the addition of the author's notes, where author Ransom Riggs shared more information about these peculiar pictures. How grand to find that every picture is, in fact, an actual photograph!

This fanciful tale had some intriguing characters that were very likable. Although I have it in my high school library it is certainly a suitable book for younger ages as well. Jacob's "real life" is only described briefly before he and his father head out, so most of his character is developed around his friendships with the peculiar children and his interactions with adults. I think this makes him seem younger than his age. 

I loved the open-ended ending, which is saying a lot, because typically I like books best when all the loose ends are tied up tightly with no unanswered questions. This book begs you to read more because you just have to find out where the next loop will be found and whether or not the children will be able to save Miss Peregrine. 

All in all, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a fun, delightful adventure that doesn't make the reader work too hard. Filled with some historical events, wacky characters, not-too-bright adults, time travel, and peculiar talents that become positive strengths, this book is certain to entertain. 

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Revolution (a book that was recommended to me by a student of mine who proclaimed it as the "best book every written! - so I couldn't pass it up).

I loved the historical fiction aspect of this book. Having Andi become interested in, and connected to, a young girl from the French Revolution sucked me in completely. I was concerned as I read further into the book that I would not know the conclusion to the mystery surrounding Alex and the young king.

I didn't always feel as close a connection with Andi as I thought I would have, partly because I wanted her to act differently in her grief. It might have helped me if I had known a little more about her brother's death and why she felt so responsible. However, I felt very sympathetic toward her and liked her more as the story continued.

I was not expecting time travel at the end of the book, and I have to admit to feeling a bit disappointed by that. It made a realistic piece of historical fiction suddenly feel a little silly to me. The story did end beautifully though, and I would still have to say that I loved the book even no matter what.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Wow. I just finished reading Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills, and "wow" is pretty much all I can say.

The story is amazing. Gabe is learning to be a DJ, and being mentored by his next door neighbor John. He has a crush on his bff Paige, is being flirted with by a hot girl named Heather, and is deciding what to do with his life after high school. The problem? Gabe has been living as a girl named Elizabeth his entire life.

I love the analogy he uses early in the book (that continues throughout the book) where Gabe talks about how we all have an A side - the side we share with the world. Just like a record has an A side, this is usually our good side - the one we're known for. But we also all have a B side - one that may not be as well known. So what do we do with our B sides?

Through his late-night DJ show Gabe gains a following of kids called the Ugly Children - and he encourages them to let their B sides show.

Throughout the story I was touched, moved to tears, and at times laughing out loud. Gabe is a very likeable kid, and one who cares deeply about his family and friends. Although I was at times super-uncomfortable with the content of the book, and concerned how my high school students would react to the mature theme and language, I do not regret for a moment having spent time getting to know Gabe.

I especially appreciated author Kristin Cronn-Mills explanation of the issues under the transgender umbrella. I learned so much from that discussion and its inclusion in the book was so appropriate! I can't begin to imagine the struggles a person dealing with this tough stuff would have growing up in this way.

This is definitely a book for mature readers! The language and adult situations can make the reader very uncomfortable. This is, by far, the most complicated book I have reviewed. I loved it in a totally different way than I loved many of the other books I've reviewed. And I appreciate author Kristin Cronn-Mills' guts in telling Gabe's story.

I must add that author Kristin Cronn-Mills was incredible in accepting an invitation to skype with my high school book club! We had a wonderful conversation, and the students were thrilled to talk to a real live author! I thank her so much for her willingness to take time out of her busy schedule to share with us. 

I've had 100% success in asking authors to skype with my book club this year. If you love books and work with students I would encourage you to be brave enough to seek out the author and make an online connection. It's a wonderful experience, and one that adds so much to the lives of our young people. Thank you, authors, for your willingness to talk to us!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

I picked up the City of Bones because a couple of my students had recommended it. I admit that as I read the first chapter I almost put it away and didn't finish. To be honest I'm getting a bit tired of fantasy, and this just seemed like another crazy tale.

However, I was in the car and it was the only book I had with me, so I kept reading. I got sucked in and tore through the book, anxious to find out what would happen next. Now that I'm done I want to get my hands on book two in the trilogy and follow along on the adventure.

The story begins with Clary, a pretty normal teenager, and her friend Simon, and their evening in a teen nightclub. It gets exciting very quickly as Clary sees people no one else can see and she watches as a group of teenage Shadowhunters kill another teen. She quickly learns that her mother has spent a lifetime keeping secrets from her. Now Clary must uncover them and locate her mother in the process.

I found myself really liking Clary, and admiring her courage and loyalty. I also liked Simon, and I felt so bad for him when he was turned into a mouse. Throughout the story the tension was often broken by humor, which I enjoy so much in a book.

The novel is fast-paced and definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat. I loved reading it - and can't wait to get on to book two!

As so often happens with these good books a movie is being made. Watch for it - and enjoy the trailer below.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Insurgent and Allegiant by Veronica Roth

The minute I finished Divergent by Veronica Roth I began the next book in the trilogy, quickly followed by the final book. Throughout the last few days of my holiday vacation it became somewhat of an obsession with me. It helped to have my daughter here, as she had read all three books and was anxious to talk to me about the final chapters of the last book. (You'll get no spoiler from me here: you've got to read this one on your own!)

I admit that I am a speed reader. I rarely read a book more than once, and typically I fly through books very quickly, sometimes missing important details. There are a few books that deter me from this path. If a book is beautifully written it causes me to slow my reading and to re-read many phrases, paragraphs and even whole chapters. That being said, you need to know that I LOVED Veronica Roth's beautifully written books! I found myself reading much more slowly and carefully, even reading parts of the books out loud, because I enjoyed the language so much!

The first two books in the series are written only from Tris' point of view. Hearing the story in her words causes the reader to form a strong connection with Tobias, and with many of the other characters in the books (Peter, Cara, Christine, Caleb, and many more). In the third book we are introduced to the Tobias perspective through chapters written in his voice. This allows us to not only see his choices in a new light but also to give us a new perspective on the strengths and the shortcomings of Tris. We see another side to each relationship, and I think that does so much to help us understand and connect with each character.

So, if I haven't said it clearly enough, this is one series you won't want to miss!