Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America: a food memoir by Linda Furiya

I must admit that I liked this adult memoir more than I thought I would. I won't be giving away copies of it for Christmas or anything, but I read in a few days. Linda Furiya is Japanese American and grew up in a small town in Indiana. This food memoir (tons of yummy Japanese recipes are included) describes her experiences growing up and how she had to adjust to being Asian in a small Midwestern town. Food is very important to her family, and so food is discussed in detail. But so is her mother's depression, internment during WWII, driving hours to find fresh fish, and the troubles she has pretending to be white as a child.

I liked this so much better than Hapa Girl. Maybe I shouldn't compare the two, but I do in my mind. In Hapa Girl, the author is 1/2 Chinese and 1/2 white and complains about the struggle she had growing up in America. I believe that Bento Box covers the same type of struggle so much better. Less whining. And I actually grew to care for the author of Bento Box.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

I'm so glad I decided to listen to the Full Cast Audio production of this young adult novel. In fact, I didn't realize until after I had listened to it that it won a 2007 Audie Award. I believe it. I was riveted during this novel, even though I have read the book (and its sequel) before. Riveted while driving through whirling snow on a Chicago interstate is a little dangerous, but I survived.

Matt Cruse was born on an airship and has worked on one since the age of 12. He's only a cabin boy, but knows everything about the ship and has dreams of flying his own one day. Once he meets Ms. Kate de Vries (spelling?) he obtains a new interest. She is pretty, rich, demanding, intelligent, and strong minded. She insists that her grandfather discovered a new mammal high above an island in the Pacificus, and wants Matt to help her prove it. And, boy, do they ever. They find cloud cats, are ransacked by pirates and end up shipwrecked in the middle of nowhere. This adventure story is so exciting and I wish I could get more students to read it. It's a Printz honor book, too, so even the stuffy literary librarians agree that this book has quality! :)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Museum Vaults: excerpts from the journal of an expert

Read my "real" review of this title in a future issue of VOYA.

This is the 2nd volume in a series co-"produced (?) by the Louvre. I wasn't too impressed. If you're into art history or anything French, then read this. If not, they don't.

The art is cool though, even if the plot is thin. The artist refers and incorporates many famous art pieces from the museum and includes a section in the back letting the reader know what is what.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber (Vol. 1)

I know this young adult fantasy is popular with the girls at my school who will read absolutely everything vampire-related. But, oh my, this book was a horrible read. The dialogue was stilted and corny. The interaction between Raven and the jocks at her school is sooooo unbelievable. I didn't get to know any of the characters. I don't even like any of the characters. The Gothic and mysterious Alexander seems like a cutie, but I didn't get to know him by reading this book. All in all, I think this is a poorly written novel that was shoved onto the printing press without much thought. I'm really surprised it came out in hardcover first--it seems like a straight to paperback book. I am so happy I don't have to read the rest of the series, but I will buy them for my library. Kids like them. I just hope they understand that they are fluff and that there are much better vampire books out there (like Westerfeld's Peeps series).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sold by Patricia McCormick

I finally got around to reading this quick young adult novel. Finally! I knew it would be a good one. McCormick's Cut is a stunning book about a girl who cuts herself. In Sold, McCormick tackles the world tragedy of child sex slaves. Now, don't get all freaked out about it being about sex. It's not. But it deals with the subject appropriately and accurately. In fact, the author traveled to India and Nepal to find out more about the situation. It's despicable. Children are sold by adults, sometimes even their parents, into horrible situations. In this novel, Lakshmi's step-father is an idiot--a gambler and a drunk, and her mother is thankful to have him. He sells Lakshmi to an "Auntie" and Lakshmi believes that she is going into the city to work as a maid. But she doesn't. Instead, she is forced to lose her virginity. At age 13. Of course, this goes against everything she has been taught. She is honorable and engaged to a young boy from her village. She wants to send money home from the city so that her family can have a tin roof. A tin roof! Thankfully, Americans intervene and she is rescued from her scary life and career at the ripe old age of 14. We know she still has hope, but we're not sure what life she will have. Her reputation is ruined and she has left her homeland. But she's out of Mumtaz's house. And that's a start.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

I read this adult novel years ago and re-read it this weekend. Our faculty book club is discussing it tomorrow so I needed to refresh my memories of it! And I'm glad I did.

Reasons why I like this book:
1. It's written from the perspective of a teenage boy who has autism.
2. It's a mystery and a family drama all rolled together.
3. The reader has to read between the lines to figure out what's going on.
4. Gotta love the math.
5. It makes me thankful to have the life I lead.

I do have one complaint about this novel though. I had forgotten about how the ending disappointed me the first time. Everything wraps up just fine from the narrator's perspective, although I guess everything is fine from his point of view. And that's the troubling thing. As long as Christopher's schedule isn't too disruptive, his life is okay. Even if parents are switching on him, pets are dying, and things are yellow.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I had to read this young adult novel since it won the National Book Award for YA Lit. I must admit that it isn't checked out much at my high school library, but I'm going to do my best to book talk this awesome, wonderful book!

Junior lives on a Spokane Indian reservation and has a way of always getting picked on. He's smart, skinny, and was born with fluid in the brain. Well, kind of. But a whole host of problems begin when he decides to go to the "white" school outside the rez. Hence the "part-time Indian" phrase in the title. The Indians hate him because he's turned white. The white kids hate him because he's different. And Junior has to live with it, along with the regular problems on the rez like alcoholism, physical abuse, and the overcoming sense of hopelessness. I really, really like Junior. I laughed out loud and had that feel-good feeling when I finished the book. This one is definitely on my Top 2007 title list.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Raider's Night by Robert Lipsyte

I picked up this little book yesterday when I felt that I needed to relax a bit at school. It's been on my to-read list since before it was published. I'm a big fan of the author's The Contender and his newest title Yellow Flag. Lipsyte pushes the edge in this one, making it for older high school students.

Matt Rydek is co-captain of the Nearmont Raiders football team, one of the studs of the school, and treated well. Cops, teachers, students, and especially girls, love him. But Matt has to deal with his dad trying to re-live his own high school football career through him, and pressuring him to make it to Division I and professional football. Matt's always been one of the good guys, even if he is constantly popping Vicodin for the pain (from games and his dad) and injecting who knows what into his body to get ripped. Matt is torn when a new student is violated by a co-captain on the last night of football camp. And I mean violated. The new kid (who was a promising tight end) was damaged mentally and physically and eventually tries to get retaliation in the locker room with a gun. Coaches find out and do nothing. Matt's dad doesn't want anything to hurt his sons' future. But Matt has to figure out what to do because keeping all these secrets are killing him.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I don't usually blog about movies, but I had to today. Last night I went to see The Golden Compass in Mattoon and thought is was so-so. First of all, the casting director did a terrific job. Lyra is wonderful and has a huge future in front of her. Nicole Kidman is an evil Mrs. Coulter, and the cowboy is great. I really wanted to see more Lord Asriel.

Since I just re-read the book for book club a few weeks ago, I knew what was going to happen. However, I think the movie would be slow at the beginning for people who haven't read the book. I hated the constant gold glitter every time Lyra read the golden compass. But I think that's the only thing I hated. The scenery was beautiful and the daemons were wonderful. The bear story was a little short compared to the book and, of course, the movie left a lot of important details out. But, overall, I think the movie did the book justice. The ending stunk in the movie though. I mean, everything is all peachy clean and wrapped up, and that isn't the way it ends in the book.

But, overall, go see the movie. And read the book. I believe Pullman wrote one of the best fantasy trilogies in young adult literature. Notice how I said fantasy and not theological study? The book is fiction. Churches should stop telling people what to do (like what the Magisterium does in the book) and take field trips to see the movie so that they can discuss it intelligently. Education is the key here, not ignorance.

On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck

I love this author. Peck is funny and writes hysterical historical fiction for young people (like his Newbery-Honor-winning A Long Way From Chicago and the Newbery-Medal-winning A Year Down Yonder). But what I like best about him is that he grew up in Decatur, Illinois and writes about his childhood. I've met Mr. Peck at conferences and he KNOWS my high school English teacher. He knows the road where my parents live. Scary, but true. If you ever have the chance to hear Mr. Peck speak, he is worth the drive and conference fee.

On the Wings of Heroes tackles World War II from a young boy's perspective on the home front. Davy Bowman lives in central Illinois and his older brother is an Army Air Force pilot. This book follows Davy as he matures. At the beginning of the short novel, Davy is a gung-ho Cub Scout, effortlessly collecting metal, paper, and anything else for the war effort. But as the war continues and his older brother is missing in action, Davy realizes that everything about the war isn't fun and exciting. His dad is battered by Chicago mafia tough guys because he won't have anything to do with counterfeit gas rations. Davy's grandparents move into the front room and are larger than life. Davy's mom gets a job at the blood bank. All types of changes are taking place as Davy grows up. Of course, the best part of the book for me is the mention of all my hometown places like Blue Mound, Wyckles Corner, Maroa, Mt. Zion, and Pana. What made me angry though is that the narrator of this audiobook didn't find out how to pronounce the proper nouns. Both Wyckles Corner and Pana were mispronounced.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney

From the cover of this adult novel, I was expecting an artsy-fartsy literary thing. I was pleasantly surprised. I liked it. Is it one of the best books I've read all year? No, mainly because I can't think of a single student to recommend it to. But, the author definitely wins the coolest first name award.

Miranda grows up on an isolated island in Maine caring for her intellectual father who is translated Ovid. She cooks, cleans, and takes care of her absent-minded father. She doesn't lead much of a life on the isolated island. Her only real friend is Mr. Blackwell, a friend of her father's, who mysteriously "breaks up" with her dad for some unknown reason. Miranda finally gets a chance to leave the island to work at the Institute in NYC that her father founded. She is overwhelmed by the city and the people she meets. She is trying to find herself, but has a difficult time breaking away from her father and his past that keeps haunting her. Quite the coming-of-age love story.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Awhile ago I tried to read this book and I just couldn't get into it. So I figured I would try the audio version. Unfortunately, I still couldn't get into it. This is an eleven disk audiobook, and I finished disk one. Then I looked at the other interesting audiobooks in my passenger seat, and figured that I could listen to something else that is more interesting.

I know the book is narrated by death. I know the book won all sorts of awards. I know the author is cute (saw him at ALA last June) and I know I loved Fighting Ruben Wolfe and Getting the Girl by the same author. But I just couldn't get into this one. Absolutely nothing happened during the first disk. Toward the end, it finally got to the little girl who became the book thief, but the boring narration was too much for me to handle. I just couldn't finish it. Well, mainly I just didn't want to.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles

This has been on my "to read" list since it was published back in 2005. I'm not exactly sure why I haven't read if before now. I love the author and even subscribe to her blog in my RSS Reader. To me, she is similar to Terry Trueman because they both write cute little books at a lower reading level that aren't cute at all. This book is definitely for high school readers.

Cass McBride is asked out on a date by a dork and, in response, she writes a note to her best friend and leaves it in a desk. The dork finds it, and ends up hanging from a tree the next day. Story over? Nope. Someone wants revenge. Cass disappears and is tortured. Does she survive? Who did it? Why?

While you're reading this one, make sure you have read Shattering Glass by the same author. I liked it much better than Dead Girls Don't Write Letters. Don't forget to check out the author's blog at, too.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Shotgun Rule by Charlie Huston

I was awake until 12:30 am last night. On a school night. I regret it now, but I just couldn't stop reading this adult crime fiction novel until I was satisfied. Here's the thing: I dislike novels where humanity disappoints me. I just can't imagine people living in a world like the one portrayed in this novel. Everything is so dark, gritty, evil, and depressing.

Four teenage boys in northern California (seemed like downtown LA or something to me) live a rough life. And they make it worse. They steal, have fun with with every drug and alcohol combination available, and get into trouble. The gang situation in this town is disgusting...yet I had to keep reading. Don't read this if you can't stand gore, cuss words, and pointless violence. I was grimacing toward the end. Yuck.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Driving with Dead People by Monica Holloway

Whoa. I love it when I'm reading a book and I don't want to stop. And then, when I'm finished, I want to tell everyone about it. Holloway's memoir is like that. Her story is funny and well-written and clever. I was giggling at the beginning. But the dark undercurrent is always present. She wets the bed. Her sisters and brother act funny. Her mom is in permanent denial and finally leaves her husband and wants to leave her children. Or at least pretend that they are normal.

Monica finds comfort in her childhood best friend's family, which owns a funeral home. But that doesn't completely save her from her own dysfunctional family. As Monica grows up, she knows that something is wrong. But it isn't until her older sister has a mental breakdown that she begins to wonder if their father abused all of the children. Did he? Can she remember it happening? Whoa.

The Mistress's Daughter by A.M. Homes

This audio CD was rather entertaining. I've never read any of the author's novels, and this memoir didn't make me rush out and read them. However, I think this book would be great bibliotherapy for anyone who has been adopted or put someone up for adoption. It is almost the "how-to-not" make things work. Homes seems genuinely pleased that she didn't grow up with her birth mother, and I don't blame her. But, the amount of therapy that Homes needs after meeting and putting up with her birth parents is horrific. It's no wonder she became obsessed with finding out who she is. Both biologically and adoptively (Is that a word?). I'm sure this adult memoir is fascinating to many adults, but I won't be purchasing it for my high school library. I think it moves a little too slowly for most high school students. However, I give the narrator top marks for a quality production. Wow.