Friday, January 30, 2009

Saint Iggy by K.L. Going

This is one of those books where you know what's going to happen, but you're not sure how, so you have to keep reading, but then you dread it, and then it happens, and you tear up a little bit. Man, these books drive me nuts! They are hard to like. I don't like being sad.

Iggy lives in the projects with a drunk dad and a mom who lives as a junkie's kept woman. He's going nowhere. Once again, his anger and ADHD get the best of him in school and he's up for an expulsion hearing. But Iggy wants to try. School is the only thing decent in his life. His only friend is Mo who is usually high, but smart. Maybe. Iggy may not be bright enough to realize that Mo has problems, too. Iggy and Mo go to Mo's mother for money and Iggy gets a glimpse of what some people have. Clean towels, food, town car drivers, and huge rooms. Iggy starts to have hope, which is a dangerous thing when you're the only son of two drug addicts.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

I thought I was going to like this young adult novel, really I did. I know some girls at my school are followers of the series, but I just didn't like it. I kept thinking Tithe and Twilight and the Atwater-Rhodes books, and just didn't see anything new.

Aislinn has always been able to see fairies and she doesn't like what she sees. Her gram can see them, too, and the grandmother teaches Aislinn the rules. Don't aggravate them. Don't look at them and don't let them know you have the Sight. But then Keenan, the Summer King, comes along. He thinks Aislinn is his Queen, and the fey don't give up easily. So, think Twilight. Does she fall for Keenen with his wily ways? Or stick with Seth, her mortal studded man who lives in a train? Oh, the decisions....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti

As soon as I saw this advanced review copy on the showroom floor at Midwinter this week, I snatched it. After reading Alex Award contenders for a year, I was thirsting for some really good chick lit! And Caletti fulfilled, as always. Quinn is a teenage girl still optimistic about love, even though the other women in her family give her nothing but advice. Heck, the list of what a man should NOT do is even posted on the refrigerator door! Both her mom and grandma are jaded, but Quinn and her aunt aren't giving up yet. Quinn realizes what it's like to lose someone you don't really love, and to be gain someone you love at first sight. But the best parts of the novel are the vignettes of advice from the women in the book. Most of the women are ex-wives or ex-girlfriends of Quinn's father. Um, let's just say he loves 'em and leaves 'em. But then he takes a souvenier. So, Quinn and her step-sister take off on an extended weekend to return the "stuff" their dad has collected over the years. During the journey, they connect as sisters, start to understand their father more, and discover a lot about themselves. A great read!

Monday, January 26, 2009

City of Thieves by David Benioff

2009 Alex Award Winner!

Wow! How can I even explain this one? I read it on the plane to Denver for Midwinter and think it's the best book about the siege of Leningrad I've ever read. lol. Really, it's amazing.

Lev is arrested for taking a knife off the body of a dead German soldier who parachuted down from the sky. In jail, he meets up with a bold, adventurous young man and the two of them set off to find a dozen eggs for the Russian leader's daughter's wedding cake. Yep, that's right. On the quest, the two face murderers, save prostitutes in German territory, run with a female sharp shooter, and fall in love. The two boys/men face adventure after adventure. You'll laugh and cry in this one. It's amazing!

The Christopher Killer: a Forensic Mystery by Alane Ferguson

I'm having bad luck on my plane ride back from Denver. Or maybe because I was in the company of such greatness at the ALA Youth Media Awards this morning, I'm too picky? Whatever the reason, I'm not a big fan of this young adult mystery either. I've put in my time watching CSI and all those forensic shows, but this novel kinda bored me. Too much description about what a coroner is supposed to do. And I still find it unbelievable that a coroner would allow his 17-year-old daughter become his official assistant. Too much liability. And, I always thought that the coroner didn't do too much investigation anyway? Am I wrong in that? Elected officials usually don't have much skill. :) Anyway, Cameryn becomes the assistant to her dad and they have to figure out who murdered a young girl from their small Colorado town. Of course, this is a modern version of Trixie Belden, which I loved in grade school. I think that's why the cynic in me didn't like how Cameryn manages to solve the case and the murderer gets caught. Too simple for high school readers, I think.

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

To me, this novel was anything but original. Hey, what would happen if the government forced us to all get tattoos that recorded all the information about us on our own skins? See what I mean? This type of novel has been done tons before. Kayla lives in a world where all seventeen-year-olds have to receive a bar code tattoo on their wrists. Of course, the huge conglomerate that owns everything in America (including the government) has included genetic information on the tattoo. Some people receive promotions at work after getting the tattoo, while others, like Kayla's dad, sink into a depression and kill themselves. Basically, the insurance companies are weeding out the weak while giving the strong a chance to improve. Kayla joins an underground movement headed up to the mountains to resist the Party and strengthen their own natural powers. For while the government has been trying to control evolution, nature has been honing Kayla and her friends' psychic abilities. Do I recommend this book? Um, no, not really. But I had it on the plane so had to finish it.

Just After Sunset: Stories by Stephen King

2009 Alex Award Winner!
Well, Stephen King has done it again with short fiction. I must admit that I haven't managed to suffer myself through his latest books. They are just so THICK! And I wasn't exactly looking forward to this collection, but I was sucked in from the beginning. Seriously, I don't think there is a bad story in this collection. I was on the edge of my seat for most of them. I wasn't extremely grossed out, but the suspense was there. Lots of ghosts/surrealism going on, but no bloody horror. I will always think of the last story in the collection when I visit a Porta-Potty. Read it and see what I mean!

Homespun by Nilita Vachani

This adult novel set in India tells the stories of three generations of people. Eventually the stories all intertwine, but it takes awhile. I must admit that the names were confusing to me, mainly because the point-of-view kept changing. I had to this the child actor? or the fighter pilot? or the movie producer? or the girl who purges? I was a little confused, and imagine that a lot of my students would be, too. HOWEVER, it is a great novel to learn more about the Indian culture--both Hindu and Muslim. But I think this one is more for adult women book circles.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Lizard King : The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers by Bryan Christy

I agree with the review in Publisher's Weekly that the author had a great idea, but didn't present the information in a straightforward way. The story jumps around, and I kept having to flip back a few pages to see what guy the author was writing about. Some of the tales were fascinating. I couldn't believe how much the reptile smugglers make in America and it was disgusting to learn how these critters are smuggled into our country. If the tale didn't jump around so much, I would have enjoyed it more. I liked the special federal agent who spent his life trying to nail down the Lizard King, but that didn't come into focus until the end of the book.

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

I know I liked The Bluest Eye when I read it in college, but I just wasn't a fan of this novel. I know she's a brilliant writer and has the Pulitzer to prove it. But, still, I like paragraphs. I'm sorry. I kept reading and thinking, "When will this paragraph end? And why is it being written?"

The setting is during slavery and the novel is a prequel to Morrison's best-selling novel Beloved. Florens is a young slave girl who is traded to a white man to settle a debt. She falls for a handsome free blacksmith who doesn't treat her very well. Several other tales of women in 1690 are told and are interwoven together. But, hey, I know lots of people will love this title. But it's not for me.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas By John Boyne, Read by Michael Maloney

This is one of those audiobooks that you don't want to listen to because you know how it's going to end. But, still, you just have to finish it! At least the 4 CDs went quickly, and the interview with the author at the end was an added bonus--Irish accent!

Bruno is a little 9-year-old boy living in Berlin during World War II. But we have to read between the lines a lot in the novel, because Bruno doesn't always "get" what's going on around him. For example, his father, the Kommandant, moves his family to "Out-with" where a lot of people where striped pajamas and live on the other side of the fence. Bruno has no friends to play with and finally makes a friend alongside the fence. The two boys strike up a special friendship, which ends with Bruno climbing under the fence to explore what it's like inside the camp. Humph. Well, this will go on my Holocaust reading list, for sure.

Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke, Read by Allan Corduner

I can't wait to see Inkheart this month (even though I never did go see Twilight!) because if the movie is anything like the book, I'll absolutely love it! Inkdeath is the final volume in Funke's trilogy about the Inkworld. Over the years, Mo and his daughter Meggie have traveled over to live in Inkworld, a fictitious world created by the writer Fenoglio. Mo has become The Bluejay (think Robin Hood) and the world is getting very dark. Everyone wonders how the story will end. The stinky Adderhead is slowly deteriating, thanks to the BlueJay's work, but the world is not a happy place. Funke seems to think her readers are grown up because of the violence and darkness. I also didn't like Meggie had to choose between two boys, when she played a larger role in the previous two books. This volume is all about Mo. But, hey, I still listened to all 20 hours of it!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Oxford Project: Photographs by Peter Feldstein, Text by Stephen G. Bloom

2009 Alex Award Winner!

I can't believe how much I loved this book. At first, I just flipped through and looked to see how the people had changed from the photos in 1984 to the photos in 2005-2007. But then I went back to the beginning and started to read. And wow. I cried on page 30. And in several other places. Oxford, Iowa, is a lot like my hometown of Blue Mound, Illinois. It's a small town where everyone knows everyone, and that has its perks and downfalls. When tragedy hits, the town rallies around you. But when you mess up, the town knows and gossip runs rampant. These photographs and amazing write-ups tell a great story of an average town in the Midwest. I found myself flipping back and forth to keep the different families straight. And I guessed at the labels of town drunk, town loser, town big shots, etc. It's amazing how fascinated I was by this book. Go to your library and read it! (It's awfully pricey to buy!)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sword Song: The Battle for London by Bernard Cornwell

I love historical epics, especially British ones. Cornwell is an expert at writing these things, and manages to crank tons of them out. This one is the 4th of the Saxon Tales, but I wasn't lost jumping in on the series.

Uhtred, the narrator, is one heck of a narrator. He fights well and keeps his oaths. Wellllll, he might stretch them a little, but he tries really hard to keep them. He is sworn to Lord Alfred, King of Wessex, but the Vikings keep getting in the way of peace. Lord Alfred's daughter Aetheflaed is kidnapped, and even though she's young and newly married, Uhtred is bound and determined to fetch her. Uhtred's settled down a bit--happily married with a pregnant wife, but the battles still draw him in.

The worst part of the book was keeping Aetheflaed and Aethelred straight. I mean, really, those names are confusing! But the book is a fast read--kinda gruesome, but, hey, we're talking Saxons and Danes and Britons and Welshmen and Irishmen--it's bound to be bloody!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The English American by Alison Larkin

Sometimes I just need a little fluff, and this adult contemporary romance worked for me. Pippa Dunn knows she was adopted in England. In her late 20s, she thinks that meeting her birth parents might fix things in her life, so she tracks them down via the adoption agency in America. At first she is amazed by her mother. Billie is SO much like her! But Billie isn't what she seems, and neither is Pippa's father. Of course, there's a love story, too, and Pippa plays the typical female who can't see what hot, gorgeous man is right in front of her. Nothing new here, but a good airplane/beach/lake read.

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

I'm not a big fan of Victorian stuff. So as soon as the narrator started off with "Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. Needless to say, I doubt you'll believe a word of it," I cringed. I really don't like getting a good talking to from a narrator. And I heard his silly voice for the whole book.

Now, Edward Moon and the Somnabulist, I liked. Moon is a conjurer past his prime who still gives magic shows in the seedy part of town. The Somnabulist is a mute who can be stabbed with swords and not bleed or hurt. The two of them form quite a friendship and set off to solve a mystery. Add in a secret government society, tons of societies of freaks, and London, and it's a book. I loved the setting and the details, but just didn't find myself getting into the book. I did have to read to find out what happened at the end, but I wasn't impressed. But, again, this just isn't my type of book.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Against Medical Advice: a True Story by James Patterson and Hal Friedman

James Patterson doesn't know how to write a book that isn't readable. I sped right through this adult nonfiction book about a young man with Tourette's Syndrome, a disease that makes you involuntarily have tics. Cory Friedman has a severe case of the disease--he cusses, breaks shower tiles, punches walls, and gets in tons of trouble at school. He also has obsessive compulsive disorder, and the combination of the two diseases takes over his family. He can't function at school. The doctors try every possible combination of all types of drugs but nothing seems to work except for alcohol and cigarettes. Finally, Cory takes control of his own disease, decides to change, and starts down a new path. He goes to a mountain retreat and spends time in below-zero temperatures learning how to survive. He makes up his missed work at school and ends up being successful.

While I enjoyed reading the book, I had a hard time with Cory "deciding" to get better. I guess it worked for Cory, but how often does that help other people with Tourette's and or OCD? I have my doubts, but, hey, it's great for Cory.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I should be reading Alex titles, but I just had to take a break when my new shipment of books came in at school. There are sooooo many tempting titles! I had heard good things about this YA novel, so I figured I'd see what the fuss was all about.

So, when is the sequel coming out? I want it! Her next book comes out in Oct. 09 so I'm hoping I can pick up the advanced reading copy at the ALA conference.

Katsa can kick some serious butt. She was born with different colored eyes that give her a Grace. Some may have the Grace of being an excellent swimmer, but Katsa is Graced with being a killer. She works for her uncle, the king, and she breaks legs, kills traitors, and follows orders. But Katsa doesn't like who she is so she starts the Council, a group of common people throughout the kingdoms who want to do good. They rescue a kidnapped grandfather and start a chain of events that is the plot of the book. Katsa meets Prince Po, the only man who is able to give Katsa a good fight. But Katsa doesn't want to fall in love because she's too busy and can't control her anger. And Po can't fall in love because he needs to figure out why his grandpa was kidnapped.

BUT all this love talk is secondary to the awesome fighting. Katsa knows how to throw daggers, rip off noses, and poke out eyes. She can render men unconscious and take out legions of men on her own. She is awesome!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Appetite for Detention by Sloane Tanen, Photographed by Stefan Hagen


That's me reading this quick little picture book for teenagers. It's the story of eight chicks (and guy chicks) in high school. Ooooo, the romance. And I had to show the guidance counselor pages to our own Mrs. Skelton. Read it! It will take you a few minutes and it'll be worth it!

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

2009 Alex Award Winner!

What a pleasant surprise! It's rare to read a mystery novel that doesn't read like a mystery novel! Does that make sense? Ferraris writes so well and the drama slowly unfolds.

Nouf, a sixteen-year-old, sheltered, Saudi Arabian girl has disappeared. Nayir, an expert desert man and friend of the powerful Shrawi family, is asked to find her. He does, and it's no surprise that he finds her body in the desert. So, they found her. But why was she in the desert? Was she murdered? Did she run away because of her impending marriage? Nayir, a strict Palestinian Muslim, wants to find out, but he has to work with Katya, a woman who actually works! Katya makes Nayir feel very uncomfortable, with her job and straight-forwardness.

What I liked best about this novel is how the author helped me understand the Muslim culture in the Middle East. And how hard is it to find a mystery set in the Middle East that doesn't involve killing a bunch of terrorists? I find myself missing Katya and Nayir. I can't wait to read this author's next book.

Marsbound by Joe Haldeman

This book died on me. Really, it did. I *loved* the first half of it. Carmen is one of those females in books that I just can't get enough of! She's spunky and snarky and rebellious. But, at about halfway through, the book becomes less about her and more about the relationships between the aliens and the humans. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind reading science fiction. The first half of the book is about the amazing Elevator that transports humans from Earth to the Hilton Hotel where you can jump around in zero gravity. The flight to Mars is great, and who wouldn't fall in love with the sexy pilot of the spaceship? ;) I even didn't mind it when Carmen met the Martians. But then all of a sudden Carmen becomes the international spokesperson for the Martians and the book became a intergalactic political game instead of a cool book about a snarky chick.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My Enemy's Cradle by Sara Young

Anytime I can read about something new in well-written historical fiction, I'm all for it! The author of this adult novel taught me something and had me googling before I had even finished the book. It's a tale of the Lebensborn, a home for girls who were breeding good German stock to carry on the work of the Fuhrer. Wow.

Cyrla is 1/2 Jewish and her father sends her to the Netherlands before Hitler starts raising too much heck. But the war catches up with her in the Netherlands. No one knows she is 1/2 Jewish (maybe) but she can't keep up appearances with her Jewish boyfriend anymore. Her cousin and best friend wants to marry a German soldier who has gotten her pregnant, but things don't usually work out during wartime. Then enters the Lebensborn. These homes were full of girls who were raped or freely having German babies. Some were even like factories, churning out the Aryan race for Hitler. Wow. That's really about all I can say. The novel reads quickly and easily, but things were wrapped up a little cheesily for me at the end.

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Well, nothing like a dirty deed to catch your attention! And this adult novel starts off getting your attention! A private school headmaster sits down to watch a videotape an office worker slips him. And, wow, what a tape. It shows some members of the school's basketball team having sex with a freshman girl. And thus begins the testimony.

Each chapter is a from someone's point-of-view and we gradually learn what happens. The sex tape is the center of the story, but, because of it, many lives are ruined. Two divorces, one suicide, lost scholarships, and a lot else. I really loved Rob's take on things at the end of the book. He wondered why they were never told that having sex with a freshman was illegal. Good point, Rob! Why don't we tell students this? Do the 18-year-old students at Paris High School really know this?

Of course, there are many other back stories going on in the novel, and it all makes for great drama.