Monday, May 30, 2011

Swimming to Antarctica:Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox

So I know some of you won't like my reaction to this book, but here goes.

My only question is this...why? Why in the world does anyone swim in really cold water? To me, it's like UFC fighting. It's okay to fight to the death if someone is trying to rape your wife or kill your son. But, to me, it's not okay to fight....just to win. Or just to say you did. And that's what kept running through my mind as I read this. Sure, she swam the English Channel to break the record. But as the swims got more complicated and more expensive, I kept thinking....what a waste of money! It's not like she was training to jump in and save someone's life....she was just swimming to prove that she could.

Now, I did find the scientific stuff fascinating--swimming with a temperature probe up your butt? Really? And it seems like Cox has a body that is built to swim in cold temperatures. But I wanted more personal information. I wanted to know what was going on in her personal life that made her abandon her home/life to make these swims. Obviously, I couldn't do it. So I admire her gumption. But I'm still going to ask, "Why?" and "Was this necessary?"

Sunday, May 29, 2011

This is What I Did by Ann Dee Ellis

I'm so glad I was raised to speak up...always...even though it may not be what people want to hear. So many of these books are about kids who don't speak up in one situation or another. And then some of the books are about kids who do speak up and adults ignore them. Or laugh at them.

Logan has recently moved to start over again, and we're not why until near the end of the book. Something has happened with his best friend Zyler and a girl Logan has a crush on, but the reader isn't sure what. But at his new school Logan is getting bullied. His mother, in her infinite stupidity, told all the adults that Logan was having a hard time and suffering from depression. Logan has to deal with kids teasing him, even in Scouts. The actions and inactions of the Scout leader made me want to seriously maim him.

I did like the design of the book--handwritten notes are illustrations and each section starts with a small drawing of what is going to happen. The book is about how Logan finally faces up to what happens, with the help of his shrink and a new friend at school. It's an okay read, but I can't see it being too popular with my high school kids.

Friday, May 27, 2011

War by Sebastian Junger

Read this. Listen to this. I thought I knew what was going on in Afghanistan, but, whoa, was I wrong. I had no idea that there were Army units who saw almost constant action. This reporter was with the same platoon for more than a year and his reporting is detailed, funny, engaging, and honest. And he's a heck of a storyteller. Like The Good Soldiers, this book helps me understand what's it like for men at war. It sucks. But there are guys out there who are good at combat, and I understand why so many of them have trouble when they get home. Read this and see what I mean. It's worth your time.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hero Type by Barry Lyga

Mr. Lyga, you're getting too preachy for me in this one. Sure, you can write about flag burning, and ribbons on cars, and American symbols, but try not to stuff it down my throat, okay?

Kevin Ross lives with his dad and misses his mom and brother who live in California. He's an instant hero when he saves the life of a fellow classmate. She was about to be killed by a serial killer, but Kevin saved the day. He loves the girl, but he doesn't want to admit why he followed her into the alley that day either. When the press spots Kevin remove some yellow ribbon magnets from his car, quite the controversy ensues. Kevin goes from hero to dirt pretty quickly and manages to research and debate the topic pretty heavily. This just fell short of Fanboy and Goth Girl and Boy Toy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver, Read by Sarah Drew

I loved this author's Before I Fall, so I was looking forward to reading her new one. I wasn't disappointed. In this future society, love is a disease called Delirium. Lena is a few months from having the operation to her brain to stop her from getting this horrible disease. She and her best friend are looking forward to it, but then something dreadful happens. Lena falls in love with someone who looks like he had operation, but didn't. And she loves it. She realizes that maybe "they" have been lying to her for her entire life. Maybe love is a good thing? Lena must decide to escape to the Wilds with her boyfriend or stay and be a good girl and get her operation. It's a big decision, and, of course, this book leads to #2 in the series, Pandemonium, due to be published Feb. 2012.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hate List: a Novel by Jennifer Brown

I wasn't looking forward to another book about a school shooting, but I must say that this is the BEST one I've read about that horrible topic. Why? 1. Because the author gives a shout out to Flogging Molly, one of the best Irish punk bands out there. 2. Because it isn't preachy. Written from a survivor's point-of-view, the book gives the why and how of the shooting. Valerie is the shooter's boyfriend. And she started the Hate List, added names to it regularly, and participated in some pretty disgusting emails with the shooter. But she somehow didn't know that he was going to bring a gun to school and start knocking kids off the list. Valerie is in therapy and decides to return to the school--I can't imagine that would ever happen. But she does, and the popular class president adopts her as a friend because Valerie saved her life. Before the shooting, Valerie was a dark, depressed girl dealing with the horrible relationship of her parents. Now, her dad is leaving his wife and Valerie is dealing with it. With the help of her good therapist, she's learning to deal with everything and discovering who she is in the process.

While this is a dark read, it's uplifting. Valerie finds a way out. And the reader sees what Valerie doesn't--she was more messed up than she wanted to believe. She was in a destructive relationship with her boyfriend, but doesn't admit it for months.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bullyville by Francine Prose

Great concept, but poorly written. Bart's dad dies in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, and he's "lucky" that his mom didn't go to work that day, too. Bart was sick, his mom stayed home, and the two of them held the secret from everyone that his dad had left them six months previously for a younger woman. Love this plot line--very interesting. But the whole Bullyville concept fell a little flat. There are so many prep school stories out there that involve bullying, but this one never seemed true. The friendships were fake, the relationships between the characters were forced, and I never was attached to anyone. Never. Sure, it was a quick read, but it just didn't work.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

I think Gaiman is one of those authors you either love or hate, but I'm one of those weirdos who still isn't sure whether I like him or not. I respect his talent, and keep reading his books, but I still can't figure out if I like him as a writer.

Tristan grows up in a village close to the fairy world and has some awesome adventures. He seeks a fallen star, and when the star ends up being a beautiful, injured woman, he doesn't lose a step. The two are bound together and forced to make it back to the city at the edge of fairy, but sometimes priorities change. The familiar fairy tales are twisted here--lots of dark witches, and evil, but plenty of oath-taking and goodness, too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kingdom Keepers: Disney after Dark by Ridley Pearson

I can see why 4th graders would love this book. Who doesn't wonder what Disney is like after dark? And my nightmares came true--the scary dolls in It's a Small World come alive and attack! Freaky stuff. Finn and his four friends are hired to use as templates for hologram tour guides in the park. But things start going wrong. The evil Disney characters are trying to kill them, and they must cross over into their hologram selves after dark. The Disney World references are the best part, but the action is pure middle school, not young adult. Even the cover is too young to be YA, I think.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice series) by John Flanagan, Performed by John Keating

Now I have another series to purchase for my high school library! And some books to recommend to my boys who like Harry Potter, The Sorcerer's Apprentice series, and Pendragon.

Will, an orphan, has dreamed of becoming an apprentice in the Battle School. He wants to be a hero, and isn't very thrilled when he is drafted into the Ranger School. The Rangers are like the Baron's secret service, and Will finds out that his slight build, determination, and climbing skills come in handy in his new position. Will has plenty of chances to prove his worthiness, helping to bring down a wild boar and helping knights pursue the scary beasts.

There's a little bit of fantasy and a lot of medieval-ish warfare--I'm adding the entire series to my order for next school year.

Ricochet by Julie Gonzalez

Ugh...I knew where this YA novel was going as soon as they mentioned Russian roulette. Really, boys, why in the heck would you be so stupid to play a game where you might die? The author does a good job of explaining why. Told through a series of short chapters and jumping back and forth in time, we learn why Connor was there, and why he didn't stop was going on. And we learn about the healing process--it's a long haul, but Connor will eventually be okay. Interestingly, the main character plays the violin AND works in a hardware store--I liked the juxtaposition of the two interests. It's a good tale of brothers, friendship and parent-child relationships, too.

The Truth about Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler

If I read one more "Don't bully--it's bad" book for middle schoolers, I think I might throw up. Really, this author was so preachy. The dialog was stilted. The plot was okay, but I just didn't like how it was told. Two middle school students start an online newspaper, but it gets out of control fast. They think freedom of the press means kids can post mean and untrue things. It escalates out of control until a kid disappears. The parents can't believe what their kids have done, the kids are just plain mean, and the bullied girl "understands" why she was bullied. Ugh.

Bleed by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I think the author tried too much. I love "one day in the life" books, but there are just too many characters in this book. Each chapter is written from the point of view of a character, but they aren't as intertwined as I wanted. And, I'm all for edgy YA, but I cringed at parts, mainly because the crudeness didn't seem to be a part of story--it's like it was added in. I felt like I should show my friends the dirty parts. For that reason, I think this will be popular, but I think the multiple narrators will mess with some readers. Like me, they'll keep reading the names at the beginning of the chapters and look for repeats. And they'll be disappointed.

And it's just gross that a young girl would write to a prisoner for six years without her parents finding out. I mean, really, don't they ever check the mail? Or search their daughter's room?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Poison Ivy by Amy Koss

Once again, Amy Koss has written another book about bullies. This book doesn't exactly invite you to stand up to them. A silly teacher has a civil trial in her middle school Government classroom where Ivy sues three mean girls for bullying her. Lawyers are appointed, a jury is selected, and the trial is quite the travesty. Honestly, all I noticed while I read this book was that the teacher was crazy. She didn't educate the kids about how a trial works. She didn't select competent lawyers. The girl selected to represent the bullied student was so shy she didn't even present a case. The teacher finds out that a student is running a gambling pool, presents a lecture about its evils, but does nothing else to stop it. was such a hard book for this curriculum director to read. And, again, it was a book for middle schoolers--I won't be buying it for my high school.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

This YA novel had wayyyy too many map references for me. Sure, the main character's dad is a mapmaker, but, really, after the first chapter, I was already sick of reading about maps. Terra has an emotionally abusive father and she, her two brothers, and mother live in fear of him. But no one is strong enough to stand up to him. Her two brothers responded by moving far away. Her mother becomes an emotional eater who rarely disagrees with her husband. Terra finds refuge in her art. And focuses on treatments to erase the port-wine stain birthmark on her face. Terra lets us know that she's beautiful--great body, blond hair, etc, but she suffers from very poor self esteem. She keeps her boyfriend because he's the best she can get (she thinks). She doesn't think her art is good enough for an art show. And the list goes on. When she meets an Asian goth boy, she isn't sure how to act, but a trip to China with the boy and his mother changes everything for Terra and her mom. They finally find their way in the world and stand up to Dad, but, again, the map references made me roll my eyes.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Julian Game by Adele Griffin

Cool cover, right? Raye is playing dress up, creating a fake Facebook profile of a cool girl that all boys would want to befriend. Raye falls under the a popular girl's spell for awhile--doing some deeds she isn't proud of, and eventually stepping away from the evil pretty girl. But that's hard to do when you're dealing with a girl who likes revenge. Raye is cyberbullied--big time, but she doesn't go to the authorities. Instead, she sits back and tries to hide from her problems. Eventually she and a friend solve it themselves, but it takes awhile. Within all this is a romance where Raye falls for the cutest boy in his school, but Raye realizes that looks and niceness doesn't mean much. He doesn't respect her OR stick up for her. And, girls, that means he's not a good man. Overall, I thought this was a great quick read about the evils of social networking. Or, um, about what evil can be done online. :)

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: the Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong, Read by Taylor Mali

Here I am, knocking out another nonfiction read! And, again, I was impressed....all except for the detailed explanation of how mapping works. Too much science for me!

Sir Ernest Shackleton (knew the name but wasn't sure what he explored) and his men traveled down into Antarctica to try to travel across it. It didn't work. The ship became stuck in the ice and the men had to abandon it. They were cold. Very cold. And for months had to try to make their north across ice and slush to somewhere inhabitable. It's an awesome adventure story and all the men survived, which was a miracle. It's also a quick little read and appropriate for all ages.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life Vol. 1 by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Evidently I live in the dark ages, since I didn't know that this comic book series was turned into a 2010 movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. But now I've added that movie to my Netflix queue since it has my fav kid from Arrested Development in it.

Scott Pilgrim is a 23 year old who thinks it's cool to date a 17-year-old. Thankfully he changes his mind (a little bit) by the end of this graphic novel. As a teacher, I was tentatively reading--thinking, please, no sex, please, no sex.

But Scott isn't that stupid yet. He doesn't have a job, is in a kinda bad rock band, but then meets the girl--Ramona. She appears in his dreams AND at his door! And so he must have her. Unfortunately, to date her, he must defeat all her evil ex-boyfriends. And that, my friends, is when I stopped to add the movie to my queue. Defeating ex-boyfriends is a pretty cool plot line! I won't read the rest of the series, but I'll await the DVD in my mailbox.

Reckless by Cornelia Funke

I am a big fan of Funke's Inkheart series (see review of Inkdeath) and even watched the Inkheart movie when the reviews weren't very good. In this novel, she invents another quasi-fairy tale world, and it really works. It took awhile for me to get into the book, but once the characters are safely in the alternate world, I was sucked into their experiences. There isn't much emotion described--things happen to the characters and we know how they feel by their action or words. I love the abruptness of her writing, although I bet some readers dislike it. This may just be the translation, but I have no idea of knowing, right?

Each chapter starts with beautiful pencil illustrations by the author--how did she get so talented? Some of the pictures are stark and depressing, but they really add atmosphere to the novel. Jacob Reckless is young and wondering where his mysterious father has disappeared to. He finds that a mirror in his father's study takes him to another land. Jacob spends more and more time in the alternate world (becoming quite the treasure hunter), but when his brother travels through and becomes "infected," Jacob must try to rescue him. With the help of his brother's girlfriend, a shape-shifting vixen, and a dwarf, the group does just that.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura

It's not often that I get a chance to show my cold-heartedness, but this review will be one of them. I just didn't care for the story of a young girl trying to deal with her mother dying from cancer. It's not my type of read. Now, before you go on and on about me not like graphic novels that are sad--I loved the Alex Award winner Stitches. But I thought the plot went on for too long before we found out about the mother--sure we know something is up, but we don't know it's cancer. I didn't like how the girl didn't have any real consequences for what was happening at school. I mean, really, she hit a teacher! And was involved in some pretty heavy duty fights! So, just not my cup of tea.

The Girls by Amy Golden Koss

This little middle school novel is exactly what the cover shows....mean girls and girls with low self-esteem. Told from the five points-of-view, it's the tale of a girl deciding that another girl is out of the group. The followers disgust me--openly criticizing someone who was their friend a day before just because the "popular" girl says to. It's sad. Most of the girls know that they are acting poorly but don't have the guts to stand up to mean Candace. While I can see this being popular in middle school, it's too young for most of my high school students.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee, Performed by Justine Eyre

At ALA Midwinter during the YALSA auction, I bought 10 Candlewick Brilliance Audio Books for $50--what a bargain! This is the first one I decided to listen to and now I can't wait to get to the 2nd book in the series.

Mary Quinn is a childhood thief who gets a second chance when a mysterious lady whisks her away to a special boarding school. It's Victorian times, but Mary is trained to become a special lady--a spy. And she seems born to the job. She doesn't want to marry and her thieving skills come in handy when working as a spy. In her first job, she is already tested--should she fall in love? Break her vows to the agency? Follow her instincts or obey her employer? All of these questions are tough for a girl of her age and time to answer, but she manages. Who doesn't like to read about a feisty girl in petticoats?