Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Classic

Ok. Wow. Everyone kept telling me it was good. It just hadn't made it to the top of my priority list yet as it was a young adult book and wouldn't go into my library. But about two weeks ago, Sync YA Listening and Audiobook Community offered "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins as a free download. After reading and listening to the first and the second books in the trilogy, I now understand what everyone has been raving about. It is a new classic.

Collins is a tremendous writer. The way she paints our heroine, Katniss, makes her such a complex character, it's easy to get wrapped up in her life in District 12. Katniss is strong and yet emotionally fragile. The pull she experiences between her life in District 12 and the "life" that the Hunger Games brings her is illustrated so realistically, that you agonize with her over what choices to make. The Games themselves are an amazing creation by Collins, creating drama, action, despair, and joy, all laced with a tinge of hope and sadness. The emotional highs and low that the reader rides on are urged along by all the twists that Collins creates. I, like so many others, say that this book is amazing. And I will be anxiously awaiting the 24th when the 3rd one in the series is released.

I also dug my teeth into "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson. My friend told me I needed to get past the first 150 pages for it to really get good. And I thank her for the heads up. (Thanks Laurie!) Mr. Larsson had a knack for the verbose. The amount of exposition in the story really made the first chunk of the book difficult. But right about that 150 page mark....it shifted into high gear. With a pairing of an older man and a younger woman, a mystery, and a sick violent criminal, it all took on a bit of a Dan Brown flair. I think I am a sucker for the traumatized but strong heroine like Katniss in "The Hunger Games" or Lisbeth in this book. I'd really like to get farther into the second book, but between "The Hunger Games" and school starting, I got a bit derailed.

I'd like to say that I read much more, but I haven't. I spent quite a bit of time enjoying the joys of summer and grading papers for my college class. I did listen to "The Power of One" by Bryce Courtenay, making it the umpteenth time I've read that book. It is another fantastic tale with amazing characters and layers of hope and sadness. I also finally picked up "Gabriel's Horses", one of our state award nominees. Historical Fiction like this is not really my cup of tea and I felt the pace lagged quite a bit. I didn't feel that pull to keep reading until about chapter eleven.

I REALLY need to read the last book that I have to read for our state award nominees. I'm sure it won't be bad or anything, it's Peg Kehret after all. But I have a feeling it will be the same story that we often get from her and I'm finding it hard to pick up. I also need to read "Vampire Island" to make sure that it's ok to hand out to my kiddos. And there the Baker Street Irregulars that I want to check out (maybe that's the pull of Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law calling me there). We'll see what I can manage with school actually starting up tomorrow!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

So many books....

So little time. I've knocked out a portion of good books. Some I needed to read, some I just wanted to read. I got to pick out a selection of books from my new order that came in for my library and that was fun, but I easily could have picked out a bunch more! But without any more delay...the reviews.

Did you know John Grisham wrote a kids book? I didn't, but when I found out, I was very intrigued. I love mysteries, and Theodore Boone I think will interest kids. More sophisticated than Encyclopedia Brown, Theodore gives legal advice to his classmates. Coming from a set of lawyer parents and living life at the courthouse makes him uniquely qualified to help his peers. When the biggest trial ever in their small town hits center stage, Theodore is in his element. But soon, he's approached by a classmate who could change the course of things. A bit too good to be true sometimes, Theodore Boone will still hold the interest of the age group for which it's intended. A good read and a good start to a new series.

I read the latest book in the Sisters Grimm series. I hate to be sort of negative about Buckley, given the other book I read by him, which I will get to shortly, but there might be a bit of negativity here. I thought this was going to be the final installment, but *sigh* it's not. While I read it and it was fine, I'm ready for the series to be over. It felt like Buckley was trying so hard this time. The gimmick of using a master book to move through stories provides an easy way to introduce new characters and move the action. The story was fine, the action was ok, but I wish we'd reach some resolution here. We'd didn't really move the plot along much this time. Of course, I'll read the next book...I can't stop in a series when I've come this far, but I hope the next book is the last.

Do Not Pass Go by Kirkpatrick Hill is another one of our state award nominees. I'm down to two books now, and I really need to finish them. I really enjoyed Do Not Pass Go, but I think it will take a special kind of student in my kids' age group to really appreciate it. Very philosophical and with a little bit of heavy material, some students will find the book out of reach. Deet's family is a good-hearted family. Their financial situation is not the best, but his Dad works hard to provide. Working two jobs has been difficult on him and he begins to take some pills a coworker gives him in order to stay awake. A broken headlight draws the attention of the local police and Deet's dad is arrested on drug possession charges. Deet struggles with all the different feelings that would overcome a 13-year-old boy in this situation. Deet is a bit more insightful than I would expect most kids that age, and certainly more responsible, but story touches you emotionally, and I think it is a good book. It might have been better in the YA category, instead of the Intermediate, but I still enjoyed the book.

I did take a quick break from my library books to read a book just for me. Fun fluff. That's what the Kiki Lowenstein books are all about. If you love scrapbooking and you love mysteries, you'll love these books. It helps that I identify with frumpy housewife Kiki, even if I never had the pampered start to marriage that she did. A midwestern girl trying to find her way about upperclass St. Louis (where my family hailed from), Kiki is downright admirable in her fierce love for her daughter and her desire to be desired by an exciting man. In this third installment of the series, Kiki, yet again finds herself wrapped up in a murder. This one takes place at her daughter's school and lands Anya smack in the middle of all the action. I'm anxious for another book in the series...just because they are fun!

When I was at AASL in November, one of the authors I got to meet and get an autographed advanced copy of a book from, was Michael Buckley. He was very nice and gracious, and I truly have enjoyed the Sisters Grimm series. But I think Buckley's moving on to a new series that my students will really like and I'm excited about that. I did get an autographed copy of NERDS, but I never read it. I gave it away as a prize during our bookfair. I ordered a hardback copy of it for our library though, and I pulled it out of the box to read. A high tech spy game for kids, NERDS (National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society) has stuff that my 4th & 5th graders will love. Action, unrealistic technology, adventure, bad guys, and kids that are smarter than adults. I think this has the potential of becoming a popular series.

I started the book 100 Cupboards on audio. It's one that I wanted to read a while ago and never got around to it. It's interesting so far, but not so gripping that I want to pick up the book and read when I'm not listening in the car. We'll see once things get really moving with the story if I change my mind...after all, we haven't even gotten the cupboards open yet.

I also picked up the Red Blazer Girls and V is for Vampire, the first book in the Vampire Island series. I purchased this as a potential alternative to those students that really want me to carry Twilight. But I figured I better read it first in case I were to get any complaints.

I am trying to complete the summer reading program at our local library and have my son doing it too. I only have to read five books, and I have two down. I'm not sure if my books have to come from their library or not, so I have to read up on the rules. That would make sense to me to do it that way. But we'll see where I end up on this!

I'm sure I'll be back in a week or so with more reviews. Summer is wonderful!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I can tell that summer has truly arrived for me. I got three books done in the last four days!

I'm a little backlogged though as the end of the school year had me so busy. So, although it's been a little while, I haven't read a ton of stuff. Here's the list:

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell
The Long Shot by Mike Lupica
Trackers Book One by Patrick Carman
Storm Warning (39 Clues Book 9) by Linda Sue Park
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

The first two were state award nominees. I still have three of those left to read and I have one in my hands that I'm going to start tonight. Emmy was your standard "kid discovers there is magic in the world and has to overcome a bad guy" story. It was a little like a watered-down Gregor the Overlander. But it was enjoyable enough. A taste of fantasy for kids who don't like the full-on immersion into unrealistic worlds. I think kids will enjoy it, but I don't think it will become a huge hit. There's not enough spark and originality to the tale. In fact, the title gives you the basic premise...Emmy meets an incredible rat that shrinks people. Things just go from there as Emmy tries to save friends and family alike from a mean nanny.

The Long Shot was really good. I am not necessarily a sports fiction gal, but this was a little like a "Hoosiers" sort of story. Our main character, though a bit unrealistic at times as a sixth grade boy, is a likeable young man with intelligence, integrity, and basketball skills. He decides to run against the super-star of the school for class president and the story goes from there. Lupica writes with his usual flair and I think both boys and girls will enjoy the story. A bit idealistic at times, but still has you rooting for the characters throughout the story.

Trackers: Book One was interesting. I don't think it was the griping story that I really hoped/expected. The entire book sort of felt like the first scene of a play where all you get is exposition. Maybe the second book will really move the story along and add some drama, if not, the series will fall flat. I realize the book is directed at techies and supposed to be interactive, but the approach didn't work well for me. Every chapter, there would be a "video" that you could either go online and watch or turn to the back of the book and read a "transcript" of the video. It really, really broke up the story to me and I found it more annoying than anything. And I'm a techie!!

Book 9 of 39 Clues was very good. We got a good amount of questions answered and are set up rather nicely for the last book. I rather enjoyed the side of Nellie that is revealed in this book and I think Park's touch as a woman really helped pull this portion off. I can't wait for Book 10, which comes out on August 31st. Margaret Peterson Haddix wrote the 10th book, so I'm sure it will be filled with her specialties...adventure and suspense.

Finally, The Red Pyramid. Riordan is hoping to fill the void left by the end of the Percy Jackson series. I picked up The Lightning Thief almost a year before anyone else began reading it and making it popular. I have a soft spot for both Greek and Egyptian Mythology. So when I found out that Riordan was writing another series, I was both excited and skeptical. I wasn't sure that he could capture the same excitement again. During the first couple of chapters or so of the Red Pyramid, I wasn't convinced he had. By the end, though, I was devouring the book. Though slow to start, we really get engaged with our main characters of Sadie and Carter. Their mother is dead, their father goes missing, they are introduced to a strange mythological world that has come crashing into their reality. Riordan really did a wonderful job with the emotion in this book balancing out the action. And in the end, I think the book was fabulous. I really liked the way Riordan set up the premise for having a "series" with these characters (this is after all, book one of the "Kane Chronicles"). Though similar to some of the details in the Lightning Thief, Riordan I think allowed himself more flexibility this time with who could tell the story of the battle that is coming. I also appreciated the slight nod to the Lighting Thief, as well as the hint that other series could develop after the Kane Chronicles is over.

Hopefully, I'll have more to review next week. Look for reviews of Stolen Children, Gabriel's Horses, Do Not Pass Go, and more. I also see that my next big order for my library should be shipping this week....it's always fun picking some new titles to read out of that pile!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Grown Up Books...

I noticed a few traffic reports in my email. Apparently, some of you have been checking to see if I've blogged lately or maybe just kicked the bucket. :-) I've gotten quite a bit read lately. I've been proctoring our new computerized state reading test, and there is only so much wandering around the room you can do when there are two of you. So perched on the counter in the back where I could see all the kids and their computers, I would read off and on.

I picked up one of the books that I've been wanting to read for a long time, the sequel to The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Lost in a Good Book. This is a series for grown-ups *gasp* and I have been enjoying it, but I am a little glad to come to the end. After the second, I read the third, and now I'm on the fourth. I'm a little neurotic when it comes to series books. This Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel is fun for us bookavores. Lots of good literary references, the literary worlds we know and love interacting, drama, action...it's just good fun. I'm considering if I want to read Fforde's newer series, Nursery Crime (inspired a bit by one of the books in the FIRST series). But I might just put them on my wish list and save them for a rainy day.

I have read some children's books though. I read two more of our state awards for next year. The first was Paint the Wind by Pam Munoz Ryan. I really enjoyed it and I can see the horse lovers latching on to this book big time. It's got a bit of emotional drama in it, along with a little adventure. The contrast in scenery from the fist part of the book to the end is wonderful. Our heroine finds a family that she loves, grows up a bit, and discovers her true strength in a dire situation. I don't really see why we need a graphic description of the birthing of a horse right at the beginning, but maybe that's because I'm not a horse person. All in all though, I think my students will enjoy it.

I also read Cicada Summer by Andrea Beaty. The voice in this book reminded me a bit of Each Little Bird that Sings, but not nearly as quirky. The subject matter is heavy enough to draw you in, but the "voice" of the main character really interests you. I put that in quotation marks because we learn right away that the main character pretends have some physical/mental challenges after a tragedy. While I do think that it takes far too long to reveal the tragedy and the climatic event is a little too unbelievable to really get you into it, the story was a good read and I found myself tearing up a bit.

What I've really spent quite a bit of time on is something I'm doing with my students. It started with the book The Daring Nellie Bly: America's Star Reporter by Bonnie Christensen. I've sort of fallen in love with Nellie and this project has really taken off. I, of course, had to read the classic Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne since it is what inspired Nellie to embark on her own journey 'round the world. I found many books on Nellie and her life, as well as graphic novels of Verne's book. I checked out a children's book called Nellie Bly's Monkey and, while neither the most factual, nor the most age appropriate vocabulary, the kids just think it's funny that someone tried to write a book from the monkey's perspective. I found a book with amazing photographs called Bylines: A Photobiography of Nellie Bly. And numerous others. We've read about Nellie, watched a short video about her, researched the locations she went to (using a reliable, school-provided database), found pictures of the locations she went to (using Wikimedia Commons and learning about copyright), wrote paragraphs about them (not plagiarizing), typed the paragraphs (practicing keyboarding and word processing) and it will all be compiled into one big Google Lit Trip. I'm very excited with how this is turning out.

Next week sometime I plan on picking up the copies of next year's state awards for the library. I'm sure I will need to dive into the few that I haven't read yet!

And be on the lookout for a column at Mental_Floss's blog by a children's librarian. Miss Kathleen wrote a fun article that I contacted her about when I found out that she would be writing a regular column. After corresponding back and forth, she's decided to write a column on little known literary awards...like our state's children's choice one! So that could be very exciting! (Ok, maybe I need to get out a little more and redefine my sense of exciting...but that's what Fridays are for right?!) Enjoy weekend everyone!

Friday, March 12, 2010

A few more books...

I have read a couple of books that have been sitting on my "to read" shelf for a long time. Down the Rabbit Hole is an Echo Falls mystery. I had some concerns about the content for my level of students. The book reminds me quite a bit of Nancy Drew, but there are a couple of things that have me keeping the book in my office instead of putting it out in the library. It was Peter Abraham's first "kids" book, but I fail to understand why it was necessary to bring up the idea of fetish with a 13-year-old character. In terms of my own pleasure reading, The book was great. Ingrid, our heroine, loves Sherlock Holmes and finds herself wrapped up in a murder mystery - the first in her sleepy little town. It was a pretty good mystery, though a little obvious to the experienced reader who the villain was. I'm still undecided on if my 4th & 5th graders are ready for it.

I finally dug in to Chasing Lincoln's Killer. I downloaded the audio book from Audible and that made it a lot more interesting. The narrator had such an amazing way of pulling you in. You almost understand (though not agree with) why John Wilkes Booth did what he did. After a little bit, I realized that the narrator sounded a bit like the coach from Remember the Titans. After looking it up, I found out that, yes, Will Patton was the narrator for the book. No wonder he was so good at it! While the story was very interesting (I didn't know there was another assassination attempt that night), Patton's delivery of the audio book made it truly riveting. I got goosebumps when we reached Booth's death scene. There is a bit of graphic detail regarding Lincoln and Seward's injuries, but it's approached with almost a medical detail. It does not come across as gratuitous. I think once I pry the book out of my teachers' hands, my students, especially my boys, will enjoy it.

For a quick read, I got The Viper's Nest, Book 7 in the 39 Clues series. I'm enjoying the series, but very interested to see where we are going to get all the rest of the clues from! :-D I can't wait to pick up Book 8, The Emperor's Code.

I'm out of Audible credits - and have been for a week. I won't get more until the 21st! I requested some audiobooks from the library, but they haven't become available and the mp3 player I have to use with them is not the best. I might have to break down and pay for another audiobook. I get so much more "read" when I get to use the hour or so I have in the car everyday to do it!

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I stayed up far too late and ignored my house for a good chunk this morning. But I finished Calpurnia and Winston Breen. Calpurnia was very good, and though I am getting a little tired of everything being a series, I wouldn't mind another book or two letting us know how Calpurnia ends up. There's plenty of questions lingering in our mind when we get finished. Winston was fairly entertaining and a very quick read. Though I can't figure out, why a set of parents would ever say it's ok for their son to go on a treasure hunt with some criminal types, I enjoyed the puzzles in the story. Apparently, I just can't seem to suspend disbelief on this one very well. =) Hmmm...what to choose next on my "to read" list???

Friday, February 19, 2010

Nothing too new...

Well...it's about the same story this time as it was last time. More snow days, busy work, not as much reading as I'd like. I have mostly read up on the Septimus Heap series. But I've also read a lot of Mental Floss before bed at night. It's interesting reading that seems to take my mind off the day and relax me before going to sleep. I finished the book "In the Beginning" (which I might have mentioned before), "Be Amazing", and "Cocktail Party Cheat Sheets". I'm now on to "Mental Floss History of the World". I'm fairly well stocked with useless information now.

The Septimus Heap series continues to be fairly interesting, but I'm not necessarily rushing out to get the next one. There doesn't quite seem to be an end in sight for it which is perhaps a little tiring. At some point, you start thinking that you have so many other things to read...maybe it's time to move on.

I also read the next Artemis Fowl book, The Time Paradox. It was rather enjoyable. I didn't really care as much for The Lost Colony, this was a much better return to the series.

Erratum by Walter Sorrells is a book that has taken me quite a while to get through. It sounded interesting, but it was just too forced for me. Sorrells tried too hard to be weird and confusing. I would pick it up and read it during my lunch duty, but it didn't have enough pull for me to bring it home. With the time travel conflicts, the odd characters, the too quickly developed plot, it just didn't all pull together. And it left the reader with far too many questions. I believe Sorrells intends to write another book (or more), but I was ultimately unsatisfied with this one.

In a completely different vein, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a nice surprise. Historical fiction is not my strong point, but I'm enjoying this story. Set at the turn of the century in Texas, Calpurnia Virginia Tate is the only girl smack in the middle of six brothers. She develops a relationship with her wizened grandfather based on their mutual love of science. Although I'm not far enough to see any real drama, the voice of the characters in this story is thoroughly enjoyable. Discussions of Darwinism applied to everyday life around Callie Vee add an intellectual side to the novel, while Grandfather's remembrances of the Civil War add an emotional depth that tugs at the heart. With a little of some of my favorite heroines like Ida B and Comfort Snowberger, but the maturity of a much older female, Calpurnia's character will really draw in girls who enjoy historical fiction. It's clear to me why this book is a Newberry winner. I'm anxious to read further and see where the real drama will take us in this story.

I've also started The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. It's a light-hearted mystery so far that reminds me a bit of Swindle. I think the puzzles in it are fun and I love that if you go to the website, you can download and print all the puzzles so that you can work on them without writing in the book. It even gives a little advice on solving the puzzles and what to do if they are critical to the story.

Finally, I honestly need to read Chasing Lincoln's Killer. It was very popular with my boys at the Book Fair. The librarian resources can't seem to agree on what level this book is. So I truly need to read it to decide if it's fit for 4th & 5th grade boys. If anyone has in experience with it, please feel free to comment. I'm having a real hard time gearing up to read it (again...historical settings....not my strong point), and though I can get it on audiobook too, I'm afraid I would end up getting even more bored listening to it on audio.

With more snow today and a bunch more expected on Sunday, I might get further in Calpurnia than I expected. I also should spend time whittling down my book order for next year....but that's like asking me to choose between children! And I'm sure I'll have more added to my "to read" list by the time I'm done. =)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It's Been A While

With all the snow days we've had around here, you'd think I would have gotten a lot of reading done. But I haven't gotten as much as I wanted. Perhaps it's because I've also been taking care of a growing little boy at the same time. =)

I did read a few things. I read "Swindle" when our book fair rolled around. I wanted to be able to to talk about the book when the second book "Zoobreak" came out. And the newest 39 Clues. I picked a few others that I want to read. One to see if it's just appropriate for my students. It's called "Distant Waves" and the students were very drawn to it. But it did have a "young adult" level on it. So it's on the "to read" pile.

I also read the next book in the Septimus Heap series. I just always seem to enjoy fantasy. I've continued to read books by Mental Floss. One called "In the Beginning" and another called "Be Amazing" have short easy to read, but interesting blurbs that have come in surprisingly handy in various conversations. =) I checked out "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" on CD to listen to before the next movie comes out.

I also have added several things to my Audible wish list. Our state Poet Laureate wrote an article about the top ten best books of the decade. There were several on there that I haven't read yet, but have wanted to read. So I have added those on the Audible wish list. Here's the list if you are interested.

1. “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling (Read it)
2. “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown (Read it)
3. “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer (Read it)
4. “Million Little Pieces” by James Frey (Don't really have the desire to read it.)
5. “Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (Want to read it.)
6. “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama (Want to read it.)
7. “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd (Read it)
8. “My Sister's Keeper” by Jodi Picoult (Want to read it.)
9. “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” by Michael Chabon (Want to read it.)
10. “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini (Want to read it.)

So there you go. That's what I've read and what I will be reading. Hopefully, I'll get some done in the next couple of weeks!