Monday, December 06, 2004


It's been a while...for those of you wondering about the baby decided he was ready to see the world a month early. He was born on September 17, weighed 5 pounds, 7 ounces, 18 inches long and was healthy enough to go home. I've been on maternity leave ever since.

I haven't been doing that much reading lately. I just finished a new book to review for VOYA. I'll get that up soon. I also just read Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy something. Very good. I might actually buy my own copy. I've also been reading What to Expect the First Year off and on. And Goodnight Moon. :-)

Soon as I get a chance, I'll get some actual book reviews up here again. Keep in mind that it is 12:16 pm and I have not brushed my teeth yet. Time is fleeting...

On My Nightstand:

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Snap--Alison McGhee

Eddie and Sally have been best friends since second grade. Eddie makes lists and wears different colored rubber bands on her wrist to remind her to do or not to do certain things (don't store food in her cheeks; don't tip back in her chair). Sally lives with her grandmother Willie because Sally's mom Jill was too young to take care of her.

Things go okay until Willie gets a "blood disease" and the girls realize she's dying. Sally withdraws into herself and Eddie doesn't know how to deal with the sadness or help her friend.

This is a beautifully written novel. Although 5th graders would be capable of reading it, I think and older reader would appreciate it more.

If the kids like it, it's a YES. Strong MAYBE, until we get kid feedback.

Reading: Don't know yet
On My Nightstand: Plenty to choose from

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Worlds Afire--Paul B. Janeczko

Collection of poems about a circus fire in 1944. The poems are all by eyewitnesses--some of them survivors, some of them not. Very quick read, only 92 pages of individual poems, but very disturbing. The writing is good, the voices are haunting. I would not give this to a young reader. Novels in verse are not for everyone--they have a limited audience--and with this subject matter I don't feel comfortable putting it on a list for all middle schoolers. It has limited readership.

Reading: Snap--Alison McGhee
On My Nightstand: Loads more

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Brother Hood--Janet McDonald

This is a good book, well-written with good characters, but it's not middle school. The main character is an 11th grader who has sex within the first 3 chapters, he routinely interacts with drug dealers in the hood and at his private school. I just don't think it's middle school. Junior High, yes, High School, yes. Not middle school.

Reading: Worlds Afire--Paul B. Janeczko
On My Nightstand: Lots

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Really, Truly Everything's Fine--Linda Leopold Strauss

I couldn't even finish this one. It was so slow and it was hard to read with my eyes rolling constantly. Same old "my life is falling apart" story but it's so slow I got bored in the first few chapters.

Some kids like it. Some don't. I really don't think it's Top Shelf. We've given in on the Supernaturalist and other books, I don't think we have to keep this one too.

Reading: Brother Hood--Janet McDonald
On My Nightstand: More more more

Open Your Eyes--Editor Jill Davis

Short story collection of young people traveling to other faraway places.

Didn't really interest me. I can't see middle school kids being very interested either. I'd say No to Top Shelf unless a kid likes it.

Reading: Really, Truly, Everything's Fine--Linda Leopold Strauss
On My Nightstand: Lots

Friday, August 27, 2004

The Puppet Wrangler -- Vicki Grant

12 year old Telly is sent to stay with her aunt so her parents can deal with her rebellious older sister. Telly's aunt is a producer for a children's television show with puppets. While helping out with the show, Telly discovers that one of the puppets is actually alive.

Funny. Exciting. Main character Telly is great. She narrates the story and includes footnotes that are hysterical. Some farting humor, but who doesn't love that? The puppet, Bitsie is funny too. I think we've all imagined our dolls/stuffed animals/toys coming to life and what they would be like. It's funny to think of a puppet on a kids' TV show being so gruff and ornery and having to say lines like "Bitsiest Best Friend."

The kids like it and are responding to it, so I'd say okay to it being Top Shelf. It was certainly entertaining and different and stands out from the rest of the "problem novel" crap we usually get.

Reading: Don't know yet
On My Nightstand: Lots

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Hunter--Joy Cowley

Told in alternating voices, this is a great example of a good multicultural adventure story. Half the story is set in 1805--a teenaged Maori boy is kept as a slave by a rival tribe. Because he has the ability to see visions, he is kept alive. He can see prey in his visions and is known for his hunting ability, but because he is a slave he is treated like the dogs and not given a name. He names himself Hunter and yearns for escape but must wait until he feels it's the right time.

The other half of the story is set in 2005. Three young children crash in a small plane on a remote island near New Zealand. The pilot is killed, leaving the children to fend for themselves. Somehow Hunter from 1805 is able to communicate with the oldest girl and help her survive with her brothers.

The chapters are short enough to keep the reader riveted. The alternating voices help contribute to the thrilling tone. The desrciptions are good--just enough to be interesting without being overwhelming. The two stories are tied together nicely at the end.

I'd like to see how the kids respond to it, but I think it's Top Shelf.

Reading: The Puppet Wrangler--Vicki Grant
On My Nightstand: Juliet Dove, Queen of Love and some baby name book but you don't care about that.

Monday, August 23, 2004

On the Run--Michael Coleman

Luke is a juvenile delinquent--his dad is in prison, again, and he seems to be headed in the same direction. While walking in a mall parking garage, he spots a 4x4 and decides to break in so he can steal a pair of running shoes. He has a talent for picking locks and would have been able to get away with the shoes if two local older thugs hadn't jumped him from behind and stolen the car. Luke is left behind and implicated in the car theft. Long story short, he's given community service instead of Juvie because of a letter written by the daughter of the care owner who saw good in him when he saved her life in the garage (the thugs tried to run her down).

Good story, Luke matures and realizes he doesn't want to be a criminal. The climax is exciting. But there's really nothing special about it. Nothing screams out Top Shelf.

Reading: Hunter--Joy Cowley
On My Nightstand: Juliet Dove, Queen of Love--Coville; something else I can't remember right now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip -- Linda Oatman High

I liked it. I like the title. I love the slam style. I love that Jack Kerouac's name was mentioned and the Beats were mentioned a lot.

Two friends, Laura a.k.a. Sister Slam and Twig leave their small Pennsylvania town for a Poetry Slam. They do okay at the slam, but wind up having crazy adventures during their road trip. This all leads to more slams and more adventures.

I enjoyed it thoroughly but I think it's better for an older reader than for a middle schooler. Middle school kids won't have the life experience, or anything close to it, to truly appreciate this story. Because of that, I'd say it's not Top Shelf, but definitely worth the read.

I don't have time for a real review since I'm currently working and trying to figure out who's going to be me for October-December. Ack.

On My Nightstand:

Blue Fingers -- Cheryl Aylward Whitesel

I couldn't even finish it.
I didn't particularly like the main character. The story was a bit boring. After reading a much better book about a Japanese boy during the time of the samurai and ninja (In Darkness, Death), this book just didn't do it for me.

Reading: Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip--Linda Oatman High
On My Nightstand: Juliet Dove, Queen of Love--Bruce Coville
Story Time--Edward Bloor
Summer Secrets --Patricia Hermes

Thursday, August 12, 2004

In Darkness, Death--Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler

I started Behind You--Jacqueline Woodson yesterday, but didn't finish it. If I didn't have a million other books to read I would have finished it. It's definitely well-written and a good book, but I think it's better suited for high school than middle school and since this is crunch time for top shelf, I don't have time to read anything that's not a possibility (I also returned all those pregnancy books). Top Shelf is my only reading now.

Anyway, here's my notes for this book:

Fourteen-year-old samurai-in-training Seikei assists his foster father Judge Ooka investigate the murder of Lord Inaba in eighteenth century Japan and learns not only the way of the samurai, but also of the ninja in this exciting tale of murder and honor.

Well-written, descriptive and engaging. Will appeal to boys and girls. Mystery. Adventure. Multicultural. Judge Ooka was a real person, and although this story and Seikei are made, this would be a good useful curriculum tie. There are two previous books with these characters, but I hadn't read them and I didn't feel lost at all.

Reading: Oh gosh, I don't know now.
On My Nightstand: More more more

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Inventing Elliot--Graham Gardner

Reminiscent of The Chocolate War, this book effectively deals with both sides of bullying. Elliot is a weak loser at his old school and constantly a victim of the stronger, malicious bullies. When he moves to a new school he decides to reinvent himself--he needs to stand out just enough to fit in. He wants to be noticed in the right way, not noticed because he's trying to be invisible. His strategy works--until he's noticed in the right way by the wrong people--the Guardians who organize and orchestrate all the bullying in school. The Guardians recruit Elliot and even though he knows what it's like to be on the other side, he participates because of the relief that it's not him and the fear that it could be.

This is a good quick read. I finished it in just a few hours. There are references to 1984, and knowing Orwell's book definitely enhances the story, but it's not required. Graham does a good job examining bullies and their victims.

Possible Top Shelf depending on the reaction from the teens.
Reading: Behind You--Jacqueline Woodson
On My Nightstand:
Blue fingers : a ninja's tale -- Whitesel, Cheryl Aylward.
In darkness, death -- Hoobler, Dorothy.
Juliet Dove, Queen of Love--Coville, Bruce.
Sister Slam and the poetic motormouth roadtrip--High, Linda Oatman.
Story time--Bloor, Edward, 1950-
Summer secrets -- Hermes, Patricia.

Monday, August 02, 2004

On Becoming Babywise--Gary Ezzo

I'm not really reviewing this book, I just thought it would be funny to pretend to... Although I suppose you can say I haven't really been reviewing the last few books either (proper grammar and sentence structure is just so hard now). I did finish the Babywise book though. And like all of the other pregnancy and baby books I've been reading, it's about half and half as far as usefulness goes--some of it is really good and some of it is just bull.

I've been somewhat disappointed with the top shelf submissions. I think the publishers are all on drugs or just don't care. The list is Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Students. FICTION. MIDDLE SCHOOL. What part of that is confusing? I've been getting nonfiction. I've been getting books clearly meant for elementary school readers. Or high school readers. Ugh. Maybe it's good, it's giving me the time to read all these silly baby books, but I'm afraid when the deadline comes for my list I'm going to have a hard time coming up with 30 books!

Reading: So many to choose from...
On My Nightstand:
Birth your way by Kitzinger, Sheila.
Blue Fingers : a ninja's tale by Whitesel, Cheryl Aylward.
Doing It by Burgess, Melvin.
Husband-coached childbirth by Bradley, Robert A.
Natural Childbirth the Bradley way by McCutcheon, Susan.
On becoming birth wise by Ezzo, Anne Marie.
Pirates! by Rees, Celia.
Sister Slam and the poetic motormouth roadtrip by High, Linda Oatman.
Summer Secrets by Hermes, Patricia.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Exiled: Memoirs of a Camel -- Kathleen Karr

The United States Camel Corp drafts young camel Ali, shipping him from Egypt to Texas in 1856 where he has many adventures until the Civil War forces the program to end.

I would never pick this book up on my own and once again I would have missed out! It's unique, told from the point of view of a camel. Well-written and interesting, it's good for independent reading as well as classroom use. An author's note at the end explains how it's based on a true story.
Reading: um, I don't know yet. Besides snippets of the tons of I'm having a baby and it has to get out of me one way or the other books that I have.

On My Nightstand: Birth your way by Kitzinger, Sheila.
Blue Fingers : a ninja's tale by Whitesel, Cheryl Aylward.
Doing It by Burgess, Melvin.
Husband-coached childbirth by Bradley, Robert A.
Natural Childbirth the Bradley way by McCutcheon, Susan.
On becoming babywise. Book one by Ezzo, Gary.
On becoming birth wise by Ezzo, Anne Marie.
Pirates! by Rees, Celia.
Sister Slam and the poetic motormouth roadtrip by High, Linda Oatman.
Summer Secrets by Hermes, Patricia.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy--Gary D. Schmidt

Okay, keep in mind that I'm having a lot of problems making words into sentences lately...

Lizzie Bright is black and Turner Buckminster is white. Naturally they are not supposed to be friends and even though an entire town tries to keep them apart, they are drawn to one another. Turner is a minister's son and shouldn't be doing anything the minister doesn't want him to do. But he rebels and lies and eventually stands up for himself so he can stand up for his friend.

I liked this book. I didn't cry for days like Sandy did... but I liked it. It's based on true events in the early 1900s and is an important story of race relations and parent-child relations. If the kids respond to it, it could be top shelf.

Reading: Going to start Exiled
On My Nightstand: Lots and lots

Monday, June 28, 2004

Wizard's Holiday--Diane Duane

I read So You Want to be a Wizard many, many eons ago when I was a kid and loved it. I had no idea that it was a series! I didn't find out until I became a YA librarian and since then I've read them all.

Wizard's Holiday is the latest one and is just as good as the others. It's a perfect blend of fantasy and science fiction--when one thinks of wizards one automatically thinks of Gandalf or Harry Potter and fantasy. But in Duane's universe, wizards are more scientific--they can manipulate the world but only within the laws of science.

In this particular installment, Nita and Kit are on "holiday" on a distant planet. Nita's younger sister Dairine signed Nita and herself up for an excursus--a wizard vacation--but was not authorized to do so. As punishment, she was not able to go, but the excursus was approved. So Nita took Kit along instead. In exchange for Nita and Kit (and Ponch the dog), three aliens were sent to Earth for an excursus and stayed with Dairine and her dad. Since wizards never really get a vacation, both sets of visitors wind up getting involved in a lot more than they anticipated...

I love all of these books. I hope Duane continues writing them.

Reading: ?
On My Nightstand: So many, I can't even list them all

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Midnight Blue--Pauline Fisk

Very interesting story--once you get to it. I'm afraid most kids wouldn't stick with it long enough. Once it gets going, it's good and makes you want to finish.

Bonnie is living alone with her mom Maybelle for the first time. But it doesn't last long. Her possessive domineering grandmother, Grandbag, soon moves in since they couldn't possibly get along without her. Bonnie escapes her grandmother's tyranny by running away--in a hot-air balloon that takes her to a parallel world. Once there, she finds happiness, battles her demons, and discovers some creepy stuff. Will she go back to her own world? And if she does, what will she find?

It's good, but I'm not sure if it's Top Shelf yet. If kids respond to it, I'd go with it.
Reading: don't know yet
On My Nightstand: tons and tons

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Supernaturalist--Eoin Colfer

These are my notes from my Top Shelf notebook, since I am incapable of forming complete sentences right now:

Typos. Needs better editing.
The story itself is okay. It has action and some character development. I don't hate it. It's not as bad as Prophecy of the Stones, but I really don't know why teens like Colfer so much.
I won't fight against it if someone wants to include it on the list, but I'm not writing the annotation either.

Reading: Daughters of the Moon: Goddess of the Night -- Lynne Ewing
On My Nightstand: the whole damn series

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Messenger--Lois Lowry

Those of you who've read The Giver and Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry will not be disappointed with her latest installment, Messenger. Messenger ties both novels together--the Leader in Messenger's world is from The Giver, and Matty and Kira are from Gathering Blue. This new book is set in a different village, in a time not long after Gathering Blue takes place.
The basic premise is that there's a new utopian village where people are treated nicely and everybody has a role in society and a "true name." Naturally, something starts to go wrong--people start trading their souls for material goods, the forbidden forest becomes evil, and the once-welcoming villagers want to build a wall and not let anymore foreigners in. It's up to Matty to save the day.

I enjoyed this book. I know some people wanted more of a link with the Giver and wanted more questions answered, but this wasn't Jonas' story. It was Matty's story. It does answer the big question from the Giver (did Jonas survive?).

Reading: Don't know yet
On My Nightstand: Truth About Forever--Dessen (which has been there forever)

Friday, May 21, 2004

Prophecy of the Stones--Flavia Bujor

Three young girls find out on their 14th birthdays that they are crucial to the battle between good and evil in the magical land of Fairytale. Although they are supposed to be enemies, traveling together and facing danger brings them closer and makes them friends. At the same time a young girl in present day Paris lies in a hospital bed withering away, dreaming of Fairytale and the three girls.

The writing is clunky. The dialogue is clunky. It's just not well-written. The author tells instead of shows. The character development happens too quickly. She would have been better off separating the story into a trilogy or at least 2 books, taking more time to show the development and the plot, instead of telling us "Now they are friends." And the parts with the girl in the hospital are just dumb. They don't relate to the story well at all.

I don't care if the author was only 13 when she wrote this. A book should stand on its own--either it's good or it's not and this one just isn't.

Reading: I'll probably start Messenger--Lois Lowry tonight.
On My Nightstand: Lots of Pregnancy and Yoga books, and Pregnancy and Working books that I haven't opened yet. And I still have that darn Sarah Dessen book.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Whale Talk--Chris Lynch

Our last teen book group discussed Whale Talk by Chris Lynch the other night. While I did like the book, we agreed that it seemed a little unrealistic. The way things all fit together seemed a bit contrived, and I just couldn't get past the fact that the social worker would place a little girl in a home knowing that the father had a history of violence with the people in that home. I know that the girl needed to see another mixed-race person, and it was good for TJ, but I just don't think that would happen in real life.

I enjoyed the sports part of the book, but like most of Lynch's work, the sports is just a backdrop to the bigger story. He is effective that way--keeping readers interested who may not be interested otherwise. I liked TJ as a character, and I liked his relationship with his parents. The ending was somewhat of a shock to me. I wasn't expecting or anticipating it. Which I suppose is good writing.

I have loads of pregnancy books to read and Top Shelf books as well, so that's what I'll be concentrating on next. I don't have another book group until January (!), so it looks like it's Top Shelf reading for me. I'm on hiatus from reviewing for VOYA until both Top Shelf and my pregnancy is over. I doubt I'll have much time for fun reading. Unless Coping with Pregnancy and Working is considered fun...

Just Finished Reading: Whale Talk--Chris Lynch
On My Nightstand: Prophecy of the Stones--Flavia Bujor; Loads of pregnancy crap.

Monday, April 19, 2004

East--Edith Pattou

It's so nice to be reading good books instead of crappy books. It's not often that I read multiple good books in a row! Yay!


East is a retelling of a classic fairy tale called East of the Sun, West of the Moon. It's a little bit like Beauty and the Beast--a man has been transformed into a White Bear and a human girl eventually falls in love with him. But it's so much more than Beauty. There's an evil Troll Queen who isn't really evil, she's just misguided. She really does love this man and the rest of her misdeeds are shared by her entire race, so it's not like she stands out in her evilness. The trolls steal humans to be slaves and drug them with a powerful drink to be submissive. They treat them like animals. But they all do it, not just the Queen. She fell in love with a softskin (human) boy, and took him without her father's consent and her father freaked out and transformed him into the bear. She could only have him if certain conditions were met. She went of her way to make sure these conditions would be met, meddling in the affairs of the softskins, and nearly succeeded. But Rose, the beauty in this story, turned out to be a lot more resourceful than the Queen bargained for.

Of course there's a happy ending, it's based on a fairy tale, but I don't want to give too much away. The story is captivating. I had to finish it one night--reading way past my bedtime because I just couldn't put it down. There's adventure, love, trickery, fantasy. It's just great. Rose is not a typical "damsel in distress." She's tough and strong and capable of taking care of herself.

The story is told through multiple viewpoints--Rose's, her father, her brother, the White Bear, and the Troll Queen. This is effective--although the Troll Queen is the bad guy--you can see that she really does love the White Bear/Man, she just doesn't know how to show it without drugging and brainwashing him. None of the characters are perfect, they all have flaws and do something that they shouldn't that has far-reaching consequences for everyone else. But that's okay, because they seem more human that way. The author did a good job.

Just Finished Reading: East--Pattou
Reading: Hmmm.....
On My Nightstand: Whale Talk--Lynch; Truth About Forever--Dessen


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Sign of the Qin (Outlaws of Moonshadow Marsh 1)--L.G. Bass

What a great book. I hope we don't have to wait long for the next one!

Prince Zong is born on a miraculous night, heir to his Emperor father's throne but is denied his position because of a curious birthmark on his face--the Sign of the Qin (pronounced Ch'in), the mark of the outlaw. Seeing the birthmark enrages his father. Emperor Han blames his wife and banishes her from the Forbidden City. He refuses to acknowledge his son as Prince and Heir, instead plotting to kill the child. But the child is not ordinary, he is a Starlord, a direct descendant of the first Starlord, Emperor Hung Wu, and is prophecied to change the world. He grows miraculously fast, able to walk within a month, and although he cannot speak, he does understand all that happens around him. With his monkey guardian he flees his murderous father and leaves the Forbidden City to learn the ancient art of Kung Fu.

While this is going on, the outlaw brothers White Streak and Black Whirlwind, leaders of the Sign of the Qin, are battling their own demons, there are demons and immortals, good and bad, and they all have a part to play in the upcoming battle.

There's so much in this first novel, so many characters and so much going on, but it's not confusing. I can't wait to find out what happens to the young Starlord and his monkey guardian! There aren't many YA books based on Chinese legends; it's refreshing to see a story that's not Eurocentric. This will definitely be popular, particularly with boys.

Just Finished Reading: Sign of the Qin--L.G. Bass
Reading: Dunno yet
On My Nightstand: Tons

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Friday, April 09, 2004

Breaking Point--Alex Flinn

Paul is an outsider. He's been homeschooled most of his life and doesn't have much contact with people. His mother has kept him isolated, moving the computer to the family room so he can't spend time in any chat rooms talking to anyone else. She means well, she truly does love him and want to protect him, but her overbearing need to keep him close just makes him rebel. He is drawn to the wrong crowd, refusing to see their dangerous behavior as anything bad. He is so blinded by his need to fit in and to be popular that he cannot see how he is nothing more than a tool. The enigmatic charming leader of the group, Charlie, uses Paul's insecurities and vulnerabilities to make him do the unthinkable--blow up the school. Charlie is very persuasive, but Paul has the chance to refuse, numerous times, and ultimately fools himself into thinking that it would be okay, that no one would get hurt.

Charlie Good is not a good guy. He is cruel and manipulative. But Paul is almost worse--he has a conscience, he knows the difference between right and wrong, but decides to ignore it so he doesn't lose his "friends." Peer pressure is a powerful force, but everyone has the choice to say No.

All in all I enjoyed this book, although Paul's stubborn blindness and stupidity became annoying. This is Flinn's second novel examining a "bad guy" and showing both sides of the story without giving anyone excuses. As in her first novel, Breathing Underwater, Flinn shows how a good kid can make the wrong decisions and why his life experiences might lead him there, but in the end he is the responsible party. Just because we can understand what led up to Paul's decision, doesn't mean that's an excuse or that his actions were okay.

Just Finished Reading: Breaking Point--Alex Flinn
Reading: I think I'll start that Qin book
On My Nightstand: Same as before!

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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Walking Naked--Alyssa Brugman

16 year old Megan Tuw (pronounced two, or too, or to ;-) ) is one of the popular girls in school. She is a founding member of an exclusive club in her Australian high school. Manipulative, insecure & sometimes cruel, Megan crosses path with the school's Freak-- Perdita. Perdita is intelligent but misunderstood. She refuses to go along with the crowd, but is oddly drawn to Megan. When the two spend a week of detention together, away from the prying eyes of "the group", they connect and begin to see each other outside of school. Although Megan begins to see Perdita as more than a freak, her shallow need to belong prevents her from showing her friendship in public. When she's "caught" and must choose between her new friend and "the group", she's too weak to stand on her own. The consquences are tragic for all involved.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, reading it in one sitting. Okay, so I got up and had some jello, but that only took 10 minutes. Megan is not a positive character--she's mean and manipulative, but somehow we sympathize with her. She shows the potential for being a better person, and although it takes a tragedy, she does learn her lesson. Megan is not the "bad guy" and Perdita is not the "good guy." They are both flawed. Perdita doesn't deserve the ridicule her classmates give her, but she doesn't stand up for herself either. She intentionally tries to freak Megan's friends out, giving them more ammunition against her.

This is definitely a YA book, but I'm not sure if it's middle school--YA or 9th grade and up--YA. I don't know if a middle schooler could relate to the cliques and the quest for popularity and the rather dark consequences of Megan's betrayal of Perdita. It may however, be an important book for middle schoolers to read before they separate themselves into superficial packs.

Just Finished Reading: Walking Naked--Brugman
Reading: Probably Breaking Point which needs to be done before Friday!
On My Nightstand: Breaking Point--Alex Flinn; Sign of the Qin--LG. Bass; Truth About Forever--Dessen

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Saturday, April 03, 2004

A Different Kind of Beauty--Sylvia McNicoll

Here are my choppy notes for my latest top shelf rejection:

Girl raises guide dogs and gives them up. Obsessed with wrong boy. Older sister pregnant, split up with alcoholic boyfriend and moves back home

Boy is diabetic, goes blind. Angry, resists help. Hates dogs. Winds up in hospital twice--gets drunk and goes into some kind of diabetic coma; gets hit by car walking after dark. Obsessed with wrong girl.

Boy meets girl and dog, instant dislike on both parties. Naturally, boy winds up with girl's dog as a guide dog. Hint of possible future romance--boy wants to keep girl in dog's life.

Good, but nothing great. Nothing special. Not Top Shelf. Doesn't stand out. Not best of the best.

Just Finished Reading: Duh
Reading: Don't know yet.
On My Nightstand: Truth About Forever--Dessen, whatever I bring home today.

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Thursday, April 01, 2004

Grammar is a Gentle, Sweet Song -- Erik Orsenna

I don't know where to put this book. It's a good book--clever and witty and intelligent and intellectual and literary. It celebrates words and language and all the things we librarians hold dear. It's marketed as a kids' book because it reads like a fable, but I really don't think it is a kids' book. It takes an appreciation that middle schoolers just won't have. Grown-ups will enjoy it. English majors, librarians, teachers. Middle schoolers, I don't think so.

Two kids, 10 year old Jeanne and 14 year old Thomas are shipwrecked and wash up on a strange, magical island. Words have lives of their own--they have tribes. Nouns and articles are always together, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, all have their own tribes. Occasionally a noun and adjective will marry, but nouns are fickle and will want a new description before the ceremony is even over. Jeanne and Thomas have lost their words because of the violent hurricane that swept them out to sea. They rediscover their voices with the help of the strange island dwellers and magical word-beings.

Translated from the French, there are a couple of words and phrases that made my eyes pop out. In addition to an implied remedy for impotence, there's a store that sells insults. One of the insults is a doozie-- c-u-n-t watcher. Now, I can deal with the "shithead" that follows, but the c-word is pretty big. That's professional insult territory, and I don't think it belongs in a book for kids or middle schoolers. That alone is enough to make me not consider it for Top Shelf. I think the audience is definitely an older reader, one who can appreciate the complexities of language.

Just Finished Reading: Grammar is a Gentle, Sweet Song -- Erik Orsenna
Reading: A Different Kind of Beauty--Sylvia McNicoll
On My Nightstand: Truth About Forever--Sarah Dessen

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Saturday, March 06, 2004

Stravaganza: City of Stars--Mary Hoffman

My head hurts, I'm tired and I want to go home.

Here's my very quick summary:
15-year-old Georgia travels to an alternate reality, escaping her step-brother's verbal abuse, involving herself in political intrigue, running into old friends and making new ones, in this mesmerizing sequel to Stravaganza: City of Masks.

Here are my notes:
Engaging characters. Interesting plot. Great for classroom use or independent reading. Can't wait for the next one!

Make your own intelligent review out of that. I am simply too tired.

Just Finished Reading: I can't remember
Reading: Nothing yet
On My Nightstand: Tons and Tons more than I can handle.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

I know I know

I've been terribly remiss about updating... I have been reading... I just finished Stravaganza last week and I absolutely loved it. I'm having problems thinking coherently lately. Or grammatically. My brain is on vacation. If only my body could join it, we could have a nice little nap together.

I promise a complete review of City of Stars will be up soon.

Just Finished Reading:
On My Nightstand:

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Monday, February 09, 2004

Hard Cash-- Kate Cann

Ever buy a book and then wonder why? I buy books (for the library) based on reviews, but every once in a while something comes in and I look at/read it and think I must have bought the wrong title. Or the reviewer read the wrong title.

Hard Cash is about a selfish, greedy teenaged boy who is poor and wants nothing more than money. Money is the solution to everything--to getting the snobby girl he desires and skipping out of school early. Rich (bad pun) is an artist--he should be getting used to not having money, but instead he pimps himself out to work for some ad agency. He stops drawing for himself and starts drawing for money. He's making more than he ever did before, and spending it all before he can even count it. He alienates his family, his teachers and people who really care about him. He's banking everything on getting a deal with a soda company. Naturally, the ad agency gets the deal, but Rich doesn't. He's learned a bit of a lesson by the end of the book, but one gets the feeling it's not enough. This is just the first in a planned trilogy so it's natural to leave it with more to go. But one has to wonder if Rich will ever be anything but a selfish greedy teenager. He's just not a very likable character.

The book is set in Britain and is full of British slang. Unlike Angus, there's no helpful glossary at the back. I suppose it's written okay, but I really didn't care about the characters and it was a chore to read on. Completely unlike the book I'm reading now..... I had to force myself to put that one down and not stay up all night reading it....

Just Finished Reading: Hard Cash-- Kate Cann
Reading: Stravaganza: City of Stars-- Mary Hoffman
On My Nightstand: The Library Trustee; When Dad Killed Mom--Julius Lester

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Monday, February 02, 2004

The Boy Who Spoke Dog--Clay Morgan

I groaned when I got this book. "Oh no, not another juvenile book!" I foolishly thought.

I was wrong.

Although the cover looks a bit juvenile and some might automatically assume a story about a dog will be for kids, I was pleasantly surprised with this book. The first couple of chapters had some typos and that threw me off, but the more I kept reading, the more I *had* to read. I couldn't put it down. It's a story of an orphan who is working as a cabin boy on a ship. One night there's a violent storm and the captain thinks the best way to save Jack's life is to tie him to wool that will float and throw him overboard! Jack washes up on a deserted island off the coast of New Zealand. There are no humans on the island, but there are dogs and sheep. There are two sets of dogs--the shephard dogs who still protect the flock, despite the lack of human commands, and the fangos, the wild dogs that live in the woods and attack the sheep. The fangos have lost their bark, their purpose, without the humans to instruct them. Jack becomes embroiled in the war between the two dog clans and actually learns how to communicate with them.
This is a great story. The complex human-dog relationship is portrayed beautifully. Aside from the first few editorial mistakes, it is written well. Jack's part of the story is exciting and full of adventure. Moxie, the first dog to befriend him, also narrates the story in alternating chapters. Her part is thoughtful and intelligent and really examines humans and why humans are dog's best friend!

It's a solid middle school read, but anyone with a four-legged friend at home would enjoy it!

If you have access to VOYA, you'll have the pleasure of reading my official review when it comes out however many months from now (June 2004 issue)!

Just Finished Reading: The Boy Who Spoke Dog--Clay Morgan
Reading: Hard Cash--Kate Cann
On My Nightstand: Stravaganza City of Stars--Hoffman

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Thursday, January 29, 2004

Wasteland--Francesca Lia Block

Spoilers below (but really obvious in the book)

I'll be honest, I read this book because I was afraid I might get a complaint about it--with the whole incest subject and all... I wound up actually enjoying it. It's different from Block's other work--at least the books I've read. Wasteland tells the story of a brother and sister who are too close. The older brother, Lex, tries to date other girls to keep his mind off his sister. Marina is horrified when Lex suggests she date a mutual friend. She does go out with her girlfriend and a couple of boys, but she never lets anyone get as close to her as Lex is. The two love each other, deeply, and connect in a way that others cannot understand. It is obvious to her classmates how deep their connection is, but Marina remains in denial. At one point, they take a bath together, and while nothing sexual occurs (or is written about), it is implied that the possibility was there...and that freaks the both of them out. Lex deals with his unnatural feelings by committing suicide and forcing Marina to get a life of her own. She reaches out to a mutual friend, and together they investigate the mystery surrounding Lex's death. In an ironic twist, but one that is predictable, Marina discovers that Lex was adopted and not a blood relation to her at all.

Wasteland was a quick read, but not necessarily an easy one. At times it was hard to figure out who was narrating the different parts of the story. Both Lex and Marina referred to each other as "You". Hey, you, what are you doing? But it was a good read. Sad. Not her greatest, not the best YA fiction out there, but worth the time it took to read it.

Just Finished Reading: Wasteland--Block
Reading: Still undecided
On My Nightstand: Oh, many things now

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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

First Part Last-- Angela Johnson

First Part Last is a companion novel to Heaven. It's a prequel of sorts--the main character is a supporting character in Heaven. Bobby and Nia are young teenagers having a sexual relationship. Even though Bobby's parents have warned him about using protection and his mom has gone so far as to keep condoms available for him, they still have unprotected sex. Nia winds up pregnant and they decide to give up the baby for adoption. As Nia nears her delivery date, she has complications (eclampsia). With Nia comatose and no chance of recovery, Bobby cannot bear to give up his baby daughter. He decides to raise her himself, despite how tough it is. His older brother visits with his family and tells him about a place called Heaven--a nice place to raise a baby girl. At the end of the story Bobby decides to leave the city and his parents for a new future in Heaven.
Told in alternating chapters between the past and present, this is a beautifully written book. It doesn't sugarcoat the harsh realities of having a child as a teenager, or being a single parent. But it's nice to read a story about a teenage father who takes the responsibility and is not only involved, but actively raising his daughter, and so in love with her. It's deserving of both the Printz Award it won as well as the Coretta Scott King Award.

In other reading news, I gave up on Rules of Attraction and didn't even attempt American Psycho. There's just too much good YA Lit that I still have to read, and with TopShelf starting up again soon, I can't waste time with sucky adult books.

Just Finished Reading: Wasteland--Francesca Lia Block
Reading: Don't know yet.
On My Nightstand: Hard Cash--Kate Cann (?); City of the Stars--Mary Hoffman; When Dad Killed Mom--Julius Lester

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Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Heaven--Angela Johnson

Heaven was published in 1998 and tells the story of 14-yr-old Marley, a black girl with loving parents and a mysterious uncle and an all-around good life. Everything is peachy until Marley brings the mail in one day and sees a letter with an unfamiliar name on it--Monna Floyd--in care of her parents. Thinking she knows all of her parents' friends, Marley is confused. Naturally curious, Marley wonders about the letter until she delivers it to her parents and they freak out. Turns out that Marley does know Monna Floyd--very well. As an infant Marley's name was Monna Floyd, until her mom died and her father couldn't deal and left his child with his brother. In an instant Marley's whole world unravels. Her parents are her aunt and uncle, her brother is actually her cousin, and her mysterious, never-met, uncle is actually her father. This is pretty traumatizing stuff, particularly for a 14 year old girl. She babysits for a boy not much older than herself, Bobby, and his toddler daughter Feather. He has secrets of his own and more experience about her current problem than he lets on, and helps Marley come to terms with her new family life and be grateful she has one. I really enjoyed this book, I admit I got a little teary, and would recommend it to anyone. It's a quick read, only 138 pages, engaging, wonderfully written.

Stay tuned for info on the companion novel, First Part Last, winner of both the Printz and Coretta Scott King awards.

Just Finished Reading:
Reading: Rules of Attraction--Ellis--which is pretty sucky so far
On My Nightstand: Same as before, with the recent addition of Stravaganza: City of Stars--Mary Hoffman

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Monday, January 19, 2004

33 Snowfish--Adam Rapp

I recently read 33 Snowfish by Adam Rapp. I have it in the YA section, which covers 7-12th grades. It's not a middle school read, but I'd give it to a mature 8th grader I knew could handle it. The story is told from three different perspectives--Custis, roughly 9-11 years old, homeless, abused, racist; Curl, 14 years old (if I remember right. The book is checked out!), drug-addicted prostitute; Boobie, I think he's 15 or 16, psychotic, brooding, obsessed with fire. All three are on the lam--Boobie's parents are violently killed (the implication is Boobie is the culprit but he never actually admits it), and Boobie takes his infant brother and flees with his two friends. They put the baby in a broken TV so if anyone looks in their stolen car they'll think it's just a TV and not a kid. Their goal is to get away from the cops and to sell the baby. Curl is in love with Boobie, and they both watch out for Custis. While on the lam, they get stuck in a blizzard and Curl's drug addiction gets the best of her. She dies, Boobie can't handle it and leaves. Custis is left in a van with the baby and no food or warmth. In an ironic twist, the racist little boy is saved by an older black man and the two children go to live with him in the woods. After a period of adjustment he finds the love and stability and family he needs, and fills a hole in the black man's life as well.

This is not an easy read. It's dark and disturbing, but many kids have dark and disturbing lives. It ends on a positive note, and as unbelieving as it sounds, it actually is a "family-values" book. It has a positive message about the strength of a good family, and that families don't need to be based on blood. There's strong language and sexual abuse, but most teens (9th grade and up) are familiar with such language and themes. Anyone who works closely with teens knows the language they use! It's on YALSA's Best Books for Young Adults list this year and could have won the Printz Award.

Just Finished Reading: Some really bad poetry
Reading: Rules of Attraction--Ellis
On My Nightstand: Same as before!

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Friday, January 16, 2004


I revamped the template a bit.... I also stole Jessie's reading ideas. This is supposed to be my reading log since I can't get my act together to do it in paper form. Soon as I get all my customization done, I'll get to the actual good stuff!

Just Finished Reading: Heaven -- Angela Johnson
Reading: Rules of Attraction -- Brett Easton Ellis
On My Nightstand: American Psycho -- Brett Easton Ellis; Wasteland -- Francesca Lia Block; When Dad Killed Mom -- Julius Lester; Some other book...

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