Friday, September 30, 2011

Heist Society

very Hepburnish, don't you think?
Carter, A. (2010). Heist Society. NY: Disney/Hyperion.
LS5385: YA Lit/Adventure

Hmm. too much hair for thievery?

Japanese cover. I don't get it.
Heist Society Book Trailer

This was an entertaining book, but the main character, Kat, was just a little too cool for school. This probably would appeal to the teenager, but it's not plausible (fake passport or not) that a fifteen-year-old girl could galavant around the world as Kat does. She conveniently has a filthy rich friend, Hale, who is all of seventeen, who has a butler but no apparent parents, so I guess he funds everything from plane tickets to swanky suites and also conveniently has chateaux, country homes, and chalets to accommodate them on their adventures.  It also plays up the "my parents are too inept to fix their own problems" card, which again, the teenaged reader probably likes.  Sorry, if my kid ever had me arrested to "save me," they would be so grounded. Geesh.  I was a bit frustrated that the great mystery at the end (the identity of Visili Romani), but I really didn't care and I don't think I care to read any sequels to find out.  I think I'm too old to find real pleasure in a group of uber-talented kids using their gifts and skills to be thieves.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Me, the Missing, and the Dead




Valentine, J (2008). Me, the Missing, and the Dead. NY: Harper Collins.
LS5385: YA Lit/Mystery
Hmmm. Which cover would I choose?  The audio is a bit more campy and might draw me in.  The middle is more appropriate now that I've read it, as the main character seems more "middle cover" than "first cover." I also think older teens would like the middle cover better and wonder if any of them would identify the audio cover as having an urn on it. (It looks a little like a chess piece. . .) Ah, the bigger questions in life.

I must say right out that I really liked this book. I was getting nervous because I'd glance at how many pages were left and couldn't see how in the world all would be resolved so quickly. And I had enjoyed the read and didn't want to be disappointed with a stinky ending. It was literally down to the last page of the book before the resolution, which was quite tidy, somewhat surprising, and pretty satisfactory. It left enough untold that I could decide what I thought probably happened - or not.

Valentine used some interesting formatting which I think, especially for the teen or reluctant reader, breaks up the monotony of reading. The main character, Lucas, is a list maker, so when he's confronted with a situation, he makes a list and the page is broken out that way. Sometimes I found the lists a bit tedious, but I think that's because I wanted to just keep reading. Interesting that I had low tolerance for the bulleted or numbered lists, as I am totally a list maker myself.

Also interesting was the style. I found I had to look back at the copyright a couple of times because it felt like the story wasn't in current times. Part of that may be that it's set in England, and the lingo, way of life and descriptions seem "old" to me. (for example, what teen would take a cab?) However, there were enough modern things sprinkled in (references to iPods, music groups, etc.) that I knew it was set in the here and now.

Some of the characters were more developed than others, but the main character (the "Me" of the title), his dad (the "Missing"), and Violet (the "Dead"), and also "Me's" grandmother, were all very rich and interesting.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

"How far would you go to save someone you love?"

"She wasn't supposed to survive the accident. But she did."

"I used to be someone. Someone named Jenna Fox."
Pearson, M.E. (2008). The Adoration of Jenna Fox. NY: Henry Holt and Company.
LS5385: YA Lit / Sci-Fi / Speculative Fiction?

Adoration of Jenna Fox Official Book Trailer

First, I haven't actually read this book yet at this writing; I am all about the variety of covers again.  The pictures and the tag lines are very different, and I'm wondering which one I would have picked, had I had a choice.  (my cover from the public library is the top left).

The one on the top left for some reason flashes me back to the days of Twin Peaks and the pursuit of finding who killed Laura.  Something cold about it and the tag line doesn't really catch me.  The top right takes on a tech edge and I like the puzzle pieces and there's also something vaguely bio-med/sterile about it - maybe the shining piece on the girl's temple.  The tag line is a bit more tantalizing, too. The bottom cover, with it's Gothic-type lettering and the girl's bloodshot eyes, plus the tag line make this one feel like this chick's going to be a mess.  I would choose the 2nd cover, I think.  We'll see if I feel the same way once I've read it.  I'm starting it tonight!

So, new day and I have completed the book, and I give it two thumbs-up!  I do think it could be pushed into the realistic fiction genre; despite the fact it's set in the future, I found the premise something that could be around a corner in the very near future.  Certainly the concepts are already out there.  I am not sure if I am frightened or comforted by the idea.

Back to my battle of the covers discussion. . . I now understand the meanings behind the images on both the top covers. Either is appropriate to the book, but I like the top left better - the hand and butterfly are quite symbolic in the book - and accept that tag-line. It did not draw me to the book, though, and that's probably what is more important for the cover.  The third one, I've decided, doesn't connect to the story, is quite similar to the cover of The Host, and also is one more cover with a wide-eyed girl, which is old.

Oh - I must pull this quote from the book. The main character, Jenna, has memorized Thoreau's Walden without ever having read it.  She picks up the actual book, and says, 
. . . there is still something different about opening a real book, the scent that emerges, seeing one word at a time and soaking in its shape and nuance. . . When I turn the pages of the book and read the words and the spaces in between, I have time to think. . .
 I really like this and it's how I feel about e-books. There is just no replacing the physical book with paper pages.

Roald Dahl and the Darkness Within

The byline on this article reads "James and the Giant Peach is 50 years old. In the story his parents die a violent death and James escapes abusive relatives. Why was Roald Dahl so dark?"

This is an interesting article that discusses the timeless appeal of Dahl's stories and explains that the darkness in most of his stories may come from Dahl's life experiences. I found it particularly notable that Dahl was thought to have an "ambiguous" relationship with children, and that he wasn't particularly attached to even his own children once they hit adolescence.

I especially like the articles list of "Five Dark Storylines;" two of my favorites, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda are listed there.  Reading the article and thinking about these stories made me realize that most children do like the books with awful adults and/or awful children - as long as they are properly punished in the end and happiness/goodness rules.

Also, I was unaware that there is a biography about Roald Dahl, titled Storyteller, by Donald Sturrock, which came out in 2010. That might be worth the read, but I wonder if it would change how I feel about the books.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Werlin, N. (2008). Impossible. NY: Dial.
LS5385: YA Lit/Fantasy

The copy I read of this book had the second cover on it, and I like it better.  For one, I think it fits better with the story, but also, I think if I would have had a choice, I would have been more drawn to the second cover than the first.  Something a little more mysterious and magical to it and seems to fit the genre better.

Anyhow, this was a very quick read and an interesting premise with a curse on the main character and all females before her, going back to ancestors long ago, and the curse is found in the lyrics of a different version of Simon & Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair. What makes the premise interesting is that the setting is modern day, and the main character and supporting characters actually discuss the curse straight out, realize it seems crazy, but decide to accept it as fact and do what they can to break it. 

**spoiler alert** 

A teenaged girl reading this book would probably love it, as the main character, at age 17, finds her true love who marries her and goes through childbirth with her having the child of another teenager, and a child who was conceived through rape.  They live happily ever after.

As a grown-up girl, I had little patience for this section of the book where they all of a sudden are twenty-year-old man and seventeen-year-old wife (despite his being a virgin and she having had sex once and it was rape, and their having kissed maybe twice) and they set-up house and head to the bedroom. Mercifully we are spared details of that, but their cutesie addresses to each other ("oh husband??) when there's a curse that's about to literally make her go insane, and her baby be enslaved to an evil fairy was a bit of a stretch.

ASIDE from that, I did actually enjoy the book.  It was fun, it was escapist, and you really just weren't sure our very pregnant protagonist was going to pull-off beating the evil Elfin Knight and his age-old curse.  The author even threw a little twist in towards the end, just when you thought everything was okie dokie.


Collins, S. (2010). Mockingjay. NY: Scholastic Press.
LS5385: YA Lit / Sci Fi / Dystopia

Hooray!! It was a killer for me to read the first two books in this series and not finish it out, but after a summer of reading books for kids, I took advantage of reading GROWN UP books in the brief reprieve between semesters.  I also secretly hoped that my fall Lit class would force me to read Mockingjay, and my wish came true!!

Anyhoo. . . I quickly became absorbed in the story of good ol' lady Katniss out to save the world, again, from the dumb adults.  This third book is understandably quite a bit grimmer and gloomier.  Also, the violence has escalated and it seemed to me that Collins described the gore in a bit more detail than the prior two novels, and the death count is high.

Having read all three - which anyone who starts the first is probably going to do - I might push the recommended audience just a smidgen older than I initially had judged.  The third book is more disturbing to me than the prior books, as it's describing war, and it's war where the players fight dirty.  Where in Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the events didn't feel realistic, much of Mockingjay did feel realistic.  Perhaps not so much in some of the specific weapons of war (Mutts, for example), but in the absolute devastation, destruction, and anguish that's brought on by war: the senselessness of some acts of war and of course, the massive body count of innocent people.

I am glad to have read the full series and enjoyed the final book, but I do not think it was as well-done as the first two.  The only thing that didn't play well was in Katniss's final "act" for which she was put on trial and forgiven.  Mockingjay was a necessary conclusion to the story, and it did have an acceptable and believable resolution.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Bradbury, J. (2008). Shift. NY: Simon & Schuster.
LS5385: YA Lit/Realistic Fiction

Shift Book Trailer

What I found especially intriguing about this book was the format.  First, you know from the get-go that one of the two boys who make this ride don't return home.  The story then switches chapter by chapter from the present tense/fall-out of that one boy not returning to a flashback chapter that unfolds the story of the bike trip.

There is reference within the book to the book Into the Wild as at several points in the flashbacks and present tense, it becomes clear that the missing boy may have planned it that way all along.

Definitely realistic and a book I think any teen would enjoy reading.  As an adult, it made me think back to lost opportunities during that very short period in life where you can truly take off and do something like these kids did.

Sunrise Over Fallujah

Myers, W.D. (2008). Sunrise Over Fallujah. NY: Scholastic Press.
LS5385: YA Lit/Realistic Fiction

First, interesting observation.  This one does not have multiple covers as far as I can tell.

And the hits keep coming. In my YA Lit class, I have now read eight books and there has only been one I disliked. (see Jumped blog)

With us on the cusp of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, this book was especially apropos to me.  It took me back to the time just after the attacks when our troops were desperately searching for Suddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction.
Thankfully, this book didn't focus on the atrocities of war in an overly descriptive way. By that, I mean that the death and the killing and the violence were not described in graphic detail.  They just didn't need to be.
Instead, it focused on one young man's emotional battle with dealing with war and the bigger meaning behind what he was doing and what he was seeing.  He struggled seeing people die - both the "bad guys" and his own fellow soldiers - but he also struggled with how he began to numb to the death.  And he struggled with God's presence and/or absence in it all.
It was very thought provoking and I especially liked that for the young reader, it was giving a realistic view of what it's like in war.  It's not dressing-up and drilling and practicing on targets.  There was a very real face to war, and it often the face of children and poverty and heartbreak - not just "the bad guys."

The Savage

Almond, D. (2008). The Savage. Cambridge, Mass: Candlewick Press.
LS5385: YA Lit/Fantasy

I will admit that this one made it into my library check-out cart for two reasons: 1) the library had the book, and 2) it was clearly a short read (WITH PICTURES!!). yeah, I know - I sound like my son.

The amazing thing is that it was one of the coolest reads I have had in a while.  Yes, short but FULL of story. RICH in characters.  Well-written - even though it's written with a child's grasp of spelling and punctuation.  As an aside - sometimes I felt like I was reading something the Chick-Fil-A cows might have written!

It is a very interesting story about a young boy who is dealing with the loss of his father and a town bully who only gets worse once the boy's father has died.  Writing is the boy's escape, and as he deals with his feelings, the lines between his story about "the savage" and the boy's real life become blurred.

The drawings (by Dave McKean, who worked on Harry Potter set designs) are spectacular and wild enough that they help the reader along. They are rugged and edgy.

I was amused by the "profanity" in the book - the boy writing d*** and then apologizing for using a cuss word, but explaining it really was apropos (he was right).  Very nice and again, very much like you'd expect a young boy to write.

Take a look at this - it's definitely worth the short visit and the memory will last longer than the reading time invested.

Ender's Game

Card, O.S. (1991). Ender's Game. NY: Torr.
LS5385: Classic/Sci-Fi

I have avoided this book like the plague.  My husband has read it many times and loved it. Three of my four sons have read it, many times each, and loved it.  It is sci-fi, so there is no way I could have loved it. Especially given the cover we have most closely resembles the fifth one below, but without the accolades.

So, it shows up as a "choice" to read for my class. Because we have it on the shelf and that saves me a trip to the library when it's 108 degrees outside, I pick it.

 What can I say? I can say that I loved this book.  I was so impressed that the author was already thinking about things (like blogging) that others weren't really thinking about when he wrote the book.  The setting may have seemed outlandish at the time (the government control over the number of children American's could have, for example), but it is believable.  The premise that children were allowed to be born into certain families who showed genetic promise of creating a certain profile person doesn't seem so outlandish any more.

The travails of young Ender (I kept finding myself reading what he said and did and shaking my head.  He's six? He's eight? He's ten?), are the same that all of us encounter at some time or another in life, so the story really is timeless.  

There are bullies, jealousy, hurdles to face, decisions to make, consequences to live with, realizations. . . the book touches on so many things and can be interpreted in so many ways. I think a seventh grade boy will have a much difference experience with the book than this forty-four-year-old woman did, but it's all good experience. This book is a thinker.

I had not seen any of these other book covers before I read it; I am curious if anyone besides me envisioned Ender like I envisioned him - like Owen Meany in A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.  Can't figure out where that came from. Possibly Ender's intelligence? I dunno. . .

I posted all these covers to show how publishers have tried to steer the appeal.  I would not have been interested in reading the books with covers 2, 3, or 4 - and honestly, those seem to be playing it down to an audience younger than I think it belongs.  I also don't want to be told (shown) how Ender should look, though cover 3 is probably appropriate.  Cover 5 is a re-tool of cover 1, but it seems a bit more serious, more intense.  I imagine that if funds permit, I would try and have a variety of covers of this book in my library collection.  I can see how you could draw a number of different readers to the book just by showing different covers.  There were even more than this that I saw. . .

To me, the science fiction in the book is really secondary to the trials and tribulations Ender encounters.  I loved this book, but I am still leary of sci-fi in general; however, I think I will read the next book in the series and see how it goes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Outsiders

"modern" book cover
Movie cover - CUTIES! Missing Leif Garrett, though. Darn.
Hinton, S. E. (1967). The Outsiders. NY: Viking.
LS5385 "Classic" - Realistic Fiction/Coming of Age

This story is timeless and outstanding, but what really impressed me - before I ever started reading it - was that the author is 1) female and 2) wrote this book when she was sixteen.  Talk about talent!

I recall the movie, though I didn't see it, because it had so many cute boys in it: Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, and Leif Garrett! I am really wondering why I didn't see it when it came out, as I was probably a junior in high school and would have been gaga about all those fellas. (Admittedly, I still am about some of them. [R.I.P., Patrick Swayze. I was and always will be a fan.])

Anyhow, having not seen the movie or read the book, I dug in and couldn't put it down.  The characters are so rich!  As a mother, I wanted to just get a big ol' group hug going for this kids who have hearts of gold, but are truly just victims of circumstance, doing the only thing they know how to do.  As a young adult reader, I am sure I would have connected with the insanity and unfairness of the clear class divisions and how kids were being forced into the boxes someone else had made for them.  

I highly recommend this book to anyone, young or old, because there are messages that are as apropos today as they were when the book was written. We can all extract a lesson or two from its pages while enjoying a really good read.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Williams-Garcia, R. (2009). Jumped. NY: Amistad.

LS5385/Realistic Fiction
National Book Award Finalist

Okay, I'm just gonna say it:  I did not like this book.  It has an interesting format - it alternates chapter by chapter between three different high school girls' perspectives of events in one day of school - and the characters are fleshed-out well enough that you know them. But I didn't like any of the characters and was disappointed with the choices each of them made and the lack of character each of them displayed.
***spoiler alert*** ***spoiler alert*** 
 I kept waiting for one of these kids to do the right thing so that everything would turn out well, but they didn't and it didn't.  I was saddened that this was probably a very realistic portrayal of how kids might act and the consequences of their actions. What bugged me is that Leticia, who in my mind was guilty on many fronts, walked away from the events that day. Even when she knew the seriousness of what happened to Trina - apparently a coma and resulting brain damage - it was more a source of gossip than something she learned from.  She was the only one who could have changed the course of events, and she didn't, and didn't seem to have remorse.  When the teacher collapsed, Leticia whips out her phone. . . to call a girlfriend and gossip about it.  Why not call for help? And the same when Trina gets attacked - Leticia whips out her phone to gossip, not to call for help. Dominique has no remorse for putting Trina into a coma and causing the brain damage. No remorse that she ruined someone's life because her own life wasn't going right. And Trina, so conceited and caught up in herself and her perfection that she overestimates her importance and popularity and misinterprets how everyone interacts with you.  These kids really bothered me. And it scares me because I am afraid many kids have become numb to so much. They won't step in and do the right thing because it's "not their business" or they just don't care.
I was bummed-out the whole day after reading this one.  Truly.