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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Someday, in all my free time...

Being on an award committee is nothing new to me...I've been on various national committees that involve lots of reading for years. My favorite one was the SB&F Prize book award for Young Adults, which recognizes outstanding science writing. Excellent non-fiction for children and teens is a passion of mine, and since I am a science major, this award was close to my heart. Unfortunately, in the time since my two year stint on this committee, my non-fiction reading has dramatically dropped off, making me very sad.

Another favorite committee of mine was YALSA's Popular Paperbacks. This award recognizes popular titles to encourage teens to read for pleasure.  What could be better than that?! During my two years on this committee, my complaint was that I was reading (or re-reading) all things older (the books had to be in paperback after all), and that I did not read any new titles during that two years. I feel like there is a gap of great books in the publishing world that I have never read!

Enter my latest award committee,
YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA). This award recognizes the best in new fiction for teens published in a 16-month calendar year. I will never complain about not getting to read the new books ever again! However, at this point in the year (voting takes place in early January), all I am reading are the books nominated for the award. If it didn't make the list, then I just don't have the time to read it.

I would really love to find extra time in the day to read all those books that I want to read JUST FOR ME! I know that characters in the books I read do this all the time, so it must be possible. If I were to figure out how, here is a just a small list of books I would love to read:

Virals by Kathy Reichs
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney
Sapphique by Catherine Fisher (the sequel to Incarceron, I have had this book in my possession since JUNE, but still haven't had a chance to read it!)
Cross my Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter
Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan
King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett
Charlie Bone and the Red Knight by Jenny Nimmo
The Youngest Templar series by Michael Spradlin
You are Not Here by Samantha Schutz
The Rivalry by John Feinstein

And the list goes on...and on...and on. Every day I come across a new title that went immediately out on the school library shelves before I got a chance to read it.

What about you? What is on your WISH list of books to read from the past couple of years? Have you read any of mine?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Where has Mrs. Yusko been?

I am looking at the blog today and discovering that my last post was before Thanksgiving. Yikes! That seems like a REALLY long time ago. But I do have several good reasons for that, I promise!

(1) We traveled to Vegas for 9 days over Thanksgiving break, and while I had every intention of actually posting reviews while on vacation (honest!), the Internet at our location was sketchy at best. And there was really no way I was going to use a year's worth of data plan to do it via cell phone. I promise that I was reading though!

(2) Upon my return to school, our 9th graders jumped right into a state-mandated research project that takes over the library, and my life, for three weeks. Can you imagine how much fun a Social Studies project on "Humans and the Environment" can be with 14 year olds?

(3) I have been READING, READING, READING as I am woefully behind in my committee reading. And I haven't been very excited about many of them lately, so not really motivated to write a review for you, sorry. But I am going to attempt to remedy this over the next few days.

So, I am alive, and I do have lots to share with you. I will try and make it up to you after the holidays. I'm thinking of having a giveaway after January 11th, 2011 (the day my American Library Association committee votes on our award). Hmmmm....what should it be???

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!

It is no secret that I am a fan of all things Wimpy Kid. 

It is also not a secret that Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday.  And I would rather do almost anything than watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade on television each year.  I'm sure that there is no childhood trauma of being attacked by a large balloon or anything, but parades just aren't my thing.

Well, I have just found out that there will be a new balloon in this year's Macy's parade...a Wimpy Kid balloon!  Darn it, now I might have to watch. 

But I did discover that the parade website has cartoon images of some of the balloons, and the Wimpy Kid balloon is one of them.  So visit the Macy's parade
website and get a sneak peak, and then tune into the parade to see the real thing!

Have a wonderful holiday!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Barnes & Noble Changes Teen Section!

According to a Publisher's Weekly article, which can be found in it's entirety here, Barnes & Noble bookstores are changing the way their teen fiction section is organized.

The store is rearranging its teen fiction section chain-wide in an effort to "improve the shopping experience and boost sales."  Barnes & Noble decided to reorganize all its teen sections by separating out the two most popular genres—paranormal romance and fantasy and adventure—from teen fiction. Teen series will be absorbed into the appropriate category, and two bays will be devoted to bestsellers. One will change weekly to reflect the top 10 teen fiction bestsellers; the other will be organized by genre and display top teen picks.

Barnes & Noble hopes that "in addition to helping teens discover new books, the rearranged sections will enable them to easily filter out books they’re not interested in and go straight to the genre that they’re looking for."

There has been lots of discussion of rearranging libraries to reflect this move as well.  What do you think?  What would you like to see in your library?

Review: Hunger (Kessler)

Title: Hunger
Author: Kessler
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Eating Disorders
Pages: 177
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

As I read the book over the summer, I am once again stealing the synopsis from Goodreads: Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?

This is the first book in an intended series about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalype, and it is a fascinating premise.  I really liked the original take on a story dealing with eating disorders.  This is definitely not the usual approach when writing about this difficult topic.  And even though it is a book about a teenage girl struggling with an eating disorder, there is so much more going on in this quick read.

Death, one of the other Horsemen, is actually my favorite character in this book.  He has the snarky attitude you would expect of someone symbolizing Death, and I could completely visualize him in my head.  I hope that he is the star of the next title, though maybe I shouldn't like him quite so much.  He is Death, after all.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Review: After Ever After (Sonnenblick)

Title: After Ever After
Author: Sonnenblick
Genre: Fiction, Middle School, Friendship, Cancer
Pages: 272
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars!

Jeffrey isn't the little boy with cancer he was in Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie.  Now he's a teen who's in remission, just trying to make it to 8th grade graduation.  But life is fragile and the after-effects of treatment have left Jeffrey with an inability to be a great student or to walk without limping.

Jeffrey is still friends with Tad, another 8th grade cancer "survivor."  Together the two of them just want to be "normal" teens, living life after the "happily ever after."  But parents still worry about them, and they will always be the poster boys for cancer. 

Jeffrey's older brother Stephen, the star of Drums, Girls..., has run away to Africa to find himself, leaving Jeffrey to narrate this tale.  People are keeping secrets, he might never graduate 8th grade, and there is a really cute girl who likes him but shouldn't.  What's a guy to do?

This is a great book about friendship...and the fact that even though we all have individual struggles, we are a lot alike.  Middle school problems are faced by everyone.  I loved Jeffrey and his sense of humor.  His take on the world is unique, but his message is universal.  His relationship with his best friend Tad is so realistic I can visualize the pair walking the hallways here at EJH.  Jeffrey's inability to know how to deal with his feelings for Lindsey is spot on 8th grade boy.

Ultimately happy, sad, honest, and hopeful, this is a wonderful read that any teen can identify with.  And though it is technically a sequel, it is not necessary to read the first one in order to appreciate this book.  A must read! 

Review: Empty (Weyn)

Title: Empty
Author: Weyn
Genre: Fiction, Dystopian, Science Fiction
Pages: 183
Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

In a not-so-distant future, the U.S. is at war with Venezuela over dwindling oil reserves, and global warming has created a super-hurricane causing destruction up and down the East Coast. In the gloom that is the end of the world, several teens are trying their best simply to survive. Gasoline is scarce, electricity comes and goes, and there is very little food to be had in the wake of the storm.

Gwen, abandoned by her mother years ago, is trying to evade authorities looking for her brother, who was selling black-market gasoline; rich-girl Niki, whose father lost his job, has never had to face adversity in her life; and Tom, an all-around hero who lost his father to an illness, complete the love triangle. In the wake of the storm these teens, along with several other classmates, have found a secret hide-out that just might provide a way to survive the crisis.  But will they tell anyone?

I reviewed this book for Booklist, but I had actually read it before I was assigned the review.  It is not my favorite example of the genre.  Even though the characters and dialogue are sometimes routine, the realistic and thought-provoking scenario is packaged into a speedy read.  Given the popularity of dystopian fiction, it should find an audience.  In fact, our one library copy is currently checked out, and my two advance copies have been borrowed by students that heard me talk about it.  It does have it's market...and I think the short length is is selling point.

Can't wait to hear what these students have to say about the book!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review: Magic Under Glass (Dolamore)

 Title: Magic Under Glass

Author: Dolamore
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Magic
Pages: 225
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Okay, I know that someday I am going to regret the rating that I gave this book. It has received starred reviews everywhere, and was recently named one of the Top 10 first novels of the year. I'm sure there are more awards to follow and I simply missed the boat.

That being said, this was an amazing and well-written book.  My rating is based on my perceived wide-scale audience appeal of the book...I think it will definitely have fans, but nothing along the scale of Harry Potter, for example.  But that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Nimira is a music-hall performer forced to dance for pennies to an audience of leering drunks. When a wealthy sorcerer (Parry) hires her to sing accompaniment to a piano-playing automaton, Nimira believes it is the start of a new life and runs away to live with him.

There are many buried secrets in Parry's world however. Rumors of ghosts about in his house, there is a mad woman roaming the halls that may or may not know what happened to Parry's wife, and Parry is mixed up with ruthless sorcerers who torture fairies for sport.

When Nimira discovers the spirit of a dashing young fairy, Prince Erris, is trapped inside the automaton's stiff limbs, waiting for someone to break the curse and set him free, the two fall in love. But they are both in danger when they attempt to save the entire fairy realm.

I truly enjoyed this book, and I definitely think that it deserves all the praise it has received. It is a unique story and an engaging read. There are many fascinating plot elements and I will be the first to admit that this book is not one I would normally pick up and yet it kept me reading. Will she rescue Erris? Won't she? I had to know! There will definitely be a sequel in 2011, Magic Under Stone. I am excited to see where the story goes from here and to read more about Nimira's life.

By the way, the cover images are curious to me. The one on the left is the one that we received from the publisher and now have in our library. I'm not sure what edition the one on the right is, but I'm not sure it appeals to the intended market of the book. What do you think? And if neither cover does it for you, there is a third one that I found on Goodreads:

Magic Under Glass (Magic Under, #1)

Review: Tell Me A Secret (Cupala)

Title: Tell Me a Secret
Author: Cupala
Genre: Fiction, Love, Secrets, Sisters, High School
Pages: 292
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I am beginning to think that I am the worst blogger ever!  This is another title that I read during the summer and am just now getting to the review.  So, I will steal the summary from Goodreads in case I have forgotten pertinent details.

"In the five years since her "bad girl" sister Xanda’s death, Miranda Mathison has wondered about the secret her sister took to the grave, and what really happened the night she died. Now, just as Miranda is on the cusp of her dreams—a best friend to unlock her sister’s world, a ticket to art school, and a boyfriend to fly her away from it all—Miranda has a secret all her own. Two lines on a pregnancy test confirm her worst fears. Stripped of her former life, Miranda must make a choice with tremendous consequences and finally face her sister’s demons and her own."

Rand, shortening her name to resemble her sister's, is having a hard time adjusting to senior year.  She was dumped by her boyfriend, her girlfriends don't understand her, and she can't stop arguing with her parents.  Probably because they don't know her one does.  So Rand looks to an an online community of expectant mothers to find friendship.  Unfortunately, she cannot even be honest with them.

This is a fresh take on the teenage pregnancy plot, and the mystery surrounding the sister's death fuels readers on.  Debut author Cupala (a local Seattle author, by the way) has created a realistic character in Rand.  Readers will definitely connect with her and appreciate her flaws.  She is strong and vulnerable, and just trying to figure out who she is and what she really wants.

While I would recommend this for mature readers able to deal with the topic, I absolutely think it is a must read for teen girls.  You should pair this with Siobahn Vivian's
Not That Kind of Girl for another important book with great discussion potential.  Or simply because you want to read terrific books about strong, realistic girls.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review: The War to End all Wars (Freedman)

Title: The War to End All Wars
Author: Freedman
Genre: Non-fiction, War, History
Pages: 192
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Even though the majority of the reviews posted on this blog are fiction titles, it is no secret that non-fiction is my passion.  There is great joy in finding well-written and interesting non-fiction titles, especially for teens.

So it should not be a shock that non-fiction master Russell Freedman has done it again with his recent book on World War I.  This "War to end all wars" is very important in the history of the world, but is often not covered as extensively in class as WWII. 

In this book, Freedman untangles the relationships and alliances of the many nations involved and succinctly explains the causes leading up to WWI.  Discussion is also given to the introduction of modern weaponry and the effects of these destructive weapons, top-level military decisions that resulted in casualties on an unprecendented scale, and why the resolution to the conflict only fanned the flames that led to WWII. 

There are archival photographs included throughout which really lend to the tone of the book.  On, the author posted a letter to readers about why he wrote the book, and I think this letter describes the book best:

Dear Amazon Readers,

...In 1916, my father ran away from home, changed his name, lied about his age, and joined the United States army. He was 14 years old. Back then, before social security numbers and computerized record keeping, it wasn't difficult to take on a new identity, and that's exactly what my father did. To begin with, he was sent to the Mexican border to fight Pancho Villa under General John J. Pershing. And when the United States entered World War I, he sailed to France with the 7th Infantry Division. In the fall of 1918, he was shot and gassed, and he spent several months recovering at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.

My father was proud of his service to America, and I grew up hearing nostalgic stories of his adventures as a teenage soldier. But as I eventually learned, the war's reality presented quite a different tale. This was the first global conflict to employ modern weapons--long-range artillery, rapid-fire machine guns, poison gas, flamethrowers, tanks, and airplanes that bombed and strafed--the first war in which modern weapons inflicted mass slaughter, introducing new kinds of terror and record levels of suffering and death. It was now possible to kill your enemy at distance, without seeing him.

Called the Great War at first, because of its massive and unprecedented scale, the conflict later was known as the War to End All Wars, because it was unthinkable, unimaginable, that humanity would allow such carnage to be repeated ever again.

...It was said at the time that if the war could just once be described in honest and accurate language, people everywhere would demand that the fighting be stopped. That challenge was taken up by many ordinary soldiers of World War I, the men in the trenches, who recorded their experiences under fire in letters, diaries, journals, and memoirs that provide us today with eyewitness accounts of what it was like to fight in the War to End All Wars.

Russell Freedman I put our library copy on display for Veterans Day and it was checked out quickly...before our history teacher had a chance to look at it and use it in class.  Might have to order another copy!

Review: You (Benoit)

Title: You
Author: Benoit
Genre: Fiction, High School
Pages: 223
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I am desperately attempting to catch up on all of my reviews of BFYA (Best Fiction for Young Adults) nominees.  To be honest, I read this book in the summer and knew immediately that it was not junior high appropriate, so I did not post a review here.  But, upon further reflection, it does merit a review in this forum and the message/theme of the book is a good one, even if I still think it is for older readers.

I am posting the synopsis from Goodreads as it has been months since I have read this and don't want to do an injustice to the book by forgetting a key element: You're just a typical fifteen-year-old, an average guy named Kyle Chase. This can't be happening to you. But then, how do you explain all the blood? How do you explain how you got here in the first place?

There had to have been signs, had to have been some clues it was coming. Did you miss them, or ignore them? Maybe if you can figure out where it all went wrong, you can still make it right. Or is it already too late? Think fast, Kyle. Time's running out. How did this happen?

I don't think that teens ever intend for bad things to happen to them.  Unfortunately, sometimes there is not any thinking going on, and actions have consequences.  You is the riveting story of Kyle and the small choices he does and doesn't make that lead to his own destruction.  This is not a happily ever after story, but still a powerful one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

National Book Award Nominees!

Every year, the National Book Foundation determines nominees and winners of the National Book Award.  There are several categories of awards, including Young People's Literature.  I am so excited by the five titles nominated in this year's Young People's Literature category!  And I wish I was near New York City today to see the National Book Award Teen Press Conference. 

Middle- and high-school students from New York City public and private schools are invited to the Schomburg Center of The New York Public Library for the Foundation’s popular National Book Awards Teen Press Conference.  According to the NBF website, students prepare for the event by reading one of the five Finalists' books and drafting questions based on the text, the writing life, and what it means to be a National Book Award Finalist. At the event, each participating student will receive a professionally designed press kit with biographical information on each author, excerpts from their books, and materials related to the National Book Awards.

Authors read from their work and then the floor is turned over to the students for the Press Conference. Students have the opportunity to meet the authors and have their books signed at a reception following the event. I am so jealous!

So, who are these amazing authors and which books are nominated? It is quite a prestigious group, and I am quite proud to say that I have actually read 4 of the 5 books! That is amazing.  And the 5th one is in my suitcase for my Thanksgiving road trip (at least it will be...I not really packed yet).

And the nominees, in alphabetical order, are:
Ship Breaker by Paolo BacigalupiMockingbird by Kathryn ErskineDark Water by Laura McNeal (the only one I haven't read yet)Lockdown by Walter Dean MyersOne Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
If you want to read a GREAT article/interview with all the authors about what it was like to find out their books were nominated, read
The Fab Five in a recent edition of School Library Journal. 

So, who should win?  Which ones have you read?  I'm reserving judgement until I read Dark Water.  But I'd hate to be the person with the final say because they all such strong contenders!

Romeo and Juliet...and Vampires!

 We have just completed the first full week of 2nd quarter here at EJH, and that means our 9th graders are busy with Shakespeare!  Specifically, Romio and Juliet.  (Because you can clearly never get enough teenage angst in a junior high).  And I won't be offering my critique of this master of the English language, other than to say you must read it if you have not.

But I thought that I'd make one of our Language Arts teachers completely crazy by pointing out the lastest "mash-up," Romio & Juliet & Vampires.  Hilarious!  (If you want to browse inside the book, click here).

According to Goodreads, in this version "the Capulets and the Montagues have some deep and essential differences. Blood differences. Of course, the Capulets can escape their vampire fate, and the Montagues can try not to kill their undead enemies. But at the end of the day, their blood feud is unstoppable. So it's really quite a problem when Juliet, a vampire-to-be, and Romeo, the human who should be hunting her, fall desperately in love. What they don't realize is how deadly their love will turn out to be—or what it will mean for their afterlives..."

Mash-ups, combining classic works of fiction
 with popular genres (vampires, zombies, etc.), have become all the rage in the last few years.  Some notable examples include "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters," and "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter."  To be honest, I haven't read any of these mash-ups as I am not a fan of the vampire and zombie genre to begin with.  And being a science major, I'll be honest that classic works of fiction aren't typically my thing either.  (I know, I'm a horrible librarian)!

But it is a fun concept, and obviously popular.  "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" was one of the top 3 sellers at our school's book fair last spring.  I would love to hear from anyone that has read a mash-up...what do you think?  As good as the original?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Student Review: The Magician's Elephant (DiCamillo)

Title: The Magician’s Elephant

Author: Kate DiCamillo
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 201
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Peter is an orphan in the city of Baltese. He has been told for years by a strict, militaristic guardian that the younger sister he knows he has is dead. In spite of all evidence, Peter is skeptical. One day, he goes down to the market square and pays a fortuneteller to inform him of his sister’s whereabouts. She says that yes, his sister is indeed alive, and that an elephant will lead her to him.

So begins the story of two orphans, a beggar, his dog, a magician, a nun, a countess, and many other memorable characters. They all have various missions and goals, but are all involved with one common element: the elephant. Some of them are connected to the situation through Peter. Others have a completely different outlook. They come from many different classes and occupations, as well as three different species, and yet they are all connected to the one universal element in this book. Armed with a dazzling, poetic writing style and a knack for communicating characters’ feelings, DiCamillo pulls us into her story, forcing us to forget that her main idea should be difficult to believe.

This was a lovely book, with a perfect, timely ending and an impressive amount of maturity in its characters. The people in this story felt no need to impose their problems on the reader or the other characters. They didn’t demand sympathy, move the audience to tears, or become severely depressed. Even the beggar accepted his lifestyle, and the class differences in the characters were not meant to force us into charity work. Without preaching about the “less fortunate,” this book gave the reader insight on the way that many different people live. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever been interested in what others are thinking.

This story was a large, tangled web of events combining many characters and motives. I’m willing to bet this kind of thing happens in real life. Please comment with your own stories about complicated experiences!
--Celia, 8th grade

I must admit that this is the only one of Ms. DiCamillo's books that I have not read.  And I'm not really sure why, because I LOVE her other titles!  Thanks, Celia!

Student Review: Airhead (Cabot)

Title: Airhead

Author: Meg Cabot
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 337
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The science fiction book Airhead, by Meg Cabot, describes the drama and turmoil 16 year old video game loving tomboy Em Watts is thrown into when she wakes up not as herself, but as world famous supermodel Nikki Howard. At the grand opening of the Stark Megastore, where Em, her best friend Christopher, and Frida, her little sister, are, a giant flat screen TV dangling from the ceiling comes loose and falls on Em. She wakes up a month later and discovers that she is in Nikki Howard’s body. Apparently, when the TV fell on Em, her body was completely crushed, but her brain was fine. At that exact moment, though, Nikki Howard, who was a huge representative of Stark, had a brain aneurysm, which caused her to become brain-dead. Because she was such a huge representative of Stark, the company, who also had a medical lab and hospital, took Em’s brain and put it inside Nikki Howard’s body. Now Em must learn to act and behave like Nikki did, hanging out with Nikki’s friends and boyfriend, going to her modeling shoots, living in her loft. She is not allowed to tell anyone who she really is, or else her parents will be sued for two million dollars. But she discovers that not everything is as it seems to be.

I chose this book because it sounded very different from what I usually enjoy reading, and I love fashion and modeling. Some characters that I thought were very interesting were Frida, who is her little sister. Frida is almost the exact opposite of Em. She is very social and loves fashion, and she has lots of friends. Through this experience Frida and Em become closer, and Frida learns that she shouldn’t always take things for granted. I think the theme of this book is don’t judge a book by it’s cover, because in this book Em discovers that everyone thinks that Nikki is a total airhead just because she models for a living, so she has to really prove to everyone that she isn’t just some ditzy, gorgeous girl who poses in outfits for a living.

I loved this book because the characters were very interesting and there are a lot of plot twists and the author makes something sounding very fake seem very real. I recommend this book to teenage girls because there is a little romance and it is told from a girl’s point of view.

This book really made me think, what would I do if I woke up as someone else and was stuck like that forever?
--Helena, 8th grade

Great review!  I love this book and, of course, anything written by the author.  I must confess that I have not read the sequels (Being Nikki and Runaway), though I keep meaning to.  So many books, so little time...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Book Blog Hop

Once again, it is time for another Blog Hop.  I love discovering new blogs to follow!  I hope that you enjoy this blog and become a new follower!  Thanks to the wonderful "Crazy-for-Books" blog for hosting each week.

The question this week is: If you find a book that looks interesting but is part of a series, do you go back and start with the first one?

My answer:
First, I try not to get involved in series books, but in the young adult genre/market, that is nearly impossible.  So, when I find a new series, I always start with the first book.  If I like it A LOT, I will read the rest...if not, then I'll just stop after that one. 

Obviously, it is really important in my job to know whether the series books can be read out of order (ie: Redwall series by Brian Jacques), or MUST be read sequentially.  And to be honest, while I do read a number of book #1s, there are not very many teen series that I feel compelled to keep up with.  As long as I know the premise, I'm okay.

What about you????

Student Review: Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto (Luper)

Title: Seth Baumgartner’s Love Manifesto

Author: Eric Luper
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Humor, Love
Pages: 293
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars.

So it all started at Applebee’s. Seth Baumgartner is on his lunch break with his girlfriend when she dumps him, she says she too “Comfortable with him” while she’s really into her co-worker Anders. It was then that his father walked in with a woman that wasn’t his mother, Seth’s heart was sinking. After his 30 minute lunch break, Seth goes back to his job at Belgian fries express where his boss fires him after his shift because he was late. YIKES! So Seth’s day isn’t going to well. Later that week, Seth launches an anonymous podcast called the Love Manifesto to talk about the reasons he loves his ex-girlfriend, Veronica, his investigation of his father’s affair and other things related to love and why it sucks. Seth’s father wasn’t happy he lost his job since it was his 4th job he got fired from so he gets a job at the country golf club where his family goes and also where he’s training for a father/son competition with his dad. Amidst all this he comes face to face with Luz, his father’s mistress, a few times and even goes in her apartment! Also, he gets in a fight with his best friend Dimitri…

I chose to read book because when Mrs. Yusko gave a brief summary of the book, it sounded really funny and interesting and it also seemed like the type of book I like to read. I think the theme of this book would be perseverance because Seth never gave up on what was going on around him. He got over Veronica and got a new girlfriend, got a new job, and never gave up on investigating his father affair.

I really enjoyed reading this book because it was a quick and easy read. Also, I liked reading this book because the author kept me wanting to read more after every page, in every chapter, the author threw something totally unexpected for me to absorb in. Overall, this book is going to get your emotions up and down like a roller coaster, one minute you are going to despite a character and another minute you will love them. I would recommend this book to teenagers and above and either boys or girls because there is some bad language and even though it’s written from a guy’s perspective, girls could relate to it easily also. Also, I would recommend this book to people who like stories with good twists, romantical comedies, and for people who likes golf because the book talks about some golf terms.

So… what would you do if everything you cared about fell apart in a matter of minutes?
--Nomin, 8th grade
I am so glad that you chose to read this book!  As you know, it is one of my favorite stories this year (Top 10 for Summer Reading), and I did recommend it for this project. You can read my brief review here.

Student Review: Sundays at Tiffany's

Title: Sundays at Tiffany’s

Author: James Patterson
Genre: Fantasy and love story (mostly realistic)
Pages: 328
Rating: 3 out of 5stars

Jane Margaux’s mom is the head of a huge production studio in New York, and she only spends time with her daughter on Sundays when they go shopping for diamonds at Tiffany’s. Jane is okay with this though, because she has her thirty five year old Imaginary Friend Michael to keep her company. The job of an Imaginary Friend is to care for a child between the ages of six and nine. Once a child turns nine though, his or her imaginary friend is forced to leave. This is made bearable only by the fact that when the child wakes up the next morning they will no longer remember their friend. However, when Michael leaves Jane, Jane doesn’t forget him. As she grows older she continues to think about Michael, and when she is in her thirties she meets back up with him. The more time they start spending together the more questions begin to arise; why hasn’t she forgotten him? Why have they met back up? And what does all of this mean?

I thought Jane’s mom, Vivienne, was the character that connected most to the theme. All she cared about was being perfect, being beautiful, and making Jane that way too. But the theme of the book was the exact opposite; do not get to caught up on the small things in life, but instead focus on the bigger picture- exactly unlike Vivienne. The difference between her and the theme painted a vivid picture of exactly what it was trying to get the reader not to be like. An ah-ha moment for me was when I finally realized that even though an imaginary friend seams imaginary to everyone but the child, they really aren’t. They are actually a “real imaginary” thing.

I would recommend this book to girls only who don’t mind a slightly slower paced story. The writing style reminded me very much of Sarah Dessen’s books such as The Truth About Forever, and even Jodi Picoult’s like Keeping Faith and Change of Heart. If you’ve read and enjoyed any of these, you will enjoy Sundays at Tiffany’s.

So what would you do if an imaginary person who left you long ago returned, only this time not Imaginary?
--Mekenna, 8th grade

Good review Mekenna.  I appreciate your spot-on reading recommendations!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Student Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles (Doyle)

Title: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Genre: Classical Mystery
Pages: 359
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book begins, like many other Sherlock Holmes books, in the small, quiet shared apartment of Holmes himself and Dr. John Watson. While enjoying their tea one morning Dr. Edward Mortimer shows up, fearful, at their door. He tells them the story of the head of the Baskerville manor's grandfather's death; he was an evil man with a sadistic soul who locked a young woman in a chamber. Following her escape he led a chase which ended up in his death at the paws of the hound. Soon Holmes and Watson meet the current owner of the estate, Sir Henry Baskerville. Dr. Mortimer fears that the curse of the hound will catch up with Sir Henry and he pleads for their assistance. It is decided that Watson, Mortimer, and Sir Henry will travel to the Baskerville estate, as Holmes has other matters to attend to in London. Watson soon begins investigating, interrogating, and questioning. He is eventually accompanied by Holmes but will their combined wits be enough?

I decided to choose this novel because I am a big fan of the "Sherlock Holmes" series and any book written by Doyle, another reason was because I thoroughly enjoy mystery books. A literary technique used in this text is classism as the author emphasizes the different classes such as the high class like the Baskervilles and the lower class as the small town next to the estate. Two very obvious interesting characters are Holmes and Watson but another sneaky individual is Mr. Stapleton a butterfly collector living out on the moor. The overall theme of this book would have to be "Do not trust appearances."

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars because it is an overall great read, had just the right amount of detail for me, and had that frightening old style tale feeling to it. I would recommend this novel to mature and strong readers as it is written in advanced vocabulary and old English style text. This story reminded me of all of the previous Conan Doyle books I have read.

The Hound Of Baskervilles written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, written for the purpose to bring Holmes back is a challenging mystery novel and includes danger for Holmes and his partner. If you could, would you take the place of Watson as the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes' assistant?
--Rob, 8th grade

I am so glad that you chose to read and review this book!  This is one of the most popular book choices for our 9th graders during their "Classics" unit each spring.  I, too, am a big fan of mysteries and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  By the way, this is NOT the cover of the book that we have in the library, thank goodness!  We have the great one with the evil hound baring his teeth...much more in line with the tone of the book, but it wouldn't upload to the blog at all.

Student Review: Beautiful (Martinusen-Coloma)

Title: Beautiful: Truth is Found When Beauty is Lost

Author: Cindy Martinusen-Coloma
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Pages: 272
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book is about an amazing girl named Ellie Summerfield. She has everything a teenager could want in her life: she’s pretty, popular, gets straight A’s, and has a schedule filled with parties or volunteer commitments. One day though changed everything! She went to a party and was coming home late at night with her friend and got into a huge car crash. Her friend died, and she survived but had 3rd degree burns all over the left side of her! So this book is mostly how her personality takes a huge turn after the accident, and her dealing with these burns.

The theme of this book is really the underdog and the decision because Ellie does of course have a disadvantage because of the burns on her face but she has to make a decision if she wants to complain about these burns all her life, or live her life in a better way. I thought an interesting character was Megan Summerfield, Ellie’s sister. Megan was the opposite of Ellie at the beginning of the book. She smoked, drank, hated life, barely had friends and hated her sister. After Ellie’s accident though you can see a nicer side of Megan and both sisters' relationship changes for the better!

I liked how the author describes everything with great detail, and this book makes you very emotional at times. I disliked however how the story dragged on at times. All in all, I would recommend this book to any teen girl because it makes you realize what true beauty is. This book shows how one thing can impact someone forever and I truly learned many lessons about what beautiful really is in this book.

This book really makes you think deeply….what if you had something horrible happen to yourself, how would you deal with it?
--Pooja, 8th grade

I have not read this book, but the cover is very intriguing.  I am wondering if it would work for our 8th Grade Survival unit?  Hmmm...this might be another one to add to my "to read" pile.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Student Review: The Guardians of Ga'Hoole: The Capture (Lasky)

Title: Guardians of Ga’Hoole: The Capture
Author: Kathryn Lasky
Genre: Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy
Pages: 219
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Once upon a time, there was an order of knightly owls, from a kingdom called Ga’Hoole, who would rise each night into the blackness and perform noble deeds. Or at least that’s what the most famous owl legend says!

Soren is a young barn owl living happily in the kingdom of Tyto, until he falls out of his nest. Unfortunately, his nest up in a tree and Soren can’t fly. After trying to get help, Soren is snatched by a mysterious owl and brought to a faraway canyon called the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls. There he meets Gylfie, a highly intelligent elf owl. Together, they try and penetrate the purpose of St. Aegolius. When they uncover some alarming facts, Soren and Gylfie know they must escape and find the Island of the Great Ga’Hoole Tree, to save all owl kind.

Throughout this enthralling book, I discovered a theme that was very important to me. It was to believe in yourself. Every time an owl talked about flying, or overcoming a challenge, they always said that you had to believe you could do it.

I loved this book! It drew me in from the beginning, and kept me there until the end. It also had many twists and events I never saw coming. This is the perfect book for any adventure reader or fantasy enthusiast! Although it’s not the best book I’ve ever read, I still enjoyed it immensely.

Gylfie and Soren believe in the Ga’Hoolian legend. Do you?
--Samantha, 8th grade
Thank you Samantha!  Did you see the recent movie based on The Guardians of Ga'Hoole?  I have not, but am interested to hear from anyone who has (see yesterday's post about movies based on books)...

Student Review: Split (Avasthi)

Title: Split
Author: Swati Avasthi
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Survival

Pages: 233
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

At age 16 Jace Witherspoon runs away from home to escape his father’s abusive tendencies. His plan is to find his brother Christian who also ran away but before him and then save his mother, but his father warns him he will kill her if Jace comes back. Jace is at a loss, but then he hurries to realize that he must save his mother before his father has another temper burst and decides to kill her. The clock is ticking so Jace finally decides to make his decision and go back to save his mother.

I think this book was a great example of the domestic violence that people go through every day. I enjoyed the story because seeing what it was like to go through life with an abusive father and suffer what Jace has suffered. The entire story itself is about how Jace deals with what he has gone through and how he will deal with it. The story talks about his problems in the past, like how he discovers he has his own abusive problems and beats up his girlfriend. Parts of the story were all flashbacks and commonly reoccur during the story and explain a lot about his past. But in the end he resolves his problems and he makes a big emotional breakthrough.

The theme here in this book is coming of age, because Jace deals with a lot and matures through these experiences. He experiences several events that shape him into a person that is positive, calm, and trustworthy. A small note is that at first Jace abandons his mother when he first leaves. This comes back to haunt him even after he tried to rescue her.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars because the book was relatively short and packed a big story into a small book. I would have like for the author to elaborate more. This book is good for both boys and girls but the genre is mainly for people who like tragedy stories.

What would you do if you had to make a decision, a decision to leave your old life behind or try to piece together the remains?
-Aaron, 8th grade

This was one of the first books I reviewed on the blog.  You can read my quick  review here.  I notice that I gave the book a 3 1/2 out of 5 stars...which is interesting because now I actually feel very strongly about how much I love this book.  Hmmmm...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Avalon High...the Disney Movie?

When you have a 3rd grade girl living in your house, you are frequently inundated with all things Disney Channel.  I will be the first to admit that several of the shows make me want to poke my eyes out, but I have grown quite fond of Good Luck Charlie and Hannah Montana (or Hannah Montana Forever). 

Which means that my Sunday evenings are spent curled up on the couch with a giggly girl, watching the Disney Channel.  And of course with Disney Channel shows come Disney Channel commercials...ugh! 

Recently (well, probably since August), Disney has been promoting their upcoming made-for-tv movie, "Avalon High."  My daughter thinks it looks great and is very excited to see it on Friday when it premieres.  I am having a much tougher time adjusting to the fact that one of my ALL-TIME favorite books has been Disney-fied.

Now, my problem likely stems from the fact that Disney is targeting the pre-teen crowd with their marketing efforts and my 8 year old wants to watch it because she recognizes some of the teen actors.  The book stars Ellie, a high school junior recently moved to Maryland and enrolled at Avalon High School...where several students may or may not be reincarnations of King Arthur and his court.  Cabot delivers an original and clever twist on the legend of King Arthur that hard core Arthurians and novices (like myself) will enjoy.

Meg Cabot, author extraordinnaire, has posted about this movie on her blog and has no ill will towards Disney and encourages readers to enjoy the movie!  She also reminds us that movies can never take the place of books, and we should not expect them to because of the time limitations inherant to film.  So, because I am a HUGE fan of Ms. Cabot, I will take her advice and enjoy the movie for the entertainment that it is intended to be.  And someday, when my daughter is in junior high, I will introduce her to the books! 

But I warn you, if there is singing and/or choreographed dance routines, I might lose it!

What do you think?  How successful are movies based on books?  Do you have a favorite movie based on book?

Student Review: The Two Towers (Tolkien)

Title: The Two Towers
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure
Pages: 447
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

During the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins was given the task of destroying the ring, which can control all of Middle Earth, into the fires of Mt. Doom. This book picks up where the first left off. The book is written in several parts, and they alternate between the adventures of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, who are all hobbits, and Aragorn - a man, Gimli – a dwarf, Legolas – an elf, Boromir – a man, and Gandalf – a wizard. Plus, the brief adventure of the hobbits, Merry and Pippin. The book begins with a huge fight between orcs and the fellowship. Orcs are large, vile, and nasty creatures. Boromir is killed, and the rest of the company is split into three groups. Frodo and Sam continue on alone in hopes of destroying the ring. Merry and Pippin are captured by the orcs. The rest of the company tries to track down Merry and Pippin. After three days Merry and Pippin escape into Fangorn, a forest where trees can move, and even walk and talk. The fellowship finally meets-up with Merry and Pippin. Frodo and Sam have made Gollum, a very, very evil hobbit their guide.

I thought that the Two Tower’s theme was the never, ever give-up, trust your friends, and to always do what is right. An interesting character that I loved to read about was Sam. He was Frodo’s moral support. Many times during the book Frodo says he can’t go on, but each time Sam encourages him, and they continue. J.R.R. Tolkien uses a formal and old English style of writing. At first, it was very hard to read, but eventually I got used to it, and even appreciated it.

This book was absolutely amazing! The book constantly had me hooked, so I flew through the pages very quickly. I would recommend the book to guys and gals. Although, be warned, there are some gory and gruesome parts in the book! If you have read the Eragon books, you’ll love The Two Towers. I actually thought that Eragon seems to be loosely bases on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Even if you have watched the movies, you should give the book a try because there are many exciting parts that the movie left out!

If you bore the ring that could control all of Middle Earth, wouldn’t you be tempted to use it?
--Carli, 8th Grade

Great review Carli!  I am so glad to have a review of a book that I have not read.  Shhhh...don't tell anyone!

Student Review: Palace of Mirrors (Haddix)

Title: Palace of Mirrors
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 297
Ratings: 4 out of 5 stars

Cecilia is 14 years old and her parents the king and queen of the kingdom Suala were murdered when she was a baby. So to keep Cecilia safe she was whisked away and given a fake identity. And a replacement princess, Desmia, was put in for her. As Cecilia gets older, it becomes harder to keep her secret. One night her house is attacked. She ends up sneaking away and confiding everything about her real identify to her best friend Harper. Cecilia decides that she can’t live watching someone else do what she is supposed to do. After Harper and Cecilia travel to the Palace of Mirrors where Desmia lives they run into two problems. One being that Desmia doesn’t believe them, and two, there are 12 other girls along with Cecilia who also claim that they are the true princess.

I am very glad that I chose this book and got to read it because it was truly a magical book I had never heard before. The author does an amazing job on the storyline, not one chapter was predictable. This literary technique kept me on my feet while reading this book forcing me to find resolution and get to the end. The emotions the author puts in words for the character make you feel like you are going through the same thing as the character.

The theme of this book is multiple things, but I think the most important theme is coming of age because in the beginning of the book Cecilia is very immature about difficult circumstances she is put into when she is traveling to the palace. She doesn’t really understand how to take bad news. Another theme to this book is, trusting and caring for your friends because they will always be there for you and this is a big factor for Cecilia because everything that happens through the book she doesn’t realize that her best friend Harper was there the whole time with her.

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars because the storyline was the best I have ever read. But I felt that the book was lacking in description of the setting; sometimes the author just flat out said where the character were instead of vividly describing it. Overall I would strongly recommend that you read it.

Think about what it would be like to think you knew exactly who you were with maybe even a little secret and then once you have the guts to say that secret have your true identity stripped from you. Who are you then? Anybody?
--Marisa, 8th grade

A very popular author here at EJH!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

75 Books in 65 Days...HELP!

Yes, it really is true, I have to read 75 books in the next 65 days.  This is not some crazy, self-induced torture, but the reality of being on a book award committee. 

As a member of YALSA's "Best Fiction for Young Adults" (BFYA) award committee, I have certainly been doing my fair share of reading this year.  You simply need to scroll through past blog posts to verify! The BFYA committe is charged with producing a list of the Best Fiction published in the past year for teens ages 12-18.

Don't get me wrong, I am very excited to be a part of the committee!  I have met some great librarians from around the country (and my own backyard), and read many amazing books.  Nominations closed on Monday, November 1st and the final tally is 191 books nominated for the BFYA 2011 list.  Our voting takes place the first weekend in January (1/7-1/11), so I officially have 65 days to read the 75 books I have not yet gotten to. AAAAH!

To tell the truth, I'm actually quite amazed that I'm not further behind than that.  I really expected that number to be closer to 90 unread titles.  WHEW! Small sigh of relief...

To see a list of the nominated titles, check YALSA's website.  As of today, it had only been updated through 9/30/10, but I'm sure that they will update very soon with the remaining books.  Which ones have you read this year?  Which were your favorites?  Any you didn't like at all?  (Trust me, there are a few of those!)

Teens:  Tell me what you think of any of the nominated books that you've read!  Click here for an online survey that I have created.  In the spirit of the recent election, vote early and often!!
Oh, and keep checking back as I update my progress.  Thank goodness I still have a stack of student reviews to fill in those days when I just don't get to posting!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Student Review: Woods Runner (Paulsen)

Title: Woods Runner

Author: Gary Paulsen
Genre: Historical Fiction, Survival
Pages: 165
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Samuel’s parents get taken. This all happened when Samuel went out hunting, like every other days. However, the only different thing from that ‘every other days’ are that British soldiers come and take his parents as prisoners and kill their neighbors. When Samuel finds out, he gets extremely mad. He gets determined to find his parents and seek revenge. He finds them, but then fails to save them. Other people continuously save him from disaster, but he also witnesses how violently the British treated the Colonists. From killing the British soldiers, to giving Samuel food, the author describes how the Colonists came together to save one another, during hard times, which took great affect in the story. With determination and anger mixed together, he heads for New York where prisoners are.

Like other Gary Paulsen books like Hatchet, the theme was basically the same, which is coming of age. Samuel learns to be more mature as in decisions, as the book goes on. He also realizes how much he needs his parents in his life. Lastly, he sees what hardships other people go through because of the trouble of the British soldiers. I picked this book because the last Gary Paulsen book I read, Hatchet, was a really good book to me. When I heard that the author published another book, the memory just made me read this book. An interesting character was Samuel, not just because that he was the main character, but because he was about the same age as me and I could just see the difference between him and me (during that period of time and at the present).

Overall, this was a really good book because the author did a good job on making the parts in the book seem so realistic. However, the book seemed too short. At certain times, it felt like summarizing the important events. I thought the author would explain more, but he didn’t. Still, it was in the between good and fascinating, so I gave it 3.5 stars out of 5 stars. People who like other books from Gary Paulsen like Hatchet, and Woodsong. This book made me think of Hatchet, because some parts were very similar.

If your parents get taken, and everything falls down in your world, what would you do? Would you just pretend nothing happened and act like nothing happened? Or would you try to get your parents back? That is the decision. –Kevin, 8th Grade

Thanks, Kevin! I reviewed the book on the blog back in April.  You can read my review here, though it is not nearly as detailed as Kevin's.  This book is nominated for Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) 2011...stay tuned to see if it makes the winning list.

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