Sunday, October 28, 2012

Liar and Spy, Rebecca Stead

This is the second book I've read by Rebecca Stead. The first one was called When You Reach Me, and I read it a few years back for a college class. My professor for that class was Dr. Jennifer Wilson, the best teacher I've ever had. When You Reach Me had won the Newbery Medal that year, and we had to read it and then complete a project either questioning or validating the legitimacy of medals and awards like the Newbery. Dr. Wilson unfortunately died in 2011, and that's part of the reason I really wanted to read this book - it reminded me of her.

Georges, the main character in Liar and Spy is one of those stereotypical weird kids. He's weird right down to his name...the 's' on 'Georges' is silent, so it's really just George. His parents are big fans of a painter named Georges Suerrat, his namesake. Anyway, Georges's dad loses his job, and the family finds themselves relocating from their luxurious, custom home to an apartment complex in Brooklyn. There, Georges meets a boy named Safer, who just might be weirder than Georges himself. Safer has two siblings, a sister named Candy and a brother named Pigeon. Rumor is that the children were allowed to name themselves.

Aside from struggling with the big move, trying to fit in at school, and befriending the odd birds of Safer's apartment, Georges's mom is almost completely out of the picture. The story is that she's working double shifts at the local hospital to make up for the dad's lost job. Georges has no real communication with her aside from notes that they leave each other written out in Scrabble letters each morning/night - she's already at work when he goes to school and home in bed when he gets home.

There's a strange air of mystery throughout the whole novel, like Georges is hiding something. For a while I thought that maybe the dad was having an affair, or maybe the mom had actually moved away. The confusion is finally cleared up in the end of the novel, and it's a big surprise.

This novel was very similar to When You Reach Me in that the chapters seemed disjointed, and sometimes the link between all of the different happenings in the novel seemed vague. However, it's all wrapped up nice and neatly in the end.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Between the Lines, Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

I was so excited when I saw this - a YA Novel by Jodi Picoult!! She's one of my favorite writers, but her books are sometimes a little mature for middle school readers. Between the Lines, though, is a novel she co-wrote with her daughter, who's a teenager. It's her first YA novel.

Almost every girl can remember a childhood crush on a fairy prince. Well, Between the Lines takes this childhood crush to a whole new level. Delilah is the main character, and she's sort of a social outcast. She really only has one friend, Jules, and the rest of the school seems to hate her, largely because of the frequency with which she accidentally injures school cheerleaders (you'll have to read to figure that one out!). Delilah makes up for her social isolation by spending lots of time reading. She checks out an old-fashioned fairy tale - the kind with the gold-edged pages and beautiful illustrations - from her school's library and instantly feels a unique connection with the book and its characters. Her mother thinks that Delilah's gone crazy, but Delilah knows the truth - she and Prince Oliver of the fairy tale are just meant to be together, and she's got to get him out of the book so that they can live happily ever after together.

It sounds odd and a little far-fetched, but this book is a perfect mix of reality, fantasy, and the old traditional fairy tale. The book itself is beautiful, too. There are lovely illustrations during the fairy tale scenes, and it alternates point-of-view between Delilah and Prince Oliver. Delilah and Oliver's narrations appear in different colors, which makes it really easy to follow.

Here's a trailer for the book:

Monday, July 2, 2012

JBA Post #18: Camo Girl, Kekla Magoon

I finally finished all the Junior Book Award Nominees!

Camo GirlElla and Zachary are best friends and have been for a long time. They've bonded over their issues - Ella has a physical condition which has left marks on her face (she's called "Camo Face" or "C.F." by a mean boy at school, hence the title), and Zachary's father left, rendering he and his mother homeless. They've isolated themselves from the rest of the school, and fantasize that they live in a better world where nothing goes wrong. Ella can see the reality, though, and realizes that everyone at school thinks they're freaks, but she knows Zachary, "Z", needs her, and continues to play along.

However, one day a new boy named Bailey James - the only African American at the school aside from Ella - enrolls at their school and he offers Ella a chance to break out of her "freak" status. As he and Ella become friends, she realizes that he has his own issues, too, despite his popularity at school. Will she take a chance  and leave Z behind, or will she stick by him?

I really enjoyed this book and loved the way Ella and Z's relationship is portrayed. I also thought that Magoon did a great job of showing real middle school characters - the scenes and the things her characters said/did were very realistic.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Darth Paper Strikes Back, Tom Angleberger

 I just finished the sequel to The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, which I blogged about a while ago. This book finds Dwight, Origami Yoda's keeper, in serious trouble. He's up for expulsion from McQuarrie Middle School for "threatening" a cheerleader (which turns out to just be a misunderstanding) and a string of other events that are, well, misunderstood. His troubles all began when evil classmate Harvey began bringing an origami Darth Vader - "Darth Paper" - to school. It seems that Harvey is truly the one behind Dwight's demise.

So, this novel finds Tommy and the gang on a mission to plea Dwight's case with the school board by documenting all of the well-intentioned, kind things that Dwight and Origami Yoda have done for their classmates. 

Written in the same style and with the same humor as before, I enjoyed Darth Paper just as much as Origami Yoda. This book gives you enough background that you don't need to have read the first one to understand it, but I'd definitely recommend reading Origami Yoda first, just because it's a good book! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Three Times Lucky, Sheila Turnage

Three Times Lucky is about a girl, Mo (Moses) LoBeau, who lives in a small North Carolina town where everyone knows everyone. There's one person Mo doesn't know, though, and that's her mother. Mo was found in stream in the middle of a hurricane by a man whom everyone knows as "Colonel." The Colonel is an amnesiac, and has no clue where he came from. I'll let you read the book to find out his story - it was shocking! Anyway, the Colonel and his friend Miss Lana become Mo's adoptive parents and she lives with them happily, working at their town cafe. She is always curious about her mother, though, and sends messages in a bottle to her "Upstream Mother" all the time, in hopes that she'll get a response. 

Everything's great in their town of Tupelo Landing until a resident turns up dead. This brings two big city detectives - Detective Starr and Deputy Marla - into town, but Mo and her friend Dale are convinced that they can solve the crime better than anyone, and they begin to conduct their own investigation. Along the way, there's a hurricane, a funeral, and a kidnapping, but they eventually help save the day and put the murderer in jail.

I could not put this book down. I fell in love with all of Tupelo Landing's quirky characters -  Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton, who acts as the town's mother hen, Reverend Thompson and his son Thes, whose cat goes missing constantly, Miss Lana, who has a room full of wigs (even a Cher wig) and loves to play dress up, and then of course, Mo, who thinks of herself as a bona fide detective, and Dale, who goes along with her every whim. Mo might actually be one of my new favorite heroines - she's smart, tells it like it is, and is a real go-getter. 

This book has the perfect mixture of adventure and mystery that I think could keep any reader engrossed. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Crossed, Ally Condie

I finished Crossed, by Ally Condie, this morning. It is the sequel to her novel Matched, which I read with my sixth graders this spring. Matched is about a dystopian society in which the government (they just call it "The Society") controls all of the important decisions in a person's life. The title comes from the Society's "Match Banquet," in which it matches its citizens, at the age of 17, to their future spouses. I won't give all the back story that's in Matched - read it yourself! - but Crossed obviously picks up where it left off. Here's a quick trailer for Matched

We find Cassia and Ky both at work in the Outer Provinces, in search of The Rising - a group of rebels that are determined to overthrow the Society. The novel alternates between Cassia's and Ky's point of view. Initially, they are separated and are determined to find eachother. Ultimately, they do, and they find the Rising together.

Cassia is still matched to Xander, though, and some of her friends in the Outer Provinces know a secret about him that she isn't privy to. Xander comes to visit her once yet is discouraged by the fact that her heart is still with Ky. I was so shocked when I learned Xander's secret - I can't wait to see how Cassia reacts to learning his secret  in the next, and final, novel in the trilogy.

Overall, this book was a little slow and relatively dull. The situation surrounding Ky and Cassia's journey seemed like it would have lent itself to a lot more adventure and action, but the bulk of the novel was about their feelings and longings to know the Rising and be together - it was, like I said, kind of dull.

However, I really enjoyed Matched, and Crossed ends in a way that I know the third and final novel in the trilogy will be exciting and thrilling, like the first one was. So, I'd still recommend reading it. The third book is titled Reached, and comes out in November. I read this article from the author's website, and it says that the final book will be told from Xander's perspective. Reached is definitely on my to-read list!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Kick, Walter Dean Myers and Ross Workman

KickWalter Dean Myers has written a ton of novels for young adults, but what's cool about this one is that he wrote it WITH a young adult. Ross Workman emailed Myers in 2007 thanking him for his books, and from there  a collaborative project began in which they wound up writing this novel, Kick, together. How awesome would it be to email your favorite author and then have them invite you to collaborate on a novel?!

Anyway, Kick is about a boy named Kevin Johnson who winds up in juvie for a string of offenses - grand theft auto and driving without a license, among others. He was driving his friend Christy McNamara's father's car (with her in it) when he crashed into a light pole and was arrested. But, Johnson is the son of a deceased police officer, and a current officer named Sergeant Brown takes special interest in his case, out of respect for Kevin's dead father.

From the beginning of the novel, it's clear that something isn't quite right about the situation surrounding the night of the arrest. There's something mysterious about Christy's father, yet both Christy and Kevin refuse to talk. This mystery and suspense really propelled the novel and kept me reading. Kevin is a pretty talented soccer player, too, and a huge portion of the novel is devoted to his games and practices. I honestly found those parts kind of boring - I was more interested in the court case.

At the end of the novel, there are a bunch of emails between Myers and Workman as they worked on the novel together. I found those really interesting to read. It was cool to see the kind of advice that Myers gave to an aspiring writing, and to read about the kinds of things they had to work through in order to get the novel published.

Some more fun info about Walter Dean Myers...he was recently named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. That's a pretty important post, and means he'll travel the country for two years promoting literacy among adolescents. I found this article about his appointment, and it discusses Myers's childhood - he dropped out of high school, but maintained a love of books and reading, allowing him to get to where he is today.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Insurgent, Veronica Roth

Okay, I finished Divergent and Insurgent in less than a week and couldn't put them down, so it is NOT FAIR that the third book in the trilogy isn't scheduled to come out until the fall of 2013!

Anyway, Insurgent picks up where Divergent left off, with the hunt for the Divergent going strong. Tris (Beatrice) and her Dauntless trainer/boyfriend Tobias ("Four") find themselves going on a wild and dangerous journey, through several other factions' headquarters in order to save the Divergent and the society as a whole.

Jeanine, the evil leader of the Erudite faction (the faction who values knowledge above all else) is hot on their trail, though, seeking to do cruel and dangerous experiments on them to figure out exactly WHAT being Divergent means and what it does to them.

Tris and Four band up with a group of factionless and vow to overthrow Jeanine and her lackeys while saving their society. Along the way, they meet back up with Tris's parents, her brother, Caleb, - an Erudite transfer - and Tobias's family. Will they prevail?

The novel was fast-paced and action-packed. I don't know why I thought about it more with this novel than the first, but I found myself constantly wondering which faction in this society I would align with if I'd had to choose. I'm still not sure. Like Divergent, it did have some more mature themes and scenarios, so I'd still recommend it to older 7th and 8th grade readers.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

JBA Post #17: Boys Without Names, Kashmira Sheth

I honestly thought I was going to like Boys Without Names a lot more than I did. I love reading novels about children in places that are unfamiliar to me, especially the Middle East and Asia, so I thought this book would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

The main character, Gopal, and his family live in India, on a farm. However, times have gotten tough and they are forced to sell their farm, but finances just keep getting worse. Gopal's parents owe a lot of money to a debt collector, and they decide that the only way to liberate themselves is to move away in secret, to the big city of Mumbai. Gopal's father has a brother there, and he says that he can secure work for Gopal's father, Baba.

The family journeys to Mumbai, and ultimately connects with the uncle, Jama. However, before meeting him, Baba disappears and Gopal, his mother, and twin brother/sister are left to fend for themselves. Gopal longs to make money and be able to contribute to his family's expenses and to thank Jama for his hospitality.

So, when Gopal meets a boy named Jatin who claims he can secure Gopal a job at his "uncle's factory", it sounds like perfection. Gopal soon learns that Jatin is a liar, and finds himself enslaved under a nameless man - whom he nicknames "Scar" - working his days away for little food with a group of other, nameless boys. Over time, Gopal becomes a sort of leader among the other slaves, and they look to him for advice, entertainment, and kindness.

The conditions Gopal and his fellow laborers work under are horrendous, and he vows to get out. Will he?

One of my biggest complaints about the novel is that it moves really slowly - everything seemed to be kind of drawn out and there was not a lot of action. Also, Baba disappears in the beginning and I was waiting for the ENTIRE novel to find out what happened to him, but never received that really annoyed me!

I have one more JBA nominee to read, but there's only one day of school left...guess I won't be meeting my goal this year! :(

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Divergent, Veronica Roth

I just finished Divergent and think I read it in record time! I could NOT put it down. It was strange though; sometimes I wasn't even sure I liked the book - I just had to keep reading. It really caught me.

I will say this...Divergent is not for the faint of heart. It's in the dystopian genre and lots of my students that have read Hunger Games have enjoyed it, but the only way I can think of putting it is that Divergent is more sinister than the world in Hunger Games. Lots more fighting, suicides, and just crazy psycho-manipulation kinds of stuff. It was interesting to me, but I'd recommend it to more mature readers who are prepared for those types of things. There's also some discussion of sex, so I'd put this more as a mature 7th/8th grade book.

Anyway, the concept in Divergent is really cool. After a wave of wars, the people decide that there are several reasons for the breakdown of humanity. They then divide themselves into five "factions" based on what they think the error in society is. The factions are the Abnegation who believe that selfishness is to blame, the Dauntless who believe it was cowardice, the Amity who believe that peace will save the world, the Erudite who believe that a lack of knowledge lead to society's demise, and the Candor who believe that honesty will yield a productive, cohesive society.

At sixteen, every member of society chooses which faction they will live under, and begins the initiation rites for that particular faction. They can choose to stay within their family's faction or leave and go out on their own, but their decisions are based largely on an "aptitude test" which predicts which faction their personality is most aligned with. The main character, Beatrice, is deemed "Divergent" after her test, meaning that she has aptitudes for more than one of the factions. Beatrice knows this is rare, but as the novel progresses, she comes to find out just how dangerous her status truly is. To the people of her world, it's worth killing over.

This novel is packed with twists and turns and unexpected action/drama. If you like dystopian novels and are  prepared for some rather grim material, I'd definitely tell you not to be overwhelmed by the length - it's almost 500 pages - and give it a shot! You won't be disappointed.

The next book in the trilogy, Insurgent, just came out...can't wait to get started on it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Gardener, S.A. Bodeen

The GardenerHave you ever heard the word autotroph before? Well, an autotroph is an organism that can generate its own food source, and that's what this novel is all about.

A group of scientists in The Gardener have become increasingly alarmed by the dwindling food supply. So, they've made it their mission to create human autotrophs - humans that are capable of making their own food - for when the inevitable food crisis occurs.

The main character, Mason, happens to meet one of the kids involved in this experiment, a mysteriously beautiful girl named Laila. Not fully understanding the experiment and determined to save her, Mason goes on an adventure-filled quest to figure out exactly what's going on at the laboratory that she came from, and just who "The Gardener" that Laila is so terrified of is. You'll be shocked when you realize "The Gardener's" identity!

The book presented an interesting concept (the food crisis) and had lots of plot twists that I didn't expect. It has a little bit of everything - dystopian themes, romance, mystery, and adventure. I'd recommend it to both boys and girls.

On another note...I only have TWO Book Award nominees left! They are Boys Without Names and Camo Girl. Do you think I can finish?! I think I can!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys

I've read this book before, but it just came out in paperback so when I bought a copy for my classroom I decided to re-read it. I'm glad I did!

Between Shades of Gray is about a girl named Lina who lives in Lithuania during WWII. Lina, her mother, and her brother are separated from her father and shipped out to a labor camp in Siberia, operated by Joseph Stalin's men. Lina is an aspiring artist, and she hopes that sending drawings of her experiences will help her father find her family.

I love this novel for a few reasons. First of all, so much time is devoted to Hitler's concentration camps when studying WWII, that we often overlook terrible things that were done by other people (like Stalin) during WWII. Also, the book is really well-written, and I love the flashbacks that Lina has linking experiences from the camp with with memories she has of the past.

There are a few questionable scenes, but I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in WWII and in seeing things from a different perspective.

Monday, May 14, 2012

JBA Post #16: Saving Sky, Diane Stanley

I found the idea behind this novel really interesting, but I didn't actually enjoy the book too much. I think that I was expecting it to be more action-packed than it was.

Sky, the main character, lives with her family on a ranch in New Mexico. America is fighting a war against terrorism, and there are constant terrorist attacks. One attack results in the entire power grid for the nation being wiped out. This sparks lots of anti-Muslim sentiments. In fact, the government even opens detention centers just for Muslim citizens and begins to round them up and imprison them there.

A boy at Sky's school comes under question (because his family is Muslim) and she and her family take him in to hide him from being detained. They try as hard as they can to keep him safe - do you think they can succeed?

I did find Sky to be a really likable character, and thought the book had a great message - a few people is all it takes to make a difference - but overall the book did not meet my expectations.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

JBA Post #15: A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park

The stories in A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, span two continents and almost three decades, and connect the lives of two very different people.

Nya is a young girl of the Neur tribe, living in Sudan in 2008. She is charged with collecting water for her family - a rough task since there isn't much potable water close to her village. She has to make a long journey to the water source, and even then, the water is unfit for drinking, but it's all they have. Until, that is, foreign men come into her village and begin drilling a well, saying that there is a clean water source right under their feet, deep under the surface of the earth.

Salva is also from Sudan, but from a different tribe - the Dinka - a tribe long at the war with the Neur. Salva's story begins in the 1980s, during the harsh Sudanese civil war. Salva becomes separated from his family and becomes the leader of the 'Lost Boys', a group of boys that traveled 1000s of miles by foot to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Years later, Salva is lucky enough to be adopted into a family in America, but he obviously cannot let go of his African roots, and curiosity about his lost family consumes him. One day, he receives an email saying that his father is alive, hospitalized in Africa. He travels to see his father, and learns that he has a stomach condition that has grown from drinking dirty water. Salva longs to do something to aid his people with this issue of unclean water.

Can you guess how Salva and Nya are related?

This book is based on a true story - Salva is a real person. I really enjoyed it, and liked how it alternated from the past to the present, between Nya's voice and Salva's. There are some upsetting scenes, though, such as when the refugees are kicked out of the camp and have to swim through crocodile-infested waters with soldiers shooting at them.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Lost Songs, Caroline B. Cooney


I've never read a novel by Caroline B. Cooney before, because for some reason I always thought she would write things I didn't like. However, I loved this book
The Lost Songs, simply put, is about a girl named Lutie who lives deep in the South and who has a unique possession - she is the only person that knows all the words to a plethora of songs that her great-grandmother, an African American, used to sing during her work-time. A music education professor learns of the songs and becomes interested in them. He wants to publish the songs and bring them to the rest of the world. Lutie doesn't like the plan, though - she feels like the songs are hers alone, and that sharing them would ruin them. She doesn't want them to become commercialized or for people to try to interpret them and alter their original purpose.

The novel is so much more though. The other characters in Lutie's life are so interesting and draw you in - I felt like I had a personal relationship with each character. There's her crazy, drug addict mother whom Lutie has never really known, but contacts her to reveal a secret. Then, there are her aunts, Grace and Tamika, who raise her in her mother's absence. And there's Miss Veola, her dead grandmother's best friend and the pastor of their somewhat eccentric church. Lutie also deals with Doria, a new-to-town girl from up north who is experiencing a deep case of culture schock. Then there are Kelvin and Cliff (a.k.a. "Train"), the boys that Lutie grew up with but has grown apart from. In fact, Cliff lives life on the edge, aspiring to follow in the footsteps of his now-imprisoned older brother, DeRade. It's hard to think about how all these characters and perspectives could come together to create one cohesive story, but they do, and they do so beautifully.

I loved everything about this book - it really has something for everyone. I would recommend it mainly to girls, and anyone interested in music since a lot of the plot is driven by Lutie's knowledge of the Lost Songs and by Doria's link to them since she is an organist. There are parts of the plot that would appeal to boys, too though...some violence and action!

On a side note, this is the first book I've ever read entirely on my iPad, and I must say I did NOT like it. The first page of each chapter had a little snippet of what was to come on it, and I think I would have gone back and re-read those if I'd been reading a print book, but I didn't on the iPad because it was too frustrating to flip back and forth.

Monday, May 7, 2012

JBA Post #14: Woods Runner, Gary Paulsen

I remember reading Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, when I was in middle school, so it was fun to read another one of his books.

Woods Runner is set during the Revolutionary War and is about a boy named Samuel, who lives out in the forest with his family. One day, he's hunting for bear, and returns to see that his family's cabin has been burned and the entire settlement they live in has been decimated. He finds the bodies of his neighbors everywhere, but notices that his parents' bodies are not among the dead. This leads him to believe that his parents are in fact still alive, and prisoners of war, so he sets out to follow the attackers and find his parents.

Samuel receives help along the way and even picks up a pseudo-sister when her parents are slaughtered in front of her. Ultimately, Samuel's quest is successful and he is reunited with his parents. But after all that he has seen - all the death and destruction - will he ever be the same?

Each chapter began with a sort of historical note about some aspect of war - war orphans, Revolutionary War weapons, treatment of prisoners, etc. - I found those passages really interesting and they were matched quite nicely with what was going on in the plot. This mixture of history and fiction really helped round out the book and made it go by quickly.

I'd recommend this book mainly to boys, especially those interested in war.

Friday, May 4, 2012

JBA Post #13: Shooting Kabul, N.H.Senzai

Shooting Kabul

Shooting Kabul was an intriguing book. It starts off in Afghanistan. Fadi and his family live there but his parents see that things are getting tenser and tenser as the Taliban takes more control, and they know that they need to leave and get to America.
So, they pay human traffickers to take them over the border and eventually to America. During their middle-of-the-night journey, though, a member of the family - the youngest daughter, Mariam - is lost. The family leaves Afghanistan without her, and each member of the family carries a huge guilt, thinking that he/she is responsible for losing Mariam.

Once in America (California, to be exact), Fadi and his family struggle to fit in while still keeping hope alive to be reunited with Mariam. Fadi learns of a photography contest at school that could earn him a plane ticket to India - right near Afghanistan - and he becomes obsessed with winning the competition, and getting back to Afghanistan to find his baby sister.

That doesn't exactly work out for him, but the book does end on a happy note.

I loved this novel, especially because it's about a topic that really interests me. I love to read about the Middle East, the fighting there, etc. The novel taught me something that I didn't know - the Taliban actually did a lot of good for Afghanistan. We only think of them as the radical, power-hungry group that is responsible for lots of death and destruction, but before they got to that point they actually did a lot to help Afghanistan.

JBA Post #12: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Tom Angleberger

Only eight more to go!!! I read this book a while back and forgot to post about it until Ashley reminded me about it today.

I thought this book was HILARIOUS! It's about a group of middle school kids, and they have a classmate named Dwight who walks around with an origami Yoda (the Star Wars character) on his finger. Origami Yoda gives the kids great advice, and they set out to determine if he's real or not.

The book is set up just like a case file, with pictures, comments, and anecdotes from the different people involved. It was fun to see all the different characters' perspectives on Yoda's status, and I found myself giggling the whole time.

I can't wait to read Tom Angleberger's next book, Darth Paper Strikes Back. He also has another one coming out in August called The Secret of the Fortune Wookie. I'd recommend these books mainly to boys. They're pretty short, too, so they're good if you don't really have a lot of time to read.

JBA Post #11: Mamba Point, Kurtis Scaletta

For some reason when I picked this book up, I wasn't expecting to like it. And I was right - I really didn't enjoy it at all. In fact, it almost felt like a chore to read it. I found that my mind would wander so much while I read that I'd have to go back and reread pages because I had no idea what was going on in the story. It just really didn't hold my attention.

Anyway, the Linus Tuttle (a super nerd who has a nervous condition) finds himself moving to Africa after his father gets a job at the U.S. embassy in Liberia. Linus is sick of being known for his anxiety attacks and lack of friends, so he vows that he'll become a newer, cooler kid when he gets to Africa. This doesn't really work out, though.

What does happen is that Linus develops a strong connection with a black mamba snake - a snake that's supposed to be very dangerous to man...lethal, in fact. A native Liberian tells Linus that this connection is called a kaseng, and that the snake won't hurt him. The native is right, the mamba snake won't hurt Linus, but will his connection with it hurt someone else?

As I said earlier, I was pretty unimpressed with this book. Most of the novel was pretty mundane and tedious, and then when the action part FINALLY came, it was over quickly.

I just noticed that the author had an essay in the book Dear Bully that I read a while back - cool!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

JBA Post #10: Dark Life, Kat Falls

This book was AMAZING! I started it three or four times but couldn't get past the first couple pages - I thought it was kind of boring and didn't really make sense. But one day I sat down and forced myself to read it, and I got hooked!

Dark Life takes the dystopian genre to a whole new place. In the novel, the oceans have risen (they call it "The Rising") leaving minimal livable space on land. People live in tiny, cramped apartments, have to get on waiting lists for housing, and have no space for anything. So, a group of "pioneers" tests out living underwater, deep in the ocean, in a place they've named Benthic Territory.

In addition to the dystopian themes, the novel almost takes you back in history to the Wild Wild West. There are "pioneers" and "outlaws" and the people live on underwater "homesteads." All in all, it was a really interesting concept.

Anyway, the main character, Ty, meets a girl named Gemma who lives above the sea - those people are called "Topsiders". Gemma's brother has lived undersea for a while, and she is trying to find him. She enlists Ty's help. Meanwhile, Ty and his family/neighbors are fighting off the invasion of a group of outlaws called the Seablite Gang. Ty and Gemma soon discover that her brother is NOT who she thought he was, and Ty has to use his "Dark Gift" - an almost magical byproduct of living under the sea for so long - to help both Gemma and his family.

I really loved all that the book had to offer - a mix of dystopian themes, elements of fantasy (the "Dark Gifts"), history, mystery, and suspense. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for something different, especially boys. It's also a series; I can't wait to read the next one, Rip Tide.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

JBA Post #9: Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine

Caitlin is an eleven year old girl with Aspberger's syndrome. She struggles in school, and her only friend is her older brother, Devon. But Devon is killed in a school shooting, and Caitlin must learn to navigate the world - and school - on her own.

Caitlin's dad is completely devastated after the shooting and provides little help to her. Her mom died years earlier from cancer, so her source of aid is the school counselor, Mrs. Brook. Through her, Caitlin learns about empathy, friendship, and gaining closure.

I liked the strong message of this novel and thought that Kathryn Erskine did a terrific job of showing exactly what the mind of someone with Aspberger's looks like.  I also loved the allusion to How to Kill a Mockingbird (you'll have to read the book to figure out how they're connected!). However, I didn't really enjoy the novel that much. It didn't hold my attention - I often caught my mind wandering as I read.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

JBA Post #8: Is It Night or Day?, Fern Schumer Chapman

Is It Night or Day? follows Edith (Tiddy) Westerfeld as she journeys to America during World War II. Tiddy's family is from a small town in Germany, and they are the only Jews left in town. Tiddy's father desperately wants to leave, but he refuses to go without his mother and she is determined to stay in Germany.
So, the father sends his two daughters - Tiddy and Betty - to America by themselves, on a huge ship. At first the journey seems almost like a grand adventure, but when they arrive in America, things get harder. Betty goes and lives with a foster family, while Tiddy lives with her aunt and uncle in Chicago. Tiddy becomes almost Cinderella-esque in her Aunt Mildred's house: she cleans, carries groceries home, and is even sent out when they have parties.

I really liked this book because it showed how terribly Jews were treated even in America during WWII. I think that's something that most people don't know about. For instance, once fighting got intense between America and Germany, Tiddy got a letter in the mail that she was considered an "enemy alien" by the U.S. Department of Immigration, and had to register as such and carry her papers around with her at all times. There were also kids at school that were mean to her.

The book talks a lot about identity - Tiddy's struggle to assimilate and find her identity in Chicago, as well as her aunt's struggle to appear wealthy even though she's not.

The book was interesting but relatively dry and sometimes a little slow.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

I took a break from JBA books for a few days to read Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, and I'm glad I did!

WonderWonder is about a boy, August Pullman, who was born with an extreme physical deformity. His face is very deformed - so much so that he's been homeschooled his whole life. However, as he begins fifth grade (middle school), his parents decide that it's time for him to go to a real school.

As he begins school, Auggie struggles with the stereotypical "mean kids" of middle school, and has to figure out who's REALLY his friend and who's been TOLD to be his friend. There was also a mother who was sort of out to get Auggie - his classmate Julian's mom. It's sad to think that even adults can be that cold-hearted.

The book ends well, thankfully, but there were parts that made me almost cry! It's so sad that people can be so mean to one another, and even though this was "just a book," I know that people are actually that mean in real life.

Even though this book is kind of lengthy, the chapters are all really short, which made it move quickly. Overall, it was a great read and I'd recommend it to everyone.

Friday, April 20, 2012

JBA Post #7: Hero, Mike Lupica

I know Mike Lupica is a relatively popular author, but this is the first book of his that I've ever read. I thought most of his novels were about sports, but this one was not.

Hero is about a boy named Zach Harriman. He lives in New York with his mom and his dad, even though his dad is often out of town on confidential missions for the government. Zach doesn't know much about what his dad does, but he considers him a sort of hero. But, his dad dies in a plane crash in the beginning of the novel, leaving Zach with a lot of questions about his life. Zach feels like his dad's death wasn't an accident and he vows to figure out what actually happened.

This quest leads Zach to Montauk, on the outer edges of Long Island, and introduces him to Mr. Herbert, a mysterious old man that enlightens him to the fact that his dad was not only a hero in the sense that he saved people's lives, but also in the sense that he had magic powers - like a superhero. These powers have been passed on to Zach!

As Zach struggles to figure out what this realization means for his future, he learns more and more about his dad - his dad was going to run for Vice President - and meets plenty of villains. Will Zach be able to save the world and avenge his father's death?

The novel was hard to put down in the beginning; I was so curious about what happened to Zach's father, but then it kind of felt like it all felt together too quickly. I wasn't really satisfied with the ending or with what Zach learned about his father's actual death. Overall, it was a good book, I was just a little disappointed in the ending.

Monday, April 16, 2012

JBA Post #6: Warriors in the Crossfire, Nancy Bo Flood

I finished Warriors in the Crossfire, by Nancy Bo Flood, this weekend and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It reminded me of another book I've read, The Bomb, by Theodore Taylor.

Warriors in the Crossfire is about two boys - cousins Joseph and Kento - that live on an island called Saipan during World War II. Joseph is a native, the son of the island's chief. Kento, though, is Japanese. When the Japanese invade the island and begin imposing curfews, restrictions, and even close down the local school, the boys know that fighting will soon begin. Can their familial ties keep them close even though they are on opposite sides? Or will one betray the other?

Warriors in the CrossfireAs predicted, fighting begins and Joseph's father (the chief) must leave, leaving Joseph to care for his family. There's a lot of action and drama as the conflict unravels - there's even a scene on the "suicide cliffs", where natives jumped to their death in order to spare themselves from the fighting.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in WWII, in foreign cultures, and most boys.

Monday, April 9, 2012

JBA Post #5: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, Erin Dionne

I LOVED this book! It's about a girl whose parents are much so that they named their two daughters Hamlet and Desdemona, characters from some of Shakespeare's works.

The main character is Hamlet, and nothing about her family is normal. Her parents are both Shakespeare professors at a local college, and live life completely based on their passion for Shakespeare. They dress as Shakespeare would have, only eat foods typical of the time, and speak as Shakespeare would have - they don't even let their kids use contractions! On top of that, Hamlet's little sister, Desdemona, is a genius. She's only seven years old but takes college courses and even tutors middle school kids in math.

At the beginning of Hamlet's eighth grade year, Desdemona starts attending the same school as her and is even in some of the same classes. Hamlet has a lot of trouble with this. This trouble is compounded when her class begins a Shakespeare study and Hamlet finds out that her freak-show parents will be coming in to help her teachers.

This book really has it all...familial angst, typical middle school "mean girls", humor, allusions to Shakespeare's works, and a happy ending! I'd recommend it to any girls looking for a pretty quick, entertaining read. Don't fight the urge to read some Shakespeare when you're finished!

JBA Post #4: Crunch, Leslie Connor

When you hear the word "crunch", you probably think of different things. I personally think of chips. But, this novel by Leslie Connor is about a different kind of crunch - a gas crunch.
The novel is about the Mariss family - a family with five kids - and their experiences during a "crunch" when the country runs out of gas. Mr. Mariss is a truck driver, and he and Mrs. Mariss get stranded away from home when the nation's supply runs out, leaving their five kids to fend for themselves and run the family's bicycle repair shop. As you can imagine, bike's become a lot popular during a gas outage, so the kids have their work cut out for them. 

Dewey Mariss, one of the boys, is the head of the bike shop during his parents' absence, and soon notices that as he and his brother struggle to keep the shop afloat, parts begin to go missing. Dewey tries to figure out who the culprit is without letting his older, bossy sister catch wind of the trouble. He's determined to prove that he can run things on his own, with no help from others. 

I thought this book presented a really interesting scenario. I never think about what would happen if the United States ran out of gas, but Leslie Connor did a great job of presenting what could happen in that situation. It really made me think a lot about that type of situation, and how people would react. In the book, there was a lot of theft and violence as people tried to secure gasoline - I imagine that is pretty much how it would be in real life. 

The only thing I didn't like about the novel was that the Mariss kids were all to perfect. They had little arguments and fights, but for the most part they got along great without any trouble while their parents were gone. I don't think any family - especially one with five kids - is really that perfect! Also, I wish the book had a different cover. I was not looking forward to reading it after looking at the cover art, but I was pleasantly surprised once I began. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

JBA Post #3: Sources of Light, Margaret McMullan

I was surprised by this book - to be totally honest, I did not read the synopsis before I started it, and I'm not sure what I thought it was about...but I did NOT expect it to be about the Civil Rights Movement in Jackson, Mississippi!

Despite surprising me with its subject matter, I really enjoyed this novel. It's about a girl, Samantha, who moves to Jackson, MS with her mother right in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. Sam's mother works as an art history professor at a local college and soon starts giving lectures at another local, all black college. This spells trouble for Sam and her mother - Sam has trouble fitting in at school and has difficulty rationalizing what is going on around her and her mother's involvement in it. 

Her mother's friend, Perry, gives her a camera (hence the title) and she begins to document what goes on around her through photos. She captures things that need to be seen and even finds some of her photos published in a national newspaper. 

The novel has a good bit of action - fights, fires, voter registration riots, and even a murder - which really keeps the pages turning. I'd recommend this book mainly to girls (there are some kissing scenes and a young romance) who are interested in historical fiction.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

JBA Post #2: The Grimm Legacy, Polly Shulman

I absolutely LOVED this book. It made me think of another Grimm-inspired book I read a while ago, A Tale Dark and Grimm.

Anyway, the novel is about a girl named Elizabeth who lands herself a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository - a library for objects, not books. Elizabeth soon discovers that the library is full of secrets, and even contains magical items in the "Grimm collection"...items from Grimm's fairytales!  Reading this book reminded me of all the fairytales that I'd read as a kid and forgotten, and made me really want to read them again.

Elizabeth learns soon after starting her job that magical objects are disappearing from the library. She and her friends (the other library pages, or employees) go on a quest to find out who's behind the thievery. It's a quest that introduces them to a flying dog, a dangerous bird, princes and princesses, and slimy villains. I was so frustrated trying to figure out who was involved in the theft - and I was totally wrong!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone that likes a little mystery mixed in with their fantasy. Check out this book trailer I found for it on

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

SC Junior and Young Adult Book Award Nominees 2012-2013

I'm challenging myself to read (or re-read) all of the 2012-2013 South Carolina Junior Book Award Nominees by the end of the school year. If I finish them, I'll start on the YA Nominees.  Let's see if I can do it!

Here's a list, which is also posted in my room:

SC Junior Book Award Nominees
Bat Scientists, Mary Kay Carson
Boys Without Names, Kashmira Sheth
Camo Girl, Kekla Magoon
Crunch, Leslie Connor
Dark Life, Kat Falls
The Grimm Legacy, Polly Shulman
Hero, Mike Lupica
Is it Night or Day?, Fern Schumer Chapman
A Long Walk to Water: A Novel Based on a True Story, Linda Sue Parks
Mamba Point, Kurits Scaletta
Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine
Ninth Ward, Jewell Parker Rhodes
Roots and Blues: A Celebration, Arnold Adoff
Saving Sky, Diane Stanley
Shooting Kabul, N. H. Senzai
Sources of Light, Margaret McMullan
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Tom Angleberger
The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, Erin Dionne
Warriors in the Crossfire, Nancy Bo Flood
Woods Runner, Gary Paulsen

SC Young Adult Book Award Nominees
Blindsided, Priscilla Cummings
Blue Plate Special, Michelle Kwasney
Claire de Lune, Christine Johnson
Eli the Good, Silas House
Firelight, Sophie Jordan
Five Flavors of Dumb, Antony John
The Ghost and the Goth, Stacey Kade
Heist Society, Ally Carter
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, Lish McBride
Hunger, Jackie Morse Kessler
Lockdown, Walter Dean Myers
Matched, Ally Condie
Pathfinder, Orson Scott Card
Please Ignore Vera Dietz, A. S. King
Prisoners in the Palace: Michaela MacColl
The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson
Something Like Hope, Shawn Goodman
Sorta Like a Rock Star: A Novel, Matthew Quick
Star Crossed, Elizabeth C. Bunce
Virals, Kathy Reichs

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Picture the Dead, Adele Green and Lisa Brown

I picked up this book at the book fair because it looked really interesting to me - I loved the picture on the cover! It's an illustrated novel, with pages from one of the character's scrapbooks included throughout. That's the biggest frustration I had with the book, though...the pages from the scrapbook were sometimes really hard to read!

The novel is set in Civil War Massachusetts, and the main character is a girl named Jennie Lovell. Poor Jennie is an orphan, living with her aunt and uncle while her cousins (she's engaged to one of them) are fighting in the war.

One of the cousins - Quinn - returns and reports that his brother, Will (Jennie's fiance), has died in battle. But Jennie can feel Will's ghost around her and she knows that something isn't right. The family feels his presence and needs closure as well. They visit a photographer named Mr. Geist, a "medium," who says he can capture ghosts in his photos. A ghost does appear in the Lovell family portrait, but it's not who they were expecting.

The story goes on to find Jennie engaged to Quinn - amazing how quickly she got over his dead brother, her former fiance Will - but again, something is not right. As Jennie vows to figure out why Will's ghost won't leave her alone, she discovers nasty secrets about Quinn and there's even an attempted murder. That last part was a huge shock to me; I'll won't spoil it though, I'll let you read for yourself and see what happens!

The novel has a really cool website that accompanies it where the authors allow you to post ghost stories on their blog: This would be fun to do at Halloween!!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wrapped, Jennifer Bradbury

This book was different than the types of books I normally read, but I REALLY liked it. I thought the cover looked interesting so I picked it up.

Wrapped is about a girl named Agnes Wilkins who lives in London during the 1800s. She's obssessed with Jane Austen (even though Austen's identity hasn't been revealed yet - she goes by the pen-name "Lady A") and is very wealthy. She's 17 and about to "debut" into society, which basically means that her parents are looking to marry her off to someone even wealthier. It comes as no surprise that her neighbor, Lord Showalter - the most eligible bachelor in London - is interested in her.

Showalter invites her to a party at his house. At the party, he has a real mummy from Egypt that the guests get to unwrap! Agnes finds something during the unwrapping that leads her on quite an adventure - and has her fall in love with another man, Caedmon. How scandalous! All throughout the book I found myself wondering if Showalter could possibly be as good as he seems when contrasted with find out at the very end.

I loved the history in this book. It's set in the 1800s during England's war with France, and gives lots of good background about Napoleon. It also discusses Egyptian history, and even takes Agnes and Caedmon on an Indiana Jones-like quest. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction.

The author, Jennifer Bradbury, also wrote a novel called Shift that was recommended for the SCJBA this year. I've never read it, but now I want to!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Boy Project (Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister), Kami Kinard

I bought The Boy Project (Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister) from the book fair on Wednesday afternoon and I finished it on Thursday. It was a quick read, but really entertaining - I couldn't put it down! The book and its message are pretty predictable, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless.

It's about a girl named Kara who is the only one in her 7th grade class that's NEVER had a boyfriend. Not even in kindergarden. So, she decides to use this as her science fair project. She's determined to find out how to find your soul mate and ultimately land herself a boyfriend.

I love Kara's voice in the novel - she's smart and sometimes sarcastic, and really tells it like it is. I also love the multi-genre format of the book. Kara gives you all sorts of charts and graphs that explain her "scientific" findings, you have access to some emails that she receives, there is a page of her blog printed, and there are snapshots of the notecards she uses to record findings about her "subjects" (the boys in her classes).

I also really loved the way that the book was framed around this science fair project. It was such a unique idea. If you need to study up on the scientific method for Mrs. Boyle's class, this book could help you! :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dear Bully

This week I read Dear Bully, which is a book of stories compiled by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones. The short stories are all written by YA authors, and all have to deal with their experiences with bullying. I liked the book because I am familiar with a lot of the contributing authors, and because it reminded me how pervasive bullying is. All of the authors set up different scenarios, with different types of bullying, at different points in their lives. But the bottom line was still that they have all experienced bullying.

The book had a really strong message and I think that everyone - not just middle schoolers or people that have been bullied - should read it. One of my favorite quotes from the book was, "We need not just to think but to live outside the box. Weirdness is good. It keeps things interesting," (246).

Here are some authors that contributed to the book that you might be familiar with:

Kieran Scott: She wrote the Clique series (, using the pen name "Kate Brian". I think one of the books was made into a movie.

R. L. Stine: You probably all remember the Goosebumps series - well this is their author and he wrote a story in this book.

Ellen Hopkins: She writes some of my favorite YA books. They are novels written in verse, and include Crank, Glass, Burned.

Carolyn Mackler: She wrote (with Jay Asher) The Future of Us, which I read a few weeks ago and LOVED.

This book is also really cool because it has an accompanying website, that features new bullying stories by famous authors each week. Check it out!