Friday, January 30, 2009


Zoe has always had a love affair with nature. Growing up on the Northwest coast and spending all her free time with her father on his fishing boat, practically made her one with the sea. When her mother and father separate and her mother drags her halfway across the country to the Midwestern plains, Zoe thinks her world has come to an end.

Why do they have to move? They've move a lot in the past several years, but that's been moving to keep up with work. Having her father gone for months at a time on fishing boats is just part of life for Zoe, her older sister Nelia and her younger brother Ollie. They seem to take it in stride. Why can't their mother do the same?

This time is different for some reason. Zoe's mother packs them and all their belongings up in a U-haul and they head east. They're going to the town where their mother grew up. The old family house is now hers and she insists it is just the place for a bed-and-breakfast. Just what does her mother know about running a business anyway and how can she take them away from their father?

After a grueling trip where nothing goes right, they finally arrive. The house that supposedly holds so many memories for her mother turns out to be a rundown mess. Just about everything needs replacing so workmen are soon swarming all over the place. With her mother knee deep in renovations and her sister and brother busy with newfound friends, Zoe finds herself feeling like she usually does - out of place. She makes one new friend, but that hardly makes up for the fact that she hates school and misses her father more than she could have ever imagined.

Zoe gets more attention than she bargained for when she makes the stupid mistake of shoplifting some bust-enhancing cream. When she tries to return it and right her mistake, she is taken to the police station and later appears in court. Her sentence is a list of strict guidelines and community service work at a nearby nature preserve.

It may not be the saltwater sea she is used to, but the sea of prairie grass where she spends her Saturdays soon becomes a fascinating and magical place. That along with a mysterious boy named Ivy might make this new place a home Zoe can learn to love and appreciate.

Author Pamela Todd takes readers on a journey not only across the country, but also into the life of a young girl forced to leave behind the father she loves and the only place she's ever felt at home. Todd gives readers a feeling for Zoe's pain and loneliness, and at the same time, artfully describes the Midwest prairie as nature's ultimate garden. THE BLIND FAITH HOTEL is not a story filled with rock em' sock em' action, but anyone who appreciates a story with emotion, feeling, and the beauty of nature is sure to enjoy this one.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Here's this week's "Waiting on Wednesday." (A soon-to-be available book that I can't wait to read.)

FADE by Lisa McMann

I loved WAKE so it's a given that I can't wait for FADE. Janie Hannagan sees into other people's dreams. According to Kirkus Reviews, the new book is a "tension-filled sequel." In it Janie and her boyfriend Cabel will be working together to catch "a sexual predator working as a teacher in their school."

The waiting is almost over since FADE is due for release in just 12 days!!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

THE GECKO & STICKY: VILLAIN'S LAIR by Wendelin Van Draanen

A boy and his pet gecko. It doesn't seem like the makings of much of an adventure, but imagine if it was a talking gecko with notoriously "sticky" fingers.

Dave Sanchez is a pretty normal kid. He lives in an apartment with his hardworking parents and his annoying sister. Life was fairly routine until the day his pet gecko announced that he could talk. He told some crazy story about helping three loco banditos in their get-rich-quick schemes. Now he says he is trying to track down the diabolical Damien Black.

Sticky the gecko has a powerful Aztec wristband known for its superpowers. The catch is that the evil Damien Black has the power ingots that must be snapped into the wristband to activate its powers - invisibility and the power of flight - just to name a few.

According to Sticky, they must get to the ingots before Damien gets to the wristband and begins his plan to take over the world. Their adventure begins as they battle slimy snails, shrieking bats, and shrunken heads to gain access to Damien's frightful mansion.

This new series by author Wendelin Van Draanen offers fast-paced action and quick-witted humor. Dave and his sassy sidekick Sticky are sure to please fans of Van Draanen's earlier Shedderman series. This is an excellent choice for boys and especially reluctant readers looking for fun and adventure.


Welcome to the suburbs of Australia as seen through the eyes of author Shaun Tan. This collection of fifteen stories is creatively written and illustrated. Not only are readers presented with tales inspired by humor and often bizarre events, but they are also treated to unique, eye-catching artwork with each story.

One story titled “Stick Figures” asks readers to imagine twig-like creatures that roam the neighborhoods. Their stick bodies and sod heads are magical and mysterious.

“Eric” is a foreign exchange student like no other you can imagine. His view of our world and the things he takes from it will make readers look more closely at the little things in their everyday lives.

“Distant Rain” is created on bits and scraps of paper. It presents the idea that all the snippets, phrases, and sound bytes people encounter daily might all blend together in a massive ball like bits and pieces of poetry. “A vast accumulation of papery bits that ultimately takes to the air, levitating by the sheer force of so much unspoken emotion” will have readers appreciating the written and spoken word on a whole new level.

My favorite of the stories is “Alert but not Alarmed.” Here readers are asked to visualize a neighborhood where every backyard includes a huge “intercontinental ballistic missile.” Placed there by the government, these missiles are at the ready to protect the neighborhoods from harm. As the years go by and the missiles remain unfired, people begin to develop their own unique ways to utilize each missile. Their protection changes from objects of deadly force and destruction to objects of art and usefulness.

Author Shaun Tan provides entertainment and a good deal of food for thought in TALES FROM

OUTER SUBURBIA. It is an excellent source of creative writing ideas and genre variety to be used with students of just about any age.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Greg Heffley is back! It's January and Greg is up to his usual antics. His first dilemma is his New Year's resolution. Since resolutions are intended to make someone a better person, he realizes he is pretty good already. Perhaps his resolution should be to help other people in their quest to be better. His great drawings help readers learn that Greg's parents don't particularly share his belief that he should be "helpful" in making them "better."

Fans of the Jeff Kinney series are sure to laugh their way from January right through until Greg's summer vacation. There's a school dance, a wacky sleepover, adventures on the soccer field, attempts to hook up with Holly Hill, a well-intentioned try at being a Boy Scout, and much, much more. Greg's problems are surprisingly realistic, and his drawings are hilarious. Don't miss THE LAST STRAW. The only problem I see, is waiting until book #4 is available.

HOTEL FOR DOGS by Lois Duncan

It was a fun trip back into the past to review Lois Duncan's HOTEL FOR DOGS. I first read this heart-warming story about 10 years ago with my daughter. Now, with a few changes I've heard, it's a major motion picture.

In the original 1971 version, Liz* and her brother Bruce leave their home in New Mexico to move to the east coast. Their father has accepted a new job, and they are temporarily moving in with Aunt Alice. It might be the beginning of a great new adventure except Liz is extremely unhappy because her beloved pet Bebe has had to stay behind. Aunt Alice made it very clear that the dachshund was not welcome in her house since she is terribly allergic to dogs.

Shortly after their arrival, Liz and Bruce meet up with Jerry, the son of Aunt Alice's next door neighbors. They actually meet Jerry's beautiful Irish setter first. Although the dog is gorgeous and seems quite friendly, Jerry is not. Liz is shocked to watch the cruel way Jerry treats his own dog. She feels awful for the dog and misses her own Bebe even more.

One day a shaggy little stray dog appears in Aunt Alice's yard. It hops up on the porch, and Liz begs her mother to let her bring it something to eat. Her mother forbids her to feed the dog, saying that if she does, it will never leave and that would be unfair to Aunt Alice. Later that evening during a terrible thunderstorm, the little stray somehow ends up in the house and scampers upstairs only noticed by Liz. By the time she is able to excuse herself to follow it upstairs, it is nowhere to be found.

The next day when she convinces Bruce to help her search for the dog, they discover it in a closet. But now instead of just one stray dog, there are three brand new puppies as well. What should they do? They can't possibly keep a dog and three puppies in the house when Aunt Alice sneezes if they just mention the word dog. Bruce agrees to keep the secret until they can figure out a place to keep the animals.

It doesn't take long for Bruce to realize the empty house at the end of the street might provide just the place for a new family of dogs. Liz couldn't agree more, and soon their plan to save a few animals becomes much more than they ever dreamed.

HOTEL FOR DOGS is a cute story geared to independent readers age 9-12 and an excellent read-aloud for even younger audiences. Anyone with a soft spot for pets will enjoy this one.

*In the newer version of this book (released to come out along with the movie) the main character's name is Andi.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Here's this week's "Waiting on Wednesday." (A soon-to-be available book that I can't wait to read.)

WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson

"Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.
In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery."

(summary from

This sounds like a powerful, must-read!

NEED by Carrie Jones

Zara’s world fell apart when her stepfather died. His sudden heart attack left her without a running partner and with feelings of guilt that she wasn’t able to save him. Now she’s moving in with her grandmother out in the wilds of Maine. Everyone is hoping a change of location will help her shake the overwhelming sadness she’s experienced since her stepfather’s death.

Life in the isolated community is quite different than city life. Everyone knows everyone else and about everyone else’s business. It doesn’t take long for Zara to make friends and enemies. Issie and Devyn quickly step up to make Zara feel welcome, while Megan and her group of popular people become almost instant enemies. Zara isn’t exactly sure how to describe good-looking Nick and attentive Ian. She is unexplainably attracted to Nick, but also fascinated by Ian.

Creepy things begin to happen. There's the appearance of the same strange man Zara began seeing back in Charleston after the death of her stepfather. He appears in random places and watches her every move. There's also the disappearance of two young boys from the small Maine community. Zara hears from her grandmother and her new friends that similar disappearances once took place years ago. They are also telling her stories about the existence of pixies. They are not the cute little innocent creatures she's heard about from the fairy tales of her younger years. These pixies are dangerous and evil creatures, and they just might be singling Zara out as their future queen.

NEED by Carrie Jones will hook readers on the first page. Even if you are not a fan of paranormal creatures like pixies, were creatures, and the like, you will find Zara's story difficult to put down. It is definitely a good pick for Twilight fans suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

TORCHED by April Henry

Ellie is the adopted daughter of a couple of old hippies. They love telling stories about their past as young rebels and spend their time looking out for new causes and smoking pot. It wasn't unusual then when members of MED, the Mother Earth Defenders, started hanging around in Ellie's living room. There were some fairly lively discussions and one pretty cute guy named Coyote.

When Ellie agreed to a couple of coffee shop dates with Coyote, little did she know she would soon be learning more about him and the MEDics' causes than she ever wanted to know. The cops had evidently been keeping an eye on Ellie's house because known members of the group had been meeting there. During a raid to arrest the group cops had labeled "ecoterrorists," Ellie's parents were arrested for drug trafficking. Being arrested was not new to the couple, but in the past they had been younger and healthier. Now the prospect of jail time was frightening, especially for Ellie's father and his weak heart. In order to protect her parents, Ellie finds herself agreeing to help the FBI in their investigation of the MEDics.

Now Ellie is closer than ever to the handsome Coyote, but she also can't believe she is buying dark colored clothing from the Goodwill store and planning a solo initiation attack to convince the group that she is legit. Once she is accepted as part of the group things begin to escalate. They may be protecting "mother earth," but they don't seem to be above taking human lives to further their cause.

TORCHED by April Henry is an edge-of-your-seat thriller. The book starts with a Prologue that puts readers in the thick of the action, and things don't slow down from there until the end. As a reader, I became involved in the story on several levels. I liked the fast-paced action, but I also found myself identifying with the MED cause. Protecting our great planet is a worthy cause, and Ellie's experience did have me thinking about many of the wasteful things I do to contribute to the problem. TORCHED should prove popular with many teen readers.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

DEADLY LITTLE SECRETS by Laurie Faria Stolarz

There's a new guy in school. He's the quiet, good-looking type, and he's got everyone's attention. Rumor has it that he murdered his ex-girlfriend.

Camelia can't keep her eyes off of Ben. She has heard the rumors, and her friends are concerned about her strange attraction to this new guy. She doesn't want to believe the rumors because she finds herself irresistibly drawn to Ben. Several recent incidents have placed them together and even caused Ben to accidentally touch Camelia. Those innocent physical contacts have sparked something unexplained but incredible.

When Camelia begins receiving strange packages, weird phone calls, and mysterious visits, her friends are convinced that Ben is stalking her. But Camelia knows things about him that no one else knows, and despite nagging doubts, she wants to trust Ben and believe in his concern for her safety.

DEADLY LITTLE SECRETS is the beginning of a new series by Laurie Faria Stolarz. She once again uses her talent for paranormal drama to create a real page-turner. Fans of the BLUE IS FOR NIGHTMARE series and PROJECT 17 are sure to be intrigued by her latest effort and anxious to find out where this new series will take them.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


It has only been months since the death of Billy Romero's father. The family is still trying to adjust. Billy's mother has thrown herself into her work as a realtor, and his little sisters seem too young to really understand. Billy has been seeing a therapist, but he's not sure it really does any good.

When he heads back to school, things seem hectic and confused. Every morning he finds himself running like a deranged idiot to catch the bus. There are mornings when he thinks the bus driver must hate him and even might enjoy the challenge of pulling off before Billy can reach the door. At school his usual friends don't seem to be interested in someone who mopes around stumbling through the day.

The only bright spot is his new English teacher. She looks way too young and pretty to be a teacher. Miss Gates who insists that students call her Tess, makes getting to English the only thing Billy looks forward to each day. There is some strange connection between Billy and Tess, and after the day she gives him a ride home when he misses the bus, their relationship blossoms from teacher/student to friend/friend.

Tess is interested in encouraging Billy's talent with poetry. She suggests he attend a poetry group with her one Friday evening. He is encouraged by his success with the group, but when he indicates that he has been asked to attend the Sadie Hawkins dance with his long-time friend Amy, Tess's reaction surprises him. Her possessive behavior and constant attention are beginning to suffocate Billy, but he's not sure how to handle the situation.

SOMETHING HAPPENED is the story of a vulnerable 8th grader and a teacher who takes advantage of that vulnerability. Although the book is rather simplistic and at times a bit beyond belief, it is still a page-turner with a basic reminder about the fine line that can be crossed in some relationships.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Here's this week's "Waiting on Wednesday." (A soon-to-be available book that I can't wait to read.)

IF I GROW UP by Todd Strasser

This latest by Strasser is due out in February. It features an inner-city teen struggling to survive in a world of poverty, gangs, and violence. The story covers DeShawn's life from age twelve to seventeen. It is described as fast-paced and compared to Walter Dean Myer's AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MY DEAD BROTHER. Reviews so far are not glowing, but I'm a long-time fan of Todd Strasser's books so I'm anxious to read it no matter what they say.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow
STRIKE TWO by Amy Koss Goldman
BEAST by Ally Kennen
HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
CRANK by Ellen Hopkins
GLASS by Ellen Hopkins
PREP by Jake Coburn
BLOOD BEAST by Darren Shan

Monday, January 12, 2009

RETURN TO SENDER by Julia Alvarez

Tyler's family runs a dairy farm. Up until the sudden death of his grandfather and then his father's farming accident, things had been going well. Now that his older brother is leaving for college, there isn't enough help around to do all that needs doing on the farm.

Tyler returns from a visit to his aunt and uncle's to learn that some new folks have moved into the trailer next door. The new people include a Mexican man, his two brothers, and his three daughters. There seems to be some secret about their presence on the farm that Tyler doesn't understand. They have started helping with the milking and other chores and seem to be a big help for his father, however, his mother seems hesitant to reveal too much information about the family.

From comments around town and the little bit Tyler overhears from his parents' discussions, he finally realizes that they might actually be breaking the law. The new workers are in the US illegally. According to the information Tyler has gathered, not only could these new workers be arrested, but his parents could also be found guilty because they've hired the undocumented workers. Even though they seem to be saving the farm, they could bring more trouble than they are worth.

When school begins in September, Tyler learns that Mari the oldest daughter will be in his class. They begin talking and Tyler discovers that Mari is shy but friendly. As their friendship grows, he finds himself not thinking about her questionable status in his country; that is until she becomes the victim of several cruel bullies in his class. In his attempt to defend Mari, he and his family also become a target. Tyler experiences some difficult times as he struggles to understand loyalty to friends, family, and country.

RETURN TO SENDER presents a sympathetic view of the plight of illegal immigrants. It portrays their desire for a better life as well as the help they provide for struggling small farm owners. Though the issue is much more complicated, perhaps this book's message could give today's politicians something to think about.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

BROKEN WINGS by V.C. Andrews

One V.C. Andrews down and 10 to go. My first choice for the VCA Challenge (cheating a little because it really wasn't on the list) was BROKEN WINGS. It is a recent publication, so therefore, not a classic VCA. It wasn't bad though so I'll probably take the time to read the second book at some point.

There are three girls, Robin, Teal, and Phoebe, each living their own complicated lives, but destined to meet in book two.

First, there is Robin. She doesn't have a clue who her father might have been, and all she knows about her mother is that her future country singer music career is way more important than Robin. Her mother's decision to leave the family farm, the only place Robin has ever called home, and move to Nashville to find fame and fortune has Robin furious. Her grandparents have never been exactly kind to Robin since she was the product of her mother's wild sexual adventures, but at least there was some stability and three meals a day. Several brushes with the law and sneaking out to hook up with a young mechanic get Robin into some serious trouble leading her mother and her mother's current boyfriend to decide they've had enough.

Next is Teal's story. She's a little rich girl. Living in an elegant house with anything you could ask for seems like the ideal situation, but Teal longs for more. The part she feels is missing in her otherwise rich life is the love of two parents who care about her and not just about her making them look good. Her mother is busy with her charities and planning her older son's perfect wedding, and her father is busy with business and never pleased by anything Teal does. She tries to find satisfaction in rebellion - shoplifting for the fun of it, getting in trouble at the expensive private school her parents had hoped would straighten her out, and now getting involved with the hot guy she meets at the mall's pizza place. How many times can Teal sneak out, "borrow" the family SUV, and steal money from her mother's purse before her parents decide she needs more discipline than they can provide?

Last is Phoebe. Her wild mother has run off, and her father's busy travel schedule does not leave him time to properly supervise her teenage years. His answer is to ship her off to live with her mother's straitlaced sister. Now Phoebe is doing chores, going to church, and riding the school bus with whiny little brats. She would do just about anything to get some excitement back into her life. When rich boy Ashley Porter begins to show a special interest in Phoebe, she believes he might be her path to a better life. Instead he manages to ruin her reputation and make her a disgrace to the only family willing to take her in.

All three girls find themselves on their way to an isolated school designed to take bad girls and turn them into respectable members of society. The adventures will continue in MIDNIGHT FLIGHT. I will continue the VCA Challenge by beginning the Casteel series next month.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Just happened across this neat idea over on Steph's blog Reveiwer X. She gives credit to Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Here's this week's "Waiting on Wednesday." (A soon-to-be available book that I can't wait to read.)

SCAT by Carl Hiaasen

"Mrs. Bunny Starch, the most feared biology teacher ever, was last seen during a field trip to Black Vine Swamp. The school’s headmaster and the police seem to have accepted the sketchy, unsigned note explaining that her absence is due to a “family emergency.” There’s no real evidence of foul play. But still, Nick and Marta don’t buy it. Something weird is definitely going on." (Summary from B & N)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

V.C. ANDREWS is making a comeback!

I'm accepting a challenge this year. I guess I'll count it as a "book resolution" of sorts. Steph over at Reviewer X and Taren at The Chick Manifesto have issued the challenge. They want readers to read 11 V.C. Andrews's novels over the next year. That's less than 1 per month. I think I'm up for that.

I'm actually bending the rules a bit and reading one not on the suggested list. Hey, it's the only one I could find in my little town and I wanted to start right away. BROKEN WINGS is my first pick. I'm sure it's not vintage VCA, but like I said the selection was limited.

I'll read and review them just like any other book here on my blog. Yes, students, some of them have AR tests, so I'll post the points with each review. I will reserve the right to decide whether they are placed on the middle school shelf or the high school shelf in my classroom. That means you 8th grade reading fiends may have to stop by next year to sink your teeth into some of them. *pout*

Last, but not least, I encourage others to accept the VCA Challenge. We can create a support group and swap books and everything.

SUNNY HOLIDAY by Coleen Murtagh Paratore

SUNNY HOLIDAY is a spunky little fourth grader. She may live on the "wrong side of the tracks" and get teased by the "bus girls", but she always looks at the bright side of everything. Her mother may work endless hours cleaning rooms at the hotel across the river, but Sunny keeps her chin up and carries on. Her father may have made a mistake that landed him in prison for the better part of another year, but Sunny puts a smile on her face and is thankful for the things in life that are free.

This is a fun book for the elementary crowd. They will easily relate to Sunny's desire to have a kid-friendly holiday in every month, and her disappointment that the mayor's promise of a new park in her neighborhood turned into a half dozen scraggly trees instead. The underlying theme of the need to pass the state's standarized test is an element of the story that might make it a worthwhile read-aloud for a fourth grade classroom.

This one is a bit young for my students so I'm planning to pass it along to the fourth grade teachers in our elementary building. I'm sure Sunny will make another appearance someday if author Coleen Murtagh Paratore has anything to do about it.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

FAR FROM YOU by Lisa Schroeder

First of all, I don't know if this qualifies as a *spoiler alert*, but be sure to have tissues handy when you read this book. All I can say is I'm glad I didn't read during free reading time at school or my students would have been uncomfortable to say the least.

Alice is struggling with life. Things are piling up on her. It's been years since her mother's death, but the pain of her absence is just as sharp as ever. Her father and her stepmother are trying to make her feel a part of the birth of her half-sister, but it just doesn't feel right. She is deeply in love with her boyfriend Blaze, and even though he says he understands when she tells him she's not ready for sex, she wonders how he really feels. And then there's Claire. Her best friend doesn't seem to want to be the supportive friend she has always been in the past.

When Alice's father announces a little family trip to visit the new in-laws, there is no convincing him that she should be allowed to stay at home. Thanksgiving and the days that follow in the cramped home of her stepmother's family seem like torture, but Alice would gladly have those days back if she had only known what would happen next.

Her father is suddenly called away on business leaving Alice, her stepmother, and the new baby to return home on their own. An unexpected winter blizzard traps them in their on a wooded back road where their very survival is in question.

Lisa Schroeder has created a powerful story of one girl's journey to accept her new life and find the faith to carry on. The cover asks "Do you believe in angels?" You will when you finish this book.

Friday, January 2, 2009

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT ME by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Jamilah "Jamie" is living a double life. She has dyed her dark hair blonde and wears contacts to hide her dark eyes. At home she is Lebanese-Muslim, but at school everyone thinks she is just a normal Sydney-born Australian like the majority of the students in the tenth grade. Unfortunately, things aren't going very well.

Jamilah loves her heritage - the music, the religious beliefs, the food, and the family, but she hates the rules that go along with all she loves. Her father believes in a strict curfew that requires her to be home by sunset. She dreams of having a boyfriend and going on a date, but that's totally out of the question. As a result, Jamilah finds herself trying to balance both lives. Her friends see one side of her and her family sees the other.

While at school Jamilah observes members of the popluar crowd viciously taunt any students from different ethnic backgrounds. To keep her own secret she shamefully watches silently, afraid the cruelty could be directed toward her if she speaks up to defend the others. With her double life threating to crumble around her, she attempts to convince her domineering father that she needs more freedom than he is willing to allow.

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT ME gives readers a glimpse into the Lebanese-Muslim culture and at the same time demonstrates that the true and honest path is not always the easiest to travel, but perhaps the most satisfying in the end.