Wednesday, December 30, 2009

WEDNESDAY'S WISH I HAD THE TIME #12



SPINDLE'S END by Robin McKinley gets signed out a lot in my classroom.  I've been told McKinley's fairy tale retellings are excellent.

SPINDLE'S END is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale that I hope to get around to reading in the future.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

AFTER EVER AFTER by Jordan Sonnenblick


AFTER EVER AFTER by Jordan Sonnenblick is the sequel to DRUMS, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE. It is eight years later and life is continuing for the Alper family.

Jeffrey is ironically starting the eighth grade. That's the grade his older brother Steven was in when Jeffrey was diagnosed with leukemia. Jeffrey is now in remission from the disease, but he suffers from some side effects from the chemo treatment that saved his life. He walks with a limp, his attention wanders easily, and his brain just refuses to process anything related to math. Not a big deal, you say. Well, if your father is an accountant and the mailman has just delivered a letter saying that every eighth grader in the state must pass a set of required tests, including a math test, or repeat the eighth grade, let's just say things have looked rosier.

A lot of other things have changed for Jeffrey. His older brother Steven graduated from high school and went off to college. Again, not a big deal, but then Steven decided after three years of college that he would drop everything and head to Africa to become part of a drum circle. That left Jeffrey on his own to deal with his last year of middle school.

Fortunately, back in fourth grade, Jeffrey found his best friend Tad. Tad was also a cancer survivor. In fact, Tad had survived the disease twice. It left him weak enough to need a wheelchair, but it certainly strengthened his wit and wisdom when it came to dealing with daily life. When Tad learns about the state testing requirement, he steps up to help Jeffrey by becoming his official math tutor. The two make a deal that Jeffrey will study hard to pass the test, and Tad will train hard so he is able to walk across the eighth grade graduation stage under his own power.

Jordan Sonnenblick continues Jeffrey's story in his signature style using an authentic teenage voice and laugh-out-loud humor. By asking his main character to adjust to a learning disability and a physical handicap, as well as changes in his family structure, Sonnenblick creates a new depth to the sequel. The determination he showed as a young boy dealing with cancer helps him with the struggle to be successful at school and also at any new challenges thrown his way. This is a sequel I was not expecting, but I was thrilled when it came to my attention.

TUESDAY'S TEMPTING TIDBITS

TUESDAY'S TEMPTING TIDBITS is when I post the opening lines of the book I'm currently reading.
Every reader is different, but I know the opening lines of a book can make or break my reading experience. By sharing the first few lines of what I'm reading, perhaps I can tempt readers to check out a book they might otherwise have passed up.

Here's TUESDAY'S TEMPTING TIDBITS #5.

AFTER EVER AFTER
by Jordan Sonnenblick
Chapter One: FOUR YEARS AGO

I'm in fourth grade.  One day, I'm sitting in my seat in class, minding my own business.  I'm kind of quiet, but everyone knows exactly who I am: Jeffrey Alper, That Kid Who Had Cancer.  There isn't a kid in the grade who hasn't eaten spaghetti at the church hall's annual Alper Family "Fun-Raiser" Dinner, or gotten dragged to a high school jazz band concert in my houor, or -- God help me -- bought a Save Jeffrey T-shirt.  If you were me, you'd try to keep a low profile, too.

Monday, December 28, 2009

THE DYING BREATH by Alane Ferguson




THE DYING BREATH by Alane Ferguson is her fourth novel classified as "a forensic mystery."  Just like the other three, THE DYING BREATH is filled with dead bodies, autopsies, and CSI-type crime solving. 

Cameryn is not your normal almost 18 year old.  She is assistant to the coroner, her father Patrick Mahoney.  Her interest in science and her talent at figuring out the puzzles behind mysterious deaths, has earned her the job and also the respect of local law enforcement officials and the medical examiner. 

When the local eccentric, Leather Ed, is found dead in his home, Cameryn is on the scene.  It doesn't take long for two more bodies to show up in the medical examiner's morgue, and again, Cameryn is front and center.  Her puzzle solving skills are needed when it is discovered that all three deaths were from the same strange cause. 

Helping solve the mystery of the three related deaths is complicated when Kyle O'Neil resurfaces threatening not only Cameryn's life, but also that of her boyfriend and local sheriff deputy, Jason.  While everyone tries to protect Cameryn, she argues that he has left a clue that only she can interpret.  Refusing to be kept "safe", Cameryn insists on taking an active role in finally catching this psychopathic killer.

Author Alane Ferguson does extensive research for each of her novels.  She attends autopsies and works with forensic pathologists so she can present accurate information in each mystery.  If you are looking for books with plenty of suspense, a good amount of gory stuff, and a little bit of romance, then Ferguson's books are for you.  Check out not only THE DYING BREATH, but also THE CHRISTOPHER KILLER, THE ANGEL OF DEATH, and THE CIRCLE OF BLOOD.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

WIN A SIGNED COPY OF THE YEAR OF MY MIRACULOUS REAPPEARANCE



Author Catherine Ryan Hyde has generously donated a signed copy of her book THE YEAR OF MY MIRACULOUS REAPPEARANCE recently released in paperback. 

You have until January 15 at midnight to enter the giveaway contest. 

It is easy!  All you have to do is leave a comment about her interview or one of the following book reviews of a couple of her latest books - DIARY OF A WITNESS or THE DAY I KILLED JAMES.

For extra points -  +2 become a follower
                            +3 already a follower
                            +4 share your favorite book of 2009

Please include an email address so I can contact you if you are the lucky winner.
*US and Canada entries only please.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE RYAN HYDE

Many people are familiar with the movie version of PAY IT FORWARD, but few realize the author of the book that inspired the movie is also the author of several YA novels. 

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of DIARY OF A WITNESS, THE YEAR OF MY MIRACULOUS REAPPEARANCE, and THE DAY I KILLED JAMES.  She graciously agreed to answer a few interview questions so readers could learn more about her.  Please enjoy the following interview.

Readingjunky: When did you first think about being a writer?

Catherine Ryan Hyde: When I was a sophomore in High School I had the pleasure of a year with Lenny Horowitz as my English teacher. He was such an inspiration to me that I wrote an essay about him, dedicated one of my young adult books to him, and am now searching for his son so I can share all this with him (sorry to say that, despite being very young, Lenny died many years ago).

For those interested in the whole story, it's "reprinted" on my blog at:

http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/catherineryanhyde/Blog/Entries/2009/3/20_“Reprint”_of_I_Owe_It_All_To_Lenny.html
RJ: What was your biggest inspiration for THE YEAR OF MY MIRACULOUS REAPPEARANCE?

CRH: Recovery. Recovery is incredibly difficult, but ultimately inspiring. I began my own recovery (from alcohol and drugs) on the 4th of February, 1989 (yes, I'm very old). I'll celebrate 21 years soon. It's hard to imagine taking such a rich-but-trying journey without finding a story in it, something I can share with others. Hopefully, I felt, this story might serve as a cautionary tale for young teens.
RJ: What drives your writing most? Characters, plot, personal experience …

CRH: I would say character. Definitely character more than plot. I let the character dictate the plot to some degree. If you know who the character is, and you know what "crosses him" (the basic conflict of the story), then it isn't hard to know what he will do and what he will learn from it. I want to take it a step further, though, and say it actually starts not with a character but with an emotion. The emotion leads to the character and the character leads to the story. And the emotion is my personal experience, because I could never write about an emotion I haven't experienced. Sometimes I weave in small bits of personal experience, just some of those little "life things" that you can't really make up, but they're never as key or important as people think. My fiction really is fiction.
RJ: Do any of your characters resemble you in any way?

CRH: I think they all resemble me in some way. If only in that we share emotion, as stated above. None of them are really a thinly-disguised me, however. They are all their own (fictional) people.
RJ: Does any particular type of music inspire your creativity?

CRH: Oddly enough, I really only listen to music when I drive. I never combine it with my writing. I have focus issues. I'm one of those people who can barely walk and chew gum at the same time. So writing is a pure experience for me.
RJ: Can you describe a day in your writing schedule?

CRH: Assuming I'm working on something, and it's going, I'll start right after my morning Yoga and tea. I'll work until I run into a natural stopping place (translation: what comes next isn't ready) and refine and refine and refine until I'm able to move forward again. I try to be mindful of taking breaks to eat, but I have a real singleness of focus, as mentioned. On a good day I might do this for ten or eleven hours.

RJ: What is most rewarding about being a published author?

CRH: There's a lot to choose from, because I really love what I do. But I would have to say it's when I open my inbox and find an email from a total stranger who loved one of my books enough to write and tell me so. Often it's a person who is clear about the fact that they have never written to an author before. Sometimes it's a teen who tells me he or she didn't even like books until reading ____ (fill in the blank with one of my titles). And it isn't really an ego-driven experience. It may sound like I'm saying I love it because they're praising me. But it's not really that. More that I've somehow made an emotional connection with someone whose path I never would have crossed otherwise. That's what I like best about writing. It's a type of emotional communication.
RJ: Who are some of your favorite authors?

CRH: I like Jonathan Safran Foer a lot. And I read a lot of YA fiction. Some YA authors I like are Marcus Zusak, Jerry Spinelli, Rodman Philbrick (though I guess he's more MG), David Levithan and Laurie Halse Anderson.
RJ: What suggestions do you have for aspiring writers?

CRH: Don't write in a vacuum. Join a group, let others read your work, listen to their feedback. It hurts, but it hurts in a way you'll need to get used to. Expect rejection. It can't be avoided in this business. I'm getting rejections right now. I got literally hundreds before getting published. Make up your mind that it won't stop you.
RJ: Can you tell us anything about your current projects?

CRH: I leak a bit of info about them onto my blog when the timing is appropriate. Here is the info on my next YA, and I'm very excited about this one (even more than most):

http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/catherineryanhyde/Blog/Entries/2009/5/23_What’s_(Really)_New.html

And then here's some info on the newest adult title, which is so far only scheduled for release in the UK (but that will change in time):

http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/catherineryanhyde/Blog/Entries/2009/12/6_What’s_Next%2C_the_U.K._Version.html

RJ: And finally, what is your favorite way to relax?

CRH: To me, nothing is more relaxing than being out in nature. So it's a tie between kayaking in a very quiet place on still water (where I can set down my paddle and hear nothing but wind and birds) and hiking to the top of a high peak and looking down at how high I've climbed. Even a good couple-mile dog walk by the ocean (I'm lucky it's close by) will do nicely.

A great big thanks to Catherine for sharing not only her thoughts on the interview questions, but also a signed copy of THE YEAR OF MY MIRACULOUS REAPPEARANCE.  Check out the next blog post for a chance to win that signed copy!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

THE DAY I KILLED JAMES by Catherine Ryan Hyde




THE DAY I KILLED JAMES is not the first book I've read by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  Having enjoyed all the others, I decided to pick up a copy of this one, and I'm glad I did.  As the title suggests, this is not a light-hearted romp, but then most of Hyde's books focus on serious subjects and how her characters deal with them.

Theresa, also known in part of the story as Annie, is plagued with guilt.  She is just finishing high school and finds her 22 year old neighbor James extremely annoying.  He seems to be everywhere.  He's nice enough and is always offering a helping hand.  One day it's washing her car and another it's fixing some transmission fluid leak.  All Theresa wishes is that he would leave her alone. 

The most important thing on Theresa's mind these days is figuring out what's up with her boyfriend Randy.  He seems to want to make their relationship some sort of "open" arrangement so he can see other girls.  That's the last thing Theresa wants, but if it will make him happy, she's willing to give it a chance.  Against her better judgment she follows a friend's advice and asks James to take her to a weekend party.  Knowing that Randy will be there with the other girl, she hopes when he sees her with James, he'll realize his mistake.

At the party that is indeed what happens, but Theresa never realized how much she would be hurting James by using him to make Randy jealous.  James sees Theresa kissing Randy, and he takes off on his motorcycle.  It is his final ride.  When the police investigation reveals no skid marks and no attempt to swerve, they rule the accident a suicide leaving Theresa racked with guilt.

In an attempt to escape the horrible situation, Theresa runs away and takes a tour guide job and begins to use the name Annie.  With some new friends met on the job and often working ten hours a day, Annie is able to muddle along, although James is always in her thoughts.  However, while living in a rundown trailer park, she meets an eleven year old girl living with her brother and an abusive mother.  Focusing on the problems of young Cathy allow Annie to realize running away from her own problems is not the right solution for the long term. 

In THE DAY I KILLED JAMES, Catherine Ryan Hyde explores love and the responsibility it carries with it.  Readers will watch as Theresa/Annie searches for the answers she needs to cope with her feelings of guilt enough to be able to honor James instead of just mourn him.  Several other titles by this author are the well-known PAY IT FORWARD and DIARY OF A WITNESS.  Blog followers should also watch for an upcoming contest offering a signed copy of Hyde's THE YEAR OF MY MIRACULOUS REAPPEARANCE.

TENTACLES by Roland Smith




TENTACLES is the sequel to Roland Smith's CRYPTID HUNTERS.  He continues the excitement begun in the Congo as Marty and Grace join Dr. Travis Wolfe in a new adventure to find a giant squid in the waters off New Zealand.

After Marty found out Grace was actually his cousin and not the twin sister he thought she was, their new life took them to the island of Cryptos to live with Grace's father Travis Wolfe.  This new adventure begins as their boarding school friend Luther arrives on the island.  The action starts off with a frantic chase to catch a chimpanzee named Bo as he terrorizes the island on a four-wheeler.  Using Luther's wild and crazy flaming red hair as bait, they are able to not only catch the chimp, but also get him aboard the newly renovated ship called the Coelacanth bound for New Zealand to capture a giant squid.

At the same time that Travis Wolfe and his crew are preparing for their journey, the famous and evil Noah Blackwood is preparing his ships to intercept the Coelacanth in an effort to kidnap Grace, his grand-daughter and steal two priceless dinosaur eggs or whatever may have already hatched from those valuable eggs. 

TENTACLES is filled with fast-paced action, high-tech gadgets, disguises, and double agents.  Teens looking for adventure and intrigue are sure to like this one.  There is excellent back-story information provided so even those who haven't yet read CRYPTID HUNTERS can enjoy the story.  Readers who are already fans of the first book will also be pleased to discover that TENTACLES will probably not be the last adventure for Marty and Grace.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

RAGE: A LOVE STORY by Julie Anne Peters




Don't let the hot pink cover and the label A Love Story deceive you.  RAGE is Julie Anne Peters's most powerful book yet.  The focus is on an abusive dating relationship and the toll it takes on victim and villain alike.

Two girls with their own personal dysfunctional family issues are drawn together by mutual feelings of love and lust. 

Johanna has survived the death of both her parents and feels abandoned by her sister whose choice was to remain at college when Johanna needed her most.

Reeve and her twin brother Robbie live with daily abuse from a drug addicted mother and her controlling boyfriend.  She only knows one way to express her feelings, and Johanna becomes the recipient of a twisted kind of love.

Ever since Johanna laid eyes on Reeve, she has had fantasies about how things could be between them.  It doesn't matter that Reeve practices a sort of tough love with everyone she meets.  Reeve punching her brother and giving Johanna bruising kisses is just part of loving someone like her.  Johanna knows Reeve suffers at home and is sure that loving her unconditionally is a way to protect her and fix whatever is wrong. 

Despite warnings from her sister, her friend, and Reeve's old flames, Johanna continues the relationship even as she loses important pieces of her own life.  As long as Reeve returns after each incident, Johanna believes that love will hold the answers.

Julie Anne Peters has created a relationship that will leave readers with mixed emotions.  While trying to understand the power of love, they will be shaking their heads at the same time they are shaking their fists at the actions of characters on both sides of this tumultuous relationship.  RAGE provides an inside look at what might drive us to give up parts of ourselves for the sake of love.

WEDNESDAY'S WISH I HAD THE TIME #11



Being a hugh Gary Paulsen fan, I hate to admit I haven't read this one.

THE CAR is popular with my 8th boys, and they are always bugging me to read it.
Maybe 2010 will be the year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TAKEN BY STORM by Angela Morrison



TAKEN BY STORM is the story of true love meant to last a lifetime but pulled in different directions by strong beliefs and life's experiences.

Michael and his parents have a great relationship.  Living between Arizona and Florida, they have an adventurous life.  Scuba diving and free diving have been part of Michael's life as long as he can remember.  He has probably spent more time with his parents on coral reefs and sunken wreckages then he has on dry land.  That is until the fateful boat trip that took them into the path of Hurricane Isadore.  Michael survived, but his parents were lost.

Now Michael is living with his grandmother in the Pacific Northwest, just about as far away from the Florida Keys as he can imagine.  He is facing his senior year in a new high school, and his nights are filled with nightmares of the hurricane and the screams of his parents.  The only thing Michael can think about is free diving.  It's the one thing that can save him from the helpless feelings haunting day and night.

Then he meets Leesie, a beautiful, God-fearing Mormon girl.  It's hard to believe he has room for thoughts of someone else, but Leesie has a way about her that reminds him of the floating sensation of a free dive.  She is easy to talk to and he finds himself sharing feelings he thought would be impossible to reveal to anyone. 

As their friendship moves toward romance, Michael learns Leesie has strong and unbending religious beliefs.  It seems the Mormons had rules about everything, and Leesie is bound and determined to adhere to those rules no matter what.  Although, she makes him feel better about things than he has since his parents' deaths, she also frustrates Michael beyond belief. 

TAKEN BY STORM is a unique mix of Leesie's poetry, Michael's reflection as written in his diving log, and online chatroom discussions.  Angela Morrison reveals two teens drawn together by love, yet pulled apart by vastily different goals and beliefs.  Readers will ride the emotional waves as the two determine whether either can change enough for the relationship to last a lifetime.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

AND THE WINNER OF PURGE IS....



*Leanne*

Congratulations!  Just let me know where to send your prize, and I'll have it in the mail ASAP.

Look for a new contest soon.  This one will include an interview as well.

TAKEN by Norah McClintock



The disappearance of two girls from a small town has the community on high alert. When one the girls is found dead, parents are issuing strict words of caution to all teens about traveling in groups and not staying out after dark. Those words of caution go unheeded when Stephanie, angry at her mother, decides to take a shortcut across an empty field.

The next thing Stephanie knows, she is waking up in a deserted wilderness cabin with her hands and feet tied. Alone in the filthy, abandoned cabin, Stephanie realizes she needs to take action quickly. Who knows when her kidnapper will return? Using a nail, she loosens the rope on her wrists and is able to free herself. Grabbing a few scant items, she heads off into the surrounding woods.

Stephanie's back-story is slowly revealed as she stumbles along in search of safety. After the accidental death of her father several years earlier, her distraught mother sent her off to stay with her grandfather for the summer. While living with him for three months in his backwoods home, Stephanie learned to appreciate nature and the survival skills needed to exist in those primitive conditions. Now those skills are coming in handy as she attempts to survive and find help.

While trudging in what she hopes is a westerly direction, Stephanie's memory regarding her kidnapping begins to return. However, as hard as she tries to remember, all she can piece together is that someone jumped her from behind and apparently drugged her and left her tied up in the cabin. As angry as she remembers being at her mother and her mother's boyfriend, Gregg, Stephanie wishes she was home safe and sound.

Author Norah McClintock's TAKEN is a different twist on the usual survival story. Most such stories feature boys rather than girls, and the added mystery of a kidnapping increases the suspense. Although, the pieces to Stephanie puzzle are fairly easy to put together, TAKEN offers a fast-paced adventure that will interest most readers.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

SETH BAUMGARTNER'S LOVE MANIFESTO by Eric Luper



Seth's summer vacation seems to be starting off rather nicely - lunch with his girlfriend at Applebee's. Unfortunately, lunch ends with Veronica breaking up with him, and to make matters worse, Seth sees his dad having what looks like a rather intimate lunch with a woman who is most definitely not his mother.

Eric Luper's latest novel, SETH BAUMGARTNER'S LOVE MANIFESTO, is filled with one great scene after another. If you are looking for a book that includes the frustration of teen romance, irritating parents, some podcasting humor complete with some great song suggestions, with a little bit of golf thrown in for good measure, then pick up a copy of this one when it comes out in June of 2010.
Seth uses his breakup with Veronica as inspiration to begin his Love Manifesto podcast. It starts out as a listing of the reasons he loves his ex-girlfriend but quickly includes all sorts of interesting stuff. He is surprised at the internet following he is able to generate, and he finds his broadcasts are an ideal stress-reliever. He'll just have to wait and see if it ends up winning Veronica back.
In the meantime, he is starting his fourth summer job. After several unfortunate terminations, he has lucked out and been hired to work in the golf club pro-shop. It's not a bad gig and will hopefully allow him easier access to the golf course to practice for the annual father/son tournament. Although, since seeing his father that day at lunch with another woman, just the thought of being in the same room with him is almost more than he can tolerate.

Thanks to his good friend Dimitri, the sudden attention of Dimitri's younger sister Audrey, and the time he spends working in his makeshift studio on his podcasts, Seth is able to find ways to improve on his summer's lousy start.
SETH BAUMGARTNER'S LOVE MANIFESTO is laugh-out-loud funny. Readers will find it easy to root for Seth as he struggles to recapture love and deal with his frustrating and mysterious father. Seth's mishaps make for many unexpected twists and turns that will take readers right up to the surprise ending. Be sure to watch for this one next year.









Thursday, December 17, 2009

HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford


If you are looking for something a little different for your next reading experience, pick up a copy of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford.

Bea is used to moving around. Her father, a college professor, is always on the lookout for new challenges so they have moved from one college town to another over the years. This move is a bit more unsettling since it's Bea's senior year, and for some unknown reason, her mother is acting strange.

After basically deciding to just coast through this final year of high school and just bid her time until she can head off to college on her own, Bea is pleasantly surprised when she actually makes a few friends. One of the most interesting people is someone everyone calls Ghost Boy. His name is Jonah, but since elementary school his quiet manner and pale complexion have made him the target of ridicule.

A friendship begins to develop between Bea and Jonah when he leaves her a note suggesting that she tune in to a late night radio talk show called Night Lights. As Bea listens to the odd characters who call in every night, she imagines Jonah in his darkened room listening, too. They find they have more and more in common and both feel comfortable when they are together.

As they grow closer, Jonah confides in Bea and tells her about his twin brother killed years before in a car accident along with their mother. He is convinced that Matthew is really still alive and asks Bea's help in the search to find him.

There are many unique twists and turns to keep readers interested. Both Bea and Jonah have parent issues. Bea's mother's behavior is increasingly bizarre which both annoys and worries Bea. Jonah has lived with his unemotional father all these years, but now emotions are running on high as Jonah questions the truth about his long lost twin. Scattered through the narrative are glimpses into the Night Lights radio program in the form of dialogue sections highlighting the callers comments and questions.

Overall HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT is a captivating book just unique enough to make it stand apart from the usual adventure, drinking/sex party, vampire romance books that seem to be filling the YA shelves of late. This book is a worthy addition to any library, classroom, or personal collection.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WEDNESDAY'S WISH I HAD THE TIME #10


Here's one I'll have to put on my future reading list.

THE LAB by Jack Heath

Summary courtesy of Barnes & Noble:

"Meet a 16-year-old superhuman: Agent Six of Hearts. He's the strongest, most effective agent in the Deck, a team of special agents fighting to uphold justice in a completely corrupt world. Six would be invincible if not for a deadly secret. He is the product of an illegal experiment by the Lab - a ruthless division of the corporation that controls his world. When the Deck begins to investigate the Lab, Six walks a tightrope between his two worlds, trying to keep his origin a secret. But then he meets Kyntak, a boy whose past equals his own. As Six's life spirals out of control, he must face his most dangerous, thrilling mission yet."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TUESDAY'S TEMPTING TIDBITS

TUESDAY'S TEMPTING TIDBITS is when I post the opening lines of the book I'm currently reading.

Every reader is different, but I know the opening lines of a book can make or break my reading experience. By sharing the first few lines of what I'm reading, perhaps I can tempt readers to check out a book they might otherwise have passed up.

Here's TUESDAY'S TEMPTING TIDBITS #4.

HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT
by Natalie Standiford

"Goebbels materialized on the back patio, right before we moved to Baltimore, and started chewing throught the wicker love seat. We figured he was an escapee from one of the neighbors' houses, probably the Flanagans two doors down. The Flanagans had a lot of pets, and the parents looked the other way while their sons, Pat and Paul, fed them various foods that animals shouldn't eat, like Twinkies and Pop Rocks, and then raced them to see how the food affected their performance."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

WILLOW by Julia Hoban


Yes, I've finally gotten around to reading this one. Ever since the first review was posted about WILLOW, I've been excited to read it, and now I can say I've done it. It was good, but not as good as I was anticipating. Maybe it was all the hoopla about it that got me hoping for something a bit more compelling. That said, I still enjoyed it, and I know many other readers will, too.

Willow is a cutter, and she has every reason to be one. If the idea of cutting is to feel physical pain in order not to feel emotional pain, then she is the perfect example of someone who needs that sort of release. Willow was driving the car the night both her parents were killed. Talk about emotional baggage!

Now an orphan living with her older brother, his wife, and their infant daughter, Willow is attempting to put her life back together. She's attending a new school and trying to catch up on her studies, and all she can think of is how everyone must know about the accident and consider her a killer. Her incredible guilt won't allow her to face her brother and talk about the pain he must be feeling, too. Instead, she keeps it all inside, using a razorblade to control the feelings she can't express aloud.

While working at the library job her brother arranged for her at the college where he teaches, she meets Guy. He recognizes her from school and the fact that he has taken a class her brother taught. For a few short moments during their conversation, she is able to relax and even laugh for the first time in seven months. Hesitantly, she begins a friendship with Guy, but when he discovers her secret cutting, his insistent pressure for her to stop is almost more than the fragile friendship can withstand.

Readers will follow Willow as she struggles to adjust to the massive changes in her life and come to terms with her part in her parents’ death. She is desperate to reconnect with her brother but is afraid he will never forgive her as he is forced to take on the role of parent and provider. Several new classmates, as well as Guy, try to reach out to Willow, but she doesn't make it easy when they attempt to include her in their circle. Her guilt increases as her grades spiral downward and her need to cut becomes an obsession.

Author Julia Hoban vividly describes Willow's cutting so readers are able to feel her uncontrollable need to suffer physical pain as a method to relieve her anxiety. Some many interpret the graphic description and the constant references to cutting as over-the-top, but just like any behavior used to control unwanted emotion; it is an ever-present part of life for a character like Willow. I appreciated that Guy didn't play the role of "knight in shining armor" hoping to whisk Willow away from her pain and solve all her problems. Hoban had him step forward to offer support but step back when Willow needed space. Although, her supposed recovery comes after only one heartfelt conversation with her brother, I felt hopeful that things would indeed improve for Willow, and that she would eventually resume a healthy and relatively happy life.

Friday, December 11, 2009

MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD by Francisco X. Stork


There is so much research going on in the medical and educational fields regarding autism, I guess it was only a matter of time before subjects like the autism spectrum and conditions like Asperger's syndrome started to creep into the plots of YA fiction. Actually, it is an excellent way to introduce the subject in a real world setting. Characters like Stork's Marcelo are often misunderstood and taunted by their peers. Reading about characters with autism and learning how they think and feel, can raise awareness and a better understanding of them as everyday people.

Marcelo is now seventeen. He is very intelligent and would most likely be described by professionals as high functioning. Growing up in a caring family and attending a special school has enabled him to develop his talents and cope with life's challenges. Marcelo's father has always entertained the desire for Marcelo to attend regular public school, however, his son is hesitant to leave the safe environment of Paterson, a school for students with special needs.

As an attorney in a prestigious law firm, Marcelo's father issues a summer challenge. He wants his son to work in the firm's mailroom as a way to learn to deal with what he calls the "real" world. If Marcelo is successful in handling the requirements of the job, he will be able to choose between return to his beloved Paterson or going to the local public high school.

He is more than capable of handle the work required with the mailroom job, but the social interaction and people skills prove challenging for Marcelo. Everyone in the law firm is aware of his possible limitations which makes him nervous and concerned that he will fail. His immediate supervisor in the mailroom is a beautiful, young woman named Jasmine. Since a friend of hers was passed over for the job, she is not pleased with Marcelo's presence as a co-worker, but his ability to handle most tasks and his quiet working style win her over.

Marcelo's experience on the job allows him to interact with a wide variety of people and introduces him to both the ethical and unethical aspects of the working world. He sees the sleazy side of legal proceedings and even learns that the father he has so long admired is not the perfect lawyer or even the perfect man.

Author Francisco X. Stork does an excellent job of illustrating the workings of the autistic mind. Readers will be able to see and feel the wide range of emotions Marcelo experiences as he ventures into his father's world. The story provides a better understanding of this often discussed condition, but it also includes intrigue, humor, and suspense. Although labeled as a young adult selection, many adults will find this satisfying reading as well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

WEDNESDAY'S WISH I HAD THE TIME #9


ALCATRAZ VERSUS THE EVIL LIBRARIANS by Brandon Sanderson is on my classroom shelf. According to Ms. Yingling's blog, it is a pretty good read, although not many of my students have given it a try.

When I have the time, I want to read it so I can tell them about it and encourage them to sign it out.

Has anyone else read it? What did you think?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

HEY! IT'S A NEW CONTEST AND AN AUTHOR INTERVIEW


It's time for a new contest! I'm giving away a copy of PURGE by Sarah Darer Littman.

All you have to do is leave a comment about something interesting in the interview that follows, and please include an email where I can contact you if you are the lucky winner.

*Contest ends December 20.
**Only US and Canada entries please.

I first met Sarah Darer Littman on MySpace. Her posts were insightful and often hilarious. After reading her first book CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC, I was hooked. PURGE is her second book, and I'm happy to report she's written another and is hard at work on a fourth. But I'll shut up now so you can read her interview and find out some great stuff straight from her.

Readingjunky: When did you first think about being a writer?

Sarah Darer Littman: I wanted to be a writer back in high school and thought I would go to college and major in English but my father was like: "How are you going to make a living as an English major?" Unfortunately I wasn't strong enough to follow through on the courage of my convictions and I ended up on a completely different path - with an undergraduate degree in politics and an MBA in Finance, of all things. It wasn't until I was approaching 40 and having a mid-life crisis that I thought I didn't want to be in my nursing home thinking, "What would have happened if?" I knew I had to at least give myself a chance at pursuing my dream, even if I failed.

RJ: What was your biggest inspiration for PURGE?

SDL: I was inspired to write PURGE when my mother sent me a picture of myself as a teenager. ( http://sarahdarerlittman.com/_Media/se_caribeean_bikini77.jpg) When I first looked at it, as a 40-something year old woman, I thought, "Wow, I had a good figure." But almost immediately the voice of the girl in the photo started up in my brain - the one that thought she was fat and ugly. I've suffered from body image problems my whole life and was actively bulimic in my late 30's. When I thought about how energy I've spent hating my body and the way I look, energy that could have been put to better and more creative uses - well, I hoped that if by writing PURGE I could help even one person not to make that same mistake it would be worthwhile.

RJ: What drives your writing most?

SDL: Characters, plot, personal experience …Character is the most important for me, but the process seems to be different with each book. The idea for CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC came from an exercise on character webbing, and I really had no idea where the plot was going when I started - I just had a very strong sense of the MC, Justine. With PURGE, personal experience played a more important role because of the nature of the story, but character was still the driving force. My upcoming novel, LIFE, AFTER, required a lot of research and the research framed the plot more than in my two previous novels. The novel I’m working on now, WANT TO GO PRIVATE? is about a girl who becomes involved with an Internet predator, and it’s more plot-driven than anything I’ve ever worked on before.

Writing each book is a learning experience.

RJ: Do any of your characters resemble you in any way?

SDL: Justine in CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC probably resembles me the most, being a short frizzy-haired Jewish girl (True Confessions: Hooray for Japanese Straightening!) with an obsessive love of chocolate.

RJ: Does any particular type of music inspire your creativity?

SDL: I can’t write with music playing unless it’s classical, because if there are words I start singing along and that’s not pleasant for anyone within earshot. Even the dog hides. I have Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Handel’s Water Music on my iPhone so that if I’m working at a café and there are people gabbing really loudly and distracting me, I can plug in the earbuds and tune them out. But at home I work to the sounds of the voices in my head.

Oh dear. That sounds vaguely psychotic, doesn’t it?

RJ: Can you describe a day in your writing schedule?

SDL: I get up at 6:30am to get my kids up and out to school by 7:30. Once they’re gone, I’ll have a cup of coffee, quick scan of the newspaper, check Facebook and Twitter and various political blogs, and then take the dog for a walk. By 8:30 I make another cup of coffee and head down to my basement Writing Lair to work. I’ll be there until 2 or 3, depending on if it’s a carpool driving day. Once the kids get home from school, my life is spent in the car or in waiting rooms or in the café at Barnes and Noble, trying to squeeze in a little more work time in between chauffeuring duties. Thank heavens for laptops!

RJ: What is most rewarding about being a published author?

SDL: Receiving letters from readers who have felt a connection with your characters or felt inspired in some way by your books, whether it's to explore their connection with faith or to seek help for a body image problem or to write themselves. I also really enjoy speaking in schools - I’m quite passionate about telling kids how important it is to learn to write well even if you don’t plan to be an author, because future employers will judge you on your ability to communicate effectively in writing.

RJ: Who are some of your favorite authors?

SDL: This is one of the questions I always find hardest to answer. It’s like asking me if I have a favorite child. I will admit to having a major author crush on Markus Zusak, though.

RJ: What suggestions do you have for aspiring writers?

SDL: Read. Read. Read. Then get your butt in the chair and write, write, write. I basically wrote two “practice novels” before CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC. One was a middle grade about an escape artist class hamster and another was an adult novel about a woman in an unhappy marriage. Neither will ever see the light of day, I suspect, but my writing improved immensely for having written them.

Take classes. It’s important to keep honing your craft. Join a critique group. Learn how to give and receive criticism kindly, effectively, and hopefully with a sense of humor. My critique group is wonderful that way.

Become a member of the SCBWI. It’s a fantastic resource, a great way to meet other authors, learn a lot about craft, the publishing industry, and the people within it. I got my first book contract after hearing my editor speak at an SCBWI conference and realizing that she had the quirky sense of humor required for a book about a girl who’d decided to give up being Jewish for Lent.

RJ: Can you tell us anything about your current projects?

SDL: I’ve just sent my editor the manuscript for a book called WANT TO GO PRIVATE? (at least that’s the working title) which is scheduled for publication in 2011. It’s about Abby, a ninth grader who becomes involved with an Internet predator. It’s been a fascinating and very disturbing book to research and write. Fascinating because I’ve been working with my local FBI office and the Youth Division of Greenwich Police, and I’ve had an opportunity to see how they are working to track down these predators and keep our kids safe. Disturbing in so many ways – because you realize how easy it is for kids to get in trouble and how clueless most parents are about what their kids are up to online. I also found it very hard when I was writing suggestive chat scenes between Abby and the predator and my 13 year-old daughter would come home from school. I felt like saying to her, “Stay away from me, I’m being a pervert right now!” I felt like I wanted to take a shower after writing those scenes, and for a while starting having nightmares.

When I had a research meeting with the FBI, I asked the agents how they managed to deal with this kind of stuff day in and day out without getting nightmares. The Supervisory Special Agent told me they can sleep because they know they're doing this to keep these guys from doing such crimes do anyone else.

Still, writing this made me wonder how people write books about serial killers!

RJ: And finally, what is your favorite way to relax?
'
SDL: I love to take a hot bath at the end of the day with some nice “smellies” in it and relax with a good book. I have one of those fancy Jacuzzi baths but I never use it because the bubbles would get my books wet and books > bubbles!

A great big THANKS to Sarah for the interview. I hope Santa brings her LOTS and LOTS of chocolate!!!

Friday, December 4, 2009

THE VAST FIELDS OF ORDINARY by Nick Burd


Dade is marking time during that awkward summer between high school and college. Things at home are not the greatest so he welcomes the chance to get out. Unfortunately, his crappy job at Food World is about the closest he comes to getting out.

For as long as he can remember he has been quietly repeating the words, "I am gay." He knows it is true but can't bring himself to tell his parents. Maybe when he is away at school in Michigan, he can break the news to them, but certainly not while he is still right here in Cedarville. They have enough problems of their own.

Over a year ago he did open up to Pablo. They have shared many intimate moments during their time together, but Pablo still insists in public that he has a girlfriend which leaves Dade feeling used and alone.

This summer may have brought one bit of luck - Alex. From the moment Dade meet him and saw his gorgeous smile, he's been wanting to spend time with him and find out what they might have in common. Alex isn't easy though. He doesn't run with the same crowd as Dade and hooking up is proving harder than he expected.

Dade is filled with confusion about his sexuality, uncertainty about his readiness for college, and a general inability to form lasting relationships. He bounces back and forth in odd friendships with Pablo, Lucy a neighbors' niece, Alex, and twins named Jessica and Fessica. All the while he worries - about his parents, his future, and the mysterious disappearance of a local nine year old. Can he manage to handle all this and keep himself together until he can head off to school?

THE VAST FIELDS OF ORDINARY offers the perfect example a teen-angst drama. First time author Nick Burd captures the crazy mix of emotions and the desire to gain some sort of control that most teens face at one time or another as they struggle toward adulthood. His writing style makes for a smooth and satisfying read.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

WHAT BOOKS WOULD MY 7TH AND 8TH GRADERS WANT IF THEY WERE STRANDED ON A DESERTED ISLAND?

Here are their picks -

TWILIGHT, NEW MOON, ECLIPSE, or BREAKING DAWN by Stephenie Meyer
SIDE EFFECTS by Amy Goldman Koss
GLASS or IDENTICAL by Ellen Hopkins
ZOOBREAK by Gordon Korman
SEA OF TROLLS by Nancy Farmer
DELTORA QUEST by Emily Rodda
THE DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: RODRICK RULES by Jeff Kinney
WICKED LOVELY by Melissa Marr
PAPER TOWNS by John Green
A LIGHT IN THE STORM by Karen Hesse
THE WINTER OF THE RED SNOW by Kristiana Gregory
CIRQUE DU FREAK : SONS OF DESTINY by Darren Shan